Friday, November 30, 2007

November Books Bought

Yes, it's the fewest number of books I've brought into the house for months and yes, that's a good thing. All of these were bought on the cheap, so that's my justification.


Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology (2002) - Helen Vendler

I've been reading more poetry, thanks largely to the folks in my writing forum, so I've been looking for a good poetry anthology. This one looks like it might be a good fit.

Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories (Vintage edition, 2003) - Samuel R. Delany

Yeah, I'm still reading Delany's book on writing; thanks for asking, really. Delany refers to some of the stories from this collection in his writing volume, so there.

Selected Stories (Vintage edition, 2000) - Theodore Sturgeon

I probably have all of these stories in other volumes, but what the heck, for 20 cents, how could I say no?

That's it for book expenditures in November. Next time the stuff I actually read.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

David LoPiccolo (1979-2007)

My good friend David LoPiccolo left this world Friday night, just three days before his 28th birthday. David suffered from a rare condition - I don't know the scientific name for it, but his body produced a multitude of extra blood vessels, many of which wrapped themselves around his heart, lungs and other organs creating many problems. He went into the hospital in September and began bleeding from an aneurysm in his neck. David bled profusely, requiring 80 units of blood. The bleeding was contained, then started again, contained, started, contained. According to David's brother (and our assistant pastor) Brian, "David's tired body just simply and suddenly stopped."

David was from Long Island, but had lived in Maryland, attending our church for the past few years. I'd met him at a couple of church events, but never really got to know him until one day after church I was talking to someone about the book Blue Like Jazz. David started asking me some questions about it and I said, "Look, I've got an extra copy. Why don't I bring it next week?"

I brought it and David loved it. David and I started talking about other books, music and movies we both liked. (We discovered we were both die-hard fans of the movie The Blues Brothers. David could quote the whole thing!) David rode up with me to a youth leadership retreat a few months back, which is where we really got to know each other, spending even more time talking movies, music, books and Christianity.

I remember how amazed I was that David was so aware of his medical condition, yet seemed to be completely at peace with it and his faith. And he was excited to be a part of the youth leadership at church for the upcoming year. I even asked him if he'd like to join me in leading the youth Writing Forum. He said he'd love to.

At the retreat, several pocket New Testaments were available for anyone who wanted one. I didn't take one, but lots of people did. On the way home, David and three other people with their luggage crammed into my Toyota. (David played a Radiohead CD I hadn't heard - Amnesiac- all the way home.) When we got back to the church and everyone had unloaded their stuff, I told David we should get together sometime soon. He said he'd like that, but he had to go back to New York in a couple of weeks to see his doctor, the country's leading specialist on his condition.

When I got home, I noticed someone had left a pocket New Testament in my car. The next Sunday, I checked with the other three people I'd given a ride to, but they all said the Testament wasn't theirs. Then I found David. As soon as I showed him the pocket Testament, his eyes widened and a smile filled his face. "Hey, you found it! Thanks, man. I might need that."

I never saw him again. David loaned me the Radiohead CD that same day and it's been in my office CD player ever since. I'm listening to it right now. Looking at David's Facebook page, I see we had even more in common than I'd originally thought. This was a friendship I was so looking forward to, one that I could see growing into a lifelong friendship. But God had other plans for David.

I miss him terribly.

I want to close with the email that David's brother Brian sent to several people in the church. Rest in God, David.

Dear All,

Late last evening, 11/23/07, my brother David's earthly life came to an end. It happened quickly, peacefully, without warning after my family and relatives all stepped out of his room for a bit. He passed from this earthly dream into reality. He now lives with his Savior and with those who have gone before us.

After a difficult day, David's tired body just simply and suddenly stopped. God spared him from the painful and messy death he feared. God also spared us from the grief of watching his body suddenly crash. Many nurses and doctors worked terribly to revive him. They grew to admire and truly love David. It is better for David to be with Christ, beyond the suffering and fear of his recent trials.

He stood the test. James, the Lord's brother once wrote, "Blessed is he who perseveres under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him." Receive your crown, brother. You remained faithful to your God, to your words, and to all of us.

By the way, I know many different people will read this. Perhaps some of you think my spiritual tone and optimistic manner is, well, a bit fake. Well, God bless you. I am as real as it gets. Sorrow and joy can co-exist. True reality is full of them both. The unbearable pain is accompanied with real hope and honest gratitude.

Details will come regarding funeral and memorial times, places, etc. Stay tuned for that. I hope many of you will come to mourn David's death and celebrate his new life.

You have prayed so faithfully with us and for David. I will never forget it. Please pray as you wish now. No more prayers for Dave. He's more than fine now. Pray for us.

With love and unending gratitude,

Brian, DAVID LoPICCOLO's proud brother

(Photo - David LoPiccolo and his niece Sara)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Brief Intermission

Signing off for a few days. Everyone have a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Decisions, Decisions...

Last night I was hanging out with my friend Paul (among others), an avid movie buff. After even a few seconds of conversation with Paul, I always come away with a bad case of movie fever. What's really sad is that I haven't been to a movie in the theatres since Sicko in July!

Since I don't have to work tomorrow, and since Cindy's out of town, I have the perfect opportunity to see something. Usually the theatres present me with no choices. Now there's too many. Competing for my time and money are:


American Gangster

No Country for Old Men

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

I'm leaning toward No Country for Old Men, but I can be swayed. So what do you recommend?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Writing Forum, Two Reads

The writing forum I'm leading with several of the youth at church continues to go well. I look forward to the group every week, but was a little concerned that some of last week's exercises were a bit tough. From the looks on a few of their faces, I wondered if we'd bitten off more than we could chew, but I think (and hope) they were challenged enough to see what they're capable of writing. They're really doing a great job.

As with everything I've ever taught, I often learn as much (usually more) from the participants than they learn from me. It's good to constantly evaluate the tools, methods and approaches you use and how effective they are. And the exercises often challenge me, showing me weaknesses in my own writing that I tend to ignore.


I don't know how the new movie version of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend will turn out, but you can always read the book. Originally marketed as a sf novel (written in 1954 but set in 1976), I Am Legend has truly earned its classic horror status. Matheson is one of those rare writers who is not only smart, not only knows how to keep the pages turning, not only writes well (imagine that), but who stands the test of time. It's stunning that this novel was written half a century ago. Check it out before you see the movie. Highly recommended.

And while we're talking about horror, welcome to the most horrific William Faulkner work I've read, Sanctuary. This amazingly brutal novel first appeared in 1931 when apparently Faulkner "needed the money" and wrote his own version of Mississippi pulp-noir.
Filled with bootleg liquor, rape, murder, sex, prostitution and violence of all kinds, Sanctuary was Faulkner's biggest-selling novel during his lifetime. Faulkner himself even said that he "invented the most horrific tale I could imagine." I can attest to the fact that his imagination was quite active. Recommended.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Altmann's Tongue - Brian Evenson

Altmann's Tongue: Stories and a Novella (2002) – Brian Evenson

It took me a long time to finish this collection, probably around five months. I just couldn't read more than a story or two at any one sitting. Evenson's work is filled with seemingly senseless violence and brutality, leaving you (or at least me) with feelings of deep depression. Yet I can't deny the power of his writing. Still, I could only handle small doses.

Many of the stories are "flash fiction" of only a page or two, yet there's much of the gruesome packed into a few hundred words. In the book's introduction, Alphonso Lingis remarks that "Eighteen of the twenty-six stories of this book are stories of killing people. Another is about killing cats. The dogs that show up get killed. The readers' eyes are kept on the killer, not the victim whose life is often not evoked at all, already passed away."

Not exactly stories for The Family Hour.

There seem to be no moral lessons in the stories, certainly no remose on the part of the killers. The killings don't seem to be acts of overwhelming emotion - lust, anger, revenge. But neither do they seem to be killing for killing's sake. It's just a part of who these characters are.

If you can read the three-page "Eye" on a full stomach, my hat's off to you. In fact, the most revolting stories tend to be the shortest. Yet the longer story "The Munich Window: A Persecution" and the novella "The Sanza Affair" are absolutely riveting. The novella, for all practical purposes, is a police report, at least for the first several sections. Part mystery, part police procedural, the work is filled with unreliable narrators, suspense and depth. "The Sanza Affair" alone is worth the price of admission.

Also worth the cover price is Evenson's afterword, which chronicles his connections with the Mormon church, his teaching position at BYU, and his subsequent self-excommunication from both.

From the Afterword:

Altmann's Tongue is meant to be a challenging book, is postulated as a challenge to the reader. The stories in it are meant to function beyond their initial reading, in the way readers choose over time to process the reading experience and supply their own moral response to the absence of response within the text proper. A sort of virus, as it were.

That's some virus. Is it a virus I'll expose myself to again? Maybe. I'll definitely re-read "The Sanza Affair" and "The Munich Window." As for the others? I might need immunization.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Conversations over Coffee

I love to write in coffee shops. I've both done some of my best work and tanked miserably in such places. Yesterday, I eeked out one good paragraph before the muse decided to leave me, possibly in favor of the pastry counter.

But while I sat there in back of the coffee shop, I eavesdropped on two separate conversations. In Conversation "A" a twenty-something guy was talking to a twenty-something woman about creatures from the Book of Revelation. In Conversation "B" two women in their mid-40's began by talking (apparently) about work. Both conversations strayed at times and, since they were going on simulaneously within a few feet of each other, I missed several words here and there. What follows is as closely as I could put it down.

A: If you do your part, you've saved your soul.

B: Part of my job is to sometimes say things people don't want to hear.

A: You don't get any second chances.

B: They just need to continue the process.

A: Satan has a lot of power.

B: I'll be doing this for another twenty years.

A: It's possible that what he's saying is impossible to describe.

B: He was very well liked in school.

A: When they see a vision, they try to write it down in terms we can understand.

B: No matter where we go, somebody finds out.

A: My guess is when he sees these creatures, that's the best way he can express it.

B: I'm coming at this from a different perspective.

A: This is much more realistic. He can make himself phase out, to cause his body to synchronize ___________. There's space between molecules, so there's a phasing out and a phasing in.

B: I feel very strangely that this isn't neurologically based.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Way to Go, Al!

A big congratulations goes out to my friend and fellow Clarion 2004 bud Al Bogdan. Al won 2nd place in the 3rd Quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest! Way to go, Al!

Monday, November 05, 2007

October Books Read

Okay, so October wasn't such a great month for reading, at least in terms of quantity. Maybe it was all that Halloween candy...

Anyway, here's the list for October:


Hard Times (1854) - Charles Dickens

Although Dickens' shortest novel, Hard Times seemed much longer than it actually is. Largely a Victorian social satire, Dickens manages to mix in some true bleakness (and a little mystery) with the humor. Maybe this was a book I would have enjoyed reading more than listening to the audiobook. Certainly not my favorite Dickens novel, but still recommended.

One for Sorrow (2007) - Christopher Barzak

Barzak's first novel hits all the right notes until the very end, which I thought was wrapped up a little too neatly. Still, Barzak understands the teenage mind and knows how to add some freshness to the "teenage ghost" sub-genre.

Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 (NF 2002) - Salman Rushdie

I was hoping that most of Rushdie's essays would focus on literature and writing (and to a large degree, they do), but I found that I even enjoyed the long essay on soccer, which I know very little about. Rushdie focuses somewhat on the publicity he received from writing The Satanic Verses, but wisely (and probably more interestingly) examines the underlying differences in culture that cause us to look at literature with different viewpoints and worldviews. Rushdie's account of his return trip to his homeland of India is heartfelt but certainly not over-emotionalized. And don't miss his essay on the film version of The Wizard of Oz.

The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense (2007) - Joyce Carol Oates

Other than the excellent title story (which closes the book), this collection just didn't do it for me.

The Resurrection Man's Legacy and Other Stories (2003) - Dale Bailey

It's a real head-scratcher to me why Dale Bailey's name isn't mentioned more in conversations about superb short story writers. Not a one of these stories disappointed in any way. Bailey - like Bradbury - has a strong sense of nostalgia and family, yet none of these stories contain even a hint of sentimentality. His characterization, description, setting, tone, voice - they're all top-notch. Highly recommended.

Best American Fantasy (2007) Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, editors

For those of us who tend to get the majority of our short fiction from genre magazines and webzines, the VanderMeers show us some of the treasures we've been missing. True, some of these stories do come from genre publications, but many of them appeared in literary venues that - let's face it - most of us probably don't regularly peruse. Some wonderful stuff from Kevin Brockmeier, Tony D'Souza, Maile Chapman, Kelly Link, and many others. And I can't think of any story I read this year that moved me as much as Chris Adrian's "A Better Angel."

The Other Side of Dark (YA 1986) – Joan Lowrey Nixon

One of the students in my writing forum recommended this YA book to me. Although some of the stuff in it is a bit dated, Nixon comes up with an intriguing situation (a 17-year-old girl who has been comatose for four years after suffering a violent attack) with some pretty good suspense.

The Arrival (Graphic Novel 2007) - Shaun Tan

Although I can't officially place this one on my "Books Read" list, since it contains no actual text, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of this outstanding work. Nothing I can tell you about it will do it justice, but you can trust me on this one. Really.

Go read something.

Friday, November 02, 2007

October Books Bought


American Movie Critics: From the Silents Until Now (NF 2006) - Philip Lopate

I saw this title on the Library of America website (always a dangerous place to hang out) and couldn't resist the half-price sale. At 825 pages, there's plenty here to keep me busy for awhile.

Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers (NF 2004) - Chap Clark

Youth Culture 101 (NF 2007) - Walt Mueller

I bought Hurt and Youth Culture 101 at a youth culture conference a few weeks back. Both books were recommended to me by my friend Trip and I figured both would help me get reacquainted with what I've missed not teaching teenagers for the past seven years. (So far, both are excellent resources.)

The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories (2007) - Connie Willis

An enormous book collecting many (but not all) of Willis's stories. I couldn't pass it up.

Generation Loss (2007) - Elizabeth Hand

I've been very impressed with Hand's short fiction, so when I saw this SIGNED copy at Capclave, it was a no-brainer.

The Arrival (2007*) - Shaun Tan

You may find this in the children's section or maybe with the graphic novels. It's actually a wordless graphic novel in hardcover. It's also one of the most imaginative, stunningly beautiful books I've run across this year. Don't miss it. (I was fortunate enough to find a signed copy.)

The Best American Short Stories 2007 - Stephen King, editor

I imagine (and hope) that many people will pick up this book just because Stephen King's name's on it. (That's not why I picked it up; I like the series.) They'll probably be exposed to some great stories they wouldn't have contacted otherwise. There's been a lot of discussion lately about the state of the short story, but I'm ready to put all of that aside and just read the stories.

The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (1999) - Michael Collier, Stanley Plumly, eds.

I could've sworn there's a yearly poetry book in the Best American series (mentioned above), but apparently there's not. One of the students in my writing forum wants to take a look at more poetry (plus I need to read more of it), so I thought this might be a good volume to read.

War and Peace (1865-69/2007) - Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

I really wasn't going to buy this, not in hardcover. But I found it at Daedalus for 30% off AND it was signed! (By the translators, not Tolstoy. That would be...well, a little hard to pull off.)

That's it for how I spent my money in October. Next time what I actually read.

* I think the original Australian edition came out in 2006.