Our August Review Previewganza

Who likes August? For real. It’s hot all the time—so hot that cheese will melt in your fridge and your skin will stick to your subway seat. There are no paid holidays at any workplace in America. Severe thunderstorms go on vacation. The White Sox go into their annual tailspin. It’s a horrible time to be alive.

And by way of the Internet’s powers of inquisition, I found a handy-dandy guide to those awful thirty days, courtesy of that venerable American institution Holidayinsights.com. According to the good people at HI—especially my man “Dirty Dozen” Dave Poluyanskis in content creation, what up boyyyy!?—August is the following official (read: not official) months (listed in descending order of huh): National Catfish Month (delicious), National Eye Exam Month (I’ve had 20/20 my whole life; stop extorting me), National Golf Month (all right, whatever), National Picnic Month (sweaty potato salad), Peach Month (Earth’s worst fruit, but I can see it), Water Quality Month (WHERE IS THE CONCERN IN OCTOBER?!), Family Fun Month (…), Romance Awareness Month (cue twenty-four-hour loop of MTV’s “Undressed”), and my personal favorite: Admit You’re Happy Month (you love that sweater, faker).

So to keep you from participating in America’s annual mass suicide—the 2012 iteration being Friday August 24 at Danville’s David S. Palmer Arena—DBC’s going to roll out a whole bunch of reviews.

August 7: Jay Caspian Kang’s The Dead Do Not Improve
We’ve written about the young-but-oddly-prolific author’s debut before, but never before have we written about The Dead Do Not Improve after reading it! Except for the first few drafts of reviews, and the final draft which is queued up on the site, but that’s not important. Anyways: it’s weird. It’s very weird. But in a way that’s exciting, a way that heralds the arrival of a very talented, very ballsy, and very clever writer. Here’s an excerpt from our review:

The Dead Do Not Improve is stuffed with (what I have confirmed to be via his own biography and sportswriting and what I just assume to be) Kang’s general interests, which include hip-hop, film, advanced baseball statistics, Korean identity, hardcore pornography, and though I’m probably missing a few I’ll just wrap it up with the Internet as a broad thing. More than the plot or prose, Kang’s interests are what drive The Dead Do Not Improve, so whether or not you like the novel—and I do, albeit with some reservations—seems totally contingent on your interest in or knowledge of these things.

August 9: Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars
Good year for an apocalypse, amirite? Now we can add Heller’s debut to Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet and Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles—both of which I thought were BOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGG. Perhaps owing to the totally possible incompatibility between me and apocalyptic works, I won’t be reviewing The Dog Stars. But I did peruse it before Marnie took it for review, and it looked very, very promising. Marnie has since reported that the language is “beautiful.”

I’m in.

August 14: Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager
Vincent Lam is both a renowned novelist and a medical doctor, which is unfair. He has written a medical guide called The Flu Pandemic and You, a lauded short-story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, and a biography of Canadian healthcare pioneer Tommy Douglas. Set in late-sixties Vietnam, The Headmaster’s Wager is Lam’s first novel, and tells the story of Percival Chen, a womanizing gambler who runs an English school in Saigon. You can read the first chapter of The Headmaster’s Wager on Scribd or in PDF.

August 21: Jonathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go
How modern society memorializes assholes is proof enough that humans, collectively, have lost their edge. Do you remember the hagiography of George Steinbrener? He was a horrible human being! And then he was a corpse. And as soon as his soul went wherever extortionists’ souls go, he became this loveable grump. Oh, George. I have to think that earlier societies would have burned his body, painted the ash, and used it as chalk down the third base line at the some earlier equivalent of Fenway.

Drew Silver, the protagonist in One Last Thing Before I Go, ain’t Steinbrenner bad. But he’s certainly not a good person—philanderer, absent father, bad son. And he ain’t dead yet, neither. But he’s on his way there owing to his own stubbornness, refusing to get a potentially life-saving operation from his ex-wife’s fiancee (small towns, man). So his ex-wife and daughter, whom he hurt relentlessly all these years, must face facts and somehow reconcile everything.

August 28: Steven Gillis’s The Law of Strings and Other Stories
It’s not always easy to review short story collections. Publishers often throw together a bunch of unrelated stories, let the author name it whatever, and release it, eh, one year after a highly regarded novel. (Same holds for essay collections.) But Steven Gillis, co-founder of Dzanc Books with Matt Bell, offers The Law of Strings And Other Stories, a bold, thematically synchronized collection of fifteen stories.

August 30: D.T. Max’s Every Love Story is a Ghost Story
For some, the opening of David Foster Wallace’s archive at UT-Austin was a great opportunity to explore the too-soon-expired writer’s collection of papers, letters, and personal library. Maria Bustillos wrote a great piece for The Awl about Wallace’s self-help library, a surprising lot of shlocky bestsellers that Wallace turned to at various points in his life. (Perhaps because of some of Wallace’s notes, which were extremely personal and referenced still-living members of his family, the archive removed the self-help books.)

But while the archive has proved invaluable to anyone doing research/writing about David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max was able to gain access to Wallace’s friends and family members as well.  Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is, indisputably, the first (of many, I’m guessing) biographies about Wallace. One early review was tepid, criticizing Max’s quick pace and lack of “immersion” at various important points; but I’m hoping that the book more closely resembles Max’s remarkable New Yorker piece about Wallace’s “struggle to surpass Infinite Jest.”

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