2018 in Review

November 21, 2018

Here’s a look back at my writing and thinking life over the past year. After publishing Burning Down George Orwell’s House in 2015 (and paperback and French editions in 2016) and then Bit by Bit in 2017, it was a relatively quiet year for me.

Short Fiction
“Readymade” appeared in Conjunctions 70
(Excerpt from my novel in progress.)

Author Interviews
Kate Christensen for Los Angles Review of Books blog
Tayari Jones for Tin House
Daniel Torday for The Rumpus
Laura van den Berg for The Paris Review Daily

Book Reviews
Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie for the New York Times Book Review
The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien for the Washington Post. This review was also translated and published in France.
The Frolic of the Beasts by Yukio Mishima for the Washington Post 

My Favorite Books of 2018
It was a strange year of reading for me. When I’m writing a novel, I tend to read very little contemporary fiction. Instead, I spend more time with poetry and nonfiction. In this case, I’m reading a great deal of folklore. I’ve also gone recently to some old favorites—in this case, The Brothers Karamazov and The Tiger’s Wife, the Sea of Fertility tetralogy and The Golden Bough, The White Goddess and The Pine Barrens. I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of books I loved this year, but here are a few I adored:

Fiction
Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson (Soho)
The Overstory by Richard Powers (Norton)
Ambiguity Machines by Vandana Singh (Small Beer Press)
The Odyssey by Homer as translated by Emily Wilson (Norton)

Poetry
Museum of the Americas by J. Michael Martinez (Penguin)
On Haiku by Hiroaki Sato (New Directions)
Trickster Feminism by Ann Waldman (Viking)

Nonfiction
Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History (Ten Speed Press)
How To Write An Autobiographical Novel
by Alexander Chee (Mariner)
Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin (Tin House)
A Good Comb by Muriel Spark (New Directions)

Favorite Records of 2018
Black Belt Eagle Scout “Mother of My Children”
Huffamoose “…And That’s When the Golfball Hit Me In the Head”
Nightmares on Wax “Shape the Future”
This is the Kit “Moonshine Freeze”

 

Washington Post // The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien

August 28, 2018

My review of The Fall of Gondolin ran online at Washington Post on 8/28.

“In detailing this vital — and indeed tragic — tale of Middle-earth lore, The Fall of Gondolin provides everything Tolkien’s readers expect. Given his ability to create unforgettable characters like Tuor and classical good-versus-evil myths, it’s no surprise these stories remain so massively popular. You don’t need a monster or a critic to tell you that.”

Update 8/30: This review was translated into French. Here’s a sample:

“Et pourtant, après avoir conçu et enseigné un cours universitaire consacré à J.R.R. L’œuvre singulière de Tolkien, j’en suis venu à apprécier l’élément littéraire qui les régit tous et rend la Terre du Milieu si remarquable. Avec des excuses à Westeros, Narnia et à tout ce que l’univers Star Wars s’appelle, la Terre du Milieu se présente comme le domaine de fiction le plus immersif et détaillé de notre époque en raison des différentes langues inventées par Tolkien – le philologue principal. Passer du temps dans la Terre du Milieu est l’occasion de se délecter de son comportement étymologique.”

 

Los Angeles Review of Books blog // Interview with Kate Christensen

August 8, 2018

There Was No Up or Down: A Conversation with Kate Christensen

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Christensen about her new novel The Last Cruise. It ran in the LA Review of Books blog on 8/8/18. Here’s a taste:

What’s the worst vacation you’ve ever been on?

If happy vacations are all alike, maybe bad ones are bad in their own ways. I’m torn between two totally different ones: the five days I spent in New Orleans during the lead-up to Mardi Gras, when I got an infected cornea in one eye and had to lie in a dark room in acute pain, moaning, while second-line parades went by outside, Dixieland bands playing and drunk euphoric people throwing beads; or the time I went to an artists’ residency in Southern Germany. Does that count as a vacation? Okay, then I’ll pick the residency, if only because I travel on my stomach, and that was one of the worst food experiences of my life.

 

The Paris Review // Interview with Laura van den Berg

July 24, 2018

My interview with Laura van den Berg ran at The Paris Review Daily on July 24, 2018. Here’s an excerpt:

INTERVIEWER

Your book contains a fictional zombie film. What will be your own strategy for surviving the inevitable zombie uprising?

VAN DEN BERG

Zombies have nothing to lose, which makes them formidable adversaries. Destruction is their only plan. Ideally I’d come across an eccentric with a secure underground bunker where we could ride out the disaster with Netflix and tinned fish. Otherwise, I would plan to stay away from other people, find myself a baseball bat, and keep moving at night. I’ve been boxing for the last eight months, which is not all that useful for self-defense—you don’t want to get too close! But it means I have decent physical stamina, which would be helpful if these are the kinds of zombies that please the zombie purists—i.e., the lurching kind. Though zombies are like death itself—you can only outrun them for so long.

The Vocabulary of Tourism: An Interview with Laura van den Berg

New York Times Book Review // Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

May 18, 2018

My review of Ian MacKenzie’s novel Feast Days ran in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday May 8. In wrote, in part:

“In 1995, an American newspaper editor in Budapest told me I could differentiate between economic migrants and expatriates by the kinds of parties they — or, more correctly, we — attended. That obnoxious comment came back to me while reading ‘Feast Days.’ The willful us-versus-them otherness in which these Americans participate threatens to blind them to the shared humanity that binds banker and revolutionary, policeman and protester. MacKenzie makes clear what Emma might not always see: that her life stands in stark contrast to those of both newly arrived Haitians and impoverished Brazilians. Expatriate novels often reveal far more about their characters’ homelands than they do about their presumably exotic destinations. ‘Feast Days’ does likewise.”

The entire review is here.