American Odd: Pack of Lies, by Gilbert Sorrentino
Pack of Lies, by Gilbert Sorrentino
Pack of Lies: a Trilogy
By Gilbert Sorrentino
Dalkey Archive (1997)
Review by Karl Wolff

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

The Pack of Lies Trilogy:
Odd Number (1985)
Rose Theater (1987)
Misterioso (1989)

Gilbert Sorrentino (1929-2006) is the undisputed grandmaster of the American Postmodern comic novel. I discovered Sorrentino when I read Mulligan Stew, a rollicking epic free-for-all pitting a pretentious failed writer against his rebellious characters. Along with Thomas Pynchon and Robert Coover, Sorrentino also writes large-scale encyclopedic Rabelaisian comedies. Reading Mulligan Stew (1979) was a formative event in my life, along with reading Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and Robert Coover’s The Public Burning (1977). I cite the dates, because Coover, Pynchon, and Sorrentino flourished in the paranoid Seventies, creating their comic visions atop the charred remains of Flower Power and the New Left. Sorrentino, Coover, and Pynchon also seemed like a natural progression after a childhood raised on Mad Magazine. Parody, when done well, can be the highest form of art. Working hand in hand with satire, it can be a weapon to use against the assembled idiots, tinpot wannabe dictators, and bigoted scum who share the planet with other more enlightened and tolerant members of humanity. (If it weren’t 2017, I’d have said that previous sentence was rather harsh. What me, worry?)

To cite Brian Berger writing Sorrentino’s profile as Hilo Hero:

If Sorrentino rarely had the number of readers he deserved, it’s fortunate his most difficult work — three novels (1985-1989) now collected as Pack of Lies — found their brilliant expositor in University of Texas philosophy professor, Louis Mackey. Still, it’s there for all to discover: “Coarse sexuality. Data and cynical commentary. Nervous and demotic language. Jokes!”

I chose to end my American Odd essay series by looking at Pack of Lies. Little did I know how challenging it would be, even for someone who has read several other works by Sorrentino. Simply put, Pack of Lies is a Postmodern metafictional labyrinth. Self-referential, bawdy, cynical, satirical, and parodic, it is a merciless take-down of artistic and literary pretensions swirling about in the Sixties and Seventies. The cocktail party set gets a serious drubbing from Sorrentino’s poison pen. Besides using characters from previous novels, he also has a parody of Barney Rosset, the philandering honcho of Grove Press. (Sorrentino used to work at Grove Press as an editor.) Write what you know, kids!

For Sorrentino newbies, I would suggest beginning with Mulligan Stew or Aberration of Starlight. Both are more accessible and Mulligan Stew is a laugh riot. To be perfectly blunt, Pack of Lies was a slog to read. Unlike his other work, Sorrentino’s trilogy of novels works hard to alienate and confuse the reader.

For most novels, even formally experimental works as challenging and complex as Gravity’s Rainbow, one can explain what a novel is about. Pack of Lies is actually a trilogy of three novels. Each novel has its own set of rules. In philosophy an important question is, “What is truth?” With Sorrentino’s Postmodern fictions, the truth is harder to nail down. With its wonky structure and its acid satire, Pack of Lies could be seen as the redheaded stepchild of Samuel Beckett’s famous Three Novels.

Here is my best attempt to summarize the three novels making up Pack of Lies:

Odd Number is a series of interrogations. We never find out the identity of the interrogator. We encounter characters from previous Sorrentino novels. The was a wild party and the interrogations eventually lead up to the revelation of a woman killed in a car accident. Along the way we meet a thinly veiled portrayal of Barney Rosset, owner of Grove Press, where Sorrentino used to work as an editor. There is also talk about a novel about a film about a party where people talk about a novel, etc. It gets really meta really fast. But it is also laugh-out-loud funny in parts, especially those pointing out the foibles and pretensions of the highbrow literary set. Other things like real estate fraud, softcore pornographic films, and suicide get thrown into the mix. The novel eventually ends on a verbal feedback loop.

Rose Theater reads like fragments from a failed “literary novel.” It continues the misadventures of the characters from Odd Number, adding biographies and other detritus.

Misterioso concludes the trilogy in a roughly alphabetic manner. We encounter characters, places, books, and other items as we proceed through the alphabet. One of the main challenges in experimental literature is how to read it. Once I abandoned any pretense of following characters or plot, the novel clicked together like a well-oiled machine. It operated less like a traditional three-act plot-driven novel and more like flipping through TV channels. Characters and situations repeated themselves, a rudimentary plot accumulating over time. But it wasn’t about linear progression written in free indirect style. What we encounter are parodies, lists, corrections, incantations, dating, murder, sex, demons, John Crowe Ransom, a copy of Absalom! Absalom! in an A & P, and a suburban vegetarian couple. It is less a novel than an acidic commentary on modern society and the frauds and phonies populating the literary world.

Here’s an entry on Antony Lamont, the tortured writer from Mulligan Stew, reappearing in Misterioso:

Surrounded by the three or four thousand intractable typescript pages of the novel on which he has been sporadically working for some sixteen years, Antony Lamont surrenders, finally, to the suspicion, long held in abeyance, that he has no idea what he is doing. For instance, he doesn’t remember what his novel is “about”—is it “about” anything at all? He picks up a handful of sheets and riffles through them, stopping now and again to stare at a totally unfamiliar name. God! He doesn’t even remember the names of his characters!

This passage is really funny, but it also hits really close to home. Being a writer paints a big target on your back. In addition, the line between Next Big Thing in the literary world and Hack Fraud can get blurry at times. Add publicity, the pressure to “make it,” and the demands of a ravenous fan base, and it can be quite easy to fly up one’s own ass. The aspiring author can wander around with a complete lack of self-awareness and a fanatical conviction of their own genius. (See: Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, etc.). Sorrentino takes a sharpened needle to the hubris of authorial pretentiousness. Did I mention that I wrote two previous books of essays? You should totally buy them!

With its constant shifting perspective and verbal pyrotechnics, it becomes increasingly difficult to nail down the truth of the matter. Characters change names or have names very similar to other characters (for example: Sol Blanc and Saul Blanche). It becomes obvious that we are reading a series of fabrications by an author. Fiction is artifice and Pack of Lies shines a bright light upon the craft of writing fiction. Novels in a technical sense – as in where to place them in the bookstore – Pack of Lies is an extended riff on the art of fiction at the point of total disintegration. Plot, characters, and setting have been totally abandoned, reconfigured into anonymous interrogations, strange narrative fragments, and alphabetical lists.

“I thought I made that clear, I’m sorry. It’s all in the dim past, as Doctor Plot might write, as a matter of fact, he probably has, a few hundred times.” —from Odd Number

Read even more about Pack of Lies: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Wikipedia

Karl Wolff has been a local TV production assistant, museum curator, and undergraduate teaching assistant. He currently reviews books for CCLaP, the New York Journal of Books, runs his own blog (The Driftless Area Review), and has written features for Milwaukee's own Alcoholmanac Magazine and INFO* Magazine.
TV Review: Legion on FX, created by Noah Hawley
Legion on FX, created by Noah Hawley
Legion (FX)
By Noah Hawley (Showrunner)
FX (streaming on Amazon and Hulu)
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

Among the numerous TV shows based on comic book franchises, Legion reigns supreme. Simply put, the show is awesome. It is one of those shows like The Wire, Orphan Black, and Trailer Park Boys, because I can easily turn into a blabbing fanboy about it. I heard many people gush over The Wire and how they said things like, “This is the best show on television!” Yet when I saw it, it lived up to the hype. Legion lives up to the hype. The first season isn’t over yet, but do yourself a favor and watch it.

But what makes Legion so good? For me I had zero background about the comic. I knew nothing about the character and its place within the Marvel Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy was the same thing. No knowledge of the comic can be a good thing, since I’m not burdened by issues like whether this or that is considered canon. Most of my opinions about comics come from movie adaptations. I am very opinionated about which Batman or Superman is the best. (I lean more towards Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton. Terrence Stamp played a great Zod in Superman 2 and few can top Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Those are my cultural touchstones and my personal biases.)

Legion is incredibly good TV for a cocktail of reasons. First, the pilot could be mistaken for a feature film. Everything was top notch. After I saw the pilot, my first question was: “Can they pull this off for the whole season?” Of the episodes I’ve seen, the answer is a definitive yes. The premise of Legion requires unpacking, because it circles back into how good the show is. The show centers on David, a mental patient. In the pilot he is a patient at the Clockworks Mental Institute. Played by Dan Stevens, David has a friend, fellow mental patient and junkie Lenny (Aubrey Plaza). He also meets another patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller). David may or may not have multiple personality disorder and/or schizophrenia. He may also be the most powerful mutant in the world. Syd is also a mutant and her power involves switching bodies.

The series aesthetic is Seventies-but-not. Bold colors, post-Midcentury design cues, and period appropriate music choices. It looks like the Seventies, but everyone has touchpads and other modern electronic devices. Is this a hallucination? Is this real? Because of David’s precarious mental state, he is the perfect unreliable narrator. Two adversaries confront him: the Devil with the Yellow Eyes and Division 3. The Devil with the Yellow Eyes is pure nightmare fuel, a character genuinely scary. (I’ve seen several years worth of Supernatural. Sam and Dean have fought countless monsters, demons, devils, ghouls, etc., but only a couple episodes count as truly scary.) The Devil with the Yellow Eyes will give you nightmares.

The other adversary is Division 3. They want to recapture David and use him for their own purposes. But Division 3 of what? Thus far, that question hasn’t been answered.

I haven’t scratched the surface in terms of characters and story arcs, but this is a TV series worth watching. Legion is so good because Noah Hawley, the showrunner, has figured out how to maximize the show’s potential. Both the comic and the TV show excel at long-form visual storytelling. If a novelization ever comes out, I guarantee it won’t be as good as either the TV show or comic. There are some things TV can do that literature cannot.

Seriously, watch this show. It’s awesome.

Out of 10: 10

Read even more about Legion: Official site | Amazon | Wikipedia

Karl Wolff has been a local TV production assistant, museum curator, and undergraduate teaching assistant. He currently reviews books for CCLaP, the New York Journal of Books, runs his own blog (The Driftless Area Review), and has written features for Milwaukee's own Alcoholmanac Magazine and INFO* Magazine.
Book Review: How to Speak Midwestern, by Edward McClelland
How to Speak Midwestern, by Edward McClelland
How to Speak Midwestern
By Edward McClelland
Belt Publishing
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

I’m a dictionary nerd. In my own collection I have dictionaries covering foreign languages, slang, and technical jargon. Within this subset is what I would classify as “regional colloquialisms.” One of my favorite slang/regionalism dictionaries is How to Talk American: A Guide to Our Native Tongues, by Jim “the Mad Monk” Crotty. Published in 1994 it is wonderfully diverse in its sampling and now hilariously outdated. Crotty, a Harvard grad, focuses a lot of attention on the East Coast, primarily New York City and Boston, with side trips to the South, California, and the Midwest. Unfortunately, the book covers Illinois and Minnesota, but no Wisconsin. On a recent trip to the library I discovered How to Talk Midwestern by Edward McClelland.

The book is divided into several short essays explaining the history and peculiarities of different regions constituting The Midwest. “The Midwest,” like “the middle class,” is a notoriously amorphous category, its definition revealing more about who is defining it than a bona fide concrete description. McClelland divides the Midwest into three distinct linguistic regions. The first is The Inland North. It is comprised of upstate New York, Michigan (sans the U.P.), and southeastern Wisconsin. Midland ambles its way from Pennsylvania through Ohio, Illinois (minus the Chicago and Gary areas), through Iowa, Missouri, and down to Oklahoma. North Central involves central and northern Wisconsin, the U.P., Minnesota, and the Dakotas.

It is a strange amalgamation, since one can hardly describe upstate New York as “Midwestern,” although I’ve seen the term encompass everything from the Mountain States to Texas. Protip: “Flyover states” and “Midwestern” aren’t synonymous with each other.

McClelland came up with his classification based on the ways different cohorts of immigrants migrated. He also focused on white ethnic speech. As he explains, “Blacks did not settle in Midwestern cities in large numbers until World War I, when they were recruited to address the sudden shortage of workers in munitions industries. Once they arrived, they were isolated geographically by restrictive covenants, socially by taboos against intermarriage, and economically by relegation to the dirtiest, lowest-paying jobs, preventing social or professional interaction with whites.”

McClelland asserts that the Great Northern Cities Vowel Shift mirrored the rise and fall of the industrial Midwest. “Regional accents aren’t just more prevalent among whites, they’re more prevalent among certain classes of whites.” He goes on to tell how at a certain point in history, ethnic whites could graduate high school, go straight to the factory, and then worship in the same churches as their neighborhood friends. The factory, the bar, and the church became places of ethnic male camaraderie. Women had to temper their accents because they had to interact with teachers, nurses, and other members of the professional classes when taking care of their families. The ethnic accents soon faded with the GI Bill and de-industrialization.

In its own way, How to Speak Midwestern offers valuable insight into the forces roiling around the dumpster fire of the 2016 presidential election. The fading away of white ethnic regional accents in the Midwest is related to the drastic socioeconomic changes rocking our nation for the last half century. The incompetent haircut in the White House simply knew how to channel the anger and impotence filling the Rust Belt. McClelland also offers prescient analysis without all the pearl-clutching and smug obliviousness we come to expect from the dingbat punditocracy. To find worthwhile answers to pressing socioeconomic issues, pick up a book on regional colloquialisms and not a throwaway current affairs tome scribbled by some Beltway idiot.

Beyond the history lesson, McClelland peppers the book with great factoids. I never knew about the sports connection between Chicago and St. Louis. He also explains how immigration, geography, and the steel industry created one of the most fascinating regional accents in Pittsburgh.

I rated this book a little lower than my own personal rating, mainly because it leans towards the technical when it comes to linguistics. It is highly informative, but a little too specialized to flat-out recommend it to a general audience.

My only real critique is for the book to have a brief glossary of linguistic terms and an index. Otherwise, this comes highly recommended, especially to that eccentric subset of bibliophiles who collect slang dictionaries.

Out of 10: 8.5

Read even more about How to Speak Midwestern: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing

Karl Wolff has been a local TV production assistant, museum curator, and undergraduate teaching assistant. He currently reviews books for CCLaP, the New York Journal of Books, runs his own blog (The Driftless Area Review), and has written features for Milwaukee's own Alcoholmanac Magazine and INFO* Magazine.
Photo of the day: Untitled, by Arun Padykula

Untitled, by Arun PadykulaToday’s photo of the day is untitled, and is by Boston photographer Arun Padykula (Instagram | website), from a suggestion by CCLaP reader Tara Masih. To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at cclapcenter@gmail.com; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd
CCLaP Rare: Eat Pray Love (2006), by Elizabeth Gilbert (1st Edition, 1st Printing)

Eat Pray Love
By Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: So why should a serious book collector pay any attention to a volume that’s less than ten years old, by an author who has otherwise not proven that she has any lasting power within the literary industry? Because Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love may in fact turn out to be the absolute perfect book to chronicle for future historians exactly what it was like to be a middle-class white suburban American female in the years following 9/11, a period that is bound to become a point of obsession for those in the future studying the US’s rise and fall as a global superpower.

A reluctant suburbanite who had just gone through a bitter divorce, the mid-thirties Gilbert found herself in the early 2000s mentally adrift, a confessed “self-help junkie” who was trying every gimmicky piece of advice that landed her way, being force-fed a diet of anti-depressive medication against her wishes but too afraid of the alternative to stop them. Within such a moment of mid-life crisis, then, she made the radical decision to sell all her things, get rid of her New York apartment, and spend a year doing nothing but traveling to what she called the “three I’s” — Italy (to indulge a random desire to learn the language), India (to delve more seriously into her recent conversion to Hinduism), and Indonesia (specifically to Bali, to spend four months as the personal assistant to a “village elder” she previously met during her job as a globe-trotting magazine journalist).

The results of this year-long trek are charming and infectious, and it’s no surprise that the book remained on the NYT bestseller list for a whopping 187 weeks straight, later made into a high-profile movie produced by Brad Pitt and starring Julia Roberts. And that’s because Gilbert cuts through the usual “chick-lit” filler here, having the courage to take a cruelly hard look at her mistakes and her weaknesses, and showing how spending a year letting go of every expectation she had had about life was ironically the best thing she could’ve ever done for that life.

It’s a call for simplicity, spirituality and anti-materialism that resonated profoundly with tens of millions of women in the same position as her, which says a lot about the point of runaway consumerism and moral bankruptcy the US had reached by the beginning of the 21st century; and it doesn’t hurt that the book is also laugh-out-loud funny at points, moving sometimes to the point of tears, and just so happens to hit all the usual beats of a typical romantic comedy but this time in real life. A perfect gift for a fan of the book who wants to have a closer relationship with the original text, this first printing in flawless condition is being offered at a price specifically for young beginning collectors, those looking to add important titles to their library now when no one else is thinking of them, to ripen and age like a fine wine into the valuable commodities they’ll one day be.

CONDITION: Text and dust jacket: Like New. No noticeable difference between this copy and a brand-new one being sold at a bookstore. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to First Editions, the inclusion on the copyright page of the text “First published in 2006,” plus the inclusion of the number “1” in its printing history, marks this as a true first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at Delphine Street Books, New Orleans, May 2017.

Buy now at eBay
Buy now at eBay

MINIMUM BID: US$40 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40
(If coming across this in the future, see CCLaP’s main page at eBay for the relisted auction URL)

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd
Book Review: Based On A True Story, by Delphine de Vigan
Based On A True Story, by Delphine de Vigan
Based On A True Story
By Delphine de Vigan
Bloomsbury
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

In a way it’s easy to describe to American audiences the plot of celebrated French author Delphine de Vigan’s new book, Based On A True Story; it’s essentially an intellectual version of the old B-pic thriller Single White Female, in which a public artist meets and gets along with one of her fans, the fan turns obsessive, and the fan eventually attempts to take over the artist’s life, moving into her house and gaining access to her email and eventually even showing up to public events dressed and acting like her.

But this gets a lot more complicated and metafictional when it comes to de Vigan’s book; for the artist being stalked is her herself, the whole thing written as a true memoir even though it clearly is not, the project inspired by the fact that the last novel de Vigan published, 2011’s Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (Nothing Holds Back the Night), was a semi-autobiographical novel about coping with her real-life mother’s bipolar disorder, which made her a mainstream celebrity in France but also garnered her passionate hatred among certain circles for “exploiting” the real-life mental illness of another person for her own personal gain.

#DelphineDeVigan's #BasedOnATrueStory is essentially an intellectual version of #SingleWhiteFemale Click To Tweet

What True Story is, then, is a meditation on where exactly the slippery line lays between real-life events and made-up details when it comes to the act of a novelist writing a fictional novel, the same subject famously explored in John Irving’s The World According to Garp; but instead of doing this the usual dry academic way of writers her type, here she presents it as a supermarket pulp, clearly taking a cue off Paul Auster by weaving herself into this story of fandom gone wrong, even while cleverly presenting the details in a way so that it might turn out that the mysterious “L.” is in fact a figment of de Vigan’s stressed, overly exhausted, nearly burnt-out imagination.

(None of de Vigan’s friends ever meet L; she always rents pre-furnished apartments so to leave no trace of herself after leaving; the fake emails she sends out to de Vigan’s friends are always in de Vigan’s name; the details she tells de Vigan about her personal life turn out to have all been culled from the books in de Vigan’s library, etc.)

It’s a very clever and thought-provoking book, not just an astute examination of the creative process but also a commentary on the times we currently live in, when reality TV and edgy documentaries are all the rage, and more and more of those reality-fans are complaining about “why should they care” about a “bunch of stuff that never happened” when it comes to contemporary fiction. De Vigan clearly has some complicated issues regarding the public reaction to her last book, and also clearly struggled with the question of what to write next, of how one could ever return to fiction after having suffered such a maelstrom of public reaction from a book based mostly on real-life events.

This is one of the smartest and most entertaining ways she could’ve addressed these issues, and should satisfy even her harshest critics that she can still write compelling and dramatic stories even when not relying on the crutch of real life, even while proving that there’s still a vital and necessary place in our society for stories about a “bunch of stuff that never happened,” that fiction at its best is as moving and teaches as much about the world as any snotty serialized documentary. It comes strongly recommended today for these reasons, and will likely also be making CCLaP’s “best of the year” list come this December.

Out of 10: 9.6

Read more about Based On A True Story | Official site | Amazon | Goodreads | LibraryThing | Wikipedia |

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd
Book Review: Tacky Goblin, by T. Sean Steele
Tacky Goblin, by T. Sean Steele
Tacky Goblin
By T. Sean Steele
Curbside Splendor
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

It says a lot that in just the few weeks between finishing T. Sean Steele’s Tacky Goblin and sitting down to write this review, I had already forgotten nearly everything about it, and had to dig the book back out to remind myself even what it was about; as I’ve said here before many times, that unfortunately is just the nature of the bizarro genre in which Steele is writing here, which for those who don’t know is essentially the act of taking a cartoon and writing it out in literary form.

That certainly lets bizarro tales be “original, hilarious and inventive,” as author Joe Meno raves about this book in the dust jacket’s blurbs; but that also completely obliterates any sense of stakes a bizarro tale might have, with no one ever in danger or peril because you never know when a spaceship full of talking dogs might show up to save everyone, making it nearly impossible to give a damn about any of the characters, what happens to them, or what the ultimate resolution of the story may or may not turn out to be. Even with this attitude, though, for some reason I get sent bizarro novels literally on a weekly basis, so I suppose here I’ll sum up the way I always sum up with such books — not too bad, not too good, definitely clever, but a story you’ll forget literally a day after you finish it. Buyer beware.

Out of 10: 7.5

#TSeanSteele's #TackyGoblin is a story you'll forget literally a day after you finish it Click To Tweet

Read even more about Tacky Goblin: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd
Book Review: Unreliable, by Lee Irby
Unreliable, by Lee Irby
Unreliable
By Lee Irby
Doubleday
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

The central premise at the heart of Lee Irby’s Unreliable is a fascinating one, and led me to believe that this would be one of the few crime thrillers I would actually like, a genre I usually find intolerably formulaic; namely, a failed mystery author and current college professor announces to us on page one that he recently killed his ex-wife, but then immediately follows that up with the confession that he might actually be kidding, promising a metafictional meditation on the act of genre writing and the nature of unreliable narrators, a taut psychological thriller in which we never know whether this guy is messing with us or not until the very end.

Unfortunately, though, Irby pulls a pretty big switcheroo as the book continues; for the more we read, the more we realize that this “did he or didn’t he kill her” shtick is simply a cheap gimmick designed to draw readers in, but that the story itself is nothing more than a character-based literary dramedy about a deeply flawed middle-aged son visiting his family and old hometown, and all the wacky foibles that happen within such a milieu, having nothing to do with murder whatsoever.

Once you get past the premise, #LeeIrby's #Unreliable reads much like a witty #MichaelChabon tale Click To Tweet

That unto itself is not necessarily a terrible thing — once you get past the premise, the rest reads much like a smart and witty Richard Russo or Michael Chabon tale, benefiting from its deep look at the town of Richmond, Virginia right at a point when it is internally debating the future of the Dixiecrat-era Confederate statues still dotting the city — but when you were expecting a serious and dramatic crime thriller that doubles as a Postmodernist statement on the act of writing crime thrillers, as its dust jacket unambiguously promises (“Irby plays with the thriller trope in unimaginably clever ways”), the bait-and-switch on display here can’t help but to be a big disappointment, not the fault of the author but a problem clearly resting on the shoulders of the Doubleday marketing staff.

Now that you know the situation, you’ll be able to approach this book with the right mindset and enjoy it a lot more than I did; but do yourself a favor and shed any assumptions you might have about this being an actual crime novel.

Out of 10: 6.0, but 8.0 if you ignore the dust jacket

Read even more about Unreliable: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Wikipedia

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd
Welcome to the new and improved CCLaP website!

New and improved CCLaP website

After five months of development, I’m excited to announce that the new version of the CCLaP website is finally up and running online, the version you’re seeing here if you’re visiting the site itself, or one you can see at cclapcenter.com if you’re reading this via our RSS feed. As you can see, the entire look and feel of the site has changed since the last version, first created ten years ago, including a new responsive layout that will finally let the site look great on mobile devices; but the much more important development is that we’ve completely swapped out the back-end software that makes the website work and have started over from scratch, from the outdated MovableType to the current hot WordPress. This is going to give the site a crazy amount of new functionalities, some of which are available now and some that will be slowly rolled out over the rest of this year…

  • Book reviews now come with a lot more metadata information attached, including descriptive tags to make it easier to find books with similar themes, genres, character types and settings;
  • The archives page has been overhauled, including a new “tag cloud” that gives you a snapshot look at the subjects we’re finding most interesting these days;
  • We now offer not only our usual RSS feed for subscribing to the latest posts, but also a trendy new JSON feed for those making the switch to a more modern feed reader;
  • For the first time in years, we are once again giving all of you an opportunity to comment on book reviews and offer up your own opinion (run this time through the third-party commenting service Disqus, which means you’ll need to create an account with them before you can comment; but the good news is that this now also gives you an opportunity to “upvote” and “downvote” other people’s comments, ensuring that only the most interesting and intelligent ones appear at the top of the page);
  • Coming later this summer, we’ll be releasing a “single page application” (think Twitter) that will let you hunt and browse your way through our thousand old book reviews in a much more powerful way than ever before, including the ability to sort those reviews by whatever multiple criteria you wish;
  • And coming this September, we’re unveiling a brand-new online store for all our merchandise, a one-stop destination that finally brings together our original books, our t-shirts and other physical merchandise, the blank notebooks we sell through Etsy, and the rare books we sell through eBay, including such new features as a shopping-cart system, automatic delivery of digital content, coupons, one-day sales, and permanent discounts via an annual membership (but more on that this autumn).

This is all being planned to coincide with the long-awaited return this autumn of our original publications and live events; but for now, I hope you’ll have a chance to stop by all this summer for daily book reviews and featured “photos of the day.” We’re also re-activating our weekly email newsletter; sent every Friday morning, it recaps all the content we’ve published at the blog that week, and lets you know the latest about our publications, merchandise and live events, including store coupons starting this fall that will be exclusive to the newsletter and not found anywhere else. It’s the easiest way to stay informed of the busy re-activation schedule we have this year, so I encourage you to join it by signing up below. (Your email address is never sold or shared, and we absolutely guarantee no more than one email a week.)

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd
Photo of the day: “Reclam,” by Georg

Reclam
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “Reclam,” and is by German photographer Georg (Flickr). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at cclapcenter@gmail.com; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.

Jason Pettus is the owner of CCLaP, and a former novelist, slam poet and travel writer. During the day he is a front-end software developer within the Chicago tech startup community. Goodreads | LibraryThing | Twitter | Instagram | Letterboxd