Monday, December 30, 2013

Jessica McHugh's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios. And just to spice it up a bit, each author gets to ask their own Would You Rather question to the author who appears after them....

Jessica McHugh's
Would You Rather

Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue?
As I have somewhat prehensile feet, it would be much easier to write a book with my feet. Therefore, I choose tongue. When it comes to writing, I dig the difficulty.

Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?
I’d prefer a long string of moderate sellers so the paparazzo won’t hound me. I don’t look great in candid pictures.

Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?
Now, please. I don’t need to afford beer when I’m dead.

Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one?
Considering this reply would sound ludicrous starting with a conjunction, I’ll choose writing without them.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?
I’d have the entirety of “The Phantom Tollbooth” tattooed on me without a second thought.

Would you rather write a book you truly believe in and have no one read it or write a crappy book that comprises everything you believe in and have it become an overnight success?
If I wrote a book I didn’t believe in, I’d burn it and go back to my high-paying, benefitted, science job.

Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?
Plot twist. A character I hate isn’t even worth the ink to pen a good death—only a violent delete.

Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink?
Either way, I’d run out of raw materials pretty fast, but at least I’d still be alive after using my skin as paper.

Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life?
Yipes, that depends on the novel. Honestly, I don’t think I’d like to be any of my characters because most of them are put through wringers I wouldn’t want to squish me.

Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E?
I could live without capitalization, but I’d go mad without punctuation, so I think I’d rather sacrifice E-lettered words.

Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book?
Ban it. It’ll sell more copies.

Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas?
As soon as I saw “Ayn Rand,” I knew I wouldn’t choose that option. Give me your best shot, Dylan.

Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku?
Speaking in haiku. Maybe it would help me shut up more often.

Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d probably choose Fifty Shades, just for comic value.

Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?
Rip my book apart. Be my guest. There’s no such thing as bad press.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
Voice in my head.

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
I’d give up my computer in a second over pens/paper. It would cut out 8000 internet distractions.

Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back?
Laying down. I recently hurt my back and had to do just that. Astronaut pens make it a piece of pineapple upside-down cake.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?
Am I standing behind a podium? In that case, I’m fine being naked. Otherwise…eh, I’d still choose naked.

Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well? 

Excellent story, written poorly. In the other case, I’d just watch a plotless action movie.

And here is Jessica's response to the question Pete Anderson asked her last week:

Would you rather be Holden Caulfield or Scout Finch? 
I think I'd rather be Scout Finch, just because I'd be happier as a scrappy kid than a grumpy teenager.

Jessica helps us wrap up the Would You Rather series!
It's been great fun and I want to thank all of the authors who participated!!!


Jessica McHugh is an author of speculative fiction spanning the genre from horror and alternate history to young adult. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a 2013 Pulp Ark nominee, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and playwriting. Jessica has had thirteen books published in five years, including her bestseller, "Rabbits in the Garden,"  and the gritty coming-of-age thriller, "PINS." 2014 will see the release of three more novels, including the start to her edgy YA series "The Darla Decker Diaries." More info on her speculations and publications can be found at

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: Submergence

Read 12/24/13 - 12/27/13
3 Stars - Recommended to those who are already fans of hostage-slash-love-slash-deep-thoughts-about oceanic-life-and-god-and-angels-and-hell-and-death novels told through the past and present experiences of both main characters
Pgs: 212
Publisher: Coffee House Press

I haven't written an actual, real length review since September, so go figure that I find myself itching to write one on a book that everyone else raves about but that has left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed.

Submergence, to be fair, isn't the type of book I would normally be drawn to on my own. The jacket copy alone was enough to keep it sitting in my unsolicited arc pile for countless months: James, an Englishman, is held hostage by a bunch of jihad fighters in Africa; a thousand miles away Danielle, a French bio-mathematician, prepares to dive down into the great oceanic depths in a submersible; the two recall their chance encounter and short lived fling as they prepare for what's to come.

This week, I found myself with some free reading time - two months ahead in my CCLaP reading, three months ahead in the upcoming TNBBC author/reader line-up - so I threw my goodreads To-Read shelf  out into the ether and asked Twitter to hand pick my next read. Submergence won by a landslide.

It sucked me in quickly enough. The first 40 pages or so passed by pretty smoothly. The next 40, the same. Around the 100 page mark, though, I began to realize that I hadn't yet felt any sort of connection to the main characters or their current ordeals, which had a numbing effect on the constant recollection of their short romance together the year prior. Halfway into the book, and I'm feeling emotionally removed, even cold, towards our protagonists? This does not bode well, right?...

Sprinkled pretty generously throughout the novel, perhaps to break up the monotony of James' suffering at the hands of the jihads in Africa, and Danny's preparations for her upcoming deep sea journey,  JM Ledgard allows them time to discuss some pretty heavy topics in a "getting to know more about you" sort of way. They toy with how exploring the vast, deep, darkness of the ocean floor is comparable - and even more complicated - than exploring the wide openness of outer space; whether or not they believe in God and whether God had the foresight to create enough angels to look over us all; how if falling down into the ocean is like falling down into hell then climbing up out of the depths is like climbing up towards the heavens; how the smallest, slightest microbes in the darkest corners of the ocean are capable of out-surviving humanity so long as we just leave them alone; how evolution is a friend and an enemy to most species, including our own...

While these ideas, in and of themselves, are quite intriguing, I felt that James and Danny didn't take them as far as they could have. Their conversations left me sloshing about in half-formed concepts and aching for more "meat and muscle". This speaks to how I feel Ledgard handled his character development overall. I can't help but imagine James and Danny as half-formed, too. They're all shell and skin with very little heart. Like cardboard cut-outs. Only.. fleshier? I know how awful that must sound. It could just be Ledgard's writing style; it reminded me very much of JM Cotzee and JG Ballard (oh my, could it have something to do with first name initials?!) They all take this very clinical, very dry, outside-observationist approach to story telling. As if watching events unfold behind a glass window. As if everything had the emotion purposely blown out of it, leaving it all.. hollow.

In the end, though it was a fairly quick read, Submergence left me floating along, anticipating a great big crushing wave that just never came.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2013" Lists

For two years running, I've added my little spin on "Year End Best Of" lists. Rather than list my own favorite reads each year, I reached out to a bunch of authors - all of whom have appeared here on TNBBC in some way, shape, or form -  asking them to share with us their favorite reads. I thought it would be really cool to throw it out there again and see what they've been reading and enjoying this year....

The response was amazing and I am really exited to share them with you today. And without further ado...

The TNBBC Author Series: Top Reads of 2013

Ryan W Bradley

Best Fiction:

Orphans by Ben Tanzer

A true surprise. Tanzer somehow manages to be very sci-fi and very Tanzer at the same time. The result is unlike anything you've ever read in the science fiction genre or among Tanzer's catalog.

Best Poetry:

Life Cycle by Dena Rash Guzman

Every poem in this book is worth re-reading again and again. You know a writer's special when you finish reading their work and your first thought is "I want more."

Best "How Had I Not Read This Yet":

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

This book is so in my wheelhouse, how did I ever miss it? An editor I'm working with on my Alaska-themed story collection recommended it to me and I was instantly in love with the writing.

Ryan W. Bradley is the author of four chapbooks, a story collection, a novel, and two poetry collections, as well as a collaborative poetry collection written with David Tomaloff. His novella, WINTERSWIM will be released in December 2014. He has a shiny new website:


Mark R Brand

1) George Saunders’ Tenth of December (2013)

If I had to pick a favorite, and I don’t like to, but if I had to, this would be it for me for the year. Not only does every story in this collection swing for the fences, but it had my favorite short story of the year (“The Semplica Girl Diaries”) in it, as well. I got to interview Saunders last winter, and he’s just as charming, witty, unpretentious, and brilliant as his fiction. If you only read one thing this year, read Tenth of December.

2) James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce (1941)

Despite its dull premise, Cain (who also wrote Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice) managed here to write one of the most sharply mimetic female protagonists I’ve ever seen. Mildred, the down-to-earth and likable lead, is saddled with an exceptionally gifted daughter named Veda, with whom she has a turbulent relationship. Set in the tail end of the Great Depression, when economic hard times dragged into the better part of an entire decade (sound familiar?), I found this, and the novel’s eponymous main character, impossible not to like.

3) Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011)

I was certain—absolutely certain—that this book was going to suck. After all: I AM a gamer dork from the late 1980’s, and I didn’t think any dopey parody of it was going to be able to tell me anything about those years and growing up at that time that I didn’t already know. I was so wonderfully, hilariously wrong. This book (and I read the audiobook version, narrated by Wil Wheaton of all people), had me laughing and smiling and giving myself unselfconscious air high-fives from almost page one. It also has a remarkably poignant dystopian message about net neutrality and the commodification of leisure. Highly, highly recommended for anyone who grew up in the 80’s. This book is like a little energon cube of fun.

Mark R. Brand is the author of the novels Red Ivy Afternoon (2006), Life After Sleep (2011), The Damnation of Memory (2011), and the collection Long Live Us. He is a two-time Independent Publisher Book Award winner and is the creator and host of the video podcast series Breakfast With the Author (available on iTunes). He teaches English at Wilbur Wright College, and is currently
completing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Giano Cromley

Tomorrowland by Joseph Bates
Curbside Splendor Publishing

The stories in Tomorrowland are surprising and inventive, shot through with humor and wit, but never at the expense of its characters. As the title would suggest, the stories frequently take place in the near or distant future, but the irony is that Tomorrowland is all about the past. In "Mirrorverse" a husband uses a Multiverse Spectrometer to relive his failed marriage. In the title story, a man surveys the soon-to-be-demolished remains of a futuristic theme park, only to be haunted by the mannequin family that resides there. And in "Boardwalk Elvis" an Elvis impersonator has the worst professional day of his career as he suffers for his art. The characters in Tomorrowland seem to be trapped in the past, wondering how the future they'd once imagined ended up looking like this.

The Fiery Alphabet by Diane Lefer
Loose Leaves Publishing

The Fiery Alphabet tells the story of Daniela Messo, raised by her father to be a mathematical prodigy in eighteenth-century Rome. Repudiated by a fearful church hierarchy, Daniela eventually takes up with a mysterious mystic, Giuseppe Balsamo, and the pair barnstorm eastward across Europe, in search of a higher truth. Told in an epistolary fashion, I had no idea what to expect when I cracked this book and I found myself continually surprised and delighted by Daniela's adventures, right up to the last page.

Orphans by Ben Tanzer
Switchgrass Books

Author Ben Tanzer brings his unique voice to the science fiction genre and the results are great. Orphans follows the story of young father Norrin Radd, as he tries to support his family in a future where jobs and money are nearly impossible to come by if you weren't born into the right family. The future in Orphans is dark, so don't be fooled when I tell you this novel is also really funny. Ultimately, though, we see the cost exacted when people are put in positions where they'll do whatever it takes to make a better life for their families.

Giano Cromley's first novel, The Last Good Halloween, was released this fall. His writing has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Literal Latte, and The Bygone Bureau, among others. He is a recipient of an Artists Fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council. He teaches English at Kennedy-King College and lives on Chicago's South Side with his wife and two dogs.


Tod Davies

Since I'm elbow deep in the writing of Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered, the second in the Jam Today cookbook/memoir series, needless to say, I spend my evenings noodling over other people's food writings. Which I love. And the three that I seemed to love the most this year are, unusually for me, two that came out in the last few months, and, not unusual for me, one classic that's hard to find unless you haunt thrift stores (I do).

First: A Bushel's Worth: An Ecobiography, by Kayann Short (Torrey House Press). 

Man, I love those cookbook/farming memoirs. And Kayann, who is descended from farm families, writes lovingly and practically about her own life on a farm, hard at work and play with her partner John, just north of Boulder, Colorado. This book actually brought tears to my eyes with its descriptions of their travails and triumphs. And you need to read about the transport of an entire farm building from property being turned, inevitably, into tract Kayann's farm that is defending against its own disappearance into the same black hole. Funny, practical, and ultimately moving.

Second: A Commonplace Book of Pie, by Kate Lebo (Chin Music Press). 

Utterly charming. A postmodern book about pie by a poet who makes a mean crust. The cheerfully mad descriptions and the excellent recipes/tips make this the world's great gift book. The illustrations are terrific too.

Third: The Cooking of Vienna's Empire: Foods of the World, by Joseph Wechsberg (Time-Life Books).

 Back in the late 1960s, Time-Life published about a gazillion volumes of a series about foods of the world, and enlisted just about every great food writer of the period to help (M.F.K. Fisher! James Beard! Craig Claiborne!). But the best of the lot (and that's saying a bundle) is this one, by Joseph Wechsberg, who wrote the classic Blue Trout and Black Truffles. Absolutely amazing photography, evocative and classic, but that's just the icing on the cake of Wechsberg's precise and loving prose. I found this in a thrift store for 50 cents, which as you know, for a thrift store addict is ecstasy. What a find!

Tod Davies, editorial director of indie Exterminating Angel Press, is also the author of Snotty Saves the Day and Lily the Silent, both from The History of Arcadia series, and the cooking memoirs Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking With What You've Got and Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered (June 2014). Unsurprisingly, her attitude toward publishing is the same as her attitude toward literature, cooking, and, come to think of it, life in general: it's all about working with the best of what you have to find new ways of looking and new ways of being. Find her and EAP at


Heather Fowler

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai
translated by George Szirtes
New Directions Press, 2012

This translation from Hungarian of Krasznahorkai’s work was recommended to me by a colleague as a peerless psychological novel. In many ways, it is exquisite, bringing to life a dark tale with apocalyptic intent via a long-form work that reads at once like a fable and a stylistically Eurocentric classic.  It’s a gorgeous effort in understanding human motivations—one that explores human pride, eccentricities, and desire via a surreal filter.  Transcendent. Another excellent New Directions release. 

TheDoor by Margaret Atwood
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,  2007

After engaging with hundreds of pages of Atwood’s poetry this year, I ordered this, her most recent release, and was struck by the beauty of her concision, her ability to construct visual landscapes replete with their emotional savagery—year after year.  While Atwood is most frequently discussed as a fiction writer, it is her poetry I love with a burning love, feeling her poetics influence all her genres—and this book shows a masterful use of white space and imagery.  Any book that causes me to shed actual tears has a great chance at landing at my top of the year selections.  This did.  In addition, it includes a CD of the author reading the poems.  This feels like a private, unexpected and intimate treasure.

Small Beer Press, 2012

As a short story fanatic, one who enjoys magical realism, literary traditional, feminist, and experimental work—this collection blew me away.  Each piece is informed by its language, performs its own sacred act upon the reader.  I reviewed this book in ABR regarding its use of eroticism, but this book does far more.  Seldom do I read a collection with such an array of generative impulses and narrative styles—and the wildly creative originality of Johnson’s voice and style, as well as the beatifically executed text, made this a clear favorite in 2013.  

Heather Fowler is the author of Suspended Heart, People with Holes, and This Time, While We’re Awake.  Her new book Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, an illustrated collaborative collection with visual artist Pablo Vision releases from Queens Ferry Press in 2014.  Please visit her website at


Kim Henderson

The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, ed. Theodore W. Goossen.  

This semester, I chose stories from this collection to teach in my fiction workshop.  My goal was to discover new work, rather than automatically selecting what I knew well.  I sat down to see what the anthology had to offer, fighting my urge to start with the Murakami story I knew would be great.   Hours later, I still had not emerged from the book.  I blinked at the now dark room turned unfamiliar by the stories that had just jarred me out of any reading rut. I haven't had quite that experience since I read my first fiction anthology as an undergraduate.  There is such a range of stories in this book.  "Toddler-Hunting" by Kono Taeko will leave you feeling a bit scarred, a bit sick, a bit mesmerized; "The Peony Garden" by Nagai Kafu feels like Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" (but maybe better?), like a mountain of a story lies beneath what we are shown; many of the stories feel like novels in their breadth and scope.  But I think what stunned me into getting lost in this book is that many of the endings are messy and unresolved, that these stories mimic life all too uncomfortably--there is no urge to tidy up here.  This anthology showed me something new, or something I'd forgotten about.

Big World, Mary Miller.  

I had read Mary Miller's chapbook of short-short stories, Paper and Tassels, in the Rose Metal Press anthology They Could No Longer Contain Themselves, but did not retain the author's name.  Then at The Letters Festival in Atlanta this November, I heard her read from her upcoming novel about an evangelical family hoping to chase the apocalypse across the U.S.  Afterward, I bought a copy of Big World.  

You could get into a fight with your significant other, check into a cheap motel, and sit down with a fifth of whiskey, a pack of cigarettes, the movie Blue Valentine, and a copy of Big World, and have the best of bleak evenings, replete with relationships that have overstayed their welcome, beautiful yet self-destructive and indifferent girls and women, lots of bad decisions, and a general lack of satisfaction from characters who aren't willing or able to muster up whatever it takes to try to change.  Miller knows exactly what to put on the page and what to leave off.  What she chooses not to include keeps you thinking about these characters who are all too quick with a harsh, wry remark, who learned long ago to guard their deepest truths.

I may not have come across this book had my old professor (Daniel Mueller) not gotten in touch with me recently.  I am so glad he did, and that I got a copy of his new book.  This collection of stories is wonderfully daring, direct, brutal, and beautifully written.  Mueller's sentences alone are admirable enough, but these characters and the unflinching honesty with which they are written take the collection to the next level. Also, the endings often push the stories into unexpected places--characters are turned inside out during the beginning and middle of the story, but at the end, a scalpel is taken to their hearts as Mueller reveals the complicated, unnamable intricacies that drive them.  Some of these stories could easily find themselves in The Best American Short Stories anthology, and they deserve that wide a readership.

Kim Henderson is the author of The Kind of Girl, which won the Seventh Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest.  Her stories have appeared in Tin House, H_NGM_N, Cutbank, River Styx, Chamber Four, The Southeast Review, New South, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband on a mountain in Southern California, where she chairs the Creative Writing program at Idyllwild Arts Academy.


David David Katzman

The Man Without Qualities is a Modernist masterpiece. An expansive book of ideas yet an intimate view into Austrian society, circa 1913. The writing (in translation from German) is erudite and sophisticated. The view into the psychology of the numerous characters is rich and insightful. The overall critique of both Austrian and human civilization is profound and sharp. 

The Last Novel is a quick, easy, charming, sad, profound, surprising, humorous, angry, erudite, critical, clever, bitter, energetic, thought-provoking, challenging, heavy, light, experimental non-novel. An impossible to categorize work, The Last Novel is such a fast read that you've no excuse for not giving it a try. 

What a wonderful book. Part essay, part travelogue with a smattering of fiction, it's an indescribable blend of humor, sadness, quirk and love.

David David Katzman has published two novels, Death by Zamboni, an absurdist satire, and A Greater Monster, a multimedia psychedelic fairytale, which won a gold medal as “Outstanding Book of the Year” in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a Finalist in the Fantasy genre of the 2012 Indie Excellence Awards. In 2013, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography published an illustrated collection of his letters entitled The Kickstarter Letters. He has performed as an actor and improviser throughout Chicago and has been interviewed by numerous bloggers.


Kathe Koja

My three books this year are variations on a theme:

THE RECKONING, Charles Nicholl
DOCTOR FAUSTUS, Christopher Marlowe

Research can be a lot of things: a compunctious duty, a heavy slog - or a dance. 2013 is my year of Dancing with Marlowe, most definitely a dance in the dark, as I collaborated with an actor (Steve Xander Carson) and a writer (Carter Scholz) on, first, an immersive performance of Marlowe's evil-haunted FAUSTUS, and (in progress) a fictional examination of Marlowe as poet and spy.

These tangoes were masterfully enabled by the steely work of Charles Nicholl, who investigates, then obliterates, the received wisdom on the death of Marlowe (stabbed in a sordid brawl in a crappy tavern? Not so much); and the panoramic, emotionally perspicacious A.L. Rowse's view of Marlowe in the context of his world and his work.

And the man himself, in glitter of his wit and the chill of his vision, threw open the doors to Hell itself, with doomed and clever John Faustus its victim and our guide. Never has poetry been so delicious, so ferocious, never has the darkness been so - well, say it - fun. Watch your step, let's go!  

Kathe Koja's novels include THE MERCURY WALTZ (forthcoming January 2014), UNDER THE POPPY, THE CIPHER, SKIN, BUDDHA BOY, and HEADLONG. Her work has been optioned for film and adapted for performance. Her company Loudermilk Productions creates site-specific, immersive events. (and FB and Twitter).


Lavinia Ludlow

In fast-paced flash fiction, location often takes the backburner; however, when Burrow Press recently released 15 Views Volume II: Corridor, location took center stage. In 15 Views, thirty writers deconstruct the stereotypes associated with two of Florida’s most misrepresented cities, Orlando and Tampa, by presenting honest, intimate, and fleeting glimpses of the local human condition. These stories are not postcard snapshots of resort beachfronts or Epcot Center, but drama-laden accounts of shattered dreams, inescapable poverty, and atrocious violence. Full review here

Lavinia Ludlow is a musician and writer currently residing on the West Coast. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Recently, her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books as well. Follow her reviews, news, and other tidbits over at:


Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

My favorite book of 2013. Luna creates her characters with such empathy, and they had me completely hooked. Plus, the premise is right up my alley: squatters in the Lower East Side in the mid-1990s, doing battle with the city. I moved to NYC less than a decade later and yet so much had changed. The New York in this book is both foreign and familiar, and I fell deep inside. I didn’t want to leave, not for one second.

When the bodies of four young women were found along a stretch of Long Island beach in 2010, the emphasis in the media was on whether or not a serial killer was on the loose. The victims themselves, all four involved in online prostitution, became footnotes. In this book, Kokler gives the women names; he traces the trajectory of their lives; he wonders about the circumstances of their deaths; and he makes us care for them deeply. 

The Palace of Wasted Footsteps by Cary Holladay

Holladay is a writer who should be more widely read—her stories are odd and dark and funny and not quite like anything else. I first read her O. Henry-winning story “Merry-Go-Sorry” in college, and it has stuck with me—haunted isn’t too hyperbolic a word. I don’t know why I didn’t get my hands on this collection sooner.

Courtney Elizabeth Mauk's second novel, Orion's Daughters, will be published by Engine Books in May. Her work has appeared in The Literary Review, PANK, Wigleaf, and Five Chapters, among other venues. She is author of the novel Spark (Engine Books, 2012) and teaches at the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop and Juilliard. More information can be found at


Kathleen Rooney

At the Autopsy of Vaslav Nijinksy by Bridget Lowe (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2013)

This book of poems is a total page-turner, and one of the ways that Lowe makes you want to turn the pages is by interweaving several series throughout the book, including ones on the actress Sean Young, on Victor: the Wild Boy of Aveyron, and, of course, on the Russian dancer Nijinsky. Learned without being pretentious, witty without being cheaply clever, she’s a master of the leitmotif and these seemingly disparate pieces end up cohering into a beautifully unified whole.

Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen (Louisiana State University Press, 2013)

Over here at the Poetry Foundation web site, I have 2,178 words about what a brilliant book this is (and you don’t have to take my word for it; it was up for the National Book Award). But in a sentence: this collection, a decade in the making, is about its author’s brother’s suicide—“A hole is nothing / but what remains around it”—a subject he handles with anger, sorrow, and perhaps most effectively humor.

Citizen J by Daniela Olszewska (Artifice Books, 2013)

A book of poems in five sections that mixes lineated pieces with prose ones, this collection follows its protagonist who “refuses to keep things / classy” as she traipses through a landscape that seems part Soviet and part American. Intoxicating in its wordplay—sometimes “j” is “babushkaed” and other times she “feels the gore ball bouncing up against her sternum in time to the special broadcasts”—the book looks at what it means and how it feels to be a citizen in a time beset by lowgrade terror and highgrade absurdity. 

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait . She is the author of six books of poetry and nonfiction, including Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012) and the critical study Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America. Her debut novel, O, Democracy!, is forthcoming from Fifth Star Press in Spring 2014. 


Caleb J Ross

#1: The Cost of Living by Rob Roberge
I’ve been a fan of Rob Roberge since 2006 when my college professor, Amy Sage Webb, gifted a signed copy of More than They Could Chew. I was immediately hooked. Reading The Cost of Living, published about 7 years after my initial introduction to the man’s work, was such an exciting experience. I hadn’t been that entranced by a book since 2012’s #1 choice, The Orphan Masters Son by Adam Johnson. And I don’t just mean an intellectually satisfying experience. I mean physically.

#2: S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
Like most people, I came to S. by way of a quick and easy seduction. In terms of eye candy, S. is a book like none other. In fact, I made an initial reactions video about the book after having read only 60 pages, not necessarily because I was confident that the book would ultimately satisfy, but because the book’s unique visual storytelling component--margin notes, multiple readers, postcards and photos and other such trinkets actually stuffed within the pages--warranted a few minutes of geeking out.

Truthfully, the book ultimately didn’t deliver on its storytelling promise quite like I had hoped it would. But no matter. S. is such a unique execution, and as I mention during my full-length S. review video, still has some substantial storytelling merit meaning it deserves to be on this list.

#3: Gulp by Mary Roach
I learned from this book that fecal transplants exist. Yes, a fecal transplant is exactly what it sounds like. Also, that Budweiser, according to Sue Langstaff, a sensory consultant to the brewing industry for twenty-plus years, is “an extremely well-made beer. It’s clean, it’s refreshing.” Though I won’t bring up the idea that beer drinkers don’t necessarily want “clean” and “refreshing,” I was taken aback perhaps simply by the defense of Budweiser. I just never hear that.

Caleb J. Ross has a BA in English Literature and creative writing from Emporia State University. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared widely, both online and in print. He is the author of five books of fiction and is the creator of The Burning Books Channel, a YouTube channel featuring humorous book reviews, literary skits, writing advice, and rants. Visit his official page at


Matt Rowan

By George Saunders 

Of Tenth of December, Mary Karr recently noted: "The title story may be the best American story since Hemingway's 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' or O'Connor's 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find.'" 
I wholeheartedly agree. Tenth of December is a truly remarkable read. 
But before I get to my gushing, I should make clear It's a short story collection (as are all of my top three favorites of the year). Its characters inhabit the strange worlds of Saundersian syntax and aberrant (but still within reach) settings, characters who are often flawed but redeemable. Characters whose tales often reach a pivotal point of choice, and the redemption or calamity that ensues based on these choices (The first story, "Victory Lap," manages to encompass the choices of three characters simultaneously). 

I've joked that most of these stories were originally published a good several years (and in one case, as far back as 1996) in various magazines before they were brought together in this collection. Yet if there's anything to be said for collage, I think this book should stand a testament to that. The themes of each story play off each other well, combining elements that are cheerful and comic while often presenting something dark and unsettling at the very same time. I was disappointed Tenth of December didn't ultimately get selected winner of the National Book Award, but it's impressive that a short story writer (and almost exclusively a short story writer) found his book among the finalists at all, so I'm glad for that. It might usher in a new era, in which collections are given their due alongside the more highly regarded novel. 

By Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter is another author who understands the value of voice in her fiction. I like character. I like the idea of people telling me things that are inherently biased, and therefore truthful. You don't imagine most of Hunter's characters are giving you the entirety of the situation, whatever it is. It's nice to think that they aren't worlds unto themselves and there are things outside of their understanding, which is tacitly understood. In Don't Kiss Me there are countless examples of characters with their litany of flaws, sometimes falling into the camp of the depraved. There's a woman who has a relationship with a child of 10 in "My Boyfriend Del" -- and in which Hunter really walks the fine line between a believable situation and one that's utterly outlandish and absurd (it's balanced very well).  There's a family of mutants living in a post-apocalyptic world in "After."  There's a very Lindsay Hunter take on pulp detective fiction in "Our Man." And there's so much more to keep your attention, so much intensity to each piece featured. Most of the stories are very short, but one of Lindsay Hunter's great gifts is she can say so much with so few lines.

Rob Walsh

This book truly feels like it came from another place in time, maybe another planet, but also another place in time. Like belonging to a strange Gothic era of another race elsewhere in the galaxy, say for example. The story "The Seven Seas" -- allusions in it to the collection's title -- is a tremendous, delirious take on the pirate and a pirate's life. Walsh's work is absurd in the tradition, I believe, of writers like Beckett and Walser, with a bit of the fabulism of the Brothers Grimm for good measure. He takes you to dark places, places in which people's motivations are more obviously self-serving, if there's sense in them at all to be found. It's a really good example of the kind of work you see coming from smaller presses, work that might not make the cut at a larger publishing house but through no fault of its own quality. 

Matt Rowan is author of Why God Why. He lives in Chicago. See more of him at


Matt Salesses

I'm cheating a little here. I've got one book that came out this year, one that will come out in January, and one that came out a while ago, but it's sequel came out this year (so I'm fudging by including both!).

Laura van den Berg's Isle of Youth is the best story collection of the year, no offense to George Saunders. Maybe you read and loved her last collection? There's even more to love here.

Mary Miller's novel, The Last Days of California, is my most recent read here. The book comes out in January. Mary Miller has maybe the most sure voice I know of, like she knows exactly who she is on the page.

Maile Meloy's books for children were the most fun I had this year, especially her first, The Apothecary. The sequel, The Apprentices, is also great, but I miss the voice of the first. Meloy has some amazing books for adults, too. But these changed the course of my reading this summer and sent me on a binge of children's/young adults' books that convinced me YA has it figured out.

Matthew Salesses is the author of I'm Not Saying I'm Just Saying. Find him at @salesses.


Andrew F Sullivan

Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter

“See, we had seen Dee, we’d seen her a lot, but back then we had our eyes on all the girls, and over time it got to be hard to see how losing one was such a tragedy.”

I read this while driving back to Canada from South Carolina this summer. Driving through America is like travelling through the phases of an empire, the rings around the cities giving away to decay and abandonment as you travel from one metropolis to another. Hunter’s stories seem to inhabit these desiccated circles, her characters’ voices chipped and scuffed by time and smoke and hurt. They live. There’s spittle stuck to the pages and blood underlining certain words. Not all of it is mine. Every story in here is another accident waiting to happen.

Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan

“We pass the torch of life for one another like runners in the night. I WILL forever be reaching for you. PLEASE keep reaching for me. Please.”

Authentic is a bullshit word used to sell yogurt and the garbage I found in my attic on Etsy. It’s a word that gets thrown out a lot with this book, but I don’t think McClanahan is making any claims about the “authentic” nature of his experiences. Human might be a better word, but that still carries the scent of bullshit on its wings. Terrifyingly, cripplingly human—I will use those adverbs to describe this book. The horror. It reminded me a lot of Harry Crews’ A Childhood, so McClanahan is doing something right. This is probably the book I will give to people who won’t realize they truly needed it until they are finished.

The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss

“And so many sons dead, and buildings burned and cities cindered. And these fields where bodies lay mounded for the hogs to root. And the blood-stained lockets of lovers clasped in cold hands. Entire towns were diminished. And no longer did anyone care, on either side to fight any further. Yet the war continued—“

A fever dream of America, a great suffering rendered into vicious, stunning prose. Technically it came out last November, but I didn’t get around to it until the spring. I annoyed a lot of people over the last few months talking about this book. This is one of my favourite books of the year because I want more Robert Kloss, more seas of buffalo, more abandoned expeditions, more gators rising to devour children in the middle of the night. I am selfish like that. This is a book I will return to again and again because the stories are still open wounds, unstaunched.

RIP Mud Luscious Press.

Andrew F. Sullivan is the author of All We Want is Everything (ARP Books, 2013), one of The Globe and Mail's Best Books of 2013. You can find him at 


Ben Tanzer

We the Animals by Justin Torres

Near feral in its intense bursts of family instability.

Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children by Dave Newman

Newman knows true.

The Temple of Air by Patricia Ann McNair

What it means to live, and mostly cope, with things missing in our lives, hands, parents, children, breasts, love, that are at times violently taken from us, and other times more subtly so.

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father's House and You Can Make Him Like You, as well as, the forthcoming Orphans and Lost in Space, among others. Ben also oversees Publicity and Content Strategy at Curbside Splendor and day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life. He can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his growing lifestyle empire.


Holy end of the year lists, huh?! Thanks again to each and every author who submitted their favorite reads, and I hope they haven't crushed your TBR piles too badly. Oh screw it, yes, yes I hope they did! I hope their lists made you rush out of the house in your new slippers and christmas pj's in a mad attempt to get them all.....

I look forward to watching what these authors are reading (and writing) in 2014! Happy holidays, everyone!