Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2011, part 15: Jeffrey Ford

Books, Movies, and Music Enjoyed in 2011
by Jeffrey Ford


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (The New Press) -- Alexander offers a supremely well-researched and ultimately convincing argument that the out of control incarceration of young Black males constitutes a new kind of Jim Crow law and resultant caste system. Interesting discussion of how this phenomenon is aimed at blocking and/or disenfranchising people from their vote.

Doctor Sleep by Madison Smartt Bell (Grove Press). An Americn ex-heroin addict, self-styled hypnotherapist, who works with a secret government agency at times and lives in London, suffers from insomnia. A trippy book in which the reader is never quite sure what's happening. Errant and subtle. Terrific writing.

The Natural History of the Unicorn by Chris Lavers (Harper Perrenial). Across continents and centuries, Lavers traces the history of a myth. Interesting stories from antiquity to the 19th century concerning this symbolic creature.

Wave of Mutilation by Doug Lain (Eraserhead Press/Fantastic Planet). The universe has a hole in it and reality is leaking out. Who knew it would be this much fun? Doug Lain's Wave of Mutilation is the story of Christian and Samantha; a story that generates itself as it devours itself. Its characters and surreal scenes are rendered with an engaging style and seem to have truths to tell us about relationships, politics, sex, the history of furniture. At the same time, they convince us they are insubstantial, errant, nothing but the illusion of the world. Terrific writing, good laughs, and the flawless execution of a fictional tightrope walk between "reality" and nothing. Wonderfully original!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdom, The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin (trilogy from Orbit Books) -- A fascinating and original take on the genre of epic fantasy by a writer who can do it all. This is a lot of epic fantasy for me (not so much an epic fantasy reader). I was constantly engaged, delighted, and surprised by these works. Looking forward to see what Jemisin does next.

Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies: The Essential Lucy Sussex by Lucy Sussex (Ticonderoga Press) -- A retrospective collection from one of my favorite contemporary short story writers. Eclectic themes (SF, F, H, Mystery)) and styles -- creepy dolls, genetics of the snake woman, volcanoes. Sussex is an underappreciated story writer. It's great to see this new compilation of some of her best work.

R/Evolution by Tenea Johnson (Counterpoise) -- A mosaic novel. Fast paced science fiction full of ideas from a time and place where bio-technology and racial justice/injustice coincide. Nice blend of the fictional page turner and important political ideas. Also check out Johnson's new Smoketown novel from Blind Side Press.

Starve Better by Nick Mamatas (Apex Publications) -- Advice on the writing life is usually for shit, but Mamatas manages a clear headed, realistic, and humorous view of what to expect and offers credible tips on making the most of your fiction in the world of professional writing. There are few books like this that I'll recommend to my fiction students, but this is definitely one of them.

The Camel by Robert Irwin (Reaktion Books) -- Everything you might want to know about the mythology, history, and biology of the camel by an interesting author.

This year I've been lucky enough to read some books that won't be out till 2012. You might want to consider these in the new year.

The New American Crime Film by Matthew Sorrento (McFarland Publishers) -- Forward by director, Stuart Gordon. Sorrento covers the crime films of Lynch, Cronenberg, Mamet, Herzog, etc. A little pricey, but a scholarly work that is more than just gossip and glitz.

Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books) -- this new collection of stories by Sedia contains weird and twisted tales from old Russia, the Soviet system and America. Sedia's writing is alive with metaphor that renders both the beautiful and the bizarre. Her yellow Lenin is the height of creepiness. I can't recommend this one enough. Sure to be one of the stand out collections of 2012.

Technicolor and other Revelations by John Langan -- Langan, one of the best short story writers in the Horror genre, takes the archetypal themes of horror and filters them through his unique imagination and style, making them entirely fresh. Contains the classic "How the Day Runs Down" from the JJ Adams anthology, The Living Dead, plus seven other pieces, one a new story. Great book of short fiction.


Kiss Me Deadly directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer, written by A. I. Bezzirides and Mickey Spillane (1955) -- Sort of an SF/Noir with espionage intrigue, a box of glowing bad stuff, and a loopy plot. Cloris Leachman debuts. Criterion Collection.

House of Numbers directed by Russell Rouse, starring Jack Palance and Barbara Lang, based on a novel by Jack Finney and a script by Don Mankiewicz (1957). Palance plays twins in this prison break caper. The scheme that Arnie and Bill Judlow put into play is preposterous, but somehow the story works. Shot at San Quentin, using real guards and prisoners as actors. The Chief, from Get Smart, plays the warden of the joint.

Two Lane Blacktop directed by Monte Hellman, starring James Taylor, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys) and the great, Warren Oates, screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer and Will Cory (1971). Ran into this late one night on, I believe, TCM. Apparently the film had been out of circulation for a long time. About a race from somewhere in the Southwest to Washington D.C. The prize is that the winner gets the loser's car. No frills movie making -- errant and at times beautifully slow. Wurlitzer plays a race car driver and a young Harry Dean Stanton plays a hitch hiker.


The Goat Rodeo Sessions by Yoyo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile.

"Just You, Just Me" by Pianica Maeda

Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends anthology

Ska Down Her Way anthology

For Your Love" by Ed Townsend

Jeffrey Ford, who has the won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award (several times), and a few other awards as well, is the author of The Well Built City trilogy and numerous other novels, as well as several collections of short fiction. He lives in New Jersey.

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