Always loved short stories, and the late Thom Jones' debut is still one of my favorites.
With the highs and lows of a bipolar ADHD second-grader on a midnight candy binge, his stories sing: Boxing. Vietname War. PTSD. Madness. Gran mal seizures, Paul on the Road to Damascus. The I-Ching.
His style? Anything BUT minimal. In fact, I've never encountered short stories so stuffed with junk. Yet they all work.
The secret? VOICE
Thom Jones' Voice is so distinct and angelic and tragic all at once.
Here's a full review of the Pugilist at Rest that I wrote for VICE.
Also check out Joyce Carol Oats' tribute following Thom's death in 2016.
FInal note: I searched for years trying to contact Thom, then in 2017 I sent my VICE review of this book to a friend, and in the comments following my article (a year or so after I'd written the review) I saw that Thom left 2 Facebook comments thanking me and asking for my address.
I was absolutely devastated.
Devastated that I was too late... and grateful that he read and appreciated the review.
Wherever you are Thom, give em hell :-)
A++ Must read
So crazy cool twenty-three year anniversary.
Met my soulmate back in New Orleans when we were kids... then we had and raised a kid!
Love this quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
style, despite its nebulous connotations, is one of the most compelling aspects of any art, whether culinary, skating or combat
... you see that??... she's like DaVinci with that... so effortless...
yet the subtleties of style are often only appreciated by those who engage in the particular endeavor, otherwise, the untrained eyes merely interprets the activity as much easier than it appears
Same with writing, where the pursuit of style is often stated in the advice given to young writers to 'discover your own unique voice'
But how does one find one's voice?
A budding chef attends school then seeks out a mentor whose style she respects, a mentor who learned from a mentor who learned from a mentor.
Now we're talking about lineage, the mechanism by which style is transmitted.
Writing is no different.
In college I was drawn to the minimalist writings of Raymond Carver.
The clarity. The pared-down sentences. The emotional gut punches carrying the day.
To trace and contrast this lineage we need look no further than Hemingway and Faulkner: writing contemporaries with wholly-different approaches.
Hemmingway the Minimalist: common words, short sentences, clarity, clarity, clarity.
Faulkner with his lush baroque flourishes and long-as-paragraph sentences, inspiring meter and dense poetic juxtapositions.
At least that's how I frame the dueling lineages.
The flamboyant Faulkner school gave us Flannery O'Conner, Steve Erickson and Cormac McCarthy (some of my favorite authors).
From the stark Hemingway school emerged the infamous Gordon Lish, the Esquire magazine editor, who mentored among numerous writers, including Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel and Tom Spanbauer (also my favs).
For this reason I sought out Tom Spanbauer and studied under him. Incredible insights. Beautiful man. Check out his book The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon.
Anyhow, if interested in prose stylings I recommend contrasting McCarthy's The Road with Hempel's The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel. Both are masterpieces IMO, and both are worthy of numerous re-reads over the years. Honestly, I read a bit of one or the other at least every few weeks, just to remind myself of my place in the world, in other wrods: WORK WORK WORK hahahaha
Also, check out Gordon Lish's screed Captain Fiction.
Let's wrap this up with two quotes from the masters
Faulkner: "(Regarding Ernest Hemingway): he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used."
Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
What to say? One of my favorite novels of all time, and I'm not alone: the book won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for literature, in addition to plenty others. As far as awards go, I generally enjoy Pulitzer winners. Yet the accolades didn't prepare me for Wao.
The gist: the story follows Dominican boy Oscar de León through a humorous albeit pained childhood and adolescence, in which our morbidly-obese nerd strives for nothing more than to make it with a girl. All while a curse follows his family from the Dominican Republic (which the family fled during the Dominican diaspora, the political set forth in detail) to Paterson, New Jersey. Throw in a slew of references from comic books, sci-fi lit, D&D, comic books, plus footnotes and mucho Spanish slang, and Wao is a tasty brain-tickling stew.
Really dug The Oracle Year by comic-book writer Charles Soule.
The gist: Will Dando wakes up from a dream with predictions of the future. He places a few of these predictions online. A few come true and his site goes viral. Worldwide sensation. Lauded by commoners. Denounced as evil by the clergy. Wanted by governments. He sells some of the predictions for hundreds of millions. Investigators on his trail. Escalating tensions throughout.
Loved the clear writing and casual voice.
Another article on the benefits of reading, specifically: Reading is a muscle.
That's an illogical statement. Reading stimulates a muscle--now that's more on point, but what muscle? Ahhhhh, the reading muscle. But you already knew what I was getting at: the more you read the easier you find reading, plus the more you want to read.
A friend recently told me that he started reading every morning for half an hour.
Well he claimed a correlation between time spent reading and income levels. As in, read more make more. Last week I saw an audible.com ad stating that the average CEO reads 35+ books a year.
This article lists some benefits of reading, below are the highlights:
1. Empathy: Imagining creates understanding
2. Disengagement: Reading is most effective for stress
3. Sleep: Regular readers sleep better
4. Improved relationships: Books are a 'reality simulator'
5. Memory: Readers experience less mental decline in later life
6. Inclusivity: Stories open your mind
7. Vocabulary: Fiction readers build more language
8. Creativity: Fictions allows for uncertainty (where creativity thrives!)
"These findings suggest that reading fictional literature could lead to better procedures of processing information generally, including those of creativity."
9. Pleasure: Reading makes you happier
Researchers have also found that reading fiction increases coordination and balance.
Over the years, more than a few times I've gotten the 'Where should I start?' question.
My answer is always the same: So what's the last book you read?
The implication strikes to the heart of pursuing any and every art, whether writing or photography or jiu jitsu (all subjects I'm frequently asked about). To even develop the fundamentals one must study the chosen art with an almost fanatical obsession. Hence, in regards to writing, the same advice given by renowned authors ranging from William Faulkner to Stephen King: read, read, read.
And if you don't love reading, love reading so much you do it while walking around the block... save yourself the agony and pursue the art that actually gets your goat.
"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most." - William Faulkner
I chose this subject as the first post b/c while I'm not all that interested in blogging, since the third grade I've been an obsessive reader. At first scifi short stories and even a massive book of teleplays from The Twilight Zone, then every Stephen King novel (never forget the terror of reading The Shining when I was 11), which gave way a long Raymond Carver phase, then graphic novels... blah, blah, BLAHG.
Point being, this blahg is the perfect place to talk shop. Scifi. Lit. Comics. Film.
So buckle up and enjoy the ride.