Stay Awake: stories

I haven’t written anything in awhile.  I had planned to write about my new job, working in an office that is an interesting mix of Gen X and Millennials, with a few Boomers thrown for good (or not…) measure, but that hasn’t really happened, now has it.

Yesterday, though, on my way home from work, I had to stop at the bookstore — Barnes and Noble because there are no more Borders (B-o-o H-o-o) — to by a copy of “Stay Awake,” a new collection of short stories by Dan Chaon.

I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I first learned of it’s existence, which was some time ago, although how long exactly I can’t quite recall. No matter. It is here.

I have been following Mr. Chaon since his very first collection of short stories, “Fitting Ends,” was published in 1995 by Triquarterly Books.

I  was still a graduated student in the MFA program at Western Michigan University, hoping to be a writer of short stories myself some day. I must have come across this book at John Rollins bookstore in Portage, MI, right up Westnedge from Kalamazoo, where WMU is located. That was a great independent bookstore. But I’m not sure it exists anymore. A google search does not turn it up. <sigh>

Anyhoo…. I recall being so taken by the stories in “Fitting Ends” that I wrote to the publisher in hopes of contacting the author, Mr. Chaon. This was before it was so easy to track someone down via the internet. To my surprise, the publisher passed on my letter to Dan and he eventually wrote to me. For a time we exchanged letters and emails, which was a fresh technology at the time. Eventually, though, the correspondences ended and life moved on.

I remember I was in the Borders on Woodward in Birmingham, I’m pretty sure, when, scanning the shelves for something to read, I came across Dan’s second collection of short stories, “Among the Missing.”

I remember sitting and reading it but ultimately not buying, perhaps because it was in hardcover and I was a new father and concerned about money and therefore didn’t feel right about dropping that kind of cash on a book (huh, if only my ex had felt the same sense of fiscal responsibility when it came to her hair or clothes). But later I did buy it in paperback.

A few years later, not long after I started my job at the Baldwin Public Library, one of the hot fiction books at the time was Dan Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me.”

I spent my early lunch hours absorbed in this exceptional novel.

And of course I was super duper excited when, years later, still working at the library, I saw that Dan’s new novel, “Await You Reply,” was to be released. I counted down the days until the book was available. And immediately devoured it once it was. Of course, because I was the main copy cataloger at the library I was the first one to get my hot little hands on this novel. I had the first hold.

In fact, I believe I wrote a blog spot about it.  Ah, yes. Here it is. In it I identify Dan Chaon as a GenX write, a label he agreed with, you’ll see in his reply to my post. Of course, I was tickled that he’d managed to find my meager little post on my meager little blog.

I remember being exceptionally fascinated with the premise of this novel, at least in part because it was about characters who “just walk away” from their life. I made a comparison to the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” because it deals with the same sort of thing with John Cusack’s character, who had walked away from his life abruptly one day. I can’t help wondering now if that interested me so much because at the time I secretly wanted to walk away from the life I was living — the oppressively soul-crushing marriage to a narcissist part NOT the being the father to the sweetest little girl in the world part.

Anyhoo…. this brings us back to Mr. Chaon’s new collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” which, after reading the first two stories, I am sure is going to be exceptional from beginning to end, and which is going to be on of my favored collections for years to come, if not eternity. Well, my eternity anyway. I wonder. What will my daughter do with all my books when I am gone? Will she just donate them? Toss them? Keep perhaps a few? I should probably discuss this matter with her at some point. But probably I should concentrate on getting her through middle school and adolescence and all of that first, hug.

These stories, so far, are hard stories. Harsh. In fact, there almost seem like horror stories in a way. Very grim. Unsettling. But I love them for that very quality. Unlike the  reviewer on amazon who didn’t like the collection because people suffer in it, because it troubled him. This is an attitude, frankly, that I don’t get. What do people want? Short stories are not TV shows; they are not meant to make you feel good so that you’ll be in a receptive mood for whatever advertising comes between portions of the show. But…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion….for good or ill.

What really struck me about the first two stories in the collection  — The Bees and Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted — was how for each main character there is this confusion between what is really happening and what is just a trick of the mind or perhaps a dream or even something else, something unexplainable, and how these worlds, real and imagined and otherwise, mash and mix together. It’s the kind of thing that I like to experiment with in my own writing from time to time, particularly in a longer piece (novella length) that I have been working on.

Having said all that, perhaps far too much at this point, I am eager to get back to the book now.

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I haven’t posted in awhile

Why?

Well, turns out that getting divorced has proven to be more difficult than I could have ever imagined. It’s sapped me of my of a lot of my enthusiasm. Not all. But most. And the longer I went without posting the harder it was to sit down and do it. I don’t know.

So is this my come back? I have not a fucking clue. May be that I’m just super bored tonight and needed something to break the tedium, to occupy myself while I sit here alone in my half-empty one-bedroom apartment. Or, maybe I’m finally emerging from my hibernation or whatever you want to call it, and I’ll be blasting out posts pretty regularly from now on. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

There’s something about this time of year, just as it’s getting cold and the first snowfall of the year occurs. It reminds me of my more optimistic days, when I was a student at Eastern, sitting in my dorm, reading a paperback, and still firm in my belief that I would be a writer some day, a real writer, a novelist or short story writer, the Hemingway of my generation.

I guess that’s why I recently picked up my copy of “Bright Lights, Big City” read it again. It was the book that really made me want to be a writer. It was my permission book, the one that showed me that I could write about the experiences that I thought were relevant because they were my experiences.

It’s funny, you know. Bright Lights isn’t a very thick  novel. It’s not very complex either. But each time I read it — and I’ve read it a number of times, so many that I’ve lost count — I seem to find something new in it, see it in a different way. When I first read it it was the partying and bar-hopping and drug use that really struck me, because it reflected experience that I was familiar with. I graduated in 1986 and spent my early twenties in the late 80s. But this time it was the character’s heartbreak that really impressed me, that I connected with. I never really understood it before. But I do now. I really understand it. Unfortunately…

And like the last line of the novel reads, I, like the narrator, feel as if I need to learn everything all over again.

GenX parents are noble

Well. I’m a GenX parent but I never thought of myself as being noble. But apparently some dude name Tim Daniel sees it that way:

Pursuit of Nobility author, Tim Daniel recently announced that he was renaming Generation X the Noble Generation. He’s taken his explanation one step further with a new assertion: Generation X parenting is noble parenting.

But what does Daniel mean by noble parenting?

Daniel believes that it will be up to Gen X parents to double-parent. You might think he means that both parents will be active in the lives of their children. But that isn’t what he means when he talks about double-parenting. Daniel says that Gen X will not only be responsible for raising their children and equipping them to thrive in the world, but also, Gen X will be responsible for giving birth and raising a new future for their children to inhabit.

Interesting. Seems accurate to me. Although I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with being called noble. Something about the term seems too, I don’t know… Boomer I guess. Also, I don’t feel noble being a parent. I just feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do.

What do you think?

Read rest of post here.

Ellis article

Here’s an interesting article about Brett East Ellis and his new novel, Imperial Bedrooms, the follow up to Less Than Zero.

I’m eager to read this novel, having been an Ellis fan since Zero was published — what is it? Twenty-five years ago now…

Although many people aren’t Ellis fans. I was part of a Facebook thread in which several people made negative comments about the book. One said it was “creepy,” although I’m not so sure that is a criticism. In any case, it does not surprise me. Other articles have made similar comments. Also, come on, Zero was creepy, and this is the same author that wrote American Psycho for crying out loud.  Others commented that they would not waste their money on this book, much less read  it. Of course that is their prerogative. But I guess I just don’t get it. Fine. Take issue with a book and/or author, make all the criticism you want, but you can’t judge what you don’t read. I don’t know. Just seems kind of petty to me.

In any case, Ellis hardly seems to care.

Coupland cleans house

Check out this blog post about Douglas Coupland donating his papers to the University of British Columbia.

Among the more interesting items to me is the first draft of Coupland’s breakout novel, “Generation X,” and a manuscript for an unpublished novel entitled “1991” but which was later retitled “The Day the Muzak Died,” which I thinks is much more interesting. Oh yeah, also a Generation X comic strip.

I am sure that Coupland’s papers will be one of the more eccentric and interesting collections that exist.

Less Than Zero sequel

Brett Easton Ellis’ follow up to Less Than Zero is due to be released June 15th. It’s titled Imperial Bedrooms.

I would never have thought of Ellis as a sequel kind of guy but he has moved from NYC back to LA and is working to produce films now, several of which are based on his novels. Perhaps he’s caught the sequel bug from Hollywood.

If so, one wonders if perhaps there is a follow up to American Pyscho kicking around in Ellis’ imagination.

And is there the possibility of a movie sequel as well? To American Psycho as well as Less Than Zero (i.e. a movie of Imperial Bedrooms,duh).

In any case, I plan to nab me a copy of Imperial Bedrooms, the day it comes out, if possible. I’ve read everything else the dude’s written, so I’m not going to stop now. Besides I’m curious to see what Clay, Blair,  Julian, Rip and the gang are up to in their 40s.

Stay tuned for my stunningly  insightful review…if I get around to it that is.

two books

I am constantly reading. Mostly fiction. But just about anything that captures my interest. It’s almost as if I can’t not read, you know. I go from finishing one book to immediately starting another. Often I’ll be in the  midst of more than one book at a time, and I’ll jump back and forth from one book to another to another to…. until I get really hooked into just one. I liked to focus on just one book at at time. However, sometimes I won’t be able to choose. It’s usually between two, sometimes three  but usually no more than that. And I can never be sure what books it will be. Could be one I’ve never read or even heard of before or one that I’ve been meaning to read for some time or one that I’d started previously but never finished or one that I’ve already read, perhaps even more than once.

That is the situation I find myself in now. I’m toggling back and forth between a book that I’ve read before and one that I’ve been meaning to read for some times.

The book that I’ve read before is Stephen King’s The Stand.

I’ve actually read two and a half times. The first time was I believe the summer of 89, the summer just before I left to go away to college at Eastern Michigan University. I remember loving it, not being able to put it down. And ever since I’ve had a thing for post-apocalyptic fiction. The second time I read it was when it re-released in it’s unedited form. The original paperback edition that I read (pictured above) was just over 800 pages. The re-issue was something like 1,200 pages. Also it was supposedly updated for timeliness. The 1/2 time I read it was a few years ago when I tried picking it up again but it did not hold my interest all the way through. Not sure why. This time, though, which was just this past week, I’m hooked into again, although not exactly like I was the first time I read it,which was just for the thrill of it. Now, I think maybe this could be King’s most significant novel. Maybe it don’t quality as a great American novel, but I think it can be said to be a significant American novel. Or maybe with global warming and the fear of an impending apocalypse of some sort it seems timely again. In any case, it has the rare quality of being a big book that does not read like a big book. It clips right along and nothing feels extraneous. I’m digging it once again, and don’t see any reason why I won’t read it through to the end this time.

Something I never would have admitted in my younger days was how much of an influence Stephen King has been on me and my writing generally, and the Stand specifically. I considered him too “popular” to be taken seriously. But I’ve since changed my mind. Rereading King I can see how he’s influenced the way I right, especially the pop culture and Americana references. I used to try to quell my impulse to put pop culture into my writing after it was pointed out in a workshop I was in that my pop culture references might not be a good thing. Writing workshops can do more harm than good. Anyway, I’ve long since put that behind me. Often King himself is a pop culture reference in my writing, and The Stand speficially. A piece I’m finishing a draft of now references The Stand, along with Ray Bradbury and Cormac McCarthy and The Road.

The other book that I’m reading it Nevermind Nirvana, by Mark Lindquist.

This is a book thatI’ve been wanting to read for some time. I remember coming across it in the bookstore. I noticed it because of course the cover looked like the Nirvana album cover. Not sure why I didn’t buy a copy at at the time. Actually, I think I may have not only been off the the whole GenX thing at the time but I was purposely shunning it, sort of rolling my eyes at it as it were. But some time ago I cam across a used copy and put it on the shelf with the other books that I intend to read some day.

Reading it now it really strikes a chord; there’s an idea I have for a story, perhaps even a novel, that is very GenX. But not about young 20-somethingers bar hopping and getting laid and doing drugs in the 80s blah blah blah. I tried that one and it never really came together. The one I’m thinking of is about GenX at 40-something, or at least about one GenXer at the age of 42, who suddenly find himself unemployed, living his parents and divorced. Sound familiar? Gee. I wonder where I got that idea from. But who knows if it’ll ever get written. None of my other novel ideas have….

In the mean time, I can’t seem to focus on just one of these two book. So I may end up reading them in parallel until I finish at least one of them.

In any case, I’m going to get back to reading now.

Fight Club: the novel

For all the times that I’ve seen the movie Fight Club, I’ve never actually read the book, although I’ve always meant to. But then I’ve always meant to read a lot of books.

Still, Chuck Palahniuk is a GenX writer and Fight Club is a very GenX book, a male-centered one to be sure but no less GenX for that.

Anyway, I managed to nab a copy, so at least if the impulse hits me I won’t have to hope that the library has it on the shelf.

Question: Did they ever market Fight Club soap?

Of course, first I need to finish the Philip Roth novel, The Plot Against America, that I’ve been meaning to read for years. I’ve even started it a few times but just couldn’t get into it. Not sure why. It’s a great bit of writing, but then it’s Philip Roth so of course it would be. But this one now probably ranks as one my favorite Roth novels.

The story is alternate history, supposing what would it have been like had Charles Lindbergh become POTUS, defeating FDR in the 1939 election. Apparently Lindbergh was something of anti-semit e as well as isolationist, or so posits the novel, and as such strikes and agreement with Hitler to keep America out of WWII. But that’s not the worst of it. Gradually the US become or less and less hospitable place for Jews. The events unfold through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy named Philip Roth, and how it effects his family living in Newark, New Jersey.

Finally getting into it, I’ve hardly been able to put it down.

Time to change the featured blog

It’s been way too long. Way too long. If the featured blog was Chinese food in the fridge it would be covered with mold.

The fresh featured blog is author David Moody’s. David Moody writes dystopian/zombie novels.  When his book Hater, the first in a trilogy, came out, I nabbed it based on the cover alone.

Wicked, right…!

Okay, I judge a book by its cover. So sue me. (Please don’t actually. I’ve no money.)

Anyhoo… the story lived up to the cover, so I feel vindicated. A wicked, savage tale of societal collapse and zombie infestation. Can’t wait for the next book, Dog Blood, a great title by the way. And of course another great cover. Comes out in June.

I want to add both of these titles to my zombie library.