Did You Hear? Sugah Daddy

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Put this on and make your day better! This song won the internet this week: D’Angelo is back, the album release was moved up to coincide with recent protests, and he comes dropping back into our lives in the best way possible: with an insanely funky, rambling, harmony-riddled, and totally original track. I cannot wait to dig into this whole album.

- Brook Reeder

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USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid

Jahresrückblick 2012

“Russian novelist” is a weighty phrase.

When I hear it, I brace for war, love, history, the high church, and earth-shaking politics; for an epic story that feels intimate. The names of the great Russian writers are like monuments: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Nabokov.

But literature is not a dead man’s game; it’s a living conversation. And I prefer today’s Russian writers to the old masters. Have you heard of Victor Pelevin, who writes trippy satirical novels about werewolves in Siberia and little old ladies in Moscow? I have read every English translation of Victor Pelevin that I have gotten my hands on. And Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, who writes “scary fairy tales” with titles like There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby? She’s an international treasure. Not to mention Masha Gessen, whose fiercely independent journalism about civil rights in Russia has made her one of the most admirable public figures in the world.

All I’m saying is, today’s Russian writers are crushing it.

That’s why I was excited to get an email, a few months ago, from Andrea Gregovich. She’s a translator in Alaska, and she had recently completed an English translation of USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov. Andrea was looking for a small press like Fiction Advocate to help her publish USSR as an e-book. I didn’t know Andrea, and I had never heard of Vladimir. But I printed the manuscript and started to read it on a plane. Before the flight attendants came down the aisle with beverages, I already knew that we were going to publish USSR as more than just an e-book. Continue reading

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The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

The Devil's Snake Curve

FA review tag

I see baseball everywhere. It’s almost a curse. I can’t help but associate everything that happens to me with some fleeting statistic or apocryphal anecdote.

Playing baseball has taken me many places—to pristine ball fields in Egypt and to the diamonds of Breezy Point that Hurricane Sandy later destroyed. I exhibited some small modicum of athletic prowess on the field, and now I spend countless hours dissecting those memories. Recollecting, my past experiences become legend. Nostalgia grips me tighter as I drift farther and farther away from the time in my life when I actually played the game.

Many writers have explored this wistfulness. The table of contents of Baseball: A Literary Anthology from The Library of America makes it clear that baseball writing is as much a national pastime as the game itself. From Don Delillo to Roger Angell, Phillip Roth to Bernard Malamud, a certain type of author—he tends to be a man—can’t help but address the performance of baseball when making sense of the American experience.

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What to Read: Not the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2014

Looking for something to read over the holidays? Hey, the New York Times 10 Best Books is a great place to look!

Pour yourself a nice mug of hot cocoa and get cozy to read about everything from, oh…uh, a collapsing marriage (Dept. of Speculation, Jeny Offill) or a family’s disintegration after a horrible tragedy involving a child (Family Life, Akhil Sharma), or a story collection about the devastating impacts of the Iraq War (Redeployment, Phil Klay).

Hmmm. Okay, well how about the one about the blind girl and the Nazi (All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr)? Or, uh, maybe the one about a female novelist who didn’t publish anything until she was almost 60 (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, Hermione Lee)? Okay, okay — here’s a “spellbinding blend of memoir, science journalism and literary criticism” about….oh….vaccination (On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Biss). Probably don’t want to bring that up at dinner. Same goes for the one about Israel and peace in the Middle East (Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David, Lawrence Wright).

What about the one titled Euphoria? That sounds nice. Oh, looks like it’s about another marriage breaking up. Alright.

I guess it could be worse. We could be among the irreplaceable habitats and species whose destruction has been chillingly documented by Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction. Jeez. What else is there? Oh, perfect, Roz Chast’s graphic novel about her parents’ decline into infirmity and old age: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

I wish.

-Michael Moats

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Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Ugly Girls

FA review tag

Lindsay Hunter’s debut novel isn’t just about ugly girls. It’s about ugly people, ugly places, ugly lives—“ugly” being used on the deeper, moral level. Hunter presents a host of unlikeable characters living in a box-store world, Denny’s and Circle K and Payless and McDonald’s, trailer parks and cul-de-sacs, where alcoholic mothers suck on brown bottles and oversexed adolescents find that the only fun to be had lies in the back seats of cars and doing doughnuts in a Walmart parking lot. Hunter’s America may be shocking, a place without hope, upward mobility not even a glimmer in her characters’ eyes. But it’s vivid, visceral, and engrossing.

Hunter’s ugly girls are two best friends, Baby Girl and Perry, who are, in many ways, the archetypal teenage duo. Perry is the pretty one, who resembles “some kind of garden fairy, only tall. Bright green eyes, black eyelashes, blond hair. Tanned legs. Smallish boobs.” All the boys and men desire her, and some have had her. Baby Girl is the wannabe thug, the one who radiates I-don’t-give-a-fuck. Since her brother Charles got into an accident, leaving him in a helpless, mentally deficient state, she has made it her mission to be as unattractive as possible: she is the girl with the shaved head, her brother’s saggy jeans, a “sports bra to tamp those fuckers down. Work boots she’d stolen from Payless,” plump lips outlined in liner and shined with gloss, her lips her favorite feature. She considers herself a “tough bitch.” She is the virgin.

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Did You Hear? U

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

This song is just barely there. Each part is played so gingerly that it feels like you could breathe on it wrong and the whole thing would cease to be. It’s a great soul song from Thomas Dybdahl, who hails from Norway. The vocals drive the whole thing, but my favorite part has got to be that very dry and understated piano solo at 2:35 — something about the sound puts you right there in the room.

- Brook Reeder

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5 Gorgeous Gift Books for the Holidays

photo

Sometimes you just want something beautiful. Here are the 5 most sumptuous, indulgent, stunning books to give (and receive) this holiday season.

5. The World of Ice & Fire

by George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson

The World of Ice & Fire

To be honest I haven’t read this book yet, because I’m so excited about it that someone has insisted I wait and receive it as a Christmas gift. But good lord, it’s everything I want in a George R. R. Martin book, which is to say, less plotting and more world-building. The World of Ice & Fire includes histories of the major houses of Westeros, deep background on memorable details from the series like the Sword of Morning, and plenty of original, full-color illustrations. It is going to sell a billion copies. Don’t be surprised if 6 of these turn up in your stocking.

4. The Best American Infographics 2014

edited by Gareth Cook

The Best American Infographics 2014

The Best American Infographics 2014

“The visual display of quantitative information” as the godfather of infographics Edward Tufte calls it, is finally getting its due. This book celebrates — and reproduces at full size, in lavish color — the best charts, diagrams, maps, and graphics of the year, from the mechanics of a professional pitcher’s arm rotation to the particular musical keys that classical composers favored. It will make you wish you could subscribe to a monthly magazine that offers nothing but really great bar graphs. Introduction by Nate Silver.

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Are You Talkin’ to Me?

TravisBickle

In the famous ‘mirror scene’ of Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver, cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) rhetorically confronts himself with aggressive remarks. He seems to say, “You see what you see; now what are you going to do about it?” When you gaze into the mirror abyss, it gazes back, and there is no fleeing. Bickle, a war veteran who no doubt witnessed atrocities, doesn’t implode inward but explodes outward and confronts a world in which corruption and degeneracy have been normalized, and people conform by looking away. He does as the voice of his conscience bids him in an effort to bring redemption.

Long before Bickle was even flicker in Scorcese’s eye, the radical Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing lashed out at blind conformity and the psycho-social regimen that coerced individuals into moral assimilation, even at great cost to their psychic integrity. Said Laing in The Politics of Experience (1967), “Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last 50 years.” Conformity can provide safety and certainty, but by necessarily submitting to authority it contains a strong potential for evil.

Bickle and Laing came to mind as I was reading Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness by the brothers Joel and Ian Gold. The Golds claim to have discovered a new behavioural pattern that suggests a growing psychological condition they are calling the Truman Show Delusion. As the name suggests, it is a conviction that one is being watched and televised, as if imprisoned in a reality TV show, wherein everyone is a player acting out a script. Joel Gold writes, “The delusion raised questions about the interplay between mental illness and our environment, and larger questions about the relationship of mind to culture.”

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