Catching up on Recent Reading

Recently I resolved that I’d stop doing formal (or at least, semi-formal) reviews of the books I’ve read, but I didn’t intend to completely stop talking about what I’ve been reading.

Right now I’m in the middle of Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas. I’ve read enough to know it’s something I’d definitely recommend. The second half of the book will determine how high I might rank this, but at a minimum it’s very good stuff, and worth a look. Simon’s one of the great writers on today’s horror scene, and seems to be aiming with this book for a more aggressive, visceral edge, as opposed to his usual quiet, atmospheric approach.


I recently finished Ana Kai Tangata, the debut collection by Scott Nicolay. In my review on I said, “Certainly it’s one of the best debut collections I’ve ever read, and promises great things to come. Anyone interested in horror or weird fiction, or just dark and disturbing stories of troubled and broken people, will want to check this out.” Scott is a friend, but that’s not why I believe he’s written an incredible book here.


You absolutely should not miss North American Lake Monsters… though this one’s getting such great word of mouth, you probably already know that. It came out last year, so I’m getting to it a bit late. This has been a hell of a time for collections of dark, weird fiction. I love the way Ballingrud shifts from a dirty realism reminiscent of Raymond Carver to the toughest and darkest black horror. Ballingrud’s work is powerful, confident and inspiring. Truly impressive.


This week, I finished Child of God by Cormac McCarthy, and absolutely loved it, if “loved” is the word you’d use for something so dark and awful it makes you shudder while you’re reading. It’s earlier, simpler McCarthy, only a couple of hundred pages long, and more stripped down than anything of his I’ve read. For those who argue McCarthy is a horror writer, this is Exhibit A.


Prior to that, I read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian for the first time. Somehow, I’d managed to postpone reading the greatest work by one of my favorite authors. I had some sense of “saving it” for a later time, and finally decided 2014 was the year. It’s difficult to come up with language sufficient to convey what this book is like, how hard it hits. It may be the most powerful book I’ve ever read, and certainly one of the most inspiring. I’ve always believed the weird and horrific can convey profound truths about the universe, and the place of human beings within it. This book spun my head around with its wild philosophical ideas, its brutality, and overwhelming, incantatory language.


I’ve just begun Moby-Dick, another one of those “how could any English major graduate without having read it?” books I’m encountering later in life. What I’ve read so far is beautiful and strange, and I plan to savor it slowly, over several months. I purchased the California Edition, recommended to me by Michael Cisco as his preferred edition of his favorite book. It’s a vastly less expensive, reduced version of the Arion Press letterpress edition, copies of which sell for tens of thousands of dollars. You get all the beautiful letterpress layout (reproduced in offset printing) and woodcut illustrations by Barry Moser, for 1/500th the price.


And keeping with the theme of books I should’ve read long ago, on Scott Nicolay’s recommendation I read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It’s yet another of those all-time greats of American literature, one which many proclaim the Great American Novel. I’ll admit I probably avoided it in college because someone described it to me as a “protest novel,” but it’s not that at all. It’s weirdly experimental, propelled by an at times almost manic, jazzy energy, and displays fierce intelligence and philosophical curiosity. Truly a shame Ellison didn’t publish more than this in his lifetime.


Lastly, I’ll mention a new book I finished reading a couple weeks back. This one’s different than those above. I’m a bit biased, as my story “Firedancing” is included. It’s The Children of Old Leech, an anthology in tribute to Laird Barron, edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele. I mention this not just because I’d like to see the book do well, but because it truly seems to me like a top-notch weird fiction anthology. The quality of the writing is uniformly excellent. Every writer seems to “get” Laird Barron, what’s unique about his work, and many take unusual approaches in their tribute. The book is a delight from beginning to end. But remember, I’m biased!


That constitutes a truly amazing stretch of fiction over the past several months. I’ve become a bit more quick and ruthless about setting aside any book that’s not really top-notch, which has left me more time for rewarding reads like these.

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