Category Archives: Feature

Our October Review Previewganza

As of today, September 29, we have reviewed forty-eight titles in 2012—not bad, right? This week we will publish titles 49 and 50. And yet, there’s more! So much more, really, to come as autumn turns to winter. October will be something of a catching-up period, for us, as we review some September titles sitting in our review queue. But there will be some October titles covered as well. Here’s a not-at-all exhaustive list of what we’ve got to come.  Continue reading

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The Five Best Books of 2012 (So Far!)

So last year, toward the end of December, we discussed the possibility of writing a BEST BOOKS OF 2011 list. But we didn’t come on the scene or whatever until late August, so we clearly couldn’t write with any authority about the best releases January through July. And even from August on, we didn’t review a ton of books, as we were trying to get our footing/figure out what the heck we were doing/write quality reviews.

But we’ve planned out 2012 pretty well, focusing on reviewing the most prominent/important releases. We’ve missed a few we wish we could have reviewed—books by Adam Wilson, John Green, Sheila Heti, etc.—but there’s only so much time, and so many of us.

Still, we’re pretty happy about what we’ve reviewed, about 2012 as a year in literature. So through today, a little more than halfway through this calendar year, here’s our top five—in no order, because because. Continue reading

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Rowling in the Dough

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no wifi, or were just so ensconced in your weekend Oscar ballot that you could think of little else, then you heard last week’s announcement that J.K. Rowling will be teaming up with Michael Pietsch at Little, Brown (and the UK’s David Shelley) to release a new novel, this time for adults.

Even non-Potter fans can imagine the mass hysteria that has ensued.

I saw the news unfold yesterday at lightning speed from my desk at work, in the way that tight-lipped news usually does: people repeating, over and over again, the same two known facts and quotes that the story has to offer.  Jo is excited, Little, Brown is excited, and no, this book will NOT in any way be connected to Harry Potter. Add to that further discussion of the as-yet-to-be-revealed Pottermore and Twitter declarations like “Anything written by JK Rowling is a literary masterpiece,” and you begin to get the full picture of what fervor any Rowling release will cause. Continue reading

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Last to the Party, and Loving It

As I mentioned on last week’s #fridayreads, I’ve begun, at the behest and be-gifting of a friend, to read Alan Bradley’s first installment of the Flavia de Luce series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is a character I wish I’d known about growing up: with her glasses, pigtails, braces, and moderate sibling rivalry, she’s most of what I myself was at age eleven, minus several pounds and exhibiting several added points of badassery. The dialogue takes on an alternating Queen’s English and rustic cockney vernacular that makes it hard not to enjoy even the most wretched villains of the story, and its book trailer is charming to a fault, using no more than Bradley’s opening paragraphs to illustrate why it’s imperative you pick up a copy.

Then again, I’m probably telling you what you all already know.

Because as it happens, I am the last person I know to read this book.  I suppose I’m not quite as behind on this trend as I am on the Hunger Games or the George R.R. Martin books, but pretty darn close to it. (Side note: have any of you ever seen Martin’s official website? I admit I thought I had stumbled onto a Game of Thrones fanfiction site at first. Given Martin’s fame, the design is both perplexing and endearing – note how the icons twirl when you hover over them.)

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: David Foster Wallace’s Continued Relevance

It is a well-known fact that the dregs of semi-computer-literate society congregate daily in one place: the comment forums on newsy Web sites. Be it Huffington Post or The Sporting News, YouTube or your local newspaper, a story about Michelle Obama eating a cheeseburger or Hank Williams saying something stupid about the gays/blacks, the blithering hick denizens come out in full force against the communist-socialist conspiracy du jour, making unveiled threats about power, the media-government industrial complex, and blahblahblah; you know what I mean.

But then there are those folks on the other end of the spectrum who gather in the comment forums on less mainstream Web sites, openly left of center, and seemingly more intellectual places: The Nation, Slate, NPR, etc. This is a very special species of crusty old hippie, semi-computer literate like their right-wing brethren, still insufferably sowing their political seeds in poorly punctuated, simplistic and bitter missives aimed at no one in particular.

I’ve noticed these folks a lot lately in stories about a certain prolific writer’s death. Virulently (and somewhat rightfully) anti-neocon commentators focused with measured intensity on certain aspects of Hitchens’ life: his support of the Iraq War, his disdain for religion, or perhaps his hatred of the former President Clinton. But then there were those commenting who had simply lost the will to give two shits about Hitchens anymore, who didn’t offer an argument about why Hitchens shouldn’t be so lauded, some tired of the 24/7 memorial, those who pleaded for these news outlets to make it stop; enough is enough, they said. We’ve heard enough about him, already.

They were suffering from a sort of Hitch Fatigue; the HF havers more than likely didn’t care for him when he was alive, simply avoided his columns and television appearances, and led happy lives. Hitchens’ death, however, brought mourners out in such full force that there was no avoiding him.  This HF pandemic resulted, as everyone — well, basically everyone — expressed some contrition about his passing, and on every network or in every periodical; there was no avoiding a very public memorial for a man who was a very public figure.

Often, I’m queerly tickled by these sorts of reactions. Relevant people dying means something to society; people care. A great aspect about our Web revolution is that there’s far more choice involved in reading/avoiding stories. But the death of a public figure is now, almost always, met with universal contrition followed by a vocal (but minor) backlash against such contrition.

When Michael Jackson died, there was MJ Fatigue; when Darryl Kile died, there was DK Fatigue (not to be confused with the other DK fatigue); Brittany Murphy, BM Fatigue; Pope John Paul, PJP Fatigue; Heath Ledger, HL; and down the list.

So this is where the rubber meets the road as re: the subject of this piece — “…David Foster Wallace’s Continued Relevance” — and the above meanderings. Wallace, of course, killed himself in September 2008. Still, more than three years later, the praising articles and essays continue to roll in — this having something (but not everything) to do with the posthumous release of The Pale King, of course.

Though it was last year that marked the opening of the DFW Archive at UT-Austin, 2011 saw the publishing of some great essays about the pieces therein: Maria Bustillos’ piece for The Awl on the late writer’s self-help book collection standing out. Elizabeth Lopatto’s recent “Come On, Pilgrim” is also a wonderful result of such research.

More intimate pieces were written as well. Jonathan Franzen turned in a wonderful essay on his late friend, “Farther Away,” an attempt to reason with the unreasonable. Michael Pietsch’s introduction to The Pale King fits in here as well, as does the widowed Karen Green’s interview with The Guardian. Continue reading

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: Debut Novelists

This week, in lieu of a BEST OF 2011 series, we’re running five stories focused on Stuff We Liked in 2011.

There’s a different expectation entirely when reading a book that you know is someone’s first.  That is, there is at once a tabula rasa feel to it — you have no expectation of a voice you’ve never heard, after all — and a bald excitement — you could be discovering the Next Big Thing! — and a sort of apprehension — is there a reason this person is (x) years old and never published before?  When the cacophony of these competing expectations settles down to a dull roar in the back of your mind, you actually get around to reading the thing.  Thereafter, there’s not much that differs in the experience until you get to the end, whereupon you not only get to say what you thought of the book, but what you thought of this author, having just read their entire bibliography to date.

2011 was a strong time for debut novelists; it seems publishing houses were willing to take big risks on promoting the noobs this year.  Here are some notable debut novelists we turned our heads for.  Continue reading

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: Patchwork Novels

This week, in lieu of a BEST OF 2011 series, we’re running five stories focused on Stuff We Liked in 2011.

I like small things that fit with other small things to make big things. Small things by themselves are, quite honestly, kind of irritating. For example, I’ve always really appreciated flash fiction as a concept, but not always in practice, as some writers—and I’m speaking rather generally, here—think that since flash fiction is about the distillation of a story and all its elements—rather than reduction—that their final product should be so emotionally charged, so saddening or stupefying that the reader must be moved, this mistake often resulting in a hammy story that has one or two dead toddlers and three or four White Nuclear families ruined. I really do believe that, when you get right down to it (is that a Midwestern colloquialism? I love that phrase), it’s often more difficult to write an effecting or arresting short piece than a longer one with the same elements and characters and conflicts.

But when you remove these short-short pieces from isolation, when you group them with other short-short or long-short or short-long pieces that involve the same characters and places and concepts, the sum can be, pardon the cliche, greater than its parts. And for rather obvious reasons: vignettes with their own story arcs—or even just cogent beginnings and ends—are bound to resonate more with the reader. There are no chapters that merely move the plot along or fill space; everything has its place on merit.  Continue reading

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: Quality Design

This week, in lieu of a BEST OF 2011 series, we’re running five stories focused on Stuff We Liked in 2011.

Book design: You’re not going to get much of an Inside Baseball discussion from us. We don’t know much about it. We can’t offer much in the way of judgment other than that looks cool, yuh-huh, yuh-huh. Still, we know what we like — and what we don’t like.

The Publisher’s Weekly blog PWxyz offered their favorite covers of the year. It was something of a puzzling list, as the explanations were lacking (for Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods, they said: “The bright blue background conveys the off-the-wall aspects of the book, and the repetition of the eyes hints at a maddening condition.” Hm.) and their number one choice — Colson Whitehead’s Zone One — baffling. Another weird explanation:

The best book cover of the year offers a glimpse of an empire, mostly obstructed, put through a filter so desaturated it’s almost black and white, making the book’s dread insidious rather than explicit. It looks like an old, important photograph, but with something unsettling, though you can’t quite put your finger on it. The zombie apocalypse has never looked so subtle or refined.

What is an “important photograph”? Jackie O. with blood on her dress?

Anyways, we’re being too critical, due in large part to how much we adored certain designs this year. Here’s a few, in no particular or-der.

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: George Saunders’ Short Stories

This week, in lieu of a BEST OF 2011 series, we’re running five stories focused on Stuff We Liked in 2011.

If we cheat a little bit and include December 2010 as part of  2011 — and who would really call us on it anyway, as we all know the Committee to Insure (sic) Accuracy in Literary Blog Postings (CI(sic)ALBP) only investigates blogs with much higher circulations than DBC — then George Saunders published three (!) notable short stories in The New Yorker this year. That’s quite the figure.

And these were wildly diverse stories, content-wise, that dovetailed in the way that individual writers’ works tend to dovetail, which is to say: they dealt with the same themes, those being death and suffering. In “Escape from Spiderhead,” there’s a bleak prison where the inmates are subjected to stimulants that alter an individual’s mood, language patterns, or general capacity. In “Home,” there’s a returning veteran trying to exist in a post-combat world. And in “Tenth of December,” (which we wrote about on DBC) there are two protagonists whose fates switch back and forth, one trying to leave the world and one trying to create his own. Continue reading

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World Book Night 2012

I’m four months early, but sometimes there’s news you just can’t keep under your hat. (After all, who wants hat-hair?)

World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. To be held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. It will see tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks.

Someone, pinch me, I’ve slipped into a dreamy coma.

I first heard about World Book Night when the inimitable, unforgettable Carl Lennertz announced to us, his students at the Denver Publishing Institute (where he oversaw our marketing week this past July), that he would be leaving his much-loved HarperCollins in order to take the lead as Executive Director of the U.S. branch of this innovative celebration of books. If anyone can put a great face on this movement’s inaugural year in America, it’s the guy who loves to blast AC/DC and considers donning business attire only in the most needlingly mandatory situations. With self-publishing trends casting a scornful eye on the Big Six publishing houses (whom they imagine as sitting in some ivory tower in crisp suits beneath sets of arched eyebrows and downturned noses), it’s nice to be reminded in the form of Lennertz and World Book Night itself that, no, prominence doesn’t always mean pretension. Rather, this power is, indisputably, being used for good.

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