FOXE'S BOOK OF MARTYRS BY JOHN FOXE


Foxes Book of Martyrs by John Foxe

When I was a little kid my house was full of books about theology and church history, and one of the books I ended up reading a little bit of was Foxe's Book of Martyrs. This book scared the shit out of me. A major reason that I initially picked it was because it was a book with pictures. Here are some of the type of pictures it has:









So yeah, as a little kid this book freaked me out. It still freaks me out.

Foxe's Book of Martyrs is around 400 pages of short descriptions of being people burned alive, pulled apart, skinned, hanged, publicly beaten, stoned, tortured, starved, drowned, and pretty much every other horrible thing that can be done to a person. There is no character development or literary detail, the book basically reads like a gigantic newspaper report.

The Book of Martyrs was a pro-Protestant, anti-Catholic book. The book starts off with Christians being crucified and ripped apart by lions as they are persecuted by the Romans. The Christian church was not an established entity then. The ironic thing is that later in the book even more Christian 'blasphemers' die at the hands of the Catholic church, which has now grown into a world power. The chapters about the Inquisition are even more gory than the chapters in which Christianity is seen as a revolutionary movement that must be stomped into nonexistence.

This is a horrific book, but the other side to it is that much of the book is about people who believed in something so strongly that they were willing to die for it. There are many reports of people who chose death and torture over renouncing their faith. For the author and the intended audience, the people that die in this book did not die pointless deaths, they are heroes and examples to us all.

I didn't read the entire book again, maybe just half of it--I mostly skimmed it. In many ways the book reminded me of 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade. The violence is so extreme and gets repeated so much that after awhile you become desensitized to it. 

This is an excerpt:


The officers of the Inquisition, preceded by trumpets, kettledrums, and their banner, marched on the thirtieth of May, in cavalcade, to the palace of the great square, where they declared by proclamation, that, on the thirtieth of June, the sentence of the prisoners would be put in execution.

Of these prisoners, twenty men and women, with one renegade Mahometan, were ordered to be burned; fifty Jews and Jewesses, having never before been imprisoned, and repenting of their crimes, were sentenced to a long confinement, and to wear a yellow cap. The whole court of Spain was present on this occasion. The grand inquisitor's chair was placed in a sort of tribunal far above that of the king.

Among those who were to suffer, was a young Jewess of exquisite beauty, and but seventeen years of age. Being on the same side of the scaffold where the queen was seated, she addressed her, in hopes of obtaining a pardon, in the following pathetic speech: "Great queen, will not your royal presence be of some service to me in my miserable condition? Have regard to my youth; and, oh! consider, that I am about to die for professing a religion imbibed from my earliest infancy!" Her majesty seemed greatly to pity her distress, but turned away her eyes, as she did not dare to speak a word in behalf of a person who had been declared a heretic.

In many ways, this book is like a condensed history of the world. It didn't make me feel very endeared to humanity. It's a book that's supposed to inspire religious devotion in its readers, but it did not have that effect on me. I will say, however, that it's the type of book that makes a deep impression. It's not a book that's easily forgotten.

CALCULATING HOW BIG OF A TIP TO GIVE IS THE EASIEST THING EVER, SHOUT OUT TO MY FAMILY & FRIENDS BY STEVE ROGGENBUCK



Calculating How Big Of a Tip To Give Is the Easiest Thing Ever, Shout Out To My Family & Friends by Steve Roggenbuck




Roggenbuck is so good at reading these stories out loud that I'm not sure you get the full impact of this book until you hear him perform it. This book is uniquely Steve's, I could never mistake it as being written by someone else. There's a conversational flow and inflection to the prose that is perfectly tailored to his voice and how he says things. That's also true of how the prose looks, with its grammatical and typographical idiosyncrasies. Roggenbuck has created a unique literary style, and that's a huge achievement in and of itself.

I think it's also good to hear the audience laughing while Roggenbuck reads because this is a funny book. One story is about a person who builds satanist dirt bikes. There's a story about someone who has been living alone in a basketball arena for 1,000 years. There's a story about someone who writes a math book called 'i love calculator.' One story is about mole rats. One story is about a house that gets attacked by two hundred and fifty thousand woodpeckers.

The book reminded me a little bit of a Harmony Korine movie in the sense that his films almost always take place inside a world where all the characters are equally bizarre. In a Harmony Korine movie everyone is an outsider and when Korine is at his most joyful this creates an equality and a sense of shared communion among the characters. There isn't an idea of 'normalcy' to play off against because everyone is uniquely weird.

The book also reminded me of this Roggenbuck video, which in my mind could be the book's trailer:



Praise Baphomet

WILDLIVES BY SARAH JEAN ALEXANDER


Wildlives by Sarah Jean Alexander

Wildlives is a 79 page book of poetry. It is a love book. Alexander's poetry reminds me of Zachary Schomburg and Sara June Woods' poetry in the sense that the writing feels fanciful, imaginative, twee, and loving. It's a book that makes me feel good about humanity, even (and maybe especially) when the tone becomes lonely and howling at the moon like. 

Humans can carry a lot of love and affection inside them, it's one of the main arguments against mass extinction. Wanting to love someone and for someone to love you back can make a person vulnerable to a tremendous amount of pain and heartache, but I feel good knowing how people long to hold onto each other. It's a strength, not a weakness. 

The word ‘we’ appears in the poems pretty frequently and for me the book very successfully evokes the state of being hopelessly tangled in love with another person. Here is an example:

Lead me into an old field of brown grass and crown stalks and hard and broken branches. We drag our feet and dust kicks out in a trail behind us, dead fleas and flies, swirling in baby tornadoes. Time sucks into the space that our bodies occupied the steps before and the steps before that and the steps before that. In the center of the field you tell me to stand with my arms at my side and say, Stay very still now, okay? Okay.

Here is another example, although this hits at things from the perspective of not being entangled with someone you love:


If it’s not too late
I’d like to apologize

for the unfair distance
that can exist between two people
in a small human world
and for eyes
that can’t swallow tears
or take deep breaths
the same way
that mouths can.

One last excerpt:



If that doesn't make you want to read the rest of Wildlives I'm not sure what else I can say. This is a very beautiful book.

SAMSON AGONISTES BY JOHN MILTON


Samson Agonistes by John Milton

Samson Agonistes is a 60 page poem about the end of Samson’s life after his hair is cut by Dalila, his eyes are gouged out, and he is made into a slave of the Philistines. At the end of the poem Samson manages to push apart the central pillars of a building in which the Philistines are having a festival, causing it to collapse and kill hundreds of his enemies at once along with Samson himself. 

Milton is an incredibly complex writer, a writer that you could spend your entire life studying. One of the things that I find most interesting about Milton, and one thing that makes his writing so intense, is that he earnestly believed his poetry was an instrument of God. 

In Paradise Lost he says his words are written to ‘justify the ways of God to men,’ which is a pretty fucking ballsy/delusional thing to be convinced of. Milton saw himself as a literary genius and an artist for the ages, but even more than that he saw himself as anointed by God. That sense of cosmic destiny and grandeur goes to the core of Milton's writing.

This sense of divine calling is also present in Samson, God's holy warrior. Like Milton, Samson was blind. Like Milton, Samson was persecuted for his role in fomenting a revolution. (Milton was an anti-royalist who wanted to create a Republican form of government in England.) Like Milton, Samson sees himself as a flawed person who has made many mistakes, but is chosen by God to accomplish great things. 

This sense of righteousness is very compelling and very dark at the same time. Milton portrayed the slipperiness of this type of righteous indignation brilliantly in the character of Satan from Paradise Lost. Ultimately, Samson isn't that different from a suicide bomber who is convinced that all Westerners are evil and should be slaughtered indiscriminately. For Milton Samson is a hero, but he is also a person who is full of faults. Samson is a tragic hero.

I feel that there are few writers who have a stronger command of language than Milton. This is Samson bemoaning his blindness:

O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total Eclipse
Without all hope of day!
O first created Beam, and thou great Word,
Let there be light, and light was over all;
Why am I thus bereav'd thy prime decree? 
The Sun to me is dark
And silent as the Moon,
When she deserts the night
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Since light so necessary is to life,
And almost life itself, if it be true
That light is in the Soul,
She all in every part; why was the sight
To such a tender ball as th' eye confin'd?

I'll end this review by posting a Blind Willie Johnson song about Samson called 'If I Had My Way I'd Tear This Building Down' -- the (probably mythical) story about this song is that one day Blind Willie Johnson played it in front of the Beaumont Texas City Hall and caused a minor riot:



Samson Agonistes expresses a lot of the same anger and desire for revolution that you can hear in this song. If the sentiment of this song appeals to you, then you'll probably find a lot to appreciate about Samson Agonistes as well.

MINI-REVIEWS OF SOME BOOKS I'VE READ THIS YEAR PART 2: THE RECKONING

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The main character of Gilead is John Ames, who is a seventy-six year old preacher that lives in a small midwestern town. He has serious heart problems and his doctors tell him that he is nearing the end of his life. His heart could fail at any time. He has spent most of his life unmarried and alone, but in his old age he married a younger woman and they now have a seven year old son. The entire book is a letter from John Ames to his son, a letter to be read when his son grows up. 

For the last few years I've been reading terabytes of disaffected writing about how this world is fucked up and stupid, other people are fucked up and stupid, you yourself are fucked up and stupid and hopeless, and life is nasty, brutish and short etc etc

All those things might be true, but it's nice to read a book with a different perspective. President Obama has said several times that Gilead is one of his favorite books, which fits with what I know of his philosophy and personality. The main character is a kind, morally decent, intelligent person who tries to see the best in people. He wants to appreciate every remaining moment of life he has left. It's a hopeful book, and it's a book that makes you want to be good to other people. It makes cynicism look small and weak and unintelligent. 

In my mind I think about Robinson's novels as being similar to Terrence Malick's movies. They both give me a feeling of awe about reality and this world we live in, the depths of human beings. And they are both very, very beautifully made.

This is an excerpt, which will hopefully express what I mean:

"They say an infant can’t see when it is as young as your sister was, but she opened her eyes, and she looked at me. She was such a little bit of a thing. But while I was holding her, she opened her eyes. I know she didn’t really study my face. Memory can make a thing seem to have been much more than it was. But I know she did look right into my eyes. That is something. And I’m glad I knew it at the time, because now, in my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. It has something to do with incarnation. You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any." (excerpt) (excerpt)






This book is 23 pages of short poems. The poems are blunt and vivid. Each poem made an immediate impression on me. It's not the type of poetry that you have to study and stare at for a long time, crystal ball like, to intuit the meaning. They're sharp and quick and emotionally hard hitting. 

A lot of the poems are composed of sentences that have been cut into poetic lines, which is something I like. There's just something about a well put together sentence that's admirable in its own right. 

This is one part of a poem from Witch Babies that I kept reading over and over until I ended up memorizing it without trying:

Drowning in a pool of water
that may or may not
actually be there
while listening to 1983's
number one hit record
and not really giving
a shit
either way.

I like that so much. I feel like that's a close to perfect sentence. This is another part of a poem that I liked a lot:

He did not regret
his wanting
although he
may have regretted
the fulfillment
but what else
is there
to say about
desire.



I would like it if I didn't see my acne 
as a manifestation of my inner self
but this is difficult when my thoughts resemble swine
and there is nothing in my heart worth admiration.


There is an amusement park
on the ground with
rollercoasters
like shoestrings
and the hills still
hold green leaves but
when we took off
what lay beneath
was a snowstorm
and coal mills
and a graveyard.




The book/zine/chapbook looks like something you would see being read aloud from at a death metal concert or a pagan ritual in the middle of the forest. It has a sweet looking hand printed sigil on the cover, a lot of beautiful illustrations by Carabella Sands, and a bloody fingerprint on the last page. 

Witch Babies is all sold out now (more copies would presumably mean more bloody fingerprints), but even better news is that Escoria's full-length poetry collection Witch Hunt is going to be released next year through Lazy Fascist Press, so be sure to get a copy of that when it comes out. (excerpt)







My favorite line from Julius Caesar is 'death for his ambition.' That sums up the play perfectly for me. 


Caesar was arguably one of the most successful generals and politicians in human history. Caesar was so well loved and so successful that his popularity threatened to tear the Republic apart, by crowning Caesar king of the entire Roman Empire. There was a great fear that he would become a tyrant. For his ambition, Caesar was stabbed to death by his closest colleagues and friends.


Similarly, Bruno became involved in Caesar's assassination for the good of Rome, to save the Republican form of government from being replaced with a dictatorship. For his ambition, Bruno was murdered during the ensuing civil war and everyone thinks of him as one of history's most notorious traitors. 


All of the main characters in this play are powerful men, flawed politicians with personal agendas. The main characters frequently voice disdain for the general public, who are fickle and easily manipulated by lofty speeches. The public are described like this:


(reacting to a speech) "the rabblement hooted, and clapped their chopped hands, and threw up their sweaty night-caps, and uttered such a deal of stinking breath..."


"You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!"

Shakespeare lived in a highly political time full of constant King of Thrones type coups and spies and civil wars, and I see this play as his condemnation of that type of world. Power corrupts. People have different takes on this play, but that's mine.  You can interpret Shakespeare's plays in about a million different ways, which is a big reason why they keep getting read all these hundreds of years later. 


My favorite parts of the play are the ones where supernatural power is invoked, aka 'beware the Ides of March' etc:


"And there were drawn upon a heap a hundred ghastly women, transformed with their fear, who swore they saw men all in fire walk up and down the streets. And yesterday, the bird of night did sit even at noon-day upon the market-place, hooting and shrieking."


No matter how high your ambition soars or how much you achieve, death is always the final result. The power of mankind is nothing compared to the power of the universe. The great wheel turns.





There are very few things in literature that don't have a creative lineage of precedents...no matter how weird or different a book is, if you read widely enough you will almost always encounter someone else who did something similar. 

One of the things I find most exciting about being a writer/reader in this period of history, as we slowly transition from paper texts to digital ones, is the opportunity to create things that the world has genuinely never seen before. As far as I know, this is the first and only gif novel.

One of my favorite descriptions of the novel comes from Dennis Cooper's blog: 

"I'm coming off feeling like I've found, through creating a novel out of animated gifs, a whole new world or secret level, in the video game sense, within narrative that makes me wonder anew about what it is and what it can be. I feel like the gif form/material allowed me to do something with fiction that language-based fiction hasn't ever allowed me to do -- that is, absolutely and deeply submerge the story, plot, characters and their development until they become a background."

Besides that introduction, the best way to experience the novel is to just click through and look at it, give it some of your attention. 

Reading the novel was such an interesting experience for me because after awhile I realized that, even though it's a novel with hardly any words, I felt that I really was 'reading' it. The sequence of how the gifs are ordered and separated into groups and chapters creates a nebulous but discernible meaning. You start to notice deliberate patterns and structures, and you begin to piece together meaning in a way similar to how you discern and interpret meaning in a sequence of words or sentences. The gif novel is an extremely unique and trippy kind of reading experience, but to me it's still a reading experience. Zac's Haunted House feels like the invention of a new language to me, and I'm excited to see what this new language can say.

THE FIRST TIME I SHOT A GUN

The first time I shot a gun was in high school when I went camping with Greg and Jerry in La Grange. In the morning we ate mushrooms and decided to take the guns out and go hunting.

I think we only walked a quarter mile into the woods, but for most of the time I was worried that we'd get hopelessly lost and die in the wilderness like The Blair Witch. It was early fall. Jerry kept giggling the whole time. I remember compulsively wiping away handfuls of drug sweat from my face, the kind of sweat that's thick and dark and heavy like a kind of poison.

At some point it was decided that we should try to get some boars. We'd heard that they were getting overpopulated. Our plan of attack was basically to sit around talking and smoking cigarettes and if we saw a boar, we'd shoot it. Soon we were peaking and seeing boars all over the place. The rocks all looked like boars, and the trees too, and everything with a shadow. There we were, blasting away.

I could hear them snorting and digging their hooves in the mud. Then it got cloudy and the sky suddenly turned the color of warthog's hairy blubber, pressing down on us. We trained our rifle scopes at the sky and pulled the trigger again and again. As far as I can remember we didn't catch anything.

NEW INTERVIEW


I was interviewed for Josh Spilker's website -- thanks Josh

CLICK HERE TO READ

THE HIGH TODAY WAS 103

As I grow older Houston seems more and more like an Inferno to me, a doomed city, a city where the dead live forever.

Everything here feels stuck in a loop.

In The Inferno, Francesca and Paolo are trapped in an eternal whirlwind, forever blown through the air by their mutual lusts and resentments and jealousies.  In other places of the Inferno, sinners are caught inside a vast Fog, blindly wandering in circles as they ache with unending starvation and thirst. Other sinners who lived lives of laziness and passivity are turned to trees, helplessly pecked at and tortured by cruel Harpies. Liars and falsifiers are buried neck deep in feces, forced to eat their own shit for all time. 

Could it be that whatever you choose to do this in life, you choose forever? Have I already chosen my life? Is it even in me to change? 

In The Divine Comedy even the worst sinners are given the opportunity to repent and change, to climb up from the abyss into Purgatory, and eventually Heaven. But life isn't a poem. 

The only thing I know about are poems.


“Whoever is homeless now, will build no shelter; / who lives alone will live indefinitely so, / waking up to read a little, draft long letters, / and, along the city's avenues, / fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.” – Rilke

WHEN YOU ARE NOT IN LOVE

Of course you want a person who gives you affection and support and good sex and excitement, but even more than that you want someone who wants you, you longs for you when you’re away, who dreams about kissing you, who can’t live without you. And you want to want them too. 

This wanting is a sweet kind of torture that feels good in the night but also has an inherent tragedy to it, because it means being dependent on someone else for your happiness. 

When you are not in love, the great romances of your past become like old songs you can play through your head, intangible ghosts. But when you are in love you become a song yourself, or you become like a musical note in a song—crashing constantly into a mangle of vibratory, shimmering tones and melodies—some of which belong to you and some of which belong to the other person. The song will always end eventually, one way or another. Maybe it will be a long song or a short one. You are always in the air. But it is a beautiful way to be. 

When you are not in love, your pining becomes abstract. You don’t lust for one woman, but women in general. Your life congeals into a singular density—your needs, your dreams, your goals. Your hands feel harder. When you stand up you can feel the floor. That is also a beautiful way to be, but you must be able to appreciate the silence it lives in.

THE GREAT FRONTIER

I used to have a paper route delivering The Houston Chronicle. 

Every night from 2 to 5 a.m. I’d pile the back seat of my car with several hundred rolled newspapers and drive through a series of neighborhoods and apartment complexes, throwing copies out the window. 

It was a shitty job that barely paid me but I loved being out in the city late at night. 

At 3 in the morning the city looks like a ghost town. 

There is a beautiful emptiness to it. 

Houston is one of those cities that goes on and on and on.

A NEWER PERSON, SLIGHTLY OLDER

yesterday has changed us
or been changed by us
and the day before that
and the day before that
so we can never be repeated
even if we repeat ourselves endlessly
we are always new
trading older selves for newer duplications
a newer person, slightly older

THE DEEP SEA

A thousand meters below the surface of the ocean lies the deep sea.

The pressure in the deep sea is 300 times that of the pressure on land. There is almost nothing to eat down there. To conserve energy, many of the creatures that live in the deep sea have evolved methods of remaining motionless for weeks or months at a time, waiting suspended in the blind unlit nothing for a chance meal to float its way.

Sunlight can’t penetrate water beyond a thousand meters. The rest of the way goes on in total darkness, sometimes for miles and miles. It’s always been that way. The deep sea has never seen the sun, it doesn’t even know the sun exists. I don’t know why V. killed herself and it really bothers me sometimes, thinking about it. I wish that she hadn’t done that. The deep sea is full of volcanic mountains that spew poisonous sulfuric gases, and geysers that are hot enough to melt steel.

A constant shower of organic matter floats down from the upper waters and falls to the ocean floor. This is called Marine Snow. Marine Snow is the largest food source in the deep sea. Most Marine Snow is composed of pieces of dead animals, plankton, and fecal matter. I used to know a few people who sold crack. I’d be smoking a blunt or drinking a beer with them and out of nowhere a junkie would appear among us, holding their arms or picking their face, sniveling and desperate like junkies always are. One time a woman showed up wearing an expression on her face like she’d just clubbed her own child to death because somebody told her to. It was the most defeated look that I’d ever seen on another human being. It’s a war, this life, a war that defeats us all. In front of the woman and everybody else my friend said loudly “Anybody want their dick sucked?” and laughed and laughed and laughed as if life was a never ending carnival of pleasure.

Literature is supposed to be good for something, isn’t it? All this talking isn’t just for your own desperate little ego. Language isn’t some alien world unto itself. Language exists for humans. All this solitary work that eats a hole in your heart and burns your years away, isn’t it supposed to count for something beyond your own hollow amusement? Aren’t you supposed to be reaching people? 

Imagine that my hands are gripped around your shirt. My breath is on your face, my eyes are wide open, and I am shaking you as hard as I fucking can. Come back to the world. Don’t be dead. You once happy inhabitants of the windblown breathing world, you sweethearts of the sun, you moon-eyed moon gazers, come back. And beware. For even now, we are within the deep sea’s clutches.

MINI-REVIEWS OF SOME BOOKS I'VE READ THIS YEAR

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JANUARY



Entertainment Weekly edited by Matthew Donahoo & Lucas Simon Foster

This is an 88 page anthology of short stories and poems. 

The standout story for me was 'The Library Assistant' by David Fishkind. There are lots of stories about drinking and getting drunk, but only a few stories I've read that have actually made me feel drunk. This story gives me a claustrophobic despairing feeling, like when you drink so much that the world starts spinning. (excerpt)

Tao Lin has a very funny and emotional and kind of profound two page story that begins like this: 'I just had the most intense coconut opening experience of my life by far.' 

There's also a brand new Zachary German story...that was the main reason I initially bought it. I'm waiting on the next Zachary German book like I'm waiting on the next Jay Electronica album. I enjoyed this short story, it's a revised version of a story that he told on his podcast Shitty Youth. (excerpt)

There's a bunch of other cool stuff in here too, but for the sake of space I'll just mention those three pieces.



Don Quixote by Cervantes (translated by Charles Jarvis)

This is the second time I've read Don Quixote. This year I read it over a three month span, picking it up whenever I felt like it. 

Don Quixote is a character who read so many books that he went insane. I am a compulsive and obsessive reader, I've been that way for most of my life. This is the kind of life I want and choose to live, but I do get depressed about it sometimes. Maybe I've spent too much time with my nose stuck in a book. Maybe my life would be 'better' and healthier and more socially adjusted and successful if I had moderated my reading a little bit more. I start to wonder about what books have added to my life, and what they've taken away.

Don Quixote is a bittersweet kind of hero. He's a comically delusional old man who thinks he is one of the world's great heroes, although he winds up getting humiliated and beaten up and laughed out of town half the time. He is essentially homeless and destitute. Especially in Book One, he is a pathetic character, a warning against the dangers of keeping your head too high in the clouds.

Despite all that, Don Quixote actually does become one of world's great heroes. He has a steadfast idealism, an earnestness, and a chivalric code that he lives for completely. He is not a practical human being, he is a human who dreams himself into a legend. By Book Two, he is known all throughout Spain. He has traveled all over the country and had a hundred fantastic adventures. He knows things that ordinary people will never know. And he completely doesn't give a fuck what other people think of him. He is brave and wild. I love this book like a family member. (excerpt)





Poems and Fragments by Sappho (translated by Stanley Lombardo)

Sappho was a Geek poet who lived 2500 years ago. In her time, and for hundreds of years later, she was considered one of the great poets of her culture. Most of what she wrote is now lost--scholars say that only 10% of her poetry has survived--enough to fill a 65 page book. 

Most of what has survived through the millennias are just fragments of poems, and reading her poetry is like looking at ruins--small glimpses of genius, small glimpses at a world that has long vanished. 

A lot of Sappho's poems are about all-or-nothing love, the kind of love that makes you go crazy and shine like a star. Her works have been torn to ribbons by time, and yet the intense passion of her words can still reach through even all that, and touch you. (excerpt) (excerpt) (excerpt) (excerpt) (excerpt) (excerpt) (excerpt)




The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (translated by Meredith McKenney)

The usual description of this book goes something like 'it's like a thousand year old blog'--but that really is what it's like. I kept thinking about Megan Boyle the whole time I was reading it. 

The Pillow Book is the diary of a 10th century Japanese lady of the court. But it's more like a blog, not a diary. Diaries are private, and it's clear that The Pillow Book is written for an audience, although it is a very small and specialized audience, aka other members of the court. 

Throughout the book Shonagon tells stories and gossip, describes her days and weeks, and gives the reader long lists of things.

Some of her lists include:
+Things That People Despise
+Things That Give a Pathetic Impression
+Rare Things
+Awkward Things
+Boring Things
+Things That Should Not Be Seen By Firelight
+Things That Are Unpleasant To Hear

+Things That Should Be Large

And on and on and on, for 400 plus pages. Some parts are boring and some are interesting. Most are interesting. She seems like the type of person I would enjoy having as a friend. And she lived a thousand years ago, which is pretty cool. (excerpt) (excerpt)



FEBRUARY



I feel like when Denis Johnson is at his best he's pretty much untouchable, and he's at his best for a lot of this novel. It's about a burnt-out, suicidal man who gets stranded in a small Cape Cod resort town. The plot is difficult to sum up neatly, but it includes working as a private investigator, transvestites, and conspiracy theories. 

It's a funny book and it's surprising. Like most Denis Johnson books, the prose is top notch. There's an atmosphere of religious apocalypse woven through the whole thing, and ultimately I think of it as a religious book in the weirdest possible way. I think Jesus' Son is my favorite Denis Johnson book, then Angels, and then this one. (excerpt)





The End of Night: Searching For Natural Darkness In an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard

This is a non-fiction book about light pollution. I wanted to read a book about this subject because in The Pillow Book, Shonagon spends so much time rapturously describing moonlight, fireflies, lanterns, embers, coals, and stars--it made me realize that her understanding of night is fundamentally different from mine. When night comes around, all I need to do is turn on a few switches (or a few screens) and my life is once again swallowed up in light.

Bogard talks about the history of public lighting, starting with the great European capitals, and he talks about the advent of electric light. Most of the book is focused on light pollution in the United States. US cities have had public lighting for some time, but most of the US remained in the dark well into the 1930s, when FDR created the Rural Electrification Administration. 

Bogard focuses a lot of attention on Las Vegas, where the brightest light in the world exists (at the top of the Luxor Pyramid--a light so bright that it has created its own mini-ecosystem of birds and bats that feast on the giant numbers of insects it attracts). The lights of Las Vegas bleed into the desert and into national parks that are hundreds of miles away.

There are several national parks in the US where you can still see the night sky fully exposed. Bogard's description of these places make me depressed, because I've never seen the sky like that. On clear nights, the Milky Way is so bright that it casts a shadow. With the naked eye, you can see a distance of 2.2 million light years into outer space. That's something I'd like to see before I die. I felt very informed by this book, I learned a lot.





The Essential Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

The edition I read was an abridged version that was around 300 pages. The full book is close to 1300 pages.

This book has some of the longest sentences I've read, and some of most tortured and extravagant syntax I've read. That's awesome because it makes the book so weird and different from everything else. Burton's prose has a lot of strange moves and I'm glad I read it, but it was also a pretty frustrating book for me to spend time with. 

I was more attracted to the content, which is just as strange and goes all over the place. I did read an abridged version, but based on what I know about the book it seems like most of it just meanders all over the place, from subject to subject and anecdote to anecdote. It's supposed to be about 'melancholy' but it ends up being about everything. The best way to describe the book is that it's an encyclopedia of European civilization.

It's a funny book...it doesn't read like Tao Lin, but the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking wouldn't it be awesome if one day Tao Lin ended up writing a gigantic rambling 2,000 page book like this. This book reminds me somewhat of the long sentences in Taipei, where every tiny nuance gets qualified, and the qualification gets further parsed into several more qualifications which get dissected down into molecule and atom levels of nuance until they finally resolve themselves in a kind of blurry shrug. (excerpt)





Bipolar Cowboy by Noah Cicero

I love the trailer for Bipolar Cowboy, which features several readings from the book. I love the trailer so much that I'm gonna post it below so you can watch it immediately:




The poems in this book are an interesting amalgam of Buddhist koans and conversational speech. I thought the poems were very sweet and melancholy and earnest, without being cheesy. 
The poems are very personal and specific to the author Noah Cicero, but they're also preoccupied with philosophy and trying to make sense of human experience on a grand scale.

The book reminded me a lot of a Japanese phrase: 'mono no aware.' It doesn't have an exact translation in english but wikipedia says it means 'the pathos of things.' It describes the feeling you get when you contemplate the transience and ephemerality of existence, that all things eventually die and change, nothing stays as it is. It is a sad feeling, but it's also a beautiful feeling. Like the sudden blooming and sudden death of the cherry blossoms every year, life is intense and fleeting and full of cycles of death and renewal.


I really appreciated how accessible and honest and emotional the writing was. I wish more poetry collections were like this book. (excerpt)




Binary Star by Sarah Gerard

This is a short novel about a toxic, co-dependent relationship. The main character struggles with anorexia and her boyfriend is an alcoholic asshole. I felt sympathy for the main character, and I felt almost none for her boyfriend. He's an asshole.

I felt like this book gave me the best insight I've read so far into the mind of someone with severe body dysphoria and anorexia. The descriptions of the wooziness and heart-racing that accompanies going without food were very vivid and actually made me feel physically bad sometimes, they gave me low level anxiety, and I mean that in a very complimentary way. The sense of self-hatred that the main character constantly feels is intense and palpable. She is living in a personal hell. 

I also didn't know about binary star systems before I read this book, and I felt like Gerard did a good job of teaching me about them. The writing is short, clipped, immersive, and page-turning. I think I read the whole book in one sitting. (excerpt)