Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A year in books

I've been getting some good reading done on the bus this year.  Among the books I've read and enjoyed:

Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon

This was my first literary undertaking of the year, and took me a couple months to finish.  It's a tome.  It's also classic Pynchon.  And yes, it is a historical novel about the less than celebrated astronomers and surveyors, who trekked across the continent of North America for no better reason than that's what they were getting paid to do.  This book stands out from other Pynchon novels because it's the most fun.  They sled through the mountains, they marvel at the wizardry of Benjamin Franklin, they smoke pot with George Washington.  They seriously funk with the feng shui of our developing nation.  Good times.  This is a book for people who want to spend a lot of time on a book and be rewarded their efforts.  Fair warning, it's also about as crazy as guano.

Fresh off this high, I immediately headed right back to the Pynchon shelf at the library and snagged

Gravity's Rainbow, also by Thomas Pynchon
Everybody talks about how great this book is.  I don't know.  I couldn't finish it.  Baffling is the only word I can think of to describe it, but it's Pynchon, so duh.  I got bored with it and then distracted by

Christmas at the Orphanage by Bill Knott
Bill Knott is a great poet, and as rumor has it, a huge prick.  I read this book just about every day, and it continues to be great.  If you ever see anything by him in a bookstore, it will probably be used, cheap, and the best thing you ever bought.  I can't believe I got this collection of sonnets for free.

Edit: Bill Knott is not a prick!  See comments for a link to his poems.  Dedicated poets should commit some of these to memory.

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener
Deserves a mention, because I bought it, read it, loved it.  Yes, it is a comic book. Yes, I own the previous four volumes in the series, which have such illustrious guest stars as Carl Sagan, Nikolai Tesla, and the ghost of Rasputin.  These books are hilarious, elegant, and are a joy to read again and again.  Atomic Robo might be the reason comics were invented.  If you've ever thrown your fist in the air to declare the awesomeness that is science, then you best peep this series immediately.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Either you know about this already or you don't care.  This one also took a while to complete.  It kinda dragged for the first half, by holy cow do things get cracking by the end.  Leaves you wanting more.

Thus Spake Zarathustra
Still working on this one.  Best taken in small doses, but there's a surprising amount of poetry in between pontification, and thats what keeps me coming back.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
 Satanic little book.  Stream of consciousness writing.  Lots of scene setting in the old west and Mexico, punctuated by short thematic dialogues and bursts of intense violence.  Bloody, disgusting, and bloody disgusting.  There were parts of it I loved, and parts I reread five times before giving up and turning the page.

Picture This by Joseph Heller
I read a poem by Kurt Vonnegut once that was about running into Joseph Heller at a party and asking him if it bothered him that people only talk about his first book.  I will not talk about that book here, because Picture This is the one I just finished reading and prompted this Year Review in Book Reviews in the first place.

I picked up this book for $3, used, because it intrigued me.  Now that I have finished it, it still intrigues me.  It is labeled as fiction right there on the spine, probably for lack of a better word.  It is a book about ancient Athens.  It is about the Dutch Republic during the time of Rembrandt.  It is about Rembrandt painting a picture of Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer.  There are other things the book is about too, since it is essentially a book length essay that manages to connect themes of economics, politics, art, and philosophy from the time of Socrates, through history, and up to the very minute the book was published in 1988.  Straight up fascinating.  But don't take my word for it!

Ba dum bum!

That's my year in books so far.  I still have time for one or two more!  Any suggestions?

Friday, September 30, 2011


I've starting at the end of march this year, I've been submitting poems and stories to various print and online journals*. So far, I have received nothing but rejection letters. Yesterday, however, I received the most motivational rejection letter yet:

"Greetings. Thanks for submitting, as well as for your patience in awaiting our reply. We, as a staff, spent time reading and discussing your submission, which delayed our response somewhat, but also allowed us to give it the attention it deserves.

I'm sorry to say that after our discussion, we have decided not to accept your work for publication. However, there were quite a few favorable comments made, supporters of your work speaking up on its finer points.

We do wish you the best of luck placing this elsewhere and hope you do try us again when you have something."

I hope that's not a form letter. Its not so bad even if it is a form letter. While my work is not yet being published, at least someone it reading it. According to this letter it had to be discussed! Awesome!

I am happy to get these kind of rejections. Of course it would be better to get some contracts for publication instead, so I guess I've accumulated enough rejections at this point to do some heavy revision and make sure my product is quality.

*Most publishers will only accept previously unpublished work, which accounts for the lack of posts of new work on this blog, and has absolutely no connection to laziness or neglect.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Barding through Pamphlets

As my summer job was winding down last year I thought to myself "I need to create additional sources of income for myself. I sure would like to be able to make money off my writing somehow..."

That is how I became a pamphleteer. It's actually really fun to create your own series of chapbooks. I had enough material to produce five different chapbooks, three short stories and two poetry collections. After finding the cheapest printing available in my area I printed out about twenty copies of each, all told. Possibly more, though it's difficult to remember now. The cost of doing this was low. The plan was to sell the stories and the large poetry collection for five dollars each and the small poetry pamphlet for a dollar.

Plans change. I found quite early on in this endeavor that selling my work was much harder than giving it away. To most people on the street, the idea of paying to read something is offensive or stupid, or stupidly offensive. I'd ask people if they like like to read, and many of them simply replied "No, I'm illiterate." I think most of the strangers that paid for my pamphlets assumed I was homeless. In the end I was satisfied if I was able to cover the cost of printing the pamphlets.

You might think that this turned out to be a profitless exercise. You might be right. I certainly took my time coming to this conclusion, but I have also noticed some unexpected benefits of carrying around a stack of strange stories.

For example, you may have heard of the Seattle Freeze. In theory, this is a physical principal that prevents native Seattleites from being friendly or rude towards one another. Many out of towners complain that any "howdy" or smile, or even rude gesture proffered to a stranger on the street is invariably met with an indifferent gazing in the opposite direction. This is mostly true, except on the bus. You always thank the bus driver for the ride or you are an asshole.

So having a stack of things you want to share is a good way to introduce yourself to strangers around town, as long as you don't lead with your stream of consciousness poetry pamphlet. Strangely enough, it turns out that almost everybody is from out of town. I wonder what that says about the Seattle Freeze? That it's an import? I don't know.

If you don't charge, you will find that there are enough people interested in reading something new around town to make the whole thing worthwhile. Other unexpected plums manifested in the form of four edited manuscripts ready to submit for publication by reputable presses and not RAMS copy center. Even the scorned stream of consciousness collection found a surprising niche: Bums love it.

No kidding. I will sometimes give a bum a cigarette, or a quarter, and I am well aware of how little giving a bum anything is going to help their situation. Something I also became aware of is that transient life is boring and repetitive. All day long you make faces at strangers who mostly seem disgusted by you, and you guilt or charm them into giving you money, which you might spend to quell the gurgling in your gut or the pounding in your temples, and then an hour later the gurgling, the pounding returns. At night, the same pine cone jabs you in the back every time you move, and the most exciting part of your day is if you get robbed or arrested.

Enter "Sunday, Seattle" a small unassuming pamphlet that fits nicely in my front pocket. When asked for change, I'd give the asker a copy of the pamphlet, and warn them that the whole thing is for entertainment purposes only. As I've said, I've given out change and cigarettes before, but the gratitude in return for these acts is always minimal and then you will be asked for something else, something larger. These pamphlets brought genuine smiles to the lips of those homeless folks who read them, and genuine gratitude as well. I was not expecting that, but it's a good deal for everyone concerned I think. I should print up more.

As a side note, I should mention that Pamphleteering WILL NOT get you chicks. Fair warning.