Book Review: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

18 05 2009

Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedThis book has been getting a lot of attention from the New York Times and I see why. This is a stunning debut collection of stories from author Wells Tower.  Everyone in this collection is down. Down on their luck, down in terms of money, and down in terms of mood. Yet all of these characters have compelling stories and adventures that don’t seem to get them anywhere while defining who they are.

From the mental aquarium in The Brown Coast, to the tension of riding in the car with an ex’s new lover in Down Through the Valley, to viking raiding parties in the title story Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned you watch lives slowly burn themselves toward the end of their fuse.  Sometimes they pop, other times they fizzle.  

The writing in this collection feels effortless.  It’s clean anf each story takes on it’s own voice. To be honest, this is one of the best collection of short stories I’ve read in years.


Catching Up

17 05 2008

Another week has passed and boy did I fall behind on everything. Work has been rough this week, but I still noticed stuff!

First, I want to start in a piece of technology I read about in New York Times this week… The Chumby. What is it? It looks like a beanbag, it looks like an alarm clock. It’s essentially an interwebs widget machine. While it sounds like some of the kinks are being worked out in the touchscreen and the wireless, this thing looks awesome. It also looks like widgets will just get cooler and cooler.

I also keep hearing about muxtape which seems like a cool idea (though I’m sure no one would want my Bob Dylan, Henry Rollins, MC5 Megamix), but I cannot for the life of me figure out how the record industry has not gone after the site, the users, etc.

In television, Lost is racing towards the end of it’s season. Holy shit it’s getting good! It looks like we’re going to go to the mysterious Orchid Station and Locke might just get to do something pretty cool and wild. So many people write about it, why don’t you go check out:

Cinematically Correct was also kind enough to remind me and get me excited about the new shows from JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. Though I wish Whedon would write a few more Astonishing X-Men issues.

In music, a bunch of stuff is happening. I’m lazy, so I am going to rely on the AVClub to point stuff out.

  • First, the Black Angels (who I thought released one of the best albums of 2007) have come out with a new record titled Directions to See a Ghost. The sample on the AVClub’s site sounds great.
  • Second, Neil Diamond has released a new record, Home Before Dark. This album is again produced by Rick Rubin, so I’m expecting classic Diamond, not Comin’ to America.

I am totally behind in terms of comics. I’m kind of surprised that the comics panel hasn’t popped up on my reader lately. hmmmm

In general links, go check out Electricity & Lust, they’ve got everything from TV, to music, to pop culture, to politics. And for being from across the pond they do pay close attention to US politics. It’s always nice to get an outside perspective on things.

Finally, in books, there is a collection of short stories that is getting a lot of buzz out there. The Boat by Nam Le is getting noticed. The Times wrote not one, but two articles covering this new book:

There is also mention of the book from One-Story here. It’s nice to see a collection of short fiction get some love from the mainstream press. Let’s hope it does well.

Tobias Wolff News

24 03 2008

Electricity & Lust posted a link to an article about upcoming Tobias Wolff work. I plan to read it when I get home and have a chance, but you can read it here. He’s a great author of short stories and you should ready him if you get the chance. His memoir This Boy’s Life was made into a fine movie with Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DeCapprio. Good stuff!

Raymond Carver

20 01 2008

As with most of my reading I’m catching up on issues of The New Yorker. In the Christmas/New Year’s issue (aka the Winter Fiction Issue) there is an interesting collection of pieces about the short fiction author Raymond Carver.

I read some of his work in the short fiction classes I took as an undergraduate. Bob Olmstead (the Writer in Residence at the time) told us a few stories about his first classes with Carver at Syracuse University. The encouragement to keep writing, but never really seeing him that semester. Those stories along with his writing stick with me now, nearly 15 years later.

The New Yorker articles discuss the role of Carver’s editor Gordon Lish in helping him craft his stories and collections, cutting down nearly 40% in some cases. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the workings of how fiction ends up on your plate so to speak. Even better, they include a number of letter from Carver discussing the edits. What comes out of it gives the reader a glimpse of who the author was and the discipline he poured into his work. Writing, writing, writing until every bit of him was tied into it.

Read the full article here
Read the letters here

Most interesting read the story Beginners here. What’s very cool about this is that the New Yorker has put the original up against the edits in the same document. One thing I took away from those fiction workshops was that a good editor could do more than clean up your mistakes, they could add punch. They had distance that the author doesn’t have and can see things in a new light.

When I read the original and the edits on the same page I find myself drawn to the newer version, the collaboration. Why? It brings us from being told to being shown. It leaves less said and more to my imagination. Through omission, we get so much more about the characters. The empty spaces in our own lives fill in the empty spaces in theirs. The tension that Carver writes into his last section of the story is punched home in two or three sentences by the editor.

Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher is pushing to have some of the stories re-released as Carver had originally written. I think it would be more interesting to see the original and the edit side-by-side. Let’s see how they endure.