Monday, December 24, 2018

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2018" Lists

2018 was a rough reading year for me, clocking in an all-time low of 40 books for the year. Granted, I did spend more of my free time focusing on freelance publicity, and most of what I read was for "work" purposes. Since I haven't read enough to create an impactful Year End list, I thought I'd enlist the help of some of my author friends, and see what books they were most impressed by.

The TNBBC Author Series: Top 2018 Reads

(author of Mr. Neutron)

This book renewed my faith in imaginative, intellectual writing. The stories in Chiang’s collection combine science fiction with themes of faith and possibility to create tales that speak to where humanity finds itself in the present day.

From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler
Possibly the best book about writing I’ve read, and I’ve read dozens. Butler connects good writing to the way in which people (readers) experience the world—through sensory perception. Then he takes the concept an extra step and shows writers how to apply those perceptions and the reactions to them in their work.

The Nix, Nathan Hill
A whopper of a book at over 700 pages, and yet it’s a fast read because you just can’t put it down. Hill uses the Chicago riots of 1968 as the backdrop to his story about finding family and self in an increasingly self-centered and confusing world. No gimmicks, no polemics, just compelling writing.

Throw out every preconception you have about human origins. Abandon the myth that we are born of different races. Recent DNA analysis shows how human interbreeding and migration over hundreds of thousands of years has produced the people we are today, with much more in common than we ever imagined.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

I reread this book to help inspire a new project. It’s even more apropos today, as our society seems headed toward authoritarianism, than it was when it came out. 

Joe Ponepinto’s latest novel, Mr. Neutron, was published by 7.13 Books in March, 2018. He was the founding publisher and fiction editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a nationally-recognized literary journal that has had selections reproduced in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays, Best Small Fictions, Best Gay Fiction, and other notable anthologies. He has had stories published in Crab Orchard Review, Fugue, Lumina, and dozens of other literary journals in the U.S. and abroad. He is an adjunct writing instructor at Seattle’s Hugo House and Tacoma Community College.


(author of Scoundrels Among Us)

Large Animals by Jess Arndt 
– This story collection is such a killer mix of toughness and vulnerability, darkness and light, realism and surrealism. Arndt’s gorgeous prose had me feeling gratitude and the deep desire to do my own writing (which is the highest praise a writer can give, I think). Sentence by sentence I was mystified, challenged, and rewarded, and I completed the entire book in one sitting.

The Week by Joanna Ruocco 
– One quality of being an artist that cannot be taught is uniqueness of vision; the artist’s particular way of seeing and rendering the world. Ruocco’s vision is singular and dazzling. Some readers will say, “I don’t get it,” but I don’t think you need to “get it” any more than you need to “get” the open-mouthed wonder of staring into a steaming, churning volcano. Just sit back and enjoy.

What We Build Upon theRuins by Giano Cromley 
– A carefully crafted, deeply satisfying collection of realist stories. Cromley avoids the trite and sentimental, preferring the sort of complexity and psychological depth that will make you revisit these pieces again and again. Like most of the other books on my list, this features characters who are down but not out; evoking the work of Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolfe, the inhabitants of these pieces seem to be reaching for grace that hangs just out of their grasp.

Fever Chart by Bill Cotter 
– I love bold, unapologetic writing (as represented by all of the authors on this list). This novel, about a guy who escapes from a mental institution and drives from New England to New Orleans, where he becomes a world champion grilled cheese maker, is my favorite type of ugly. It’s full of colorful losers and miscreants who are far more interesting than anyone you will ever meet. Hilarious, sad, and of course reminiscent in the best ways of that “other” famous New Orleans comic novel.

The Largesse of theSea Maiden by Denis Johnson 
– A beautiful swan-song by a beautiful soul. This guy was so influential to me and countless others, and I read his final collection with joy, existential terror, envy, and wonder (that is to say, pretty much a typical Denis Johnson book). When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with him and even hang out with him a bit. He inscribed my copy of Jesus’ Son: “To Darrin – Thanks for your kind assistance in getting out of that whorehouse in Sonora.” A great dude and one of the best writers I know.

Darrin Doyle is Professor of English/Creative Writing at Central Michigan University. He is the author of four books of fiction, most recently the story collection Scoundrels Among Us (Tortoise Books), which The Bookends Review calls “a majorly imaginative, evocative, and rewarding read.” BULL magazine writes “His world vision, his heart, his ability to cut to the core of what makes humanity tic, what makes humanity ugly, what makes humanity beautiful–it all should be required reading for everybody.”  


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Guster (2019) Reading Challenge

I really love reading challenges because of the way it stretches your reading comfort zone, but I've always sucked at actually completing them. 

In 2015, over at Goodreads, we kicked off our most outrageous challenge ever, borrowing The Beatles Reading Challenge from another group I was a part of, which had turned their songs into reading tasks. And 2016, we whipped up The REM Reading Challenge. (I really sucked at this one. I couldn't even complete one album, but man was it fun trying!). And then to honor David Bowie's passing, in 2017, we pulled together The Bowie Reading Challenge! This past year I decided to take a break from our music theme and challenged everyone to read whatever the fuck they wanted in our RWTFYW challenge. The only rule was that there were no rules : )

(by the way, even those these challenges were kicked off in specific year, you can totally create your challenge for any of them any time you wish!)

I mean, there's just something about reading challenges right??? and so..... because I am glutton for punishment, here we are again!

For 2019, I decided to return to the music theme. And I chose Guster!! I'm late discovering this band. I first heard their song Satellite on Pandora about two years ago and fell in love hard. Since then, I've seen them in concert twice (going back to see them again in January!) and after listening to most of their songs, I realized their lyrics and song titles would pair really well with reading tasks. So.. here we are!

Whether you know and love Guster, or this is the first time you are hearing of them, what I think is most cool about these kinds of reading challenges... is that you don't even have to be a fan of the bands to participate. You just have to be a fan of READING!!


(follow the link to create yours!)

So here's how this works:

*The goal is to cross off as many Guster songs as you can throughout the course of 2019. 

You can challenge yourself to complete one entire album, focus on completing one decades-worth of albums, or build your own challenge by hitting your favorite song titles... it's totally up to you!

*You cross off the songs by reading a book that meets the criteria listed after each song title.

If the book meets multiple reading tasks, cool! You can apply it to multiple song titles, OR you can make the reading challenge more challenging by limiting yourself to one song title per book.

*There is a built in redundancy with some of the tasks. 

They are repetitive on purpose, to give you an opportunity to read more than one type of book and still get credit for completing a task. (Sneaky, I know!)

*You can copy and paste the entire list, or your customized challenge list, into your own thread in this goodreads folder and strike through the song titles as you complete them, OR, you can simply copy and paste each song title and its criteria from the master list here as you complete it. (obviously put your name in the thread title so we know whose challenge it is).

*Do not add your list directly to the thread. 

*YOU MUST LIST THE BOOK TITLE AND AUTHOR that coincides with the song as you complete it for the challenge so we know what you read!


An example of a completed song title task in your Challenge thread would look like this: 

“Parachute” – Take the plunge and read a book in a genre you don’t normally read - Death Valley Superstars - Duke Haney


Aaaaannnnnnnddddddd here's the list, 
broken down by album, in the order of their release:

Parachute (1995)

“Fall in Two” – Read a book with a number in the title
“Mona Lisa” – Read a book about art or that features art
“Love for Me” – Read a love story
“Window” – Read a book with an inanimate object in the title
“Eden” – Read a book about temptation
“Scars & Stitches” – Read a used book, the more banged up the better
“The Prize” – Read a book about someone who’s lost themselves
“Dissolve” – Read a book and take credit here if it didn’t leave a lasting impression
“Cocoon” – Read a book while you’re wrapped up in a blanket, or under the sheets in bed
“Happy Frappy” – Read a book that takes place near or on a river
“Parachute” – Take the plunge and read a book in a genre you don’t normally read

Goldfly (1997)

“Great Escape” – Read a book while you’re on a road trip, or in which a portion of the book takes place in a car
“Demons” – Read a book that features an evil entity or someone with evil intent
“Perfect” – Read a book about drugs and drug use
“Airport Song” – Read a book that you picked up at an airport, or that features an airplane/airport
“Medicine” – Take a sick day and read a book
“X-Ray Eyes” – Read a song about a superhero or someone with strange powers
“Grin” – Read a book that makes you feel good
“Getting Even” – Read a book about revenge
“Bury Me” – Read a book in which a character dies
“Rocketship” – Read a book that takes place in outer space

Lost and Gone Forever (1999)

“What You Wish For” – Read a book that was on your wishlist
“Barrel of a Gun” – Read a book written by or featuring a movie star
“Either Way” – Read a book you’ve been on the fence about
“Fa Fa” – Read a book that features a made – up language or dialect
“I Spy” – Read a book from your TBR pile that is on one of your friend’s bookshelves
“Center of Attention” – Read a book written in first person
“All the Way Up to Heaven” – Read a book in your coziest, most favorite reading spot
“Happier” – Read whatever the fuck you want and take credit for it here
“So Long” – Read a book with more than 400 pages
“Two Points for Honesty” – Read a book that someone recommends to you and then tell them what you honestly thought of it
“Rainy Day” – Read a book on a rainy day

Keep It Together (2003)

“Diane” – Read a book with a female protag
“Careful” – Read a book that you borrowed from someone (and had to return in pristine condition)
“Amsterdam” – Read a book set in a different country
“Backyard” – Read a book written by an author from your hometown/city/state
“Homecoming King” – Read a book about high school or a book that features teenagers
“Ramona” – Read a book written by someone who identifies as female
“Jesus on the Radio” – Listen to a bookish podcast or an audiobook
“Keep it Together” – Read a book that keeps freaking you right the fuck out
“Come Downstairs and Say Hello” – Read a book while at, or hiding from, a family gathering
“Red Oyster Cult” – Read a book that features a mother or focuses on the character’s relationship with their mother
“Long Way Down” – Read a book written in third person
“I Hope Tomorrow is Like Today” – Read a book that takes place in the future
“Untitled Hidden Track” – Read a book that you uncovered accidentally
“Two at a Time” – Read a book written by two authors
“Say That to My Face” – Read a book someone would classify as a “guilty pleasure”
“Starless Heaven” – Read a book at the beach
“Days” – Read a book that takes place over the span of just a few days

Ganging Up on the Sun (2006)

“Lightning Rod” – Read a Cli-Fi book (a book that features climate change or strange weather)
“Satellite” – Read a book that takes place primarily at night
“Manifest Destiny” – Read a book that someone randomly selects for you off your bookshelf
“One Man Wrecking Machine” – Read a Sci-Fi book (extra points if it features time travel)
“The Captain” – Read a book that takes place on the ocean or on a ship/boat
“The New Underground” – Read a book that takes place in a dystopian setting/time, or features a cult
“Ruby Falls” – Read a book with a color in the title
“C’mon” – Read a book that didn’t sit well with you
“Empire State” – Read a book that takes place in NYC or is written by an author who calls NYC home
“Dear Valentine” – Read a book that takes place on or around a holiday
“The Beginning of the End” – Read a book about the end of the world
“Hang On” – Read a book that’s about another book, or is written as a book in a book

Satellite EP (2007)

“G Major” – Read a book about music or that features a band or musician
“Rise & Shine” – Spend the morning reading a book and take credit here
“Timothy Leary” – Read a book with a man’s name in the title
“I’m Through” – If you’re reading a book that you’re just not into, DNF it and take credit here

Easy Wonderful (2010)

“Architects & Engineers” – Read a book that takes place in a city
“Do You Love Me” – Read a book by your favorite author
“On the Ocean” – Read a book that is dark and foreshadowing
“This Could All Be Yours” – Read a self-help or motivational book
“Stay with Me Jesus” – Read a book that features religion or is about a religious conspiracy
“Bad Bad World” – Read a book in which the title contains the same word twice
“This is How it Feels to Have a Broken Heart” – Read a book that takes place during a war or features a character who has served in a war
“What You Call Love” – Read a book in your favorite genre
“That’s No Way to Get into Heaven” – Read a book in which the main character(s) does something wicked
“Jesus and Mary” – Read a book that features angels or a rapture/biblical end times
“Hercules” – Read a book about a mythological character
“Do What You Want” – Read whatever floats your boat and take credit for it here
“Well” – Read a book that takes you down a weird, trippy rabbit hole
“Jonah” – Read a book that features a giant fish or whale
“Lost at Sea” – Read a book and if it made it absolutely no sense to you, take credit here

On the Ocean EP (2011)

“Big White Bed” – Read a book in bed, and only in bed
“Every Moment” – Read a book that you just can’t put down/stop thinking about

Evermotion (2015)

“Long Night” – Read a book that kept you up all night
“Endlessly” – Read a book and take credit for it here if it felt like it was never going to end
“Doin’ it By Myself” – Read a book in which the protag is a hermit/antisocial/lonely
“Lazy Love” – Read a book instead of doing anything else and take credit for your procrastination here
“Simple Machine” – Read a digital book
“Expectation” – Read a book and if it didn’t meet your expectations, take credit here
“Gangway” – Read a book with just one word in the title
“Kid Dreams” – Read a book that features a child protagonist
“Never Coming Down” – Read a book that’s set in the 70’s
“It is Just What it is” – Read a book that’s pretty straightforward
“Farewell” – Read the last book written by an author

Look Alive (2019)

“Look Alive” – Read a book about zombies or dead people
“Don’t Go” – Read a book and if it made you wish it had never ended, take credit for it here
“Hard Times” – Read a book you borrowed from the library
“Hello Mr Sun” – Go outside, sit in the sun, and read a book, then take credit for it here
“Overexcited” – Read a book you could not wait to get your hands on
“Summertime” – Read a book that takes place in the summer
“Terrified” – Read a horror book
“Mind Kontrol” – Give into the hype and read a book that everyone else is talking about
“Not for Nothing” – Read a book that you know is going to piss you off
“When You Go Quiet” – Read a book that you get totally, 100% absorbed in and take credit for it here

Good luck! And feel free to have some conversation in the comments section here to let us know how you are making out!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bronwyn Reviews: Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields
Publisher: Fence Books
Winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose
Released: 2018

reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin

Strawberry Fields is a book of names. Half the chapters are titled “Alice,” the name of the novel’s protagonist. Each of the remaining chapters is titled for its narrator, 17 of them named, three identified only by nicknames. Alice and Modigliani are trying to solve the simultaneous murders in a hospital ward of Iraq war veterans. Names are important, as Alice explains:

“I had profiles of the victims, tons of background. In my notes I used their first names, hoping to call them up, make them feel known: Kareem, Frances, Jonathan, Sergei, Diana.”  

Through the course of the novel we have fleeting encounters with 36 more named characters, a few others identified only by an initial or characteristic, a handful of dogs named after their behaviors, one very, very bad man.

That man is Bill LeRoy, CEO of Xenith, a transnational corporation making millions selling war, mercenaries, and security services. Any resemblance to Erik Prince and Blackwater USA (now known by the more anodyne “Academi”) is intentional. One great conceit of this novel is that much of it is true. Dialogue is taken directly from former prisoners at Guantánamo and from Donald Rumsfeld. Protesters occupy a city park for weeks. Reporters try and fail to discover why innocent people were shot during Hurricane Katrina.

I started reading this novel just as massive wildfires were exploding across California. To be reminded of the Bush administration’s startlingly inadequate response to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the US even as the current president was tweeting out threats to cut federal funding to fight wildfires, was to be reminded the crisis of democracy we are living through today did not happen overnight. So many scenes in this book center around a war Americans are trying to forget. It may be tempting to look back at the Bush years and think, at least they had an ideology, in comparison to nihilistic drive to amass wealth and power driving the current administration and its camp followers. To read this book is to find yourself back in that time, but with the benefit of hindsight. Plum, by treating the Katrina murders and killings committed by mercenaries in a time of war equally as crimes, helps us see the ideology of that administration was nothing more than a wrapping of red, white, and blue tissue paper.

Those aren’t the only crimes and injustices Plum’s characters explore. Reading this novel is a bit like reading the newspaper. Its disconnected narratives leave you with the sense that no matter how much you’ve read when you finally put it down, tomorrow’s newspaper will offer more injustices to read. That is, of course, the point. We are surrounded by disconnected injustices, and we get only a cursory view of them through the news. Behind the stories we read are people, famous and otherwise, whose lives we will never know, even if we know their names.

In a chapter titled “La Gringa,” the American narrator arrives in the village where her grandmother had been born, somewhere in what is probably the Balkans:

“The village was much as one would expect, though the background of mountains and sky more spectacular than I would have imagined. The children’s clothes were not traditional but dirtied American castoffs – Mickey Mouse, Adidas, mesh shorts.”

While this novel gives us the victims’ names and reminds us to think of them as human, it treats them only as victims. We see the damage wrought by American foreign policy, but that is all we see. At the end of the novel we know Alice and we have a better picture of the five murder victims, but as when we read the newspaper, we know little about the other people we’ve passed along the way. Today, I find myself equally interested in seeing the world through the eyes of those who’ve lived through war and authoritarianism. I want to know how they find agency, continuing to go to school, fall in love, get married, go to work each day. How do they find the strength to live lives that are full and meaningful, even in terrible times? I am certain they have something to teach us.

Bronwyn Mauldin writes fiction and poetry and is creator of The Democracy Series zine collection. Her newest work appears in Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.  

Monday, December 3, 2018

Where Writers Write: Sue Ingalls Finan

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Sue Ingalls Finan. 

She is a graduate of University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and Loyola University Chicago. She taught American history and literature in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Northern California, and her adaptive writing and story-telling are featured in diverse media – textbooks, anthologies, magazines, and newspapers. “The Cards Don’t Lie” (She Writes Press, Oct. 9, 2018) is her first novel. Now living in Sonoma County with her history buff husband Jim, she writes for her local newspaper and volunteers at hospitals and libraries with Duffy, her Irish wolfhound therapy dog.

Where Sue Ingalls Finan Writes

For me it’s not the where that’s important– it’s the important wear!...

When looking for inspiration, I slip into my snuggly Ugg moccasins. And while cuddled in their warm fuzzies, ideas slip into my head.

They take me lots of places – around our neighborhood of bulcolic lakes and wildlife, weekly visits to local libraries and museums, exploring and sightseeing our many diverse locales while in the passenger’s seat of my husband’s car, shopping for the latest and greatest at farmers’ markets, cooking Ottolenghie’s newest recipes in the kitchen, even perched on the sofa watching the Borgias or the Durrells on Netflix.

And always, as my feet are making impressions in the Uggs fleecy soles, so too are impressions being made on me, lining my soul with suggestive writing notions. Once ensconced in my “writer’s zone,, I jot down concepts on scrap papers and post-its, and sort through them later.   Llike that scene in the movie “The Post,; the “office floor” becomes littered with numerous pieces of the “evidence” - (my thoughtful manifestations-) and not worthy of being photographed.)  Such a delight to find that various notions I’d scribbled are quite plush proposals; and many a perfect fit for what I’d intended and needed.

And I’m again aware that all were enabled by the wear of my cozy moccasins: Hugs to my Uggs!