Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Erinna Mettler's Starlings Revisited

Several months ago at a Liars League event in London, I won a review copy of Erinna Mettler's Starlings. This novel is a set of craftily interwoven stories taking place in Brighton, each chapter following a character. I found it a compelling read--I finished it in two or three days, largely because I enjoyed it and wanted to see what happened next.

I especially enjoyed that the author took risks--narrating one incident from two points of view, and presenting one chapter as a manuscript of a short story, and we're not sure whether we should view this particular chapter in the story as a "real" and thinly veiled account of something which happened to her, or if it is an original work of fiction by the character in the chapter. Fiction within fiction, or a clever new narrative device. In addition to the cleverness of the narrative, and the intricacy of the plot, the characters in this set of stories are well-developed and masterfully depicted.

Mettler is a VERY talented new writer.

The publisher is Revenge Ink. I noted that my review copy was full of typographical errors--numerous instances of hard returns improperly dissecting paragraphs, quotation marks turned the wrong way, and several other errors, which were more than a little distracting. The author informed me that the copy I have is merely a review copy and that these were cleaned up in the final printing. How times have changed for the publishing industry! Twenty years ago, I worked as a proofreader for a small press, and if we had printed a review copy with a quarter of that number of typos, I'd have been fired immediately. I was holding off posting my review until I'd seen the proper printed version of Mettler's Starlings, so that I could verify her claim. Which leads me to problem number 2: Whenever I happen to walk into Daunt or Waterstones or Foyle's or even the public library, I've checked to see if they have a copy of the book, so I can compare it to the review copy, but I've not seen the book anywhere. Which leads me to lament Revenge Ink's distributive capabilities. I hope with her next novel, Mettler signs on with a proper publisher which will give her the editorial attention and the distribution she very richly deserves. I'd truly hate to see this gem of a book linger in obscurity. Mettler is too good a writer to remain unknown and unread.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Short Stories of note

I think the majority of people--at least those who can afford to do so--like to watch certain movies more than once. This is why DVDs sell so well, for repeat viewings. I'm no different, though we don't own very many DVDs.

I never reread novels, as life is short, and there are so many out there I want to read before I draw my last breath. I do sometimes reread short stories I enjoyed. Here are some I have experienced and enjoyed more than once:

1) Allison Amend's "The People You Know Best" in her collection Things that Pass for Love.

2) Shalom Auslander's "Bobo the Self-Hating Chimp," "Somebody Up There Likes You," and "God is a Big Happy Chicken," in his book Beware of God. When I taught Hebrew school at a Reform Synagogue a few years ago, I even had my students read "God is a Big Happy Chicken" --a slightly bowdlerized version of it (minus the cussing and sexual reference) to illustrate the point that there's beauty in the traditions even if the students found parts of the Torah spurious and objectionable.

3) Franz Kafka's "The Bucket Rider".

4) Agnon's "That Tzaddiq's Etrog," "To Father's House," and "At the Outset of the Day." Best read in the original Hebrew to see his unparalleled use of language. I only have one of these in the Hebrew at present, so I know what I'm buying the next time I visit Steimatzky's.

5) Etgar Keret's אף אחד לא מבין את הקוואנטים in צנורות, translated into English as "Quanta" in The Girl on the Fridge. Keret's story על ערכו התזונתי של החלום (translated as "On the Nutritional Value of Dreams") is my absolute favourite short story. Keret is even more superbly and surreally imaginative than Kafka and Agnon.

6) Miranda July's "This Person" in Nobody Belongs Here More Than You.

7) Ingeborg Bachmann's "Undine Goes." I've blathered about this story before. I think it would make a supreme oratorio for a single soprano, and I hope someday a composer more skilled than myself will match its poetic eloquence with rich musical accompaniment.

8)Borges' "Library of Babel," "The Secret Miracle," and "Averroes' Search." His stories are for those who love history, literature, and the history of knowledge.

9) Jonathan Lethem's "Access Fantasy."

I've recently encountered a few remarkable short stories in Best British Short Stories 2011. I especially enjoyed "Love Silk Food" by Leone Ross and "So Much Time in a Life" by Heather Leach. I look forward to reading more of their work.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kinky Friedman's story to be included in Bride of the Golem

Earlier this afternoon, I received the story Kinky Friedman said he would send to Bride of the Golem. I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's funny and charming and a little scary, in other words, a perfect addition to the anthology.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Kinky Friedman and the best salsa in Britain

I am very pleased to report that comedy-mystery writer and performer Kinky Friedman will be submitting a story to Bride of the Golem. That's right, the author of Road Kill and Armadillos and Old Lace is sending in a story! If you haven't read him yet, you should. He's very entertaining.

In honor of the occasion, and in line with my recent rants about the dearth of good Tex-Mex in London, I am sharing my salsa recipe (which is modeled largely on Wheatsville Food Co-op's Salsa Casera, the best in Austin, Texas). All the ingredients are available at London Waitrose supermarkets.

Needed: 4 large tomatoes, 1 red chilli pepper, 1 heaping spoonful of Mexican Discovery Chipotle Paste, a tablespoon of cumin powder, a teaspoon of salt, three cloves of garlic, 1.5 tablespoons of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, the fresh squeezed juice of half of a large orange and the juice of an entire juicy lime (add another half-lime's juice if the first one is dry). Cut the stem off the chilli, peel the garlic, then combine the above listed ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Although all the salsa ingredients are to be found at Waitrose, you'd best go elsewhere for the tortilla chips to accompany your salsa. Whole Foods and hippie health food stores are more apt to have palatable corn chips.

cheers, as they say here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A few good eats in the London area

Having lived seven months in London, I can heartily endorse the following restaurants and cafes:

Mestizo. Mexican food. Just south of Camden Town. The mole brought tears of joy to our nostalgic eyes.

Sufi Restaurant (Persian) on Askew Road, south of Uxbridge Road, Shepherd's Bush. Their fresh-made bread, Persian rice and vegetarian appetizers were amazing.

Hell (pizzeria). Corner of Askew and Uxbridge, Shepherd's Bush. Reminded me of my favorite pizzeria in Austin, Texas--the Parlor, though this one is based on a pizzeria in Wellington, New Zealand. If you want great pizza, go to Hell.

Flamingo Restaurant (Ethiopian). Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush. Had the vegetarian combo and it was delightful.

Punjab Restaurant on Neal near Shaftesbury Avenue, near Covent Garden. Recommended dishes: Granddad's dal (made with black lentils) and the curried pumpkin.

Cafe Blah Blah Blah. Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush. Don't let the name put you off. This completely vegetarian cafe (byob) offers a wide range of delicious fare.

The Green Note, Camden Town. Great salads and appetizers, fantastic wines, and enjoyable live music.

A spectacularly bad restaurant in Ealing

As a former Austinite, I'm quite fond of Mexican and Tex-Mex food. During my seven-year sojourn in New York, I found that there was good Mexican food, but one had to travel far from where we lived to get it--a few places on the lower East side, Centrico, and Taco Chulo in Williamsburg. And in NYC, good Mexican food can be surprisingly expensive. I learned to make my own salsa (using Wheatsville Food Co-op's Salsa Casera recipe) and my own tortilla soup like Austin's Kerbey Lane Cafe. In London, most of the Mexican we've had was utterly forgettable--though Mestizo's south of Camden Town is a delightful exception to that rule.

Recently my wife and I experienced quite possibly the worst Mexican food in London, possibly the worst restaurant in London. We were initially excited to see a Mexican Restaurant near us in Ealing--Chico Mexico. So we went. The menu is peculiar--they offer Cajun lamb among other things--I've spent time in Louisiana and never saw it on the menu there. The music was the same four songs over and over--one of them the dreaded Macarena. They initially brought us an appetizer we didn't order--feta and olives--in addition to our ordered appetizer. Then after we had eaten a few olives and a little feta, they whisked it away and took it to the people who ordered it. I inquired whether the chimichanga could be ordered without onions, and the waitress informed me that they were made that morning (it was about 8:30 pm. at this point), and that it was impossible to unmake them. My mango margarita tasted as though it were mango Snapple tea with no tequila in it. My wife's lime margarita tasted like gatorade mixed with a little third rate tequila. My enchiladas were delivered with french fries (???) which tasted like they had been fried in oil which was well overdue for a changing. My beloved could not eat her fajitas. They could use some serious help, Gordon Ramsey or another of his ilk.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bride of the Golem Update

I suppose it's time for an update on the status of the anthology.

I am presently soliciting stories from a group of superstars of Jewish comedy and literature to enhance the book's appeal to publishers and the reading public. I sent out a small group of invitations last month, and both Etgar Keret and Aimee Bender have agreed to submit stories to the project. Today, I am sending a much larger group of invitations to luminaries of literature, some Hollywood and New York giants of comedy, and a comedy-mystery writing Jewish cowboy in Central Texas who wears a big hat, sings country music and smokes good cigars.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Diana Spechler's Skinny

I recently read Diana Spechler's Skinny and recommend it. It is a story of a daughter grieving her father who wishes to escape her life of binge eating and guilt by working at a weight loss camp.

There are many things I liked about this novel. The characters are vividly and realistically depicted. Spechler's teenagers talk and act like teens, and here she bucks a trend to make teenagers extraordinarily precocious and unnaturally mature. The protagonist's struggle with her weight and constant hunger feels very familiar to me. It is refreshing that a fiction writer of Spechler's caliber addresses our problematic relationship with food. Her prose is in an accessible register of the language, reflecting the thinking patterns of the narrator and those around her, occasionally seasoned with sharp wit. Spechler also resists the tendency to make her protagonist/narrator completely sympathetic. Gray Lachmann is no shallow two-dimensional goody-two-shoes. Rather, she is self-absorbed and treats her boyfriend abominably. The storyline is compelling, with plenty of drama and occasional humor, and you will not want to put the book down until you finish it.

I have a couple of very minor criticisms, but who writes anything perfectly, really? Even translators and adapters of Shakespeare's works claimed to have improved them. The description of the eating binges in the early chapters is difficult to slog through, a bit horrific and unappetizing but this attests to Spechler's power of depiction. Further, even though Gray Lachmann also fasts and runs after her binges to reduce their effect, it seems an odd choice for Spechler that her protagonist only gains fifteen unwanted pounds, rather than two or three times that amount, though it makes her near-anorexia by the end of the summer more plausible. Towards the end, as the reader expects a dramatic revelation of a secret, something completely random occurs, and I question if it is necessary, though the plot would have taken a markedly different route without this deus ex machina event in act four. Nonetheless, these small issues do not overshadow my appreciation of the rest of the book, which, on the whole was a very satisfying read--as satisfying as a good meal with moderate portions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Liars,Paul Linkletter and Erinna Mettler's Starlings

This evening I did one of my favorite things--attended a Liars League event at the Phoenix Pub at Cavendish Square. This group brings in actors to give animated readings of short stories. A great idea. This evening, among the stories, an actress read a lovely story by Erinna Mettler, "Underneath." During the intermission, they held a literary quiz. The question was, according to Noel Coward, these go out in the noonday sun. The answer is "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." I got it and won Mettler's new novel "Starlings." I knew the answer because a few years ago I'd seen Paul Linkletter, a friend, lovely person, and talented tenor perform the song with the F.R.E.D. Chamber Players in New York.

So thanks to Paul Linkletter. And Erinna Mettler. I look forward to reading the book soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More Good Reads

Last week I attended an event at Joe's Pub in New York City, featuring Nathan Englander, Jennifer Egan and Karen Russell. I really wasn't familiar with Karen Russell's work but found her amusing and entertaining at the event, so I decided to pick up Swamplandia! her critically acclaimed novel, and I'm enjoying it so far. It's a quirky tale of a precocious preteen growing up in a family who runs an alligator theme park on an island near Florida.

I've also been enjoying the stories in Etgar Keret's פתאום דפיקה בדלת of late, when I feel like reading Hebrew. And I was delighted to learn that none other than Nathan Englander himself is translating it. Look for "Suddenly a Knock at the Door" some time next year.

I found Jennifer Egan to be refreshingly humble about her writing. Especially for a Pulitzer winner. She seems like a genuinely nice and likeable person. My wife enjoyed "The Keep" which I look forward to reading in the near future.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My story "Once an Undine" appears in Scarlet Literary Magazine

Scarlet Literary Magazine's second issue includes one of my short pieces "Once an Undine", inspired by a story written by Ingeborg Bachmann. You can read it at the following:

This story is of a different character than my usual dark humor.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Synopses for Bride of the Golem Stories

Following are abstracts of stories accepted for publication in Bride of the Golem.

Barry Rosenberg “Gershom’s Golem”. World-weary kabbalist Gershom makes a golem to do his yardwork but ends up with a kvetcher.

Norman Rubin “Aunt Bessie and the ‘It’”. A fierce ghostly presence fails to scare a yiddishe bubbie.

Sharon Diane King’s “Feast of the Laughing Cow” is a deliciously anachronistic Rabelaisian romp set in the ancient land of Israel.

Jim Meirose “Deni-al”. Golem Noir. A kabbalist makes a golem. A mobster wants to buy him. A rabbi gets in the way.

Melissa Yuan-Innes “WWWJD”. A satirical story of Joseph Cartaphilus, Wandering Jew.

Liz Coley “Till Death Does His Part”. Death comes for Ms. Edelstein, but she won’t be carted away so easily.

Aaron Simon “My Dog the Dybbuk”. A young man finds his beloved dog taken over by a dybbuk, the spirit of a Yiddish-obscenity-spouting cranky old man

Adina Rosenthal “Succubus-in-law”. A woman’s Passover seder with her new mother-in-law becomes her last supper.

E. Mitchell “I Was a Teenage Yeshiva Boy Werewolf”. A delightful spoof of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” with werewolves.

Yehuda Yussel “Pig”. A reimagining of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a young and unobservant Greg wakes up one Shabbat morning as a pig.

David Hendrickson “Floater”. Elderly Hiram Silverman is afflicted by a most unusual floater in one of his eyes.

Tonia Brown “Zombie Golem”. A man accidentally kills his girlfriend during a bout of consensual rough sex, then consults a kabbalist to reanimate her.

Mike DiChristina “Mr. Met”. Lenny, a man with a gambling habit and a mystical autocad scanner kills his wife for money, then in a fit of remorse, brings her back, to his misfortune.

Ken Liu “The MSG Golem”. During a space voyage, a Chinese girl descended from the Jews of Kaifeng receives a message from God to make a golem from MSG to save a planet.

David Naimon “Member”. A revised reprint (with permission of Zyzzyva Magazine) of a story of a young man’s dread facing his bar mitzvah.

Anna Taborska “Dirty Dybbuk”. A proper orthodox woman from Golder’s Green, London, is inhabited by the spirit of a deceased nymphomaniac.

A.B.S. Dudevant “The Gingerbread Golem”. A richly-written story of an Ethiopian Jewess who creates a Golem to get rid of her husband.

Gio Clairval & Daniel Pasetti “Toytfogl”. Humorous with an antiquated Lovecraft/Steampunk vibe, the story of two fin-de-siecle professors who unleash an unnaturally evil beast.

Gus Ginsburg “By Way of Explanation”. A newly vampiric Hassid decides to become a mohel to get his blood, while his wife is convinced he’s become homosexual.

G. Miki Hayden “The Cantor and the Ghost”. The ghost of newly deceased Rabbi Wild haunts and bedevils a congregant he dislikes. The Cantor tries to mediate.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Diane Williams' Romancer Erector

Oftentimes, my literary tastes overlap with those of my spouse. We both love Douglas Adams, as well as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, and Gary Shteyngart's Supersad True Love Story, Miranda July's short stories, to name a few.

However, on the matter of Diane Williams' stories in Romancer Erector we are polar opposites. In my opinion the stories are brilliant. They break all the rules of the craft, fracture the protagonist's ego into a disparate and schizophrenic chorus. She uses multiple distancing effects to prevent the reader from situating the characters into a world. In a word, revolutionary. My wife, however, thinks the stories are creepy and repulsive.

Do you have an opinion on Dianne Williams? Let us know, is she creepy or brilliant?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Strangeness on a Train

A few days ago I was riding a Central Line train out to Ealing for a real estate appointment. Across from me sat a youngish Indian-Briton in jeans and a purple hoodie. I was reading Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Heartily amused by a passage in the book, I looked up smiling. The man opposite me apparently mistook my smile for an inviting gesture. He moved across to my side of the train, two seats down from me and proceded to look at me. He wrote something on a slip of paper and placed it between us. I didn't pick it up, rather I focused on the events of Shandy, Book V. After a minute, with big sweeping dramatic movements, he picked up the piece of paper and ripped it to shreds in front of me, throwing the fragments on the floor and moved down the train car. It's for the best, really. In addition to the insurmountable obstacle of our differing orientations (un-sir-mountable, one could jest), I very strongly dislike litterbugs.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bride of the Golem Update

Following is a list of the stories I've accepted so far. I am awaiting rewrites from two people, which may or may not be included. When a publisher has picked up the project, we will solicit stories from a few other authors as well. In the meantime, Bride of the Golem will include these works:

Barry Rosenberg "Gershom's Golem"
Norman Rubin "Aunt Bessie and the It"
Sharon Diane King "Feast of the Laughing Cow"
Jim Meirose "Deni-al"
Melissa Yuan-Innes "WWWJD"
Liz Coley "Till Death Does His Part"
Aaron Simon "My Dog the Dybbuk"
Adina Rosenthal "Succubus-in-Law"
E. Mitchell "I Was a Teenage Yeshiva Boy Werewolf"
Eric Joel Bresin "Pig"
David Hendrickson "Floater"
Tonia Brown "Zombie Golem"
Mike DiChristina "Mr. Met"
Ken Liu "The MSG Golem"
David Naimon "Member"
Anna Taborska "Dirty Dybbuk"
A.B.S. Dudevant "The Gingerbread Golem"
Gio Clairval & Daniel Pasetti "Toytfogl"
Gus Ginsburg "By Way of Explanation"
G. Miki Hayden "The Cantor and the Ghost"

I received 211 submissions, of which about 35 were pretty good stories, in my opinion. Thanks to all who sent me their work.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bride of the Golem submissions are now closed

The Bride of the Golem submissions deadline of April 4 has passed, and though I haven't finished making my way through the mountain of stories I've recently received, I definitely have enough good and publishable stories to fill the anthology. So if you're thinking of submitting, please don't--unless you're one of the four people I asked to revise and resubmit.

I hope to make my decisions on the stories I've received in the next few weeks, and to post a list of included stories by the end of the month.

If you missed the deadline, don't despair. If this project sells as well as I hope, there will be a Return of the Bride of the Golem project in the near future.

Thanks to all who submitted.

Gus Ginsburg

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bride of the Golem Submissions Closing Date

The anthology is starting to fill up. I initially considered a closing date of March 1, but want to give a few more people adequate time to finish their submissions. The official closing date of Bride of the Golem submissions is Monday April 4, 2011. Thank you to all who have sent me your stories.