Ian started at Avid in June of 2019, just short of celebrating his 20th year in Athens. He spent most of the last 2 decades tending hipster bars and playing loud music (some folks would say you could swap those adjectives). In fact, he’s often spotted reading in dark, noisy bars. Most of his free time is spent nose-in-book, playing old video games or rewatching classic talkie films like Midnight Madness and Cabin Boy.
In theory, there's nothing funny about war, feverously managing a trading post in the middle of the jungle, going mad working on an automobile assembly line OR scraping away a living as a broke doctor in the slums, but this snarky protagonist makes it all so in this adventure.
The livid viscosity of a dark tale is always well accompanied by a slick sense of humor. One bite of this macabre macaron and I was hooked. BE NICE TO ANIMALS...
This book is 'Gravity's Rainbow Framed/Censored Roger Rabbit' AND Punch and Judy in the Marx Bros' script-doctored 'Waiting for Godot' AND 'Barton Fink' directed by the Zucker Bros. AND The Last 20-odd minutes of '2001' as a Pigs in Space sketch ALL wrapped up in one anthill. It's highbrow AND lowbrow. It's UNIBROW, like Bert and Ernst. It's comedy punches up AND down, like Intendo's 'Punch Out' (pun nintended).
I was late in the game in discovering this gem. 20 years late. In that literal score, I've mined and cashed in many literary nuggets. I've amassed, squandered, and gambled away a mental fortune. I've climbed the highest of peak contents, sailed the smoothest C-listers, and toiled through some plain ol' stinkers. Sometimes a book just finds YOU. It pulls you out of your post-voyage funk and says "Hey buddy, I've been here all along. Let's hang." SPOILER ALERT: This book is now my father.
A spilled inkwell set into action by a 14 year old boy wanting to see naked girls. Seems commonplace enough, but in lieu of cleaning up the mess, Mathieu lets the the ink slow-flow through the grooves and divots of the 1990s drawing board. A dysfunctionate and affectional domino effect that often turns left though the right blinker's been on for miles.
I just spent a guilt-free rainy day with these high calorific, double-stuffed short stories. Located within: A traffic jam turned tribal via survival, some playful narrator juggling, an escapist daydream that O. Henrys into an R. Serling nightmare, and fiery relationships that literally burn to literal litter. Looking forward to more rain.
Communication’s a key ingredient to our daily life. Even choosing to avoid it says multiple somethings about us. Be the relationship cave painter and archaeologist or mother and son, down to the nanosecond most of us (speaker and auditor) repeatedly fudge it up. In that last sentence, for example, the subject choices and use of the word ‘fudge’ paint both a true-ish and false-like picture of this reviewer. But this isn’t about me (or is it?). [Ahem] Through a panoply of pitch-perfect analogies, George Saunders puts the writer/reader at the reader/writer’s la-z-boy/typewriter. With hang-out-sesh tonality, he weighs the beauty in misunderstanding against how utterly frustrating it can be to simply get what you’re being told. Fans of Understanding Comics or How to Read Nancy might enjoy placing turn-of-the-century Russian masterpieces under the microscope. It’s been over a week since I finished A Swim... (“not about me,” eh, me?) and like a kid home from camp, not a day has gone by without a few thoughts of this deep moment or that fond element. All that’s missing from that analogy is me repeatedly checking the mailbox to see if George wrote me a postcard, but that would be a downer of an ending to this wonderful book’s review (not to be confused with a wonderful book review), so it’ll surely be edited out.
I get way too excited about this book, turn into the Micro Machines Man suffering hiccups. I don’t know where to start, so I open seven sentences all at once. Lacking Namwali Serpell’s skills to gracefully braid them into a concise (yet carnival-ride-bumpy) narrative, I just sound like a maniac. One who imagines some seamonster muse washing up a barrel of characters, demanding that she “Use them! Use them until they are worn down to mere near-nothings! When someone walks out the door for good, BE NOT DONE WITH THEM!” Y’all, I really don’t know how to review this one... For one thing, labelling it Sci-fi or Fantasy is like calling a person with two cats a Cat Person. It just IS. And what that “IS” is is Kid-In-A-Candy-Shoppe-With-A-Credit-Card Fiction. It’s all over the right place at all over the right time. I loved it, and remember [hic] if it doesn’t say Micro Machines [hic] it’s not the [hic] real thing.
I read the first 40 pages after work, keys in hand at the front door. Clocked out, lights off, door unlocked, I stood there sampling the first page and then, well, the receding sun said “nope, lock up, take it home like a normal person.” As a fellow jotter (I jot a lot) of every light-bulb-moment, I instantly fell in love with this book. Amid all the references to Penelope’s indeterminable wait for Odysseus’ return, there lived my favorite flavor of the book: the love letter, in a series of notes, to the one-in-waiting’s notebook. [sigh...]. A painting of Wittgenstein’s Mistress in Renata Adler’s Speedboat biding its time on a velvet, deceptively raging river.
Weeks before an impending war on American soil, a harmless prank, well, not a prank, but kind of harmless nonetheless, goes wrong. And when trying to do the right thing, while not exactly in the right, things just get worse. Meanwhile, a humorous night at work leads to a neighborhood’s nightmare, an elaborate sex party must go down without a hitch, and people all over town are calling in bomb threats to get out of daily resposibilities. We ride along with Della, who, with the best vermouth of humor, is all at once trying to fix, create and flee from every anxiety in her playbook. A real tag team throwdown between empathy, sympathy, hostility and not giving a hoot ensues.
I love Evenson’s short stories and especially dug this collection. And maybe it was enhanced by the extended weekend alone in my great-grandmother's mountain house, a lamplit cellular dead zone equipped with an unpaid landline (911 the only outgoing option). Maybe the bottle of mid-shelf scotch I packed (to feel like a classy sassy vacationing adult) paired with the slow crush of leaves under mystery feet, preceded by crickets hushing, overlapped by bullfrogs bellowing, that soundtracked my moonlit porch reading hours gave it some extra oomph. Maybe it’s just a great batch of gothic horror fantasy on it’s own, but I do suggest a little mood lighting, at least.
For the reader of suspense who wants it all, LADY JOKER, VOL. ONE gives 100% (or 50%, with VOL. TWO’s English translation arriving in 2022). A heist tale, told from the POV of the heisters, heistees, law enforcement and media, with equally dispersed backstory (to root for all) and withheld info (to trust in none). It is a bit massive, but perfectly paced, doled out and subtly streamlined; an unexpected speedy read. Question: Where have you been all my life? Answer: In Japan since, like, the 90s… learn a second language, pal. Whoa, there, buddy.
Nine stories that take place in the same bookiverse and point the magnifying glasses to voyeurism. It all starts with a woman listening in on her neighbors’ party so closely that she winds up stuck inside the shared wall of their duplex. One character winds up in the fifth room (yours) of a four-bedroom apartment (his), therefore “missing” in the world of the bookiverse. Background folks make repeat appearances, altered in each to fit how they’re viewed by the “main” characters. All just parts of the visible anthill, yet this deceptive minikin could easily overwhelm an above-moderate yard [insert mischievous mwahaha.].
If not the best fantasy I've ever read (I've admittedly read very little), then for sure a condiment of the fancy sort on my best reads sandwich. It's a knight tale with the Christian hooha swapped out for Norse badassedry. Cliffhangers a plenty, but it's up to the reader to put the 2s and twos together to diagnose the climbs and/or falls. Go ahead and drop the movies Big and The Fisher King in a juicer and, you know, juice. Can I rate this higher than 10? No? Okay...
Add some century jumpin’ to the globetrottin’ (and jokes that don’t crashland) to the film Until the End of the World and the mood is set for Siege. Anthropology Noir at it’s finest, as I adore a book that takes me for a good genre hop and nature walk towards a foggy destination. Daitch really puts Two and Two on the table, only to sleight-of-hand you the hypnotic history of said table. Some smoke, a few mirrors, then, spoiler alert, you’re sharing a table for two with Four. Where’d you come from, Four? Cocktails (whoosh), appetizers (poof) and I’ve turned this review into dinner and a movie at the Magic Castle. Synopsis: I loved Siege of Comedians and want more Siege of Comedians.
Right out of the gate, with no warning, you’re immediately launched (pushed?) down the steepest narrative slope, but just relax, let this unreliable narrator take the reins and experience the tumult. This was the most bookborn fun I’ve experienced in a good while, very “Antkind, Newburyport.”
Hoo boy, [spoilers] and [censored] and [oh my] galore!
With Lambert’s sherbert prose, I knew this logging town and its inhabitants in no time flat. The Hero/Villain Trope Troupe of goods, bads and uglies (questionably good, truly bad and hey-i-know-that-guy ugly) play their parts with fervent gusto from the get go, tapping the targeted emotion sap from the casual reader, but (sorry) it’s all an elaborate table-flipper of a trap. [note: this is where story spoilers and emotional rollercoaster schematics go]. Stylistically, each chapter, isolated on its lonesome, is a succinct treasure; the book as a whole, an olympic-sized swimming trove. There’re taboos for every tableau of readers out there, so I suggest reading with a friend to compare wonders and discuss disgusts [note: since this book finished me, my gobsmacked state of mind has evolved daily so, yes, a book buddy enhanced the experience]. All in all and in the end, I don’t know what KL set out to say or do, but I inhaled that which he did and relished every everloving huff of it.
Both the slow-windup-to-a-fast-pitch pacing and tectonic narrative layers fuel the launching of this tale of faulty remembrance and faultline loss out of the orbit of the reader’s comfort zone. An immediate post-read chat with a fellow readernaut (help, I’m stuck in an analogy) is a must.
My love for Lady Joker can’t be doused. Volume One’s first chapter was a cigarette-in-bed scenario that led to a flaming city block evacuation long before the end of Volume Two. This is (no maybe about it) the best crime drama I’ve ever read. If Volume One puts the criminals, victims, police, and press in their own spotlight, Volume Two tightens the focus, giving each character their own personal long night of soul-searching. With this many plates spinning at once, there's bound to be at least one crash, but when the spotlight goes out and the curtain goes down, there’s just the room tone of awe.
Following a public tear-down of his first poem, the life trajectory of a young author gets split into two equal parts (each breath we take a bajillion-point intersection of fate, but a young artist’s first honest review can play bloody Stratego on the budding ego, so said review is the seed of Solenoid). Instead of two branched stories depicting the failed and successful artists’ fates, we instead get the “mirror” which is the book in our hands. Decades later, word for word, each author wrote the same Solenoid. One, from within the book, with a scathing, shaky, sleep-deprived hand and The Other, from our side of the book, probably on a computer that was purchased with a writer’s grant or two (you might even have a signed copy if you happened to’ve caught one of his book tours). I’ll stop the synopsis now, because there’s just too much to love and adore from this point on. Solenoid’s tippy-top surrealist fiction with undisguised nods to other masters of the genre, yet unlike many of the foreparents’ works, every beautiful weird moment is a golden piece of a narrative puzzle. Like finding out mid-way through a Dali exhibit that the Bendy-Clocks from the second painting have an origin story that is explained away by the Elephants-With-Spider-Legs down the hall in the tenth painting, and there’s a strong reason why they’re never displayed right next to each other. In fact, maybe you should go revisit the seven works in between these two, because something’s unfolding here. And hooo buddy, there’s math and history galore! A true nerdrific paradise of fourth-wall-breaking fourth-dimension delving. In fact, I can now point at each of my four fingers and tell you “These are my four favorite Fourth Dimension books” (I save my thumb to make the “Get Outta Here” motion to the unmentionable 4D stinkbomb that I loath) and they’re all bangers (but NOT, I reiterate, the thumb one which I will NOT mention here because I am a gentleman and/or scared of it’s fans).
A must-read for the reclusion romantic. Ellmann limns the paranoia of the human-allergic and the heartbreak of the society-squooshed with the same headachecrushed sugarrush of a kid punished into to writing an essay on why he shouldn’t've eaten ALL his Halloween candy before bed. Lesson learned: no regrets but for the all-encompassing Regret (just take the pathos less traveled). Included within: Lists! Conclusion: It’s funny, it’s sad, and she’ll (I’ll) do it all again.
My kinda fare: a colorful palette of characters reminiscent of school days when you mush all the cafeteria food together on the tray then dare your neighbor to eat it. Blushworthy moments galore, like being shot from an early-oeuvre John Waters canon, to land in a Leonora Carrington net. A gourmet gag-fest, even more chokingly delicious in hindsight.
For the most part, the MANIAC is a short, streamlined tale of Artificial Intelligence’s evolution, from a concept born of brilliant madness to a reality settling into generally accepted madness. Not an easy history to condense, as the human evolution debate of “where do we go from here” is century-plus old at this point, allowing an author plenty of meandering room for tangled-web-unweavery and where-to-begin-ities. However, the main(iac, teehee) storyline sticks to the expressway, only taking a few frontage road ventures to check out some colorful characters along the way. I was surprised to find that this was Labatut’s first non-translated English release as each chapter is told in a key player’s own voice which never feels hokey, but gives the book a natural documentary vibe and pace (I could almost hear a phantom Errol Morris voice yelling “and what did you do next?!” throughout). The author clearly had fun with a topic he loved, which in this case made a pleasant and easy read out of complex (and scary to some) subject matter.
Hats off to a book that's both super-duper complicated and a comfy(-wumfy) read. It can't be easy to do or my home library would be exclusively stocked high with books only written so. And and and historical conspiracy fiction is so easily sloshed and spilled, leaving g'awful stains if not handled with utmost care! For me, this was the ultimate fun read, with large portions doled via pop-culture-factoid nuggets, a la Reed's Mumbo Jumbo and Bowman's Big Bang, throwing around genres as smokescreens to keep you constantly guessing at just what exactly you're experiencing (yeah, this book's a magic show). Be prepared to second guess your own memory and/or kickstart bizarre connective arcs between fictional/real characters/events, as for every card that is flipped to reveal an answer, you'll find yourself going "oh but what was on the top side of the card again?" (I mean, if you hate magic, you've probably only run into bad magicians). Sigh. (Don't "run into" bad magicians.)
This post-WWII recently-split-Korean fantasy comes baked-potato loaded with all of the tall-tale toppings, heated in a crumpled tin foil history. Cheon will introduce, reinvent, kill off, ghostify and mythologize a character within a five page arc, then move on to build, destroy and immortalize a new adventure over the short span of the next five. With a constant mutation of narrative play, this process never stales or grows tiresome. Set in a tumultuous time, in a land full of transitional turmoil, with characters that wouldn’t win any Something of the Year awards, Whale isn’t pretty, but it’s beautiful nonetheless; a Trigger Warnings on Parade, with so many shiny doubloons and sparkly beads to scoop up in the aftermath. My favorite read of the year? So far.
With the fervor of folks that get pumped for Shark Week, I dig comi-tragi-toxic parent/kid stories and this one’s a humdinger and chart topper! A daughter up and walks away from family, marriage and country, then returns 30 years later, a famous artist and recent widow, to possibly reconnect. But it’s not that easy peasy. Though narrated by the daughter, the story keeps running you through the ringer with who’s in the wrong and who’s in the wronger. It’s a medium-paced egghunt, surprises hiding in plain sight throughout to keep the reader unrusty.
Written in the 1980s (just recently translated to English) about the events documented over a week in the now-quite-near future, recovered and restored via texts/discs accumulated 1000 years from “now,” Twilights starts off with a lot on its conceptual plate. A small group of seemingly-hardly-related people waits out the beginning of WW3 in a well-stocked mountainside mansion by telling short seemingly-unrelated tales to kill the time (a la Decameron, lala Arabian Nights, lalala lalala). However, as the stories accrue, the seemingly-unrelatedness dissolves into one massive story, a sci-fi romance mystery that has more twists than a [reviewer’s note: find most twisty thing ever to insert here. thanks. -ian]. The cause of the current war and the fate state of the next millennium could just be sitting, sipping scotch in the reading room, possibly even unawares. A double-crossing sentient boat, flippant fourth-wall fripperies, the plots of Inception, Groundhog Day, Deathtrap, and (sure why not) The Secret Garden, a Blofeld/Moriarty-esque puppetmaster, and all-caps CONSTANT jaw-dropping identity reveals are just a few elements that keep this 900-page epic feeling fresh, 20 pages at a time. My pick (so far) for favorite release of 2023!