Monday, September 30, 2013

An Interview with my protagonist

I've done a few interviews in my life, but there were all about me, the author. When I learned that a British author, Michelle Abbott, runs interview series where she interviews characters instead of authors, my interest peaked immediately.
Well, the world works in mysterious ways. It turns out that Michelle actually read my book and wanted to interview Rudy, the protagonist from my Mad Days of Me, trilogy.

Since this is a character interview, I felt I could get away from the formal interview standard. Working together with Michelle, we agreed on a theme where she meets Rudy right after the first book ends. I think this approach worked well.

Here is the interview: Interview with Rudy

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Interview with Jessi from The Book Cove

In the fourth installment to Interviews with the Reviewers, it is my pleasure to introduce Jessi.

Jessi runs The Book Cove; a site dedicated to mostly new adult books with young adult and adult books scattered throughout.  She is currently a full time graduate student that enjoys reading and blogging in her “spare time”. While she has been reviewing for years on sites like Amazon, The Book Cove is a new site that was started in June 2013 to provide a specific place for her readers to come.  Jessi loves good conversation and discussing her reads over a nice glass of Barefoot – so stop on by and join in on the good wine and good times!

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

Hard question! I love regency romance and contemporary romance…and everything in between! But for the most part I find myself reading something in these categories. One of my first loves was paranormal regency romances because I love the time period and dialog of those. So I guess I can settle with that as my favorite for now!

On average, how many books do you review each month?

 Because I travel a lot I have ample opportunity to read and so I like to stockpile my reads and reviews about a month in advance.  Right now I’m hitting on about 8-10 reviews a month. I try to get about two a week out. But this is likely to slow down in the near future as my work schedule fluctuates. (Thankfully I just added another co-author to the blog to help keep it active!)

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I accept a little of both. I have a form that authors requesting reviews can fill out. If the book sounds like something I’d enjoy then I contact them about a review. I also participate in blog tours through a couple of different hosts. They know what I’m interested in and send me various requests from authors and I select a few of those as well. A great thing that I’ve been able to develop on my blog is a vast network of co-bloggers and guest reviewers. So if I have a huge influx of book requests or something comes in that I’m not too interested in, I have a reliable network of reviewers that I can ask to help out. This way more books are given a fair chance at review (because it is really hard for me to turn a good sounding book down completely!)

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?
I didn’t realize the stigma about self-published books until I started my blog a few months ago. I’m an avid purchaser of books on sites like Amazon and I never really thought to check publishers before purchasing. I simply read a couple of reviews and decided if I wanted to read it or not. Once I started blogging, I noticed all of these conversations about reviewers no longer accepting self-published reviews because of the “poor quality”. Then I started thinking – how many books had I read that were self-published? When I realized that a majority that I had bought – and enjoyed – were in fact self-published I was amazed! I was amazed by a few points. 1.) That self-publishing was so popular and 2.) reviewers were turning down books simply because they were self-published! So when I started my site, I specifically marketed to self-publishers. And to tell you the truth, in the 70+ books I’ve read since then there is less than a handful that stick out in my mind as being of poor quality. Some of my favorite authors I’ve come to realize are self-publishers. It’s important for people to realize that self-publishing doesn’t mean the author took a cheap and easy way out of publishing and is marketing some error ridden knock-off of a book.  Authors self-publish because it is a means that fits them best. And many have a great network of editors, proofers, and formatters behind them that allow them to turn out superior quality work.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?
Yes. As I said before, I originally started reviewing on sites like Amazon. So stating my opinion – good or bad – never was a question. I just did it. I realized after starting my site why some reviewers refrain from posting a bad review. I’ve had authors tell me that it wrecks their sales. I’ve had reviewers tell me that it’s not helpful to post bad reviews, so I shouldn’t.  I’ve had fans of authors berate me for finding something negative about their beloved book/author. My answer to these opinions? Posting  any kind of review is not a personal reflection on the author. It’s a personal opinion on the author’s work. I’m not going to like every book that I read and I’m not going to pretend that I do just because I have a large audience. As for the authors, if you can’t handle public scrutiny then you’re in the wrong business as a writer! A bad review will not change author sales. Now, if there are multiple bad reviews then perhaps the author should take this chance to improve upon their work and turn a negative into a positive. The bottom line comes down to this simple mindset: if I’m spending my time and money on a book and I thought that it was a book that was of poor quality or misrepresented in some way, then I will point that out to fellow readers so that they can have a heads up. Then they can choose if that’s a make-or-break deal for their reading pleasure.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

Colleen Gleason is my absolute favorite paranormal romance writer. She likes to incorporate various history settings into her work and they are all brilliantly written. She is someone that really does her research to get the details, dialog, and events right and it leaves you lost and longing in a whole different world every time!

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

Honestly, I felt that many of the reviews that I was reading were not helpful. I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, but I’m a believer that just about every book has its pros and cons.  When I read a review that states, “It was great!” or “Didn’t finish. Don’t waste your time.” I’m left staring at the screen wondering, “So what?”
We each have certain elements that we do and do not like. Certain writing qualities may make-or-break a book, personally. I, as a reader, would like to know what specifically drew you to the book or made you throw it out the window. So when I started reviewing, I made sure that I listed my personal pros and cons of books in attempt to give others a bit more of an idea about what they’d be reading.  Then they can decide for themselves if they want to really want to read my 2 star rated book or if my 5 star sounds like a dud. I also love discussion. Good or bad, I love conversing with others about their thoughts on anything bookish.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I think there are a lot of cookie-cutter books out there. Lately I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme of book covers picturing a man holding a bar surrounded by flames and titles including “Lies”. The plot is always rich good-girl meets tattooed bad boy. Seeing these does not necessarily drive me away from these books because I think good authors can take a fairly common topic and create an original twist that keeps the reader engaged. I always tell people that if they find something “completely original” to let me know because it has all been done before.  I actually have an originality rating that I sometimes use if I want to emphasize that a particular author really went above and beyond making a plot into something of their own.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

I’ve already mentioned that I love Colleen Gleason. Her series The Gardella Vampire Chronicles was what got me hooked on Regency era paranormal books.  Her characters are strong and smart and the plots are full of action. Besides that, I would say that one of my all time favorite reads is A Different Blue by Amy Harmon. It’s a contemporary fiction book that deals with identity, coming of age, and just life in general.  The author writes in a very personal way that brings the reader right into some intense situations.
What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?
I can’t think of just one review. I’d like to think that all of my reviews provide useful insight for readers. Though I guess one that really stands out is the review that I wrote on “Eagle (Elite)” by Rachel Van Dyken as it was the first review that was publicly acknowledged by the author! Because Rachel is easily one of my favorite authors (and I feel like I should note that she’s a NYT best selling self-published author) it was a huge honor to have her comment about my review and share it with her readers.

I'd like to thank Jessie for taking the time to answer my questions, and also for all her work as a reviewer. She's asked me to share an invitation with you: 

The Book Cove is very much a community site. There are currently two main contributors, but we accept guest posts and guest reviews frequently. We love to have community help because it keeps the content diverse and brings new insight into the conversations. If anyone is interested in being a contributor, feel free to contact us and we can work something out. Contact Us

Our guests next week will be an author and a blogger with a couple of different review sites.
If you like this series, please spread the word, share, redistribute, and thank our reviewers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Skating Rink - a review

The Skating RinkThe Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first Bolaño and certainly not the last. Unfortunately for Bolaño, my reading of The Skating Rink came on the tail end of reading a few exceptional works in a row. Thus, The Skating Rink only receives three stars.

The story itself was interesting, albeit none too exceptional. Where he scores high with me is in the narrative, or rather the narrators. Three different individuals narrate this story, which is hard to write. Unfortunately, while they start off with fairly distinct voices, they sort of mash together and lose their individuality as the story progresses. Towards the end, G and R sound very much alike.
Personally, I would have given a voice to Caridad, not only because she is a female, but because her perspective would have been much more interesting with all the inner conflicts, her past, and her attachment to the victim. As it stands, Bolaño started great but finished in a not-so-stellar way. This is something that could have been lost in translation, and I will attempt to find a copy in Spanish to see if he used local dialect words in the narrative, which would certainly give unique voices to the respective characters.

The scenery and general settings were well-executed. I would have liked him to elaborate more on the locals' mentality towards outsiders. Having lived in Spain, I know too well that immigrants such as the ones featured in this work are often looked at with distrust, and almost entirely segregated from native society. The conflict between Catalonians and Castilians was not explored to its full potential, even though he made it a point to mention it when someone was one or the other. At that time (and even nowadays) there was a great sense of nationalism and separatism.

Bolaño's prose has a nice quality to it, I must admit. I can only assume that his later works are even better. Occasionally, he flirts a little with surrealism, but not enough (for me) to deliver any profound impact.

Overall, The Skating Rink is a well-written story with a unique narrative. The characters are full-fleshed, the scenery is realistic, and the drama plausible. Although it left me a bit cold, I would still recommend this book, and I look forward to my next Bolaño read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Frankie Metro

In the third installment to Interviews with the Reviewers, I wanted to hear from an author's perspective. No, this is no place for self-promotion and ego stroking, so don't worry. You can keep reading on.
At this point, I have two authors that were kind enough to answer my questions about reviewing. One of them I met on Goodreads, the other was recommended by a complete stranger who happened to read my blog. In the end, I reached out to the latter, Mr. Frankie Metro. Up until last week, I had no idea who Frankie was. After the initial suggestion came in, I did a few searches and I quickly learned that Frankie is very active in the literary community. And although I have not read any of his work yet, I did read a few of his reviews; enough to know that he is passionate, fair, and open-minded when it comes to books.

From the beginning, I wanted this series to be as diverse as possible, giving voice to all kinds of reviewers and all possible perspectives.

So, buckle up your seatbelts, here comes Mr. Metro!

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

No specific genres per se. But I do review a lot of poetry books it seems. It’s kind of fucked up that this is the case, ‘cause I’m not a huge fan of poetry, at least my own, and the really bad shit. That’s not to say that I don’t pursue fiction just as diligently. I get solicitations for many fiction titles, and try to do my damn best to see them through. Reviewing prose or story collections is more of a challenge of course, and I think for that reason, if I had to choose, well, shit, as long as it isn’t music reviews from bands/sound artists with supreme promotional skills and no talent, as is sometimes the case, I’m pretty happy with the whole lot. Literature, in general, is held highest above all.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

0. I don’t make promises on timetables. I read several books at once typically. So if it takes me a month to review your book, it takes me a month. If it takes me six months, yeah maybe I’m procrastinating, but I’ll review it. This does not guarantee I’ll show it to anyone, and first and foremost, you have to understand, that you’re in a line. For example, I owe 2 book reviews right now (1 fiction, 1 poetry collection), which I have been sitting on for somewhere over 3 months. Hopefully the people that are interested have patience with the process.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I get requests for book/music reviews via Unlikely Stories Episode: IV. When someone sends me an email, mostly people I’ve never heard of, I look at their synopsis, their press release, their pretentiousness even, and I gauge how much time I’m willing to spend in this person’s headspace. My acceptance/denial record is pretty even keel. However, I try to avoid writing reviews for friend’s books. I’ve had some difficulty with that in the past.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

The Tentacles of Proofreading Mostly, people don’t put in the time they should on proper proofreading. They rush the product, to get it out there, because they need the instant gratification. That’s what services like that are good for unfortunately- feeding the generation express mindset. It’s not the best avenue, for sure, but hey, if you can take the time to be professional, fuckin a, it works.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

Yeah. That’s why I try to leave friends out of the equation when it comes to reviews. Now “acquaintances” are a different story altogether. No holds barred, but I give everyone the same disclaimer regardless of who it is:

I will be thorough and honest. That’s it.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

The four kings:

Thomas Pynchon-Gravity’s Rainbow
Henry Miller-everything
Roberto Bolaño-toda su obra
David Foster Wallace-Infinite Jest

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

I wrote reviews of different things in school of course, but never really got into it as much. The more recent immersion into the field came about after I saw that one of my favorite mags of the time (Decomp) was taking applications for a book reviewer on their page. Obviously I didn’t get the job, but I wrote 2 book reviews that peaked my interest. One was published sometime later by another site, while the other sits in a very dark corner of the world, hiding from daylight, ‘cause I’m friends with the guy now, and I wasn’t too impressed with the book at the time. Foresight is 20/20.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

 I’m a little befuddled by this question. I guess if you’re asking me if this generation has anything more “original” or “creatively executed” than their predecessors, well, yeah. I mean, there wasn’t as easy an access to information 20-30 years ago as there is today. Fuck I just got interrupted by like 3 people asking to use this computer while I’m answering this question, which totally threw off my concentration. In short, I’ll just say that people can call their work original or whatever they like, but if they don’t believe it themselves, even if they don’t know and put forth the effort to be unique, then that will show. (Furthermore, there’s nothing creatively executed about being rude to someone by trying to get their attention when you see they are working on something. Asking me dumb questions like: “Are you working right now?” or “Do you go to school?” while I’m typing, isn’t going to get me off the computer any faster.)

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

The deceased father from Infinite Jest. The child prostitute at the beginning of Henry Miller’s Under the Rooftops of Paris. Slothrop from Gravity’s Rainbow. And the pair of boxers from The Part About Fate ala Bolano’s 2666. These are just a few off the top of my head.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I really liked my first review for Unlikely Stories Episode: IV  Pacifist Road Rage in Nazi America
and I don’t think I’ve been as satisfied with another since. It took a lot of research, stepping outside of a primary focus on literature, and delving into the sociology of the highlighted characters versus the political implications that could be easily overlooked. So many times, I read a section of the great novels in my life, and ask myself questions about the author’s true intent: ‘Is he being racist with the persistent usage of “nigger” in this book?’ ‘Does this guy have a serious hard-on for tennis or what?’ etc. This leads me to investigate the authors themselves, delving into their noted history (Wikipedia page. History. Yeah,) which I find is often times the real reward from reading. Subtlety is no mask for the subconscious.

Frankie Metro lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife and a bunch of hostile hostel guests that maddog him while he uses the common room computer. Sometimes they say nasty stuff about him in foreign languages. When he’s not doing that stuff, he writes book/music/event reviews for Unlikely Stories Episode: IV, and is co-founder of Kleft Jaw Press, an online/print publication dedicated to the progression of transcendental realism in art/literature.

You can find out more here:
Unlikely Stories: Episode IV 
Kleft Jaw

I'd like to thank Frankie for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing his perspective. If you enjoyed this interview, please comment, share, or repost.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Two Poems

Why not share a couple of poems...

Silence before dawn

I am standing alone
the wind beats
my face, my feelings
an icicle

Clean-shaven Evil
everywhere I look
Thoughts of suicide
but I am still standing
among hopes and among falls


Perhaps, after the darkness
when dawn washes the dirty street
in bright sunrays

When the madness retreats
Another night, another crime
forever remain


The noise after sunrise

Light beams enter the periphery vision
As I open my eyes
a new day, new beginning
What will it bring?

While I wandered the land of dreams
the world bathed in blood and pain
and I
remained indifferent

Each new day I question my purpose
each new day is a beginning
of the complete, unquestionable end

Something must be wrong
when the only cherubs coming to visit me
have little horns and evil smiles

Each time

I burst into tears
they laugh, louder and louder
only after I close my eyes
and return to the land of dreams

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Interview with Jim

In the second installment to Interviews with the Reviewers, I have had the pleasure to talk with a gentleman I came across on GoodReads, Jim. Unlike many reviewers who have either a blog or a web site, Jim only posts his reviews on Goodreads.  To stay true to the theme I was going for when this idea was born, I want to hear from many different reviewers, and Jim certainly fits the criteria that I established.

His reviews are well written, his opinions educated, and his reading choices are quite exceptional. (This, of course, is only my opinion). A while ago, I decided to follow Jim's reviews. I'm glad I did. Thanks to his TBR list, I now have many, many years of worthwhile books ahead of me.

So, without further ado:

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I don’t usually review genre lit (i.e. sci-fi, horror, thrillers) because I rarely read genre lit. I don’t feel like I can fairly evaluate those kinds of genres without being familiar with their conventions and norms. So I prefer to review non-genre-specific fiction. I do sometimes review non-fiction and historical fiction because they are more general in structure and content.

On average, how many books do you review each month?
I try to review all the books I read, time permitting. Maybe 2 or 3 per month, sometimes more.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I mostly read and review non-contemporary books, most of which are more than 10 years old. For review requests for contemporary books, I usually correspond with the author/publisher first to get a feel for the book’s content and if it sounds like it fits my tastes, then I agree to review. If not, I tell them I don’t feel qualified to give an honest review based on genre or subject matter.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

At this point, I’m not very experienced with SP books. The few that I’ve read and reviewed were pretty good, so I’m encouraged by that. A few have been either unedited or very poorly written. In those cases, rather than spending time reading bad books, I politely decline to review the book and suggest that they consider having someone edit the book and then republish. So far, no one has been angry with me, and I think they appreciate me declining the review rather than publishing a critique that could harm their efforts.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I have published reviews for all the books I’ve agreed to read and review (I have three that I’m currently reading and will review soon). As far as honest opinions go, I decided early on to have two categories of book reviews. One is the professionally published book by an established writer – for example John Irving or Michael Chabon or Margaret Atwood. These writers are reviewed against the same standards I’d use to review classic literature like James Joyce or Virginia Woolf. The second category is for the SP authors. They’re usually working alone without the benefit of professional editors and publishers, so I’m much more flexible in how I critique the work. It’s an amazing accomplishment to complete a book, so I seek out what is successful in the work and mention the shortcomings only as things the author can work on to improve in their next book. The reason for this two-category method is to encourage an emerging artist to keep at it. There is nothing lonelier than creating great art and I would rather be encouraging than discouraging. If I really like the book, I correspond with the author privately to let them know what I think in addition to what I put in the review.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

For fiction, the Modernist triumvirate of Joyce, Woolf, and Faulkner are at the top of the bench. Right behind them are 20th century masters like Henry Miller, John Irving, John Updike, Borges, Pynchon, and several more. I don’t usually benchmark against pre-20th century authors because it seems unfair and somehow non-applicable to compare a contemporary author against Rabelais, or Shakespeare, of Melville. In sci-fi, I like Neal Stephenson, Ursula LeGuin, and Arthur C. Clarke. In non-fiction, I like the styles of Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Susan Sontag, and Michael Pollan.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?
The catalyst is my participation in Goodreads. I don’t currently have a review blog, but friends often suggest I start one. What keeps me going is the comments from friends and strangers who read the reviews and share their opinions, both agreeing and disagreeing with what I’ve written. The discussions make it worth the time spent.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

Well, this is a tough question considering that most of contemporary literature is a repeat of the ancient Greek dramatists of the fourth and fifth century BC. I don’t usually read vampire or zombie or dystopian society books, but I imagine there must be a fair amount of repetition there. Certainly there is a lot of “me too” soft-core mommy porn being published in the wake of 50 Shades. Market forces tend to dictate what gets published, but thanks to smaller presses, a lot of creative work makes it into print.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Infinite Jest made a deep impression that I’m sure I’ll take to my grave. Wallace really let it all hang out when he wrote that book. Other recent gems would be Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood and Georges Perec’s, Life, A User’s Manual.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

I don’t really have a favorite review.

I would like to thank Jim for taking the time to answer my question.

Jim is an expat American living in the South of France. He studied literature and art at Rutgers University. He currently reviews books on, where he also moderates a reading and discussion group called "Brain Pain" Brain Pain

A side note: 
I greatly appreciate book reviewers sharing their thoughts with me. I hope this series will take off and the interviews keep coming, because it is not often that either readers or authors get to know the reviewers. Sure, we all get to read the reviews and see what they thought about a particular title, but it usually does not go beyond that. Please show your support by either following their reviews or linking to their respective sites. Moreover, please no spamming my guests with unsolicited material.

To keep the perspectives changing, my next week's guest will be an author, interviewed, of course, as a reviewer only.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Thank you

Thank you all for the great support and wonderful suggestions on whom to interview next. I'm happy to announce that, in the near future, there will be an interview with Frankie Metro. He was recommended by one of you, the readers. After doing some research (I had no prior knowledge of him), I found out that Frankie is very active in the writing community as an Author, Editor, and a Reviewer. I'm looking forward to his answers.

If you would like to nominate a reviewer for the interview series, please let me know. All styles and genres will be considered. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Interview with the Lazy Book Reviewer

It is my pleasure to open the Interviews with the Reviewers series today. My first guest is Michael, the man behind the Lazy Book Reviewer. In the interest of full disclosure, I came across Michael earlier this year when he reviewed one of my books. Nevertheless, I've been following his blog ever since.

So, why did I select Michael to be the first guest?  His reviews are honest (I've seen him rate books all over the scale, not just 5 stars), he accepts and reviews multiple genres, and he reviews regularly.  Reviewers like him, who are doing this for the love of books, are a great resource for both authors and readers.

About the Lazy Book Reviewer in his own words:

By day my name is Michael, and I am a very happily married 38 year old male. I have three gorgeous children ages 11,  2, and a new baby. I live in Tasmania in a little piece of heaven called Hobart, which is a great part of the world where nature is only a stone's through away. I work as a Correctional Officer; a job I enjoy most of the time. If you have not guessed so by now, I love reading and all things bookish. It is my addiction.

By night I am the Lazy Book Reviewer, and I send forth my reviews on many a book from many a genre. Since starting my blog I have built a nicely sized readership, and I'm amazed how far the blog is read - the other day I picked up some audience members in Bhutan of all paces. My blog is a great outlet for me and it lets me share my interests with others.

I am an eternal optimist and believe hat no matter how crappy life gets the sun always rises the next day on a world of opportunities. I also am a firm believer that if you point out a problem or mistake you should have at least thought about how to fix it.


Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

No, I don’t have any one specific genre I review. The books I review are a reflection on what interests me and that is a lot.
For years I would not read anything but history. My stand was, if I was going to read I was going to learn from it.  Thankfully this soon passed and now I read whatever takes my fancy and boy is there a lot of good books out there.
But I digress. If I had to pick my favourite genre it would have to be World War II history, not that you would pick that up from my blog. I have quite a sizable library of WWII books at home that I am quite proud of.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

This year I am averaging eight books a month. I usually have two books on the go at any given time. One of these is usually an audiobook, unabridged of course.

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I was quite surprised even before I started my blog at the amount of people approaching me to review their books. I always try to accommodate authors that approach me, I have only turned down a few because I really did not like the look of their book and these are usually romance books. I am a huge supporter of independent authors and try to support them where possible. This is of course how I came across your books. I usually try to balance my reading between requested reviews and ones I chose myself.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

I am always amazed at the high quality of work that is coming from independent authors at the moment. True the market is swamped by self-published titles at the moment but that helps us reviewers out as more and more people are looking for reviews so they can make sound purchases. Long live the independent author revolution I say; now there is a catchy slogan for a T-shirt.
As a direct answer to your question, my experience of self-published titles is excellent. The quality of these titles has always been of a professional and high standard.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

I have a standing policy with independent authors who give me their book for review. This is, if it’s crap I won’t do a review; this, for me, is a common courtesy policy. I mean, I have not paid for this book but I will not help promote it by publishing a review if I don’t like it.
As for other books, if it sucks I will let you know. I am always honest with my reviews and take great pains for my reviews to reflect exactly what I thought about the book. I will even publish reviews on books that are so bad I could not finish them. Luckily, these are few and far apart.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

There are three authors that stand out for me over the last couple of years. The first author is World War II historian Laurence Rees. I love his books as he puts you in the mindset of the people and this gives you, the reader, a much better understanding of the subject at hand.
The second one is Hugh Howey. Hugh is the poster child for self-published authors and what you can achieve by publishing your own books. His book series Wool proves that the paying public can make the big boys pay attention. For those of you that have not read Wool yet, all I have to say is read it and do it soon; you will not be disappointed.
Thirdly, Mark Tufo for me highlights all that is good in the Zombie genre. I used to shake my head and look down my nose at those who read those awful zombie books. But these books are great entertaining reads and Mark Tufo, as far as I am concerned, is the King of zombies. His books are the right balance of horror and humour.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

The catalyst for me in starting a book review blog was a combination of two things. The first was the fact that I had been a member of numerous book clubs on the Goodreads site for quite a while. During this time my reviews got a lot a positive comments and interest by other members. This gave me confidence in my reviews.
The second was from a need to engage in an activity to keep me occupied. At the time of starting my blog I had been off work due to having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I needed something to keep me occupied. So I thought why not give this blogging thing a try, it could be a bit of fun.
Since then, I have loved doing my blog. It is great to be in contact with a wide range of authors and readers. It makes me feel a part of a creative community. I try to keep the blog interesting, mixing in other snippets of information that interest me. I love sharing my interests with other like-minded people.
As I have mentioned, I am a huge supporter of independent authors and I see my blog as small part in introducing these authors to a wider audience. I have great support from my family who also help out from time to time with blog, especially my 11 year old son, who puts up reviews every now and then.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

 Sure there are a lot of formula-based books out there, and people love the familiarity of them. But for me, I love being surprised by a book and love it when they deliver me a story in an original manner. I have been surprised at the originality of a lot of the books that I have read. I am in awe of the creativity of a lot of authors and wish I had a smidgen of it. The mechanic of how some authors tell and deliver their stories is as refreshing as nice hot shower.
For example, your book series The Mad Days of Me was a great example of moving away from set genres. By doing this you delivered to me, the reader, a greatly entertaining and refreshing read that had me wondering what was going to happen next.
The Zombie and Post Apocalypse genres are another area that surprises me in the varied ways authors come up with ways to keep their books fresh and original. I mean, it is amazing how many ways people think up to end the world or bring back the dead.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

For me one book that has stuck with my more than others is Black Hearts by Jim Frederick. I read this book after a particular difficult and dangerous situation at work and it struck a chord with me deep down in my soul. This book affected me more than another I have read. This reminds me I have not yet posted a review on my blog about this book yet; I will have to rectify that.
As for other books, I will see something or someone will say something that will remind me of them. I am sure I bore the pants off friends and family with the crap I go on about sometimes, all this thanks to the books I have read.

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

There is no one review I am proud of the most. But what I am proud of is being able to give assistance and exposure to some great authors like you. I am thankful for the great friendships I have formed through my reviews and a lot of these go beyond the bounds of books.

I would like to thank Michael for being a good sport, and for sharing his thoughts on being a reviewer. If you would like to find out more about his reviews, you can find him here: Lazy Book Reviewer

Next time, I hope to interview a very interesting man I found on Goodreads. He does not have a blog, he does not review for any company, but he reviews a lot. His TBR list on Goodreads is stunning, his choice of titles interesting, and his reviews are top notch.

Please share this to show some love to our beloved book reviewers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Interviews with the Reviewers

This idea came on the heels of a major aggravation. Yesterday I opened my email to find yet another (third within a week) email about authors supporting authors. As an author myself, I refuse to participate in blind "like" swaps, purchase trades, and the like. Quite frankly, that side of the business aggravates me and I view it as wrong and unscrupulous. But more on that later, in a separate post.

So the idea was born. I'd like to shine a bit of light on the hard working men and women in the book review business. Not the paid reviewers who sit behind comfy desks at an office somewhere, but the average book enthusiasts who take the time to review books without expecting anything in return. I'd like to start interviewing book reviewers.

Since the book industry is so diverse, there are countless blogs and websites dedicated to different genres, styles, and formats. This interview series will not discriminate (even if I, myself, never read anything in the genre you review), and I will consider featuring you as long as your reviews are well written and honest.  I'm also open to interviewing authors, as long as there is no self-promo, and even then, the authors will be interviewed as reviewers only. (provided they write meaningful reviews)

This series will open in the near future, and my first guest will be The Lazy Book Reviewer. After that, I'd like to feature a different reviewer once every two weeks or even weekly perhaps.

What do you get out of playing along? You'll get the chance to tell your side of the story, and I'll include your blog/website at the end of the interview. Nevertheless, you do not need to have a website or a blog. If you are an active reviewer on any of the book review sites, I'll consider it.

So, let's turn the tables and play a game I call Interviews with the Reviewers.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Black Spring by Henry Miller - a review

Warning: This review is long, has excessive amount of quotes, and does not reach much of a conclusion. If you have a short attention span, this may not be for you. However, if you appreciate fine writing, I encourage you to read on.

For me, Henry Miller is the finest writer America has produced over the past century. When his name comes up, most readers associate Miller with sex, scandals, pornography. This is mostly due to the press attention given to his two books, The Tropic of Cancer, and The Tropic of Capricorn. There is, however, much more to Miller than these two books. Miller's life work can be broken to three separate categories: Sex, Surrealism, and Philosophy. The works that make up these three categories did not come in a chronological order, even though his latter works are much more philosophical. The shift from sex to philosophy is very noticeable in his Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, where Nexus makes a grand departure from the world of sex and into philosophical realms. Nevertheless, when I say sex, I do not mean obscenity. Miller's writing is dotted with sex, but not sex for sex's value alone; it is sex that is a part of the story, not the other way around.

Unlike his other books, Black Spring stands alone, covering a period of Miller's life not often discussed in his other works - his early years. It is also, undoubtedly, his most surreal work. By surreal I mean that not only it touches on the principles of surrealism, but that it is a work riddled with surreal imagery. In Black Spring, this imagery is Miller's greatest asset.

The Fourteenth Ward is the opening chapter of Black Spring, an opening chapter into the intimate life of Henry Miller. This is the chapter where he talks about his childhood, his friends, the people and the streets he grew up with. It is a painful place, yet a safe haven. The following is a fine example from this chapter:

"And then one day, as if suddenly the flesh came undone and the blood beneath the flesh had coalesced with the air, suddenly the whole world roars again and the very skeleton of the body melts like wax. Such a day it may be when you first encounter Dostoevski. You remember the smell of the tablecloth on which the book rests; you look at the clock and it is only five minutes from eternity; you count the objects on the mantelpiece because the sound of numbers is a totally new sound in your mouth, because everything new and old, or touched and forgotten, is a fire and mesmerism. Now every door of the cage is open and whichever way you walk is a straight line toward infinity, a straight, mad line over which the breakers roar and the great rocs of marble and indigo swoop to lower their fevered eggs. Out of the waves beating phosphorescent step proud and prancing the enameled horses that marched with Alexander, their tight-proud bellies glowing with calcium, their nostrils dipped in laudanum. Now it is all snow and lice, with the great band of Orion slung around the ocean's crotch."

Third or Fourth Day of Spring, the second chapter in Black Spring, fluctuates between his childhood home and his current place in Clichy.

"The third room was an alcove where I contracted the measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, et cetera: all the lovely diseases of childhood which make time stretch out in everlasting bliss and agony, especially when Providence has provided a window over the bed with bars and ogres to claw at them and sweat as thick as carbuncles, rapid as a river and sprouting, sprouting as if it were always spring and tropics, with thick tenderloin steaks for hands and feet heavier than led or light as snow, feet and hands separated by oceans of time or incalculable latitudes of light, the little knob of the brain hidden away like a grain of sand and the toenails rotting blissfully under the ruins of Athens."

Where this chapter opens with the description of his home, it shifts to his obsession with the way humanity destroys itself, the never-ending list of wrongs he sees.

"I am thinking of that age to come when God is born again, when men will fight and kill for God as now and for a long time to come men are going to fight for food."

One could argue that Miller was a pessimist. I disagree. Miller, for the most part, enjoyed life to its fullest. Perhaps he foresaw what was in store around the corner, perhaps he foresaw the destruction WWII brought upon Europe, which I will touch upon later in this review.

"I am dazzled by the glorious collapse of the world."

A Saturday Afternoon, the third chapter, is a wonderful praise to France. Spending the day on his bicycle, Miller joyfully explores everything French, and sings his amorous hymns to the French people, his newly-found countrymen. He finds joy in the simple pleasure of pissing in an open urinal (and he recounts quite a few of them), or visiting a toilet with a book.

"No harm, I say, can ever be done a great book by taking it with you to the toilet. Only the little books suffer thereby. Only the little books make ass wipers."

It is a chapter about French countryside, toilets, and great literature. Not an easy combination to pull off, but he did. Enough said.

The Angel is my Watermark, the fourth chapter in Black Spring. This is a stand-alone piece, which chronicles Miller's attempt at a watercolor painting. Those of you not familiar with Miller may not know this about him, but he was a prolific, and pretty good, watercolor artist. I believe it originally started as a way to make money, but later it was done purely out of joy. In later years, when Miller settled in Big Sur, he used to wrap books in his watercolors and sent the books to his fans and supporters. Since then, some of his watercolors sold for insane amounts of money, and later there was a limited run of hand-signed serigraphs. Being a sucker for Miller, I own one of them - Really, the Blues. The nice thing about the serigraphs, aside from being limited edition and hand signed, is that each one of them is unique in color composition.

Back to the story at hand. After waking up and feeling like creating something, Miller is 'attacked' by a muse. He calls it dictation, a process where words and sentences come to him so fast he has a hard time keeping up and writing it down. This lasts for many hours during which he attempts to take a break, goes out, and eats something. But the dictation continues, he writes on the tablecloth, goes home, and it still continues. By the time it is over with, he is tired and worn out. Then, seeing a pamphlet with paintings by inmates in an insane-asylum, he realizes that this whole time he really wanted to create a painting.

"I'm very eager to start in. Just the same, I'm at loss for ideas. The dictation has ceased. I have a half mind to copy one of these illustrations. But then I'm a little ashamed of myself—to copy the work of a lunatic is the worst form of plagiarism."

And so he begins, with a horse of all things. Not having any picture of a horse, he draws from memory. Here, he shows his playful nature:

"To put meat on the hoof is a delicate task, extremely delicate. And to make the legs join the body naturally, not as if they were stuck on with glue. My horse already has five legs: the easiest thing to do is to transform one of them into a phallus erectus. No sooner said than done. And how he is standing just like a terra cotta figure of the sixth century B.C. The tail isn't in yet, but I've left an opening just above the asshole."

and in the next paragraph: "During the leg experiments the stomach has become dilapidated. I patch it as best I can—until it looks like a hammock. Let it go at that. If it doesn't look like a horse when I'm through I can always turn it into a hammock."

and one paragraph later: "At this point, I admit frankly, I am completely disgusted with my prowess. I have a mind to erase and begin all over again. But I detest the eraser. I would rather convert the horse into a dynamo or a grand piano than erase my work completely."

The more he works at it, the worse it becomes. Here he says: "However, when I get into a predicament of this sort I know that I can extricate myself later when it comes time to apply the color. The drawing is simply the excuse for color. The color is the toccata: drawing belongs to the realm of idea."

He continues with the drawing, making it more and more elaborate, throwing things in there that have no place in the original idea. A bridge, a man, trees, houses, a mountain..."What's a mountain? It's a pile of dirt which never wears away, at least, not in historical time. A mountain's too easy. I want a volcano I want a reason for my horse to be snorting and prancing. Logic, logic! "Le fou montre un souci constant de logique!" (Les Frances aussi.) Well, I'm not a fou, especially a French fou I can take a few liberties, particularly with the work of an imbecile."

Thus he starts on the volcano. "When I'm all through, I have a shirt on my hands. A shirt, precisely!"..."One thing, however, stands out unmistakably, clear and clean, and that is the bridge. It's strange, but if you can draw an arch the rest of the bridge follows naturally. Only an engineer can ruin a bridge."

This last line is rather important. It is subtle, but it points to a larger issue Miller seemed to have, and that is the issue with progress, advancement, especially the modern way of things changing fast while destroying old habits, familiar places, picturesque views. This is why I think he loved France and Greece so much, but disliked America. The old world held onto the old, the familiar. The new world kept building and rebuilding. No attachment.

Here he inserts an angel above his horse. "It's a sad angel with a fallen stomach, and the wings are supported by umbrella ribs."

Inspiration for this is explained here: "Have you ever sat at a railway station and watched people killing time? Do they not sit a little like crestfallen angels—with their broken arches and their fallen stomachs? Those eternal few minutes in which they are condemned to be alone with themselves—does it not put umbrella ribs in their wings?
All angels in religious art are false. If you want to see angels you must go to the Grand Central Depot, or to the Gare St. Lazare. Especially the Gare St.Lazare—Salle des Pas Perdus." 

The piece eventually evolves into something entirely different than Miller's original intention. And so does the story. It is no longer about painting, about horses, or about anything that might be on the canvas (and there were many, many things taking appearance only to be transformed or covered entirely). It is now about Miller, about humanity, about angels.

"My whole life seems to be wrapped up in that dirty handkerchief, the Bowery, which I walked through day after day, year in and year out—a dose of smallpox whose scars never disappear. If I had a name then it was Cimex Lectularius. If I had a home it was a slide trombone. If I had a passion, it was to wash myself clean."

After ruining the painting, he decides to wash it in a sink, scrub it, and lay it on his desk. Here the story takes a completely different turn and Miller shines in his surreal monologue for three pages. In the end, this is as much about the painting as it is about Miller himself. It is a story of imbalance, of internal struggle; and as such it is beautiful.

The Tailor Shop is the fifth chapter, and here we are offered a glimpse into his early adult years. 

At first, Miller sets the scene: His father's tailor shop, grumpy customers, half-wit brother, and his mother who does not have a clue. He spends a quite a bit of time on his father's customers, often using them not only for background, but also to express his disagreement with advancement.
I really liked this simple description: "Of the three brothers I liked Albert the best. He had arrived at that ripe age when the bones become as brittle as glass. His spine had the natural curvature of old age, as though he were preparing to fold up and return to the womb."

He was writing Black Spring in France, and his disdain with America was already apparent: "Yes, all the silk-lined duffers I knew well—we had the best families in America on our roster. And what a pus and filth when they opened their dirty traps!"

His sentiment about the changes in society, his surroundings, and the world in general are pretty clear here: "As the old 'uns died off they were replaced by young blood. Young blood! That was the war cry all along the Avenue, wherever there were silk-lined suits for sale. A fine bloody crew they were, the young bloods. Gamblers, racetrack touts, stockbrokers, ham actors, prize fighters, etc. Rich one day, poor the next. No honor, no loyalty, no sense of responsibility. A fine bunch of gangrened syphilics they were, most of 'em. Came back from Paris or Monte Carlo with dirty postcards and a string of big blue rocks in their groin. Some of them with balls as big as a lamb's fry."

Miller is clearly showing affection for the less fortunate, as he has done in most of his books. While he thrashes the rich and powerful, he embraces the everyday men.

"The men my father loved were weak and lovable. They went out, each and every one of them, like brilliant stars before the sun. They went out quietly and catastrophically. No shred of them remained—nothing but the memory of their blaze and glory. They flow inside me now like a vast river choked with falling stars. They form the black flowing river which keeps the axis of my world in constant revolution. Out of this black, endless, ever-expanding girdle of nigh springs the continuous morning which is wasted in creation. Each morning the river overflows its banks, leaving the sleeves and buttonholes and all the rinds of a dead universe strewn along the beach where I stand contemplating the ocean of the morning of creation."

And his surreal imagery pours forth as the story goes on, once again changing the course from its beginning to the larger issues Miller sees with the world:

"It's staggeringly beautiful at this hour when every one seems to be going his own private way. Love and murder, they're still a few hours apart. Love and murder, I feel it coming with the dusk: new babies coming out of the womb, soft, pink flesh to get tangled up in barbed wire and scream all night long and rot like dead bone a thousand miles from nowhere. Crazy virgins with ice-cold jazz in their veins egging men on to erect new buildings and men with dog collars around their necks wading through the muck up to the eyes so that the czar of electricity will rule the waves. What's in the seed scares the living piss out of me: a brand new world is coming out of the egg and no matter how fast I write the old world doesn't die fast enough. I hear the new machine guns and the millions of bones splintered at once; I see dogs running mad and pigeons dropping with letters tied to their ankles."

In France, Miller found his peace. He found understanding, and a society that he could embrace. His tormented view of self in America has finally cleared, and he truly enjoyed life. His writing here is much more calm, much more picturesque. In France he found pleasure in observing its people, their habits, their ways. Whereas here he saw himself as an individual, in America he saw himself as part of a machine, a machine he had no desire to be a part of.
"Swimming in the crowd, a digit with the rest. Tailored and re-tailored. The lights are twinkling—on and off, on and off. Sometimes it's a rubber tire, sometimes it's a piece of chewing gum. The tragedy of it is that nobody sees the look of desperation on my face. Thousands and thousands of us, and we are passing one another without a look of recognition. The lights jigging like electric needles. The atoms going crazy with light and heat. A conflagration going on behind the glass and nothing burns away. Men breaking their backs, men bursting their brains, to invent a machine which a child will manipulate. If I could only find the hypothetical child who's to run this machine I'd put a hammer in its hands and say: Smash it! Smash it!"

Jabberwhorl Cronstadt the sixth chapter is a rather eccentric, imagery-rich piece with very surreal settings. Since most of the story itself is comprised of a dialogue, it is impossible to quote a single paragraph without taking it out of context. This piece, nevertheless, is thought-provoking in its own way. Jabberwhorl is an eccentric artist, or perhaps he only serves as a metaphor for one of Miller's alter egos. In the end, he is laid to rest, which could also mean Miller's own departure from one period of his life into another.

Into the Night Life, the seventh chapter, continues Miller's surreal monologue. This one mostly deals with the state of affairs in our 'modern' world, and offers an unlikely criticism of civilization. The dream-like chapter opens with:

"Over the foot of the bed is the shadow of the cross. There are chains binding me to the bed. The chains are clanking loudly, the anchor is being lowered. Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder. Some one is shaking me vigorously. I look up and it is an old hag in a dirty wrapper. She goes to the dresser and opening a drawer she puts a revolver away."

And continues with a disturbing imagery full of symbolism. Here Miller sees himself tortured in various rooms, fighting of the demons that punish him, while defining his desire to be a new man, a man leaving his past behind. In this chapter there is a plenty of disillusion with America and its ways. 

"In the heat of the late afternoon, the city rises up like a huge polar bear shaking off its rhododendrons. The forms waver, the gas chokes the girders, the smoke and the dust wave like amulets. Out of the welter of buildings there pours a jellywash of hot bodies glued together with pants and skirts. The tide washes up in front of the curved tracks and splits like glass combs. Under the wet headlines are the diaphanous legs of the amoebas scrambling on to the running boards, the fine, sturdy tennis legs wrapped in cellophane, their white veins showing through the golden calves and muscles of ivory. The city is panting with a five o'clock sweat."

"The countryside is desolate. No warmth, no snugness, no closeness, no density, no opacity, no numerator, no denominator. It's like the evening newspaper read to a deaf mute standing on a hat rack with a palmetto leaf in his hand."

Only once does he venture abroad in this story, this time onto a German train.

"Surely nothing is better than to take a train at night when all the inhabitants are asleep and to drain from their open mouths the rich succulent morsels of their unspoken tongue. When every one sleeps, the mind is crowded with events; the mind travels in a swarm, like summer flies that are sucked along by the train."

When his thoughts return to America, he again recreates the scenes from his youth:

"Everything is sordid, shoddy, thin as pasteboard. A Coney Island of the mind. The amusement shacks are running full blast, the shelves full of chinaware and dolls stuffed with straw and alarm clocks and spittoons. Every shop has three balls over it and every game is a ball game. The Jews are walking around in mackintoshes, the Japs are smiling, the air is full of chopped onions and sizzling hamburgers. Jabber, Jabber, and over it all in a muffled roar comes the steady hiss and boom of the breakers, a long uninterrupted adenoidal wheeze that spreads a clammy catarrh over the dirty shebang. Behind the pasteboard streetfront the breakers are ploughing up the night with luminous argent teeth; the clams are lying on their backs squirting ozone from their anal orifices. In the oceanic night Steeplechase looks like a wintry beard. Everything is sliding and crumbling, everything glitters, totters, teeters, titters."

From then on, the text itself transforms into a long metaphor criticizing modern society which lacks compassion.  

"Passing through the lobby of the hotel I see a crowd gathered around the bar. I walk in and suddenly I hear a child howling with pain. The child is standing on a table in the midst of the crowd. It's a girl and she has a slit in the side of her head, just at the temple. The blood is bubbling from her temple. It just bubbles—it doesn't run down the side of her face. Every time the slit in her temple opens I see something stirring inside. It looks like a chick in there. I watch closely. This time, I catch a good glimpse of it. It's a cuckoo! People are laughing. Meanwhile the child is howling with pain."

Yet it is much more. It goes on and on for pages, touching upon past injustices, future mistakes. He uses the image of a cemetery converted to a garden, which feeds the entire neighborhood, as a symbol for abandoning the past and moving on. His ideology crashes with his awareness as he cruises from East to West and beyond. And this is where Miller really shines, in his mad imagery laced with obscure words. It is as much about language as about a story.

Walking Up and Down in China, the eighth chapter addresses a period in between two Millers. The Miller of France, and the Miller of America.

"In Paris, out of Paris, leaving Paris or coming back to Paris, it's always Paris and Paris is France and France is China. All that which is incomprehensible to me runs like a great wall over the hills and valleys through which I wander. Within this great wall I can live my Chinese life in peace and security.
I'm not a traveler, not an adventurer. This happen to me in my search for a way out. Up till now I had been working away in a blind tunnel, burrowing in the bowels of the earth for light and water. I could not believe, being a man of the American continent, that there was a place on earth where a man could be himself. By force of circumstance I became a Chinaman—a Chinaman in my own country! I took to the opium of dream in order to face the hideousness of a life in which I had no part. As quietly and naturally as a twig falling into the Mississippi I dropped out of the stream of American life. Everything that happened to me I remember, but I have no desire to recover the past, neither have I any longings or regrets. I am like a man who awakes from a long sleep to find that he is dreaming. A pre-natal condition—the born man living unborn, the unborn man dying born."

While some may interpret his writing as America-hating, I do not believe it is so. Miller is simply disillusioned with the American hunger for everything new. He despises the facade, the strive for perfection. As promised, I will touch upon the surrealist in Miller. Not only his writing has its own phantasmagoric quality, long before André Breton suggested that: “The purest surrealist act is walking into a crowd with a loaded gun and firing into it randomly.” Miller wrote the following passage which, in essence, states the same while rebelling against the aforementioned lust for perfection:

"Men and women promenading on the sidewalks: curious beasts, half-human, half-celluloid. Walking up and down the Avenue half-crazed, their teeth polished, they eyes glazed. The women clothed in beautiful garbs, each one equipped with a cold storage smile. The men smiled too now and then, as if they were walking in their coffins to meet the Heavenly Redeemer. Smiling through life with that demented, glazed look in the eyes, the flags unfurled, and sex flowing sweetly through the sewers. I had a gat with me and when we got to Forty-second Street I opened fire. Nobody paid any attention. I mowed them down right and left, but the crowd got no thinner. The living walked over the dead, smiling all the while to advertise their beautiful white teeth. It's this cruel smile that sticks in my memory."

In contrast, while in France, Miller finds the imperfect faces beautiful:

"...standing face to face with the homely women of Europe. There's a worn beauty about their faces, as if like the earth itself they had participated in all the cataclysms of nature. The history of their race is engraved on their faces; their skin is like a parchment on which is recorded the whole struggle of civilization. The migrations, the hatreds and persecutions, the wars of Europe—all have left their impress. They are not smiling; their faces are composed and what is written on them is composed in terms of race, character, history."

This contrast is not as much about America and Europe, about disdain and understanding, but more about the quality of life. It's almost a Zen-like question of life choices.

As the story progresses, Miller continues the theme of being a foreigner in his own country, of not having anything in common with his fellow countrymen yet not having anything in common with his new countrymen. He is a torn soul, a soul in a limbo between two cultures and two continents. One which he abandoned, and one which he has not yet accepted fully.

"Of a night when there is no longer a name for things I walk to the dead end of the street and, like a man who has come to the end of his tether, I jump the precipice which divides the living from the dead. As I plunge beyond the cemetery wall, where the last urinal is gurgling, the whole of my childhood comes to a lump in my throat and chokes me. Wherever I have made my bed I have fought like a maniac to drive out the past. But at the last moment it is the past which rises up triumphantly, the past in which one drowns."

He is equally struggling with the political climate of Europe. Without saying so, he clearly hears the war drums drumming. After all, this is 1934-1935, and Europe is in-between two of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind. He is not obsessed with the world's end, yet his writing is often laced with scenes of destruction. I find it rather disturbing that ten years before the bombing of Nagasaki he wrote the following:

"This is the Spring that Jesus sang, the sponge to his lips, the frogs dancing. In every womb the pounding of iron hoofs, in every grave the roar of hollow shells. A vault of obscene anguish saturated with angel-worms hanging from the fallen womb of a sky. In this last body of the whale the whole world has become a running sore. When next the trumpet blows it will be like pushing a button: as the first man falls he will push over the next, and the next the next, and so on down the line, round the world, from New York to Nagasaki, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. And when man falls he will push over the cow and the cow will push over the horse and the horse the lamb, and all will go down, one before the other, one after the other, like a row of tin soldiers blown down by the wind. The world will go out like a Roman candle. Not even a blade of grass will grow again. A lethal dose from which no awakening. Peace and night, with no moan or whisper stirring. A soft, brooding darkness, an inaudible flapping of wings."

Burlesk, the ninth chapter is another surreal exploration into his youth, this time a mix between a night out on town, and a few dirty things that he witnessed with his friends. I'm not sure how much of the latter is true, but there is some stuff that makes you wonder (like his friend Stanley who is hired to carry a stillborn to the cemetery grounds throwing the body overboard from a ferry, or to the sewers if there is no ferry). He also touches upon his affection for Tante Melia (a crazy aunt who ended up in an insane asylum in The Tailor Shop chapter).

"I'm speaking of things that brought me relief in the beginning." He says about the aforementioned. "You are at the beginning of the world, in a garden which is boxed off. The sky is banked like sand dunes and there is not just one firmament but millions of them; the crust of every planet is carved into an eye, a very human eye that neither blinks nor winks. You are about to write a beautiful book and in it you are going to record everything that has given you pain or joy. This book, when written, will be called A Prolegomenon to the Unconscious."

"The great artist is he who conquers the romantic in himself."
is a line completely out of context within a sub-story about a men whose wife cheated on him and who got his payback in a rather disturbing way. Nevertheless, its a line worth pondering, especially knowing that Miller, himself, was a helpless romantic. 

Megalopolitan Maniac, the tenth and final chapter of Black Spring closes the book with a bang.

"In the early evening, when the death rattles the spine, the crowd moves compact, elbow to elbow, each member of the great herd driven by loneliness; breast to breast toward the wall of self, frustrate, isolate, sardine upon sardine, all seeking the universal can opener. In the early evening, when the crowd is sprinkled with electricity, the whole city gets up on its hind legs and crashes the gates. In the stampede the abstract man falls apart, gray with self, spinning in the gutter of his deep loneliness."

This chapter is a fine assault on civilization and its God. I say its God because Miller appears fairly religious in his other writing. Here, however, he takes jabs at the publicly affirmed God.

"Never more God than it the godless crowd."

Advancement and mechanization of society has always been a sore in his eye, and this chapter is no different. He sees the future as inhuman, full of machinery and devoid of human contact. He sees changes that are to come, changes which will make the world a worse place to live in, a world without affection. He preaches love instead, a love greater than anything a man can create.

And although I have quoted more than I should have already, I cannot resist quoting the final paragraph:

"Tomorrow you may bring about the destruction of your world. Tomorrow you may sing in Paradise above the smoking ruins of your world-cities. But tonight I would like to think of one man, a lone individual, a man without name or country, a man whom I respect because he has absolutely nothing in common with you—MYSELF. Tonight I shall meditate upon that which I am."

Overall, this is an impressive and haunting collection. Surely, Miller is very egoistic, but it is from his ego that his genius sprouts. Miller is difficult to interpret, even difficult to understand. At times he is like a lunatic armed with a dictionary; at times he is like a prophet of doom; yet through it all shines his insatiable appetite for life. Reading this book time and time again makes me think. It also makes me realize how much influence his writing has had on me as an author. Is Henry Miller relevant in the twenty-first century? Absolutely! His work is timeless.

All quotes are from the book Black Spring by Henry Miller, published by Grove Press, Inc. New York, Copyright 1963.

All text used under Fair Use clause for the sole purpose of writing a review of this work.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

New way to find ebooks

An interesting new service is being developed, courtesy of the folks behind The Fussy Librarian.

The site is currently working on a title database as well as accepting readers' accounts. The service promises to match and suggest books based on the reader's personal settings, which include genre, language, violence level, profanity level, et cetera. This is a pretty cool idea.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Men are born of dreams, yet, but a few, die of exhaustion from the inability to realize them.

Men are born of dreams, yet, but a few, die of exhaustion from the inability to realize them.
Men are born of dreams...
For eons, countless children, regardless of race, skin color, ethnicity, political climate, or geographical location, have been born out of a dream. A dream so powerful yet founded on the simple premise that life, as the parents know it, will be better for their offspring. This simple dream, other than the drive to survive or continue the species, is enough for parents to sacrifice themselves, and whatever resources available to them, for the benefit of their children.
  Even in our 'blessed century' of relative peace, we still hope that our children will make a difference, put a stop to whatever evil currently tortures us, or find a cure for whatever plagues us. At the least, we hope that if they, themselves, will not bring about a change, they would live long enough for a change to take place. A dream.

...yet, but a few,...
History is dotted with great men and women who sought change, who labored inexhaustibly for change, who gave their life for change. Change—unlike modern-day politicians who use this word to rally up masses—meant something to these men and women. It meant doing whatever they felt was necessary to realize their dreams. In addition, while their dreams were not always beneficial to mankind in general, (humans, by their very nature are selfish creatures), their conviction was so strong that they often paid the ultimate prize to see their dream realized.
  Unfortunately, when I say dotted, I mean infrequent and scattered. The vast majority of men fail to pursue their dreams or convictions once they reach the age of relative economical and social stability. A friend of mine, who is a well-respected psychologist, once mentioned to me that, "Every man starts life as a liberal and ends life as a conservative." While I see a point in what he said, I tend to disagree. Certainly, there is some truth to his statement. The liberalism of carefree youth eventually diminishes, giving way to a more conservative nature once a person's list of possessions grows. Irrefutably, when one has nothing to lose, one can live by ideals and principles; but once one has something to lose, one will do his best to guard the fruits of one's labor.
  Yet, as with any generalization, there are exceptions. There are men who continue to live by their ideals; men who refuse to succumb to society's pressures to conform to a certain 'norm'. These men are but a few amidst the masses, and are often viewed as adventurers, irresponsible, dreamers, vagabonds, and derelicts. Equally, there are men who, by way of means, do not have to conform to anything. Society holds these men in high regard, and the general opinion of them is, more often than not, a favorable one. These men not only have the ability to pursue their dreams; they enjoy doing so in a relative comfort.
  I tend to hold the first category in a higher regard, because the common men who, despite repercussions, overcome obstacles and stay true to their heart are men of my liking. They do not have the luxury of bailing out, which is something the latter category is able to do.

....die of exhaustion from the inability to realize them.
Children come to this world without preconceived notions, expectations, malice, and greed. Their lives are but blank pieces of parchment ready to be written upon. They are realizing the dream without even knowing it. Nevertheless, as they grow, their dream is shattered, their consciousness stained.
Without a doubt, life is exhausting. The daily rat race people all over the world are subjected to does not end with retirement. For most people the rat race never ceases, it only slows down. The course may be different, yet the ability to stop altogether never arises. Perhaps we will find peace in death, but that is, at best, purely a speculation.
  The technical mind may find satisfaction in a job well done, the scientific mind in finding a solution, and the creative mind in achieving a masterpiece. Does that equal realizing one's dream? It could. This scenario, however, is very unlikely at best. For men and dreams constantly evolve, ideals change, and solutions are not permanent. We humans have the uncanny ability to screw up. We humans have the inexhaustible thirst for more, even when the answer is less.
  Throughout history, many great men came as close to realizing their dreams as humanly possible; yet, when the fruit was ripe and within reach, these men lusted after more, which more often than not ended up resulting in a total destruction of their dream.
  As our world continues to spiral towards a catastrophe, I often ask myself whether there even is a chance to realize the simple dream of peace, stability, coexistence, and acceptance, or whether we are all destined to die of exhaustion without the ability to glimpse an end to the issues that keep us separated, agitated, and worried.

Thank you UK

I just wanted to express my thanks to the UK readers who are purchasing Mad Days of Me: Escaping Barcelona. I hope you are enjoying my work, and don't be shy about posting a review.

Thank you!