Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good Books in 2009

I am not good at writing about fiction. I generally use the word "awesome" over and over again. But I did read some awesome books this year and thought I'd mention some of them that I especially loved.

It was a good year for short story collections. I loved Cliff Garstang's In An Uncharted Country, Paul Yoon's Once the Shore, Lydia Peelle's Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, Holly Goddard Jones's Girl Trouble, Skip Horack's The Southern Cross, and Laura van den Berg's What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us.

Two of my favorite books of the year were written by Blake Butler and Shane Jones. Scorch Atlas was mesmerizing, thrilling, and scary as hell. Light Boxes felt like a perfect fairy tale that twisted and expanded into something even more amazing. These are two books that would not leave my brain.

Josh Weil's The New Valley, a collection of three novellas, was such a wonderful, tightly-written book, one of the few books that I managed to read more than once.

Jedidiah Berry and Paul Tremblay wrote two amazing novels (The Manual of Detection and The Little Sleep) that happened to have private detectives as the main character. I can't recommend these two books enough.

My three favorite books that I read this year were, in order of my liking them:

3. Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood: I read this in manuscript form a while back and sometimes a student would come to my office to talk about Padgett's story from the Ben Marcus anthology and I would bring up the word document for this book and read paragraphs from it to them. It never failed to blow people away, even if they couldn't figure out what the hell it was all about. I could read pieces of this book everyday for the rest of my life and be happy. I wish someone would give Colonel Powell a television show called The Interrogative Mood and simply let him read questions for thirty minutes. Or, even better, give him one of the Late Night slots and let him interview celebrities in the same manner as the questions in this book.

2. Nami Mun's Miles From Nowhere: This is such an awesome book. There are elements of Jesus' Son in it, but it's more than that. She writes with such precision about incredibly grim events and then, as if by magic, turns it all into something you don't ever want to forget.

1. Chris Adrian's A Better Angel: I love Chris Adrian's work. Gob's Grief is one of my favorite books of all time and this collection highlights why I think he is such an amazing writer. The stories are heartbreaking, bizarre, and yet the way that Adrian handles these characters, in the midst of such pain, is so beautiful and affirming to me. If there was one book this year that rearranged the precise machinery inside of me, it was this one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Roaring 20's

I just finished up my Beginning Fiction Workshop and had the chance to read some great, strange stories from the students. There was animal sacrifice, a son watching his dad put baby powder on his thighs in order to slip into a pair of tight leather pants, a girl trying to trick her sister into eating deer feces, and organ harvesting.
For the second half of the semester, I always use the Ben Marcus anthology, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, which I think is fantastic. It has stuff from George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Christine Schutt, Padgett Powell, and Jhumpa Lahiri. It's weird and funny and the students generally struggle with it at first but ultimately come around on the anthology. But I've been thinking about adding some other stories to the class, ones that deal with people their age, dealing with the ramifications of impending adulthood. So I was hoping to appeal to the two or three people who read this blog and see if you had any recommendations for great short stories that involve people in college. I've tried to think of some and haven't had much luck. I can find all kinds of amazing stories about teenagers dealing with the horrors of high school, but not much about college. Any help would be appreciated.