If you’ve followed this blog lately, you know that Larry Nolen, Paul Charles Smith, and I have formed a blogger book club. Every few weeks we read a book and then post our reviews of it, without sharing our opinions with each other ahead of time. I then also post the book info and snippets of the reviews to the Amazon book blog. So far, we’ve covered Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps, Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, and Michael Cisco’s The Narrator (with guest J.M. McDermott).
Since these reviews have seemed useful in spreading the word about under-appreciated weird books, we thought we’d continue—and not only continue but formalize a schedule for those who want to read along. If you do read along and post a review around the same time as ours, I’ll add the link to our coverage.
Here, then, is the tentative schedule for our posts, which we’ll update with each new round of book reviews.
Early February: Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan (graphic novel)—”Gorgeously drawn black-and-white artwork combines with outstanding storytelling in this modern-day fable of ethnic strife, identity, friendship, and family. The titular character has been a writer all his â€œhumanâ€ life, keeping a secret diary that his son Jake discovers and reads after Elmerâ€™s death. Along with his newly engaged sister and gay movie-star brother, Jake returns to his childhood home for Elmerâ€™s last days, stays on for his funeral, and helps his newly widowed, delicate mother. Oh, and Jake and family are sentient, well-spoken chickens.”
Late March through May: The collected works of Eric Basso. This writer of what I would call avant garde gothic/weird literature is criminally under-appreciated and under-reviewed, and requires an extensive re-visiting. (His “Beak Doctor” is included in Ann and my The Weird antho from Corvus.) Therefore, we will be reading multiple texts, with others read as reference points for the main volumes under review. We’ll have writer Matthew Pridham joining the team as a special guest sharing his opinion as well. We will cover, in multiple blog posts:
The Beak Doctor and Other Stories: 1972 to 1976—”For years, Eric Basso’s novella, “The Beak Doctor,” has sustained a cult reputation among a hard core of avant-garde writers. This collection of short stories begins with a tale of death and hideous resurrection, moves on through a quest for the great horse who rules a subterranean polar kingdom, an atmospheric cycle of short prose pieces, a tragicomic roman noir set in Istanbul (in which the great horse appears in a new guise), and concludes with the harrowing odyssey of a masked man in a fogbound city turned upside down by a plague of sleeping sickness: “The Beak Doctor.”
The Golem Triptych: A Dramatic Trilogy—”According to Jewish legend, the golem is an automaton in human form created through magic, a spirit that could be called upon to perform tasks for its master. The central character in this dramatic trilogy, Joseph Golem, is an old man who dies in a prison camp and is brought back to life by a young woman. Moving through time and various identities, Joseph finds himself in 16th-century Prague, where he assumes the identity of Rabbi Judah Loew, creator of the golem.”
Bartholomew Fair (novel)—”Set in London during a killing heat wave, the novel unfolds as a terrible cataclysm is about to devastate the city. Begun in the Middle Ages as a religious festival in commemoration of St. Bartholomew the Great, over the centuries Bartholomew Fair passed through several metamorphoses. Now it has gone underground. Its lone survivor recounts the story of the Fair’s final, sordid incarnation, and the bizarre odyssey which brings him face-to-face with the unspeakable.”
The Sabattier Effect (novel)—”An investigation into the death of an old man takes place in a French village, but nothing about this investigation is as it first appears. Its prime witness, a photographer, is interrogated by a police inspector about the dead man, his connection with two mysterious younger women, and the enigmatic painting the man had hired him to photograph. His account of events triggers a series of flashbacks in which the immediate past comes dangerously alive. The investigation becomes a desperate quest to rescue a present threatened with extinction by the unpredictable past that is about to engulf it.”
We will also be reading and referring to the following by Basso:
Decompositions: Essays, Art, Literature 1973-1989—”Decompositions collects all of Basso’s essays on art and literature in one volume. Basso approaches his subjects not as a critic but as an artist reflecting on the works, lives, deeds and frailties of other artists. These studies cut to the quick of what it means to create, and be created or destroyed by, a great poem, story, novel or painting.”
Revagations: A Book of Dreams, Vol. 1: 1966-1974—”In these pages, we discover an unconscious life laid bare in a myriad of bizarre adventures and intrigues.”
Accidental Monsters: Poems and Texts 1976—”Completed in six months, on the eve of the poet’s twenty-ninth birthday, Accidental Monsters was Eric Basso’s first collection of poems. The author carries us through a world where landscapes and interiors merge, a terrain vague of fleeting visions, gnomic adventures, enigmas, grotesque creatures and bizarre mechanisms. We eventually journey to an unnamed planet, and are witness to several sinister tableaux.”
Catafalques: Poems 1987-1989—”A dark magic works here, sustained by poetry that is often complex, ironic, disquieting, impassioned, and sometimes even wildly comic. In these pages we are confronted with the poet in midair, the Walrus Voluptuary, a tree that becomes a woman, a man with the head of a black swan.”
June-July: Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. Writer Kai Ashante Wilson, who suggested Marias’ work, will join us as a special guest blogger. This is a three-volume novel, and will probably require three separate posts. Here’s a description from PW of volume one: “In his leisurely, incisive latest, these preoccupations fuel a plot with a spy-novel gloss. Jaime Deza, separated from his wife in Madrid, is at loose ends in London when his old friend Sir Peter Wheeler, a retired Oxford don, introduces him to the head of a secret government bureau of elite analysts with the ability to see past people’s facades and predict their future behavior. A cocktail party test proves Deza to be one of the elect, and he goes to work clandestinely observing all sorts of people, from South American generals to pop stars.”
August: Helen Oyeyemi, novel(s) to be determined.