Check out the interview here, with a review to follow soon…
Always exciting to see things like this - we’ve had such wonderful response to the book, and look forward to working on getting the sequel done in 2014!
Siren Song by Margaret Atwood : Poetry Magazine -
Well the danger on the rocks is surely past/still I remain tied to the mast…
Yes, it’s that time of year - time to see just how productive I’ve been as a reader, and what gems (and lumps of coal) I’ve unearthed. I had an interim list a few months back, but here’s the update (along with my brief thoughts on every book). This is in approximately the order I read the books, and does not reflect my opinion on which ones are best - that will be a separate list:
1. The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee - A non-fiction “biography” of cancer, as a disease, it was critical to John Green in writing “The Fault in Our Stars.” It is not a light read, but it is a work of genius.
2. Black Hole, by Charles Burns - The most brilliant graphic artist working today writes a disturbing tale of teenage sexual awakening, disease, and cultural decay. Not for the squeamish, but exceptionally powerful.
3. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell - Many people I respect like this book. I couldn’t stand it, and would have thrown it across the room in frustration if it hadn’t been on my Kindle. It’s about the discovery of another world, but it is really a ham-handed religious allegory, and for the first time in many years I couldn’t even finish a book I was reading. Yuck.
4. It, by Stephen King - To call this book over the top is not even remotely sufficient. It is huge, larger than life, it contains multitudes! It is, at times, amazing, frustrating, scary, exciting, boring, intense, ridiculous, disgusting, sophomoric, brilliant and awesome. Sometimes within the same few pages. There is nothing like it, and that is probably cause for celebration, even as I enjoyed it tremendously.
5. Morning Glories, by Nick Spencer - A wonderful series of graphic novels about a totalitarian boarding school. The fact that this hasn’t been turned into a movie is mystifying.
6. NOS4A2, by Joe Hill - The best new book I’ve read this year, it is a panoramic and creepy story of how one generation sucks the life out of the next, it has bikers, it has supernatural forces, and it has characters you will never forget. Oh, and it’s about Christmas all year long.
7. The Human Division, by John Scalzi - Yet one more entry in the “Old Man’s War” universe, Scalzi once again manages to walk the line between serious science fiction and comedy with an effortless sophistication that is a wonder to behold.
8. The Fifth Wave, by Rick Yancy - One of the best of the post-apocalyptic YA stories of recent vintage, this tale of a world overrun and the survivors who try to overcome incredible odds is a real page turner. Highly recommended.
9. The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson - Incredibly fun, perceptive, funny and moving story of an American girl in London facing a copycat series of Jack the Ripper-like atrocities. Johnson has incredible skill with voices, and this is a great read.
10. Wool, by Hugh Howey - Fantastic post-apocalypse tale, but far more claustrophobic. Great characters, great restraint, wonderful storytelling.
11. Shift, by Hugh Howey - Ditto. Can’t wait for “Dust” (which is on my list for early next year)
12. Inferno, by Dan Brown - The worst book I read this year. Period. You could always count on him for a good story, even if he was a lousy writer, but this is appalling (morally, aesthetically, ethically) and you should not be reading it unless you are being required to do so at gunpoint.
13. Prodigy, by Marie Lu - Lu delivers yet another fun (can dystopia be fun?) take on a fascist world in decay, and the teenage heroes who will save us all. I feel like Queen should be the soundtrack. Champion is on my list for 2013.
14. The Mammoth Hunters, Jean Auel - This book is ridiculous, overwrought, self-important, and incredibly fun. You actually don’t have to read the first two books in Jean Auel’s epic prehistoric soap opera in order to fully enjoy the unique wackiness of The Mammoth Hunters. First, let’s be clear: this is a book about a beautiful, blonde prehistoric cave woman (cro magnon variety) raised by Neanderthals. She is the person who first domesticated horses and wolves (as a precursor to dogs). She is a brilliant inventor, a gifted hunter, a spiritual maven and a sex machine. Auel spends as much detail on the blow by blow of her sexual experiences as she does on, say, the mechanics of flint knapping, or the butchering of a mammoth, and seems blissful unaware of the hilarity that ensues. Jondular, the love of her life, is (um) well endowed with gifts of his own, but manages to screw things up like an episode of The Brady Bunch. Auel presents fascinating bits of history alongside guesswork and wish fulfillment fantasy such that only an anthropologist could tell the difference, but it is all part of her charm. My only sorrow is that I have never listened to the audiobook version, which I suspect could kill me from laughter.
15. The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy - A sweet fairy tale about alchemy, Americans in London, the cold war, the Hollywood blacklist, Andrei Sakarov (!) and teenage love in the 1950s, The Apothecary is a fun story, with lovable characters ripped out of Dickens, Henry James and Harry Potter. It is distractingly naive and didactic at times about politics of the era, but Meloy’s characters are like adorable puppies that you can’t possibly remain annoyed with for too long. Currently reading the sequel which (surprisingly) is better than the original. There now appears to be an entire genre of YA growing up around the notion of American kids moving to London to go to school and getting wrapped up in conspiracies, but its a nice change of pace from vampires and werewolves, so we should probably be thankful for small favors.
16. The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy - A fun sequel to The Apothecary that manages to be even more delightful than the original. Our heroes are now 16, and find themselves once again entangled in a dangerous (yet often farcical) conspiracy involving geopolitics, young love and alchemy. And boarding school politics, of course, and restaurant economics for good measure. The villain is once again a bit too cartoonish and broad for my taste, but the book is a blast. Highly recommended.
17. City Of Bones, by Cassandre Clare - Incredibly self-aware, tons of fun, and intentionally derivative of every fantasy and YA story you can possibly imagine. This is a page turner of the highest order and a funny deconstruction of the tropes of fantasy fiction and YA more generally, even while it is itself a perfect example of the genre. Hope the movie doesn’t ruin it!
18, The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson - A wonderful sequel to the wonderful Name of the Star, our heroine is now a member of a secret police squad in charge of certain paranormal activity in London, but to say more would spoil the fun.
19. Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo - Fantastic sequel to Shadow and Bone. Once again, we get to experience the crazy mashup of 19th century Russian literature with Harry Potter-esque fantasy and Hunger Games style YA, and Bardugo once again pulls it off with aplomb. It doesn’t quite have the surprise value of the first book (which is really quite extraordinary) but it manages to do the nearly impossible: end the second book of a trilogy perfectly. Obviously, it will only appeal to those who already read Shadow and Bone, but if you haven’t what on earth are you waiting for?
20. Enclave, by Ann Aguirre - Dystopia, but with a slightly harsher edge than usual. No satire - straight ahead drama. Brutal but addictive.
21. Outpost, by Ann Aguirre - Ditto. I have to admit that was dying for the third book in the series on the last page of this middle installment of Aguirre’s brutal ode to the lowest common denominator, even if this is not as explicitly “fun” as most books of this type tend to be. Lord of The Flies to the power of 100.
22. City of Ashes, by Cassandre Clare - City of Ashes is the second book in the series, and like its predecessor (City of Bones) it simultaneously embraces every single cliche in every fantasy novel ever written (with visible tropes from JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Stroud, Neil Gaiman, George Lucas, Orson Scott Card, JRR Tolkien, the Twilight books, V.C. Andrews, and so many more I can’t even begin to list them all) and mocks them. Cassandra Clare never takes herself too seriously (which would have doomed the entire enterprise) but instead focuses on entertaining us with a fun story while manipulating archetypes in the background so that we can also appreciate the Easter egg hunt for in-jokes. Our heroine Clary (and her “brother” Jace and putative boyfriend Simon) are once again facing the war between angelic demon hunters and a fallen leader who seeks power and revenge, while showing us the underworld of magical New York City. This is not “original” (you will not find the deeper resonance of the best YA or fantasy fiction here) but it is instead a wild, cackling embrace of everything derivative, with witty dialogue to match. Already started on book 3..
23. City of Glass, by Cassandre Clare - A nice ending to the “first” Mortal Instruments trilogy, but this one is a bit heavier on plot and less focused on the fun “His Girl Friday” style snappy dialogue and crazy pop culture references. Almost knocked it down to 3 stars, but the characters (except for Jace, who is growing to be genuinely emo and irritating) are still great and with following into the next book.
24. Lexicon, by Max Barry - I wish I could give this book six stars - it is the Inception of books, a thriller with real intellectual heft, provocative without forgetting that it is supposed to be entertaining. It also manages not to take itself too seriously (a fate Inception was not able to completely avoid). It is a crazy, discombobulated, thoroughly exciting beach read about neurolinguistics. I don’t know how this guy pulled it off, and how I’ve never read his books before, but I will now be checking them out. Highly recommended
25. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman - Not as epic as American Gods, or as complicated as Neverwhere, The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels like Gaiman’s most personal book. A little nightmare of a story, it is an exacting memory of the feelings of childhood, the little details that draw the line between the mind of a boy and the way of adults. There is very little to this story, but just in the manner that dreams don’t have a narrative but leave you pulsing, this book is not one that you are likely to forget. The closest analogue is the narrative control of “Never Let Me Down” mixed with the subject-matter of “Sandman.” Wonderful, unusual book - and a book that deepens my understanding of his other books.
26. Vortex, by S.J. Kincaid - Great follow-up to the wonderful “Insignia.” SJ Kincaid has a real flair for the voices of teenagers, and she employs that talent in support of a clever story arc about the future of warfare, the military-industrial complex, and the urge to think the word “boobs” at inopportune moments. Oh, sure, it will remind some of “Ready Player One” but it is actually quite different - and surprising passionate about its politics. Occasionally it gets a bit lost in the teenaged drama, and The author is about as subtle as a grenade in a bowl of oatmeal, but Kincaid is great, and the series is very funny, enormously entertaining, and oddly provocative
27. The Lion, by Nelson DeMille - Another solid entry in the John Corey series of snarky spy/crime thrillers. Corey and his long suffering FBI agent wife Kate must face (once again) the Lion, a killing machine/terrorist/assassin developed out of every James Bond movie, Robert Ludlum novel and wild paranoid fear about Islamic terrorists. The politics of the book are actually a bit more complex than they initially may seem, but no one will confuse this with John LeCarre. It is, however, enormously entertaining, and the skydiving set-piece is as good a piece of thriller writing as I’ve seen in a while. Recommended, but read his other stuff first.
28. Night Fall, by Nelson DeMille - Not as good as Lion’s Game, but better than Plum Island, Night Fall is a good, paranoid thriller about the “truth” behind TWA 800 and the years leading up to 9/11. DeMille is not John LeCarre or Olen Steinhauer, so don’t expect any real insights. He’s more like a deeply sarcastic Tom Clancy. Not sure how mucha further he can take the John Corey story without it getting hackneyed, but the first three books of the series are fun, light, exciting reads (the ending, I will note, is not perfectly satisfying, but I suspect that may have been intentional)
29. The Lion’s Game, by Nelson DeMille - Stereotypes from every thriller, ever, star in this exciting thriller about terrorism in the late 1990s. Reminiscent of “Day of The Jackal,” except with a sarcastic narrator and superficial attitudes about the Middle East borrowed from newspaper headlines of the early 2000s, it is still so well plotted and executed that you don’t really care. His best book.
30. Plum Island, by Nelson DeMillle - An exceptionally fun mystery and (more importantly) our first introduction to wisecracking detective John Corey, who stars in 6 other books. Combining bio weapons, piracy, seduction and Long Island wine, this is not anything that will be confused with deep literature, but DeMille’s voice is amazing and the narrative never flags. A great summer read.
31. The Panther, by Nelson DeMille - This is the most recent of the John Corey thrillers from Nelson DeMille, and by far the strangest. Yes, it has Corey’s typical sardonic take on terrorism, middle eastern politics, and inter-agency warfare among the FBI, CIA and NYPD, but it doesn’t actually have much in the way of thrills. Instead it is an interesting (albeit VERY long) travelogue about Yemen, with 80 pages of excitement tacked onto the end (with some appropriate twists). For hardcore DeMille fans it is fun to visit these characters again, but the plot is like a much less interesting version of The Lion’s Game, with local color thrown in. If you’re going to read one DeMille book, don’t read this one, but if you read the other John Corey books you’ll read this no matter what I say…
32. Uprising, by Lisa Stasse - Incredibly disappointing; perhaps the biggest sophomore slump I’ve seen in YA in a long time. After the fireworks of Forsaken (which was almost Maze Runner-like in its twisted, dystopic intensity) we now get boring, tell-no-show, wildly illogical and implausible goop with dialogue fit for sub-middle grade pulp. I only finished it because I want to know what happens to he characters I once cared about in Forsaken. Maybe she’ll come back in the final volume of he trilogy, but I am stunned by the regression.
33. Under the Empyrean Sky, By Chuck Wendig - Incredibly clever premise but disappointing execution - Wendig crafts a dystopian nightmare out of genetically modified corn, but can’t resist a “sorting” type ceremony where a mate is chosen (blatant rip-off of so many YA books), and an elite that smells too deeply of the Hunger Games. The lead protagonist is also deeply unlikeable, which doesn’t help. So why does it still get 3 stars? Wendig is exceptionally imaginative, and the details of the world are twisted and thought provoking - and the implications of many things we do today are a undeniably chilling. So, he earns a bit of a mulligan and I will probably read the next entry in this “corn punk” sci-fi trilogy, if for no other reason than to see where he takes these ideas.
34. United States of Paranoia, by Jesse Walker An extraordinarily readable, fun skip through the marvelous history of conspiracy and paranoia in American life, from Puritan times to the present. The chapters on some lesser known conspiracy freaks read like something out of an alternate universe, and your eyes will be opened to some very subtle judgments that you yourself may have been making. Colored a bit by the author’s libertarian outlook, he is open with his biases and recognizes his own susceptibility to paranoia. As a fan of Robert Anton Wilson, it was nice to see the grand old Discordian get his due, but the whole book is a delight
35. The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon - An exceptionally clever YA fantasy about an alternate England, where clairvoyance is crime, and practitioners are forced underground into criminal syndicates. With echoes of Stroud’s classic “Bartimaeus Trilogy” and Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series as a backdrop, Shannon plays with the tropes without seeming derivative. She has a remarkable imagination, and a love for inventing words and using them alongside the real language of the London criminal class. The only misstep is a romantic angle that comes up late in the story that doesn’t really fit — however, it is a minor mistake in a fantastically entertaining book. Highly recommended
36. Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey - Brilliance is a “realistic” take on the classic SF trope of gifted mutants, but treated as a thriller, mixed with some juicy paranoia and some Phillip K. Dick atmospherics. Yes, it is mildly derivative, but it is exceptionally well executed and enormously entertaining - like an X-Men comic scripted by Robert Ludlum. Highly recommended, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series.
39. The Prague Cemetary by Umberto Eco - A fever dream about hatred, and the 19th century conspiracies that really did happen (almost every character except the narrator is real) this is a powerful work, but a strange work. Naive readers might even believe that it is a hymn to hatred (and particularly hatred of Jews) although most will recognize the angry undercurrent of contempt. That said, it is not something for everyone: It is something that will mostly appeal to those with either (a) an obsession with 19th century European history (guilty!), (b) a deep interest in how anti-semitism moved into a political realm when it had previously been a superstition (ditto), or (c) an abiding love for the crazy linguistic trickery of Umberto Eco, which is still remarkable even in translation (in spades). Eco is never one to sacrifice impact for readability, and there are moments that are slow-going, but it is intense, interesting - and chilling. And yes, a bit crazy, as is appropriate for a book about a kind of mental illness that spread through Europe…
39.House of Hades by Rick Riordan - Rick Riordan can be enormously frustrating - when he’s on, he’s just about the best middle grade/YA adventure novelist around. His evocative use of myth to explore the emotional lives of kids can be powerful, and he writes action scenes with humor and a funny nod to the interests of parents who are equally addicted to his fun world (piña colada song? Really?). But as good as he can be, he also needs an editor - badly - and the first half of House of Hades is so flabby and directionless that it will threaten to lose many readers. Which is unfortunate, because the second half is great - and even pushes the envelope a bit on themes of identity and attraction. So, do I recommend it? If you’re reading it, you almost certainly read the prior 8 Percy Jackson books, so nothing I can say would dissuade you. And if you’ve read that many Percy Jackson books, I’d be a moron to suggest it, and the second half of the book justifies it. Just know that it is a weak installment - and we can only hope that he gets back into fighting trim for the final book of the series
40. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth - An incredibly brave and uncompromising way to end the popular DIVERGENT series, Roth shows herself to be a clever storyteller and appropriately ruthless with her narrative. There are many people who will dislike this book (which is, for the record, far better than INSURGENT and only slightly less enjoyable than DIVERGENT itself) because it actually makes the choices that most novelists avoid. But those people are wrong. Now, make no mistake, this is a YA dystopian romantic adventure series, and the storyline is not a realistic one; and this is not great literature - no one will confuse Roth with, say, Margaret Atwood or John Green. However, she deserves to be in the same conversation with Suzanne Collins and Kristin Cashore, and that is pretty high praise. Trying to talk about this book without spoilers is nearly impossible, so let’s just say if you read the first two books of the trilogy you should read this one, and you should recognize that the correct ending is often not the one of our choosing. An excellent end to a successful series.
41. Anathem by Neal Stephenson - Yes, I’ve read it before, but I couldn’t resist a re-read. A provoctive treatise on the nature of epistemology hidden inside an enormously entertaining speculative fiction about a world (Arbre) very similar to Earth, where all of the smart people are kept in monastic concentration camps (“concents”) where they are forbidden to breed and required to live a monastic life. Stephenson does a brilliant job of inventing language and history so rich that you feel as though you’ve been shafted when the book ends and there are no other works about that world in existence. If you don’t know anything about philosophy, the book is wildly entertaining; if you do, then you will be laughing out loud at some of the easter eggs hidden within the narrative. Probably Stephenson’s best book (which is saying something) and one of only a handful that he’s been able to effectively end. Recommended for all fans of Dune and other large scale science fiction.
42. Horns, by Joe Hill - Instead of waking up as a cockroach. Ig Parrish wakes up with actual horns on his head and a devil of a problem in this Kafka-esque horror story. To say more would be to ruin an exceptionally clever nightmare - but needless to say no one should be surprised to learn that Hill was Stephen King’s son after flying through this surreal thriller. While 2013’s NOS4A2 is a better book (and if you haven’t read that - plese do immediately), Horns insinuates itself into your mind and emotions and you aren’t likely to forget it anytime soon.
43. Eye of Minds, by James Dashner - From the man who brought you the horrifying (but highly addictive!) Maze Runner series comes what superficially my seem like a rip-off of bestselling YA cyber-thrillers like Ready Player One or Insignia. However, much to my relief, it turns out instead to be a rather clever inversion of the genre. (MERCENARY INTERRUPTION: And of course it goes without saying that you should read my own book “The Secret Root” if you enjoy this type of story!). To say more would be rather cruel, but let’s just say that the reputation Dashner earned in the Maze Runner for being ruthless with his stories is very much in display here as well, and anyone who likes a good tale will be dying for the next book in the series (which isn’t out until next fall). A fun, light read with some interesting philosophical echoes near the end, it’s a good choice for someone who likes to live on the ‘net.
44. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin - Another re-read. This is one of the great works of magical realism, by (along with Steve Erickson) one of the only American practitioners of the genre of real value. This is supposedly a story about New York in the late 19th century, but it is really a crazy tale about grand, sweeping visions of American mythology, but with flying horses and a love story so huge it threatens to discombobulate the rest of the story. But it never does — it is absolutely wonderful, and should be read by anyone who loves New York, anyone who loves America, and anyone who loves beautiful writing
45. Horde, By Ann Aguirre - Ann Aguirre’s Razorland Trilogy is without question the most brutal of the mainstream dystopian YA series. Unbelievable levels of violence, abuse and…well…zombies (!) compete with a fairly pedestrian love story for the reader’s attention. No spoiler - the zombies win. Like a ’70s era Eco-nightmare mashed together with Lord of the Flies with Divergent and 5th Wave ladled on for good measure. Aguirre is not a stylist, but she can write propulsive violence like a Quentin Tarantino aficionado, or an anime fan, and the world she creates is both nightmarish and ghastly fun.46. Feed, by M.T. Anderson - An astonishing combination of Idiocracy, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, and The Fault in Our Stars (with some Snow Crash thrown in for good measure) I read this book in one day, my fingers turning the electronic pages on my Kindle as quickly as possible, horrified and totally immersed in a (pretty likely) futuristic nightmare of commercialism and electronic media gone amok. M.T. Anderson has won a national book award, so he doesn’t need my praise, but this is an important work of An astonishing combination of Idiocracy, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, and The Fault in Our Stars (with some Snow Crash thrown in for good measure) I read this book in one day, my fingers turning the electronic pages on my Kindle as quickly as possible, horrified and totally immersed in a (pretty likely) futuristic nightmare of commercialism and electronic media gone amok. M.T. Anderson has won a national book award, so he doesn’t need my praise, but this is an important work of heartfelt and angry satire that everyone should read. And anyone who loves language should bow down in awe at the subtle things he’s done to deepen such a short, perfect little book.
So 46 books read this year - not bad! A bit down from last year, but that was a record. Some great books out there - check them out!!
Every so often it is important to re-read a favorite book, to savor the power of something that changed you, to renew yourself in a moment where you were touched by the ineffable sense that you had seen a small part of something greater than your own experience. That singular feeling of connection is something like a miracle.
As when a Tree’s cut down the secret root/Lives under ground/ and thence new Branches shoot… — John Dryden
The 10 SF/F Works That Meant the Most to Me -
Disturbed that I’ve only read 3 of these (though huge shout-out on the inclusion of Winter’s Tale, one of the best novels of any kind since 1970). The others I’ve read? Snow Crash (naturally) and Dune (ditto). Obviously a personal list, but given Scalzi’s oevre (did I spell that right?) I would have expected Gateway by Frederick Pohl, maybe something by William Gibson, and something by Isaac Asimov. But a great list nonetheless.
A Handy Flowchart: Which Young Adult Fiction Book Should I read? -
Even though there is a notable omission (where is The Secret Root? I’m sure it was an accident…) this is pretty hilarious, if completely wrong. While it hits on some of the appropriate notes (Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Fault in Our Stars, City of Bones, The Graveyard Book, The Vampire Diaries, Uglies, Feed) it misses some easy layups (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Graceling, Shadow & Bone, Insignia, Ready Player One, Incarceron, Inkheart, Zoe’s Tale, The Lightning Thief, The Book Thief, The Name of the Star, Railsea, The Apothecary, Legend, The Night Circus…)
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. — J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (via littledallilasbookshelf)
Yesterday, someone told me (out of the blue) that they had read The Secret Root and loved it. There is no better feeling than to hear that someone spent the time reading your book - and liked it enough to tell me! So if you read it, and enjoyed it, let me know! I’m incredibly grateful for your kind words!!
“The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not,” - Philip K. Dick. — http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/09/06/how-to-build-a-universe-philip-k-dick/
My old band, Mo Fuzz, was briefly a shining star in the early ’90s Chicago music scene, recording an album with Steve Albini and then imploding. The Wikipedia entry was deleted, but it still makes me laugh:
Mo Fuzz was a Chicago post-punk band (1989-1993) known for both its irreverence and odd sense of showmanship. Often classed as performance art as much as music, Mo Fuzz was a popular live act for a period of several years, opening for bands as varied as Helmet and Laughing Hyenas. After recording a single album, The Great Unwashed, with Steve Albini (released on Lunch Money Records) the band imploded.
The band’s influential combination of childlike wonder (often emphasized by the waif-like presence of their lead singer Crush’t Velour), buzzing guitars and faux serious attitude was a brief, if noteworthy, presence on the local Chicago music scene.
History: Started by a group of purposefully anonymous college students, Mo Fuzz was named after a character in the cult film Tapeheads, played by SoulTrain host Don Cornelius. The band first rose to local prominence with the release of the single “Over My Shoulder” as part of the local Chicago Niteskool Project compilation series. An elaborate video mocking Michael Jackson’s Thriller and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was produced by Northwestern University’s School of Speech, and was shown on MTV’s Basement Tapes. The song also received airplay on local radio, including both Q101 and WXRT. Writeups in Maximum Rocknrolland other fanzines built a base of fans large enough to sell several hundred tickets to their shows at the height of their popularity. The band’s live shows were often surreal affairs, with a large stuffed bear and a variety of blow-up toys used as props.
Album: The band’s one album, “The Great Unwashed,” was an unconventional mix of Killing Joke, Bauhaus and Siouxsie and The Banshees. Albini’s engineering provided a claustrophobic feel to the songs, which live often felt more upbeat. Two songs stood out as different, however — “Anthem” included an elegiaic string section, and sounded almost like a piece of chamber pop. Similarly, a punk rock version of “Mongoloid” by Devo hinted at a more aggressive tone. The album was also notable for its use of radical photography in the cover art by local artists including Ken Fandell.
Immediately following the release of their debut album, the band broke up and the album faded from view in the absence of promotion, though it has recently developed a cult following. At the band’s final show at the Metro in Chicago, the oversized stuffed bear was ritually disemboweled, filling the club with sytrofoam and plastic hair. The current whereabouts of the band members are unknown.
Attitude: A classic example of the Mo Fuzz attitude (also displayed in a variety of interviews in local media) can be found in the press release distributed with their album The Great Unwashed, purportedly composed by Chicago newspaper legend Irv Kupcinet:
"As Howard Jones once said to me, "Kup, you can’t live your life in one day." And so it is with Mo Fuzz.
The lives of the poets do tell us something of Mo Fuzz (Petrarch describes them as “smooth love rolling backwards down your tongue,” though he may have been speaking of something entirely different). Yet not even Spiro Agnew, in his classic treatise “Jonesing with Ian MacKaye,” could have foreseen the awesome, colon numbing power that Mo Fuzz now provides to the metropolitan Chicago area, having replaced Commonwealth Edison as the single largest consumer of U-235 in the midwestern United States.
Mo Fuzz contains the following ingredients (names are changed to protect you from their real names, which are uniformly boring and unRock):
Crush’t Velour: songstress, lover of soft, broken things, powermad viper, and owner of far too many brownie uniforms from her youth — each of which still fits her perfectly. She rides the hood ornament of this death machine, and as initial target of all objects thrown from the audience, she suffers from being “punch drunk” most of the time, leaving her with inclinations towards performance art when not on stage. Beloved by children, she is currently starring in “Clarrissa Explains It All For You” on Nickolodeon.
The Iguana: Guitar. A former equestiran coach at an all-girls junior college in Virginia. Sure, it was fun, but he wouldn’t do it again.
El Presidente: Drummist, C.P.A., J.D., M.B.A, M.B.E, is currently working towards an M.D./Ph.d in cerebral oncology. Having studied tribal drumming with two of the five drummers for the Ramones in Tunisia, El Presidente has an almost mystical ability to devour rhythms and spit them up in deformed, slightly disturbing forms, often with saliva still dripping from the third beat of every measure. A playboy of some repute, he is often known to sally forth with as many as nine women on his arm, a fact which has lengthened his arms considerably and aids in his “wrap around” drumming style wherein his arms encircle each drum while he pounds them with his tongue. Truly remarkable. “I saw him play once,” said John Bonham, smoking a cod in a long, green bong. “I feared to watch yet I could not turn away.”
M. Superlatif: Master of natural law and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, M. Superlatif is a classic underachiever. Thought to be a prodigy when young, M.Superlatif was later diagnosed with “alienation,” and institutionalized at the Burt Lance Hospital For the Terminally Bewildered. M.Superlatif’s bass playing and gorgeous countertenor accent a wonderful figure and enormous feet. Often playing a custom made twelve string bass, M.Superlatif adds a certain je nais se quois to the proceedings, if you catch my drift.
Their new album, recorded by some fellow who badly needs to be fed a good meal once in awhile, is the strongest dose of Kaopectate you’ve ever tried, baby. And you can hum it, too. It will make you cry with the soothing “Anthem.” It will make you stomp around the room like a diabetic wildebeest with the driving “Window.” And it will leave you spayed and neutered by the insipid “Crotchsaw.” You will not forget Mo Fuzz or The Great Unwashed, in the same way that you are unlikely to forget an endoscopy. That, by the way, is a good thing.
Listen. Learn. Don’t be frightened. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. And as Foucault once said to David Yow, “Love is a many splendored thing.” —Irv Kupcinet”
As an English major myself, and someone who writes words for a living, I feel this one rather personally: Why Teach and Study English? : The New Yorker
So what does it mean to say that “several hundred people have actually purchased my book”? The great fear of any author is that your friends will buy your book, just to be nice, and then no one else will ever buy or read what you spent years to write. At a certain point, however, it becomes obvious that something magical has happened - people you do not know, have never met, and would not recognize if they met you on the street, have gone through the trouble of buying and reading your book. And then some of them, in a further act of remarkable goodheartedness, have reviewed the book (on Amazon or Goodreads) or even just recommended it to a friend. This month several dozen people I have never met downloaded The Secret Root on Kindle - more than in any other month since the book’s release. I have no explanation for that - only a huge smile. So thank you, and keep on supporting The Secret Root while I work to write book 2!
Anonymous said: How are you related to Jill Cahr?
Does she owe you money? Actually, in addition to being the author of “Happy Dog: Caring for your Dog’s Body, Mind, and Spirt” Jill is married to me.