Five-Star Reads from 2012

In 2012, I read a lot of books—among them, only a handful inspired me to slap down a five-star rating on the Goodreads.

Here is a list of five books that compelled five stars from me in 2012; also included are tiny samples of the books’ prose.


70% Acrylic 30% Wool
by Viola di Grado

“Leeds is like one of those sadistic pet owners that waves a piece of meat in front of his dog and then gobbles it down himself. You go out and you see that sun hanging from the sky and you feel happy. You think: Maybe the snow will end. You close your eyes hoping to feel warmth against your eyelids, but the sun has already disappeared, leaving the sky opaque and off-white, the color of a raw chicken thigh. The thing is that Leeds adores scarecrows…”

Say Her Name
by Francisco Goldman

“I took a Sunday morning train to the town nearest La Ferte. In the seat across from me sat a little boy dressed in a Spider-Man costume, traveling with his parents. I should dress like that, I thought. Maybe tomorrow I will. For a moment it seemed so plausible and even reasonable that tomorrow I might dress as Spider-Man that I felt a little scared.”

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
by Milan Kundera

“Graphomania (a mania for writing books) inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions: (1) an elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities; (2) a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals; (3) the absence of dramatic social changes in the nations internal life.”

Donald Duk
by Frank Chin

“Big kids, little kids. Girls and boys. They rove in clumps of bobbing five-headedness. Five-headed babies bulging diapers crawl under the tables. Some five-headed people sit. Lots of five-headed hawkeyed people stand. Lots of five-headed people are caught up in the tide of milling children and torn away from their tables to clump up with other people, float on the roving children, sink in the quicksand of little hands waving to each other across islands of tables and rest against the shoals of straight-backed shiny-skinned old people who dye their hair charcoal black. The twins always elbow him in the ribs when they see dyed black hair on a head in Chinatown. Where is Arnold Azalea? A white boy should be easy to spot in this crowd of smoldering hawkeyes. Everyone acts like they live here. The kids look at Donald Duk like a stranger.”

Red Earth and Pouring Rain
by Vikram Chandra

“When we actually crossed into Texas I was asleep. What woke me up was the radio buzzing about Hindu-Muslim riots in Ahmedabad, and I fumbled with it until it clicked off. It bothered me not because of what it was about but because it seemed too messy, it had too much of the stink of belief and the squalor of passion. I wanted the blade-edge feeling I had, the keenness of my senses and the rush of the speed. ‘We’re in Texas,’ Amanda said. We flew in a long floating curve, the road smooth and the yellow line perfect and steady under us. I leaned low over the dash and peered ahead, straining as if I would see instantly the long white trail of a rocket far to the south. I looked at Amanda, and I said, ‘Cool!’ and I felt my lips pulling back from my teeth. She laughed, her hair a dark red and flying, I could see her eyes shining, and it was something like love.”


So, there you have it—books I liked a bunch in 2012.

Got good books from 2012 you wanna quote? Read one or two among the quoted five? Well, by all means, have some commentary! You’re among friends, here.

Published in: on January 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Video Bloggery – 6/19/12

On blogging.

Published in: on June 19, 2012 at 3:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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No Soap in this Box

So I was reading Jennifer Laughran’s latest blog post, because it popped up on the RSS feed attached to my iGoogle—I’m not really sure what I just said.

Anyway, Jennifer is a literary agent. She’s attending some writers’ conference in Texas to talk about writing god damned query letters and then something else about pink boots. She asked her readers (I almost feel that those who read blogs should be called viewers) to share anything regarding queries that they felt was important for her to relate at the conference. Understandably, Jennifer has gotten bored recycling the same basic set of query guidelines over and over again.

Well, I got all fired up and slammed down a good ol’ tirade that prattled on for way, way too long.

Just so it’s clear: Jennifer was not my target. Far from it, in fact. Jennifer is one of the good ones—you can tell because she’s a total smart-ass. She covers it up with cats and faeries and shit, which somehow makes it better. My target was the conferences themselves. Rather than clog Jennifer’s blog with my histrionics, I figured I’d post it here on the Bloggery.

I’m not fond of writers’ conferences. Not because I’m a grumpy recluse who thinks he Knows It All—I mean, I wear those traits with pride, but they have nothing to do with my distaste for writers’ conferences.

Writers’ conferences have been impeding the pace of artistic progress in contemporary literature for some time now. People are spending $500 (this value has not been exaggerated) to travel to some convention center (yes, that’s correct—the $500 does not include driving/flying expenses) just to have some agent or editor say the same generic crap that can be found on any blog or website that has anything at all to do with the publishing industry. Not only is this information goddamn ubiquitous, it’s free. Public domain. Seriously, you can’t avoid running into query guidelines if you try. And if you’re truly having trouble, just ask someone for advice. Almost all of us love to share what we’ve learned about the business from our own experiences, and 100% of us love to hear (read) ourselves talk (type).

Folks, the people who pay for and attend these writers’ conferences are getting representation. They’re the ones putting books on the shelves. Being face-to-face with the agent, their inexcusable ignorance can be portrayed as endearing naivete—they become the Charlie Brown Christmas tree worth saving.

My question is: with several hundred dollars to blow on avoiding having to type “queries” into Google search, and enough free time/freedom to take the mini-vacation required, how much can these people possibly have to say?

Hence, the decline in quality.

Writing has always been a solo gig; however, as resources continue to proliferate and remain, like, free, the writer’s job description will keep getting longer, and more complex. We are the marketers, and educators, of our selves. Regarding the business side, our level of personal responsibility has reached an unprecedented degree. Arguably, it’s a bit too much (we’re supposed to be writing, or conducting research, not composing 120-character advertisements for some blog called “10 Tips for New YA Writers” or whatever-the-fuck).

Personally, I’m thrilled to see marketing control shift more heavily toward the writers. I enjoy this stuff, especially since it’s online, meaning I don’t actually have to interact with anybody. I can experiment with as many different approaches as I want without having to explain myself. Anything negative that happens can only happen as a result of my own actions and decisions, thus making even the consequences a valuable learning experience.

Imagine if the opposite had occurred, and the balance shifted toward the agents, instead! Why, in a world like that, writers would actually pay agents for suggested query guidelines before offers have even been considered…

Look, if you really, truly feel that you lack the ability, or the patience, to read query suggestions online and then grind out a whole bunch of terrible queries until you get the hang of it (this will happen and it’s fine—you’ve gotta make bad ones to learn how to make them better; this will most likely apply to your first manuscript, too), if that’s the case, perhaps you’re in the wrong industry. Heck, if all that doesn’t sound like fun to you, maybe your skills are needed elsewhere.

If you have over $500 to burn on a god damned conference, you have other skill-sets available to you. Some of us don’t have other skill-sets. Some of us are writers because we have no choice, because it’s the only trade in which we’ve shown any talent, because we really are writers, and the thought of not writing is so awful that it ceased being an option a long time ago. Some of us are content to devote 75+ hours a week to our writing careers and will continue to do so until we get published, or die trying.

Unless you meet the criteria for the aforesaid “some of us,” please just take your money, and your boodles of free time, and bring them to a field that isn’t flooded with people who have neither. Put your resources toward something that works for you. I’m sure you’ll find it; so long as you’re willing to educate yourself enough that you recognize it.

Or just buy a motorcycle, for fuck’s sake.

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bellowing Bellow II

Recently, I finished reading The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I absolutely loved it; however, I do not recommend it to people who aren’t writers. It is definitely a book for writers. If there are any casual readers left out there who enjoy lengthy, flowery classics, then by all means, give this one a read.

Bellow uses a plethora of fancy-pants words. He’s always a bit verbose, but in this particular book he lets the vocabulary flow unrestrained.

So, the next couple of blog posts will be examples of some of those interesting, unwieldy words that writers today have no business using, simply because, well, what would be the point?


1. quiff — noun — a prominent forelock. [MJC: personally, I’d use “a prominent forelock.”]

2. homiletic — adjective — of, resembling, or relating to, a homily. [MJC: and, after looking up “homily” to find out that it means, basically, a sermon, I decided that I really like this one. Puts an edge of knowing to the description, whereas “preachy” sounds as if the narrator has tuned out the homiletic individual immediately.]

3. amortizing — verb — to pay off (as a mortgage) gradually by periodic payments of principal and interest or by payments to a sinking fund. [MJC: yet another economics term, like “repudiation” from the first Bellowing Bellow installment. The book doesn’t delve too deeply into economics, so I’m surprised at Bellow’s level of lingo in the field. Did he know these terms beforehand, or are they the result of good research?]

4. margrave — noun — the military governor especially of a German border province. [MJC: my reaction to this is almost the same as my reaction to “amortizing,” in that I am reminded of the first installment of this blog series. Instead of economics, this term is another of political caste—the former being “aldermanic”—very obscure, and very specific. I should note that no margrave, or alderman, appears in the story. These words are used to describe behavior. Very specific. But is it too specific? Can you see the difference between the behavior of a margrave, and the behavior of an alderman, after knowing the definitions?]

5. corpulent — adjective — having a large bulky body. [MJC: this is one of those words that I’ve seen many times before, but never bothered to look up. I’d always gotten a decent idea of its meaning through the context (I do this more than I should). Now that I know its definition exactly, I realize that I don’t really like it. I dunno; it sounds too pretty to be bulky. It sounds like orbs of light, or something. Doesn’t that sound right? “Corpulent orbs of light.”]


Got a dusty, old word you never can use without editors arching their eyebrows? Feel free to share it here, at the Bloggery!

More Bellowing Bellow to come.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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