Category Archives: Books – Small-Press/ Indie

15 Views of Tampa

Over the past year and a half, I’ve made a lot of postings about our 15 Views of Orlando project (published at The Burrow Press Review, and collected into a print collection from Burrow Press). Well, there’s further good news about the collection: we’ve started franchising!

Well, that sounds maybe too-corporate and too-McDonald’s.

But we’ve recently tackled our second city/region, with the awesome John Henry Fleming serving as editor of 15 Views of Tampa Bay. Fifteen Tampa-area writers writing about the Tampa Bay region in one long, winding, sequential story. Some big names, too, that–if you have any interest in Florida Lit or the Bay Area–you’ll want to check out. You can read his introduction to the series here, and new installments are available weekly at The Burrow Press Review. I honestly can’t say enough about Mr. Fleming; he’s a stellar writer and a stellar editor, and it’s a true honor that he’s helped to make the 15 Views series into a true Florida institution.

We’ve had some good press already, too, from the University of South Florida, and the Tampa Bay Times. Run, don’t walk, to BPR to get started reading. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Book Reviews/ Reviewer Reviews

So…I’ve been writing reviews and critiques for a long time now.

Back in 2005 or 2006, I started an account on Shelfari, and wrote a short review of every book that I read. Hundreds of short reviews, most of them trying to look at the book from a writer’s perspective: what could I gain from it? Some of the more articulate and insightful reviews now survive as blog posts here on my site, while others are…best left there on Shelfari, buried beneath hundreds of other short postings and comments.

I learned a lot from writing those reviews, no matter how dreadful some of them were. I learned that every book has an author, and that every author is a real person, and that every Real Person Author is probably the same as me: they read their reviews, and they care about what readers think. On the positive side, I was actually contacted by Brad Listi (Attention. Deficit. Disorder., and founder of The Nervous Breakdown), who loved my review of his book, and who thanked me for a thoughtful examination of the contents. At the time, that was the closest I’d ever come to a “celebrity encounter” with a real author (not counting my professors). On the negative side, though, I wrote a pretty scathing review of a book called Nylund the Sarcographer, by Joyelle McSweeney; it’s a book I still dislike and wouldn’t recommend, but it’s a small-press offering by an obscure poet, so did I really need to write something that so loudly trumpeted how terrible I thought the book was? Well. When I recently checked my old book review, I noticed that there were a grand total of four (4) people who have the book on their shelves, and one other review: this one a single sentence, generic, and much kinder, likely the review of one of the author’s friends. And someone had marked my review (which was extremely specific about the book’s failings) as “not helpful.” Oh no, I thought. The author definitely read this review. The author definitely thinks I’m a gigantic a-hole, maybe even marked the “not helpful” button herself.

Since 2007 or so, I’ve also been writing critiques for my Creative Writing students’ poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. In a single “Introduction to Creative Writing” course, I will write 75 highly analytical and personal 1-2 page critiques, one for each student for each genre in which they write. In a fiction or nonfiction workshop class, the workload is more reasonable: a detailed 2-page critique for each author’s short story. In every single critique, I am forced to consider the audience: I am not writing to other readers and telling them whether they should check this book out, but instead writing to the author him/herself to tell them what is working in their manuscript, and what ideas need further attention. The result is predictable: half of the students love me, and love the rigor with which I attend to their manuscripts; the other half hate me, and think that I’m attacking them, and (on some occasions) refuse to speak to me, or refuse to revise (the “I don’t care what you have to say! I’m a genius!” defense mechanism), or call me “harsh” and “unreasonable” in their evaluations, or cry (literally), or even begin to defend sloppy writing (“Come on, Mr. Holic. A few typos don’t really matter.”).

In any case, I’ve written thousands of reviews and critiques in the last decade of my life, some of which were appreciated, and many of which were not appreciated. (I even had a student who bragged that he had not read my comments.)

And now I’m writing a book review/ reading essay series called “Reading Books While Burping My Baby” over at Burrow Press Review. I try to focus on small-press books in the column, but really, I write about whatever I happen to be reading, and discuss how my own reading habits are changing as a result of having a baby. The latest installment is here, and focuses upon Jess Stoner’s mixed-media/ hybrid novel I Have Blinded Myself Writing This.

And what do you know? Jess Stoner read the essay, loved the discussion (and the criticisms), and made a really awesome post on her tumblr account. This was a real first for me, to have an author so grateful for the review I gave. Maybe I feel like the last seven years of reviews and critiques have actually been building me into a solid, honest-to-God book critic.

It makes me feel even better to contrast the above with the following exchange between author Patrick Somerville and The New York Times book review. The article is a must-read. Apparently, the book critic completely misread the novel, and not in an excusable way (i.e. not due to the fault of the author’s own poor/ confusing writing); the critic attributed the events of the entire first chapter to the wrong character, thus altering and muddying the book’s story and structure, and causing everything to collapse. Corrections were issued, but what does a correction matter to an author whose book has now been given a poor review that cannot be taken back? The book critic can’t re-read and re-judge the book, after all.

There is a similar responsibility in writing book reviews and student critiques, I think. To say something misguided in a student critique would be (potentially) destructive; it might even mean that you’re teaching the wrong principles, setting the student down a path where they think that 2+2=12. You’re writing directly to an author, and you don’t take on that task lightly. With a book review, the audience is obviously different, but maybe the responsibility is the same; maybe the critic should keep the author in mind…the main responsibility is to the reader, certainly, but just as good reviews can herald the arrival of new talent, bad reviews can sink careers before they even get started. A bad review might not matter for Stephen King, but for me? No, the author isn’t the primary audience, but if the critic remembers that the author is an audience, maybe it’s easier to remember the responsibility of writing a fair and critical review.

On the flip side, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing authors write things like “Thanks for the review!” on one another’s facebook walls, and I’ve become accustomed to seeing overwhelmingly positive reviews published throughout the small-press world. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. “Croney Critiques.” This is what happens when the critic makes the author into the primary audience for the review, and now we’re dealing with something that’s irresponsible for readers. Maybe it’s even irresponsible to the book’s author.

In my own writing, I strive to be as honest as possible. If I don’t give you honesty, then what the hell am I giving you? We’re both wasting our time. But honesty isn’t an excuse for hurtful or hateful commentary, either.

In any case, check out “Reading Books While Burping My Baby” over at Burrow Press Review. Critiques are always welcome!

How to Write Orlando

The second part of my interview/ conversation with author Lavinia Ludlow is now up at Curbside Splendor Publishing.

Amongst other things, we discuss how the Florida humidity affects characterization, and how the tourism industry impacts Orlandoans on a daily basis. What’s it like to grow up in the shadow of the mouse, and to have the entire world in your backyard?  From the interview: “In Orlando, though, you’ve got the whole world coming here…you’ve got the whole world at Epcot, for crying out loud…but at the same time, it’s a warped vision of the world and the way it operates. To know Florida is to know that warped vision, and to write Floridian requires that you understand how strangely your characters view the world.”

Here’s the link.

Hope you check it out, and hope you check out Lavinia’s first novel alt.punk, or her upcoming book Single Stroke Seven. Also, Curbside Splendor’s got a great catalogue they’re building; I read Victor David Giron’s Sophomoric Philosophy (which I’d compare to Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned, except with a Mexican-American flair, if you can imagine that?), and I’ve read a few of the stories from Michael C.’s Chicago Stories when they were published elsewhere, but I’m eager to give the full collection a whirl.

Check out the interview. Support the small-press, also. They’re starting to take Chicago by storm.

15 Views of Orlando – RELEASE PARTY!!!

The above subject heading uses three total exclamation points, which–in the words of my old mentor Jeanne Leiby–is the lifetime total allowed to a writer. And man, I used them all at once.

But the subject certainly calls for some exclamation points.

If you didn’t know (i.e. you don’t ever talk to me, or you don’t follow my facebook status updates, or you just randomly stumbled upon this blog), I’ve got a brand-new book coming out: it’s an anthology called 15 Views of Orlando, and it’s an attempt at finally offering an honest portrayal of the city of Orlando in literary fiction. I assembled 15 Orlando fiction writers to write one long loosely-linked story that wanders through our fair city, and the result is indeed impressive and surprising. (I love me some self-congratulation.) And because Orlando writers love our community, all proceeds from book sales will directly benefit Page 15, a literacy non-profit which conducts writing workshops for Orlando public school kids. If you don’t live in Orlando, buy a copy of the book and feel good about your purchase supporting a great cause. If you do live in Orlando, you need to get to our release party.

Details of the release party follow here, in a blog post from Burrow Press publisher Ryan Rivas:

Remember: we’ve got a huge book release happening in exactly one week.

That would be the 15 VIEWS OF ORLANDO book release:

Tuesday, JANUARY 31st
6pm to 9pm @ Urban ReThink
625 E. Central Blvd.
 
In addition to photography, booze, and music, there will be readings by: J. Bradley, Hunter Choate, Ashley Inguanta, John King, and J. Christopher Silvia, at 7:30pm.Folks who pre-order 15 Views for pick-up, or purchase 15 Viewsat the event, will be able to buy other BP books for $5.

15 Views editor Nathan Holic, and authors Hunter Choate and J. Christopher Silvia, were recently interviewed on WMFE’s Intersection. You can listen to that interview and excerpts from the book here. Pre-order the book while you’re at it. There’s no better way to support what we do; and, in this instance, the profits from the book are going to benefit Orlando kids.

 Whether you can make it to the party or not, please spread the word.

Daddy’s – Lindsay Hunter

I’ve meant to write about Lindsay Hunter’s Daddy‘s for awhile, and for a lot of different reasons.

First and foremost, of course, I went to grad school with Lindsay (for about a year, I think) and I was excited to see that–after she relocated from Orlando to Chicago–she’d made a name for herself with a unique and gritty female-centered fiction, and she’d published her first book, a collection of (mostly) short fiction, with the inventive Chicago-based featherproof press. From a purely selfish standpoint, then, it was just fun to see someone I knew achieving real success in fiction writing and publishing…and aside from the easy access to signatures/ autographs, it’ll give me an opportunity to someday tell people that “I knew her way back when.” Looking forward to that.

But I’ve also wanted to write about Daddy‘s because it fits one of the main themes that I like to blog about: mixed-media fiction. featherproof press, as I mentioned above, is a creative publisher; take a look at their web site, and you’ll see that they truly see the book itself as an art form, not just a boring vehicle used to deliver text. They publish mini-books which require readers to print out the copy and literally craft the book themselves; they publish books which include mobiles; their covers are brilliant pieces of work, often piquing interest and making you consider adding unknown authors to your shopping cart without even reading a synopsis, a blurb, or an excerpt. I might be over-stating this, but I really think that featherproof is setting the standard for what small-press publishing should be. After all, if the publishing industry is encountering real conflict with the advent of e-readers and e-books, and consumers and publishers alike are questioning the value of print books, why not–if you believe in the value of print books–make them into something worthy of actually printing? No one would argue that digital photo frames should take the place of wall paintings, after all, and while mainstream publishers seem content with cutting their printing costs and transitioning their business model to highly profitable books that are made specifically for e-readers, featherproof is crafting  books that are actually pieces of art that we want to hold in our hands, books made with real passion by people who truly value the Book itself.

Okay, so that’s featherproof. But what about Daddy’s? How does its format and structure fit into this concept/ philosophy?  First, I should say that this is a book of short “traditional text” fiction that could have been enjoyed on its own. It doesn’t necessarily need any clever design elements, and many of the pieces were previously published (and successful) in both online and print journals. Hunter writes short fiction that rarely exceeds 2,500 words. It’s quick, and it’s often scary how quickly a character’s life (or decisions) can derail in these stories. It’s brutal and it’s honest, and it feels like the ultimate White Trash Story Collection, every piece bringing to mind double-wides and gravel driveways and piles of discarded McDonalds bags. I’ve heard Raymond Carver’s old minimalist approach described as “grunge fiction,” but trust me when I say this: you haven’t read truly “grungy” fiction until you’ve read Hunter.

But about the formatting: the wraparound cover of Daddy’s is an image of a tacklebox, with the front cover as the top (complete with handle) and the back cover the bottom. The spine is an image of the hinges, and each cover has a small flap that folds out so that you can literally hide the pages and carry this thing around like a paper version of a tacklebox. Bizarre, but super-cool. And throughout the book, the text is interspersed with highly stylized (and often resonant) images representing items from inside the tacklebox. Some are literal, some are metaphorical, and some are just surreal. Overall, it’s an interesting reading experience, the grungy fiction matched with such grungy graphics. In terms of mixed-media fiction, this is what I would call “narrative voice,” the use of extra-textual elements to complement the voice of the narration, to heighten the mood (see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime as another example of this), rather than a “hybrid” work, where we are supposed to view the images as some document or photograph that the characters are actually viewing, too.

The other interesting aspect of the Daddy’s layout: the entire book is printed on its end, much like a flipbook. There are no indentations, either, with white space breaks separating the paragraphs, and paragraphs themselves are rarely separated over two different pages. This gives the feeling of online text, which makes sense for the author and her work; Hunter has had a lot of success publishing in online journals and magazines.

The journal Diagram, though, recently published a negative review of Daddy’s and another featherproof book, arguing that they were failures because they seemed gimmicky and didn’t actually change the way that we read a book. And I do agree that the book doesn’t “change the way we read.” I’ll never say, “Man, I wish more books were printed this way!” The formatting changed the way that I read this one book, and I think that’s all that Hunter (and featherproof) was trying to do here. Their real argument (as a publishing company) seems to be this: each book is unique, and each book’s overall design and layout should be treated on a book-by-book basis. If the author is widely published online, and her style is gritty and rural, why not create a tacklebox book with online-style formatting? It makes the book into a piece of art that reflects the content.

In any case, this is an idea that I haven’t really explored much on this blog: how will we see mixed-media fiction change the shape and format of the books themselves? I’ve talked a great deal about how the addition of images and documents and graphics have changed individual stories, but aside from graphic novels, there are few fiction writers so ambitious that they want to transcend what we expect of the Book itself.

(And Lindsay: still need your sig, dude! Don’t think I’ll forget about this one.)

Fragmentation, and Burrow Press

Full disclosure: I’ve long wanted a small-press publisher here in the city of Orlando. We’re an international destination city, a major hub for tourists and convention attendees and even for travelers throughout the state. We’ve got a world-class airport, world-class restaurants, world-class theme parks, world-class hotels, a world-class university, but here’s the problem: it’s all world-class, all intended to appeal to the mass market (and in many, cases, to be exported…Darden Restaurants, after all, is headquartered here). For many, Orlando is an artificial city crafted by corporate interests, not a distinctive cultural center. So, as a proud resident with a bit of knowledge about the history of the city and the distinctive culture that pulses in small pockets here and there throughout the metropolitan area, I take every opportunity to not only enjoy the culture that I find (from local restaurants to local bands), but also to support and share that culture with as many locals and out-of-towners as I can. I mean, seriously…do we want Orlando to be known for Red Lobster and Oliver Garden, or for Beefy King and Dexter’s?And do we want our own residents to think that this is all that we offer, and all that we’re capable of?

Fragmentation and Other Stories is the first release from Orlando-based small-press publisher Burrow Press, which now joins The Florida Review, The Cypress Dome, and Specs, as local literary journals/ presses. Yes, I know, this is nothing compared to Boston or Portland or Chicago or New York, where there are not only dozens of colleges and art institutes and museums but also dozens of literary magazines and small-press publishers and indie bookshops and record shops and…but you know what? I’m not writing this post to complain, but instead to praise editors/publishers Jana Waring and Ryan Rivas for having the courage and initiative to actually get this thing started. I was recently able to attend their release party for this first book, and was pretty impressed with the turn-out at the new downtown Urban Re-Think (does this indicate that there are more lovers of literature in the area than the average outsider might think?).

As for the book itself: it’s a nice volume, well-constructed and attractive, and like the best new independent literary journals that I see (Artifice, Pank, etc.), it’s highly creative in layout and isn’t content to just try to do what other journals are doing. The interior pairs photographs with stories (it’s all fiction, no poetry or drama), but the photographs were all taken with the stories themselves in mind. Flip through the book, and there are a lot of images and interesting uses of space (heavy black, or appropriate blankness) to give the overall text a more dramatic feeling. Simply put, the editors are trying to make this into something more than just another lit mag.

Overall, I think the collection offers some good short fiction, too. I was expecting more of an Orlando/Florida focus to the writing, but that’s just my own selfish desire (the book itself doesn’t advertise itself as a collection about Orlando). There were three real stand-out stories, I think, from writers I’m definitely going to keep an eye on. The first is from Ryan Rivas (the editor of the collection, and the publisher), who writes about the loss of idealism in public schools, utilizing a second-person point-of-view that cleverly collapses for a very resonant conclusion; with his own small-press, I assume we’ll see more from Rivas soon, and I (personally) think he’d be smart to continue exploring the teaching profession…there are some great observations in this piece, but it hints at a world on which we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. The other great stories come from Gene Albamonte and Ed Bull. Albamonte writes in a patient prose that allows us to really watch his characters from a distance and fall into their emotional struggles without becoming lost in their grief. Ed Bull’s story, though, was probably the most affecting of Fragmentation, following a young man who is forced to confront his own emotional attachment to his girlfriend…while both are about to become the victims of a New Smyrna shark attack. Again, it’s extremely patient prose, forgoing the melodrama of teenage relationships and the action-movie temptation of shark attack scenes. Bull is able to craft two sympathetic characters with very different perspectives, put them into a dire situation, and watch how they will interact. It’s an honest story, genuine, and a great note on which to close the collection. (It’s also the best example of a “Florida Story” that the collection offers, too, and it’s not a hokey Florida story about gators or drug-running)

I’m looking forward to seeing what else Burrow Press produces, but this is a nice start for a small-press publisher. I doubt that Orlando will ever be known as a major cultural hub (the Disney-stacked odds are against that one), but there are a lot of talented people in this town, many of whom do not even know that the others exist. And there’s also a strong reaction to the mass-produced plastic culture that the theme parks and chain restaurants create. Who knows? That reaction could produce some fantastic music and some fantastic literature. Burrow Press has got the ball rolling. The real test will be in their consistency/frequency of publication (they obviously can’t call it quits now!), and in the relationships they form with area writers and musicians and artists (which, judging by the many different types of talents on display here, are starting strong).

You can check out their web site here. I suggest that, if you’re an Orlando local, you support Burrow Press (and Beefy King, too, our best local restaurant).

Couch – Benjamin Parzybok

“Couch” is a bizarre little novel, the story of three young men (“slackers,” as the blurbs tell us) who become attached to a couch, then become commanded or compelled to undertake a “Lord of the Rings”-style journey whose mission is to return this couch (an ancient and magical artifact, we learn) to its rightful place, and to reset the balance of the entire world. When I picked this book off the rack, I literally couldn’t believe that (a) someone had actually committed himself to write something so strange, a Kilgore Trout idea, and (b) that a publisher had actually committed to the project, also.

It felt strange to read this book, then, with no real expectations. After all, how am I supposed to know what to expect?

After reading, I’ll admit that I was a bit exhilarated by the experience: everything about “Couch” is just so different that other contemporary fiction. There’s an unassuming innocence here, a complete lack of pretension (there are moments in the story, as legends are discussed, that feel as if they are pulled from the pages of McCarthy’s “The Crossing,” except here they do not feel mind-numbingly dull and literary), and we move through the novel swiftly, always surprised by what comes next.

But…but…

“Couch,” in the end, really doesn’t offer us a whole lot. At 280 pages, it probably drags on for 80 pages too long. The characters only seem to come into focus after page 150 (before that point, they feel like sketches, and their dialogue is rarely revealing), and the action sometimes feels under-developed, never detailed or cinematic, too easy. It becomes tough to visualize what is happening, many times. And the writing style is often lazy…we see glimpses of the writer Parzybok can be, with some vivid moments scattered here and there, but too often it feels as if he just got tired, or got bored with a scene and wanted to move on quickly. We have cartoonish exclamations throughout (“?!”), and “Dude!”-style exchanges that feel pulled not from real-life, but from an undergraduate creative writing course.

When it works, it works. It’s a breath of fresh air, all in all. But there’s little to make it truly memorable or important. Because of the bizarre premise (and indeed because of several passages in the book that started to make some interesting connections), I expected “Couch” to truly say something about slacker culture, about couch potatoes, about…well, anything…but in the end, the social satire feels so muted and distant that it never becomes resonant.

Refresh, Refresh

I remember reading a couple stories from Benjamin Percy in Esquire awhile back, and each of them was haunting, the type of short story that stayed with you long after you finished reading. For my money, at least, that’s the sort of story that I love: the kind that is not easily dismissed, that kind that might seem simple or innocent or easy on the surface, but that…just…won’t…go away.

So when I found Percy’s collection, Refresh, Refresh, while on a several-hour-long tour of Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, I decided to give it a shot. Usually, though, I don’t buy very many short story collections by authors with whom I’m not too familiar; I tend to stick with The Best American Short Stories or just read the full collections of authors whose novels I’ve already conquered (or I’ll borrow the collection from a friend, take it on a test drive). Same goes for albums. The more I hear and the more I like, the better the chance that I’ll buy an album from a new artist, but I’m not the type that wanders record stores searching for something I’ve never heard. So I’ve got to tell you: I was extremely happy that I took a chance with Refresh, Refresh.

The stories here are dark, many of them horror-influenced:we’ve got stories about bear attacks, stories about a potential Big Foot stalking an Oregon forest, stories about undiscovered caves expanding below ordinary residential houses, stories about post-apocalyptic landscapes…Refresh, Refresh has all the creepiness of House of Leaves, but all the sparing poetry of Cormac McCarthy and all the empathy and patience of an Andre Dubose collection. The title story seemed to be the piece that garnered Percy the most attention (it was collected in a Best American anthology, and won a Paris Review prize), but there were several others in this book that proved even more resonant, including one short story about a married couple stranded in a gas station during a hail storm. Some of the images from that story…wow.

And after reading, I actually think Percy will become one of the more respected voices of Millennial/ Gen-X literature. He’s actually doing the same work as Michael Chabon, attempting to mix “genre fiction” with “literary fiction,” taking the horror genre and imbuing it with the thematic complexity of true literature. But Percy is doing it better. With Chabon, his attempts at “mystery novel” and “adventure novel” seem to be mere curiosities, side projects. With Percy, we get the sense that he’s on a mission to carve out a real place for horror literature. He’s got a novel on the shelves now (The Wilding), and another in the works, so this is definitely an author we’ll have to watch. In ten years, he might be the next Jonathan Franzen or Michael Chabon, the voice of a generation.

Benjamin Percy: Home Page

Stories/Essays Available Online:

Pre-Post-Racial?

Adam Mansbach’s “Angry Black White Boy” has been billed as “the first great race novel of the twenty-first century,” and maybe it is. In fact, this novel–the story of a privileged white kid named Macon Detornay, who becomes disgusted with his own white heritage and decides to brand himself a “race traitor” and advocate for mass apologies to African Americans–seems to be a perfect representation of all the strange contradictions of Obama’s so-called “Post-Racial America.”

More on that in a moment.

First, I want to comment on Mansbach’s prose quality, and on the narrative itself. “Angry Black White Boy” seems to pulse with the energy of hip-hop, and it takes only a few pages before you almost start nodding your head to the rhythm of the words. I won’t claim to be a scholar of hip-hop literature, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book which more perfectly captures the cadence and vocabulary of Hip-Hop (and no, I’m not talking about the dialect of “Black America,” but instead the culture and attitude of the music itself). I’ve read novels which seem to exude the spirit of rock music (“Hairstyles of the Damned,” “High Fidelity”) and new wave music (“The Informers”), but never a novel that really feels like hip-hop on the page. “Angry Black White Boy” is, from a prose quality standpoint alone, a remarkable achievement.

The narrative, though, is a bit rockier in quality. The novel begins slowly, allowing us to truly become immersed in the character of Macon Detornay, to see his goals, to see his daily tasks, to see how his mind works, but at perhaps the one-third marker, the book takes a strange turn: Macon is arrested, then winds up on TV, then becomes a sort of black-white prophet, calling for a “Day of Apology” and starting a “Race Traitor Project,” and then there are massive riots, etc.  Essentially, this novel becomes more interested in the highly satirical plot elements (the riots, especially) than in the characters; even though it remains well-written until the very last word, the characters take a backseat to the general craziness that Mansbach has imagined (much in the same way that many summer action films allow their CGI effects to overtake the actors). The novel never fails to engage us, and we’re always interested in what comes next, but we stop caring about the characters after page 150 because…well…quite simply, the author seems to stop caring about them, seems to stop treating them like flesh-and-blood people, seems to see them more as human props amidst the special effects. By the end of the novel, when Mansbach tries to zoom back in on Macony Detornay and his (by now) wildly inconsistently characterized friend ‘Nique, I barely understand the motivations of either character; it’s a disorienting pan-in and pan-out technique that Mansbach has employed, and his frequent use of point-of-view shifts doesn’t necessarily help our emotional detachment.

In short…fun to read? Yes. Highly flawed in character and plot? Without a doubt.

But about that “Post-Racial America” comment I made above…this is interesting stuff. “Angry Black White Boy” presents the irony that the moment of true reconciliation between races will actually lead to greater chasms between races. Reconciliation will always be approached with some motive in mind, whether that motive is guilt (“I’m so sorry for all that we’ve done to you”) or commodification (“I support rap music…because it’s profitable.”), and forgiveness will always be a choice. Some will offer it, and some will refuse it, and some will even retaliate against it. If we say we live in a Post-Racial America, that means we’ve likely avoided reconciliation because we know that reconciliation can cause conflict. It’s as if we’ve constructed a bridge by taking some engineering shortcuts…and sooner or later, those shortcuts will lead to the demise of the bridge anyway.

“Angry Black White Boy” is about five years old by now, and was published long before Obama’s “Post-Racial America” speeches. The book seems to illustrate our unique Millennial ability to willingly ignore problems that do not feel immediate, and the disastrous consequences of actually confronting those problems head-on.

I’ve written a great deal about how the true “Great Millennial Novel” will show us characters who are striving toward some unifying noble purpose (a la the “Greatest Generation” and World War II, and the Baby Boomers and the Social Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s), and “Angry Black White Boy” gives us one imagined purpose: racial reconciliation. Do I think that this will be the cause to unite the Millennial Generation? Probably not (especially considering the collective pat-on-the-back that Millennials have given themselves for getting a black man elected to the presidency). And anyway, the horrifying effects of Macon Detornay’s pursuit of his purpose likely won’t win him any followers in Post-Racial America.

Here’s a quick link to Mansbach’s author site.

Bad Habits: A Love Story

Cristy Road’s “Bad Habits: A Love Story” is truly a unique novel, a punk rock hybrid combining traditional text and illustrated comic panels. It’s quite an experience, overall, with a distinctive tone established by this strange and disturbing juxtaposition of clean prose and (sometimes) outright disgusting visuals.

I’ll be honest. I’ve wanted to see a great hybrid comic/novel for a long time, and I thought Evan Kuhlman’s “Wolf Boy” was really a missed opportunity. “Bad Habits,” also, misses its opportunity to be great. It’s an idea that works, in theory, and the visuals in this book (and the sheer number of them) blow away anything we saw in “Wolf Boy,” but the prose quality simply pales in comparison. Yes, Road is great with long introspective monologues, but by the end of “Bad Habits,” I know very little about this character, about her friends, about her life. I know her voice very well, but the author relies on the images to show us everything, and so the prose is mostly abstract and intangible “telling” language, rarely building a visual.

To be a complete hybrid novel, both elements–illustrations and text–need to be all that they can be, and here, Road is accomplished with her visuals, but this simply covers up the fact that the prose is lacking.