John Irving "Encourages" Aspiring Novelists

My warped sense of humor causes me to find this John Irving piece kind of amusing.  I know (or, I hope) that Irving was trying to encourage aspiring first-time novelists to keep at it, but if I were one of those, this would probably scare the crap out of me.  This is nothing against Irving, by the way, because I generally admire the man’s writing and he has written at least two novels that I consider to be among my all-time favorites.

Best of 2012 – First Quarter

Hard as it is for me to believe, we are already at the end of the first quarter of 2012.  This is proving to be one of my favorite reading years in a long while because it seems that everywhere I turn this year, I’m finding another great book to read,  That means that, although I read strictly from my TBR stack for the whole month of January, that stack seems to reach a record height about three times a week – and it’s still growing.

To this point, these are my favorite novels of 2012 – books that entertained me, made me think, taught me lessons about the world, and kept me up way too late on work nights:

1.  State of Wonder – Ann Patchett – an unforgettable drama in the Amazon
2.  The Might Have Been – Joseph M. Schuster – baseball and life
3.  The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes – read this one very carefully
4.  Edge of Dark Water – Joe R. Lansdale – hillbilly noir
5.  The Angel Makers – Jessica Gregson – WWI historical fiction
6.  The Beginner’s Goodbye – Anne Tyler – a deceptively simple tale
7.  The Detour – Andromeda-Romano-Lax – a WWII love story/thriller
8.  Taft 2012 – Jasons Heller – Taft runs for president in 2012
9.  Carry the One – Carol Anshaw – guilt carried for a lifetime
10. The Iguana Tree – Michel Stone – sympathetic look at illegal immigration

So much good fiction has found its way to me that my nonfiction reading has unfortunately suffered greatly.  Because I have only read seven nonfiction titles in the last 90 days, I am going to hold off until at least the end of June to post my first nonfiction Top 10 list.

I can’t wait to see what surprises me in the second quarter.

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown

Because I have been an on-again-off-again fan of James Brown’s music since the mid-sixties, to me it feels like the man has always been there.  I remember him best as the ultimate showman, an impression that is easily confirmed by watching some of the many James Brown videos that are readily found on YouTube today.  Brown, because of the controversy surrounding his death and his multiple funerals, was a performer even in death, and I think he would have enjoyed and been pleased by that.  I thought I knew James Brown – or, at least, everything I needed to know about him, but R.J. Smith’s new James Brown biography, The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, showed me just how wrong I was.
The One (which actually refers to the way that he emphasized the upbeat rather than the downbeat in his music) focuses on Brown’s career path, as it should, but manages to get inside the man’s head in a way that helps explain where much of his chronic reckless behavior originated.  James Brown, like all of us, was the product of his environment, his deeper culture, and his upbringing.  Unfortunately for those around him, he often embraced the worst elements of all three, making life for his several wives, his children, and his employees miserable, at best – and unsustainable, at worst. 
Smith documents Brown’s troubled life in great detail.  The failed marriages, the thousands of women who kept him company on the road, the children (most of whom he hardly knew), the drug abuse of his later years, the susceptibility to physical violence he could not always control, his mental abuse of band members – it is all there.  James Brown was an extreme control freak; band members did not work for him – he owned them – but few would argue with the results of his musical vision or his impact on popular music and culture.
R.J. Smith
One important part of Brown’s legacy is seldom spoken of today.  Largely because his music would eventually find a passionate white audience, he became an important figure in the civil rights movement of the sixties, often rubbing shoulders with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the era.  Brown saw himself as someone capable of unifying the races and he did his best to make it happen – even to the point of offending those of his own race who did not believe in the nonviolent tactics of Dr. King.  National politicians of the day, although they sometimes abused his trust, recognized the importance of having his support – support that would eventually trigger a financially crippling boycott of Brown’s music led by vocal elements of the black community.
The One is for anyone interested in music history, pop culture, the civil rights movement, or simply what makes all of us tick.  It is easy to forget (if we ever even realized the extent to which it was true) that James Brown was a real player in his prime, one of those important, but tragically flawed, people who comes around only every so often.  The One will go a long way in setting the record straight. 

(Below you will find one of the most famous live performances of all time, Brown’s appearance on the TAMI show, which includes his signature song, “Please, Please, Please.”  Enjoy

Rated at: 5.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Carry the One

Carry the One, the latest offering from Carol Anshaw, is sneaky.  The novel begins as a straight-forward description of a hippie-style wedding attended by the bride’s siblings but not her parents.  It is here that the reader meets the story’s main characters: siblings Carmen (the bride), Alice, and their doper brother Nick, along with Nick’s stoned girlfriend Olivia, Tom (a folk singer with negligible fame), and Maude (the groom’s sister).  Reminiscent of the wedding described by Mario Puzo in The Godfather, a good bit of steamy sex ensues amongst these six during the wedding reception. 
All is well as this sleepy, stoned, and mostly sated crew piles into one car to make its way back to the big city and individual lives.  Mere minutes later, their world is shattered when Olivia, who is behind the wheel of the car, strikes and kills a little girl trying to cross their remote highway.  Anshaw presents even this tragic accident and its immediate aftermath in a straight-forward account.  At that point, however, the novel shifts in a more literary direction in which the reader will follow each of these young revelers well into middle-age via a series of jumpy flashbacks.
Numerous lives are damaged by the way that ten-year-old Casey Redman dies.  Her parents, of course, suffer most obviously and most immediately, but they are not the only ones to sustain crippling damage to their souls.  Carmen, Alice, Nick, Maude, and Tom are perfectly happy to let Olivia take the entire blame for what happened.  But for the rest of their lives, they struggle to keep their personal guilt hidden – often even from themselves.  Tom, who seems least affected, walks away from the whole thing as quickly and cleanly as possible, only to resurface years later with an idea that will disgust the others.  And, although Olivia takes the biggest hit of all, none of them will ever be able to forget what happened that night.
Carol Anshaw
If nothing else, this group of friends is filled with overachievers.  One will become a prominent astronomer, one a painter of international repute, one a model/actress, and one a diligent political activist.  Each of them is, however, so insecure that they expect to find failure around the next corner.  After all, they deserved to be punished, do they not?
Carry the One tells a sad story, one that is much more complex than it initially appears to be.  It is about personal guilt, family, love, addiction, and recovery – recovery of several varieties, in fact.  Even though only one of the characters expresses her guilt outwardly, the life of each has been forever limited by the painful burden that keeps them tied together. 
Rated at: 3.5

Winner of Being Flynn Giveaway

Renee, you are the winner of the Being Flynn book-movie-tie-in with lucky number 19.  That was the second number to come up – but no one chose 17, so the book and Fandango bucks are yours.

Just send your mailing instructions to samhouston23 at gmail dot com and I will forward the information to the movie publicity people so they can send the prizes directly to you.

Congratulations to Renne, and a big thank you to everyone else who entered.


B*itches in Bookshops (Bear with Me on This One)

First, I want to say that this post is not meant as a rant against rappers, nor what they so ludicrously dare call “music” (OK, I couldn’t help myself – had to get at least one lick in).  But I could not post the following video without saying something up front because me promoting a video recorded in this style is not something I ever dreamed I would be doing; I normally would turn this kind of thing off as soon as I could find a place the right place to click.  Some of you might feel the same, but do give this one a chance because it has a positive message about reading – and, at this point, anything that can make reading a book “cool” to young people is probably a good thing. So, despite the depths to which popular culture has been dragged by rappers and the thugs who produce it, give this one a look.

Here goes.  Try to get past the title of the piece and listen to the message.  It will surprise you, I think.

Last Chance to Win Being Flynn

There is still time to put your number in the hat for a chance at the book tie-in to the new Robert De Niro movie, Being Flynn.  Right now, your odds will be pretty good since I have less than ten entries.

I am going to announce a winner on Monday afternoon, so there are just three more days to enter.  I received a copy of the book being given away by its publisher and it looks good.


Android Fully Loaded

I never take the time to go through the owner’s manual of any device I purchase before I start pushing buttons and learning about it through what often turns into a painful trial-and-error process.  I just do not have that kind of patience.  And that probably explains why I am often later drawn to much better written manuals produced by third-party writers who seem to know everything there is to know about my new toy – and exactly how to explain it to me (with color pictures).  Android Fully Loaded is one such manual that caught my eye.  Even though I have been using my Android-based cell phone for about nine months now (after switching from one of the now failed Palm phones), I learned things from Rob Huddleston about my phone and its capabilities that I probably never would have discovered on my own.

Huddleston begins with several chapters on the general layout and screens of Android smart phones.  These chapters cover subjects that all but the newest users of smart phones will already be familiar with: various screen displays, using the phone to actually call someone (imagine that), where to find new applications (both free and sold), the Google calendar, and the set-up and use of Gmail and Email (which is almost always set-up for the owner by his salesperson).

Part II of Android Fully Loaded deals in much detail with the specific areas of maps, music, shooting pictures and video, and using the web from an Android smart phone.  It was in the music chapter of the book that I had my first revelation, in fact.  Listening to music via my phone is not something that I do a lot of mainly because that process is a real battery-eater for most phones, so I was perfectly happy with what I could do with Pandora (which allows the user to create his own “radio stations”) and I-Heart Radio.  Huddleston, though, introduced me to Google Music, a service through which I uploaded much of my song collection to a Google server (20,000 songs can be uploaded at no charge) for playback at my leisure anywhere I can connect to the web.

The book’s final section is entitled “Working and Playing” and includes separate chapters on documents, games, cool apps, troubleshooting, and more advanced topics.  These chapters will almost certainly introduce most users to a few applications that will make them wonder how they lived without those apps for so long.  What did it for me were applications like “Where” (which uses the phone’s GPS system to locate businesses and the best gas prices close to me), “Walkroid” (a pedometer that works better than some I have paid as much as $40 for), and “Zedge” (which offers countless free ringtones).

Android Fully Loaded is likely to have something helpful for all but the most sophisticated smart phone users.  Newbies will appreciate the full-color illustrations (actual screenshots from the author’s own cell phone) and more intermediate users will make use of the tips, shortcuts, and new applications found in the book.  Android Fully Loaded, which also covers Android tablets, is one of the best books of its type I have seen in a while.

Rated at: 5.0

Socialized Bookstores Next for France?

Because I am a firm believer in capitalism, I find something like this proposal from France to be totally misguided and destructive.  I don’t know that the tax situation regarding is the same in France as in the United States but, if it is, the Minister of Culture there is overlooking the obvious.  Even if the sales tax policies are different, this is a bad mistake because businesses that cannot survive on a level playing need to adjust accordingly.

As it stands now in the U.S., Amazon only has to collect and pay sales tax to states within which the company operates a physical facility of some sort, usually a huge warehouse or two from which items are shipped.  That does, in my opinion, give Amazon an unfair edge on their competitors – businesses that have to collect sales tax on every sale they make.  Amazon is leeching customers from these other companies and, especially in this tough economic time, customers will continue to flock to any retailer that starts with an eight or ten percent immediate price advantage.  That’s only consumer common sense.

Now Frederic Mitterand, the previously mentioned minister, is proposing a special tax on Amazon and large bookstores there to “help out” the smaller stores.  Why not just close the tax loophole that allows Amazon to pay so little tax in comparison to smaller companies?

Europe is not America; I get it.  But socializing bookstores is bad business and will, I imagine, have numerous unforeseen consequences for everyone – including consumers and those very bookstores that would receive the cash infusions.  Just watch book prices skyrocket in France – unless they are already regulated by the government of that country.

Anne Perry / Juliet Hulme (Part 4)

I am truly surprised that a series of posts that started on Book Chase more than four years ago is still drawing comments from around the world.  Those posts began as a discussion of my   reaction when I first learned that Anne Perry had been convicted and punished for her participation in a very brutal murder when she was a teen.  The many comments added to the posts have expressed shock, negative reactions (including a difficulty enjoying Perry’s mysteries any longer), and substantial amounts of support for the author.

I know that Book Chase finds new readers every day, so I think it would be appropriate to post links to two of the earlier posts here as a way of exposing the discussion to some to whom the information might be new and interesting.  My personal opinion concerning Ms. Perry’s crime and the irony associated with her choice of profession (author of murder mysteries) has softened a bit over the past four years, but I still find it impossible to read her work.  Others do not.

Hopefully, this will start a fresh discussion – and some new material associated with the murder and its aftermath will be brought to my attention.  To this point, I have learned of an Australian book on the subject, a video interview in which Perry discusses the murder with author Ian Rankin, a major film about the girls and the murder, and a documentary shot in Anne Perry’s home.  Links to each of those have been included in prior posts.

To regular readers this is old news, of course, and I apologize for repeating myself to them.  Others, I hope, will find the subject to be as fascinating as I do.

Prior posts and all the details can be found here:

Anne Perry / Juliet Hulme (Revisited)

Anne Perry / Juliet Hulme (Revisited Again)


Justin Curfman’s debut novel, Wrecker, is a powerful condemnation of the horrible effects on a child that stem from neglectful (and, in this case, malicious) parenting.  I want to stress that much of the book’s power stems from how graphically its disturbing content is presented.  Some readers might be unable to finish this one; those who do make it all the way through will not soon forget it.

High school senior Sammy Fennell is working long hours in his father’s convenience store and looking forward to his high school graduation.  Sammy, though, has girlfriend problems that are like a ticking time bomb set to explode in his face.  With beer in hand and, hoping to win his girl back, he knocks on her mother’s door one night only to discover that her little sister is there alone.  Hours later, Sammy wakes up on the floor to the realization that the combination of too much beer and a wise-beyond-her-years young teen has led to a mistake that will almost certainly have tragic consequences for both of them.
Flash forward a few years, and Sammy is providing for his wife and two young children by driving a wrecker for the man who befriended him just when he most needed to meet someone he could trust.  But all is not well in Sammy’s young family: his new baby has serious health problems, his wife can barely cope with daily life since giving birth to the little girl, and his little boy is largely on his own until Sammy comes home every evening.   Bad as things are already, after Sammy is falsely accused of molesting his young son, they get a whole lot worse for the Fennells.  Forced by court order to vacate the family trailer, Sammy bunks at the wrecker yard and loses himself in his work – where he has developed the rather morbid hobby of removing and collecting the milometer from each vehicle involved in a fatal accident that he tows to the yard. 
Justin Curfman

Wrecker begins as an almost comical look at life in the small town South, and so slowly morphs into a story of shocking depravity and abuse, that what happens to young Eric Fennell packs a much more powerful punch than it would have otherwise.  Readers will likely be somewhat surprised again by the subsequent shift of tone that occurs when Curfman reveals the novel’s surprising ending.  This one is quite the rollercoaster ride.

Rated at: 3.0

Faded Love in Spring, TX

I did get some quality reading time in this morning, but I just wanted to share a little taste of where I spent the afternoon.  This is some footage I shot at a benefit for a local guitar player who is suffering from cancer and trying to raise money for his treatment.  His friends and fellow-pickers turned out for about seven hours of nonstop music on his behalf.

This is “Faded Love,” and you would never guess from watching this that it was the first time these guys had ever played together in this combination.  With no rehearsal, they killed on this song (the young man in the red shirt and the fiddler with the pony tail are from an Irish rock band that calls Houston home base).  The rest of the group have played together a lot and are some of the mainstays of the Houston country music scene.  Lead singer is Leslie Sloan, a friend; the swing guitar is played by Wayne Turner; Harlan is on bass.  Enjoy.

Being Flynn Giveaway

An interesting movie hits theaters today and the folks at Focus Features have asked me to sponsor a giveaway here on Book Chase in support of the new film.

The movie, Being Flynn, is based upon Nick Flynn’s 2004 memoir entitled Another Bulls-t Night in Suck City, the story of Nick’s non-exsistant relationship with his father, Jonathan – a man he has not seen for 18 years.  Then his father suddenly reappears in Nick’s world.

What will make this one especially interesting to avid readers like you guys is, I think, that both of the Flynn’s are writers.  The movie’s trailer gives a good feel for the movie’s content and quality:

This looks like one of those ever-rarer literary films, something for grownups – the kind of thing that might actually get me back inside an actual movie theater despite my aversion to the noise and rudeness that represents the typical behavior of today’s movie audience.  De Niro is, of course, a draw in himself and, although I am less familiar with Paul Dano’s work, what I see of it in this trailer is impressive.

So, for a chance to win a paperback copy of the movie-tie-in novel and $25 worth of Fandango bucks, reply to this post with your choice of a number between 1 and 30.  I’ll dust off my handy dandy random number generator to choose a winner some time in the next 10 days, depending on how many entries I get.

Additional links you might enjoy:

Official website 
Facebook Page                    

The Professionals

The longer we live in what is proving to be the worst recession since the Big One of the 1930s, it gets easier and easier to feel this might just be the new normal – that this is as good as it is ever going to get.  Especially hard hit, are the young people coming out of universities with no prospect of making a decent living for themselves.  Their study choices have not prepared them for today’s feeble job market, and now they face the prospect of moving back in with their usually less-than-thrilled parents.  Might a short-term career as a professional criminal be the answer?  Can they bank enough quick cash to last them far into the future, if not for the rest of their lives?  This is the premise of Owen Laukkanen’s debut novel, a fast paced crime thriller entitled The Professionals.
Pender (the group’s de facto leader), Marie, Sawyer, and Mouse have been best friends for a long time.  University graduation, for them, is as scary as it is exciting because only one of the four has any idea what to do next, and he is not thrilled about doing it.  When, during a post graduation celebration, Marie jokingly mentions that they should turn to kidnapping for a living, she is surprised that the others are so willing to take her idea and run with it – and run with it they do. 
By keeping their ransom demands at the $60,000 level, carefully choosing their targets, and confining their crimes completely to the borders of their victims’ home states the four manage to stay well below the radar of the FBI and any other big-time crime investigators.  For two years, things go so well for the four that they hope to retire on their savings within another three years.  Then they make their fatal mistake by kidnapping a Detroit businessman whose wife has personal ties to the mob – and now it seems that everyone is after them: state cops, the FBI, and even more terrifying, the mob.  They learn within hours that they will not be allowed to walk away from this one because, even if they evade the law, professional hit men are already closing in on them.
Owen Laukkanen
Laukkanen creates quite a dilemma for his readers.  On the one hand, one recognizes that the good guys (who will, in fact, team up in subsequent books) are the female FBI agent and the state cop working with her.  On the other, the young kidnappers are all highly sympathetic characters who do not see themselves as real “criminals,” and it is easy to root for them.  Right up to the end of this wild ride, it is difficult not to hope for an ending that will somehow satisfy both sides. 
The Professionalsis not a perfect crime thriller, but it is first rate.  Perhaps readers will have to suspend their disbelief a little more than they like to (especially when the mobsters and kidnappers clash directly), but it is worth it.  Laukkanen has shown a whole lot of promise with this first novel, and it will be interesting to see what the rest of the series offers.
Rated at: 4.0

Used E-Books

A headline over on the Chicago Tribune website caught my eye this afternoon.  Eric Zorn has written a short piece on the e-book pricing controversy in which he offers a tweak to the current business plan being used to overcharge (in my opinion) readers for “major” e-book titles.  The headline that caught my eye reads this way:

In the idea oven: ‘Used’ e-books

Zorn argues that even the backlists of many publishers are overpriced in e-book format, forcing buyers to opt instead for cheaper paperbacks or used copies of the books they want to read.  In the case of used books, as he points out, neither publishers nor authors receive a dime from the sale of their work to a second, third, or fourth reader.  Why  don’t publishers instead, Zorn asks, drop their prices (based on the calendar, or otherwise) so that they and the authors sell more e-books and put money into the pockets of all concerned?

That started me wondering.  Would you (I know I would) buy more e-books if you had the right to sell them to another buyer, or even give them away?  I realize that the e-book bookstores would have to change their tracking mechanism in a way that would allow them to register the transfer to the new owner, but don’t tell me they can’t cope with that.

I would be a regular buyer of e-books if they were priced at $8 or $9 each and I knew that I could get half of my money back by selling the books to someone else.  What I will not be doing is paying $15 for an e-book – any e-book – and I don’t see myself as the loser here.  I will take that $15 and buy a hard copy, the version I prefer anyway, a book I can resell, trade, or give away.  After all, unlike an e-book, I actually own a printed book.

The Might Have Been

Baseball is special.  The number of novels about the game, both in quality – and certainly in quantity – probably exceeds that of all other sports combined.  The length of the baseball season, the pace of an individual game, and the potential for any player (regardless of size, position, or past performance) to be a hero for at least one day all lend themselves to good storytelling.  And, because good storytellers seem particularly drawn to the sport, baseball fans who read novels are a lucky bunch.
Joseph M. Schuster is oneof those good storytellers, and the good news is that he has chosen organized baseball as the centerpiece of his debut novel, The Might Have Been.  As the book’s title implies, the hero of this story, however, is only a baseball hero if one considers perseverance to be the stuff from which heroes are made.  At age 27, Edward Everett Yates (who prefers being called by both his first and middle names) does make it all the way to the show with the St. Louis Cardinals, but what happens to him there is the very definition of tragedy.  He experiences the kind of nightmare one rainy day in Montreal that often crosses the mind of anyone who dreams of getting his name in the baseball record books as his only chance of making a mark on the world before he leaves it.  No one, though, will ever call Edward Everett a quitter. 
Now, fast approaching 60 years of age, he is managing a team barely perched on baseball’s bottom rung; it’s A-ball in the middle of nowhere.  The Might Have Been is the story of how he ended up there despite all the baseball promise he showed as a young man.  But it is also the story of countless other young men that Edward Everett coached and managed over a lifetime in the game – all of them, just like him, the best athletes to come out of their high schools and little towns in a decade and considered to be sure things when they left home.  Way too soon, they all learn that everyone in A-Ball left home with the same reputation and high expectations, that suddenly they are competing against equals and the game has become a whole lot tougher than it has ever been for them before.
The Might Have Beenis a book about choices made and not made.  It is about lost dreams, the story of one man’s regrets and disappointment as he looks back at his life, wondering how he ended up where he did, but coming to the realization that it was a whole series of little spur-of-the-moment decisions that combined to make him who he is today.  As in the tradition of the best baseball novels, this one is about the game of life as much as it is about the game of baseball.  Baseball fans will certainly be intrigued by this frank look at life in the minor leagues, but even non-fans will appreciate The Might Have Beenas the excellently written dramatic piece it is.
Rated at: 5.0

On the Road Trailer

I see that a new lit-movie is headed our way.  This time it’s going to be Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

I have always been repulsed by the whole “beat” scene, the hippie culture of the sixties, and the drug culture, for that matter, even though I came of age in the sixties and was exposed to much of it.  So for me personally, this is probably a no-go or, at most, a NetFlix experience, but I thought some of you might be curious.

Too, I have never read On the Road – my question to you is, should I?  Considering my distaste for the pretentiousness of that era, is there anything in there that might change my mind about Mr. Kerouac?

Taft 2012

Jason Heller and Quirk Books have timed the release of Heller’s debut novel, Taft 2012, perfectly.  Because we live in an era in which the “race for president” clamors for our attention three out of every four years, most of us have, at some point or another, longed for simpler times.  Now, just when things are really heating up again, along comes Taft 2012, an alternate history exploring what might happen if we were to get at least part of our wish.
It seems that William Howard Taft, America’s 27thpresident, disappeared on the very morning in 1913 that his successor, Woodrow Wilson, was inaugurated.  He was never seen again – until the 2011 morning that, covered in dirt and mud, he stumbles into the White House Rose Garden.  Perceived as a serious security threat, this bear of a man is wounded by a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the White House’s current resident.  After DNA testing confirms his target’s identity, this same agent will be assigned to protect the man he shot, 154-year-old William Howard Taft.  That is when the fun starts.
William Howard Taft
Taft is understandably shocked by the modern world he wakes up in, but his natural curiosity and adaptability serve him well.  Not long after being introduced to his congresswoman great-granddaughter and her family, he is appearing on a CNN-like network to be presented to the world – and the world likes what it sees.  That is when the “draft Taft,” movement first makes itself felt, eventually leading to an all-Taft, third-party ticket to take on the establishment candidates offered by the Democrat and Republican parties.
The first half of Taft 2012, during which Taft learns about all the technological and social changes to the world he woke up in, is its strongest half.  Even though he is not nearly as shocked by the changes as one might expect, it is still great fun to watch Taft’s initial reaction to things like cell phones and Google.  Too, Taft’s first contact with “the public” is often humorous and touching.  The book’s second half, a more serious look at Taft’s struggle with modern politics and what is being asked of him, suffers a bit in comparison.
Jason Heller
Regular readers of alternate history know that one has to leave “disbelief” at the door.  Others may need to keep reminding themselves that a suspension of disbelief is one of the requirements if they are to enjoy books like this one.  Taft 2012 is a mix of political satire, alternate history, and humor.  More importantly, especially considering the current political environment, this one makes politics fun again – in only for a little while.
Rated at: 4.0

Four D

Gregory Morrison has written one of the strangest (and most interesting) books I have read in the last several years.  Four D, Morrison’s collection of four short stories, is both confounding and thought provoking.  At times, particularly during the book’s first offering, “Space,” I had little idea where the story was heading or what had really happened in the portions of it I had already read.  I hate to admit it, but the story was probably over my head.  Hoping to clear up at least some of my confusion, I pressed on to “Four Rooms.”
“Four Rooms” is not quiteas surreal as “Space,” and I was able to lose myself in this story of a young woman trying to negotiate her way through a series of interconnected rooms and doors.  She has no idea why, or how, she has ended up in such a place, but she is determined to escape this trap.  Several times, she finds herself at what seems like the end of the line – much like what one experiences in working a maze puzzle – but eventually, sometimes through sheer luck, manages to find her way to the next room.  Again, I am not at all sure of Morrison’s real meaning here, but I enjoyed the nerve-wracking atmosphere the story evoked.
Gregory Morrison
Morrison uses a much more straightforward, linear approach in the book’s third story, “Luigi.”  Luigi wants to change his life, and he does it by burning every bridge linking him to his past and present life.  That includes employers, friends, and lovers.  He is not a man I would want to sit down to dinner with, but Luigi is a character that I will remember for a long time.  Watching him so recklessly dismantle his life is similar to the feeling one gets when trying not to stare at the aftermath of a bad car wreck while slowly working one’s way around it.  This is an excellent short story.
The final story, written more in the surrealistic style of the first two, is entitled “Guest” and, at only 18 pages, it is by far the shortest story in the collection.  The story’s brevity, however, did not make it any easier for me to understand its author’s intent or message.  All I can say for certain about reading this one is that it left me with a distinct feeling of dread – a very moody story.
Four D is Gregory Morrison’s debut work.  While I will remain somewhat bewildered by most of what he has written here, I sincerely applaud him for the creation of “Luigi.” 
Rated at: 3.0