Literary Review

Commonplace Exceptions


 Marvin Cheeseman
We Hate It When Our Ex-Lodgers Become Successful
(Cheers Ta Publications)

A sense of fun is all too often absent from poetry. It doesn't have to be difficult or elitist, but humor is mostly seen as a disadvantage to the high-minded, a case of letting the side down. Marvin Cheeseman is a poet who thankfully has been letting sides down with laughter and tremendous aplomb for years. His work has been featured on the BBC, TV and radio. He's even been name-checked by the Ting Tings. A perfect collision of a pop sensibility with a wry twist on the everyday.

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A Grain of Universes

house_of_leaves"House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon)

If you don't enjoy dark and disturbing sojourns into the foreboding unknown, then, in its own words, this story is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are willing to be infected and possessed by a book that will reach out and crawl under your skin as it draws you into the emptiness opening before you, then grab your measuring tape and head to the nearest bookstore. Read more »

Winter and Some Discontent

kathleen_farrellMistletoe Malice
by Kathleen Farrell (Rupert Hart Davis)

It was a brave move by Kathleen Farrell (1912-1999) to position her first novel (published in 1951) over those few portentous days known as the Festive season. Such a particular setting doesn't bode well for a long life on the shelves, the literary equivalent of a good melody marooned on a Christmas record. Her book employs the classic country house setting of an Agatha Christie, where a group of perfectly disagreeable people assemble under one roof. In Farrell's case, all could murder each other, but don't, they merely scratch, bicker, and add to the overall misery of their daily lives, supposedly in the name of celebrating Christ's birthday. Read more »

A Man of Few Words

mick-imlahMick Imlah 1956-2009

The poet Mick Imlah, who died on January 12, was a writer of immense concision and talent, but one with a scant regard for the sense of urgency. Compiling just two poetry collections in twenty years, evidencing the respect and effort of his devotions, provided the world with a legacy of rare worth. It has also left his readers with a profound awareness of pleasures unknown, unrealized, and denied. Read more »

John Updike 1932-2009

updike460I must confess I never read any of John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels. Nevertheless, upon the news of his passing, I felt a yawning hole open. His essays, his short stories (many of us have probably been force fed his masterful A & P in school, it still stands as a portrait of teen angst to rival Rebel Without a Cause), and, interestingly, his poems set him apart, above so many other writers. In the age of the sentence, which we seem to be mired in, he was a crystalline master, if not the master. Read more »

The Quest for Kazuko Shiraishi

Kazuko_ShiraishiWhat can we define as "Beat" poetry? A loose blend of Whitman, Blake, open sexuality bordering on erotica, and socio-political ideals, all cooked in a broth of jazz rhythms or at least associated with or accompanied by jazz? If this loose definition works for you, then Kazuko Shiraishi, a Japanese poet first embraced by Kenneth Rexroth and Allen Ginsberg, fits that bill. Shiraishi came into prominence in the '60s as a female poet who openly confessed to basically not being the good mother type, leaning more toward the liberated woman-poet-thinker that came to dominate that era. Read more »

Insanity - 70 Years On...


Mark Mazower

Despite its heft, this 768-page tome has the sharp impact of a punch to the stomach. From the first paragraph, it changed the way I look at life -- a feeling that only intensified chapter after chapter. A thorough, serious and supremely researched work, Mazower's book makes good use of our sixty-year distance, as well as many recently unearthed documents, to present a dispassionate view of the unstructured madness that motivated Hitler and his ministers, as well as all the key players, often right down to individuals.

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Influential Comic Book Returns in Hardcover

watchmenWatchmen: Hardcover Edition
By Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons (DC Comics)

Whenever a new comic book-inspired movie is a big hit, comic book stores report that sales of that hero’s books often spike. Which is why, this past summer, books by Batman, Iron Man, and The Hulk did brisk business. But so too did another comic, one that won’t be seen on the big screen until March of next year, but got a bump nonetheless when its trailer appeared both online and at the San Diego Comic Con: Watchmen, the groundbreaking 1986/86 graphic novel by writer Alan Moore (From Hell, V for Vendetta) and artist Dave Gibbons (Give Me Liberty, Captain America). Though this book has often been called “unfilmable,” and not just by Moore, the rather impressive trailer got enough fans so excited that the book started flying off store shelves. Read more »

Buggered, Bored and Crucified

dandy-in-the-underworld-bookDandy in the Underworld
by Sebastian Horsely (Sceptre)

Some books make promises they fail to keep, drawing the reader into a disappointing experience that, like many affairs, should have been abandoned long before the bitter end. Sebastian Horsley has created such a piece of literary malpractice. Dandy in the Underworld begins like a more modern Naked Civil Servant, a book which it constantly references to the point of laziness and theft, but hasn't the intellect to better. Read more »

Playing With Loaded Guns

casualty-of-warA Casualty Of War: The Arcadia Book of Gay Short Stories
Edited by Peter Burton (Arcadia Books)

In this post Will and Grace, Queer Eye, Broke Back Mountain world, where gay is the new black, and every home should at least know one, a "Gay" anthology seems a little like a quaintly queer idea. However since being homosexual, to twist Graucho Marx, consists largely of being the member of a club you didn't initially want to be a member of, especially if you come from a small town, or live in a tough part of any major metropolis, such projects retain a fundamental necessity. Read more »


david-foster-wallaceIt's been nearly two weeks since the suicide of David Foster Wallace and besides the shock, what's been rattling round in my head is the question, what would he have written next? The stories untold. The blank essays. I was wondering, even before he died, how DFW was going to respond to the well-meaning blast he got from critic James Wood in Wood's marvelous recent book, How Fiction Works,. Wood was too smart to go snarky on Wallace (and as much as confessed to it not hours after the news) and Wallace was too smart not to ingest the knowledge and spin it into something unseen, and wonderful. At least that's what I hoped. Now, I know. We won't hear anything. Read more »

Let's Hear It for the Writing Guy


by Bruce Jay Friedman (Biblioasis)

Time was serious writers wrote to entertain audiences. Not entertain in the "anything for a laugh" style we're so accustomed to, but to move, to captivate, to probe, to scare, to inspire, to confuse. From Dickens to Tolstoy to Chandler to O'Connor to Lardner to Dahl to, even, Hemingway, these artists used stories and storytelling to get to people. These days movies, and mostly crappy movies, have taken over this role. Read more »

The Dark Sixties

sway-bookSway by Zachary Lazar (Little, Brown)

Flower Power.

Ychhh? Yes.

Lame? Well, yes and no. It never would have sprouted without its dark side.

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Enigmatic Celibate

morrissey-tonyMeetings With Morrissey
by Len Brown (Omnibus Books)

For an artist who has widely shared his heroes, his obsessions, and his occasional anger, Morrissey remains an enigma, retaining a certain aura of mystery one normally associates with a different era. He is a rock original who has no rock and roll habits. He doesn't do drugs or drink to excess. A vocal vegetarian and a man who has a way with words, he is the ultimate iconic ironic. A man who lives in the heads of his fans, but remains myth-like and remote. A familiar stranger. Read more »

Strangely Drawn to Freddie


by Mike Dawson (Bloomsbury USA) 

In many ways, it was Rock 'n' Roll that turned comic books into graphic novels. Even before R. Crumb quite knew what he was doing, and even though his tastes run more toward 78s from the torrid climes, the liberating force, the form meets content of Rock -- the sheer, in-your-face, ugly-beautiful, smart-simple, visceral appeal infiltrated his work. Here you could write, and draw, and the feeling that resulted was a true one plus one equals three equation. Read more »

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