Friday, December 28, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Original Tuesday

The meteor shower began Tuesday and ran into August. Isaiah only noticed them on his morning drive to work, with his left arm propped in the window, rolled down to enjoy the blow-by breeze. A shooting star cut his arm quite severely and he needed two band-aids once he got into the office.

Every morning the shooting stars found ways to cut Isaiah. They sliced his neck and gashed his brain. Soon he couldn’t type because of the bandage around his right hand. He wound up leaving the band-aids over his eyebrows because, even if they’d healed, the sting of removing tape from the fine hairs was too much for him.

Soon. Soon his office mates mocked his plethora of band-aids and gauze, and the special glasses needed to correct his vision after one comet collided with his eye. Some doubted his stories. No one else saw the meteor showers, but no one needs to see you cut in order for you to bleed. This, Isaiah learned.

There was a comfort to his adhesive, self-healing armor, and once Isaiah thought about it that way, he didn’t see why everyone didn’t want adhesive, self-healing armor. He replaced his socks with fresh gauze, and tailored shirts of hospital linens, and whenever he spilled something on himself he merely applied antiseptic and dressed the emergent area, and would then go back to eating his meatball sub and reading about the rites of mummification.

One Tuesday (after the original Tuesday), Isaiah removed his brain using a chopstick and a dental pick. Immediately nagging thoughts ceased to worry him. No longer was he affected by the peer pressure, or the second-guessing of his father, or by upcoming elections. Somehow it was only after pulling his amygdala out through his nose that Isaiah realized there had always been upcoming elections, and would always be upcoming elections, and no matter the result, he’d never been too satisfied with them, and so he would return to calculating obscene equations and reading about the lovers of pharaohs.

That was, no doubt, what made Isaiah remove his heart. It was easier than the brain on account of the passages between his ribs being more plentiful and generally broader than his nostrils. No sooner did he remove his heart then he found it much easier to talk around women. The ancient Egyptians did not believe the heart to be the seat of lust, but they were all dead, being ancient. This was another revelation he’d experienced since removing his brain, and he enjoyed explaining these things to the many women he met as they sheltered from meteor showers.

Women found him exceedingly clever these new Tuesdays. No other man had thought to bring a star-proof umbrella to the office, and so every lunch break he had his own personal harem clustered around him, at least until they made it to the deli. Then his harem scattered and took numbered tickets. It felt nice to be so popular.

Being so popular, Isaiah took more risks. He donated all his blood at a local drive, and several more organs for kids who needed transplants. He didn’t understand why people would want still more organs, but if so, then fine, have both of his kidneys, and both of his lungs, and all of the bone marrow you can eat, little medicinal vampires. He soon forgot why people wanted these things at all, and read long into the night of his occult texts to decipher why, and failed to decipher it, and decided their words had become deceiving because he tended to read them by the light of the meteor shower. There were no other lights these Tuesdays.

He came in second in the office footrace. He took a pottery class and sculpted himself a new face to wear over all his band-aids. One time his heel snagged on a sewer grate and his bandages unraveled until there was nothing left of him. Isaiah balled himself up and forced himself to go to work. He was out of sick days, and he thought the vampire in Accounting fancied him. He wondered if he might offer himself to wrap around her for when the months turned cold.

Then came August.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: I hope my death inconveniences people.

"It was only this morning that I realized. I always thought I was more easy-going, just bury me and chat, think about the good times, and please God, let someone tell a joke during a eulogy. If you’ve ever been at a funeral, you know jokes during eulogies are the greatest public service west of clean water.

"But I was driving down the turnpike to work, and it kind of bubbled up in me. I wasn’t behind a funeral procession or anything. The morning was orange, and I was tired as every day I ever drove into the station. It simply stirred up in me.

"I hope my death inconveniences people. Not necessarily that an aneurysm makes me plow my pick-up into a fruit stand, but my family. I feel I’ve put enough hours into my life that I deserve to really shake up the people I leave behind. Let them cry and gnash their teeth and feel uncertain how the world will be without me. Not me to contribute to the household budget, or shovel the driveway, you see, but the uncountable, unquantifiable shitstorm that is the loss of a guy who worked really fucking hard and deserved you to feel like hell now that he’s gone.

"Never realized how badly I wanted to be mourned. Kind of fucked up."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Welcome to Best Reads 2012! If you've got a list of your own on a blog or tumblr, give us a link in the comments and I'll add you to this post.

This was a great year for my reading. My New Years Resolution was actually useful for once: to give up on books that made no engaging impression. I read some things that infuriated me, or non-fiction that I strongly disagreed with, but that’s good for me. What I didn’t do was wade through 600-page tomes of sloppy prose and stale characterization. That let me blaze through more inspiring books this year than in any recently remembered one. I actually ran into a problem mid-summer where I’d read so much fiction of incredible quality that merely good fiction few too unambitious and made poor impressions on me. That’s an unusual problem for me.

And so I’m very happy to run a list of those books that shook me up the strongest this year. These are my favorites. There’s no order to the list because I wouldn’t even say most are better than each other – they’ve different, with different appeals and strengths that don’t compare easily. Fantasy, SciFi, YA, comic books, literary fiction, classics, bestsellers… it’s been a good 2012 for reading.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
The most ambitious success I’ve read all year. It begins with a dynamite premise: in the far future, a space colony is ruled by a caste of humans who have deified themselves by hording the only technology from the old world, living as Hindu gods in hedonism over a superstitious world. To embrace this rich concept, Zelazny leaps from style to style, his intros written like holy sutras and poems, some chapters done in punk or pulp narration, some in the style of religious retrospect, a seduction in monologue, then omniscient narration of a god turned predatory animal. One chapter features a dozen ellipses and paradoxes; the next ten don’t have a single one.

Beyond the success of seamless style adoption, Lord of Light also has the utmost faith in its readers. That premise of false gods? We don’t even know what they really are until deep into the novel, up which they might be real gods, or this might be a surreal fantasy.Halfway through you won’t even be thinking about the things you’ve figured out that the text hasn’t said, but has presented so many gaps that you’ve filled in. The ending is the greatest achievement, because there are at least two gigantic secrets on the final page that Zelazny never tips his hat about, but if you’ve been paying attention to their technology works, will rock you back in your seat. We’ve all seen twist endings. Precious few writers leave so many secret twists for you to find if you’re thinking.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
I dearly wish I’d grown up with this, because if you gave me Ged’s story at the same time as Bilbo’s, I might cherish them equally. It’s beyond succinct – it’s almost a true “good parts” version of an adventure story. Not too much time in Wizard School, not too much exposition on anything, with highly invested and personal stakes that take us around an incredible archipelago. It’s only a shame the later books in the trilogy didn’t land for me. I respect LeGuin writing them in different styles and taking them in different directions, but it was only this story that got me. It reads like it’s made only from 100% premium ingredients. And that dragon showdown?

Let the Right One In by John Avidge Lindqvist
As I said on the Halloween episode of Consumed, take whatever version of this you want. The Swedish move features some of the best child acting I’ve ever seen, Let Me in is a high-end remake, and the novel is the most robust version of all of them. It’s equal parts classic monsters (vampires and ghouls need their prey) and familiar monsters (child prostitution, bullies going too far), without choosing one as better or easier. The true achievement is that in an excessive harmful world, finding a kindred spirit validates continuing to live. It’s not a mere love story between two kids, but a story of two kids who are everything to each other: playmate, philosopher, leader, hero, boyfriend, distraction, confidant, and most crucial to the childhood experience, personal enigma.

Akin to Lord of Light, it also deserves a shout-out for its ending. In this case it’s because, four hundred pages in, there were still at least five different ways I could see the book ending. It doesn’t build up a solitary resolution; there are so many messy parts that can collide. What’s delivered is the best kind of ending: the one that is fitting to the characters.

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore
It seems like I always have a comic book on my list, but that’s because geniuses are attracted to the art form. Randall Nichols sent me this for Christmas two years ago, I believe in an attempt to embarrass me in front of my family when I unwrapped it and they all saw the sexy cover.

It may be the first Romantic-type work to make my #bestreads list, though according to conservative definitions, it’s not a Romance. Love is a prime motivation for most of the characters, such that the story is really about what this emotion does to people who can’t effectively approach or change each other. Love for a dying friend, love for a friend who can’t reciprocate, love you don’t understand – all told idiosyncratically, and as affecting when it’s funny as when it’s defeated.

Among Others by Jo Walton
In the Hugos this year, I actually voted for China Mieville’s Embassytown, yet Among Others is the contestant that’s stuck with me the longest. Based largely on Walton’s own childhood, the novel is the diary of a troubled girl. Something – we’ll find out what – severely hurt her leg, killed her sister, and caused her to be taken away from her mother’s custody. Yet as maudlin as some entries are, others are flighty in exactly the way teens actually are: naively judgmental, ignorant in the way of someone who never gets to talk to other people about sex or drugs or culture, flipping between enormous topics with only passing interest.

And then there’s the layer of her claiming to see fairies and know magic. She could be in a Fantasy world that no one else knows about, or crazy (we suspect her mother is, if she isn’t an evil witch), or a helpless teen mythologizing her own life to make it more livable. Her voice is so artless that figuring out the truth is slippery, right up into the end.

Embassytown by China Mieville
I’ll stand by Embassytown, though. It’s perilous SciFi, the kind of gutsy stuff precious few writers will even try. In a pocket of subspace, humanity has met and ghettoized an alien species that is truly unlike us. They speak from more than one mouth, they modify intent through external organs, and they have no capacity to fabricate – they can’t lie or even construct fiction, and host contests for who can get the closest to saying an untruth.

It’s Mieville, though, so it isn’t about bad-bad humans and goody-good aliens morally shaming us. Rather that alien culture is dangerous and has its own troubled histories, and we colonists are an external force driving social change. There’s a lot of Marxist stuff packed into the novel’s cheeks, but again, it’s Mieville. His language penchant for atypical characterization make even the most didactic passages worth studying.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Marketed as “The Secular Rapture,” Perrotta presents a world where one day, millions of people have simply vanished. No apparent cause is ever discovered, and there’s no commonality between the victims. The novel is about dealing with loss, and we watch a cult rise, a family fall apart, a man turn into a drifter, and a mother turn into a walking ghost. Unlike 9/11, this is something we can’t punish anyone for or beat. The event is a crucible, resonating with the many ways in which humans lose, and the many ways loss affects us. It has a bit of a Mitch Albom ending, but I hardly minded. Perrotta had certainly earned it.

Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The only author on the list that I actually met this year, and a very nice one. I would not have expected a friendly volunteer firefighter to have written this incredibly cynical novel about a hundred thieves and politicians backstabbing each other, but I’m glad he did, because Lynch has an incredible balance of wit and world. He pulled off flashbacks that I actually liked, for crying out loud. It’s easily one of my favorite recently-published Fantasy novels, and one of the strongest debut novels I’ve read in at least a decade. It even possesses strengths of picaresque, so often being about specific cons or ploys that only mushroom into something bigger later.

It’s the road novel without the road, but with mob bosses who raise sharks and dump their enemies in kegs of horse urine. And yet, for all its incredible (and sometimes, incredulous) cynicism, my favorite scene is a precious moment where two vagabond boys you expected to enter a blood feud give each other peace offerings and try to talk out why they don’t understand each other. How come mediation only showed up in one of the darker Fantasies I read this year?

More Best Reads!

Katherine Hajer
2. Cindy Vaskova

14. Alexia


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Book Reveal: David's Christmas Present

So yesterday we played the annual Bathroom Monologues Christmas game. I set up a word puzzle, this time being sixteen clues to the twelve letters in a book title. Four clues were red herrings. We had a few players on the blog as well as a few more on Facebook and Twitter, but no one got it this year before my brother - which is fair, since it was the title of his Christmas present. Some people, Richard Bon in particular, got very close. Let's go down the rabbit hole on the answer.

1. It's on the tip of your tongue. It's also in it.
-The letter 'T,' which Elephant's Child guessed. You move the tip of your tongue to pronounce the 'T' in 'tip,' and it's one of the letters in the word 'tongue.'

2. There are four red herrings in this puzzle - letters that don't belong. This is one of them.
-So naturally, this isn't a letter.

3. This letter is something two Christian afterlives have in common.
-Either the 'H' or the 'E' common in both 'Heaven' and 'Hell.' In this case, it's the 'H.'

4. The 1st, 4th, 5th and 7th presidents of the United States all had this letter in common - on a personal basis.
-'George,' 'James,' 'James' and 'Andrew' all have one letter in common: 'E'.

5. If #4 is a red herring, then this letter is one of the three initials from the document that severed the colonies' ties to Britain.
-This is just a red herring, but it would have been 'D,' 'O' or 'I' - the famous Declaration of Independence.

6. Commonly used to freeze things, but you have to keep it under high pressure.
-There are a few plausible answers, but the one in mind is liquid nitrogen. Nitrogen has a single-letter periodic abbreviation: 'N.'

7. This is a letter that occurs more than once in the phrase "red herring."
-Either 'R' or 'E.' This isn't a red herring, and our letter of choice is 'E.'

8. If #7 is a red herring, this is the only vowel in a certain form of precipitation. Do we have any today?
-It's winter in New York, so it would probably be 'snow' or 'sleet,' and thus, probably either 'O' or 'E.' It's the most obvious answer: 'O.'

9. What marks the spot?
It would have been 'X,' but this is a red herring. That's our third red herring.

10. Vote yay or nay.
'Y' or 'N,' the most obvious, right? And now we know it's 'N,' giving us the word 'Neon.' Maybe I'm being too cheeky.

11. Honey producing insect.
-A 'bee,'  or, 'B.' Richard Bon tore up a lot of this list last night, and nailed all of the final five letters to figure out it'd be 'Bible.'

12. Four Romans get drunk at a bar. Three get kicked out. Who's left?
-The punniest: four minus three is one, and in Roman numerals, that's 'I.'

13. If #12 is a red herring, then this is the first letter of the northmost country in Africa.
 -Did you think it was Morocco? Algeria? Tunisia? Actually a red herring in itself, but our final red herring.

14. The only letter used twice in the one-word title of the bestselling book of all time.
-Everyone got this one. It's 'B,' from 'Bible.' While some of you would call up a double 'L' or 'E' from 'The Holy Bible,' I knew David wouldn't, particularly since the final word of the secret book's title is becoming obvious by this point.

15 The only consonant used twice in the name of an animal famous for spitting.
-'Llama' gives us 'L.'

16.  Once you use it here, this letter will be the most common one in this title
-'B' and 'E' appeared twice so far, but 'B' doesn't make so much sense here, does it?

Leaving us with John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible.

The clues you couldn't have known are that my brother loved John Kennedy Toole's other novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, and while we were painting the house earlier this year said he wanted to read what else Toole had written before his death. But you were on relatively similar footing, since he forgot he said that to me. He always forgets when he mentions books like that. It's how I know what to pick.

Thanks to everyone for playing!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Can You Figure Out What's In This Present?

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is my present to my brother. He's a pathological poke-and-shaker; he loves figuring out what all his presents are before he opens them. And so every year I get him a physical book, something he can't identify from its shape under the wrapping paper, and with it comes a series of clues as to who the author or what the title is.

In recent years I've shared the clues here on the blog. I'd like to invite you all: answer as many of the clues as you can in the comments, and see if together you can't figure out his gift before he does.

Don't be shy, even if you only know one answer, because that could solve the puzzle for the group. Check back every so often to see if others have gotten further ahead. It's a tricky one in this year. There are four "red herrings" - letters that aren't really in the title of the book, which you'll knock off as you get closer.

1. It's on the tip of your tongue. It's also in it.

2. There are four red herrings in this puzzle - letters that don't belong. This is one of them.

3. This letter is something two Christian afterlives have in common.

4. The 1st, 4th, 5th and 7th presidents of the United States all had this letter in common - on a personal basis.

5. If #4 is a red herring, then this letter is one of the three initials from the document that severed the colonies' ties to Britain.

6. Commonly used to freeze things, but you have to keep it under high pressure.

7. This is a letter that occurs more than once in the phrase "red herring."

8. If #7 is a red herring, this is the only vowel in a certain form of precipitation. Do we have any today?

9. What marks the spot?

10. Vote yay or nay.

11. Honey producing insect.

12. Four Romans get drunk at a bar. Three get kicked out. Who's left?

13. If #12 is a red herring, then this is the first letter of the northmost country in Africa.

14. The only letter used twice in the title of the bestselling book of all time.

15 The only consonant used twice in the name of an animal famous for spitting.

16.  Once you use it here, this letter will be the most common one in this title.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I won a Liebster Award!

I was surprised recently when Mark Beyer gifted me this Liebster Award for blogging. Is another blog game with a few simple rules:

1. You post 11 random facts about yourself.
2. Answer the 11 questions your presenter gave you.
3. You pass the award on to 11 other bloggers.
4. Compose 11 new questions for your recipients.

I’d like to thank Mark for a most unexpected gift. Now, given that I just did a random facts game this month, I’m going to skip that feature and go straight to the interview. If you’re dying for more information about me you can read that, or follow me on Twitter. Many random facts appear on there.

On to Mark’s questions!

  1. Do you have a favorite blog-post title you came up with?
    It may be for a story post that I’m holding off until 2013: “The Only Thing Worse Is The Cure.” Positively smitten with that title.
2. Which is your preference, Books or Movies?
Different media for different moods. Sometimes I want to re-read Jurassic Park, sometimes I want to re-watch it. Sometimes I crave to go sit in a theatre, or fire up Netflix, and sometimes I want nothing more than to hike down to the lake and read, you know?

3. What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
Sudoku, the ending was so obvious that it was insulting. Really, what would this mean? I know immediately after a bad experience with a book I may think “This is the worst ever,” but I don’t believe in quantitative assessment to this degree. Books can fail in too many ways, and then have the audacity to succeed for anyone else. If you want your mind to boil over at disparity, just follow a Twilight hashtag for an hour.

4. What 3 books would you want with you on a desert island?
A 4G MacBook to e-mail for help, and then whatever two books are on the top of my reading pile to tide me over until the Navy arrives. Right now that would be Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons.

5. How would your life change significantly if there were no computers?
Computers store all the information on my health and medication, and with my health, there’s a decent chance I’d be dead after a bit. Also with all the failing computers ending internet and cell phone communication, the riots would get pretty bad. No stop lights. No flights. Most cars have chips in them, so lots of accidents. Plus I’d lose this computer with all my writing on it, which might send me out for a deliberate car accident. To have loved and lost computers would be worse than to have never known them at all.

6. How much sleep do you need overnight?
8-10 hours depending on how badly the syndrome is hitting me. My body goes into heavy repairs at random.

7. What’s the last thing you made?
A mistake. I’m great at making those, especially when I like someone.

8. Hold your breath for as long as possible and time yourself. What’s the result?
I used to play this as a kid, and I’m be punching at the air and squeezing my nose to make it to sixty seconds. I made it to sixty-four while typing answers to the rest of this. Asthma can suck it.

9. What’s the average (guesstimating) length of your blog posts?
Under 1,000 words. It varies wildly – I did a weekly Monster Haiku feature for a while, and my #fridayflash bounce for length weekly. If I routinely went over 1,000, I don’t think I’d be nearly as far along on my novels.

10. What are you going to have for lunch tomorrow?
With family arriving for the holidays all throughout the day, I’m hoping we get lazy and do tacos. Something on the stove for everyone who walks in. This reminds me to check if we have any shells.

11. What art do you have on your walls?
None. I used to decorate my walls as a kid, and was very into comic book posters in my teens. As an old man, it’s not really my style. I have a bookshelf and a mirror. My grandparents once tried to get me to adopt a giant photo of Bobby and John Kennedy, but it looked too morbid. I bring the morbidity whenever my room needs it.

There we go! But before we depart, I’d like to pass this quiz on to a few people:

I think they’ll have some fun with my questions. And those questions? Why, they’re right here:

1. If you were given sheltered time tonight to watch any one movie, during which no one would walk in, call, or text to bother you, what would you pick?

2. What’s the last book that left you envying the writer?

3. What did you envy about that book?

4. What’s your favorite phone call that you’ve ever received?

5. What is the most recent food you couldn’t resist?

6. What is the sickest burn anyone has ever laid on you?

7. What is the sickest burn you’ve ever laid on someone else?

8. Has there ever been an instance where it felt like any media had made you more violent? Can you recall an instance?

9. Has there ever been an instance where it felt like any media had made you kinder? Can you recall an instance?

10. You’ve got a friend named ‘John’ who tends to listen to musicians one song at a time, and dislikes albums. You’ve got a band you want him to try. What song do you recommend first?

11. The ghost of a loved one is going to try to communicate with you through a car stereo. It’s all that was available at the time, don’t judge. You don’t have to tell us who it is or what they wanted to say, but you do have to tell us what the song would be.

And there we go! Please link me back here once you answer, folks - I'm pretty sure this will be entertaining.
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