Friday, April 26, 2019

My March in Reading

Here's a review of all of the books that I buried my nose in last month.

Peter Heller
Knopf Publishing 
(March 2019)

4 Stars

The best audiobook I've listened to so far this year. The narrator complimented the writing and his reading style kept me engaged the entire time. What starts out as a buddy trip quickly turns into a game of survival of the fittest when a moment of good intention twists iteself into the men's worst nightmare.

Jordan A Rothacker
Stalking Horse Press
(March 2019)

3 Stars

A collection of strange and somewhat forgettable stories. Of the bunch, Parables Three which is three stories within the story, one of a young boy who listens to an old man's story, one of a magician who fears he's a fraud, and one of a little girl who asks god for a christmas present; A Night, Like Any Other; Or Ooh, Ooh That Smell where a bullied boy finds release in burning a body, and Winter Solstice, in which a young man buries the star of his deceased mother's nativity scene, were immediate favorites. That is not to say that the rest of the stories were clunkers... far from it. Each one was uniquely skewed and twisted, but they lacked staying power, quickly fading away the further I navigated into the collection.

Ronan Hession
Bluemoose Books
(March 2019)

3 Stars

This is the most "feel-good" fiction I've read in a long while. A slow, meandering walk through the lives of Leonard and Hungry Paul - two awkward, introverted, thirty-something year old besties who still live at home with the 'rents - as they navigate slight but extremely distruptive changes in both their lives. Insightful in its simplicity, Hession's novel showcases the power of friendship, living in the moment, and embracing the person you are, flaws and all.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin
One World 
(January 2019)


I started to listen to this on audio during my work commute. I only made it a week, I just couldn't do it anymore. Part my struggle was the audio narrator. He was a speed talker for sure and came across as a little manic and high strung. I blame the rest on the overall pacing of the novel itself. It jumped and skipped around too frequently for me, as if the book's narrator (or the author himself) had ADHD. Though I really didn't want to, I had to call it quits. It just wasn't for me.

Paul Crenshaw
Mad Creek Books
(March 2019)

3 Stars

As a hard core literary fiction fan, I'll admit I'm still quite new to the whole genre of non fiction essay collection. In an effort to broaden my reading horizons this year, I'm trying to read it more often, but I keep finding myself torn with same old question of how-much-of-this-is-truly-true-and-how-much-is-fluffed-up-in-an-effort-to-keep-my-attention-or-fill-in-the-gaps-that-memory-leaves-blank? Paul himself, in his essay "Choke", takes a moment to acknowledge this very thing, stating that memory, and how one unravels or shares the truth, how things are arranged and shared within the essay, can change the story. So how many creative liberties and fill-in-the-blanks-when-we-don't-remember-the-specifics have to take place before the non fiction actually becomes fiction?

What's here is well written, and my preferred essays, though this shouldn't come as a shock, were those that focused most specifically on Paul and his family. I found myself most rapt when reading about his own experiences vs those pages he devoted towards researching and spewing out facts and numbers about his hometown, religious influences, and the like. 

Though, counter to what I just said, Paul also manages to cross over into my greatest pet-peeve territory by introducing animals only to kill them off. Only this is 10xs worse because it's for reals and not for the fiction novel shock factor. These deaths will haunt me for a long time to come. I hope he's happy.

Asja Bakic
The Feminist Press
(March 2019)

4 Stars

Strange and mysterious settings plague this intensely striking and infectiously readable debut collection of speculative short stories. From a woman who must write herself out of pergatory, to a future world in which all literature and their authors are packed up and sent away to Mars, many of the stories focus on the power of the written word in some fashion, creating interesting and alluring atmospheres. Worlds are upended, relationships are not what they seem, protagonists face personal epiphanies... it's a melting pot of sci-fi meets cli-fi meets dystopian meets speculative fiction in which every reader is bound to find something to love.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Paul Beckman Takes it to the Toilet

Oh yes! We absolutely have a series on bathroom reading! So long as it's taking place behind the closed  (or open, if that's the way you swing) bathroom door, we want to know what it is. It can be a book, the back of the shampoo bottle, the newspaper, or Twitter on your cell phone - whatever helps you pass the time...

Today, Paul Beckman takes it to the toilet. Paul’s published books are: Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press), Peek (Big Table Publishing), Come! Meet My Family and Other Stories (Weighted Anchor Press) Chapbooks: Maybe I Ought to Sit in a Dark Room for a While (Ink, Sweat, and Tears) 21 Stories (Web Del Sol), and a novella, Lovers and Other Mean People (Sugar Mule Press). He has over 400 stories published in print, online, and via audio in the following magazines among others: Pank, Necessary Fiction, Playboy, New Flash Fiction Review,  Pure Slush, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Thrice Fiction, Fictive Dream, Connecticut Review. Literary Orphans, 100 Word Story, Spelk Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Digging Through the Fat, Litro, and Red Fez. Paul has judged flash fiction contest for Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Cahoodaloodaling and short story financial award grants for the state of New Jersey. And he has had his stories short-listed two times for LISP London Independent Story Prize, Was one of the winners of the Best Small Fictions 2016, Nominated BSF 2019, Won the 2016 Editor’s Prize for fiction for the Southeast Review, and  had a story selected for the Norton Anthology of Micro-fiction 2019.

Paul lives in CT. with his wife, Sandra and he curates the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York’s lower east side.

Toilet Training at the Beckman’s

It started out a number of years ago when I was sitting on the throne and I realized I had a note in my pocket that I wrote earlier in the day with a story idea. I didn’t remember what it was about so I read it again, liked it and took my pen from the same shirt pocket and expanded on the note. When I finished my business in the bathroom I went to my office and typed up that story.

Weeks passed and I stopped and picked up the mail at the end of my driveway and had the urge to go so I jumped in the car, drove into the garage and ran to the bathroom. While I was sitting there I looked through the mail and then started to peruse that weeks’ Time Magazine. When I left the bathroom I left the magazine propped up against the wall.

Then I got a book in the mail and I took it in with me to read the dust jacket and then I was going to put it on my nightstand but it didn’t make it there.

Within a couple of months the books multiplied and I was stacking them in piles to read like at my nightstand and like at the end table in the living room.

My wife took a stand and said she wasn’t going to use that bathroom until I took the books out-- she’d use the guest bathroom and I’d better not go in there at all. I told her I didn’t know how all the books and magazines were piling up and I think, and she found this hard to believe, that they were copulating in there while we were sleeping and that’s why the books were multiplying.

I think  if I alphabetize them they won’t look so messy but every time I start to do that I start another book. Now most have bookmarks and the stack of Time Magazines are each folded to an article I want to read. I’ve come to accept me for who I am but I wish my wife would stop brining company into the bathroom so they can laugh at me. No one realizes the pressured I’m under with all those books and magazines calling to me. I may have to start sneaking into the guest bathroom.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Page 69: The Coffeehouse Resistance

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 

Set up page 69 for us.

Page 69 falls just as we’ve moved to New York City from Addis Ababa. Though we loved our life in Ethiopia, we’ve come to America seeking our version of the American Dream. We’ve recently arrived in the Northern Manhattan neighborhood where much of the story then unfolds. Our business is in the still-an-idea stage, and we’ve just decided on a name for it that feels right. It’s a time of great possibility and risk, and my husband, Elias, and I along with our toddler daughter are adjusting to our new home.  

 What The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times is about:

This is a book about love, coffee and the American Dream. It’s a memoir – so it’s about me, and my family – it’s about the places we left behind, the reasons we came to America and the work we must do to make this the country live up to its promise. It’s also about coffee and reclaiming the history of coffeehouses throughout history, as a place where people come together, and our coffeehouses become hubs for local organizing and action. Ultimately this is a book about hope, building community, and fighting for our (American) dreams.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the collection is about? Does it align itself the collection’s theme?

It’s striking how the page does hit on some major themes of the book. When I read page 69 by itself, I realize that from the very beginning, in its conception starting a business was also about making a statement, about claiming and fully owning an identity. Also, dislocation and alienation, of being in a new place where so much is unfamiliar. A reader might sense the contrast with our old life (which is not described on this page) from the description of our surroundings in our New York neighborhood.  And, I think the page hints at the central place family and community will take in the story.


We, on the other hand, are black and brown, and like the coffee, have grown and been nurtured on African and Asian soil. Naming our company Buunni is a counterpoint to the prevailing coffee culture that we observe. We decide on our company’s name and smile at our inside joke.

We begin to adjust to our new life in New York, which is at times in jarring contrast to the life we left in Addis Ababa. The sidewalks in our part of Manhattan smell like dog piss in the steaming muggy summer heat, and the smell only sharpens in the crisp fall and dry winter air. But we live near a gorgeous park—a hidden gem near the very top of Manhattan. Our walks in Fort Tryon Park are a physical relief from our cramped quarters, and the river views, the garden of all seasons, and the open expanses are a respite from the view from our own apartment windows— they look into other people’s homes, and a brick wall. We get to know many of our neighbors during our strolls in the Fort Tryon Park and the hours Juni spends in the two neighborhood playgrounds closest to us. These spaces offer an informal gathering place to meet other people in the community, parents, childcare providers, grandparents, and visiting relatives.


SARINA PRABASI has lived the life of a global nomad and is a new American. She was born in the Netherlands to Nepali parents, and was raised in India, China and Nepal, after which she spent formative years in the United States and in Ethiopia. Sarina is a seasoned leader in international development—working on global health, education, water and sanitation for over 25 years. In 2011, she moved from Addis Ababa to New York City and started Buunni Coffee with her husband. Their small business has become a hub for community conversation and action. Sarina is the proud mama of two daughters, who keep her learning and laughing every day.