God speed, Ruth Rendell

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Ruth Rendell died on May 2. She suffered a stroke back on January 7, and though she lasted for a while, she was unable to recover. That wasn’t entirely unexpected – she was 85-years-old.

I am an aspiring Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine complete-ist and hope to own first editions in all of her books. I only have a few at the moment but hopefully I have a few more decades to finish up.

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I had started a Ruth Rendell discussion for this site. She was not only one of the best mystery writers ever to grace the genre, but she understood mental illness in a way no other writer has mastered nearly as well. I am writing about some of the mentally-ill characters Rendell created, among them the woman with contamination OCD in Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, the main character with borderline personality disorder in The Bridesmaid, and a host of afflicted characters in her short stories. The illnesses play an important role in her intricate but quite believable plots and it almost seems at times like Rendell wrote about mental illness in a way that could poke at my own mental ticks.  The protagonist in “You Can’t Be Too Careful” suffered from some sort of personality disorder and was obsessed with safety, orderliness, cleanliness and self-assumed duty.  She was constantly ruminating over locks, doors on latches, dusting books, cot beds.  When I was a kid, I had a pretty serious case of echolalia that I more or less grew out of but always lurks.  This short story set it off.  It was the repetition of “k” and “t”, I think.  I find myself saying, under my breath, book lock cot latch book lock…

I wonder if anyone else has this experience when they read this story?

At any rate, I will at some point finish and post the article.  Ruth Rendell really was one of the finest writers of her generation and genre and I feel somewhat stricken to know she is gone forever and that there will be no more books.  God speed, Baroness Rendell.

Down Where the Devil Don’t Go by Paul Bingham

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  Down Where the Devil Don’t Go

Author:  Paul Bingham

Type of Book:  Fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because one of the stories is entitled, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Hollywood”.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Or you can order it directly from the publisher.

Comments: My love for short story collections has been firmly established by now, so, in spite of the picture of the deformed kitten on the cover, I was already inclined toward liking this book.  I was somewhat disappointed.   Bingham’s prose style is similar to my own when I write fiction – Bingham relishes ridiculous and horrible details yet writes about them in a spare, concise manner.  He eschews over-use of adjectives and adverbs, which gives his prose an immediacy, a sort of direct punch that doesn’t get dragged down by needless scene setting or excessive characterization.  This is not beautiful prose; rather, this is effective prose.  But even as the prose is effective, I still found it difficult to like this collection as much as the solid writing would ordinarily inspire in me.

The book consists of four stories and the first, “Population I” verges dangerously into cliched territory, yet is the best story in the collection. 

NVSQVAM (nowhere) by Ann Sterzinger

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  NVSQVAM (nowhere)

Author:  Ann Sterzinger

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Oh, this book…

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Amazon currently has this book on sale for Kindle for $2.99.  That makes it almost impossible not to take a look.

Comments: There are two reasons to read this book.  The first reason is because Sterzinger nails a specific social dissatisfaction I tend to associate with the sorts of men who really love Jonathan Franzen, a sort of Lester Burnham-esque unhappiness that can only be cured by having sex with a much-younger woman and sneering at the daily grind and everyday domesticity.  She distills this generational malaise through a single character and refuses to show us the way out, because, most of the time there isn’t one.  The other reason to read it is because it is so very funny.  Seriously, Sterzinger has the sort of intelligent, acerbic wit that I imagined I had back when I was a drunk.

I think this is a book that will read differently to every person who picks it up.  Women of a certain age (hi!) will want to take the protagonist and swat him with a newspaper until he stops pissing and moaning about his life and either accepts it or changes it in a meaningful way, and I wanted to swat him all the more because Lester (yep, Lester) Reichartsen is himself a man of a certain age.  He embodies the Gen-X confusion-burnout that I see plaguing so many of my age-peers, coupled with a longing for an edgy past because their passivity and entitlement meant they ended up in a life they really never wanted but didn’t have the balls to reject along the way.

In the beginning, Lester is just one of those people.  You know, the ones to whom everything happens and they actually do very little.  They feel very put-upon.  Lester is more or less living a life he hates that he feels happened to him due to no actions or faults of his own.  He hates everyone around him – especially his only child and the religious mid-westerners who surround his college town – and the only things he really accomplishes, aside from a prolonged, drunken nervous breakdown, are taking long walks and engaging in an affair.

Though I find Lester largely irritating and unlikeable, he is not unique in his passive, seething uselessness.  Jesus, so many young people born to baby boomer parents ended up like this.  Almost all of us were latch-key kids, the post-Reagan economic state seemed hopeless, and we had Pearl Jam running across the stage in baggy shorts making millions of dollars moaning about their mothers, which was sort of understandable because so many of us were raised in divorced, single-parent, female-headed households. Some young men raised in such an environment felt buffeted by fate, as if everything they wanted would never happen and they entered a post-collegiate life with no idea what to do next.  Get married?  Yeah, that worked so well for our parents.  Get a good job?  But aren’t we supposed to find our bliss and honor our talents?  Didn’t our parents raise us to honor our deep individuality (while giving us little assistance in determining how to put that individuality to use)?  Get a factory job?  None are left.  The world changed so much in such a short period of time that all the lessons many Gen-xers were taught were obsolete the day after they became adults.

It’s tempting to write Lester off as a self-involved crap-fest of a human being, but even as I wanted to grab his nose between my index and middle finger and twist it violently, I felt a certain level of empathy for him.  He almost seems like an embodiment of the sentiment expressed in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club – we were all told we were going to be rock stars and when that didn’t happen it pissed off large segments of this generation. So many of us feel like we have failed our families, ourselves and especially our past, idealistic selves.  What do we do about that rage and real failure? To avoid that sense of failure, wounded egos become passive, taking paths of least resistance, so they can say that they aren’t responsible for anything in their lives – that’s how we end up with Lesters.  Lester Reichartsen is a self-absorbed, largely useless asshole but he’s our asshole, my generation’s asshole.  You can’t hobble large segments of a generation and then hold them completely responsible for limping. 

Lousy Smarch Weather

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Central Texas is not supposed to be this cold.  Seriously, I used to dream of moving to Maine and White Christmases and other ice-glazed fantasies, but I am rethinking that dream.

The Every Cradle is a Grave discussion will have to wait because I simply cannot get it together.  I am emotionally unable to pull out what it is I want to say.  My mother had a very bad death, one that did not have to happen in a society wherein we understand that it is unacceptable to ask an elderly woman with no higher brain function left due to a hemorrhage, a woman who was terminally ill and close to death before the hemorrhage happened, to starve to death in an irreversible coma because suicide is bad.  I’m a failed suicide.  There is a successful suicide in my family that haunts some of us, and haunted my mother especially in the months before her death.  So yeah, this is an issue carrying a lot of recent and distant emotional baggage for me.

We are having an ashes ceremony for my mother in two weeks and I hope having a ceremonial end to the medically-sanctioned torture that my family endured earlier this year will make it easier for me to complete that discussion.  Not in terms of writing – I’ve written a novel about this book.  My problem is that I want to say everything at once and I need to get some emotional clarity.  Look for it later this month, hopefully.

But before then I have other books I can discuss and will.  Actually, I have a shocking number of books to discuss.  2014 was really a lost year in many regards.

I’ve been falling down some true crime holes lately (insomnia was killing me last week and insomnia always means finding weird crap online as I restlessly surf on my phone praying for some REM) and I stumbled across this woman’s blog.  Her writing style amuses me and she discusses less-famous murder cases.  The case that landed me on her site, the intensely strange story of Albert Brust (a Nazi-loving, untermensch and middle-aged virgin who became a torture killer and incorporated a dead body into a bathroom remodel), is the weakest entry on the site yet is still very interesting, so if you dislike it, keep reading. If you like my verbose style and appreciate sarcasm set to eleven, you’ll like her blog.

So I plan to plow through some discussions as I wait for my brain to open up for Sarah Perry’s opus.  Let me know what you’ve been reading or any interesting blogs you’ve come across.  (Oh, yeah, I plan to update my favorite sites and writers sidebars soon.  I don’t think I’ve messed with it in four years and it is painfully out of date.)

ETA:  I made a correction above because it looked like I was damning with faint praise the true crime site I linked to.  Not the case, and thanks, reader known as ART, for e-mailing me questions because otherwise it would have gone unnoticed.  Bleah.

Middle of the Road: I Like Being Killed and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I really enjoyed my first attempt at writing brief discussions (well, for me they were brief) of books that had some odd element but were not good or bad enough to trigger my verbose need to discuss them in depth. I’m not sure why – maybe it was the thrill of completing an entry in a single sitting – but I’m going to keep doing it until I inevitably lose interest and go back to writing five thousand word entries for everything I read.

This particular entry is surprising because I adore short story collections. It’s really hard to disappoint me with short stories, mainly because even if there are one or two clunkers in the collection, there are bound to be a couple of stories that soar, and you can focus on those stories rather than focus on what didn’t really work. It’s strange that I found two separate short story collections completely lacking in merit, and, worse, these two collections came from authors whose other works appear in my long list of favorite books.

And this isn’t really a Middle of the Road entry because I am panning both books. I like both of the authors so much I don’t want to devote an entry to both books and give excruciating detail to prove my case as to why these are not so great.

Stuff is happening, as well as things

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

So sorry for the silence on my end.  I’ve been writing quite a bit, so much in fact that I have written myself into a corner.  Every Cradle Is a Grave came into my life as I was experiencing death and the rage and depression death brings with it.  I have written over 20,000 words about the book and, though I am well-known for my wordiness, that is a wholly inappropriate number of words to use to discuss a book.  I am self-indulgent but luckily I still have a bit of self-awareness and now I am spending time editing so that I can present my frame of mind regarding the book without substituting my frame of mind for the book.  I will have the discussion up early next week.

I will also have another “middle of the road” discussion up either tomorrow or Thursday.

I’ve been immersed in some interesting media and topics this week, one of which turned into a rabbit-hole.  I follow the “Unresolved Mysteries” subreddit and a German user posted about a murder I had never heard of and as a result I have been scouring the Internet, reading crappy translations of old German news articles, finding every detail I can about it.  In 1998, thirteen year old Tristan Bruebach was murdered in such a sexually specific and audacious manner that I cannot believe I had not heard of this murder before and I also cannot believe this was the sole time the murderer performed such a killing. But against all logic, it seems like that is the case.  Seriously, three decades of reading and studying and I have never heard of a murder like this, and there are so many strange details about Tristan, his activities before his murder, and the way he was killed that even seasoned professional criminologists are baffled by the case.

I’ve also been listening to the Michigan band His Name Is Alive almost non-stop.  I don’t know how to describe this sort of music and the band has continually evolved since the late 80s so it’s hard to pigeon-hole the effort.  The only constant member of the band is Warren Defever, with different musicians and singers coming and going.

A friend of mine in college gave me a mixed tape with “Baby Fish Mouth” on it but it was the early 90s, no iTunes and precious little Internet outside of university labs, and tracking down small, indie bands was harder then. I finally got a copy of the album, Mouth by Mouth, and every song was worthwhile, which seldom ever seems to happen. The singer on this track, Karin Oliver, performed with HNIA for several years but evidently is now an account manager at a marketing firm.


“How Ghosts Affect Relationships” is from the album Livonia, released in 1990. It wasn’t until this album got uploaded to YouTube that I could access it. I don’t know if it’s rare or if it’s just that I wasn’t thorough. This is the best song on the album, I think, and it’s a little musical knife in my heart.


“How Dark Is Your Dark Side” is not the best song on Xmmer, a 2007 album, but I listen to it over and over because I love the singer, Andrea Morici. There is something sweetly hypnotic about her voice on this track. I think she may be the best vocalist to work with Defever.

So that’s where I am. Buried in hyperemotional reactions to a book about antinatalism, searching for information about a savagely murdered child, and listening to experimental rock. See you soon with a short entry about two short story collections that disappointed me sincerely.

Checking in!

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I am at work on a discussion that is proving exhausting, but is strangely therapeutic given recent events in my life. I hope to have the discussion finished by the beginning of next week. At the risk of spoiling my upcoming review, Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide by Sarah Perry is a book you need to get and read.  This book is a paradigm changer, and an important book for those of us who live in Western countries where it is difficult to discuss death intelligently, let alone suicide, let alone why suicide can ultimately be an act of great self-awareness.

I also received the latest Biblio-Curiosa edition, the excellent weird book/author ‘zine by Chris Mikul.  This issue focuses on children’s books and I can’t wait to read it.  Interestingly, I am also currently reading Mikul’s book on weird folk, The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived. The Eccentropedia caused me to start researching Eloise Bosquet, Baroness Wagner, a somewhat foul woman who brought a ton of drama and murder to the Galapagos Island chain, which then led to watching The Galapagos Affair on Netflix.

Adding to delays is that my book shift this year is taking longer than usual. At the beginning of each new calendar year, I make small changes to the ways my books are shelved, mainly because toward the end of the year Mr Oddbooks and I accumulate hundreds of new books, through gifts and Christmas shopping. These shifts entail emptying all shelves in order to clean them and then cleaning each book. I don’t know how many books we have because often books can get shelved before I document them, but I think we’re clocking in around 4,000 minimum. Given how easily distracted I have been, it’s taking me far longer to complete this task than anticipated.

I’ve also noticed that Pseudo Occult Media posted a few new entries in 2013. It looked like the site had been abandoned since 2010 so I hadn’t checked on it in a while, so these new entries were a pleasant surprise. I’ve referenced the site here before because even if one dismisses the notion that the Monarch Project has infested every tier of entertainment worldwide, the research that goes into the entries is something to behold. If you like people going on at length, which seems likely if you are reading here, Pseudo Occult Media will be right up your alley.  If nothing else, the author of the site shows how little originality there is in visual media. Once you read this site you’ll become annoyed at how often you see checkerboards, butterflies, Alice in Wonderland themes, faces half-occluded by hair or in mirrors, and broken mirrors in music videos, model spreads, movies and television.

Hopefully I will see you all early next week. Feel free to use the comments here to let me know what you’re reading/watching/listening to/avoiding.

Middle of the Road – Hollow City, I Am Not a Serial Killer and Lexicon

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I have a tendency to go on at length about the books I discuss here on IROB and that tendency generally means I don’t discuss anything that doesn’t inspire verbosity. Sometimes that bugs me and I’ve decided to start posting what are for me brief reviews of books that were somewhat odd or strange but, for whatever reason, didn’t spark in-depth discussion but were still on some level worth discussing. I’ll try this on and see how it feels.

So here are some books that I want to discuss without blowing a 2K word count per review.

Person by Sam Pink

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: Person

Author:  Sam Pink

Type of Book:  Fiction, alt lit

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because I thought it was going to suck a’plenty and was pleasantly proven wrong.

Availability:  Published by Lazy Fascist Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:

(WHOOT! As of Tuesday evening, it appears as if the Kindle version of this book is free. Check it out!)

Comments: Back when I bought a copy of Shoplifting from American Apparel, I also bought a copy of Person by Sam Pink.  Since my first exposure to alt lit resulted in what can only be called a complete nervous book-down, I was understandably reluctant to read Pink.  Lin’s SfAA filled me with such disgust that had I read anything similar immediately afterward and then discussed it I would have needed a new anus.

But a few years have passed, and the fire of my hatred has dimmed.  Also, Person is a slim volume and tempted me after I had finished The Goldfinch, which, as much as I love Donna Tartt, was a brick, and a very tiresome brick at around page 550.  I needed something easy and something quick and there Person was, in my nightstand cupboard, nestled in with far longer and more outrageous fare.  So I decided to just hold my nose and jump into Person and see what happened.

Person and SfAA are very similar books.  Both feature disaffected, grubby young protagonists.  Both books mine the same disenchanted hipster veins.  The very structures of the books down to the sentence formations are similar. So how come I really like Person?

It’s difficult to explain, and because I recently got my winter clothes out (Jesus, I began this discussion back in mid-November – ugh!), I think I have a decent enough explanation.  You know how it is that one red sweater can make you look like a porcelain-skinned angel and another red sweater can make you look like a chapped potato?  They’re both red, just different reds.  But you know, that analogy is a bad one because the red that makes me look like someone’s ruddy Irish nanna isn’t innately a shitty color and the one that makes me look like I’ve never once had a sunburn isn’t innately a heavenly color.  By any sane standard, SfAA is a terrible book.  I guess what I am saying here is that for the most part I hate most alt lit (and increasingly the writers behind the genre), but you can’t judge a book by its color just because some colors look better than others.  And if it seems like I am being completely incoherent so that pompous tenured professors working in the Corn Belt can insult me because every extemporaneous book discussion needs to be indistinguishable from a doctoral thesis, that isn’t what’s happening.  Nope.  Not at all.

Still, I think I can make a case for why it is that Person is such a better book.  Or at least a book worth reading.

Mary Thompson Dalton Sawyer, March 13, 1946 – January 10, 2015

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

My mother died on Saturday.   I have a lot I want to say about her but I am going to save it for her birthday. I’m sort of unfocused at the moment and need some time to be able to order my memories because I want my eulogy for her to be worthy of her.  She’d been ill for a long time, and in terrible pain.  Her death was a relief and a mercy.  Her funeral is Saturday, and I suspect I’ll be back posting regularly some time in February.  Maybe sooner.

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This is my favorite picture of my mother and me.  She was maybe 26 when this was taken.  We’re out at my grandparents’ home in a tiny Texas town called Lawn.  My mother’s pictures are characterized by her wry smile and it’s definitely in evidence in this photo.  Though her sickness affected her for many years, this is how I always remember her, at an age much younger than I am now.  Skin clear of prednisone damage, hair full and thick, back unbowed.  And that strange smile that told us all she knew things she would never tell, and they were funny, strange, interesting things, too.  Finding out about my mother, especially her own work with strange and incendiary books, has been a revelation.  I’ll be sharing some of those stories here soon.

Godspeed, Mama.