Graphic Novels, Novels, Random

dendrobiblio’s Top 10 Reads of 2016

10. Stephen King’s the Dark Tower I : IV (1982 : 1997)

A somewhat difficult one to include, Stephen King’s writing, while always entertaining, is similarly always bothersome. The King-isms build and bug me. The Dark Tower series has been no different so far, with the Drawing of the Three and the Waste Lands, in particular, being hampered by bloated writing and awkward pacing. Wizard and Glass, the fourth of an eight-part series (including #4.5), and the last I read this year, was an absolutely engrossing and addictive fantasy yarn. The horror and post-apocalyptic settings were mostly removed in favor of straight fantasy in an extended flashback story — which was worrisome — but Roland’s tale was so focused and wonderfully-told that it alone puts this series on the list. I hope 2017 lets me finish the the final four books.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Short Stories

Transgressive poetry in Yuri Kageyama’s the New and Selected Yuri (2011)

Why hadn’t I heard of Yuri Kageyama before? She’s been quietly publishing poetry, essays, and short stories for over 30 years. Her style ranges between transgressive and journalistic, channeling similar frustrations as writers like Kathy Acker, but with a style devoid of flourish or absurdity. She’s published in journals and magazines, and had her one and only poetry collection, Peeling, published by her close friend and fellow author, Ishmael Reed, in 1988. The New and Selected Yuri, published in 2011, contains 41 short works of poetry and prose dating from 1978 to 2011. It contains short stories, essays, anecdotes, conversations, cultural explanations, and a wealth of poems.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Video Games

Game Write: Harvey Smith’s Big Jack is Dead (2013)

Game Write is a recurring series dedicated to the fiction of game industry veterans. From the best-selling titles of Drew Karpyshyn and Austin Grossman, to the obscure classics of Jane Jensen and Sheldon Pacotti, this series hopes to unearth both the gems and the trash we tend to leave buried in the credits. In this entry, we look at Harvey Smith’s first novel, Big Jack is Dead, a personal story about a slightly-sociopathic software developer returning to rural Texas to see his abusive father put to rest.

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Book Reviews, Novels

The Scarlet Letter, or, Everyone’s Worst High-School Nightmare

When it came time to read the Scarlet Letter in high school, our teacher verbalized her distaste, and instead opted for Mark Twain’s the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Now, having read Hawthorne’s American classic ten years on, I have zero understanding of how or why this book became a stereotype of high school reading lists. No teenager in their right mind would connect to this story, or, most especially, Hawthorne’s dense, repetitive, philosophical prose. I’m glad I had the chance to choose the time and place to read it, as I feel that directly contributed to my enjoyment at 27 rather than loathing at 17.

The story shouldn’t need a lengthy introduction: Hester Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter A upon her breast, meant to showcase, along with a newborn babe named Pearl, her sin of adultery to the public until she’s laid to rest. At the very moment of her condemnation, her missing husband returns, and hides under the name Roger Chillingworth in order to root out and have his revenge upon the man responsible for Hester’s sins — Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Dave Eggers’ a Hologram for the King (2012)

I feel like I’ve grown up with Dave Eggers.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) and You Shall Know Our Velocity! (2002) appealed to my youthful naivete; What is the What (2006) and Zeitoun (2009) my maturing empathy; the Circle (2013) my interest in social media issues and technology (though I disagreed with the simplified, negative message); and his two latest (Your Fathers, Where are They? and the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? [2014] and Heroes of the Frontier [2016]) my quieting hopelessness as I get way too old to have not done anything yet. I keep expecting to hate the next book of his, or find his simplification of issues boring, and yet I always come away feeling simply — comforted. He’s a close friend, far too smart and far too humble for his own good, always happy to spend time with you.

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Book Reviews, Short Stories, Video Games

Game Write: Sheldon J. Pacotti’s Experiments in Belief (2013)

Game Write is a recurring series dedicated to the fiction of game industry veterans. From the best-selling titles of Drew Karpyshyn and Austin Grossman, to the obscure classics of Jane Jensen and Sheldon Pacotti, this series hopes to unearth both the gems and the trash we tend to leave buried in the credits. In this entry, we look at Sheldon Pacotti’s short story collection, Experiments in Belief — featuring a variety of science fiction stories written throughout the ’90s on the complex interplay of science, ethics, religion, and politics.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Language and history in Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980)

Ful of the Moon Ful of the Moon,
Ful of the Moon nor dont look back
Folleree Folleroo on your track
Oo hoo hoo Yoop yaroo
Folleree Folleroo follering you
If they catch you in the darga,
Arga Warga

Reading Riddley Walker has been one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve ever had with literature. Every sentence and every word stuck to me, and I couldn’t help but want to get lost in the corrupted language.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Jonathan Carroll’s Voice of Our Shadow (1983), as recommended by Neil Gaiman

Voice of Our Shadow is a weird novel. It’s compelling, creepy, lame, uncomfortable; it leaves you wondering if it’s going anywhere or just dilly-dallying inside an unlikable Joseph Lennox’s head.

Joe is a horrible, selfish and self-obsessed brat of a narrator — but his voice is also utterly uncomfortable precisely because, in being horrible, he’s toeing a line that most of us have difficulty with. E.g., he uses friends for personal gain, all the while convincing himself and his audience that he’s playing the Nice Guy, that maybe he’s being unjustly victimized.

A lot of this novel’s horror comes from that: He’s just a disgusting personality. Too human and too me-and-you.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Paul Bowles’ the Sheltering Sky (1949)

Three American travelers, wealthy beyond description, drift into the Saharan desert, suffering constant discomfort, loneliness, illness. Their station as travelers is key: They are not the foul-brained tourist gawkers they miserably judge, gathering immediate snapshots to largely leave behind, but Travelers with a T, ingrained in the cultures they move between, accepting the differences or rejecting them — they at least pretend to understand the foreign cultures they inhabit.

Travelers Kit, Port and Tunner live this philosophical post-war outlook from bedrooms and buses, boxcars and hashish-hazed cafes, the culture on the outskirts only there to suffer the Americans’ wealthy dissatisfaction. Rejecting, then rejecting, they move further inland, further into a bored American’s Heart of Darkness, attitude and identity similarly removing themselves from the malaise’d bodies with every mile, every dune crossed into the oppression of that finalizing sheltering sky.

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Book Reviews, Novels

Ronald Sukenick’s UP (1968)

Ronald Sukenick was one of the founders and vocal leaders of the Fiction Collective back in ’68, a club of (largely) New York innovators taking advantage of the postmodern, self-reflective revolution they were simultaneously witnessing and instigating in literature. They — including authors like Steve Katz and Jonathan Baumbach — argued for an embracing of verbal tricks, of cut-and-paste visual collages in place of story progression, accompanied by a self-awareness of their own limits and possible stylistic pretensions in order to combat the novel’s stagnation. Does it add to literature? Does such a question matter, when the novel itself is the author unloading his soul and dumping all his relationship issues out on the reader in as humorous and creative a way he can cough up, no boundaries considered?

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