1. Anton Chekhov said, “Critics are like horse-flies which hinder the horses in their plowing of the soil”; the best can actually collapse the horse, in a series of artful, well-aimed bites. British lit site The Omnivore recognizes the art of the snub, and celebrates the best of them with its annual Hatchet Job of The Year Award. The prize goes to “the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months,” but the shortlist is all winners (on losers!). “This is a book,” writes A. A. Gill of Morrissey's Autobiography, “that cries out like of his maudlin ditties to be edited.” Masterly disparagements are the stuff of great entertainment.
2. For those who prefer praise, we point you toward McSweeney's web branch, Internet Tendencies, and specifically their really (really) exhaustive list of Recommendations from 2012-Present. Ranging “from films to hairstyles,” McSweeney's list doesn't shy from the bogglingly intangible (“Waiting for the new frozen yogurt bubble to pop before committing to a favorite, “Not having a chondral defect in your knee”), but there's a number of earnest, spot-on recommendations, too; standouts include “quarterly journal of experimental and narrative history” The Appendix, and newish lit site Full Stop.
3. Full Stop has our recommendation, too; it's smart and pretty, just like your crush, and focuses on exciting, lesser-known authors. Check out their interview with writer Emily Gould, who says, “. . . if I'm not in the middle of an engrossing novel I tend to feel like something's wrong in my brain. I get anxious and distracted and forget what the point of life is supposed to be.” They also spoke with Mary Miller, whose first novel, The Last Days Of California, just got a really nice write-up in the Times. Miller's fiction is lean and sad, a winning combination. “I think we're proud of something there's nothing to be proud of,” says a character in the story “Safety,” published in Tin House's “Flash Fridays” series.
4. Not that you need even more encouragement from scientists to read fiction, but it couldn't hurt: according to studies carried out by Emory University researchers (as described in The Independent), “reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain. Neuroscience Professor Gregory Berns, quoted in the British newspaper, said, “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist.”
5. But there is a genuine dearth of encouragement to write fiction; enter publisher OR Books's terrifying new simulacrum, @gordonlishbot! Manifest in the Twittersphere, the bot gives bombastic, all-caps writing “advice,” akin, supposedly, to the genuine article. Gordonlishbot responds to the real-life tweets of real-life authors; “THIS SENTENCE IS CRACKER JACKS A CLUSTER OF NUTTY PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES WITH A CRAPPY PRIZE INSIDE” is directed at author Ryan Ridge. For further insight into the strange and sad cult of Lish, read this (admittedly dated) interview in Gigantic Magazine, in which the editor comes off as prickly, contrarian, and confounding. Just like the bot!
6. Atavist Books, an offshoot of long-form nonfiction hub Atavist, will be publishing a “digital-only novella” by celebrated MacArthur Fellow Karen Russell in March 2014. According to Atavist, the novella, Sleep Donation, “explores a world suffering an insomnia epidemic, where even the act of making a gift is not as simple as it appears.”
7. Poet Michael Robbins wrote a piece in the Chicago Tribune about the pleasures of the “sounds of words”; he cites lines from Barry Hannah, Wallace Stevens, and Eminem, among many others, that exhibit a mysterious and sometimes ineffable lingual beauty. Robbins wrote a very well-received poetry collection, Alien vs. Predator; it's no coincidence that Robbins's poetry, then, often achieves the “mellifluousness” he discusses in his piece.
8. If you dig punchy writing, the way the right words ring, get excited for Great American Novelist Sam Pink's forthcoming book Witch Piss, which is due out this month on Lazy Fascist Press. Dazed Digital published an excerpt titled “Danny, Duke, Spider-Man, and Everyone Else at the Wig Party.” Count us in!
9. Have you read artist Joe Brainard's book I Remember? Brainard, who wrote it in 1970, begins every sentence with “I remember”; the memories range from cutesy and nostalgic to narratively profound. It's a work of art, and, despite its unconventionality, a page-turner. Author Joseph Riipi's book Because just came out via Civil Coping Mechanisms, and, formally similar to Brainard's I Remember, each sentence begins “I want.” It's interesting stuff, and sometimes beautiful, although the “wanting” can feel incessant or whiny at the book's weaker moments. Read an excerpt at Electric Literature's Recommended Reading series.
10. Author Shane Jones wrote a piece for The Paris Review about the sometimes-fraught intersection of fatherhood and writing. Part history lesson, Jones reviews the successes and failings of other authors-turned-fathers, and notes a number of writers who eschewed fatherhood altogether. It's a fascinating read. Jones has a novel coming out in June via Two Dollar Radio called Crystal Eaters, and we're very excited about it.
11. Poetry and fiction readings are an institution these days, but they didn't used to be. In the '60s, for instance, the greats rarely read their work aloud; Bostonians Harry and Lynne Sharon Schwartz sought to get some famous authors' voices on record. The couple founded Calliope Records, which, in 1963, “released a series of seven-inch 331/3-r.p.m. discs . . . offering 15-minute readings by Updike, Styron, Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, James Jones and Peter Ustinov“. Check out the reissues here.
13. Never a dull moment at Bushwick's Mellow Pages Library! This month, founders Matt Nelson and Jacob Perkins carried out a publicity stunt/performance art piece/whodunit (not their first!) involving ExxonMobil (sort of) and the mention of a large sum. You can read about it here and here, but best just to ask Matt or Jacob yourself; they'll be happy to talk to you about it.