April 17, 2014

CCLaP Rare: All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

The Ghost Writer (1979)
Zuckerman Unbound (1981)
The Anatomy Lesson (1983)
The Prague Orgy (1985)
The Counterlife (1986)
American Pastoral (1997)
I Married a Communist (1998)
The Human Stain (2000)
Exit Ghost (2007)
By Philip Roth
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Few projects will ever give us a better view of the entire Postmodernist era of the arts (being defined here as the 40-year period between Kennedy's assassination and 9/11) than Philip Roth's remarkable nine-book "Nathan Zuckerman" series, a trail of connected autobiographical stories that just happen by coincidence to tell the story of America's entire history between Vietnam and the War On Terror. Started in the late 1970s as a way for Roth to look back at his own start as a writer, the first four titles of this series are more historical fiction than anything else, which like Roth's own life follow the adventures of a young Jewish intellectual in the post-war years, as he first develops a serious academic reputation in the early '60s among such prestige locations as The New Yorker, then explodes into the popular culture during the hippie years for his scandalous portrait of a sexy, nebbish, overly onanistic young countercultural urban Jew, and his troubles with both the opposite sex and his oppressive Holocaust-surviving relatives, essentially laying the groundwork for the mainstream popularity decades later of Seinfeld.

After a decade-long break from the books in the '80s, then, Roth returned to Zuckerman's life with 1997's American Pastoral, but now with Zuckerman mostly as the framing character for his friends' contemporary tales, thus entering us into the most successful period of Roth the author's career; Pastoral won the Pulitzer Prize, 2000's The Human Stain won the PEN/Faulkner, and basically all the Zuckerman books he wrote in these years were each massive bestsellers, even while Roth won such overall career accolades in these years as the National Medal of Arts, an honorary doctorate from Harvard, and the gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A shining highlight of any book collector's library, and especially those who concentrate in modern first editions, this complete collection of all nine Zuckerman novels is priced today at the premium it deserves, excitedly awaiting its new home.

CONDITION: Texts: Very Good (VG) to Like New. Essentially all nine are in a condition similar to how they appeared brand new, with the following exceptions (see photos for more): A glue stain on the front inside endpaper of The Ghost Writer, from where a bookplate was forcibly removed; and a previous owner's signature in ink on the front inside endpaper of The Human Stain. Dust jackets: Very Good (VG) to Like New. Again, most of these dust jackets are very similar to how they appeared brand new, except for a few small tears in American Pastoral and Exit Ghost, and with the dust jacket of The Ghost Writer clearly starting to show its age. PLEASE NOTE BEFORE BIDDING that this collection's copy of the ultra-scarce The Prague Orgy is actually the first edition, first printing of the paperback; all other eight books are the first edition, first printing of the hardback.

MINIMUM BID: US$450 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $900 To the eBay auction

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, April 17, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Profiles |
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April 16, 2014

Rare Book Roundup: 16 April 2014

In an effort to get more titles from our rare book collection listed and for sale online this year, CCLaP is now doing smaller descriptions and posting auctions more often. Here below is a round-up of the latest. Remember, if you're coming across this in the future and the eBay auction has ended, you can always contact us directly at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com for more on the book's current sale status, and to place an order.

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'...
By Mike Royko (1985)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: It seems almost like a relic of a bygone age by now, but there was still a point even up to the 1990s when the hard-hitting, truth-at-all-costs newspaper journalist was a revered archetype among a large swath of the population; and not only did Chicago eventually come to typify the place for such gritty truth-tellers, but within Chicago it was Mike Royko who came to virtually define the archetype, a Pulitzer winner thought of in almost godlike terms by his blue-collar, union-liberal fans, and whose many columns were eventually republished as standalone books over the course of his career. This one from 1985 was his sixth, a continuation of sorts from his popular previous title, 1983's Sez Who? Sez Me, and covers various columns written from 1967 to 1984 at a total of three different papers, including his odes to the then-recently deceased Nelson Algren and John Belushi. A nice title at an inexpensive price which is perfect for any Royko fan, or fans of newspaper journalism in general.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). In general still in great shape, except for a bit of yellowing to the top spine fabric, and the corner cut off the front inside endpaper. Dust jacket: Very Good (VG). In great shape from the standpoint of condition, but now with all edges starting to turn yellow, and "200" written in ballpoint ink in the front inside flap. Stated "First Edition" on copyright page; inclusion of "1" in printing record confirms this as a First Printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP in February 2014, at the Beecher Book Fair in Illinois.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L
By Scott Turow (1977)
First Edition, Third Printing

DESCRIPTION: Long before he become a popular author of legal-themed fictional thrillers, Scott Turow wrote this 1977 nonfiction title, a memoir of his turbulent first year at Harvard Law School that still sells thousands of copies a year, and is considered an insider's must-read for any young lawyer. Published in the same years as The Paper Chase, and one of the books that started the craze for human-interest law stories in those years among the general population, this scarce title continues to become harder and harder to secure with each passing year, a great inexpensive investment for the serious collector with the long-term view in mind.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good Plus (VG+). Very similar to how it appeared new, except for some light spotting along the top edges (not on the inside), and a gift inscription from the previous owner written in ink on the front inside endpaper. Dust jacket: Very Good Minus (VG-). The condition of the dust jacket is still great; but since this is a colored cover printed on white paper, the small creases along its edges are extra noticeable, plus with a quarter-inch tear on the top front, a clipped pricetag on the front inside flap, and a white back cover that is slightly dirty. As stated on the copyright page, this is from the third printing of the book's first edition.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP in February 2014, at the Beecher Book Fair in Illinois.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me
By Bennett Cerf (1944)
SIGNED, First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Bennett Cerf was known for many things in his time--the founder of Random House, a regular on both the talk-show and quiz-show circuits, a globetrotting bad boy who only got into publishing in the first place so to hang out with hard-drinking artists--but one of the things he was most known for among the larger population was his love of corny humor, and for using the power at his disposal as a publisher to release a whole series of joke books over the course of his life. And this one from 1944 was his very first, with illustrations by his buddy Carl Rose, often groan-inducing by definition but a wonderful historical snapshot of Modernism as it morphed from its early stages into the Mid-Century blend, and of what people were finding funny while in the middle of World War Two. In more delicate shape than normal, because of the restrictions in paper quality during the war, this signed volume is nonetheless a great addition to any humorist's library, especially at the inexpensive price it's being sold for today.

CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). Clean covers and a tight spine, but in general showing the kind of yellowing and other signs of aging you would expect from a book this old, as well as a small puncture in the fabric on the spine. Dust jacket: Fair. As mentioned, severe restrictions in paper thickness and quality were placed on publishers during World War Two, and this book's dust jacket is in the same delicate condition as most other books from these years are as well, with large chunks missing along the top edges and general small holes throughout, although at least with all panels still solidly connected. Now protected by a Demco mylar sheet. SIGNED on the front inside endpaper, just above a bookplate for previous owner John D. Fleming. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, an agreement of date on the title page and copyright page, plus a lack of further printing notices, makes this a first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP in September 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair in Illinois.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:05 PM, April 16, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Profiles |
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April 15, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 110: Author Justin Kramon

CCLaP Podcast 110: Author Justin Kramon

It's Monday Tuesday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a one-hour talk with New England author Justin Kramon, his second time on the podcast, talking this time about his new crime thriller, The Preservationist. Also featuring the music of Moon Boots and Blondfire.

Links to the things and people mentioned in today's episode:
Justin Kramon
The Preservationist
Justin's first appearance on the podcast
Moon Boots
Blondfire

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:17 PM, April 15, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | Literature | Profiles |
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Book Review: "Leningrad" by Igor Vishnevetsky

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Leningrad, by Igor Vishnevetsky

Leningrad
By Igor Vishnevetsky
Dalkey Archive Press
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar

Igor Vishnevetsky's Leningrad combines poetry and prose, newspaper articles and personal journals, publicized tallies and top-secret communiques to paint a complete (and completely bleak) image of Leningrad Blockage-era Russia and the full scope of horrors that can rain down on a war-pummeled city while its residents try to hold their lives together throughout an increasingly turbulent period.

As history is reduced to numbers and outcomes and notable skirmishes with the ever-widening distance separating then from now, it's easy to forget that people did their best to live through times of far-reaching upheaval and misery that encroached most disastrously on their smaller worlds. Here, Vishnevetsky presents us with Gleb Alfani, a composer, and his lover, Vera, as the intimate connection between a ravaged city and its residents' desperate attempts to preserve the humanity that they need to survive in a brutal environment. Gleb distracts himself from both a hopeless world and the barrage of ammunition disfiguring his home by drowning out the cacophony of ceaseless fire with the opera he superstitiously believes will keep him and his beloved safe as long as he's composing it. Vera's safety becomes a paramount concern when she divulges her pregnancy, already a complication in turbulent times where death far outpaces births but an even more daunting hurdle since Vera's husband is both a naval officer in the war effort and very obviously not the child's father. She flees Leningrad in the hopes of finding refuge, instructing Gleb to follow her once he receives her next letter, but his emaciated body and weakened spirit soon fall victim to a flu that leaves him delirious and split from reality. Spring eventually returns to Leningrad and health finally returns to Gleb, but the world he is reborn to is nothing like the one he once knew.

Aside from their roles as the beating heart in the political history of war, Gleb and Vera, as well as their friends and family orbiting the periphery of the plot, are witnesses who provide their own personal narratives about struggling through another day, clinging to the things that gave their life meaning before, and how those things become frivolous necessities as the life rafts keeping their rapidly deflating morale afloat. The continuation and preservation of art is a recurring theme throughout this short book: A minor character retrieves rare books from bombed-out buildings; Vera's husband writes of how he feels that the time he once spent painting now seems "absolutely ludicrous in comparison with the immense, unifying cause propelling us all forward," though the painting to which he refers is the lone item in Vera's apartment that glimmers with hope when Gleb goes looking for her and finds only a long-empty residence; Gleb slips into poesy in some of his journal entries, finding dark beauty in a devastated world and imposing metered order on a time when chaos ruled, and later mourns the books he sacrificed to the fire that kept him warm throughout the unforgiving winter. The aesthetic value of artistic pursuits aside, holding tight to one's appreciation of art is how these characters preserved elements of pre-war life, fighting impending death and coping with persistent uncertainty by remembering the things that gave beauty to the world and brought them happiness.

The importance of bearing witness to the unenviable epoch in which they lived and to which they had front-row seats is among the primary functions Vishnevetsky's characters serve. One of Gleb's first journal entries talks of how a friend confessed that being confronted with death leaves him in a state of arousal; rather than being a deviant's admission, it highlights how the triumph of living when thousands die each month is an understandably muddled, confused thing. Some characters find themselves almost gloating to the corpses they've stepped over in the streets, so giddy they are with life--hard as it is--while others try not to take in too much (if any) of their squalid environment. But no judgement is imparted to make one reaction seem more honorable than the other: Vishnevetsky merely uses each character's response to meteoric body counts to color their personalities, demonstrating how the coping mechanisms of the living are as varied as their methods of survival. While some characters need to record the loss and desolation of the times, especially once discrepancies arise between what they've seen and what official documents claim, others merely want to survive, and looking too closely at the carnage surrounding them would only deliver the final blow of emotional defeat. Self-denial looks an awful lot like self-preservation in the right circumstances and, as accounts of cannibalism rise and Gleb's instructions to himself about what does and doesn't prove to be edible betray the desperate edges of madness, it is increasingly clear that each individual must decide for themselves what desperation looks like and how they must harness it to see another day.

Since the world has a cruel way of moving on despite the sufferings of its inhabitants, the first spring of the siege finally comes and is wholly incongruent with the winter that still clutches at the hearts of those who have lost and suffered through so much. But it is proof that all things will pass and that time always shuffles onward, and the most we can do is learn from the past and remember its harsh imperatives. While time does not heal all wounds, hindsight is a stern teacher that is keen to remind its students that life goes on for those who are strong enough to forge ahead with it. It is in this truth that the crux of Leningrad's lesson dwells, the affirmation of life's ability to take root in the most hard-scrabble, inconceivably hostile elements as long as there is something to live for.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about Leningrad: Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 10:19 AM, April 15, 2014. Filed under:
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April 14, 2014

Announcing the release of Scott Abraham's "Turtle and Dam!"

Turtle and Dam, by Scott Abrahams

Hooray! Time for another official release of a CCLaP book to the general public, for your downloading and ordering pleasure! This time it's the really charming and insightful comedy about contemporary China, Turtle and Dam by Washington DC analyst Scott Abrahams; a book we've been working on for about half a year now, I'm delighted that this is finally out for wide public release, and I'm convinced that you will be as won over by this as we were when it first came in. As always, the official synopsis does the book more justice than I could off the top of my head right this moment, so let me just paste it in below...

Like millions of other only-child Chinese twenty-somethings, Turtle Chen is graduating college and vicariously desperate (via parental pressure) to find a job, though he would probably settle for a girlfriend. He speaks English. He studied abroad in America. Employers, ladies, what's not to love? With a bit of bravado and some hometown luck, this engineering grad lands himself an entry level position working for the state news agency; not that he particularly cares about politics or journalism, not that they particularly want him to. Through a class assignment, Turtle learns that his grandmother's village will soon be inundated to make way for a dam construction project. His parents tell him not to worry about it. His bosses tell him not to worry about it. He would be only too happy to oblige, and yet despite his best efforts not to care he finds himself on the front lines fighting bulldozers, next to what some villagers claim to be the ghost of Chairman Mao. There's bribery, corruption, computer games, and text messages imbued with uncertainty. Air pollution, censorship, and a job fair where students attack employers with paper basketballs. And it's all told through the eyes of a young man with impeccable English ('impeccable English,' that's correct, yes?), who's right there in the middle of it all. Welcome to the delightful world of Turtle and Dam, the literary debut of Washington DC analyst Scott Abrahams.

As always, the ebook version of this novel is completely free if you so choose (technically 'pay what you want,' although the vast majority of you choose the free version), in PDF editions for both American laserprinters (8.5 x 11) and European (A4), as well as an EPUB for most types of mobile devices, and a MOBI file specifically and only for Amazon Kindles; and for the third time so far this year, I'm happy to say that this is also available as a 200-page trade paperback book with full-color covers, for just $14.99 plus shipping. (And coming later this year, a deluxe handmade hardback edition, featuring high-end material such as cotton pages and a faux-leather spine, for the special price of $49.99.) And don't forget, there's a Goodreads page for this book too, so if you're a member over there like I am, I highly encourage you to add it to your library there and especially to post a few words about it. Word-of-mouth is easily the number-one way that we generate new customers and readers, so your kind thoughts at Goodreads and Amazon really make a profound difference in how many copies our books sell. There will be more to announce about Turtle and Dam as the weeks continue, including details about the coming release party in Washington DC; but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to stop by its web headquarters and procure a copy yourself, and see why this is not only a highly entertaining story about career versus family, but an incredibly astute look at the young generation in China right now, being turned by the tens of millions from rural youths into suburban white-collar office workers.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:44 AM, April 14, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature |
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April 11, 2014

Book Review: "Sutro's Glass Palace," by John A. Martini

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Sutro's Glass Palace, by John A. Martini
 
Sutro's Glass Palace: The Story of Sutro Baths*
By John A. Martini, Illustrated by Lawrence Ormsby
Hole in the Head Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
The Sutro Baths were a spectacular San Francisco landmark no one has heard of. Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, and Alcatraz, the Sutro Baths exist now only as a series of ruins. John A. Martini, a San Francisco-based researcher and lecturer, has written Sutro's Glass Palace: the Story of Sutro Baths for Hole in the Head Press. Lavishly illustrated by Lawrence Orsmby, the book includes architectural renderings of the Sutro Baths, along with archival photographs and other ephemera. The Sutro Baths occupied the San Francisco coastline from 1894 to 1966. Built by mining mogul Adolph Sutro, it was meant as an example of his noblesse oblige. Sutro himself has a biography that sounds too crazy to be real. Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro immigrated from Aachen, Germany, to the United States during the Gold Rush. He worked at various mines, engineered the deep shafts that de-watered and ventilated the Comstock Lode, and was the Mayor of San Francisco on the Populist ticket.

One of his many dreams involved building a monumental series of baths for San Francisco. Looking at the ruins and the architectural renderings, many historical associations come to mind. With its massive expanse of glass windows, an immediate parallel might be The Crystal Palace associated with The Great Exhibition of 1851. Since the Sutro Baths were meant for amusement, a geographically close counterpart is The Saltair Pavilion in Saltair, Utah. The ruins of the large-scale Victorian-era amusement park were hauntingly captured in the 1962 horror film, Carnival of Souls. (Saltair was built in 1893, one year before the Sutro Baths. Like the Baths, Saltair met a fiery demise in 1925.) Adolph Sutro also had grandiose ideas about the Baths, likening them to the Baths of Caracalla. In order to fully comprehend the scale of the Sutro Baths, Martini includes some phenomenal statistics. Here are a few: "Length of Baths: 499.5 feet." "Amount of glass used: 100,000 superficial ft." "Iron in roof columns: 600 tons." "Lumber: 3,500,000 feet." "Concrete: 270,000 cubic feet." "Capacity of tanks: 1,804,962 gallons."

The Sutro Baths encompassed more than just the large swimming pools. The complex included a museum and a promenade. One could see the Sutro Baths as an early antecedent to big city sports stadiums that also function as concert venues. Sutro snatched up museum exhibits from the Midwinter Exhibition, a smaller-scale West Coast version of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exhibition. Unfortunately, the Baths never lived up to Sutro's ideals. Plagued by safety concerns and constant pummeling from the Pacific Ocean, the glass constantly needed replacing. Low attendance numbers also didn't help. After his death, his daughter, Dr. Emma Sutro Everett, California's first female physician, tried in earnest to sell the Baths.

The Baths weren't sold until 1952, when George Whitney, a local real estate magnate, bought them for cheap. Throughout the years and change of ownership, the large swimming pools became burdensome to operate. Whitney shuttered the baths and focused more on making the Sutro Baths an amusement park of sorts. Like The House on the Rock, he packed the facility with his "collection of collections." The Sutro Baths hobbled on until it was slated for demolition. Amidst the demolition process, a fire broke out and the entire grand edifice collapsed into a heap of molten glass and twisted iron. Today the ruins face depredation from the elements, so this book has done a notable public service by raising awareness for the site's historic significance.

Martini's book is also notable for its unflinching depiction of the Sutro Baths in operation. This includes peppering the account with reprints from San Francisco newspapers recounting safety accidents and an alleged murder at the Baths. (The murder soon proved anticlimactic when it was revealed the victim had a weak heart and got sucked into one of the drainage pipes.) There was also a case of the Sutro Baths turning away an African-American patron. Despite its monumental footprint and Adolph Sutro's good intentions, the rigid racial codes of Jim Crow still persisted, even in a city as progressive and forward-thinking as San Francisco.

Martini's book is a wonderful example of local history, interspersing documentary accounts with architectural rendering and examples of Baths-related ephemera. It also fits well with the program Hole in the Head Press has established. Like its other titles, Sutro's Glass Palace is a locally relevant history that is spectacular and a just a little bit odd. Other odd local history books Hole in the Head Press has published include Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1979 and The Last Missile Site: An Operational and Physical History of Nike Site SF-88, Fort Barry, California.

Out of 10/9.0

*Note: Amazon.com lists Sutro's Glass Palace as Out of Print. It is not. Go to Hole in the Head Press (Official Site link below) and it will list venues where it is sold.
 
Read even more about Sutro's Glass Palace: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, April 11, 2014. Filed under:
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April 10, 2014

Book Review: "Worst. Person. Ever." by Douglas Coupland

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Worst. Person. Ever.
By Douglas Coupland
Blue Rider Press/ Penguin Publishing Group
Reviewed by Travis Fortney

Maybe I'm stepping too far out on a limb here, but I'm going start this review by trying to describe a feeling. You see, I spend about an hour every afternoon walking the streets of Chicago. I've done this for years, because I live to serve an active black lab named Monte, who likes about a five mile walk in the afternoon. For the last couple years, we've walked in a loop that covers the southern part of Rogers Park and a large swath of Edgewater. It's fair to say that on this daily walk I've encountered more than my fair share of wretched humanity. I've seen more men than I can count duck into alleyways to pee. I've also seen a woman taking an actual dump, witnessed a shooting, observed countless drug transactions, and seen every kind of human decay, sickness and intoxication. Just yesterday, for example, two nearly toothless women who looked to be in their early sixties managed to corner me. One of the women talked, while the other looked at me openly, with large, glistening eyes. The speaker was having a difficult time making words, probably due to the copious amounts of substances she had spent the afternoon consuming. After she had spent ten or fifteen seconds stuttering in my direction, I deduced that she wanted money. Which is fine. I'm kind of a panhandler magnet, due to the fact that I was raised on a Christmas Tree farm in Ohio and have never fully mastered the urban art of walking right past a person with eyes fixed straight ahead. I should also mention that my dog is somewhat skittish. He tends to bark and lunge at people who act erratically. So when these two women cornered me, I was mostly concerned with escaping before my dog perceived a threat. I begged off, saying I didn't have any cash on me, which happened to be true. When I do have cash, I almost always give it up. I have let myself be conned out of amounts as large as twenty dollars, if the person who's doing the asking has a particularly good story. But yesterday, just as I had lowered my shoulder and managed to make a space between the two women, I was able parse another string of words from the gibberish. "This is my baby." And I noticed that the woman was holding onto a rounded belly with two hands. I was shocked. She wasn't sixty, apparently, but rather was young enough to be of childbearing age. My instinct was to tell her that she needed to get to a hospital immediately, but I had just finally pushed through them and I wasn't about to stop. When I was twenty feet or so past them, I turned around and called back that I was sorry.

But let me gracefully retreat from our two toothless panhandlers to the somewhat safer territory of the alleyway pisser. I've seen this enough that I've come to a few broad judgments. First, the people you see aren't the only people who pee in alleyways. After all, I get it. You're far away from home, you're in an unfamiliar neighborhood, you don't feel like ducking into a store or restaurant and having them hassle you about buying something, you have a weak bladder, etc., etc. There are myriad reasons why a person might pee in an alley, and whatever the reason is, I'm down with it. And so I'm certain that I've born witness to only a small fraction of Edgewater's alleyway pissers. The behavior I'm judging isn't really peeing in an alleyway, though. It's peeing in an alleyway with witnesses around, without even bothering to step behind a dumpster for privacy.

The precise feeling I'm trying to describe occurs just after the pisser has whipped it out and loosed a steady stream, while you walk briskly away and try to erase the image of his penis from your mind's eye. In moments like this, you might find, if you're at all like me, that your expectations for all of humanity are suddenly knocked down a few pegs. And you might notice that your internal monologue has become a steady stream of invectives that you could never, under any circumstances, say to a living, breathing human being.

The reason Douglas Coupland's new novel The. Worst. Person. Ever. is my favorite read of the year so far is that there are moments in the book when narrator Raymond Gunt, an unemployed B-unit cameraman and lecherous creep whom Coupland calls a "walking, talking, hot steaming pile of pure id", bears a striking resemblance to my inner self in those rare moments when I see something that makes my kale eating, grain-free dog food purchasing, tea drinking persona give way to the total asshole who apparently exists at my core.

I won't go into too much detail describing the plot, but it's what you might call Coupland-esque and manages to combine a Survivor-style reality television show, nuclear holocaust, the Pacific Trash Vortex, SPAM-like Chinese canned meats, a severe allergy to Macadamia nuts, and a t-shirt featuring the band The Cure.

Sure, Raymond Gunt is a terrible person. He treats his mother, his ex-wife, homeless people, goats, skin tags and Cameron Diaz with the same casual cruelty. And this book is filthy. There's inventive profanity in practically every sentence. I'm not saying it's for everyone, but the fact remains that I haven't laughed out loud so often at a novel of this type since reading Martin Amis's Money several years ago, and I haven't been so thoroughly entertained by another book this year.


Out of 10: 10

Read even more about Worst. Person. Ever.: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | Wikipedia

Filed by Travis Fortney at 10:20 AM, April 10, 2014. Filed under:
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April 9, 2014

Book Review: "Palmerino" by Melissa Pritchard

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Palmerino, by Melissa Pritchard

Palmerino
By Melissa Pritchard
Bellevue Literary Press
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar

Of all the successes contained within Palmerino's deceptively slim form, chief among them is its sound example of why Melissa Pritchard should be everyone's factually based but fictionally rendered introduction to coarse, easily misunderstood and half-forgotten writers. WIth a sensitive touch, lush descriptions and a richly evocative narrative triptych, Pritchard's exhaustive research into Violet Paget--perhaps better known as her nome de plume and masculine alter ego, Vernon Lee, the grandiloquent feminist and penner of supernatural tales, aesthetic studies and travel essays--flawlessly blends the late-nineteenth century writer's life with that of her fictional modern-day biographer.

Sylvia Casey, also a writer who has fallen on hard times (namely her marriage's demise as signaled by her husband absconding with another man, not to mention the faltering critical and commercial reception of her two most recent books placing her career in precarious uncertainty), has retreated to Palmerino, an Italian villa not far from Florence where Violet had spent much of her life, to slip away and throw herself into writing a novel inspired by Violet's life. Through research and walking the same grounds Violet once did, Sylvia immerses herself in the life of her spirited muse, mostly unaware that her subject has become her possessor in an unintended bit of method biographing.

The triumvirate of narration is an effective collision of past and present: Sylvia's quest to alternately lose herself in and hide from Italian life as she learns about the tempestuous Violet and writes of her discoveries; snapshots of Violet's life ranging from girlhood to brief mentions of her parents' and beloved Clementina's deaths; and ethereal interjections from Violet herself, as not even death could silence such an indomitable spirit, watching (and becoming gradually besotted with) her biographer, guiding the still-corporeal writer to clarify the truths about a life that has grown tarnished by assumptions: Violet is not a figure to be pigeonholed into easy descriptions, and she is irritated by history's posthumous efforts to reduce her to flat absolutes.

Though Violet is the linchpin holding the trio of perspectives together, the commingling of biographer and subject is present in each section to increasing degrees as Violet breathes her own essence into Sylvia by gradual possession. Sylvia's own writings are the most obvious interplay between the two, with Violet's resurrection flowing from her fingers onto pages both typed and intimately scribbled. Violet herself has been observing her biographer since the latter's arrival, a benign watchfulness yielding to a ghostly seduction that becomes ever more apparent in the chapters that follow Sylvia's pursuits. As the present-day writer encounters relics and writings from Violet's life, Sylvia withdraws more into herself and her work, at first wondering almost wryly if Violet is guiding her and eventually shirking her own rigid writing methods to scrawl pages in a hand nearly as illegible as Violet's, certain that a female presence draws ever closer until "hearing her name, she understands who is calling her" and finally flees to Violet's secret garden in the book's final pages.

It is Pritchard's sympathetic but honest rendering of a woman some found tyrannical, some found charming and almost all found terrifyingly learned that urge her ghostly heroine into genial illumination. By preserving Violet's intellectual intensity as well as capturing the softness of her romantic pursuits, the hard-edged scribe becomes a fully realized figure rather than the wanly uneven caricature such a divisive female figure can so easily be written off as. It is this careful balance that lends so much female empowerment to the novel, as Violet publicly shuns all the social niceties that she believes exist "principally to defang" a woman but extends the compassionate sensitivity stereotypically attributed to the so-called fairer to those she feels most deserving of her affections, selectively embracing her femininity when she finds it necessary. It is easy to reduce a strong woman from a repressed era to the limited and scandalously taboo "lesbian" label but Violet was volumes more than her attraction to other women. She recognized the disadvantages of her gender the moment she was pitted for her ugliness and turned an unfair liability into an asset, which led her to adopt the mannerisms, dress and persona of a man, denying the world a chance to thwart her ascent, both as an intellectual and a human being, by seizing an opportunity to turn biology's lousy hand into something she could take control of and claim as her own.

If Violet's off-putting bravado and ferocity are pleasingly mitigated by inclusion of both her past and her first-person chapters, then her actions are justified by the more submissive Sylvia, who can't catch a break and shrinks from people in direct opposition to the way Violet sought to dominate them. Sylvia has merely inherited the equality for which her female predecessors have won and quietly moves through life, never questioning the path she has chosen until she begins to wonder what would have happened if she ever sought the pleasure of another woman's company, while Violet has struggled to assert herself in a male-dominated world, wrestling her way into commanding respect where she could get it and striking fear where she could not. The opposing trajectories of their writing lives--Sylvia chronicling the rise of Violet's career while her own is in rapid decline--and the sense of novelty with which each regards her near-perfect foil is a subtle affirmation that expression of one's sexuality can be a thing constricted by the absence of that perfect half, lying in wait for its cue to finally rise from dormancy.

The achingly gorgeous prose in which Palmerino is written strikes pitch-perfect harmony with its equally strong expression of humanity, promising that the hidden beauty within is always worth the time it takes to discover it.

Out of 10: 9.6

Read even more about Palmerino: Author's site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 11:39 AM, April 9, 2014. Filed under:
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April 7, 2014

It's April, so it must be time for the March "CCLaP Journal!"

CCLaP Journal #5

Missed deadlines? What missed deadlines? As always, overwhelming demand here in 2014 for our original novels is unfortunately keeping our new monthly magazine, The CCLaP Journal, significantly delayed; but I'm happy to say that the March issue is now finally out (and it only took until April 7th!), 186 pages of ad-free goodness just waiting for your free downloading pleasure. This newest issue features a reprint of a 2012 podcast interview we did with Chicago author Joe Meno; new fiction by Peter Anderson, Matt Rowan, and Alec Moran; an exclusive excerpt from our newest original book, the story collection Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1 by Fernando A. Flores; photo features by Meryl Olah, Jaime Boddorff, Vasya Gavrilov and Lindsey Fast; and the usual reprints of the book reviews we run here at the blog on a daily basis, including looks at new books by Haruki Murakami, William H. Gass, Brian Alan Ellis and a dozen more. Just stop by [cclapcenter.com/journal] to download the free PDF for yourself; or if you like the tireless work being done here at the website by our critics Travis Fortney, Madeleine Maccar and Karl Wolff, and would like to see them get paid a little money for their efforts, I encourage you to order a copy of the full-color paperback version for only $9.99 plus shipping, again 186 pages and with no ads...

Country

I'm happy to say as well that the April issue is almost complete as we speak, and will be going out the door and headed to the printers soon; so go ahead and read up on this issue now, because it'll only be another week or so before a brand-new 200-page issue will be ready as well! And then starting in May, we'll have some exciting news about the magazine, tied in to some developments taking place here in Chicago as we speak; but more on that when the time comes. For now, I hope you enjoy this fifth issue of our poor always-delayed publication, and we look forward to getting these cranked out on a more regular basis as things start calming down a little with our original books.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:16 AM, April 7, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Karl Wolff | Literature | Madeleine Maccar | Travis Fortney |
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April 4, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 109: Author Giano Cromley

CCLaP Podcast 109: Author Giano Cromley

It's Monday Friday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, we kick off the eighth year of the podcast with a talk with Chicago author Giano Cromley, a former political speechwriter whose debut novel, the darkly comic coming-of-age tale The Last Good Halloween, came out last year. Also featuring the music of Samo Sound Boy and The Honey Trees.

Links to the things and people mentioned in today's episode:
Giano Cromley
The Last Good Halloween
Tortoise Books
Kennedy-King College
Samo Sound Boy / Motions
The Honey Trees

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:57 AM, April 4, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | Chicago news | Literature | Profiles |
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Wowee! It's the big 'Bullshit Artists' update!

Release party for Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1, at Farewell Books in Austin

Release party for Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1, at Farewell Books in Austin

Release party for Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1, at Farewell Books in Austin

Wow, has there been a lot of developments recently with CCLaP's newest book, Austinite Fernando A. Flores' ode to failed punk bands and small-town music scenes, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1! The book has surprisingly become a legitimate mainstream success in Flores' home state of Texas, and we've been struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand for this handmade hardback. (And speaking of which, thanks to all you mail-order customers who keep staying patient about your shipment! They will all be in the mail by next week, my promise to you!) First up recently was the book's release party, at the great Farewell Books in Austin; as you can see in the above photos sent along by Fernando, the event was packed and fun, and a bunch of Fernando's musician friends came out to help celebrate this long-germinating story collection.

San Antonio Book Festival

And now? Well, now Fernando is hitting the road a little! First up, he will be one of the guests of honor at this year's San Antonio Book Festival, taking place at the city's main public library all day tomorrow, April 5th. Fernando will be featured on a panel at 4:15 called "A Celebration of Emerging Voices," moderated by the revered Texas author Carmen Tafolla; it takes place in the West Terrace (third floor), and is free to attend. Barnes & Noble will have plenty of copies of the book on sale that day, so I hope all you locals will get a chance to stop by!

WordSpace, Dallas

And then on April 17th, Fernando will be in the fantastic city of Dallas, performing through the busy local literary organization WordSpace. The reading itself will be at CentralTrak in that city (800 Exposition Avenue), at 7pm, and again this is a free event and with copies of Fernando's book being sold that night. We've been humbled and awed by the vast amount of interest all of you have shown to Bullshit Artists (in fact, it is quickly on its way to becoming the biggest selling title in CCLaP's history, just one month after its release), and we look forward to finally getting caught up with all these handmade books that are still owed to so many of you. If you're a Texas resident, I hope you'll have a chance to go out and see Fernando live on stage soon!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:38 AM, April 4, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP news | Events | Literature |
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Book Review: "ApartFrom," by Constance A. Dunn

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
ApartFrom, by Constance A. Dunn
 
ApartFrom
By Constance A. Dunn
KUBOA
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
ApartFrom by Constance A. Dunn taps into the tradition of random meetings and connections found in such disparate films as Babel and Magnolia. In the book, we follow three protagonists and their misadventures. Each has connections to the other. The further one reads, the more the connections become apparent. There is Bettina living in Bulgaria, Cedric in Spain, and Ricardo in Toronto. Each of these non-natives has strange encounters. Bettina meets a strange girl before taking a train to Vienna. Cedric meets and has conversations with an enigmatic man named Hardy. Ricardo, a Spaniard, goes clubbing and meets a girl with a golden tooth.

The novel's atmospheric tone gives each city a haunting quality that verges between realism and surrealism. Sofia, Bulgaria feels crowded and archaic; Spain feels hot and dusty; and Toronto feels cold and hyper-urban. Each character moves towards his or her destiny with an unknowing urgency. This forward momentum receives added impetus with the novel's structure. Instead of traditional chapters, we get a series of mini-scenes, each punctuated by how much time elapsed. Confounding this forward momentum are flashbacks, thrusting the character into another place. The non-traditional narrative structure demands extra attention from the reader, especially for those wishing for something more linear.

The writing itself aims for the dream-like and highly sensual. We see and experience these places through the perspective of the character, despite the fact they aren't narrating. As with the films of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers, Your Mileage May Vary. What one considers dreamy and poetic, another reader may find pretentious and over-written. For those more preferential to genre fiction, you'll have to adjust your expectations. Bettina describes her memory of the strange girl: "The girl's eyes were also remarkable so she thought of those instead, something between sinister and sublime. Her eyes stood still as the scenery behind her sped past, evolved and disintegrated; eons of time spit out of a vacuum and brushed past like a stray cat. They were dark blue of deep water where demonic-looking fish hunt for their prey without having to hide." And Cedric puzzles out the meaning of the stranger named Hardy by making a mental inventory of the name "Hardy," including the English author Thomas Hardy and hipster apparel brand Ed Hardy, among many others. Unlike a mystery or a thriller, where every sentence is taut and tight, leading inexorably towards the climactic fight and/or revelation, ApartFrom luxuriates in jangly, ragged, dreamy passages. This is more "actors hanging out in exotic locales" of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve, not the tightly wound Swiss watch of Ocean's Eleven. (For the record, I liked all three movies.)

While some passages did become a little precious for my tastes, I found the novel overall to be worth the experience. The accumulated effect of ApartFrom is a kind of exoticized dream-like doom. After all the meanderings and musings, the full force hits home in the last pages. A similar situation occurs in Roberto Bolano's magnificent novel, The Savage Detectives. ApartFrom is a fascinating literary experiment, exploring the experience of being a stranger in a strange land.
 
Out of 10/8.0
 
Read even more about ApartFrom: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, April 4, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Fiction |
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April 3, 2014

Announcing our May book, the spy thriller "Love Songs of the Revolution!"

Love Songs of the Revolution, by Bronwyn Mauldin

Well, we have some exciting news to announce -- CCLaP is finally releasing its first-ever spy thriller! It's called Love Songs of the Revolution by a Los Angeles author named Bronwyn Mauldin, and it's officially online now for pre-release orders, in advance of its release to the general public on May 19th. It's a little unusual, in fact, because it's a piece of historical fiction as well; set during the anti-Soviet revolution in Lithuania in 1989, this is less Tom Clancy and more John Le Carre, a downbeat and murky tale about an official Communist Party mural painter who is drawn into the independence movement almost against his will. But as always, the book's synopsis can explain this better than I can here just off the top of my head, so let me paste it in below...

An official painter for the Lithuanian Communist Party, Martynas Kudirka enjoys a pleasant, unremarkable life with a beautiful wife and all the privileges that come with being a party member. Yet in the summer of 1989, his ordinary world suddenly turns upside down. Political revolt is breaking out across Eastern Europe, and Martynas comes home to find his wife dead on the kitchen floor with a knife in her back. Realizing the police will not investigate, he sets out to find his wife's killer. Instead, he stumbles upon her secret life. Martynas finds himself drawn into the middle of an independence movement, on a quest to find confidential documents that could free a nation. Cold War betrayals echo down through the years as author Bronwyn Mauldin takes the reader along a modern-day path of discovery to find out Martynas' true identity. Fans of historical fiction will travel back in time to 1989, the Baltic Way protest and Lithuania's "singing revolution," experiencing a nation's determination for freedom and how far they would fight to regain it.

Page from the 'Extras' section of Bronwyn Mauldin's 'Love Songs of the Revolution'

This is also unusual in that the last part of the book, a fake collection of supplemental "real world" documents, actually furthers the plot in unexpected new directions, epistolary-style; and we've been working hard to make these documents look as real as possible, so we're excited to share this upcoming book with you and see what you think as well. Like I mentioned, this is the first novel in our history to fit into the genre variously called "crime," "thrillers" or "noir," with a second one coming this October (which again doubles as historical fiction, a Elmore-Leonard-style black comedy about the machinations of various Middle Eastern spies in a down-and-dirty pre-gentrified early-'80s New York City); in fact, we get more calls for these types of books from all of you readers than any other genre that's out there, and if these first two titles go well we're thinking of starting a whole new imprint here in 2015 called "CCLaP Crime," dedicated just to these types of exciting yet highly intelligent novels.

As always, you'll be able to download an ebook copy of Love Songs completely for free if you want, starting on May 19th; or to be part of the first group of customers to receive the paperback edition for $14.99 plus shipping, you can order a copy right now at [cclapcenter.com/lovesongs] (or just use the button below if you're seeing it). We also have a listing for it up at Goodreads.com, for my fellow members there who would be willing to add it to their library; and remember, if you promise to post a few thoughts about the book there (or at Amazon, or at your litblog, etc etc), we'd be happy to send you a free Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of the book right this second (available as a PDF, EPUB or Kindle file), so please just drop us a line at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com if you're interested. This is a wonderfully page-turning, very erudite yet incredibly pulse-pounding tale that Bronwyn has put together for us, exactly the type of unusually intelligent manuscript I've been looking for in order to kick off our new crime/noir series, and I know that all of you Graham Greene fans are going to go nuts for this as well. I look forward to presenting this to all of you starting May 19th; and in the meanwhile, I hope you'll get a chance to order an early copy of it, and help us raise the money needed to do the book's first actual print run next month.

Options

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:08 AM, April 3, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature |
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Book Review: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

The Martian
By Andy Weir
Crown
Reviewed by Travis Fortney

The Martian, Andy Weir's energetic debut novel that reads like a MacGyver/Robinson Crusoe/Star Trek mash-up, with a little bit of the dry superhero humor of The Tick thrown in for good measure, was self-published in 2012. Originally, Weir posted the e-book on his website for free. When fans requested a Kindle version, Weir created one and offered it for the price of 99 cents. It caught on quickly, rising to the top of the Kindle sci-fi chart, selling 35,000 copies in three months, and eventually attracting the audiobook publisher Podium Publishing and the traditional publisher Crown, who published it in hardcover earlier this year.

But The Martian is more than a heartwarming indie-lit success story. The happy truth is that it's really good. Weir has created a memorable character and placed him in a high-concept plot that remains entertaining and suspenseful from the first page to the last.

We meet Mark Watney on what must be the worst day of his life. Part of NASA's third manned mission to Mars, he's been left for dead on the Red Planet after a piece of antenna impaled his space suit and the other members of his crew were forced to evacuate. He has no way to communicate with NASA, and he doesn't have enough food to last until the next planned mission to Mars, or any way to get across the planet to that mission's landing site. There's no one else on the planet. No martians, no other astronauts. The other members of his team are en route back to earth. If Watney wants to survive, he's going to have to do so with his own ingenuity, hard work and luck.

Watney's original role on the mission was that of the botanist, and he puts those skills to work, becoming the first farmer on Mars. He works out how many potatoes he will need to survive until the next mission arrives, then sets about growing them. He fertilizes Martian soil with his own poop, mixes it with a bit of Earth soil his mission brought along, and repeats this process until he has enough good dirt for a small farm. Then he cuts up the potatoes they brought along for Thanksgiving and plants them.

Once he's got the potato farm up and running, he needs to find a way to communicate with NASA. He drives his rover to the last known site of an unmanned probe, retrieves it, and uses the on-board camera to communicate. Soon, NASA has devised a way to send him data files through the probe.

Of course, nothing is so easy in this book. As soon as Watney has the farm figured out, and it seems inevitable that he'll have enough food to survive, a small explosion causes a rupture in the Hab and puts all of that in jeopardy. The moment he comes to take his daily communications with Earth for granted, a frayed wire puts him in the dark once more. And those are just the first two of the many, many problems that occur during the more than a year that Watney spends on Mars. And of course, with each new problem Watney's training, personality and creativity align to see him through, only to be foiled by another unforeseen circumstance a few pages later.

I won't venture any further into spoiler territory here, but I'll say that I found the ending somewhat predictable, and in the last third of the book the endless twists, turns and last-minute death-defying maneuvers get repetitive. But the final scene proves resonant and hopeful. I couldn't help but agree with Weir's sentiment that having someone like Watney to root for might prove a unifying experience for humanity. All in all, The Martian reads like what it professes to be, a space odyssey written by a self-proclaimed geek who takes obvious joy in puzzling out the improbable situation he's inserted his protagonist into. This one is highly recommended, especially for fans of sci-fi and speculative fiction.


Out of 10: 9

Read even more about The Martian: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | Wikipedia

Filed by Travis Fortney at 6:50 AM, April 3, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews | Travis Fortney |
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April 1, 2014

Book Review: "And the Dark Sacred Night" by Julia Glass

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

And the Dark Sacred Night, by Julia Glass

And the Dark Sacred Night
By Julia Glass
Pantheon
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar

I don't remember many details from Julia Glass's first novel, Three Junes, other than stumbling upon it that summer between high school and college when I only read books with award medallions emblazoned on their covers, finding justification for such a pretentious pursuit in my enjoyment of book. That same ease of getting lost in a story packed with likably intriguing personalities came screaming back after a couple dozen pages into Glass's fifth and most recent offering, And the Dark Sacred Night--a novel that, like the Louis Armstrong song from which it borrows a lyric to refurbish into a title, is unconventionally beautiful and just the right amount of earnest.

Glass returns to a handful of events and characters introduced in her debut novel, dipping into its material for a splash of background color in some places and smaller but crucial supporting detail in others, to spin a new yarn about the connectedness of people and the familial ties that alternately bind and throw out that last viable lifeline. Kit, an out-of-work husband and father, is not only in the throes of a mid-life crisis of crippling proportions but also pushing his wife, however unintentionally, to the limits of her patience. The only solution to Kit's inactivity, he and his wife, Sandra, agree, is to finally seek out the identity of and story behind the father he never knew, as Kit's mother, Daphne, has remained doggedly silent about her teenage lover who died in his 30s, more than 20 years removed from the book's present. Kit's efforts reconnect him with his first stepfather, the man who formally adopted Kit as a boy and with whom a teenage Kit lived well after his mother left, who puts him in contact with the paternal family he never knew existed.

Here, the rich backgrounds and layered stories that give each character dimension have also made each character palpable and engaging. These are everyday people with the kind of problems people face every day--making ends meet with dwindling resources, the slowly realized crisis of a faith that was once unshakable, the dawning of an augmented understanding of the self, aging parents and spouses, chronically underestimating the decency of which most people are capable--and who are forced to yield their secrets as others' unanswered questions become too much to bear. What's more, Glass's characters actually behave like adults, aware as they are that no two people want the same things or see the world the same way because every individual is a composite of their unique experiences and places, as well as the private details that add further duality to their personalities. The maturity with which Glass graces her characters allows for their adult dilemmas to be addressed in an adult manner, fostering an effective contrast between the teenage urgency and freedom that emanates from the flashbacks to Daphne's fateful summer at the music camp where Kit was conceived.

As Glass demonstrates her knack for believably and effectively linking people and events across time and connections, she twines them together to revelatory but largely positive effect: A book with a less optimistic regard for human nature wouldn't have allowed Kit to be so warmly welcomed by the grandparents and extended family he meets for the first time in his 40s, nor would his mother be so understanding (but forgivably reluctant) of Kit's need and right to discover his genealogical past for himself. But this isn't a novel that seeks external conflict to move its plot along so much as it demands that the personal growth of its characters develop the story. The recurring element of underestimating people only to be pleasantly surprised is evidence enough that this is a warm-hearted book, as is the way it embraces tragedy as one of the greatest unifiers among those touched by it.

Every good story needs some friction, though, and that which punctuates And the Dark Sacred Night is the novel-long query of conscious that weighs the benefits of lifting the veil of ignorance to gain a fuller understanding of one's self against its consequences, namely the risk that an escalating ripple effect could throw another's life in complete upheaval. But since there is no way to accurately compare what is with what could have been on account of the myriad unpredictable, unforeseeable variables of the roads not travelled, the limbo that comes from a lack of closure is deemed to be a far worse fate than the fleeting hell of slicing open old wounds and setting oneself for new ones. All anyone can do in an unpredictable world is take responsibility for their own happiness and find peace in knowing that any chance is taken with the best intentions.

And the Dark Sacred Night's many successes, unfortunately, do make its faltering missteps jarringly obvious. There is some heavy-handed drawing of parallels (a blizzard forces Kit to prolong the visit to his stepfather; later, when a hurricane similarly traps a house full of newly acquainted connections that share Kit's father as their common bond, it's a bit obvious that storms signal momentous occasions, diminishing the shock of the tragedy the latter sets up) and somewhat laboriously emphasized meanings, as if Glass doesn't always trust her audience to follow her implications. But such things are mostly innocuous grievances, as Glass deftly navigates her way through the most important instances of foreshadowing and symbols.

As a whole, Glass's newest novel is a largely successful one that, like its characters, is a bit uneven and imperfect but is buoyed by hopeful optimism that certainly deserves kudos for avoiding the kind of pat sentiment that is all too tempting to deploy when matters of the heart float so close to the surface.

Out of 10: 8.3

Read even more about And the Dark Sacred Night: Publisher's site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 9:30 AM, April 1, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Madeleine Maccar | Reviews |
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