Tag Archives: 2010s

In the Cards, by Angela D’Onofrio (2016)

D’Onofrio’s novels take place in fictitious Aviario, Connecticut, a town where the underground lines of magic intersect and supernatural happenings abound. This second book in the series revolves around a string of murders, a demon that haunts one of the town’s oldest families, and a romance that everyone except the main character thinks is a bad idea.  The story’s real energy, however, comes from its twentysomething cast of characters who read tarot cards, run a magic shop, play table-top games, and never fail to talk like real people, making the whole novel feel decidedly current (spirit animals notwithstanding).

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Angela D’Onofrio’s website

Author interview

The Possessed, by Elif Batuman (2010)

Elif Batuman is a grad student in Russian literature, and these essays are about her adventures.  Aside from some dense portions related to the actual Russian literature, this book moves, due in no small part to Batuman’s dry, quick-witted humor that pokes fun at everyone from the Uzbek landlord who feeds her from an ant-covered jam jar to the elderly professor who literally shits his pants.  The real gems, however, are Batuman’s introduction on why she avoided creative writing (reminiscent of her essay “Get a Real Degree”) and her reflections on grad student obsessions—both pointed commentaries on academia.

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A Girl on the Shore, by Inio Asano (2011)

A ninth-grade girl wanders distraught after a subpar encounter with the class playboy, then seeks solace with another guy who likes her and a shit-ton of graphic middle-school sex ensues.

I’m not kidding—this manga isn’t for the squeamish, since there’s A LOT of sex here shown in close-up, and just when you think it can’t go any farther, it does.  In terms of story, Koume and Isobe’s relationship shows a lot about first love, disenchantment, and searching for something you can’t quite describe, and their confused realizations keep you guessing until the end, with stirring results.

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Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown, by Jill McCabe Johnson (2017)

Johnson’s poems hit that sweet spot of being approachable yet challenging, not too simple, yet not too arcane.  The opening section was written during her walking trek through France in the days leading up to the 2015 Paris attacks and captures both the country’s historic character and the ideological ugliness behind ISIS, including its abominable treatment of women (which tends not to get as much coverage).  The collection’s other poems convey images of loss, humiliation, and conflicts with loved ones in moments that quietly ask for our reflections, along with a few plays on words to break the rhythm.

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Jill McCabe Johnson’s website

Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown at Finishing Line Press

Sophisticated and Poetic Literary Novel About Old Age With No Plot (2013)

One of my favorite books of all time, Catch-22, can also be said to have no plot, but what makes Catch-22 different is that while its chapters jump erratically through time and veer off on massive tangents, the novel’s events are thematically linked by the issue of Yossarian being bullied by his superiors into fighting a war that doesn’t make sense.  This novel has no such thematic link, or only vague links that did little to convince me that this novel was about anything besides character exploration and poetic-sounding prose, which, sadly, aren’t enough to make a novel work.

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THIS IS A BOOK BY DEMETRI MARTIN (2011)

Demetri Martin’s wordplay-filled humor translates ridiculously well to book form, as this collection of drawings and short humor shows.  His best pieces expose absurd situations with exaggeratedly forthright reactions (a man obsessed with speaking into a megaphone, a Rashomon-esque recount of a bee sting that includes inanimate objects) while the least successful ones run with simple concepts far longer than necessary, such as the list of bugle performances that all include reveille or the protagonists’ hospital where male action heroes get treated for superficial wounds.  Fortunately the hilarious far outweighs the lame, making this book a damned funny read.

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The Best of McSweeney’s, Edited by Dave Eggers & Jordan Bass (2013)

This 600-page tome from the McSweeney’s journal packs a hard punch—not just because of how much they’ve crammed inside, but because the writing is straight-up good.  There’s a comics section, a play starring three cavemen, an account of a NASCAR weekend by a man who knows nothing about racing, a list of facts about Spokane, Washington, two stories based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks, and a scattering of 20-minute fiction.  Extra points go to the fine design: the dustjacket folds out into a poster and the bonus materials include a box of postcards and colorful booklets.

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Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk (2011)

Damned is Chuck Palahniuk’s What-If? take on Hell told through the eyes of cynical rich girl Madison Spencer (“Are you there, Satan?  It’s me, Madison”) and her Breakfast Club-inspired gang.  Though there’s very little in terms of plot, Palahniuk instead takes us through encounters with pagan demons, Hell’s geographic oddities (The Great Plains of Discarded Razor Blades, etc.), its candy-fueled economy, its telemarketing industry, and its bizarre damnation rules (honking your car horn more than 500 times lands you in Hell, no exceptions).  Its whims are entertaining, but incredibly scattered, with an unsatisfying ending hindered by mediocre twists.

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As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Sterling, by Anne Sterling (2013)

Anne Sterling’s memoir/biography of her father, Twilight Zone host, creator, and writer Rod Sterling, does twofold duty: on the one hand, Anne shows her father the writer, social activist, and continual innovator, while on the other she shows his decidedly human, funny, fatherly side through anecdotes and the many jokes they shared.  While I found myself most interested in Sterling’s early struggles to earn money for his writing and wrest creative control from the TV censors (and wish there was more to this section), Anne’s difficulties after her father’s untimely death also form a solid, more personal story arc.

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The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

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The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed

In general, I enjoy collections (short stories or essays) less than novels because the act of repeatedly beginning anew is less fulfilling than starting a single story and following it to the end. That said, 2013 was a good year for essays, and Strayed’s selections are astute. My favorite ones (about a tour through a Nazi storehouse, a highway serial killer cold case from the 1980s, and a new mother watching her neighbor’s infant through a crossed baby monitor signal) hit hard, with raw, succinct power. There are some losers here, but the good ones far outweigh the bad.

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Flighty Lyrical Literary Novel, by Anonymous (2013)

Believe me when I say that great lyrical writing can be some of the most stirring writing there is—I loved Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for instance. This novel, though, felt like a poor man’s version, with a heavy emphasis on style and very little in the way of a plot (which was inspired by historical events in Europe a hundred or so years ago, and may have been part of the problem). The passages that flowed well didn’t go anywhere, and the ones that didn’t felt pretentious and masturbatory—with far too many of them.

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