29 Books That Kept Me Going

Books I Read in 2018 on 29 Years of Living

More than any year past, I passed my time reading. When I felt helpless about the state of my life and the world, I read. When I needed to be reminded about why I write, I read. I read poetry just as soon as I wake up, I read non-fiction academic texts during the day, and I read prose in the evening. On Tuesdays I read for two hours at a local bar, reveling in the ambient sounds of people chatting. Sometimes I felt guilty for having dedicated so much of my time to reading and not to making more of my own work. Sometimes reading allowed me to avoid addressing problems directly, a distraction tactic with the distinction of being considered productive and intellectual although at this point I don’t believe that myself.

In commemoration of my 29th year alive (grateful to be alive!!!), I am sharing 29 books I read this year that resonated with me, books that gave me opportunities where I loved humanity, borscht, and hot hot heat simultaneously or honed in on how deeply flawed and compassionate humans can be in the same body. Reading these books reoriented me again and again away from despair, sometimes metabolizing the despair just enough to eke out another week and at other times transfiguring a feeling that unstops a lifelong blockage.

I am grateful to those who share their work through comics, poetry and prose, and equally grateful for the people that provide writers, poets, and comics makers the space and time to create these works.The affordance of being able to create art is something that many are deprived the opportunity of, and I hope that in the next year the people I get to read will be among those historically deprived of the time and space to imagine in text the future worlds necessary to save ourselves from impending doom.


I created a few rules for selecting pieces to make the list cover a wide spread of the types of pieces I’ve been reading as well as to prevent this list from privileging books I most recently read. In addition to these rules, I wanted to feature work from comics, poetry and what I’m throwing into the untidy category of prose.

At least 7 are not by authors based in the US

At least 7 came out in the past year

At least 15 have to be by contemporary authors

At least 7 have to be released prior to the 21st century

(In order of earliest to most recently read)

Moon Bath by Yanick Lahens, translated by Emily Gogolakcover to Moonbath by Yanick Lahens, two sea blue hands below a white circle with the title and author name. Red spikes from the bottom corners to center make up the bottom half. , January 7-January 10

“She could have listened for hours to this speech pulled from the thickness of the days. Because the time spent talking like this isn’t time, it’s light. The time spent talking like this, it’s water washing the soul, the ‘bon ange’.” (40, Lahens trans Gogolak).

My nephew and I waited for his mom in a low lit room. He looked for a good time then gave up and joined me. We read a few pages.

I’m Not Here by GG, March 11

cover of I'm not Here. portrait of someone with long black hair bisected with the left side hair up and the right side turned upside down hair down. light pink background and the title in darker pink over the hair.

in a Polish Hill bar right after acquiring at Copacetic comics. Had first pierogies of life, ate fancier perogies later. Life felt good reading next to someone I love.

comic page from I'm Not Here. Three panels cut horizontally. First panel a pair of hands cuts into an avocado. Second panel the pair of hands separates the avocado. Third panel zooms out to reveal a person in a white shirt, and black pants standing at a kitchen counter.

The Power by Naomi Alderman, March 11-March 15cover of the Power by Naomi Alderman. A black palm on an orange background. White veins courses through the palms.

Read throughout Pittsburgh. Once, for hours in a room half-occupied by a future bathroom. Last time I read that long hiding in a tent from a tornado in Virginia.






Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angelica Villareal

cover to Beast Meridiam. A portrait of someone in grey and black is on the right. the left third is made up of a night sky and trees.

From review “This is a fucking stunning collection that really broke open language to me in a new way. Seriously. Get your eyes and heart on thus asap”






from ‘Guadalupe, Star-Horned Taurus’

What you will say in my memory: that my serenity. That my

softness. That my skirt is the sky pattern. That the cedars kneel for

my passage. That my laugh was kind. That your feet carry my body.

That I am the helix the roses climb. That the illness spreads north

as we cross. That these are the end days. That heaven groans blood.

That I have scienced the stones into a circle. That they speak of

failure. My daughters.


Agony in the garden.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, April 17- June 11

None of my notebooks mention this book at all even though I loved almost every story, but my notes do show that I made a flan and ate curds.







What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg (Goodreads Author), Fiona Smyth (Illustrator), June 19a yellow cartoon sperm and a blue ovary streatch out their arms in each other's direction. 'What Makes A Baby' in several colors over a purple striped background.

Was deeply moved seeing someone approach discussing sex to children in a way that does not privilege any particular form of how a baby gets made. Cute drawings throughout




The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish, June 21 Tommi-Parrish-The-Lie-And-How-We-Told-It_n6ly-3n-650x899

From review “the bodies in this comic feel dense with history and their movements carry weight in every flourish..Parrish celebrates the body often found revolting to other contemporary comics creators.”





Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen, June 18-June 21Screen_Shot_2017-12-19_at_4.26.04_PM

Why Art? By Eleanor Davis, June 30


From “A Conversation with Eleanor Davis BY JILLIAN TAMAKI”

“Q. What does that “care” look like?
A. (Eleanor Davis) Caring for other artists is, for me, recommending new people to ADs, demanding less fucked-up lineups in panels and anthologies, asking for better pay & contracts, and signal-boosting work I like. And I try to write the folks I see at shows and events and things, check out their work & then say howdy. But political work is also lifting and care. People need health insurance. Every human being deserves a living wage, to be taken care of when we get old, to be supported when we have kids, to have equal access to education, to have clean water to drink and air to breath, to have safe homes to live in. We deserve to have autonomy over our lives and bodies and to not be terrorized by war or police or ICE. And on and on and on. None of those things will happen by donating to one another’s GoFundMes, or by being “nice.” If we want everyone to be cared for, if we want a just society, it’s too big of a job for us as individuals – we need political power. We need to build systems that take care of everybody. That larger goal would benefit everyone, including the comics and illustration community.

It makes me kind of bonkers when people say “Oh, it’s so tragic that this great artist died unsupported and in poverty” like that’s worse than when all the other unsupported impoverished people die. I don’t feel any more obligation to my community of artists than I do to anyone else. I just have more ability to directly advocate here.”

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey, June 27- June 30



From my review “Sealey deftly exposes unending selves without every feeling as if we’re staring at wounds in a voyeuristic way. read it if you think you might love things i love.”

Body Music by Julie Maroh, translated David Homel, July 2 978-1-55152-692-8_BodyMusic

People loving across vignettes. Read this on a university couch after a swim. Felt good for one of the characters who’d just asked to be a partner to a couple.






Green Lantern: Earth One, Volume 1 by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Sara Bechko, July 4-5

From Goodreads review “… this is more sci-fi than superhero…Does an amazing job exploring the role of Green Lanterns, and the fascism underlying a group of technocrats ‘bringing order’ to the universe.”




Anybody by Ari Banias, July 1-July 13


from ‘Being With You Makes Me Think About’


“We is something like a cloud. How big, how thick,

its shape – ambiguous. We is moving across

a magnificent sky. We see the sky all around us but

also we can look down at our own hands.

A cloud is a changing thing. Sometimes we are an animal

smiling, clawing at something

not there. Other times we spread out so thin we almost

don’t exist. We are thickening just now. A sea of slow

knitting. And soon it will rain, and we

will be down in the grass again. A blade of grass gets thirsty;

it’s nice to think we could quench that…”

An early writing teacher Laura Eve Engel shared this one. Loved it, Laura Eve! Engel’s first book Things That Go just came in the mail and am reading now.

R E D by Chase Berggrun, July 23-July 25

a section From ‘Chapter VIII’

“I don’t want to talk of infinitesimal distinctions

between man and man see no difference between men and maidens

I am the modern Morpheus
I made the minutes disappear
I am thin
an errant swarm of bees
a naked lunatic
a tiger
immensely strong
a wild beast
a paroxysm of rage

The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle, July 26-27


My roommates let me read ‘Soup is One Form of Salt Water’ before we had a summer meal. These poems make me feel my most maniacal, grounded and lovely.





By This You Shall Know Him by Jesse Jacobs, August 7

From my review: My new favorite creation story. A comic that imagines the celestial beings that created all life in the known universe are petty af despite their longevity and cosmic abilities.



The Verging Cities by Natalie Scenters-Zapico, August 16-17

Halfway through the Sealey Challenge (an invitation by Nicole Sealey to read 31 poetry books in August) when I read this. I fluttered through these pages at a clip demanding revisitation.




Five hundred feet away in Juarez. the maquilas

run all night. In EI Paso, we share the same 110

degrees. Angel takes his clothes off and says:


The swamp cooler must be broken. Heat submerges

each building under an ocean thousands of years old.

Heat so thick I wonder what It is to be clean. I swat

but Angel’s lips arc two ghosts rising co the surface

of his skin. He says: I’m dying. He says: Mi amor,

you might be dead. We don’t touch; the heat


from each other’s body is unbearable. I say:

I can’t stop sweating. He says: Become

the body of water to swallow us both.

Bug Boys vol. 1 by Laura Knetzger, July 26- August 28

Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 11.39.09 AM

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar, August 31

If They Should Come for Us” plays at the end of the interview below (transcript here). Also found out one of my dear friends is gonna have a baby!


Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Translated by Christina MacSweeney, August 30-September 3

“The fact is that the things we can’t see don’t hide themselves in the shades of gray or in the white or black, but at the fine line separating those two totalities. A place we can’t even imagine, a horizon of no return.” (18, Empty Set)


I read this one while in Boston based on two poets digging it (thanks Dennis and Hannah). Love reading a short novel in its entirety when visiting another place.


Zanardi by Andrea Pazienza, translated by Alberto Becattini, September 29-30

From my review “Pazienza’s use of multiple art styles, especially absurdist imagery impressed me with their affective quality. You get the impression that these folks are on a different speed of life.”

John, Dear by Laura Lannes, October 3rd

I finished it and couldn’t believe it had fucked me up as much as it did given its brevity.

From my review “Laura Lannes creates narratives that get at the core of violence and desire without the compulsion to explain any of what’s occurring beyond conveying the overload of the experience.”



Pink by Kyōko Okazaki, translator(s) unknown, October 11-17

From my review “Though the ending felt predictable, I really enjoyed Okazaki’s sense of humor, and unwillingness to ascribe to a shame narrative regarding the two main character’s occupation as sex workers.”





Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay, September 19-October 21

Someone came in the urgent care waiting room and sat nearby, asked about the book. Wanted to get back into reading once they got their library card; left first.

From ‘I Am Not Ready to Die Yet’

I want to live longer.
I want to love you longer, say it again,
I want to love you longer
& sing that song
again. & get pummeled by the sea
& come up breathing & hot sun
& those walks & those kids
& hard laugh, clap your hands.
I am not ready to die yet.

The Ground I Stand on Is Not My Ground by Collier Nogues, November 2

Read this, along with two other erasure books, on a Friday, this one last. The companion website makes this one of my favorite multimedia projects I saw this year.


From ‘Editor’s Introduction’


“No evidence is now available as to



but I came to believe


that the logic of ideas strung together by

the syntactic structure of the sentence


depends on the reader’s context.”

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, October 16- November 7

Was recommended this one by three comrades on a night we aired grievances. Read several of this aloud while crossing a football field on my way home from work.


Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda, translated by Martha Tennent, November 8-16


“Let suffering be removed but not desire because desire keeps you alive.” (82)

In New York City for the first time, I read chapters of this in Washington Square Park. The fountain was full of folks relaxing. I felt sleepy and cozy.



Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color by Christopher Soto, November 14- December 3qpoc_3-1

An incredible experience every time I went in. Would read four to five poems at a time, and everyone is loaded with history and alternately harsh and delicate.

From Torrin A. Greathouse’s piece “A kind of communal history: Nepantla edited by Christorpher Soto

“In the introduction, Soto describes nepantla as “a transient feeling” at the meeting place of Queer and PoC identity. Spanning one hundred years, from the Harlem Renaissance to now, Nepantla is an archive of QTPoC memory that resists both the whiteness of mainstream LGBTQ+ movements and the notion of cistheteronormativity in PoC communities. Fundamentally, it is an act of history-making in verse.”


They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib, August 3, December 10

I never knew how I’d come out of any essay from this collection, wrecked most often. Lucky to read a lot of these on Sunday afternoons with a friend.


“[Marvin Gaye] knew then what so many of us know now: we have to dance, and fight, and make love and fight aid live, and fight all with the same ferocity…There are no half measures to be had.” (101”)

Books I’m still reading that would likely make it on here had I finished them.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale by Matt Hern, and Am Johal featuring comics by Joe Sacco

Prince of Cats by Ronald Wimberly






Impressions of Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories

(Spoiler Alert: And The Mountains Echoed Next Week!)


A couple weeks ago, I mentioned my trip to the awesome Fantagraphics flagship store in Seattle and the cool dudes I went there with. While I left with the nightmarish The Furry Trap, one of my friends took home Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories on the manager’s recommendation. He had told me how much he enjoyed them while we watched the Trail Blazers sneak a win over the Rockets, and was generous to burst into my office and leave it along with Swamp Thing Vol. 3 for some light weekend reading (still haven’t gotten to ole’ Swampy).

I wasn’t clear on what to expect with Wertz’s long-form comic stories, which mostly revolve around

her battle with lupus in her early 20’s, and her blossoming comic career that she says started as a result of the time she spent nearly bedridden during the early phases of her treatment. Having read plenty of autobiographical comics, Ariel Schrag’s Likewise series and Harvey Kurtzman’s American Splendor for starters, I had my expectations pretty low for how this book would compare, and a quick skim left me unimpressed with Wertz’s drawings. However, last Thursday I started reading the first story in the collection, “Industry,” while procrastinating an assignment and found myself hooked by Wertz’s humorous narration that follows her early entrepreneurial years that leads into her long tie with restaurant work. From these early pages, it became evident that despite a lack of detail in her character designs, Wertz was able to convey more emotion with a set of eyebrows than some Big Two artists can with entire bodies even with the added physiologically impossible muscles.

Continue reading “Impressions of Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories”

Impressions of Josh Simmons’ The Furry Trap

(Spoiler Alert: Phalluses are the stuff of nightmares)

A few weeks ago during spring break, two of my fellow MA grad students and I made our way to Seattle, Washington. Of course, being the people that we are, we had to visit Fantagraphics flagship store, and check it out. It was an overwhelming event as the comics, ranging from local zines to beautiful extensive anthologies, all called out to me to purchase them, and after spending some time determining that getting a Tony Millionaire illustration would not be worth the several weeks’ of ramen I’d have to consume in sacrifice of it, I stacked a few books that peeked my interest, including Ant Colony from Drawn & Quarterly (that I hope to get in the near future once I’ve read a few novels and poems). I decided on The Furry Trap on the recommendation of the store manager who referred to it as a book that would linger with me long after I read it. That plus the fact that it was five bucks cheaper than the other books I was checking out made it a done deal, and I walked away with a book featuring two bloodied naked men in the midst of a knife fight on the back cover.

I had never heard of Josh Simmons prior to The Furry Trap, and I don’t think I’d be at my current level of sanity had I encountered his work earlier in life. Simmons, a Seattle native and a well-mannered nice guy according to Fantagraphics’ manager, is not afraid of drawing some horrific images. The Furry Trap contains eleven short horror comics of varying length all written between 2004 to 2011 and they traverse from fantastic to dystopic, absurdist to apocalyptic, and at all times psychotic. Starting things of with “A Land of Magic,” Simmons uses a children’s fairytale illustration style and generic plot (adolescent elves leaving their idyllic realm to venture into the dark forest) to tell a truly twisted tale that left my mouth agape for several minutes after. It was then that I recognized that Simmons was not concerned with Goosebumps scares, but instead the real fucked up shit. To say more that story would ruin it, but just so you know there’s dicks involved. Continue reading “Impressions of Josh Simmons’ The Furry Trap”

Spring Break Reading Impressions

(Spoiler Alert: Procrastination Rhymes with Gestation)


I’ve been a bad, bad boy. In addition to spacing (HONESTLY) on brushing my teeth this morning, I haven’t updated the blog in quite a bit due to a multitude of excuses, primarily the ‘well nobody is reading this anyway’ one that comes up whenever it feels like lounging about doing anything but write seems like the best use of my time. However, in my absence I did get through some fantastic work, and I took a couple minutes to write about each. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be returning to my regular schedule (longer works on Monday, comics on Wednesday and the occasional existential crisis on Friday). Thanks for reading you have, and welcome to the spring session.


Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comic: The Invisible Art


After reading Scott McCloud’s seminal comic book about comic books, I feel like I’ve grown in my understanding of not only the power of comics, but art in general. One moment that particularly stood out to me was when McCloud defines art as anything that doesn’t concern reproduction or survival. Such a broad definition seems to allow much that does not get accredited as art by posh folks. McCloud makes a brilliant move in using the medium to make an argument for its viability as an art form, going through many different historical styles as well as manipulating his page layouts to achieve diverse effects. When he describes why Japanese manga and their comic art evolved so differently due to the country’s isolationist stance, comics as a field itself up to all new forms of study by historical, literary, and art scholars without not falling neatly into any of those fields. Originally published in the early 90’s, it seems that comics have exploded in the manner that McCloud predicts with the Internet having provided creators with new ways of pushing the form, and comics, or at least graphic fiction, gaining increasing legitimacy in the public eye. Here’s hoping McCloud works up another edition of this wonderful book.

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Love and Death


The Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing has been on my to-read list ever since I read Watchmen way back in 2007 when my parents got me the Absolute edition for Christmas. However, for a while there scoring a new copy of this book became pretty difficult, and it went to that place alongside Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was fortunate then to have a friend get them, and not only recommend it but lend me the volumes as he made his way through them. While I enjoyed the stories from the first volume of Swamp Thing, they felt lacking in the sort of narrative innovations I look to Alan Moore for. It was a relief then that this second volume of his run possessed a restlessness in the manner of stories it told issue by issue, an occurrence that Neil Gaiman in his introduction writes is owed not only to Moore, but to the grueling schedules artists are placed on in the medium that requires fill-in artist to step in for a ‘filler’ between major arc issues. In this volume, Swamp Thing first battles his nemesis Arcane then heads to hell for Arcane’s niece, the beautiful Abigail. In the next issue we’re treated to a visual treat wherein Abigail and Swamp Thing profess their love for each other, and through her consumption of a fruit grown from him they meet in the consciousness of the Green for what is sure to have been mind-blowing sex delivered via lush colors. Somewhere within all the madness, is a playful and dark homage to Pogo that feels jarring when placed alongside the rest of the material, but makes for a fun respite from the grueling trials in Louisiana.


Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography

The Muppets have long been one of those entities whose work I have always enjoyed even at its weakest, talking to you Muppets From Space. Amidst The Mario Bros. cartoon and not having network television for the first few years of my life it wasn’t until I was about seven or eight that I caught The Muppet Movie on television as a kid and saw Kermit sitting among a swamp singing “Rainbow Connection.” I was hooked. Years after I discovered that Jim Henson was the man behind all those fabulous characters, and I’d been curious since then to read more about him although I was reluctant as I couldn’t bare the thought of the man behind the epitome of whimsy being a douche in one form or another. However, a dear friend bought me a copy of Jones’ beautifully written biography. It’s a book that spans throughout Henson’s life, tracking his Southern origins all the way up to his mysterious and untimely death. What remained clear throughout reading of Jones’ well-researched book is that Jim was an amazing man, not only in his talent and creativity but in his generosity and concern for the well-being of the world. Although Jones does remark on the instances where Jim falls short of that image, a string of affairs during his marriage being the worst of it, those follies never threaten to outweigh all that he left the world with. He was a man that never thought of his work as work, but play and it’s made me feel more inspired than much of anything I’ve read recently to be a creator.


George Saunders’ Tenth of December


This is only the 2nd collection of Saunders’ book that I’ve read, the first being Civil War Land In Bad Decline (the first book I wrote about on here), and it’s marvelous how Saunders has continued to write stories that experiment with form while also being entirely comprehensible and not the least bit pretentious. Whether he’s writing the journal-form story “The Semplica Girl Diaries” that chronicles the lives of one near-future suburban family from the perspective of its patriarch, or the eponymous story, a 1st person narrative told by an imaginative, but bullied boy, Saunders manages to make each voice unique with all his characters evoking intense empathy even as they engage in activities that I couldn’t always agree with. Saunders, with just a simple change of our current world in several of these stories, is able to show the lunacy that pervades the world and how ordinary it all appears to those involved in it. If I were an artist, I’d get to working on illustrations on all the gizmos present in Saunders’ future worlds. Get to it, Believer illustrators!


Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol

Finishing Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was a landmark form me as it was the last of the pirated comics I downloaded before my conscience got the better of me. For a time there, I only read it on my laptop whenever I was on the bus going one place or the other, never quite sure what another person would think if they caught a view of my screen and saw the increasingly strange beings that Morrison and his artist’s team conjure up. Infusing a superhero comic with surrealism, pseudo-science, and Dada-like non rationalism, Morrison creates a comic unlike any other one. Rarely is a villain defeated by a punch from the straight man Cliff Steel aka Robotman (a man whose only remaining human organ is his brain). More often the villains of Doom Patrol get their due in the form of blown out candles, flexed muscles, Crazy Jane (a woman diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder-each personality exhibiting a different superpower) shouting key words from giant horses, and one villain throwing a face onto another. This comic could never be accused of predictability and nearly every character presented here, villains included, could easily serve as the basis for a book of their own. As a jump-off point for Morrison’s work with American comic publishers, it’s disorienting how much he was able to achieve early on. So enjoyable was this run that I don’t even cringe at the penance I’ll pay in buying the Omnibus when it drops later this year.

Impressions of Will Eisner’s A Contract With God

 (Spoiler Alert: This book is old.)

Western literature has your Hemmingways, Melvilles, Shakespeares and Steinbecks [canons love dead white men]. Visual art has its Rembrandts and Da Vincis. And comic books have Will Eisner. For those not in the know, Will Eisner is definitively the grandfather of comic books as a serious art form, stating that in the preface of A Contract With God that he created the arty term ‘graphic novel’ only in the hopes of acquiring a greater chance of success at selling his work to a publisher. Eisner is also the guy who the most prestigious comic book award, the Eisner Award, is named after. Therefore I knew I had to eventually get around to reading A Contract with God if I hoped to maintain any credibility on the day I’m interrogated by a fellow comic book nerd. And although I went in with some trepidation given that I’ve rarely enjoyed works of art from a newly budding field, I took the plunge over the weekend and read the four stories contained within.

After completing it though, I was happy to have read it to discover that Eisner not only was the first to create a long-term graphic narrative for adults, but because he also did so with nary a tights or spandex in sight. Instead, Eisner’s ‘graphic novel’, a term that makes me cringe whenever I use it, focuses on the denizens of Dropsie Avenue, a Depression era America urban tenement and a recreation of the culture and space that Eisner lived in for much of his youth.

Four stories. One block. All Depressing as fuck.

The four stories all tackle the misery that these cramped quarters induced in the people, and what was most surprising was how unsentimental Eisner is throughout, and how the starkness of the material assisted in making the medium seem like a viable form to say something about the human experience that perhaps isn’t replicable in purely textual work. For instance, seeing the physical transformation of Frimme Hersh following the death of his daughter does so much work to make us see where his priorities have shifted that Eisner never has to stress it by means of text. The images in his work also convey the passage of time in an elegant manner that perhaps would take a literary author much more work to pull off. Continue reading “Impressions of Will Eisner’s A Contract With God”

Impressions of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago

(Spoiler Alert! Chicago is A City With Lots of Immigrant History)



My first encounter with Stuart Dybek was in an Intro to Creative Course where one of our anthologies contained the last story of this collection, ‘Pet Milk.’ I had never read a story written in its form, a swirling love narrative that spins out from an instance where a man looks at the canned milk circling in a cup of coffee. It moved me in a way that few stories about lost loves ever have, and provided an ending that did not contain an epiphany, but a moment of recognition between the man and another person waiting for a train. Enjoying the story as much as I did, I soon after bought The Coast of Chicago in the hopes of devouring other stories of Dybek’s. Coincidentally, I had been working on a story based in Chicago at the time based of this great tale my abuelita told me from her early years living in Chicago. In a way, I had hoped that Dybek’s deep knowledge of Chicago would rub off on me, and would lend my work (set on the El train, a favorite reference of Dybek’s) some authenticity.

When I did get around to reading Dybek, I couldn’t manage to get beyond ‘Chopin In Winter,’ another one of my favorites from this collection (based of my 2nd and 1st complete read through). I couldn’t figure out why that was. I’d read a paragraph and then another, soon finding my mind had drifted off to weekend laundry or that night’s dinner. I was certain that it wasn’t the fault of the prose. Almost any sentence I picked out at random showed signs of superb crafting on Dybek’s part, and even though I tried to read the text under a variety of different conditions (wide awake after breakfast, drowsy afternoon, drunk), I just couldn’t maintain focus beyond two sentences, so I did what readers often dislike doing, I put it away to come back to some other time.

That other time turned out to be last week. It had been three years since I last tried to read it. Time in which, I believed, I had grown as both a reader and writer and possibly as a person. I figured that I was now ready to delve into Dybek’s world of Polish/Hispanic neighborhoods equipped with a vastly improved capacity for paying attention for more extended periods and with greater depth. Continue reading “Impressions of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago”

Impressions of Ian Stansel’s Everybody’s Irish

(Spoilers are talked around)

[Lengthy Disclaimer:  I met Ian while interning for Gulf Coast Literary Journal when he was a fiction PHD and the journal’s editor and I was a fiction undergrad at the University of Houston, looking to drop something onto the ole CV. I remember being struck at our first meeting by Ian’s guyness. Here was a person who didn’t ornament himself with the baubles that tended to overwhelm my closet at the time. Normally dressed in a natural-toned button up shirt and plain jeans with his hair tussled, Ian was impressive in how little concern he had about impressing anyone.

Over the next two years during my weekly 2-hour shifts with Ian, we sometimes had the opportunity to talk about writing and although he may not agree, I feel I gained more from those talks than I did in many of my workshops. I also remember Ian for being a rigorous editor, having me repeatedly revise even the shortest of work-related email blasts until it achieved clarity and concision. As a rule, I think the more a person talks about their writing, the less writing they’re doing. Ian rarely spoke about his writing, so I always assumed he was getting a lot of it done.]

I say all this so that you can judge me as you may when I start gushing over how much I loved Ian’s debut short story collection, Everybody’s Irish. For the most part taking place in Illinois and Houston, TX, the book’s nine stories excel in the many ways a short story can. Stansel shows with deftness the possible implications of a single gesture and how quickly, and sometimes slowly, things can change for people battling to maintain their lives.

Ian Stansel’s “Everybody’s Irish”

Continue reading “Impressions of Ian Stansel’s Everybody’s Irish”

Impressions of George Saunders’ Civilwarland In Bad Decline

(super minor spoilers included)

During my undergraduate degree at the University of Houston, I and most other creative writing majors were introduced to Saunders’ work through the fantastic ‘Sea Oak,’ included in many contemporary American literature anthologies and the occasional illicit PDF. In reading Civilwarland in Bad Decline (CBD), Saunders’ first short story collection that was published when he was still earning his keep as an engineer, it was evident after finishing the last story how representative ‘Sea Oak’ is of his style and voice.

Riverhead Trade; 1st Riverhead trade paperback edition (February 1, 1997)

In most of the collection’s stories the protagonists are employees of businesses, some mundane; other fantastical; and all soul sucking, who are struggling to maintain their meager positions as lackeys to assholes and sadists. Although his work is humorous throughout, Saunders never tries to be funny. Instead, his humor all comes out of tense situations and skewed descriptions. Continue reading “Impressions of George Saunders’ Civilwarland In Bad Decline”