Books,Style Icons: Male »Ray Bradbury, The Vintage Bradbury


I’ve been wanting to write a little tribute to Ray Bradbury after his passing, but realized that it’s been some time since I read his books and thought revisiting his work was long overdue.

Jim and I have amassed quite a collection of his books from our teen years and I settled on The Vintage Bradbury, which I enjoyed immensely and only made his death sadder.

The stories I always most vividly remembered were of far away places like Mars or distant futures with wild (but not completely unrealistic) technologies (as in the memorable story The Veldt) but this time around, I responded more to his universal and terrestrial imaginings.

Many of his stories tackle relatable human fears and paranoia, whether giving birth or simply becoming aware of ones body, whether losing one’s status and sense of safety or finding out who you really are in your last moments – the horrors that face us daily.

A Vintage Bradbury is a “best of” collection, but one curated by the author himself and is a varied and thoroughly compelling read.

He was a prolific writer who helped bring speculative fiction to the main steam. A true original and an inspiration.

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Posted on June 15, 2012

Books »Mothers and Other Monsters

by Maureen McHugh (2005)

I’m on a bit of a Maureen McHugh kick, finding her one of the most compelling and innovative writers today. With Mothers and Other Monsters I continued to be awed.

The collection includes genre defying stories that are often truly brilliant: the off world saga The Cost to be Wise left me stunned and Interview: On Any Given Day which takes place in a future where the aging are reversing the process and partying with actual young people – which leads to unexpected complications.

She is a fresh, amazing voice in science fiction but, defying categorization, most of the other stories barely dabble in the genre, like Eight-Legged Story and Presence which take on the very real dramas of being a step parent and watching a loved one struggling with alzheimer’s.

The latter is particularly depressing, though no less brilliantly written. (I just needed a breather and a dose of something happy after finishing it.)

I look forward to reading her novel Nekropolis soon (and refrained from reading the short story that lead to it in this collection).

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Posted on March 9, 2012

Books »After the Apocalypse

by Maureen McHugh (2011)

After the Apocalypse has solidified Maureen McHugh as one of my favorite current authors. I recommended her novel China Mountain Zhang a while back and have only grown fonder of it over time.

Her latest, well reviewed collection of short stories is bookended by more well worn apocalyptic scenarios: zombies and refugees walking through abandoned, dangerous suburbs towards (hopefully) a safe place.

With McHugh’s unique prose (she’s got an amazing ability to speak believably from a wide range of points of view) and creative mind, even zombies can be new again.

The other stories, which take on the apocalypse in different ways, are unique, humorous, and very human. There’s a debilitating disease transmitted through chicken nuggets, a woman struggling to get by in a shattered economy by making custom baby dolls and dildoes, a boy who develops amnesia after a dirty bomb explodes in Baltimore, and a group of people that get the unnerving sudden ability to fly.

While the stories are paranoid and frightening, they’re also almost optimistic. Each one is about survival, not in a Rambo sort of way, but how normal people under horrible circumstances just manage to carry on.

I really love this book and want to run out and get more of her work. It’s been truly inspiring to me (especially as I am writing short stories myself) and I’ve even contemplated writing a fan letter (which I never do).

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Posted on February 1, 2012

Books »Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

by Wells Tower (2010)

All Wells Tower’s characters: a bullied kid with a crappy stepfather, an old men left with nothing to do, a newly divorced man stranded in Florida and even a Viking who’s lost his thirst for pillaging are all living unsatisfied lives.

It could make Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned a depressing read. Yet! Tower’s writing possesses humor (without being quaint), pathos (without being hokey) and crystal vivid description (without getting in its own way).

This, his debut book of short stories has made him a bit of a hyped darling -but just because he’s praised doesn’t mean he’s not worthy.

I can’t wait to read more from him and pass this along to my avid reader friends.

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Posted on October 6, 2011

Books »The Elephant Vanishes

by Haruki Murakami (1993)

Murakami’s short story collection The Elephant Vanishes opens with what would become the first chapter of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, a book that consumed and mesmerized me like only few great novels can. I tried to repeat that spell with his other works, but only came as close with Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

After finishing the second story, I was worried that this would be another miss for me and Murakami – though a miss from him is still guaranteed to be more curious and interesting than many authors’ best so I kept reading.

I was finally drawn in completely by the story Sleep, a subtly creepy story of a woman who lives two lives when she suddenly no longer sleeps. It’s a masterful study of inexplicable fears come to life, fears that sit dormant below the surface of the toil and small joys of everyday living.

Other notable favorites are Barn Burning, Family Affair, TV People, The Dancing Dwarf, and The Last Lawn of the Afternoon. Of course, every reader will have their own opinions depending on their tolerance for the bizarre surrealism that peppers his writing with such dark grace.

The best stories here have his hallmark gift for mood. You feel the people and places in essence if not in detail and are transported to strange territories that are both very near and very far from our own lives.

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Posted on February 11, 2011

Books »Come Along With Me

by Shirley Jackson (1982)

I am an adoring fan of Shirley Jackson, her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle and her short story, The Lottery (which is included in this collection) are among my favorites. One of the best parts of Come Along With Me are the chapters from her unfinished last novel that lends it’s title to the collection and it’s one of the few here that fully embody the signature strangeness and darkness that I love in her writing,  which I found sadly lacking several of the stories. This is of course a matter of my expectations getting in the way and all the stories, even the lighthearted ones are well written.

It’s a shame so little was left behind of what was sure to have been another incredible novel, but it’s inclusion as well as her darker stories including my favorite, “The Summer People”, make this collection worth a read, at least for Jackson fans. I personally could take or leave the essays and lectures (as unintellectual as it may sound I prefer to read fiction than read about fiction).

I’d advise skipping the intro because it rubbed me the wrong way to have her husband talk about getting the collection together with his new wife, whom he dedicates it to. Kind of disconcerting.

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Posted on May 2, 2010

Books »No One Belongs Here More Than You

no-one-belongs here more than youby Miranda July (2007)

The stories collected in No One Belongs Here More Than You present a wholly unique point of view, absolutely nothing I’ve read is quite like it. The author, quirky renaissance woman Miranda July, tends to focus on the kind of people rarely examined in popular fiction. She shows tender empathy for the lonely, the misguided, the disappointed and the hopeful without ever stooping to paint them as “common”; the characters in these stories may be underemployed, retired, or generally just living on the periphery of American society, but July treats them with the kind of respect most writers toss out the window in pursuit of capturing the kind of broad stroked fictional America they think – but don’t actually know  – exists.

She also has an unparalleled appreciation for the real strangeness of sex and how we all react and deal with it. If you’ve seen her magnificent film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, you have a sense of her frank approach to the subject of human sexuality which, in nearly all popular books and movies, is cleaned up and purified or made into something equally unrealistic and elicit.

The stories are funny and sometimes heartbreaking and remind me of another of my favorite writers, George Saunders, so it’s no surprise he’s a big fan of her work. He says of these stories, “They are (let me coin a phrase) July-esque, which is to say: infused with wonder at the things of the world.”

Don’t let July’s adorableness (evinced below) make you wary of her work, as it inexplicably does (even for me, a genuine fan of her work), there’s real depth and passion here, not just quirky preciousness. This collection will make you wish she wrote more often.

Click here for the rest of No One Belongs Here More Than You

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Posted on January 17, 2010

Books »Twisted

Jeffery Deaver, best known for his novel The Bone Collector, has compiled the most edible thrillery popcorn into the short story collection Twisted; I haven't had this much fun with mindless reading in a while. Like a horror anthology (though much better than those you can usually find on TV – in fact, this book could easily become the only really good horror anthology of the decade if someone good got behind it) each brief thriller starts out one way (you think a woman is about to meet with a serial killer, a dad is about to be murdered, a jealous husband is about to enact bloody revenge, etc) and then… Bam! There's a twist!

The language and style can best be described bare bones (lazy at worst: every female character is described as resembling either Pamela Anderson or Michelle Pfeiffer) but Deaver really really knows just how to cut to the chase and tease the best out of his highly satisfying and effective formula. The twist-ending game might get a little tedious after sixteen stories, but I have to admit: I couldn't always figure out what was coming, which keeps it fresh.

This is perfect beach reading for non beach reading weather – so maybe we can call it 'sofa and hot cocoa reading'. In response to the overwhelming popularity of this collection, Deaver put out a second volume ingeniously titled More Twisted.

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Posted on October 26, 2009

Books »Stranger Things Happen

strangers things happen kelly linkI have been curious about the work of Kelly Link for a while. The quips on the back of the books make her work sound so mysterious and unique. How much you will get into the individual stories in Stranger Things Happen will depend on how easily you can get swept away in the specific fantastical language and devices. Often dreamy, with unexplained interjecting voices and sometimes bewildering plots, Link's stories demand some suspended disbelief and undivided concentration.

Some of these tales, I admit got away from me in the process of reading them bits at a time on subway platforms and a few moments before falling dead asleep, but several I found to be haunting and as magical as her rabid fans praise her for. Vanishing Act is a particular favorite.

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Posted on September 28, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »New Yorker Fiction Podcasts

My love affair with yuppie radio just keeps on going. The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, available free from iTunes, is delightful: every month a celebrated author picks a story from the magazine's archives, reads it, then discusses with fiction editor Deborah Treisman.

It requires an uninterrupted chunk of dedicated listening time, which can sometimes be hard if work is busy, but it's worth trying if you can find the time.

So far I've been captivated by Joshua Ferris (author of Then We Came to the End) reading George Saunders's “Adams”; Jonathan Franzen (author of The Corrections) reading short, funny pieces by Veronica Geng and Ian Frazier; A.M. Homes (author of The Safety of Objects) reading my beloved Shirley Jackson's “The Lottery” and Richard Ford reading John Cheever's “The Reunion”.

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Posted on September 7, 2009

Books »Nightmare Town

Like anything that it oft duplicated, it can be sometimes almost disappointing to see the original influence. Dashiell Hammett, who penned, among the many short pulp fiction stories in Nightmare Town, Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon is the grandfather of noir and this early collection, Nightmare Town,?took me a few stories to become enamored.

This collection is deceptively simple but the the hard boiled shorts, often with a twisty who dun it, has become a true joy for me to read. Each story is a brief (they were originally published in pulp magazines like Black Mask) escape from my subway ride to seedy motels, private detective agencies, back alleys, and gambling halls.

There is something ironically soothing about these tales of murder and deception, though I suppose its not unlike today's Law and Orders or CSIs – opiates for the masses (myself included) based on the darker side of life. The collection was compiled a few years back from Hammett's early career in the 20's and 30's. They show a young mind full of ideas with a quick hard hitting voice. His influence on the mystery genre is undeniable and this collection proves it.

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Posted on July 27, 2009

Books »In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981)

land of dreamy dreamsI really can't recall how I heard of Ellen Gilchrist and why her book of collected short stories In the Land of Dreamy Dreams landed on my Amazon wish list, but I'm glad it did. I enjoyed these stories more than I expected and have been telling everyone I know to read this book which, given the book's history, is no big surprise: published with no fanfare or typical publicity by a small university press, it still managed to sell over 10,000 copies in its first release.

Based mostly in the South, where Gilchrist herself has and continues to live, the stories read kind of like a very feminine Raymond Carver. With very little she paints vivid image of often colorful women: a sprightly young girl who wants nothing more than to play her brother's games, a rich lady who spends most of her time in a fur covered bed because she's so bored with the world, the suffering daughter of a renowned eccentric woman that plans her own funeral, or a bitch at a country club who struggles against changes that challenge her steadfast views on race and class.

We are offered glimpses into seemingly mundane situations peppered with moments that might seem insignificant but change the characters forever. The stories are often as dark as they are memorable.

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Posted on June 1, 2009

Web Sites »Thoughtcrime Experiments

thoughtcrimes experiments bio breakI heard about Thoughtcrime Experiments from a friend at work who urged me to submit some art for the science fiction anthology. I was excited to have my faux vintage book cover (pictured) chosen by editors Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson (who got the idea for the project in a dream).

The final selection is a fun collection of nine short fiction pieces and art selected from over 240 submissions. The two editors took great pains to bring what they considered the best to you, and if you're a fan of sci-fi, I hope you'll appreciate it.

Richardson even includes a detailed how-to if you are interested in editing an anthology yourself.

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Posted on May 11, 2009

Books »Civilwarland in Bad Decline

george saunders civil warland in bad decline Funny, smart, poignant short stories set in the new future.
Everyone that I have recommended this to loves it.
You can also hear him read some selections at This American Life.

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Posted on November 21, 2005