2010 in Review

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

In review… Get it? Hahaha.

Anyway, this year I read 102 books, which may seem like a lot to people who have real jobs and kids and active social lives. I have none of those things so I really feel like I could have read more this year. I tell myself that my discussion sites have caused me to slow down and read more carefully but even so, I hope to read at least 125 books in 2011.

I reviewed 75 books between I Read Odd Books and I Read Everything. Having never done this sort of thing before, I’m not sure how much better I could have done, but if this number is low, I take comfort that most of my discussions average around 2,000 words. Many are longer. Had I crapped out 75 one-paragraph reviews, I would definitely think that number too low. But given the depth I try to engage in when the book warrants it, I’m actually surprised I managed to discuss so many books. If I can beat that in 2011, that would be wonderful. Let’s see what happens.

It seems no “year in review” is complete without some sort of list, so here’s my 2010 list: Books I Thought About the Most in 2010. Not the best books I read in 2010 and not the worst – simply books that, for whatever reason, stayed with me. These are books from both I Read Odd Books and I Read Everything and cover a lot of ground.

10. The Membranous Lounge by Hank Kirton
I have yet to discuss this book but it definitely makes the list of books I am still thinking about. I received this in the mail, no explanation or entreaty to review it, and had some trepidation before reading it. I’m very glad I read it because the stories were amazing, both harsh and ethereal, gritty and dreamy. It was a surprise that such a tight, well-written, fascinating collection would come to me so stealthily. Two stories in this book – about a serial killing pair of women and a carny sideshow act who exacts revenge upon men who ill use her – were so shocking, interesting and unexpected that they likely will have resonance with me for a long time. I look forward to reviewing this one when it finally comes up in my queue.

9. How to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing
This book has the rare distinction of being one of the few books I have ever read that raised the hair on the back of my neck. Literally. There is a scene in this book that is so very eerie that I still don’t know if I can explain its power because the scene is merely a group of women trying to passively coerce another woman into doing something she does not want to do. Don’t be led astray by the title. This book is not about furries as they have come to be portrayed in media, but rather is a reference to society’s attempts to become more comfortable with cannibalism. A pack of demented ferrets fighting crime, the Angel Uriel in a prop plane helping the last few humans in the squirrel armageddon, people choosing to live without skin – this book is grotesque, funny, weird and upsetting. It was also Nicole’s first book with Eraserhead Press, in the New Bizarro Author Series, and is a stunning first effort.

8. The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family by Isis Aquarian
I have yet to discuss this book but have still managed to annoy the author as I spoke of it in my personal journal and called it a story of a Jesus Freak cult, a position I defend but one that nevertheless can seem flippant and derogatory as neither word in common parlance today conveys anything positive. But The Source were Jesus Freaks and cultish in the truest definition of these descriptives and the reason this book has stayed with me is because Isis Aquarian, the person who was assigned the role of documentarian for The Source Family, shows a fascinating look at fascinating people during a tumultuous time in American history. But it has also stayed with me because after coming across as a jerk to Aquarian, I looked hard at what makes a cult, what makes a malignant cult, and how it is that a cult can be both benign and malignant in the same ways traditional religious groups can be both. All in all, a deeply interesting book and another one I look forward to discussing in depth.

7. Naive. Super by Erland Loe
I was recommended this book by a clerk at Book People when I asked him to tell me the strangest book he had ever read. And it was strange. Sweetly strange. It was both accessible and unlike anything I have ever read before. I loved the protagonist of this novel, a kind and simple young man who wants to know the meaning of life, and again, this is a book I have yet to discuss and cannot wait to talk about it here.

6. Perversity Think Tank by Supervert
An attempt to determine and define what perversity truly is, this book is an intellectual look at sexual perversion and what separates it from basic human depravity. The book is arranged in a manner that forces the reader to interact with the content in a way that transcends the often passive nature of reading and this arrangement is why I am still thinking of this book as I had to look up the pictures Supervert references and think if my interpretation of them matched Supervert’s. I still find myself from time to time musing on where our interpretations were similar and not at all alike. This is a pretty little book, too. A treasure to own and an interactive experience to read.

5. Pearl by Mary Gordon
I loathed this book for the most part but the reason it still niggles in the back of my brain is because I am still shocked that a literary icon like Gordon wrote a book that by my own objective standards is so bad. The often pointless repetition of words and ideas seemed like Gordon assumed anyone reading the book had suffered a literary lobotomy. But most objective of all, I disliked the rarefied air occupied by all of the characters, which is not my usual response. I can read books about the idle rich without feeling like I want to grab a hammer and a sickle and run through the streets but Pearl aggravated me. Perhaps it is because I read the next book on my list so soon after reading Pearl but this book alienated me and forced me to examine why.

4. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
I read this soon after reading Pearl and the nature of the characters in this book underscored why Pearl irritated me. The leisurely life of Pearl and her high-minded moral struggles seemed ridiculous after reading Last Night at the Lobster, a story of people who work too hard for too little money and yet engage in their own moral struggles while trying to keep food on the table. I think this book proved to me that excessive leisure seldom leads to better thoughts. Reading about work, the kinds of work I have done (though I have never worked in a restaurant, most of my jobs centered around serving people, either by cleaning their toilets or by selling them shoes or books), appealed to me and while I missed rereading this at Yule, I will reread it around this time next year, as this story takes place at Christmas time at a dying mall in a town that is a lot like mine and probably a lot like yours.

3. The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle
This book broke my heart, telling the story of a lower-middle class Irish woman, Paula, who has been failed by the men in her life. Her father abandoned her emotionally when she was in her teens, her husband beat her relentlessly. Her society failed her too, calling her stupid and putting her into a school where she was tormented by boys and made rough in order to endure their treatment. Part class struggle, part feminist struggle, part addiction story, this book is most notable because it was so well-written and so deeply moving even as it refuses to give the reader a sense that Paula will eventually be okay. When I saw a sale copy of the sequel to this book, Paula Spencer, I grabbed it with delight. I cannot wait to read it and see what became of Paula, to see if there will be true transcendence for her.

2. The Franklin Cover-up: Child Abuse, Satanism and Murder in Nebraska by John W. DeCamp
The details in this book, horrific though they were, did not resonate with me because aside from some of the bad acts of Larry King, the man who committed financial fraud and likely sexually abused children in Omaha, very little in this book had the ring of truth. Yet this book still pings the back of my brain because it generated the most personal e-mail responses I received from any book I discussed on both of my sites. The missives worry me, not because I fear they are right, but because I am concerned that there are so many people who still believe the Satanic Panic was real and that Bush 41 countenanced children being flown around to be defiled by debauched members of the GOP. But mostly this book is still hammering in my brain because of the sheer flood of human misery it has revealed to me. Whether or not I believe in the Satanic Panic, there are clearly people who sincerely do believe. People who believe terrible things happened to them, things that should have killed them by any objective analysis, and that teachers, doctors, politicians, police and preachers are all involved in a nation-wide cabal to beget, rape, murder, sacrifice and eat children. No matter how little I believe in many of the stories I received by people who wanted to counter my lack of belief in this book, the people who wrote me were filled with genuine pain, fear and horror and it is nothing short of heartbreaking.

1. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
This book nearly drove me insane reading it, because while in the past I had flirted with the book, I had never sat down and read it carefully word for word. I wonder now if there is a mechanism in the way words and pages are arranged that can make a reader go mad because I really did feel as if my mind was being manipulated as I read this book. It was, beyond a doubt, the most involved book I have ever read and even as I sit here, writing this up, I am going over details in my head, trying to make ends meet, trying to remember which clues led me to places that seemed rational. People either love or hate this book. I fear it because I worry that I will dive in again and go to that strange mental place wherein Johnny, Will and Karen occupy my every thought and each little detail takes off into a place where it has meaning that I come close to deciphering but never quite manage.

So now you know which books still occupy my mind. Please share with me the books that didn’t leave you this year, the maddening, beautiful, frightening, enlightening books that were a cut beyond all the others you read.

Have a lovely New Year’s Eve and may your 2011 be productive, interesting and full of books.

James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War by Adam Gorightly

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War

Author: Adam Gorightly

Type of book: Non-fiction, conspiracy theory, occult symbology, Masonry

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s about James Shelby Downard’s whacked out and at times strangely on the nose beliefs and how they relate to the mass of conspiracy theory as a whole.

Availability: Published by Virtualbookworm.com in 2008, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Having read Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard (I reviewed it here), I wanted to know more about the man, whether or not he was a real human being, and specifically what Gorightly had to say about him. I really like Gorightly’s biography of Kerry Thornley, which I also discussed on this site. I also have a soft spot for Discordians, it must be said, so I am kindly disposed towards Gorightly in general. But I was not as impressed by this book as much as I was by Gorightly’s earlier effort. There was a scattered quality to this book, with a ton of information thrown at the reader in very short order. If you are unfamiliar with Downard or with vast swathes of conspiracy theory in general, you will spend a lot of time Googling when you read this book.

It was quite nice to see that some of my own research and my own suspicions may have some validity to them (because it is impossible not to start feeling some paranoia when you read content like this and it can become hard to determine if you are suddenly seeing odd shadows where there are none). In my review of Carnivals of Life and Death I posited that Downard likely did not exist and may have been a group hoax created by Adam Parfrey, Michael Hoffman and William Grimstad, and Gorightly addresses that idea without confirming or denying it. I find that interesting but don’t see it as anything anyone should find upsetting if Downard is indeed a hoax. Art (or artifice, as it were) is the lie that tells the truth, sometimes. And even though I felt at times that Golightly veered off into his own riffs, I found this book mostly interesting, though the discussions were shallow and yet covered a shocking amount of ground. This is a short book, only 93 pages long, 10 of which are two separate introductions and another three are the index and appendices.

Chapters 1-5 discuss some of the topics Downard covers in Carnivals of Life and Death, as well as the article Downard wrote about the JFK assassination called “King Kill 33.” His unbelievable stories of being a Masonic scapegoat, combined with his supposed sex slave wife and similar mental maunderings are better read in his book, but Gorightly’s discussions are amusing enough. I particularly enjoyed chapter five, which dealt with mystical toponomy. There is an intoxicating “holy crap” element to Downard’s discussions about the 33rd latitude – there is something completely insane yet undeniably obvious about all of it.

It’s around chapter six and onward that things just let loose, applying various branches of conspiracy theory to Downard, mainly via mystical toponomy and mind control. A whole bunch of names who are more or less entire books in their own right get tossed out there in just chapter six alone, from Aleister Crowley to Richard Oppenheimer to Jack Parsons and how they all relate back to the 33rd latitude. From there we expand into Robert Temple’s Sirius theory and UFO-lore, including the Order of the Solar Temple cult suicides, then move on to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, “The Revelation of the Method,” insane journeys with Downard in his silver stream trailer, the connections between Jim Keith’s death at Burning Man and the movie The Wicker Man and the Son of Sam murders… and it was about here that I found myself a little overwhelmed. There is a ton of information crammed into this little book, almost too much.

Seriously, from chapter six on it is like a who’s who of whacked culture and fucked history. David Berkowitz, Terrence McKenna, the Unibomber, Jim Keith, the Carr family, Henry Lee Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, Bill Cooper, Prescott Bush, my hometown hero Alex Jones and so many, many more. This little book could make you go blind from the sheer audacity of its scope. I am unsure if this is a complaint or praise. You tell me…

Because stuff like this matters to me, I will add that the editing at times annoyed me. I suspect that most people who read this sort of stuff don’t care but the editing got very sketchy half-way in. Pepsi Cola did not have an ad that wanted to teach the world to sing. The use of dashes was bizarre. The book incorporated British-style and American-style use of conversational punctuation with no real rhyme or reason. If you’re gonna present a boatload of information in a short amount of space, it helps when the editing and more basic elements of fact checking are on the nose. In some places the editing outright grated.

And so did some of the theories and assertions. I mean, one cannot really disprove that the planet Sirius brought civilization to Earth (well, maybe you can) but you can definitely prove that Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole did not commit several hundred cannibalistic murders. The only reason Henry Lee Lucas is linked to Jim Jones is because he confessed to killing everyone at Jonestown himself, but I think he claimed he shot and stabbed them instead of delivering cups of cyanide-laced fruit drink. Lucas was a semi-literate, probably mentally-challenged grifter who could be coerced into admitting anything. Indicating there was anything sinister in Bush the Lesser commuting his death sentence, linking him to the MK-ULTRA program and the Matamoros drug cult is wacky and sort of dumb. But then again, I also tend to think Gorightly has more than a little trickster in him. I suspect sometimes he just throws things out there to see what will stick, who will believe and who will not. But that’s just a guess because of the whole, you know, Discordian thing.

So, this is a reserved recommendation. If you’re new to the game, you may wanna read up on various insanities before reading this book because it is just an overview of madness and how it related to the theories of James Shelby Downard, and if you have not read Downard, definitely read Carnivals of Life and Death before you read this book. This book was loony though maddening at times, but because I kind of like Gorightly and because I was never bored reading it, I fall more on the end of recommending it than not. But heed my warnings, gentle readers – this book is a one-inch dip in the ocean of conspiracy and as a result may be more taxing than entertaining.

Eulogy for Adolph Cat, 1992(?) – 2010

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

I don’t discuss my personal life in my review journals outside of how my own life affects my reviews to some degree. But I felt the need to eulogize my cat Adolph, who died on 2/19/10. So if you come here for the books and only the books, that’s cool, just give this a miss. It is long, wordy and extremely picture heavy, but he was with me for almost 15 years and, frankly, writing these things out helps me put things in perspective.

Adolph was a cat larger than life. He was the first animal who lived with me, and I was 24 when he came into my life. I will be 40 this year – my entire adult life was spent with that incredible cat. I am not one to anthropomorphize my cats – they are cats, pets, and not my babies or friends or relatives. My relationship with them does not need honorary human status for it to be very special. Nothing wrong with either approach to animal companions – it’s just how I interact with my cats.

Not so with Adolph. He was not our pet. He was our peer. He was our gross roommate who refused to get a job. He was amazingly intelligent, knew us inside and out and understood that we were flawed and loved us regardless because he knew we loved him in spite of his flaws. He was insistent, needy, imperious, a bully, weird, gross and intrusive. He was empathetic, loving, caring, smart, adorable, silly, and loved all humans – all of them, big, small, scary, cute. There was no sensible person he could not charm, even when he acted up.

When he first experienced renal failure and had to spend a couple of days at the vet, they gave up keeping him in a cage during the day. He upset his water bowl several times and howled and howled, so they let him out during the day, letting him have the run of the place. He mocked the dogs in the dog run, greeted people at the front desk. Several people asked if he was up for adoption, he was so funny and interesting. So while I am biased, I know others saw his roguish charms and gave into them, too.

First pic ever
This is the first picture I ever took of Adolph. I don’t have many pics of his early days. No dig cams then and I was very broke. Film was a luxury that I now wish I had spent more money on since I have so few pics of our early days. It was 1995 and he was around 2 years old.

Happy holidays, odd bookers everywhere

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

A new job and the holidays have left me stretched quite thin. Still reading odd books by the armload but have little time to write about them. My job ends in mid-January and when that happens, batten down the old review hatches. Stay tuned, for in my queue are:

The Diary of a Rapist by Evan S. Connell

Selfish, Little by Peter Sotos

Calls to Mystic Alice
by Alice Rose Morgan

The White Trash Manifesto by Jim Goad

Sex Dungeon for Sale
by Patrick Wensink

And some others I can’t recall at the moment.

May you all have a lovely holiday season and keep the new year odd. Much love from Anita, the odd book queen.

Odd Book Title Nominees 2008

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Hurrah! We now have the short list nominees for the oddest book titles for 2008. The contenders are:

  • Baboon Metaphysics
  • Curbside Consultation of the Colon
  • The Large Sieve and its Applications
  • Strip and Knit with Style
  • Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring
  • The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais

I am personally pulling for Curbside.

You can read more about it here.

Welcome to I Read Odd Books

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

This is my inaugural post at my new blog, I Read Odd Books.  Hopefully, a couple of times a week, I can provide reviews and scans of the odd books I have read.  I hope some people find this site entertaining, as I believe there are many more bibliophiles out there like me, who love the outre, the insane, the bizarre and the disturbing elements in their books as much as I do.

So welcome.  And come back soon.  I’ll have my first odd book review up in a couple of days.