So long, 2020!

A cold December night

Someday, 2020 will make sense. As the year draws to a close, there are a few pre-pandemic “lasts” to remember.

  • Last movie at a movie theater: “1917” on Feb. 2 — Glad I saw it in a theater on a big screen. At the theater I often go to, there is rarely a big crowd for the movies I want to see (and by then “1917” had been out for a while).
  • Last meal in a restaurant: Le Colonne Restaurant at the Hilton Hotel at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport on March 11 — The food was fine — I can’t remember what we had, but tables had been spread apart for social distancing, and there were diners at only about four other tables. We were only there to be sure to get our morning flight out of Rome, leaving the country early as more and more flights were being canceled, including our flights out of Genoa.
  • Last workout at the gym: Feb. 29 — I did some warmups and cooldowns, with a 5K run on the indoor track in between at a time of 33 minutes and 22 seconds
  • Last day working in person at the office: Tuesday, March 3.
  • Last time I had a cold: Maybe sometime in 2019
Continue reading →

National Book Critics Circle Announces Finalists for 2017 Awards

IMG_8528.jpgThe National Book Critics Circle has announced today winners of three prestigious prizes and nominees in nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry, criticism and fiction. The awards will be announced on March 15.

  • Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf), is being honored with the John Leonard Prize, which recognizes an outstanding first book in any genre. It is named in honor of founding NBCC member John Leonard.
  • Charles Finch is being awarded the 2017 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
  • The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award will go to John McPhee.
Here is the complete list of NBCC Award finalists:

Continue reading →

2017 Year in Review in Podcasts

9fe8d62a052c05af026cccbc86ce1073e04f363fcc7c5fda6ce7b40c5ac23fad0bc8595632402b605e0683e40a6726f8cd25a9ee88ca38a3b1ac33b108a7c5c2A new podcast for me this year, and for everyone, is Pod Save America, the podcast created by former speechwriters in President Obama’s administration. It acts as a tonic or a resistance in the Trump era. It seems to be a successful rallying cry so far for people who are disillusioned at the current government. It is one of the most popular podcasts now. They are even taking the show on the road. It is released twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, which is a little too much for me. I enjoy the Monday ones the best, probably because the hosts are Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor, in addition to Jon Favreau, who I think do a better job than for the Thursday show when it is just Favreau and Dan Pfieffer. Favreau is usually in the role of setting things up, kind of the straight man, so it is stronger when there are two people playing off him instead of one (and Pfeiffer does have a hesitating way of speaking that isn’t great for audio). Also, as the show develops further, they have to find a way of better integrating the guest interviews with the introductory news punditry round-up: too often they steal the thunder from their guests, and so why listen to their guests?

You can find the podcast here:

Continue reading →

Lincoln in the Bardo and the impossible audiobook

audiobook_ilOn paper, it sounds like something magnificent: master short-story writer George Saunders’s very first novel! An examination of a moment in the life of America’s greatest president!

As Penguin Random House says:

George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

And then there’s the audiobook: 166 characters! 166 voices!

“The first truly blockbuster audiobook? …  it’s going to be incredible”

Continue reading →

2016 Year in Review

Fifty-six blog posts published so far this year

Number one, most-read blog post: Review of Justin Cronin’s “City of Mirrors”

Number one, most-watched videos: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s “Can’t Help Myself” from the Guggenheim Museum

Two poems published: “That Day in Assisi” and “For Your Own Safety”

One short story published: “Auntie Lovely Says Goodbye”

Two countries visited: Guatemala, South Korea

Twenty-four books read



Twenty-one seconds: Best completion time of the NYTimes mini puzzle


Patronus: Fox



Participation Award: La Tortilla Cooking School, Antigua, Guatemala


Why you should download the massive, free e-book ‘Up and Coming’

AnthoCover3_400.pngWhat is the future of science fiction?

It could be in the pages of Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell Eligible Authors.

You can download the book here:

Hurry up, though, the download will only be available until March 31, 2016.

What is a “Campbell Eligible Author” you may ask? These are writers who are new to the science fiction and fantasy field with their first professionally paid publications. The John W. Campbell Award is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention (this year, it will be held in Kansas City, Mo., in August). More info on the awards is available here:

I was happy to see lots of writers that are familiar to me from my reading of shot stories and/or SFF-related blogs, including:

  • Nicolette Barischoff
  • S.B. Divya
  • David J́on Fuller
  • Jaymee Goh
  • LS Johnson
  • Alyssa Wong
  • Jeff Xilon
  • Isabel Yap

So you could consider this list of writers as a point of entry into this tome. You may find plenty of your gems in it, though.

Let me know what you find and recommend.


#tbt Review: Zadie Smith’s debut novel White Teeth

White Teeth White Teeth by Zadie Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally written and published in the Times Union in August 2001.
“Clean white teeth are not always wise,” says an elderly British veteran in Zadie Smith’s stunning debut novel, “White Teeth,” setting up one of the major ideas of her book, which has been recently released in paperback (Vintage; 464 pages; $14). “When I was in the Congo, the only way I could identify the nigger was by the whiteness of his teeth … See a flash of white and bang!”

This brief passage contains everything Smith is writing against: stereotypical depictions of people with dark skins, most often natives of lands colonized by whites who are reduced to nothing more than targets of violence.

What makes this novel great, though, is that Smith uses a sharp wit, sensitive insights, humorous and sometimes uncomfortable situations and a rich cast of quirky, believable characters who struggle with their hopes and disappointments in North London. As opposed to the plot, which turns overly melodramatic at the end, Smith’s characters are where her true talents shine. Continue reading →

‘The Duck’ published in Barleby Snopes 12

Bartleby Snopes 12, which includes a short story, "The Duck," by me

Bartleby Snopes 12, which includes a short story, “The Duck,” by me

Earlier this year, you may have been among the few hundred (OK, maybe thousand) people I bombarded with emails, posts and pleas to vote for my humble short story “The Duck” in Bartleby Snopes’ monthly fiction contest. The winner of each month’s contest is automatically included in Bartleby Snope’s semiannual print journal.

Alas, despite all my outreach and your kind votes, my simple story of young love (or is it lust?) was not victorious that month, coming in second place; however, many of you did send me kind words of delight and enjoyment at my story.

You, dear readers, were not alone. The good editors over at Bartleby Snopes, led by the indomitable Nathaniel Tower, have seen fit to include “The Duck” in the semiannual print journal, despite its lowly second-place finish.

You can buy the book on Lulu and get a print copy.

You can download a PDF version of it right here for the low, low cost of free.

Or you can get a Kindle copy sometime soon, just check this site to see if it is available.

So thank you Bartleby Snopes, and thank you dear readers. I hope you enjoy the fine collection of fiction in Bartleby Snopes 12, which includes work by Damon Barta, Andrew Bockhold, Jackson Burgess, Christopher Cassavella, Heather Clitheroe, Dusty Cooper, Rob Essley, Chris Fradkin, Jon Fried, Jill Gewirtz, J.D. Hager, Laurie Jacobs, Michael Janairo, Anna Lea Jancewicz, Mark Jaskowski, Danielle Kessinger, Edward Lando, Greg Letellier, Amanda Hart Miller, Michael Morshed, Justin Nguyen, Hun Ohm, Ryan J Ouimet, June Sylvester Saraceno, John Timm, Ian Woollen, and Leslee Renee Wright.

Review: ‘The Year of the Flood’ of The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

Everything and nothing changes in “The Year of the Flood,” the second book of Margaret Atwood’s “MaddAddam Trilogy.”

I have to admit, when I first read “Oryx and Crake,” I didn’t know it was going to be part of a trilogy. When I first read “The Year of the Flood,” I thought of it as a “sequel,” not knowing it was the second book in the trilogy.

Upon first reading “The Year of the Flood,” I was filled with a desire – often thwarted — to learn what happens next: Where was Atwood going with this post-apocalyptic world? I wanted to know what happened after the end of “Oryx and Crake,” when Snowman (aka Jimmy) sees other living humans for the first time since most of humanity got wiped out by a human-made biological pandemic. That pandemic, caused by the title characters of the first novel, is now referred to as a “flood” in the second book’s title. I wanted to know where Atwood’s world would go after the end of the world.

“The Year of the Flood” is told (for the most part) from the points of view of two women: Toby and Ren. And, like “Oryx and Crake,” much of their stories are told in flashback, covering the years before the “flood,” which thwarted my plot-based desires. However, what stories they had to tell! Toby and Ren’s lives are deep in the pleeblands (as opposed to the compounds), and that space allows for some of the richest flowering of Atwood’s imagined world.

The cult-like group of off-the-grid people who call themselves “God’s Gardeners” is a brilliant creation. The try to live pure vegetarian lives, growing food on a rooftop garden and staying away from the Internet. They have days named for various saints, some named for recognizable figures such as Dian Fossey, Rachel Carson, Karen Silkwood and Sojourner Truth. (A blog lists these saints names here:

And they have songs – they are fully recorded with vocals and instruments in the audiobook version – to reflect a belief system in which they predict “a waterless flood.” And that prediction turns out to be true, via the pandemic that wipes out most of humanity, except for many of the members of God’s Gardeners and even some truly evil men known as “Painballers.” That is convicts who have turned into something like soulless gladiators and who survived not only the life-or-death arenas but also the “waterless flood.”

They roam the post-apocalyptic earth ready to wreak havoc on not just other people, but also any docile liobams (a genetic cross between a lion and a lamb – how’s that for a brilliant post-modern biblical allusion) or the more violent (and smarter) pigoons.

In fact, one of the painballers used to work as a manager at a Secret Burger (the secret was that you never knew the source of the meat; cow, or something else?), where he was known to “date” (aka rape) the women who worked there until he got tired of them and they mysteriously disappeared.

Toby worked at that Secret Burger. And soon after Toby caught the manager’s eye, and before she is raped and killed, the God’s Gardeners swoop in and rescue her, led by a man called Adam One, who speaks like a priest.

Toby is my favorite character in the novel. She joins the Gardeners, and even though she never truly believes the quasi-religion and always feels like an outsider, she absorbs many of their lessons and learns how to take care of herself, how to tend to bees (and talk to them), and how to survive as a God’s Gardener. She is a fully realized character whose predicament – before and after the Flood she is hounded by a murderous rapist – only deepens the precariousness of her situation.

Even more heartbreaking for her is that she has real feelings for one of the more mysterious figures of God’s Gardeners, a man named Zeb, who is often gone for long stretches of time on mysterious errands.

Ren, the other point of view character in the novel, is also a fully realized character, but she is much younger (she is actually the daughter of Zeb’s girlfriend) and, like a young person, often comes across as naïve and petulant. Nonetheless, her character allows for a child’s point of view of the God’s Gardeners, such as the mean nicknames they have for their teachers (they called Toby “Dry Witch” because she seemed strict and asexual), and for a young woman’s view of life in the pleeblands, because Ren becomes an exotic trapeze dancer at a sex club called Scales and Tails.

Through Ren and Toby, we get to see the rich diversity of the harsh dystopian pre-flood world that is Atwood’s creation. It is definitely a darkly humorous place to read about, though you would never want to go there.

Well, I take that back. When I reread the first book of the trilogy, “Oryx and Crake,” I found it rather claustrophobic (with its focus on Snowman’s point of view and his limited worldview that was shaped by growing up and working in various Compounds). What I was truly missing, though, were Toby and even Ren and their hard lives in the pleeblands.

Their characters give “The Year of the Flood” an emotional connection, and thus make the reading of it very rewarding – even if its connection to “Oryx and Crake” (the answer to who those other people are that Snowman sees) comes deep into the novel. It’s worth the wait.