February 26, 2015

Book Review: "Praying Drunk," Kyle Minor

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Praying Drunk, by Kyle Minor

Praying Drunk
By Kyle Minor
Curbside Splendor Publishing
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

You've got to hand it to an author who uses the first page of his collection to tell you, in boldface, not to skip around. Not just because of the gutsiness, although I admire how he's willing to risk looking like a temperamental artist in order to get his point across, but because it shows that the order of the collection is important to him, which in turn implies that things are connected. Which they indeed are. Praying Drunk is quite the plate-juggling act, and not only does he keep them all up in the air, he even manages to spin one or two plates on his finger.

It's hard to quite know where to set the breaks between stories. Kyle has divided this slim volume into two parts, and he's further broken the parts into a series of cycles. The first features a trilogy of interlocked stories, a series of miniatures about missionary work in Haiti, a Q&A session that confounds and expounds upon the book's major themes, and a beautiful capstone vignette. The second features a story, the stunning and sad and in some places remarkably warm "There Is Nothing But Sadness in Nashville," with several stories nested into it, a second series of vignettes about missionary work abroad, and another Q&A, this one far stranger. The structural parallels grow deeper when you consider Kyle's reuse of characters. I don't want to spoil the reader's fun and give them away. Let's just say that the first story features speculation about the suicide of a character's uncle, and that you hear from that uncle as the collection goes on.

The parallels imply an enormous universe, within a 200 page collection, and a believable universe at that; it seems as though the characters have lives outside of the pieces' confines. They're often brutally sad lives, as "There Is Nothing but Sadness in Nashville" and the staggering experiment "The Truth and All Its Ugly" (which is built around a series of strange and devastating turns, not the least being its shift into sci-fi) imply, but what matters is that we feel them, we feel their causes and their effects and understand them as continuing outside of the stories' confines. The way form and content combine to form a coherent whole is astounding. Praying Drunk's themes of faith and family seem to get the most press, but the way the form informs the themes by suggesting the broader implications of the actions within the stories is really what drives it; furthermore, if you're not a big short story reader, the binding ties might make it feel more like a novel. On top of that, the content - breathing fire in heaven, computerized shells of children - is strange and unsettling and astonishing in the imagination department. I don't know if this will be the best book I review all year, but Kyle Minor's doing some enviable work right now.

Out of 10: 9.7

Read even more about Praying Drunk: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, February 26, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 25, 2015

Book Review: "The Lycan Hunter" by Kelsey Jordan

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Lycan Hunter, by Kelsey Jordan

The Lycan Hunter
By Kelsey Jordan
Booktrope Editions
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

When you review as many self-published and basement-press books as I do, one of the unfortunate side effects is coming across novels on a pretty regular basis that should've never graduated from the editing stage in the first place, and that got published into a full book merely because the technology exists to cheaply make it into a published full book, not because it warranted a general release to the public based on its condition; and unfortunately a good example of that is the book I just got done checking out this week, Kelsey Jordan's The Lycan Hunter, which starts right off the bat with a ten-page prologue and beginning chapter that is so ludicrously overwrought and byzantine in its urban-fantasy mythology-building that I literally could not read any more of the book than that, so hopelessly lost I already was in its dozens of names, scores of races, and thousands of years of history it had already puked out by that point, all of it written so badly that I couldn't stand the thought of going back through it again and trying to make more sense of it all. I'm refraining from giving the book an actual score today, because even I can recognize how unfair it is to score a book based on reading only its first ten pages; but you can take the fact that I couldn't get past the first ten pages as a pretty clear sign anyway about whether you should read this or not. The very definition of why people roll their eyes when hearing the words "self-published erotic werewolf saga," it takes a pretty indiscriminate genre fan to have any love for this kind of actively bad writing...although let's face it, those people are probably out there, and are undoubtedly gearing up as we speak to write me an angry comment at Goodreads.com about this review.

Out of 10: N/A

Read even more about The Lycan Hunter: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 25, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 23, 2015

Stalking the Behemoth: "Ulysses," by James Joyce

Ulysses, by James Joyce

Ulysses
By James Joyce, 1922
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

A theory for you: there's not a Joyce fan alive who loves every chapter of Ulysses. You'd have to either be an insane frothing-at-the-mouth James Joyce freak who worships every word the man writes or have the broadest literary tastes ever to do so, since every chapter is famously written in a radically different style. It's mainly known for stream-of-consciousness, but that technique only enters in a few chapters and is more fully explored in Joyce's first and most conventional novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The famous Molly Bloom monolog, which runs three sentences across a whole chapter and is mostly responsible for the obscenity charges leveled against the novel, epitomizes that style, but elsewhere, Joyce gets his point across through whatever he can think of - an absurdist play, a parody of romance magazines, and a series of newspaper headlines all factor in; the lunchtime portion is written via many a food metaphor; the first chapter, meant to signify the start of the day, is penned in deliberately simple language to parallel just how hard it is to wake up sometimes; styles of author after author are parodied and paid homage.

Everyone knows the setup, but I feel remiss not to mention it: using Homer's Odyssey as his springboard, Joyce tells the story of two somewhat eccentric Dubliners, Stephen Daedalus (he of Portrait fame) and Leopold Bloom (he of Bloomsday fame), as they go about a more or less ordinary day. Realism had already come and portrayed the ordinary on ordinary terms, but Ulysses portrays the ordinary in madcap terms. Joyce doesn't even pretend to portray objective reality here, preferring to let his characters' perceptions and subconscious take over, with no shortage of jokes, irreverence, and wicked wordplay. This novel has a reputation of being hard to read, and that's probably got a lot to do with just how dense and dizzying it is; besides dumping experiences at you and switching styles so fast it's impossible to sink into, it's also stuffed to the brim with allusions you might not even catch (I'm sure there are many I don't understand, since I lack Joyce's exhaustive classical education) and in places more concerned with words' sound than their meaning.

So how do you read Ulysses? Well, for one, it's funny. If you appreciate Joyce's knack for the absurd, and I sure do, you'll have a great time with this. For another, the language is gorgeous. Not just in its sophisticated rhythm, but in its pure sound; "Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home" is a particular heartbreaker, as is "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." But the real trick to appreciating Ulysses comes from just accepting that you won't understand all of it and going wherever Joyce takes you. He's the one who's driving, he's got his destination in mind, and he's on his way there regardless of what you might do or say to the contrary. So forget about understanding everything. Just lie back and enjoy the ride, because it's unlike any other ride you've ever taken.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 1:34 PM, February 23, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 20, 2015

An Introduction to American Odd

A look at peculiar institutions, oddball literary experiments, and reckless rugged individualists. A celebration of American non-conformity.

Kooks, by Donna Kossy


America, by which I mean the United States, has been called a lot of things: a laboratory of democracy, a city upon a hill, and the land of opportunity. This nation has also produced a lot of odd stuff. Inspired in part by the literary blog ireadoddbooks.com and Michel Foucault, this essay series seeks to explore the stranger intellectual crevices of this great nation of ours. In previous essay series I sought to answer The Big Questions ("What does it mean to be human?") and investigate the erotica genre. A similar through-line occurs in the subject matter selected for this essay series. "What makes these works odd?" and "Is there something within American culture that cultivates this oddness?"

What is American Odd? For me it is a catch-all umbrella term for the strange, peculiar, idiosyncratic, and unclassifiable. This goes back to Michel Foucault. When he began teaching at the College de France he chose his own academic title. The title he chose was chair of the "history of systems of thought." During his academic career Foucault investigated the intellectual archaeology of systems and institutions we take for granted (the hospital, the prison, human sexuality, etc.). As it pertains to this essay series, I'm looking into non-mainstream systems of thought. These range from experiments in the literary avant-garde to manifestos to conspiracy theories. Also included are religions and roadside attractions and comics one can find in the newspaper.

This is an essay series of interrelations and resonances. I've always been interested in Mormonism. I'll look at The Cremaster Cycle, Matthew Barney's epic of five films. Mormonism plays a key role in Cremaster 2 with its re-enactment of Gary Gilmore's murder spree and execution. I will also look at a biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith. No ordinary biography, this one was written by his mother. Considered both a prophet and a madman, Charles Manson speaks for himself in The Manson File, an anthology of his writings, art, and song lyrics. Chicago-based oddities will include Martin Gardner's book on the so-called Urantia Cult and the art and writing of Henry Darger. Other oddball selections include Zippy the Pinhead (the newspaper comic), roadside attractions (Zippy has conversations with Muffler Men), The SubGenius Foundation, and Donna Kossy's endlessly fascinating book Kooks. In addition to these books, I will also check out Gilbert Sorrentino's trilogy Pack of Lies, an avant-garde fictional hall of mirrors, and Alexander Theroux's novella Three Wogs. Theroux remains the oddest voice in American contemporary literature.

The only predetermined perspective I will bring to this essay series is that of aesthetic appreciation. The intent is not to debunk or disprove these idiosyncratic systems of thought. Whether it is a fringe religion or a conspiracy theory, my aim is not to critique but to find out what motivates people to believe these things. I will also avoid medicalizing or psychologizing the subject matter. No easy task, since it is easy to classify Henry Darger, conspiracy theorists, and fringe religious believers as "insane" or "crazy." To take the example of artist and writer William Blake, offering a psychological diagnosis for his personal self-made mythology adds nothing to aesthetic appreciation.

Humans are pattern-making creatures. Conspiracies help certain individuals and groups make sense of the world. Despite my position of non-judgment, I won't sit on my hands or utter some platitude about how all belief systems are equal in value. They are not. In Donna Kossy's Kooks, there are swaths of racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and other awfulness. It just happens to be awful belief systems that don't fit into the usual garden variety hate literature. This essay series will be a delicate balance of the celebratory and the critical. The important factor will be investigating why individuals believe they way they do. "Why?" is the toughest question to answer.

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, February 20, 2015. Filed under:
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Book Review: "Rare" by Keith Veronese

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Rare, by Keith Veronese

Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth
By Keith Veronese
Prometheus Books

It was in T.C. McCarthy's great science-fiction novel Germline that I was first introduced to the concept of rare metals -- basically the same class of elements as more well-known items like aluminum and titanium, but found in even tinier amounts in the natural world, and that up to our modern age had been virtually useless as a practical material -- and the coming military wars that will eventually be fought over their deposits mostly in central Asia, because of it turning out that such ultra-contemporary items as cellphones and tablet computers simply cannot be made without them. And now here's an entire nonfiction book on the subject, from the always reliable "science for the masses" publisher Prometheus, which walks us step by step through everything you might ever want to know about the subject -- from their original discoveries in the Victorian Age, to the actual science behind why they're so valuable in electronics, what this has to do with plutonium and nuclear reactions, why that relationship fueled a lot of these discoveries during the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, and a lot more. Just a bit too technical at points, which would be my only complaint, mostly this is a fascinating and easy-to-follow guide to an obscure but hugely important subject, one that will be in the headlines every day once our grandchildren are adults; and for anyone who is curious about what makes the teeny-tiny devices of our modern world work as well as they do, this is well worth picking up.

Out of 10: 9.6

Read even more about Rare: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 20, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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February 17, 2015

Book Review: "Einstein's Beach House" by Jacob M. Appel

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Einstein's Beach House, by Jacob M. Appel

Einstein's Beach House
By Jacob M. Appel
Pressgang
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I always have trouble doing analytical reviews of story collections, I suppose because of the very nature of the manuscript being reviewed -- my write-ups tend to be a detailed look at that book's themes, characters, plot and style, and you would need to do this ten or fifteen separate times to do a story collection justice, and I find it hard just to sum up all the stories in a collection in one easy paragraph. So let me just say that the newest collection of stories by Jacob M. Appel, Einstein's Beach House, is a perfectly fine read, even though I don't have a lot to say about it; mostly genteel character studies but with always a dark or strange detail or two to keep interest high, these pieces feel much like the best work of people like Richard Russo or T.C. Boyle, a mature and assured voice that delivers solid pieces that are each like a little mini-novel unto themselves. If you're into the short-story format too, this is definitely a book you'll want to pick up; although as always, for those like me who prefer full-length novels, this can be as easily skipped as any other story collection.

Out of 10: 8.5

Read even more about Einstein's Beach House: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 17, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 16, 2015

CCLaP's newest book, Matt Fuchs' "Rise of Hypnodrome," is now available!

Rise of Hypnodrome, by Matt Fuchs

Wow, only mid-February and CCLaP already has its fourth original book of the year to announce! In this case it's Baltimore-area writer Matt Fuchs' wonderfully smart and dark science-fiction novella Rise of Hypnodrome, which we've been sending out to early reviewers for several months now but is finally becoming available to the general public starting today. As always, the book's synopsis can do a better job at explaining than I can here off the top of my head, so let me just paste it in below...

It's 2039, and a political faction called the Lifestyle Party has risen to power under the Presidency of Deepak Chopra. The new government bans scientific innovation and introduces a set of policies focused entirely on maximizing personal happiness. So why is Grady Tenderbath so unhappy? Believing that he's fallen short of his professional potential, he buys a personal robot muse to nurture his talent and ego, while his wife Karen, a genetic scientist, becomes more entrenched in her lab. But just when Grady seems on track to solve his career crisis, he discovers a new problem: he's swooning for the empathetic yet artificial Ashley. Not only that, he's distracted by haunting visions of Karen transforming into...something else. Half speculative fiction and half marriage thriller, Rise of Hypnodrome explores how future generations might draw from the realm of epigenetic engineering to eventually control their own biology. Whether human or robot, the characters in this cutting-edge science-fiction novella have one thing in common: an irrepressible desire to evolve.

Rise of Hypnodrome, paperback edition

Ooh, yeah, more please! This is CCLaP's triumphant return to hard SF for the first time in over a year, which just happens to be my personal favorite type of novel that even exists, so I'm particularly excited about this one. As always, the ebook versions of this title are being given away completely for free, merely in the attempt to raise the overall audience for the book; or if like me you prefer your reading experience to be a little more traditional, why you can always pick up the paperback edition for $14.99 plus shipping by using the button below...

Options

The book is also available over at Amazon, in both Kindle and paperback form, for those who would like to purchase it that way; and don't forget that Rise of Hypnodrome also has its own listing at Goodreads.com, so I hope my fellow Goodreaders will have a chance to add this to their to-read list over there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it after they're done reading it. Word of mouth is the number-one way a broke little indie press like us generates new customers, so your mention of this book online can and does have a substantial impact on how many total copies we end up selling. Our monthly publishing schedule is continuing without delay these days, with Steven Garbas' Orest and August coming out in just another 30 days; but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to stop by the Rise of Hypnodrome page right this second and download a copy, and see why I was charmed and moved enough by this full-length literary debut of Fuchs' to sign it with CCLaP in the first place.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:11 AM, February 16, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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February 13, 2015

Book Review: "Dark Matter Tiding" by Chance Maree

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Dark Matter Tiding, by Chance Maree

Dark Matter Tiding
By Chance Maree
Self-published
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Chance Maree's Dark Matter Tiding is a perfect example of why I bother to review any self-published book that an author takes the time to send me; for while admittedly most of the time it's a chore to get through them, every so often you're rewarded with a smart and entertaining tale that justifies all the headaches that come with self-publishing to begin with. Like all the best science-fiction novels, Maree uses a Big Thing as a sort of anchor to the world-building in her particular story -- namely, that the Earth has recently started getting bombarded with more and more dark matter from the edge of the universe, which has the unfortunate side effect of making some people turn into murderous psychotics -- but then uses this milieu to instead tell a series of small, character-oriented tales within this Big Thing going on, most of them centered around or at least concerning our hero Camera Hence, a drone engineer who literally starts on chapter one by becoming horrified by the way her militaristic employer (a thinly-veiled Halliburton) has used her inventions for the mass slaughter of innocents in emerging nations, so gets her revenge by deliberately creating an "accident" with the drones during a stockholder party and demonstration that ends up killing every single executive of the company. This calls Chance's own sanity into question right from the very beginning of the book, a question we never get a definitive answer to as her storyline expands into other plots and threads (including a family ranch that is about to be foreclosed, a drug-addicted brother who owns the deed but has suddenly disappeared, his bodybuilding friend who is renting his house to a group of dark-matter psychotics who believe they are vampires and that he is their leader, an ex-hippie astrophysicist who is convinced that there is a direct correlation between dark matter and peyote, and a lot more). Like a typical William Gibson novel, all of these disparate storylines come together and reach a satisfactory resolution by the end; and I have to say, this tight, fast read was actually a lot better than many of the novels I've received in the last year even from large and established genre publishers, definitive proof that self-published work is not always a waste of your time as long as you bother to seek out the best of the best. It comes strongly recommended to fans of sci-fi and day-after-tomorrow technothrillers.

Out of 10: 8.9

Read even more about Dark Matter Tiding: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 13, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 12, 2015

Book Review: "Bark: Stories," by Lorrie Moore

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Bark, by Lorrie Moore

Bark: Stories
Lorrie Moore
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

Well, I suppose this was going to happen. And yes, I loved Self-Help and Birds of America just as much as anyone else with a feeling for contemporary literature and a love of funny-sad fiction, but while Lorrie Moore is definitely a good writer and in some ways a great writer, she just has these tendencies. She'll pack a story with too many moving parts, she'll make a pun that's just a little too much, she'll overstretch a metaphor or dial a conceit too far up or just do something wrong. Not often, I'll grant. Those two collections I mentioned above have two, maybe three less than stellar stories between them. Bark has five less than stellar stories and three stories I liked.

Here's what you need to know. The longer these stories are, the better they are. This is a rule. I was especially fond of "Thank You for Having Me," which, like the best Lorrie Moore stories, mixes aspects of the mundane and the off-kilter, throws in a wicked sense of humor, and applies the melancholy at once liberally and strategically. "Wings" was also good; Moore's strong sense of place and ability to create character propel it to success. Not unqualified success, but success just the same. Lastly, while "Bark's" characters are a little too absurd and the humor sometimes a little much, it's in its own evocative and certainly never boring.

Ah, but those other stories are ridden with problem after problem. I won't be as reductive as to call the three long ones the good ones and the five short ones the bad ones, but the short ones could certainly see for improvement. The characters in "The Juniper Tree" don't have even a scrap of believability to them; "Paper Losses" has a few clever ideas in terms of wording, but sinks due to the overstretched space alien metaphor; "Foes'" topicality is downright clunky; and whatever might've happened in "Referential" and "Subject to Search" has sure slipped this reviewer's mind. I won't be quite as hyperbolic as to suggest that Moore's on a downturn, but this certainly makes me miss the ironbound consistency of Self-Help.

Out of 10: 7.1

Read even more about Bark: Stories: Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 12:37 PM, February 12, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 9, 2015

Book Review: "The Village" by John Strausbaugh

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Village, by John Strausbaugh

The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues -- A History of Greenwich Village
By John Strausbaugh
Ecco/HarperCollins
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Like most people, I've always primarily associated the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan with the Abstract Expressionists and Beat poets of the post-World-War-Two era, when the near-total destruction of Europe made this unassuming neighborhood the new global center of hipness and cool, a literal symbol of the worldwide cultural takeover the United States pulled off in general in the 1950s; but as John Strausbaugh shows in his remarkable new 600-page history of the neighborhood, Greenwich Village's bohemian roots actually go all the way back to the birth of Romanticism in the early 1800s and the invention of the term "bohemian" to begin with, and that this loosely defined confederation of "old New York" streets has been a constant haven for artists, druggies, the gay community and intellectual minorities ever since, not just in the years that it was known world-wide for this. Originally a sleepy suburb of New York City proper (thus the "Village" designation that has stuck with it ever since), it just so happened that this was the hot growing neighborhood for middle-class businessmen and their artist friends back in the early 1800s when the "bohemian class" was first invented, essentially a construct of the Romantic Era that redefined artists from hard-working craftsmen into tortured souls who suffered for aesthetics' sake; and so it was to this neighborhood that the first generation of bohemians turned when doing their suffering and drinking and casual sex, with Strausbaugh painting an enviable portrait of a sweaty, smoky Victorian-Age Greenwich populated by the nation's first gay bars and opium dens, visited on a regular basis by such stalwarts as Walt Whitman and Stephen Crane. And that's the way the neighborhood essentially continued without a break for the next 150 years, with Strausbaugh devoting large and detailed sections of his exhaustive book to the turn of the century and the rise of the great New York art museums; the Village after World War One when it became essentially the "Left Bank Lite;" its mainstream heyday in the World War Two era; and its last hurrah as a locus for gay rights in the 1960s and '70s, before massive gentrification in the '80s and '90s turned it into a permanent upper-class historical district that artists can no longer afford to live in. Smart and accessible, and full of literally hundreds of anecdotes about its most infamous citizens of the last two centuries, Strausbaugh's book is an epic read but a hugely rewarding one, and it comes strongly recommended to anyone interested in knowing more about the history of artistic neighborhoods in the United States.

Out of 10: 9.7

Read even more about The Village: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 9, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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February 4, 2015

Book Review: "No Other" by Mark Gluth

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

No Other, by Mark Gluth

No Other
By Mark Gluth
Sator Press

So before anything else, please realize that I only got around a third of the way through Mark Gluth's No Other before finally giving up on it, so any review I do of it should be taken with a grain of salt; and that's because Gluth is very firmly an acolyte in the "Tao Lin School" of so-called "alt-lit" writing, and the Tao Lin school of alt-lit writing unfortunately drives me up a freaking wall. (It's defined through an endless amount of small, dry, factual declarative statements, strung together so that single paragraphs sometimes last an entire three or four pages, with no plot to speak of and no character development whatsoever. Here's a very common example from Gluth's book, at around the 10-percent mark: "He told her about his headache. Tuesday touched his forehead. He pet the dog's head. The dog licked at his mouth. Hague said that he was glad that she was home. He said that the house was so empty earlier. She leaned forward, hugged him. The light came on in the hall. It came under the door and showed on the wall. Something in his head stung his nose. Tuesday pressed the dog down. He crawled under the bed." Now imagine 200 pages in a row exactly like this.) My main problem with books like these is what Homer Simpson so succinctly summed up with after meeting Ricky Gervais for the first time -- "You take forever to say nothing!" -- that these kinds of experimental novels just have no forward drive whatsoever, nothing there that keeps me compelled to keep reading to find out what happens next; and while you can get away with that in something like a short-story format (where, admittedly, I'm a much bigger fan of this type of writing -- see my positive review of Gluth's older book, for example, the decidedly more experimental The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis), I have to confess that I personally am driven really crazy by 200-page narrative novels that are written in this style, which is why all my efforts to actually finish this book and give it a fairer review were all ultimately a disaster. I understand that there's a lot of people out there who really like this kind of stuff (hell, Blake Butler has made an entire mainstream career out of this kind of stuff), and if you're one of these people, certainly I would encourage you to check out Gluth's book in that case; but I personally am very traditional and old-fashioned when it comes to my thoughts on what a full-length three-act narrative novel is supposed to accomplish, and I ultimately find these "alt-lit" novels to be a trendy but empty flash in the pan that will soon be forgotten by literary history at large. Buyer beware.

Out of 10: 6.8

Read even more about No Other: Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, February 4, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 3, 2015

Book Review: "The Ghoul Archipelago" by Stephen Kozeniewski

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Ghoul Archipelago, by Stephen Kozeniewski

The Ghoul Archipelago
By Stephen Kozeniewski
Severed Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

I don't actually have a lot to say about Stephen Kozeniewski's The Ghoul Archipelago, because it's based on a pretty simple premise that's easy to get across quickly -- it's another of those large epic genre thrillers that looks at how an entire section of the planet is affected by an apocalyptic event (in this case zombies in the Philippines), told through a half-dozen individual sets of characters and situations that slowly come more and more together as the book moves along, which has practically become a sub-genre unto itself in recent years because of the massive popularity of the one that started them all, Max Brooks' still phenomenal World War Z. So as such, what you think of Kozeniewski's take on it will depend entirely on what you think of people continuing to write in this genre to begin with; for while it's certainly well done, make no mistake, there's nothing really in The Ghoul Archipelago that you can't get by reading World War Z instead, which means you should only read the former if you're already a fan of this genre and don't mind books that essentially say the same thing all over again. That's not necessarily a pan of this competent and well-written novel -- after all, the very bread and butter of most genre fans is essentially the act of reading the same general story over and over again, which is the whole point it's called "genre literature" to begin with -- just that you shouldn't pick up The Ghoul Archipelago thinking you're going to get anything particularly groundbreaking, and especially if you're like me and don't particularly care for zombies as a genre trope to begin with. It should all be kept in mind when deciding whether to pick up a copy yourself or not.

Out of 10: 8.2

Read even more about The Ghoul Archipelago: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:56 PM, February 3, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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February 2, 2015

Announcing the CCLaP 2015 publishing catalog

CCLaP Publishing Catalog 2015

For the first time in CCLaP's history, I'm happy to say that we're now an entire year ahead in our publishing schedule, in terms of knowing which books in particular we'll be putting out; and that's letting us for the first time publish a traditional 2015 catalog for the general public, which you can download for free by clicking on this link. (Or to refer people online to this page in general, you can use the shortcut [bit.ly/cclapcatalog2015].) But I wanted to spell out everything in that PDF as a web page too, so that you don't have to do any downloading if you don't want; so here below is a look at every book we'll be doing this year and into the first half of 2016 as well. (Updated throughout the year as there are new covers and synopses to announce.)

After the Flood, by Ben Tanzer

Greetings once again from the fictional upstate New York town of Two Rivers, location of Ben Tanzer's other two story collections with CCLaP, 2008's Repetition Patterns and 2011's So Different Now. In these new stories, the citizens of this Sam-Shepardesque village are facing the prospect of the "Storm of the Century" and a massive flash flood. Instead of nobly rising to the occasion, however, the characters featured in these intense, probing pieces struggle with the same limitations and poor choices that have haunted them throughout these collections, resulting in the type of portraits of alcoholism, abuse and infidelity we've come to expect from this dark master of the American small-town soul. A brilliantly metaphorical look at the Great Recession of the 2010s, and a fitting end to CCLaP's "Hypermodern" series of small handmade hardback books, this latest volume of the ongoing series by Tanzer is considered by many to be some of the best work of his career, and you are sure to be both moved and horrified by the results.

"[Tanzer's] magnum opus.... Seriously my most fave CCLaP publication. These story cycles are kind of like a trilogy of concept albums, but instead of progressive rock songs, there's mind provoking and nerve twitching literature that seem to predict and expose the future and our human condition all too well." --Notes on the Shore

NOW AVAILABLE | cclapcenter.com/aftertheflood | Goodreads

The NSFW Files, by Karl Wolff

The runaway success of Fifty Shades of Grey made erotica mainstream, but can erotica really be written off as derivative fiction read by suburban moms for titillation? As Karl Wolff investigates in his new collection of essays, erotica belongs in a vast literary landscape, a genre that hides hidden treasures and rare delights. He covers erotica from The Song of Songs to Nic Kelman's girls: A Paean; from Gynecocracy to Matriarchy: Freedom in Bondage; from City of Night to Naked Lunch; Story of the Eye to Story of O; and a bawdy bouquet of graphic novels. The NSFW Files includes essays on erotica written by a Nobel laureate, an outsider artist, a surrealist, and a French prisoner, among many more. Most important, the essay collection offers an answer to the question, "What dirty book should I read next?"

NOW AVAILABLE | cclapcenter.com/nsfwfiles | Goodreads

Paul is Dead, by Stephen Moles

Paul McCartney is not a celebrity himself, but works on the edges of that industry, unhappily toiling away at a tabloid devoted to famous deaths and the public's ongoing fascination with them. But one day he discovers a mysterious red button on a back wall of his new house, which when pressed causes the immediate death of a celebrity sometimes half a world away. And what does this have to do with the eyeball in a glass jar that his biggest fan has recently mailed to him? Find out the darkly hilarious answer in this full-length debut of British absurdist author Stephen Moles. A rousingly bizarro exploration of fame, identity and mortality, this novella will make you laugh and cringe in equal measure, a perfect read for existing fans of Will Self or Chuck Palahniuk. You might not think a book about death would begin with the word "life" written 27 times in a row, but then you have yet to enter the strange but compelling world of Paul is Dead. Best approached with caution and with tongue firmly in cheek!

NOW AVAILABLE | cclapcenter.com/paulisdead | Goodreads

Rise of Hypnodrome, by Matt Fuchs

It's 2039, and a political faction called the Lifestyle Party has risen to power under the Presidency of Deepak Chopra. The new government bans scientific innovation and introduces a set of policies focused entirely on maximizing personal happiness. So why is Grady Tenderbath so unhappy? Believing that he's fallen short of his professional potential, he buys a personal robot muse to nurture his talent and ego, while his wife Karen, a genetic scientist, becomes more entrenched in her lab. But just when Grady seems on track to solve his career crisis, he discovers a new problem: he's swooning for the empathetic yet artificial Ashley. Not only that, he's distracted by haunting visions of Karen transforming into...something else. Half speculative fiction and half marriage thriller, Rise of Hypnodrome explores how future generations might draw from the realm of epigenetic engineering to eventually control their own biology. Whether human or robot, the characters in this cutting-edge science-fiction novella have one thing in common: an irrepressible desire to evolve.

Coming February 16th | cclapcenter.com/hypnodrome | Goodreads

Orest and August, by Steven Garbas

Orest Godwin is ruining his long legacy three fingers of rye at a time. His lectures have become bizarre. He's smoking indoors. And he's begun to carry a knife. When Orest nearly burns down the campus destroying memoirs in his attic, the College has no choice but to dismiss him. After 50 years, a prestigious career is ended in a humiliating act of senility. Or so The Provost thinks. Orest decides he is no longer satisfied to be a known historian; he wants to be historic. So he cashes his pension, draws a new will, and vanishes. With the help of a failing Spanish student whom he has promised a fictional scholarship, he embarks on an adventure from northern California to the lawless badlands of Mexico to join a true rebellion. Armed with Wyatt Earp replica pistols and a case of rye, Orest and Augie trespass through a thousand miles of brothels, cantinas, jungles, diners, and motels, threatening those they meet along the way. If Orest can just elude the pimps he's crossed, the ranchers he's sworn vengeance upon, and kidnapping charges, he might just join his peasant uprising. At least while he can still remember where he is going. And if no one gives him a drop of mescal.

Coming March 15th | cclapcenter.com/orestandaugust | Goodreads

Big Venerable, by Matt Rowan

A darkly surreal yet absurdly funny short-fiction writer, Matt Rowan has been a Chicago local secret for years; but now this latest collection of pieces, all of which originally appeared in the pages of the CCLaP Weekender in 2014 and '15, is set to garner him the national recognition his stories deserve, a Millennial George Saunders who is one of the most popular authors in the city's notorious late-night literary performance community. Shocking? Thought-provoking? Strangely humorous? Uncomfortable yet insightful on a regular basis? YES PLEASE.

"Big Venerable reads like a collection of modern fables, peppered with workplace anxiety, mutating families, absurd quests, and faulty sages delivering self-centered advice. A very funny book from a very funny man." --Halle Butler, author of Jillian

Coming April 13th | cclapcenter.com/bigvenerable | Goodreads

Twilight of the Idiots, by Joseph G. Peterson

Know thyself and nothing in excess. Just as the doomed sailors of Homer's Odyssey fail to heed one or the other of these maxims, and end up getting turned to swine or lured to their peril by the singing sirens; so too do the doomed characters in Joseph G. Peterson's new collection of stories fail idiotically in one way or another and end up, like those ancient sailors, facing the prospect of their own mortal twilight. Set mostly in Chicago and by turns gruesome, violent, comic, lurid and perverse, these stories are suffused with a metaphorical light that lends beauty and joy to the experience of reading them.

"For me Joe Peterson's voice is a fresh pair of feet on the very dusty road of contemporary American literature." --Dan Fante, best-selling author of 86'd

Coming May 18th | cclapcenter.com/twilightidiots | Goodreads

The New York Stories, by Ben Tanzer

THE PUBLISHING EVENT NINE YEARS IN THE MAKING

In 2006, celebrated author Ben Tanzer began working on a series of short stories all set in the fictional upstate New York town of Two Rivers, most of them published in various literary journals over the years and eventually collected into the three small volumes Repetition Patterns (2008), So Different Now (2011), and After the Flood (2014). Now for the first time, all 33 of these stories have been put together into one paperback edition, highlighting the long-term planning of themes and motifs that Tanzer has been building into these pieces the entire time. Featuring dark character studies of childhood, middle age, and (lack of) grace under pressure, these stories are considered by many to be among the best work of Tanzer's career, and voracious fans of his short work will surely be pleased and satisfied to have these small masterpieces collected together into one easy-to-read volume. So take a stool at Thirsty's, order another Yuengling, and be prepared to be transported into the black heart of the American small-town soul, as one of our nation's best contemporary authors takes us on a journey across space and time that will not be soon forgotten.

"With great humor and the natural voice of your closest confidant, Ben Tanzer brings us stories set in our shared fictional hometown of Two Rivers, NY. With tenderness and heart, Ben brings us real people and their poignant, messy struggles, reminding us of the folly of our youth and the beauty in even our most mundane histories. Though my family left when I was small for the big city, Tanzer has given this reader the gift of a sliding door here, and I think you'll feel the same way, wherever you're from." --Elizabeth Crane, author of We Only Know So Much

"Ben Tanzer's stories are both familiar and surprising, a scarf and a knife. Stories full of people we know, love. People we don't want to know, don't want to love. Stories full of desire and sadness and almost. Stories over beers and tequila, stories inside sex and storms. Ben! He is one of my favorites for all sorts of reasons and one of those reasons is yes and another is hell yes." --Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Every Kiss A War

Coming June 15th | cclapcenter.com/nystories | Goodreads

Condominium, by Daniel Falatko

The brilliant literary debut of the "Millennial John Updike," this is a warm ode to the middle-class assholes who are ruining Brooklyn, which doubles as a pretty effective black comedy to boot. Set in one of the infamous new glass skyscrapers along the edge of Williamsburg, Falatko paints a complex and touching portrait of a young creative-class couple in transition, examining how the Great Recession has sometimes affected subtly bizarre vengeance on the newest generation of young professionals just now entering "real life."

Coming July 13th | cclapcenter.com/condo (not yet live)

AND COMING LATER IN 2015 and 2016:

September 14th: Title TBD (2015 "City All-Star" Student Anthology). Our second annual "city all-star" student anthology, it will feature over 400 pages of stories, essays and poetry from the best and brightest writing students in the entirety of Chicago, culled from over 20 institutions across the city and suburbs. This year's theme will be announced, and submissions begun to be accepted, on April 1st, 2015; write cclapcenter [at] gmail.com to be added to the mailing list for updates.

October 12th: The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, Leland Cheuk. At its heart a very sober look at all the injustices that Asian-Americans have had to endure over the years (from the railroad days of the Victorian Age to the forced camps of World War Two), but cleverly told through the darkly comedic filter of one particular family who lived through it all, each new generation's patriarch either corrupt and benefiting from the atrocities or cartoonishly inept and punished for it. A laugh-out-loud yet highly literary story of dysfunctional families, perfect for existing fans of Jonathan Franzen.

November 9th: The Wobble, Douglas Light. The nationally popular novelist, whose debut novel East Fifth Bliss was turned into an acclaimed independent feature film, creates a darkly comic yet poignant tale in his latest work. After the Earth snaps off its axis for seven seconds, Philip Heavy fights to regains some semblance of his old life. When the task proves impossible, he decides to takes a swim--around Manhattan. Battling the currents, a Federal assassin, and his own tormenting doubt, Philip forges friendships with fellow swimmers who join him in his quest for understanding and a way out of the river. With a razor-sharp voice that's been compared to Haruki Murakami, Light creates a bizarre yet believable world--one we can all relate to.

December 7th: The Fugue, by Gint Aras. From this Chicago-born Lithuanian-American author comes a major new contribution to Chicago's tradition of social-realist literature. Nelson Algren meets Leo Tolstoy in a 700-page saga that spans four generations of Eastern European immigrants, all living in the community of Cicero, the action taking place over 50 years and revealing a series of secrets that stretch all the way back to the Nazi invasions of eastern Europe. Each member of these complicated, fascinating families is profoundly affected by events often invisible to them. The Fugue is a major new publishing event in the indie-press world, and a book CCLaP will be heavily promoting as a possible dark-horse nominee for the National Book Award.

January 2016: Goodbye Pantopon Rose, by Mike Sauve. The first title of our new "CCLaP Erotica" imprint is a dark and surreal slapstick comedy with an urgent message about the evolution of lust in the digital age. Sarah Montgomery is a soup kitchen volunteer of singular altruism and bustiness who decides that having sex with her neck-bearded and virginal high school classmates is the greatest charity she can put forth; the resulting "sexual pay it forward" ring grips the town in an obsession when the increasingly perverse trysts produce medical and religious miracles, and eventually draw the interest of sinister forces. The second coming of Chuck Palahniuk...pun intended.

February 2016: The Peach King, by Steven Garbas. In this daring and smartly funny follow-up to his 2015 CCLaP novel Orest and August, and set in the same town as the former, an alcoholic high-school teacher becomes obsessed with his shut-in next-door-neighbor who recently committed suicide, eventually recruiting two strange teenagers to help in his comically inept detective work regarding the rooms full of random writings the recluse left behind.

March 2016: Death Leaders, by Kendra Hadnott. The full-length debut of this young local author, it's set in a near-future Chicago that has revealed the existence of the "Death Leaders," a quasi-angelic order historically tasked with keeping the world's population under control, without humans ever catching on. When our hero is assigned a 19-year-old single mother to kill through medical illness, it seems at first like business as usual, but soon it's revealed that one of their own is trying to destroy the organization (and the resulting human civilization) from within.

April 2016: The Moby-Dick Blues, by Michael Strelow. The newest title in our "CCLaP Crime" imprint, this contemporary noir is posited around a fascinating "what-if" from real life, about the sudden discovery one day of the long-thought-lost first draft of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, and the warring factions within a dysfunctional family who nearly destroy each other in their quest for control of it. Be warned, this is not a historical tale, but a fresh and dark thriller set within the world of rare-book collecting.

The growing list of CCLaP accolades

And finally, Joe Peterson keeps telling me I should do this more, so let me also take a moment to share online the page from the PDF listing our growing listing of accolades, including being recently lauded by Bookriot for being one of the top-five indie presses in the United States to be "absolutely killing it." We are killing it these days, frankly, and I don't worry about sounding like I'm bragging when I say that, because we all know that that mostly boils down to just how many really amazing, astounding authors we have sending us manuscripts these days, the biggest reason we've been able to expand out to a full year ahead in our schedule. We accept submissions all year long, so feel free to send us yours by writing cclapcenter [at] gmail.com, remembering as always that we do not accept poetry, short-story collections, or children's/YA literature. We have some really amazing books to share with you this year, and I hope you'll have a chance to come by all throughout 2015 and read them all, especially since every ebook is completely free to download in their full form.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:13 PM, February 2, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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January 29, 2015

Book Review: "A Little Lumpen Novelita," by Roberto Bolaño

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

A Little Lumpen Novelita, by Roberto Bolaño

A Little Lumpen Novelita
By Roberto Bolaño
New Directions
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

I've been a fan of Roberto Bolaño from the opening pages of 2666, but like many great authors, he had his flaws. For all his talents as a writer, he strikes me as a terrible editor, or self-editor, if you prefer. A consequence of his style is that that every Bolaño novel has ideas or characters or details that aren't fully explored; part of this is because Bolaño is about mystery and suggestion, the things that lurk around the corners, but part of this might be because the guy wrote a lot and published a lot. A Little Lumpen Novelita, written in 2001 but not translated until last year, falls in some ways on the wrong side of the careful balance Bolaño so frequently strikes between shadowy and incomplete; The Skating Rink also falls on the wrong side, while Monsieur Pain, Amulet, and The Third Reich sit on the fence between the two; I'd wager that everything else I've read by him succeeds exceptionally. Like everything else he wrote, it's a great story -- an impoverished woman descends into a life of bizarre crime when his brother brings home two strangers -- and the sense of dread and the ominous that permeates even the man's weaker works also shows up here. Plus there are some great individual set pieces, like the segment where protagonist Bianca uses a newspaper quiz to reveal and in some ways form her character. The prose, in that great Bolaño style, hits a nice mix of menace and lyricism, and there are a few poignant observations that I won't share because they hit harder in context.

So everything he usually does well, he does well here. Yet other than Bianca, none of these characters ever become more than sketches. All sorts of possibilities are opened up for them, especially her brother and his pursuit of masculine ideals, but aren't really given a lot of depth; the plot hurtles forward too quickly for anything to expand, for anyone outside of Bianca to establish themselves. Other Bolaño novels have given us terrific characters -- recurring alter ego Arturo Belano has imprinted himself in my mind with his swordfight in The Savage Detectives, and it's hard to resist the Col. Kurtz vibes Distant Star's skywriting serial killer Alberto Ruiz-Tagle throws off -- but none of those characters are here, and it's amazing how quickly thin characters can sink a promising premise. And even Bianca isn't a great character, just a serviceable one; she doesn't complicate the way I want her to. Maybe that's why A Little Lumpen Novelita feels like Bolaño going through the motions; the whole time I read it, I found myself struck with the feeling that he'd done better, and with it, I came to the conclusion that this probably wouldn't have been translated if Bolaño had lived a little longer. Of course, me being the kind of person I am, I'll probably read through every Bolaño manuscript New Directions digs up and puts out, but if you're not an obsessive fan like I am, there's really not a lot of need to read this. I can't at all call it bad, but it's definitely inessential; there's a lot you can keep in the shadows, but your main characters' personalities, motives and development just can't stay this dark.

Out of 10: 7.0

Read even more about A Little Lumpen Novelita: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 7:00 AM, January 29, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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January 27, 2015

Book Review: "No Land's Man" by Aasif Mandvi

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

No Land's Man, by Aasif Mandvi

No Land's Man
By Aasif Mandvi
Chronicle Books

There's not a lot to say about Aasif Mandvi's short and sharp memoir No Land's Man, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading; in fact, I found this one of the more delightful short books I've read in recent months, a disarming and always humorous look at one Indian immigrant's journey from the subcontinent to England and eventually America, informed and influenced by Gen-X pop-culture the entire way. For those who only know Mandvi as one of the smartest contributors to Comedy Central's The Daily Show, they might be surprised to know that he has an equal amount of experience in the arts delving into drama and intellectualism, with his one-man play Sakina's Restaurant eventually turned into the successful indie film Today's Special, and with Mandvi taking various parts over the years in plays by Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner and more; and both of these sides of this talented writer and performer are on display in this small but engaging new book, a self-deprecating yet earnest look at Mandvi's youth as a picked-on Indian nerd in a working-class British town, before his family's random move to Tampa, Florida and his '80s dreams of American success as defined through bad television. (One of the funniest chapters here is how Mandvi aspired as a youth to become the next Fonzie, insisting that his parents call him "The Monz" until his mother finally revolted, passionately lecturing him on the superior acting skills of Omar Sharif over Henry Winkler.) A fast and entertaining read that should take most people no more than a day or two to finish, this comes strongly recommended to both comedy fans and those interested in first-hand looks at the American immigration experience, as well as anyone else looking for a sweet, funny story about nerdom and outsider culture.

Out of 10: 9.3

Read even more about No Land's Man: Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, January 27, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
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January 26, 2015

The CCLaP train keeps rolling! Say hello to Stephen Moles' "Paul is Dead!"

Paul is Dead, by Stephen Moles

It's been an insane 2015 so far for us here at CCLaP, as we have literally released a new original book every single week since the year first started, mostly as a way to catch up with the books from last Christmas that we didn't end up getting out; but now that our back titles are out of the way, I'm happy today to announce our first full-length book of the year, British author Stephen Moles' absurdist comedy Paul is Dead. As always, the book's synopsis does a better job at describing it than I can, so let me just paste it in below...

Paul McCartney is not a celebrity himself, but works on the edges of that industry, unhappily toiling away at a tabloid devoted to famous deaths and the public's ongoing fascination with them. But one day he discovers a mysterious red button on a back wall of his new house, which when pressed causes the immediate death of a celebrity sometimes half a world away. And what does this have to do with the eyeball in a glass jar that his biggest fan has recently mailed to him? Find out the darkly hilarious answer in this full-length debut of British absurdist author Stephen Moles. A rousingly bizarro exploration of fame, identity and mortality, this novella will make you laugh and cringe in equal measure, a perfect read for existing fans of Will Self or Chuck Palahniuk. You might not think a book about death would begin with the word "life" written 27 times in a row, but then you have yet to enter the strange but compelling world of Paul is Dead. Best approached with caution and with tongue firmly in cheek!

Yeah, I know, right?! I've become a big fan of bizarro fiction since opening CCLaP in 2007, mostly because of the tight community of bizarro writers at Goodreads who keep sending me their books for review, so I'm particularly proud to be publishing today our very first bizarro tale ourselves, and especially proud of it being the full-length debut of the very deserving Moles. For those who have never read bizarro fiction before, expect a story that combines very black humor with a sorta cartoonish mentality, sort of like the best of Monty Python or Tim & Eric.

'Paul is Dead' at the Amazon Kindle Store

As always, we've made the ebook version completely free to download here at the website, for those who would like to read it that way; or if you'd like to support the center a little more than that (or simply prefer having Amazon push your ebooks directly to your Kindle wirelessly), you can also purchase the ebook there for $9.99. Plus of course there's a paperback version available, in a cute new 4 by 7 inch format that all our future novella-length books will be coming out in, which you can order directly from us by using the Paypal link below...

Options

Are you a fellow UK resident like Moles? We strongly encourage you to purchase the paperback instead through Amazon.co.uk, the link for which will be available by this Wednesday at the latest; since this is being offered through Amazon's digital printing service, that means your UK order will actually be printed and shipped from there in England itself, meaning that you will only have to pay for local postage and that you'll receive your book in a mere two or three days, just like an American who might order directly through us. (This is the case, in fact, for any of you in Europe, plus other countries that Amazon services like Australia, Canada, India, Japan and more. This is a great new deal we've struck with Amazon, and means that all of you will only have to pay local postage anymore for any book CCLaP publishes, so we highly encourage you to take advantage of this whenever possible.) Plus of course don't forget that this book has its own listing at Goodreads.com too, so I strongly urge all of you fellow GRers to add it to your library there, and especially to post a few thoughts about it after you're done reading it. We literally have no advertising budget at CCLaP, literally zero dollars, so word-of-mouth is the number-one way we generate new customers around here. Your mention of our books online, whether at Goodreads, Amazon, or your personal blog, can and does have a huge impact on the number of books we sell, so we appreciate any write-up you might be able to do.

The CCLaP train just keeps rolling in 2015 as well -- our next book is coming out in just another three weeks from now -- but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to go check out Paul is Dead right this moment, and see like I did why this extremely clever and funny book will have you laughing and shuddering at the same exact time.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:02 PM, January 26, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |
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January 22, 2015

CCLaP Podcast 124: "Chicago After Dark" University of Chicago Contributor Party

CCLaP Podcast 124: 'Chicago After Dark' University of Chicago Contributor Party

It's Monday Thursday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a special one-hour live recording from our recent Chicago After Dark contributor party on the University of Chicago campus, held in conjunction with campus literary magazine Memoryhouse. Recorded in December 2014 at the campus's Reynolds Club.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:24 AM, January 22, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Events | Literature | Music |
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January 21, 2015

Stalking the Behemoth: "the Brothers Karamazov," by Fyodor Dostoevsky

the Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1880
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer

A massive book, and not just because eight hundred pages, while not a patch on Proust, is fat. No, the Brothers Karamazov is full of huge ideas about how people operate, ideas of faith and society and cynicism and idealism and greed and selfishness. I mean, the criticism on this book, and just this book, mind, probably takes up more combined pages than the whole of Dostoevsky's oeuvre. There's a lot here, and that's before you factor in the reputation of this book. To a lot of people, Dostoevsky is culture, which means to a lot of people, Dostoevsky is either unapproachable or boring. Plus there are a ton of characters and they're all referred to by multiple names, in accordance with Russian naming conventions.

So how do you even approach this book? What road leads you into it? Well, I'm here to tell you that Dostoevsky is a lot more accessible than you might think he is. See, his four "major novels," the long ones he made his name on - Crime and Punishment, the Idiot, Demons, and this one - all have a hook of some kind. Crime and Punishment has the cat-and-mouse game, the Idiot's got the romantic entanglements, Demons works on the fascination-of-evil principle, and this is a murder mystery. Basically, Fyodor Karamazov, cruel landlord and father of the four brothers - intellectual Ivan, former monk Alexei, hedonist Dmitri, and the oft-forgotten servant Smerdyakov - is murdered, and the clues point to Dmitri. This is used as a jumping-off for a ton of strands: the radical transformation each brother passes through in the wake of their father's death and the investigation of the murder are just as important as the investigation of human morals.

But it's the investigation of the morals you stay for. It's famously heavy stuff, stuff that runs us through the wringer and brings us to the conclusion that it's worth it to be a good person anyway, without the conclusion being forced or things slipping into tract mode. The trick is through the characters. By some sorcery, Dostoevsky makes the brothers feel like people and stand in for broader ideas. At the same time. So when Ivan and Alexei dish about Christianity in the famous "Grand Inquisitor" chapter, it doesn't feel like discourse, it feels like two people talking at the bar. That famously devout Christian Dostoevsky was nonetheless able to put a convincing argument against Christianity into the mouths of one of his characters astounds me. This is astonishing characterization, simply put. This is basically the best deal you can ask for from characterization.

And I'm as amazed as ever that Dostoevsky landed this thing. Maybe it's technically true that he didn't, seeing as he died before he completed this novel and seeing as he had two sequels planned, but just that Karamazov is a coherent narrative with a coherent philosophy and not an incoherent mess of threads butting up against each other is incredible to me. But pull it off he did, and that's why we still read it decades later.

Filed by Chris Schahfer at 9:51 PM, January 21, 2015. Filed under: Chris Schahfer | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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January 20, 2015

Book Review: "The Fortress in Orion" by Mike Resnick

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Fortress in Orion, by Mike Resnick

The Fortress in Orion
By Mike Resnick
Pyr
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

One of the things I've come to realize about myself in the last several years is that when I call myself a "science-fiction fan," that's actually a bit of a misnomer; I should instead really call myself a "science-fiction dilettante," because as I learned after attending Worldcon in Chicago a couple of years ago (my first SF convention in 25 years), there's really only a tiny layer of SF novels I genuinely enjoy in any given year, the really unusual and extra-smart stuff by writers who often have conflicted relationships with SF fandom to begin with (oh, hello there, China Mieville), but that I can't really stand the middlebrow space-opera stuff that actually makes up the majority of output of the genre in any given year, but that is the exact favorites of the kinds of super-fans who attend a lot of the conventions, vote for the Hugo Award every year, etc. Mike Resnick is one of these con-favorite authors -- in fact, he was the Worldcon Guest Of Honor the year I attended -- and his new The Fortress in Orion is exactly the kind of middlebrow stuff I'm talking about; it's not very smart but not very dumb either, not too fast-paced but not too slow, with the most stereotypical of hacky premises driving its utterly guessable three-act plot (a cocky yet effective military commander who plays by his own rules is tasked with infiltrating enemy lines on a daring spy mission, and hand-picks a series of sassy rogues and sexy criminals to pull it off), but with hardcore fans loving this stuff because it's fast to get through (a must for the kinds of core genre fans who tear through an entire middlebrow novel a day, every day, whether that's SF or fantasy or crime or romance you're talking about), and because Resnick will actually hang out with you at the next con and buy you a beer for liking his book.

Certainly not a bad novel, in the same way that a typical episode of a typical low-budget syndicated TV show on the SyFy Network isn't "bad," nonetheless it goes down with the same kind of generic smoothness, and leaves just as short of a lasting impression, a good way to kill a Saturday afternoon but with nothing much better that one can say about it. I read and review such books regularly here anyway, because I read and review any book that a publisher takes the time to send me (and to be clear, our pals at Pyr don't just put out these kinds of books, but also the kinds of amazing, mind-bending stuff that constitutes the best of this genre too); but I can't say that I'm ever excited by another of these "fan-fave paying-the-bills" mid-list titles, nor that I'll even remember the experience of reading it another six months from now. ("What do you mean, I actually watched the entire fourth season of Stargate SG-1 with you last summer? Why do I have no memory of watching the entire fourth season of Stargate SG-1 with you last summer?") This should all be kept in mind before picking up a copy yourself.

Out of 10: 7.5

Read even more about The Fortress in Orion: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, January 20, 2015. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
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January 19, 2015

Check out CCLaP's newest book, Karl Wolff's "The NSFW Files!"

The NSFW Files, by Karl Wolff

It's busy days around here at CCLaP, as we not only start up our new monthly schedule of new books for 2015, but are also squeezing out two books from 2014 that we weren't able to get out in time for the holidays; and today I'm happy to announce the second of those delayed books, Karl Wolff's essay collection The NSFW Files. If this title already rings a bell, it's because Karl's actually one of the staff writers here at the blog, and this essay series has been running here once a month over the last year, scholarly looks at various volumes over the decades and centuries that have in one way or another been labeled "obscene" or "erotic" by their contemporary audiences; but as always, the book's dust jacket does a better job of explaining it than I can here off the cuff, so let me just paste it in below...

The runaway success of Fifty Shades of Grey made erotica mainstream, but can erotica really be written off as derivative fiction read by suburban moms for titillation? As Karl Wolff investigates in his new collection of essays, erotica belongs in a vast literary landscape, a genre that hides hidden treasures and rare delights. He covers erotica from The Song of Songs to Nic Kelman's girls: A Paean; from Gynecocracy to Matriarchy: Freedom in Bondage; from City of Night to Naked Lunch; Story of the Eye to Story of O; and a bawdy bouquet of graphic novels. The NSFW Files includes essays on erotica written by a Nobel laureate, an outsider artist, a surrealist, and a French prisoner, among many more. Most important, the essay collection offers an answer to the question, "What dirty book should I read next?"

The NSFW Files: The Hypermodern Paper Edition

This is our next-to-last short handmade "Hypermodern" book before finally retiring the series for good (although let me admit because of our wonky schedule that we've already released what is technically the very last Hypermodern title, Ben Tanzer's After the Flood from last week); and it's a nice thick one in this case, almost 200 pages altogether, because of Karl adding three new essays that never appeared at the blog, plus a new introduction, a "lecherous lexicon" that explains many of the terms he uses throughout the book, and a new long afterword that helps tie up the themes discussed throughout. Now that our "Hypermodern" series is officially finished (at a final book count of 30 titles), it's now possible to start the process of collecting every single one of them and having a complete set, so there's no better way to start than by picking up this one using the "buy now" button seen below...

Options

The NSFW Files: The Hypermodern Paper Edition

And of course, like all our titles, the ebook edition is completely free here at the website for those who want to download it that way (technically "pay what you want," although with "pay nothing" being a perfectly valid choice); or if you own a Kindle and you find it easier to pay five bucks and have it automatically download to your device wirelessly, certainly I encourage you to do it that way instead. And as always, there's also a listing for this book over at Goodreads.com, so I hope all my fellow GRers get a chance to add it to their library there and especially to post a few thoughts about it after you're done reading. Adding to your "to-read" list there is great, but it's the actual reviews that convince other people to pick it up themselves; and with this being the number-one way a tiny and broke operation like ours generates new customers, your mention of this book online can and does have a very concrete effects in the total number of books we sell.

I've been a big fan of these essays as Karl has been writing and posting them over the last year here, and I'm very excited to have this full book finally out; so if you've enjoyed Karl's online writing about books and comics here as well, I really encourage you to stop by the book's web headquarters right this moment and download a copy for yourself. Yet another new CCLaP book coming your way next Monday too, so I hope you'll get a chance to stop by again and check that out as well!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:37 PM, January 19, 2015. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Profiles |
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