Latest reading

I’ve given up on Goodreads, and I haven’t been tracking my reading as of late, and maybe I should be doing that. Here’s a few things I’ve finished recently, in no particular order.

Tim O’Brien – July, July

Probably twenty years ago, I had to read The Things They Carried for an undergrad writing class, and it made me dig into the rest of his catalog. For some reason, I dropped the thread on his writing, and then he popped up in the Ken Burns Vietnam thing on PBS, so I looked him up again. This one is about a 30-year college reunion of a 1969 class of a small university outside of Chicago, and it’s an interesting but slightly problematic character study. It follows a slightly too large cast of characters, showing where their adult lives started and how they got to where they were in 2000. That part can be one-dimensional, and it’s hard to keep track of the various marriages, divorces, lost loves, cancers, heart conditions, careers, and failed careers. There are glances of things that have a lot of depth, like a Vietnam vet who was injured in the war, or another guy who ran from the draft in Winnipeg. It was a fun read and an interesting concept, a good way of just writing about the then-and-now of people. But a lot of reviewers didn’t agree, and it’s not like his other work, so there’s that.

Denis Johnson – Tree of Smoke

Also related to the Ken Burns thing. I read this when it first came out ten years ago, and ever since Johnson passed earlier this year, I’ve been meaning to get back to it. I think the book held up, and was possibly better the second time. It essentially follows the story of Skip Sands, a CIA operative whose uncle Francis is a retired Colonel and who also works for the agency. I think the first time I read it, I’d recently read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and my brain was still stuck in that version of Vietnam; this time, my mind was within the footage from the Burns documentary, which worked better. It’s amazing to me how the guy who delivered such compact and highly-efficient writing in the 150-some pages of Jesus’ Son was able to belt out 600+ pages with the same line-by-line potency, but of heavily historical and accurate information. It’s like a flyweight boxer who clocks in at 112 pounds gaining a hundred pounds of pure muscle to qualify as a heavyweight, but still fights with the same game as he did half a body ago, but he’s doing that times four. Amazing stuff.

Nick Bonner – Made in North Korea: Graphics From Everyday Life in the DPRK

A full-size flexicover book with color reproductions of the graphic design from within North Korea, as collected by a Beijing travel expert who visits regularly. It’s a strange collection, with all the “store brand” products put out by the government, designed by pen-and-ink pre-digital artists, often cribbing old Soviet designs, and of course working in various patriotic angles and images of Dear Leader. Some of the anti-American comics are a hoot. Plenty of small essays describing Bonner’s travels are nice, but the artwork is the real treat here.

Skylab Reference, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) Press Kit and Flight Plan

This is the kind of crap I read when I’m sick or otherwise can’t pay attention. I fell down a space station k-hole right around the time I came down with a cold, so I got lost in this for a few nights. (The reason for the k-hole: astronaut Paul Weitz from Skylab 2 passed away a few weeks ago.) It’s a three-ring binder with copies of the press kit for the original launch of the Skylab station, with a bonus press kit from the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous mission. Lots of dry government tech writer copy on space toilets and food stowage and time schedules and communication frequencies. Plenty of old pre-computer illustrations of what storage lockers and tools are mounted to what bulkheads, although some of the drawings didn’t reproduce that well. Still, fun stuff.

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Story in Horror Sleaze Trash: Prose in Poor Taste

Quick update: I have a story in a new anthology by the folks at Horror Sleaze Trash. The collection is called Prose in Poor Taste.

The HST announcement about this also has a link to download it in PDF format for free: http://www.horrorsleazetrash.com/uncategorized/horror-sleaze-trash-prose-in-poor-taste/

The link on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2wKcS3k

My included story is “The Metaphor of Poundcake” – it has previously appeared online at HST, and was also in my last book, Vol. 13. Lots of other good stuff in this collection, though, so if you’re a completist, check it out.

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Jesus’ Son

Denis Johnson died on Wednesday. The other night, I picked up a copy of Jesus’ Son and plowed through it before bed. I imagine a lot of other writers did the same this week. Some vague thoughts:

  • I have a tiny pocket-sized version of the book I bought at City Lights a year or two ago. It’s like a little Gideon bible, which works well for this book. I have this one oddball shelf next to my bed that’s too short for anything but pocket books, and so it’s always sitting in there and I’ll always pick it up and read a page or two when I’m bored of everything else.
  • I have another paperback of the book I bought in 2006. I’d never read it before, and John Sheppard urged me to, so I bought a copy and took it with me on a hot summer trip to Milwaukee, the first trip I took back there with my wife. Now, the eleven stories are twisted in my head with early memories of going to Wisconsin.
  • The eleven stories are about a guy only referred to by his nickname, Fuckhead. He is the main character of the book, but he seems like the guy that would be dumb sidekick in a group of friends, the one who is always made fun of and exploited by the group, but who still tags along and takes the abuse for whatever reason. And you’d normally never see his inner story in a piece of fiction about the others in the group, the ones who would call him Fuckhead, but in this book, you do see how he’s battling his inner demons and how he’s abused himself as the world abuses him. And that’s always been a strong reverberation for me, not only because Johnson writes about the forgotten character like this, but because I am always the Fuckhead of any group.
  • Johnson was a poet before he tackled prose, and it shows. This book is an almost perfect example of minimalism, in the efficiency of his writing. The 160-some pages of the volume seem short, but so much is packed within, so much emotion and depth.
  • The one criticism I have of the book is that it’s so commonly aped by a school of writing, and nobody can get to this level of craftsmanship. It looks like it would be deceptively easy to brain-dump stories of addiction, abortion, vagrancy, and failure in a similar fashion. But Johnson’s work isn’t about any of that, as much as it is about humanity that happens to have those things happening.
  • There are so many short bits in here that are stuck in my head, that pop up randomly. The guy in the bar who said he was Polish but he was really from Cleveland. The one-eyed guy who came to the ER with a knife stuck in the other eye. Stripping wiring from a vacant house, and the crowbar pried loose the drywall “with a noise like old men coughing.”
  • There are bits that also remind me of things in my past, and the two get twisted together. I remember driving home late at night from a party in South Bend, and being the first to arrive at a car crash on highway 33. A guy had been asleep in the back seat, no shirt on, the middle of winter, and woke up on the side of the road. I gave him my leather jacket until the ambulance showed up to cut out the driver, listened to him ramble about how he didn’t know what happened. When I read the first story, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” it reminds me of that strange episode, where the feelings from one and the facts to the other meld together.
  • There’s also a run in the second half of the book that takes place in Seattle, in the dive bars of 1st Ave. He talks about crashing at the library, the long street going from  Pill Hill and the hospitals, down the hill to the old joints in Pioneer Square. This is where I used to live, in First Hill, and all of his landmarks line up with my old memories.
  • The connections between the eleven stories is random, dreamlike. No time is wasted interconnecting the prose in a linear fashion. The reader is left to reassemble the scenes into a narrative, and it gives it a fluidity most story collections would not have.
  • I can sit down and read the 160 pages of Jesus’ Son in an evening before bed, but it will continue to haunt me for a week or two. I think that’s what makes it so perfect.

Lots of stuff about Denis Johnson on the web this weekend. Probably my favorite quote I ran across is how he would never read his reviews. He said, “A bad review is like one of those worms in the Amazon that swims up your penis. If you read it, you can’t get it out, somehow.” I need to keep that in mind.

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Death of The NecroKonicon

I made the decision to retire the print and ebook versions of my book The NecroKonicon, also known to many as “the glossary.” It was a bittersweet decision, but it’s not something I want available anymore. I unpublished the online version of the glossary about ten years ago, which was a tough decision back then. The book seems a bit redundant at this point.

I had a lot of fun creating the glossary when I started it about fifteen years ago. I became obsessed with it when I started it, constantly thinking of new articles to add, new links to make. I dug through old photos, researched old names and places, and every time I got a topic just about done, I’d think of five others to write. Once it went online, I started getting a lot of feedback, too. People searching on old names or places would stumble across my articles. This was right as Wikipedia was starting, and way before Facebook, so sometimes my pages were the first or only hit on google.

The problem with the glossary was that I wanted to write about my memories, and I got a lot of input that my entries were “wrong” and people would endlessly mansplain what really should have been there. I remember getting in a huge, stupid argument in the comments section with some #BlueLivesMatter-type idiot about my entry about the IU Police Department, and no matter how many corrections or additions I made, he demanded that I rewrite it or take it down.

And some of it was legitimate – I took a lot of swipes in some of the inside jokes, and there were entries about ex-girlfriends and people I was no longer in touch with, and those could be seen as violations or whatever. I think the attitude towards this has changed in the last decade; I think if Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski were writing in 2017, they would be spending most of their time in a courtroom, getting sued by the people in their books.

But, part of the fun of the thing was the personal side of it. I think if I only wrote about old restaurants and stores and food items, it would not have had the same intrigue. Or it would have just been WIkipedia. I keep thinking of putting a “scrubbed” version of it online, installing some wiki software and porting over the old entries, maybe writing a bunch of new ones, but not about people, just about the nostalgia, the places and things. But, that’s a lot of time. And I’d constantly be correcting things, adding more, dealing with complaints, etc.

A lot of me doesn’t want to deal with nostalgia anymore. I waste a lot of time trying to think about things from 1990 or whatever, and I’d rather be creating new stuff, not rehashing old stuff. So that’s a big reason for discontinuing this. And the book didn’t sell anyway.

That said, I wish I could create something that had the same collaborative and dynamic aspect that The NecroKonicon did. It was a glorious waste of time, and brought a lot of people in. I got a lot of emails and comments, and it was a lot of fun working on it (until it wasn’t.) I wish I could find some other project like this, like a podcast or comic or an online site of some sort, and maybe at some point I will.

Until then, I’m supposed to be writing the next book, so I need to figure out what that means exactly.

 

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The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day – The Book

8234262-2e6aa8cc0e194e7cb5540813cdd813e0This is stupid. But I have made a book for The Same Picture of Jon Konrath Every Day. It is an 88-page book of pretty much every meme I’ve made over the last year or two associated with this page.

I thought about writing a huge explanation about how this picture was taken, how the meme page started (it wasn’t me), and other stupid side notes about the phenomenon, like how we started one-upping each other with garbage #KultofKonrath merchandise. But I am lazy, and if you explain it too much, it ruins it. So figure it out yourself. Or ask me in person. Or drink a bunch of cough medicine and make up your own story.

The book is available on Blurb and is prohibitively expensive because it is color printed. It’s also slow to produce and costs too much to ship. Blame Blurb. Don’t buy this, but if you’re a completist, knock yourself out. I would print a bunch and give them away, but my cost is the same as yours.

You can go to the book site and preview every page for free, so there’s that.

The book is on Blurb here: http://www.blurb.com/b/7632244-the-same-picture-of-jon-konrath-every-day-the-book

Also for any of my books that actually have writing and that you should be buying and giving to your family for the holiday, go to My Books and Stories.

Happy Firestorm! (Or whatever holiday you celebrate.)

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My new book Vol. 13 is out

I have a new book out!

TL;DR: kindle and paperback.

This book is called Vol. 13 because it is my thirteenth book, and I’m obsessed with Black Sabbath. It is 20 stories, each longer than flash fiction – the whole book is just shy of 200 pages in print.

If you read my books Thunderbird or Sleep Has No Master, it’s similar in format and content. Structurally, I think the stories are more “story-like” and slightly longer – like Thunderbird was 26 stories and 186 pages, while this was 20 stories and 196 pages. Each story is titled, which a few reviews mentioned they liked my titles even more than my stories in those books, so that tradition continues. If you want to see all of the titles, go check out the book page.

The content of the book is Konrathian. I can’t describe what I write, and that’s sort of the point. If you’ve read my stuff, you know what it is. I’ve created this sandbox of near-future post-apocalyptic ruin that’s probably getting a little too close for comfort these days, and then I set my cast of characters loose in it to wander the wasteland of pop-culture and destruction. It’s fiction, but I’m guessing that within six months, a guy with a Killdozer is going to go viral and end up with a holding deal with HBO to develop a talk show with tits, and everyone will think I’m Nostradamus. It’s happened before.

Anyway, the book is out. As always, I’m looking for reviewers or places to guest-blog or interviews, or any other help I can get to get this thing out there.

Here’s the linkage again:

  • Kindle – the book is part of Kindle Unlimited, so subscribers can read it for free.
  • Paperback – it’s in Kindle Match, so if you buy the paperback, you get the kindle version for free
  • Goodreads – go mark it as “to read” and tell all your creepy friends.

OK, that’s done. Time to start the next one.

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New (Old) Kindle

I bought a new Kindle, but an old Kindle. It’s actually a Kindle DX, the large-screen variety, which is long discontinued, but for some reason, Amazon occasionally has them in stock, through “Amazon Warehouse,” whatever that is.

I am not really a fan of ebooks. I gave it an honest go back in 2010 or so, bought a lot of my favorite published authors at crazy markup prices, like buying Vonnegut classics at ten bucks a pop. But I found reading fiction to be difficult on a Kindle. Because everything is the same font, and the device always has the same feel, the same heft in your hand, it removes the experience of reading the book, and I typically retain nothing I read on a Kindle. I went back to paper, and I’m fine with that, mostly. There are more titles available, it’s often cheaper in the long run, and there’s something about going to a physical book store that I miss when I’m simply e-hoarding books online.

But, there’s a big problem with space, and allergies. I’m finding that old books, ones infested with dust and mites, make me incredibly sick. I simply cannot buy a fifty-year-old paperback from a used book store, because the moment I open the browning pages, I have a horrible allergy attack. Yes, I take the medicine and I get the shots, but I’ve pretty much exhausted the medical possibilities. I just can’t read old books. And now, I’m finding my “new” books are all old. I pulled a Kerouac book of letters the other day, just for a quick skim, and it made me sick. And I “just” bought that book, but when I checked the receipt stashed inside, and it’s twenty years old. So I don’t know what to do about that.

It’s nice to not have the clutter involved with collections. I was religious about collecting CDs and DVDs, and they took up a good amount of my apartment when I was single. After I got married, and after the technology of MP3s and streaming video took off, I ripped everything, and junked or stored away all optical media. I don’t really miss it, and I’m glad I have the space. But books are more difficult for me.

I have issues with current e-readers, too. I love e-ink displays. The first few iterations of Kindle had less refined screens, a lower PPI count, the weird black-flashing issue with a slow refresh speed, and some slight ghosting of old images. There are new ones with higher PPI, better resolution, and backlighting. But they’re all the smaller screens. As my eyes go, I really want a big screen. Ideally, I would want an 8.5×11 screen. This also helps with PDFs, which you really want to not get downscaled or zoomed weird.

But, the big-screen e-ink readers just don’t exist. Sony has one in Japan, that’s insanely expensive, like $800 or something. And there are one or two cheapie made-in-China ones that are half-broke, hard to buy, and still pretty pricy. Every year, there are CES rumors of a big-screen reader, but these are always vaporware, and — huge pet peeve of mine — put out the idea that there are big-screen readers. But what you see at CES is never what you get, and they simply aren’t out there.

I don’t think the masses want a paperwhite e-ink display. They want a tablet, something like an iPad that can play games, show a video, and do things best left to a color screen that eats batteries. I have an iPad, and they’re great, but I can’t read on it. It causes too much eyestrain, and I’m also convinced that heavy use of a screen right before bed causes bad sleep hygiene. Almost all of my reading takes place in the hour or two before sleep, so I can’t deal with an iPad. That’s where paper has been great, and where a big e-ink display could be helpful.

So I hunted down the Kindle DX, and I found this one on Amazon. It was only $140, which was a steal, compared to the original $400-ish list price five years ago. This is the Kindle DX Graphite, which has the 3G connection, no WiFi, and the second-gen DX display, which is “50% improved.” It has roughly the same lineage as the third-gen Kindle Keyboard, but less RAM inside. No backlighting, no apps, no touchscreen.

Although the Amazon page made it sound like this was a used model or maybe a refurb, this was a new-in-sealed-box model, with plastic on it and everything. The only snags I found was that it did not come with an AC adaptor, just the USB cable. (Not a problem, I have 784 110V-to-USB adapters around here.) But it also would not register to the Whispernet network, and the wireless appeared dead. I gave them a call, they asked me for the serial number and a few other things (IMEI, something else) and then after a reboot, it connected wirelessly and all my stuff was ready to go.

My main use for this, at least initially, is to read PDFs. I have a giant archive of UFO docs and conspiracy theory stuff, FOIA requests and declassified government reports, and it will be nice to plop all those onto this thing. The screen is 5.5×8, so almost the size of a paperback book. It’s much easier to read than the original one I have. So I will give it another go.

It’s oddly nostalgic for me to look back at the documents that were waiting for me on the Kindle. I got my original Kindle in 2009, and toward the end of my Samsung tenure, spent a lot of my lunch time reading science fiction books on it. Also, when I started my allergy shot regimen in 2010, I would bring the Kindle and get a lot of reading done there. I had horrible writer’s block then, didn’t know what would be next for my writing, so I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick books for inspiration, and also a lot of schlocky how-to-write books, which were useless. The Kindle font, and the general layout of the thing, the dark grey letters and the LCD-like background color, remind me so much of reading those books. But I can’t really remember much about them. So, we’ll see how this works out.

 

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The Atmospheres audio book is now available

I’m proud to announce the audio book for Atmospheres is now available!

This is huge. You really need to go listen to a sample of the book.  It was narrated by Rob Shamblin at Bay Drive Sound Studios, and they did a totally pro job – it sounds incredible, and the acting and pace of Rob’s reading is incredible.

The book itself is a total gonzo drive into the absurd. I’m very proud of the print book, but the audio version takes on a completely new dimension. It’s really something to listen to it, and the nonlinear structure of the book lends itself well to audio. And it’s unabridged, so it’s just shy of six hours long, which is a great value.

So here’s the deal: you can get it in one of three ways: Amazon, Audible, or iTunes.  Here’s some explanation of all three:

  • Audible: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Atmospheres-Audiobook/B00OD60TPS – You can buy a copy of the book outright from Audible for the list price of $19.95. Or, you can sign up for an Audible account and get the book for free.  Audible gives you a 30-day free trial, and then it’s $14.95 a month. Members get two free audio books a month, plus 30% off additional purchases.  This is a hell of a deal, and I’d recommend it if you regularly listen to audio books.  Just make sure the first book you download is mine!
  • Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Atmospheres/dp/B00OI2HAJU Audible is owned by Amazon now, so tomato tomatoh.  The key difference is that it’s currently $17.46. And when you leave a review (you are going to do that, right?) it shows up along with all of your other Amazon reviews.  I think you need to download some kind of Audible app to get the audio from Amazon – I don’t know what their procedure is this week for audio purchases.
  • iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/atmospheres-unabridged/id929829736 If you are locked into Apple’s ecosystem, this is the way to go. It’s currently priced at $17.95 too, so you save two bucks there. And if you like having all of your stuff in iTunes and don’t want to download another program and want it all from Apple’s cloud, this is the way to go.  I just bought a copy from here to see how it went, and it’s just as seamless as buying anything else.

You can listen to a short preview on any of the above sites.  Apple’s preview is shorter, but a different part of the book.

Here is the big favor part: I do not have any free download codes or other way to easily schlep copies of this book to potential reviewers.  So I really, really need help getting reviews of the book, and getting the word out to people. Please forward this on, repost it, tell others, and review the book if you can. It would be greatly appreciated!

Also, if you’re still interested in reviewing the paper book (or ebook) drop me a line at jkonrath at rumored dot com and I’ll hook you up.  I really, really need some honest Amazon reviews, so get in touch if you can help.

I am really glad this project turned out as good as it did.  I hope you get a chance to check it out!

 

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Some great Atmospheres reviews

I always forget to look at Goodreads reviews. I think part if it is they make them so damn hard to find. And I don’t think they have as much of a result on book sales as actual Amazon reviews, which is bad because they’re the same damn company now, and GR reviews are usually much better written.

Anyway, Atmospheres has been slowly seeing some good reviews over on Goodreads. I know I should be pushing the newer book, but Atmospheres is one of my favorites, and it’s much more “me.”  And the audio book is coming soon.

A couple of recent ones worth sharing.  I really like this one:

Kon·ra·thi·an adjective \ˈkän-rath-ēən\

: a sentence or phrase used, in caustic hyperbole, to describe the complete meaninglessness of American culture and its icons

Another good one from the always spot-on Arthur Graham:

By removing the tracks of linear narrative and allowing the totality of his twisted visions to coalesce into a more appropriate form, Konrath does not merely dump a clusterfuck of unrelated awfulness into a book, just because he’s too lazy to glue it all together in an orderly fashion, or just because he’s more interested in pissing off the average reader (although he may be up to a bit of the latter). Rather, by eschewing the traditional tracks in favor of more train, what paradoxically emerges are the tracks of a form reinforced by its own chaotic content, and let me tell you: Konrath’s train is in a perpetual state of wreck.

The author could be viewed as a depressive nihilist if he didn’t obviously believe in what he’s doing and enjoy doing it, even if half of what he does is more like a hopelessly insane nightmare than anything a normal person would want to read. He crosses the line and then he crosses it again a few more times, and the end result is usually nothing short of genius and hilarity.

What did you think?  If you got the book, I’d love to see your review.  And if you didn’t get it yet, you should go take care of that, pronto.

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