Friday, July 28, 2017

New Prose Poem at Philosophical Idiot.

My prose poem, "Channel 104 at 2:45 AM," is up at the webzine Philosophical Idiot, founded by poet B. Diehl.

Read it here.

If you haven't read it yet, you can also read my review of his debut poetry collection, Zeller's Alley, at Cultured Vultures as well.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Reviews at New Places + A Contest

In case you missed it, my review of the upcoming book, Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the '70s and '80s, from Grady Hendrix is up at Ginger Nuts of Horror. There's also a contest to one of two copies of the book. Just like and share the review and leave a comment with what your favorite horror book cover from the 70s or 80s is. Hopefully, I'll have more horror-related reviews up there in the near future.

I'll also have review appearing in print in Red Room Magazine. That one will be review of that Valancourt Books reprint of Ken Greenhall's novel Hellhound. You'll be able to get that in print or online this October.

I'm working on a lot of other things behind the scenes and I'll update here when they're ready to be made public.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Brief Thoughts 23

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy 

Wisconsin Death Trip is a collection of photographs and news reports from Jackson County, Wisconsin take from between 1885 to 1900. The goal of collecting the work was to get an idea of what everyday life in that place and time period was like. As the title suggests, it's not a pretty one. The region was plagued by murder, economic downturn, and rashes of suicides and arson.

The photographs take up a large part of the book and juxtaposed with the news stories are extremely disquieting. What seems to be blank looks on the people's faces (this was before smiling for photos was common) become masks of despair.

One could debate if this method of examining a time period is the best way of really getting into the psyche of the everyday person of the time, like the introduction states its goal is. Despite that, it remains a fascinating project. It's part history and part art book without being a history of art book. It's no wonder it maintains a cult following.

Buy Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy.

Wytchcult Rising by Philip LoPresti

This novelette from writer and photography Philip LoPresti is a story of an inbred cult living deep in the woods. The narrative jumps between a young boy involved in the cult, incapable of talking or walking from his deformities, and a third person perspective.

The prose is simple but poetic. The narrative recounts the cult's rituals in disturbing detail. Eventually, a group of men stumble upon the cult. After dispatching the men, the cult decides they no longer need to remain hidden in the woods and decide to take a nearby village for themselves.

The story is relatively simple, reminiscent of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and books like Off Season for its atavistic, incestuous family living in the dark recesses of the backwoods, but incredibly effective. The cult's strange and violent rituals, focused around sexual bodily fluids like semen and menstrual blood, give a sense of Dionysian spirituality and place it in opposition to the chasteness valued in Abrahamic religions.

Also included in this short book are photographs by LoPresti. They are just as disquieting as the story itself. Some of them showing death and destruction explicitly, but most resembling more the aftermath of the cults doings. LoPresti is just as talented a photographer as he is a writer.

Unfortunately, this book is out of print. If it's reprinted at anytime, I'll update here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Brief Thoughts 22

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

During the 1936 election, a demagogue named "Buzz" Windrip becomes the Democratic candidate for President instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt. With his populist platform; promising a universal basic income, strong law enforcement, and a suppression of the rights of troublesome blacks and Jews, he handily defeats his Republican opponent, Walt Trowbridge. Once in power, he quickly concentrates power into the executive office and reorganizes the United States into a fascist state.

A liberal editor of a small-town newspaper named Doremus Jessup opposes Windrip from the beginning. He finds himself forced to crank up his opposition after hearing about Windrip's advisors murdering a pair of Jewish men in cold blood. His harsh words towards the administration earns him the negative attention of Windrip's brownshirts, called the Minute Men, but he continues his opposition even has the administration becomes more and more tyrannical.

The book that came to mind the most while I read It Can't Happen Here was Jack London's The Iron Heel. I couldn't help but compare and contrast them. They were very similar in plot, but very different in their philosophies, their protagonists, and their intentions. London was a Marxist and The Iron Heel was written mostly to push this philosophy. Lewis is a liberal and It Can't Happen Here was written in response to the rise of fascism in Europe. Ernest Everhard of The Iron Heel is basically a Marty Stu, but Doremus Jessup is far more three dimensional.

Both move towards being an adventure story focused on rebellion to a totalitarian state, but It Can't Happen Here is more of a slow burn and gives a far more realistic story on how a fascist state could come to be in the United States. London's Iron Heel is basically a shadowy cabal of capitalists who manipulate everything from behind the scenes. Buzz Windrip was based on Huey Long, a Louisiana politician who almost ran in the 1936 Presidential election, but was assassinated before he could. Windrip's closest advisors, Lee Sarason and Dewey Haik, seem to be based on Nazi figures like Ernst Rohm, Josef Goebbels, and Hermann Goering. Overall, It Can't Happen Here is just more grounded in reality.

Some may find the beginning of this book a bit dull because it's very topical and dated. There are several figures here, both actual figures and stand-ins for actual ones, who probably won't be recognized by most. Despite that, it still remains entertaining and engaging to read, especially when Windrip takes office. There's a dry sense of humor in recounting Windrip's horseshit speeches and the atrocities committed by his regime. So even 80 years later it remains very readable. Somewhat relevant too. Sales of this book increased after Donald Trump was elected President. Comparing and contrasting Buzz Windrip with Trump could be an essay unto itself, so could my own thoughts on how a totalitarian government would happen in America if it did.

This is a classic for good reason. It's funny, insightful, thought-provoking, very readable, and as relevant as ever. Even its title is evocative. Highly recommended

Buy It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis here.

Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers by Pierre Guyotat  

Where do I even start with this one?

This novel recounts a war between the fictional country of Ectabane and what's implied, but not explicitly stated to be, France. It follows many different characters from both sides. There are battles, slavery, a lot of rape, torture, and churches being destroyed. 

Reading this book is like crawling through mud made of dirt, blood, piss, and semen. There's very little plot. It's more a barrage of horrible vignettes and images. One part that sticks out the most to me is a scene where a young boy in a brothel is forced to have sex with a dog for the entertainment of the brothel's patrons. This was very difficult to get through. 

Guyotat apparently based this novel on his experiences during the Algerian War for Independence. He was a French soldier but ended up siding with the Algerians for which he was imprisoned. A large chunk of this novel apparently came from the hallucinations he experienced while he was in prison. It shows. 

I'm making it sound like I didn't like this novel, and I'm not sure saying I "like" it is the correct way to put it. It's one of the most intense things I've ever read the prose is amazingly crafted, even in the French to English translation.  That's why it was such a mentally exhausting experience to read. I've heard that Guyotat's Eden Eden Eden is even more intense. I'll read that at some point, but I need sometime to recover from this one. 

This is an incredible book, and it's a shame the English translation is out of print. I hope either a new translation or a re-release of this one will be done in the near future. 

Buy Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers by Pierre Guyotat here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

GUEST POST: On Willpower by Ann Sterzinger

Hey kids, I've got a special treat for you today! You may know Ann Sterzinger from the reviews of her novels, The Talkative Corpse and NVSQVAM (nowhere), that I've done on here. Recently, Sterzinger decided to branch out and write a book about fitness. Like diet and exercise, not me fitness boot up your ass. 

I'll be reviewing Disaster Fitness: Make Your Demons Do the Work over at Cultured Vultures within the next few weeks. To tide you over while you're waiting with your hand on your dick/pussy, here's Sterzinger on the nature of willpower and how her book will help you direct it. Yes, she's selling you shit, but I like the shit she's selling, so I'm hosting this for her. I'm nice like that. So be sure to check out her book, and maybe you can stop looking like half-melted ice cream.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are Ann Sterzinger's and not mine. If they cause you to fly into a homicidal rage, track her down and not me. 
___

Hi! I’m Ann Sterzinger, a novelist who somehow stays normal sized despite spending eternities sitting on my butt writing. I’m also certifiably mental; I should look like the comic book guy from the Simpsons, right? But nope, I’m 42 and people still won’t take me seriously, because I kind of look like a kid.

At a certain point I realized that if I figure out how I manage to do this, I can tell other people how to do it too. So I eventually managed to quit looking down my nose at self-help authors for long enough to write it all down.

Here’s the basic realization I came to: The most valuable commodity a person has is not time—it’s willpower. Especially if you’re a crazy person who wants to get in shape.

As proud as you are when you manage to white-knuckle it through a workout you hate and a diet that makes you suicidal, teh science mans have announced that you have only got so much willpower to spend each day, and then your brain cracks under the stress.

It makes intuitive sense. Think of how many days go like this for you:

You dragged yourself out of bed to work out this morning, you were nice to your ass-hat coworkers, and you ate a salad for lunch—but that last bullshit project that came in at work was the last straw. Trouble ensues. Cheesecake goes down the hatch. Whiskey shots get pounded.

Are you going to get up early and work out tomorrow? Giant bowl of nope, you say! Fool me once!

But imagine this: what if you could stop pouring that giant chunk of your daily willpower into your fitness plan?

At the risk of pointing out what you think is obvious, one of the major expenditures in your willpower budget is working out. Most people exhaust a lot of their mental resources just getting off the couch, and then pushing through the pain… and then you pig out afterwards, undoing all of your work and then some, because your willpower for the day is gone.

What if you didn’t have to exhaust yourself mentally just getting off the couch? What if you actually looked forward to exercise? Would you work out more often? Would you save that willpower to start your own business after your dumb job is finished every day? Would you escape the horrible loop of exercising so you can pig out, and then punishing yourself for pigging out with exercise?

Welcome to the way out of the cycle. The bad news is that the way out is straight through your personal psychological disaster zones. But the GREAT news is that I’ve written a book that will guide you along this fiery path to the willpower savings you need to improve your life.

DISASTER FITNESS: Make Your Demons Do the Work is a bitchy but compassionate workout motivation program that has been reverse-engineered by a lady who got tired of people snarling “Why are you not fat?” at her for free and decided to get paid to explain why.

DISASTER FITNESS is a fitness program for those of you who are tired of letting your mental exhaustion and whatever the psychiatrist says is wrong with you get the better of your fitness efforts.

Tl;dr version: The craziness of your brain and your life is making you fat. But you can totally use it to get yourself in shape again.

This isn’t a program that will help motivate you. This is a program that will cut your need for motivation.

It isn’t easy for me to bring you this information. I’m embarrassed to write about fitness. There’s so much stupid crap out there about it, for one thing; and more important, pseudo-intellectuals such as myself aren’t supposed to admit they work out anyway. But amongst the many things I’m sick of having to do for free in the Internet age, being sneered at for knowing how to take care of myself is up there.

So it’s time to tell people what I do, and ask them for legal tender in exchange.

I’m not the sanest or most together person in the world—for Christ’s sake, I’m a novelist—so if I can do this, anyone can.

This is the only fitness “secret” that really counts:

All the stuff that bugs you deep inside can become your secret weapon.

Be honest: When you look in the mirror and see a slob that doesn’t look like you, do you blame your mental health? Did you have terrible parents, a tour in Iraq, a chemical imbalance, a trauma?—Do you think it’s pinning you to your couch and your Doritos?

Here’s the truth: you aren’t a victim of your circumstances. You aren’t inherently lazy. The deck isn’t stacked against you. Inertia is not destiny. You have a mighty sword in your hand; you’re just holding it by the wrong end.

Your damage is a hidden superpower.

Somehow my crazy has helped keep me active. That’s an understatement; it makes daily physical activity inescapable. What’s the difference between you and me?

Nothing. Except for one little tweak:

I’m holding the sword by the hilt, and you’re holding it by the blade.

You may think you’re hopelessly depressed, but the numbness that started out as a defense mechanism can be used as a tool. You may feel hopelessly mired in “mental illness”—but each of your “disorders” began as a trick that a healthy brain learns to do to protect itself when it can’t escape bad circumstances. Your brain has developed marvelous coping tools. All you need to do is learn to rewire those tools to get you fit instead of getting you fat.

That’s why I wrote DISASTER FITNESS: THE TRAUMATIZED CHILD’S HOT BODY GUIDE.

Cause I’m tired of hearing people complain about a problem they are perfectly capable of solving. I can’t make you a supermodel; I can’t make me a supermodel, either. I’m a girl and I look like Joey Ramone, for Christ’s sake. But we can be strong and healthy, and that’s always hot. And the way is straightforward, believe it or not. (At least compared with most of our other problems.)

As long as you have a problem to solve that is within your control, you’re the luckiest guy/gal in the world. Success beckons, and nobody stands in your way. To paraphrase Yoda, don’t bitch—do.

Give me a few puny shekels and I’ll tell you how to turn it around:


And this book is probably going to get pirated, so go ahead and donate to my patreon to make up for it: https://www.patreon.com/asterzinger
OR donate to me via PayPal: annsterzinger@yahoo.com

And watch my Grumpy Book Review of Jeff Gephart’s hilarious and thoughtful Accidental Adulthood. Grumpy Book Reviews is my new video series, in which I tell you what to read besides my stuff, while hopefully providing entertainment, even if it’s unintentional humor:


And FINALLY:
Check out the Disaster Fitness blog for more fitness advice, plus my personal blog (where Jeff has a guest post! Funny as fuck, as we used to say when I was a screwed-up but still not fat punk rock kid).


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Brief Thoughts 21

This series has reached drinking the legal drinking age. In the states, at least.

The Beginning Was the End by Oscar Kiss Maerth

I can't remember where I first heard about this book. The premise intrigued me, but used copies of it are pretty expensive. I was able to get it easily through interlibrary loan though.

Maerth's thesis is that modern man came into being from cannibalistic apes that ate the brains of other apes. The reason they ate brains, and why they were able to reproduce so much, is because brains acted as an aphrodisiac and increased sexual pleasure. What they didn't know is that eating brains caused their intelligence to increase and caused them to lose their body hair.  The problem is that it made their brains expand so much, it smooshed the brain against their skulls, damaging their brains. This resulted in mental sickness and a loss of the ESP natural to all living beings. This is why modern humans are so miserable and sick in the head.

Yes. He's entirely serious about this.

The first chapter is actually a very well written diatribe about the human condition and discontent with the modern world. In chapter two, it immediately takes a hard turn into kooksville, claiming intelligence can be eaten and that ape brains are an aphrodisiac. The evidence he provides is sketchy at best, things like discussing the importance of head and skull symbolism in many cultures, and ridiculous at worst. One of his claims is that different races evolved from different types of apes, with some races remaining in earlier stages of development than others. His evidence for this a collage of different people of races juxtaposed with different types of monkeys.

Also, there's aliens, because of course there is.

He claims that people like Jesus, Buddha, and so forth were born without brain damage which is what made them such wise men. His solutions to the problem of human's damaged brains are a vegetarian diet, meditation, and trepanation. Okay, not quite. He does argue that trepanation was an early means of relieving pressure in the head and that genetic engineering to expand the skull would be beneficial.

I'm not sure if I should be surprised or not that this book got little attention. The only contemporary review I could find was from Kirkus where the reviewer was obviously shocked by the book. Maerth apparently had a few disciples, but as far as I can tell, a brief pamphlet was the only thing he ever wrote after this. The book does have some notoriety from being an inspiration to the band Devo. They even named one of their short films after the book.

This book is a fine example of crackpottery, but I can see why Devo was inspired by it. It comes up with a pretty original story for humanity's origin and it's a pretty entertaining one. I'd recommend picking this up if you're into oddball theories. Used copies are pretty expensive, but you can get it pretty easily from a library or online.

Buy The Beginning Was the End by Oscar Kiss Maerth here.

Mythologies by Roland Barthes

After HAarlem VEnison told me that my poetry reminded him of Roland Barthes, I decided to take a look at one his books. This one seemed to be the best starting point.

Barthes uses the term "myth" here in a unique way. He refers to the meanings conferred on to things rather than to fictional stories. Though he does consider most of the meaning around things to be a type of fiction. The books is divided into two parts. Part one is a collection of essay about the "myths" of things in every day life like wine and laundry detergent. Part two is a longer essay that analyzes the idea of myth as a part of speech.

The book is surprisingly accessible. It may seem silly to give what amounts to a literary analysis on  things like professional wrestling and steak and fries, but it makes sense. Barthes is concerned with the perceptions that underlie language. The average person is going to deal with laundry detergent more than they are classic literature.

Part two is more difficult than part one, but not by much more. Here, Barthes explores the idea of myth as a part of speech more deeply, as well as how it intertwines with power in society. He uses an example of a picture of young black man saluting while wearing a French military uniform. He breaks down the difference between the picture itself, the young man in the picture, and what the picture represents. He notes how the "myth" of French patriotism in the picture obscures the history of French imperialism. Likewise, he explores how political myths in society develop working from a Marxist perspective.

This is seems like a good starting point for someone interested in the postmodernist view of language. I plan on checking out more of Barthes's work, as well as Ferdinand de Saussure, who was a big influence on this book. 

Buy Mythologies by Roland Barthes here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brief Thoughts 20

A Treasury of Damon Runyon

I recently learned about Damon Runyon. He sounded interesting, being a popular writer of humorous in the 20s and 30s whose subject was gamblers, gangsters, and bootleggers. I decided this would be the best place to start with him.

The arrangement of this book is kind of off. You'd think that they'd put all the poems together. Instead there's a couple at the beginning and a couple at the end. I think the ones at the beginning were supposed to separate the stories that make up the basis for the Guys and Dolls musical from the other ones, but even then, it felt weird. There's also a separation of sections in the index but not the text itself. It made the thematic and stylistic changes towards the end jarring.

While I liked most of the stories towards the beginning, especially "Johnny One-Eye," toward the middle the stories started to blend together and feel dull. I honestly couldn't tell you what happened in the vast majority of these. Maybe because of how samey the Broadway stories are, they're better taken in one at a time rather than all at once. I couldn't get into most of the stories towards the end either. The Turp stories (about an older Brooklyn married couple) were cute, but I couldn't get into the stories based on Runyon's home town either. The longer, non-Broadway stories at the end felt like they came from an entirely different writer. I don't know if these were early works or what. They just felt stuck in there because they didn't fit anywhere else.

I thought the poems at the beginning were corny and lame but the poems towards the end were much more enjoyable.

Overall, I didn't really like this book much. I might give Runyon another chance, when I was able to get into the stories they were fun, but this one just didn't do it for me.


Buy A Treasury of Damon Runyon here. 

Road Dawgz by K'wan 

The previous books I'd read by K'wan, Black Lotus and Animal, were both fun, page-turner crime novels. I picked up this book which was an earlier effort, being only his second novel. 

Of the books I've read by K'wan, this one was shaping up to be the best. Not just a crime novel, but a portrait of how a its protagonist, K-Dawg, goes from an ambitious yet affable criminal to a true villain. 

The problem is, towards the end it became clear that K'wan was too attached to K-Dawg to allow him to do anything truly despicable. Even though it seems to be going in that direction, K-Dawg doesn't completely lose his moral center. The narrative ends up treating him completely like an anti-hero. As a result, we get an ending that feels like a complete cop-out. 

Despite that, it remains a fun read and I'll certainly be reading more of K'wan's work.

Buy Road Dawgz by K'wan here.