My Year In Books: January

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This year I have read a lot of books. I was really quite pleased with my effort. Most of the things I’ve read have been pretty top notch, there’s been a lot of weird stuff, a ton of awesome stuff, and a lot of styles and genres I’ve never given much thought until this year. What I want to do here is list everything I’ve read and then say a little bit about it. Of course, the stuff I read around the start of the year, I’ll be a little fuzzy on, and even stuff I read a few months ago things can be a little unclear. Maybe I’m reading too much, but I’ll try my best to accurately recall my thoughts and opinions on each book. Now, I suggest getting comfortable, because this might take a while.

January:

1) The Flappy Parts, by Kevin L. Donihe.

Genre: Bizarro, flash fiction, poetry

Length: 113 pages

I love bizarro. And flash fiction. And poetry. So when I found out Kevin Donihe was putting out a book of collected flash fiction and poetry I knew I had to get my hands on it. Kevin’s a great author, really clever and inventive, and I think his ingenuity is particularly notable in this collection. At the time of reading this collection I was only just getting into bizarro. As of maybe two-three months prior. The first book I read by Kevin was Washermouth, and I was a big fan. I’ve still got to read more of his work, and I’ll probably do so over the Christmas holidays. What I love about Kevin is his strange and wonderful, and at times uncomfortable, ideas. There are plenty of those in this fantastic collection. Furthermore, Kevin is the editor of the New Bizarro Author Series, and all seven NBAS books that came out in November 2010 will appear further down this list.

2) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams.

Genre: Science fiction, comedy

Length: 200 pages

This is probably my least favourite book I’ve read all year. Now, if you love Douglas Adams, I’m thinking you’ll come to one of a couple of conclusions. That either; I clearly have poor taste, and therefore my list is misguided, or my opinion of the book is misguided, or; if this is my least favourite book, the rest of my list must be pretty damn awesome. Or you could just sit down, shut up, and let me tell you why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I should have. Maybe it’s because I watched the film first and thoroughly enjoyed that. Maybe because I read the first book and enjoyed it somewhat, only to find out that this book is the exact same style of humourous wordplay with much less substance keeping the story going. I felt the plot was too disconnected to follow and enjoy, and the humour that went with it, too, became a bit of a chore. I didn’t much care for the characters this time around. It felt like they were there to fuel the plot, which was only there to fuel the humourous wordplay. Maybe the other books are better, and yes, Adams is very clever with his wordplay, and he’s quite imaginative, but I felt that the poor fellow, god rest his soul, made a right mess of the Restaurant.

3) Blankety Blank, by D. Harlan Wilson.

Genre: Bizarro, irrealism, satirical memoir

Length: 183 pages

This book would be close to one of the best books I read this year. It’s really unusual. It takes reality to strange new places. Truth and lies blend into one superbly written ‘memoir’ about Blankety Blank, a serial killer in the suburbs. I used this for a case study at uni this year for an essay on postmodern representations of suburbia. The way it reaches out for those pure, idealistic 1950s suburban ideals, yet completely misinterprets them/bastardizes them, it led me to conclude that this book is about the death of suburbia in contemporary cultures. Examining the book in that context really opened it up to new perspectives for me. The first time I read it was just for the pure absurd fun of it. Sure, the warped consumerist undertones are there, but it wasn’t until I studied it at some level that I realised just how sophisticated and clever it was. I mean, I already knew it was brilliant and sophisticated and clever, but it is fantastically beyond just about everything else I’ve read this year. It is not just a bizarro book, it is an ultraviolent parody of the American Dream, something that people seem desperate to hold on to, but realistically, they never will.

4) Starfish Girl, by Athena Villaverde.

Genre: Bizarro

Length: 141 pages

Starfish Girl is just adorable. In only the way that bizarro can be considered adorable. Well, even then, it’s got that angle to it that if it weren’t for those couple of quite graphic scenes it could probably work as a kids novel. It’s got that fantasy spectacle about it that is so sweetly captivating. And it’s Athena Villaverde’s first novel. It’s charmingly bizarro, treading the line between cuteness and weirdness. The world of Starfish Girl is brilliant. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

5) Zombies and Shit, by Carlton Mellick III.

Genre: Bizarro, zombie

Length: 288 pages

Ah, Carlton Mellick… My introduction to bizarro was through a short story of his called “Candy Coated”, about a manly man called Knob, who had a lollipop for a head. Mellick knows how to tell a good story. He knows how to tell weird stories in interesting ways that don’t feel like gimmicks. Zombies and Shit is a zombie novel. One of many zombie novels coming out recently. But I’m sure the others aren’t anything like this. First off, it’s about a reality show that’s set up to be a sort of “Battle Royale” set in a zombie apocalypse. Then there’s the social class differences in the post-apocalyptic culture. Then there’s the zombie apocalypse back story. Then there’s the zombie fetish porn. It’s incredibly brutal. I was really disgusted at several points during the book. But it’s just so batshit insane, from the ridiculously outlandish concept, Mellick carves a really distinct, unique zombie story. Highly engaging. It won’t disappoint zombie fans or bizarro fans, or the gore addicts who just love some really crazy, crazy shit.

6) Fistful of Feet, by Jordan Krall.

Genre: Bizarro, weird western

Length: 210 pages

I have a… what you’d call a “love/hate” relationship with Jordan Krall’s books. Hate’s probably too strong a word for it. It’s more of a love/dislike, or love/disturbed relationship. As with Zombies and Shit, and the whole zombie fetish porn stuff, I’m not big on bizarro fetish writing. For me, this awkwardness with Krall’s writing started with a urine fetish and something to do with dead babies in King Scratch. Some people love that book. I didn’t. I’ve told Jordan this, as he was one of the first authors I got into when reading bizarro. I feel like I owe it to him to be totally honest with what I think of his work. Fistful of Feet is a love book for me. It’s a weird western. It’s one of the books that inspired me to write my own bizarro space western. I loved Squid Pulp Blues for its noir aesthetics, its style, and Fistful of Feet takes that style to the wild, weird west. Yes, there are some pretty fucked up fetishes here. But they didn’t gross me out or intrude on the narrative. It’s got a lot of tropes and such from classic spaghetti westerns and such, and while I’m not as plugged into the western genre as Krall is, those aesthetics really shine through and give the book an awesome cult western vibe. Also, Krall is one of the best writers I know at making asshole characters. This book is full of assholes.

7) Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance, by D. Harlan Wilson.

Genre: Bizarro, irrealism

Length: 105 pages

After Blankety Blank, I had to read more of this guy, just to be sure his brilliance wasn’t a one-off thing. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t yet seen a Sam Peckinpah film, as much as I want to. However, I could still make enough sense of the book without being overly familiar with his work. The book is short. The chapters are short. And while it doesn’t feel as intricate or as clever as Blankety Blank, it’s still a fantastic book. It’s filled with scenes that are at times ultraviolent, surreal, strangely awkward, absurdly exaggerated, and occasionally filmic. And it’s got illustrations. Flicking through the book just now, I came across a page that had something startlingly appropriate written on it. “It was as comical as it was dead serious.” It’s pretty fucking awesome. I love the way D. Harlan Wilson writes books.

8) The Egg Man, by Carlton Mellick III.

Genre: Bizarro

Length: 168 pages

I think this is one of Carlton Mellick’s favourite of his books. It’s probably one of my favourites too. Where his other books are mostly just weird in creative and interesting ways, this book takes his creative and interesting weirdness to staggering heights, completely reconstructing how people perceive the world around them. People are tuned in to their senses in different ways and some people are born better off than others. It’s a narrative that acknowledges some of the worst aspects of contemporary cultures, and it attempts to prove that what you’re born as and who you are can be two different things, and the person who has control over that is you. Of course, this is a bleak dystopian narrative and it’s not all that fluffy and nice, but it certainly shows an ugly aspect of society that can only improve through change. And the guys that have the power to change are the ones that benefit most from the way things are. It’s been a while since I read it, so I can’t remember the details, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I remember it was pretty amazing stuff.

9) Night of the Assholes, by Kevin L. Donihe.

Genre: Bizarro, zombie

Length: 175 pages

This book is sort of like the reverse of Zombies and Shit. Where Mellick’s book is a Battle Royale narrative with zombies, Kevin Donihe’s book is a zombie narrative with assholes. Instead of zombies. So it’s not really about zombies. In Night of the Assholes, Kevin reworks the zombie apocalypse into something that’s altogether more relatable. People acting like assholes, and that rude, boorish behaviour catching on. It’s delightfully decadent, as the main characters try to avoid the assholes in ways that mimic the zombie apocalypse, as the last thing they want to do is turn into an asshole. Well, the genius part of the book is that people turn into assholes by being assholes to assholes. It’s a vicious and ugly cycle. The only way to make them stop being assholes is to kill them by ramming a pole up their *ahem*, take a guess… It’s clever and entertaining, a wicked parody of the zombie genre.

10) Muscle Memory, by Steve Lowe.

Genre: Bizarro (New Bizarro Author Series)

Length: 62 pages

This was the first book I read from Eraserhead Press’s New Bizarro Author Series. The books come out each year in November, at BizarroCon, and this (2010) was the second year of the NBAS. Basically, it’s for previously unpublished authors to get their first book in print (a novella or short collection, usually under 100 pages). If their books sell well (the target is 200 in a year), they may end up with a book contract with Eraserhead Press. Steve Lowe got the contract. And not only was this the first NBAS book I read, Steve was the first of the New Bizarro Authors I communicated with. And while this isn’t my favourite book of the 2010 NBAS, it is pretty awesome, and Steve is a great guy. And Muscle Memory is a brilliant body-switching story. It’s not just two people hilariously switching bodies, it’s the whole neighbourhood. And to get a feel for it, here’s  how the blurb begins: “Billy Gillespie wakes up one morning to discover his junk is gone. In its place is his wife’s junk. Billy is now Tina, and Tina is dead. That’s because Billy’s dead.” This isn’t your ordinary body switching narrative. And that’s without getting into the conspiracy theories and shady government business part of the plot. Needless to say, I’m eager to see what Steve comes up with next.

11) Bucket of Face, by Eric Hendrixson.

Genre: Bizarro (New Bizarro Author Series)

Length: 92 pages

This is number two of the seven 2010 NBAS titles. Bucket of Face is a gritty crime pulp novel with extra pulp. Because it’s got fruit people doing mafia business in low-key doughnut shops. But it’s also about a secret (i.e. genius) aspect to Michael Jackson’s life. When a deal goes wrong in an aforementioned doughnut shop, an average doughnut shop employee is thrown into a strange underworld. There’s a dead apple, a dead banana, a briefcase of money, and a bucket of faces. He’s being hunted by a tomato hitman and he wants to leave town with his kiwi fruit girlfriend. This isn’t my favourite NBAS book either, but as I read more of these books I came to realise they’re all pretty awesome in their own right. Kevin Donihe edited these book, and I got the impression he really knew what he was doing. As for the authors? They definitely know what they’re doing too. This book is really entertaining, really well thought out. It’s got style and pace and imagination.

12) The Egg Said Nothing, by Caris O’Malley.

Genre: Bizarro (New Bizarro Author Series)

Length: 84 pages

Now, this book. This, NBAS #3 for me. This is one of my favourites. I’ve got two favourites. This is one of them. I love this book. Caris O’Malley knocked my socks off with this one. Then knocked my teeth in. With a shovel. The Egg Said Nothing is a nightmarishly ultraviolent romance time-travel insane book thing that is not so much outwardly weird as it is psychotically fucked up. It gets in your head and doesn’t let up. When I first read it, it felt like what I’d expect to read if Chuck Palahniuk started out with bizarro instead of all of that Fight Club stuff. I guess it’s not all that different. Caris certainly packs a lot of solid punches. I’m really keen to see what he comes up with next. Brilliant.

Pick of the Month: Blankety Blank

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