All posts filed under: Books


BOOK REVIEW: The Best Small Fictions 2015

Writing fiction is both art and science, but never does it feel more like a science than when the fiction is very short. The traditional elements of story — dialogue, action, character development, description — all take time, and words. Sometimes, to keep a short story from turning long, something has to give. Writing a very short story can feel like balancing an equation; one or more of those traditional elements of fiction may have to be omitted entirely, or the variable substituted with the X of cliché, leaving the work feeling incomplete or undercooked. It’s an unforgiving form, is what I’m saying, so tricky to do well that you wonder why anybody even tries. Yet writers of great talent still do, and 55 of them are represented in The Best Small Fictions 2015, due in October from Queen’s Ferry Press — the inaugural volume in a new series, the first annual compendium to be devoted to the form since the 1952–1960 run of Robert Oberfirst’s Anthology of Best Short-Short Stories. But if the perils …


BOOK REVIEW: DANIEL MAKAGON, “Underground: The Subterranean Culture Of D.I.Y. Punk Shows”

This is, to a great extent, one of those books I wish was around when I was playing in a band – certainly, when I was 18 and in my first band.  We could have used a guidebook, which is how I view this fine piece of writing by Daniel Makagon, associate professor in the College of Communicaton at DePaul University.  It is not filled with witty recountings of life on the road; no amusing anecdotes about women, drugs or which promoter fucked which band over.  It’s all of it,  but done in a very direct, matter-of-fact manner (little wonder since Makagon is an academic) and I applaud it.  Sometimes, it’s all well and good to read road tales, but if you’re going to go out as a performer, especially in these tiny, makeshift scenes, you really should have a map and a knowledge of the proverbial bear traps out there, as not everyone is altruistic and money becomes the central point of everything.  Yes, it’s vital to have these networks – the “American Underground” …


REVIEW: Richard Buckner – “The Hill” (Reissue)

Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology turned 100 a few days ago, and Merge Records marked the occasion by re-releasing the oft-overlooked indie-folk gem it inspired, Richard Buckner’s majestic homage, 2000’s The Hill, which puts more than a baker’s dozen of Masters’ pen-and-ink story-biographies to song. There are plenty of ways to get to Buckner’s Hill. And plenty of ways to dig your hands into the soil of it all. But, plain and simple, this Buckner record, in particular out of his lofty canon, is not a hill but a mountain, a singular accomplishment among many. Backed occasionally lushly but more often sparsely by Calexico core Joey Burns and John Convertino, Buckner strikes a semblance of quiet desperation as he breathes life into 18 of Masters’ pseudo-obituaries/confessions, making them more like living, breathing rough drafts then final nails in coffin lids. It’s exciting, even enthralling stuff to hear. Buckner has his hook in you from square one; and he knows it. The work-song spiritual “Ollie McGee” is downright devastating. Two songs later, “Julia Miller” will knock you …