Today’s photo of the day is entitled “Wall of Fog,” and is by Chicago photographer Jonathan Lurie (Flickr | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at email@example.com; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “UW – Easyriders,” and is by Czech photographer Petr Kleiner (Flickr | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
N. John Hall’s Bibliophilia is a book you can scarcely believe even exists, by which I mean that someone actually took the time, trouble and money to publish, under the assumption that other human beings would actually want to buy a copy. An “epistolary” novel (that is, one that entirely consists of letters back and forth between people), it’s the story of a fussy sixty-something New Yorker luddite who recently came into a large amount of money, and has decided for the first time to start collecting books; the entire rest of the book, then, is essentially a series of emails back and forth between him and the equally fussy luddites who are giving him advice about what kinds of books to buy, the “novel” containing not even a bit of a three-act plot but rather existing as a cleverly presented textbook about the finer points of book collecting, the early history of The New Yorker magazine and the Modernist writers who were published in it, a detailed guide to how the publishing of novels changed in the 1800s from the three-volume standard to the monthly serials invented by Charles Dickens, and all kinds of other erudite little mini-Wikipedia entries that make you think, “Is there anyone out there who would actually want to sit down and read a book like this?”#NJohnHall's #Bibliophilia is a charming book but barely qualifies as a narrative novel Click To Tweet
The irony, of course, is that I actually kind of loved it, because I’m a rare-book collector myself; but even my tolerance was stretched thin by this manuscript that barely qualifies as a narrative novel, a tolerance that I suspect will be completely shattered among anyone who’s not an obsessive collector of rare books, i.e. the 95 percent of the population besides me and my little nerdy friends. It’s for that reason that I can’t in good conscience give this book a high score — I mean, seriously, don’t even bother picking this up if you’re not into 5,000-word essays about Harold Ross or the McBride Guide to First Editions — but do be aware that it’s a curiously charming little book for those who are into those subjects, a rare fiction title from a celebrated academe that feels almost like the result of a bet that he couldn’t get a book like this published. You’ve been warned!
Out of 10: 7.0, but 9.5 for collectors of rare books
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “Rojo y negro,” and is by Spanish photographer Use (Flickr | Instagram | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at email@example.com; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
Big news brewing here at CCLaP headquarters — I’ve just officially started work on creating our new, completely redesigned online store, and by this time next month you’ll once again have access to the 40 full-length books, 100 literary journals, and hundreds of rare books that the center has put together over the last ten years. In the meanwhile, though, I’m happy to announce today that we’ve finally published our first new original book in two years, and that for a limited time it’s completely free to download!
Namely, it’s an essay series called Stalking the Behemoth, by our regular blog book reviewer Chris Schahfer, who’s been taking some time off recently in order to attend grad school, but will be back filing reviews once again starting this fall. As regular readers remember, Chris published a themed series of essays over the course of 2015 and ’16, in which he read a whole series of novels for the first time that were each over 600 pages long; and while these technically stretched all the way back to such classics as Don Quixote and Moby-Dick, the majority of the books he read were actually Postmodernist titles from the 20th century, since that’s Chris’s personal biggest interest in literature.
As is the case with all the themed essay series that CCLaP’s reviewers do here, we’ve finally gotten around to collecting them up and publishing them in book form; that includes not just the essays he originally published here at the website (including Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Ulysses, The Recognitions, The Sot-Weed Factor, Gravity’s Rainbow, Dhalgren, Women and Men, Infinite Jest, and 2666), but three brand-new essays written exclusively for the book version, covering William H. Gass’s The Tunnel, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s cultishly loved House of Leaves.
Since our online store is under construction right now and we’re unable to accept payments, I thought we’d do something special and give away Chris’s book for free for the next month, which you can download here at this particular blog post and nowhere else. (Heads-up, long-time visitors who are accustomed to our old policy of all our ebooks always being free; that policy will be changing with the new version of the store, although with a special new opportunity to not only access them all again but to also get free tickets to all our live events, and a discount on all our physical merchandise. But more about this in another few weeks!) To download Stalking the Behemoth, use one of the following links…
We’re working out a new system for hosting files, since our new WordPress installation doesn’t have enough memory to store them here directly at the website; so for now these are being hosted at CCLaP’s Google Drive, which means you first click through to the file and then download it once you’re there. (If anyone wants to give me some advice on better options, I’d love to hear it; you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll give out some free CCLaP swag for any advice that turns out to be helpful.)
Want a paperback copy? Well, then, go buy one at Amazon for $19.99! This is the only way Chris gets paid for these two years of hard work, putting these essays together in the first place, so I strongly encourage you to pick up the paper copy if you have the time and inclination.
Remember, this offer above for the free ebooks only lasts until October 2nd, at which point our new store will be open and we’ll be charging $9.99 for it; so if you’d like to read a copy, don’t delay. Much more about our revamped store, our reactivated publishing program, and our concurrent reactivated live events and podcast, in the coming weeks; but for now, I hope you enjoy Chris’s smart, always entertaining look at some real whoppers of novels.
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “To Me – Intimate Project,” and is by Italian photographer Francesco Spallacci (Flickr | Facebook | website). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at email@example.com; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
Today’s photo of the day is entitled “Red is everywhere,” and is by Brazilian photographer Otacílio Rodrigues (Flickr | Facebook). To nominate a photo of the day yourself, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org; or see our Flickr favorites page and Instagram account for all the online images we’ve recently liked.
The most heartbreaking thing about screenwriter Augustus Rose’s disappointing debut novel, The Readymade Thief, is precisely that it’s so good during its first half, a slow-burning character-heavy mystery story with just the lightest of supernatural elements, and that wisely takes its time in letting us get to know its complex, imminently rootable hero. To be specific, that would be teen runaway Lee Cuddy, whose compulsive need for approval led to her being her local high school’s resident drug dealer; when a deal goes bad and she randomly finds herself with a chance to break out of juvenile detention, she ends up in the community of street punks in the Philadelphia underground, where she ends up stumbling across a shadowy organization known as the Societe Anonyme, producers of an exclusive monthly “rave to die for” in the city and who are obsessed with the Modernist artist Marcel Duchamp.
Do they have something to do with the rash of burned-out teens cropping up in the city, fried on a new type of designer drug and whose eyes have expanded into the size of anime characters? It’s those kinds of questions that had me so intrigued and invested during the first half of the book. So how profoundly disappointing, then, to get to the second half and see it turn into such a scene-for-scene ripoff of The Da Vinci Code that Dan Brown has a viable claim for a plagiarism lawsuit; only instead of Brown’s conceit that Da Vinci left clues in his paintings that show that Jesus had a kid with Mary Magdalene (if that’s still a spoiler to you, you deserve at this point to have that spoiled), Rose’s premise is that Duchamp left clues in his various absurd Dadaist and Surrealist pieces that indicate that he knew the solution to the unified field theory, quantum mechanics, and how to access the fabled eleven dimensions that modern theoretical physicists insist exist all around us.
That’s the point when I found myself throwing my hands in the air and angrily sighing, because that’s the point where it felt like Rose had written half of a great literary novel and then suddenly remembered, “Oh, right, I eventually need to sell the movie rights to this sucker!,” throwing himself feet-first into the most hackneyed stereotypical cheese he could possibly dream up; it’s at that point that the plot suddenly becomes outrageous, the conspiracy theories are cranked up to 11, all the new characters suddenly become cardboard cutouts, and the technology that drives it all becomes laughably implausible. (His explanation of how Tor onion sites work has all the credibility of Sandra Bullock’s The Net; and his assertion that the members of a 4chan-like troll community would suddenly turn into the Goonies in the face of one of their members being murdered is exactly the kind of groan-inducing concept that makes me immediately think of some Paramount executive lighting a cigar after a thousand-dollar pitch dinner and boisterously shouting, “That’s gold, Augustus, PURE HOLLYWOOD GOLD!!!”)#AugustusRose's #TheReadymadeThief starts great, before devolving into #DaVinciCode territory Click To Tweet
Rose should’ve stuck with his instincts and completed this novel with the poise and restraint he admirably shows in the first half; because by embracing his hacky screenwriter side for the last half, he not only invalidates everything that came before, he makes readers feel like fools for buying into it in the first place. (And yes, I’m aware of the response that fans of the book will have to a statement like this; see SPOILER SPACE below for more.) A book even more disappointing than if it had simply been terrible, it unfortunately does not come recommended today.
Out of 10: Usually 7.0, but dropped to 5.5 for its bait-and-switch nature
SPOILER SPACE: DO NOT READ BELOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS NOVEL ENDS…
I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but in this case I feel like I need to preemptively prove that I actually did finish this novel, and therefore am aware that when the villains put their Duchamp Rube Goldberg machine into motion, it essentially outputs a snotty insult from the famed absurdist artist, and shows that Duchamp created all the Da-Vinci-Code-like smoke and mirrors purely as an elaborate joke for those who take these kinds of subjects too seriously. Fans of the book will claim that my criticism of it is invalid because of the novel ending this way, the reason I feel compelled to mention it in the first place; my response is that this kind of “ha ha, none of this really counted” reveal in the last ten pages doesn’t make up for 200 previous pages where the ridiculous conspiracy theory is treated at face value as real. Just because Poochie dies on the way back to his home planet doesn’t mean the terrible Poochie cartoon that came before it is any good.
I know it’s mostly my fault for having a mediocre reaction to the mostly loved Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed; and that’s because I read too many of these kinds of books during the Bush administration in the early-aughts, novels that posit in one way or another that an American apocalypse would for some reason bring about a new national society of Amish people, a subject that was used so many hundreds of times between 9/11 and Obama’s presidency that I even came up with a term back then, “Bushist literature,” to describe the phenomenon.
Gather the Daughters is yet another one of these, and unfortunately doesn’t do too much to set itself apart from the others; a sort of mashup of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, The Village, and James Howard Kunstler’s Bushism ur-example World Made By Hand, its central premise is that a group of Westboro-like extreme conservative Christians manage to take over a private island just before the US is blown into smithereens, and in the resulting generations of being left alone have formed an insular society that is King James Bible meets complete patriarchy meets the Taliban, in which the women-folk exist entirely and exclusively to poop out babies and please the man they’ve been assigned to, and are then encouraged to commit suicide once they hit menopause.
I’m not opposed to these kinds of stories per se — almost 35 years later, The Handmaid’s Tale is still rightly being read and loved by millions of new people every single year — but if in the 2010s you’re going to take on a story trope that’s been done so many times already by now, you better either bring something new to the table or do the expected extremely well; and unfortunately Melamed does neither of these things, turning in a manuscript that often sounds like the following made-up example, not an actual quote from the book but that might as well be…
Today in the wastelands I came across a Sacred Parchment by the prophet Roxane Gay; but Blessed Father informed me that she is a Harlot of Evil, and that I should ignore her wicked lessons on Female Empowerment and Thinking For Yourself.
I of course slightly exaggerate for humorous effect; but Melamed’s real prose actually sounds suspiciously like this jokey example, an overwrought and too-obvious style that sounds at all times like everyone is constantly talking in Capitalized Words about Things You And I Take For Granted but that have taken on Ironically Mythic Proportions For The Sake Of Easy Metaphor among their crypto-Shaker society of calico skirts and butter-churning.#JennieMelamed's #GatherTheDaughters is a #HandmaidsTale copycat and a bit of a hackneyed mess Click To Tweet
That unfortunately is not enough to elevate this book above the literally dozens of better examples from just the last 15 years of contemporary publishing; and while Melamed’s heart is absolutely in the right place, that doesn’t stop Gather the Daughters from being a bit of a hackneyed mess. Certainly worth your time if you’ve never read these kinds of books before — from all the glowing reviews at Goodreads.com, it’s obvious that most people who read it liked it profoundly more than me — you’re nonetheless bound to be disappointed if you’re already a fan and heavy reader of apocalyptic fiction, especially from urban liberal authors who are trying to make a political point about how backwards rural conservatives are. As an urban liberal myself, I agree with that sentiment, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit through 300 pages of “thee”s and “thou”s to be lectured on something I already know. Buyer beware.
Out of 10: 7.3