I’m generally not one for year end lists. Usually I’m late to the party. Often times I’m not invited to the party. Sometimes I get lost on my way to the party and end up at a different party, but still have a really good time. With that in mind, this is my list of 2013’s “Top Things Made of Words.” These days format is less relevant than ever, so for this list, everything qualifies. Whether it’s an old book I didn’t read until last month, a blog, a zine, or the post-it that was stuck to my shoe, it all has a chance.
If you’re here, you probably already know the things we publish. And although I’m endlessly excited about each of them, I’ll try to leave them off of here. But no guarantees.
And now, in no particular order…
1. Scott McClanahan
Scott McClanahan is probably my favorite writer that I discovered in 2013. I’m not the only one, as his most recent book Hill William has been everywhere I look lately. Rightfully so. Scott is from one of those places you forget exist outside of the movies, and are glad you’re not from. He was raised in a collapsed coal town in West Virginia and it serves as the basis of most of his writing. I picked up a short story collection of his, The Collected Works Vol. 1, mostly based on reputation, but partly just because of the cover image. I was sucked in by his perspective as a somewhat sensitive writer and storyteller among anachronistic coal miners, hard working hillbillies, and directionless drunks. Immediately after, I picked up Crapalachia and tore through the tales of his family and childhood friends. Hill William is waiting for me at home and it will be the next book I open.
2. Corner Store #1 & #2 by Corey Plagiarist
I’ve said a few times in my life that I like movies and books where nothing really happens. A not so eloquent way of expressing appreciation for things that document a specific place or a moment in life. A record of things that don’t belong in the history books and will never be a blockbuster, but capture pieces of culture and emotion. Corner Store does this at its most basic level and it is somehow totally engrossing.
A handful of friends cruise around Milwaukee with one goal and a few basic rules. With a limited amount of money and a few government subsidies, they visit as many neighborhood corner stores as they can find. Not chains, not stores in the middle of the block, and not free standing markets. Just corner stores. They describe the places, poke around the inventory, mention anything of interest, and buy some malt liquor or a pack of peanuts or one of those 99 cent tall cans of sugar juice. Some people like to read books about WWII, or the rise and fall of kingdoms. I like to read about the chip selection of corner stores I’ll probably never visit.
From what I can tell, #2 was actually published sometime in 2012. #1 gives pretty much no indication of date. Both are seemingly hard to find in stock on the internet, but we actually have a couple copies of each in the store if you are dying for one.
3. Rontel by Sam Pink
Rontel is the pretty little kitty pictured above. Sam Pink is pretty in his own way. He’s also one of the most uniquely voiced and styled writers I’ve read in a long time. His books are generally short collections of poems, stories, phrases, and outbursts. Most of them can be taken in in a single sitting, and I’ve done that with every one of them that I could get my hands on. Rontel, like Corner Store, is also a record of a brief place in time as the author does his best to live and exist in Chicago. Actually, that’s wrong. He’s not doing his best at all. The problem is, he has no idea what his best is. So instead, he wanders aimlessly, half-awake, and a little bit dead, finding the absurdity in his own bleak existence. And he’s really damn good at that.
3 1/2. Lazy Fascist Press
Lazy Fascist Press published Rontel. They also published Scott McClanahan’s Collected Works. When it comes down to it, pretty much everything they do is weird and wonderful and unique in the world of fiction. Just go read anything you can find that has their little mustache logo on the spine. That’s what I do.
4. Mount Ennui (@mountennui) / ornery island (@nolanallan)
Is 2013 the year “weird twitter” became a thing? Or is that just another party I’m a little late to? Either way, it the year I found the thriving community of writers and weirdos that make Twitter a place for more than just links to articles. Mount Ennui and ornery island are two people (or at least I assume they are) that transcend the running jokes and bad puns of other “weird” accounts and enter a different dimension of single line poetry, interconnected thoughts, and allusions to things you didn’t realize you’ve experienced. 140 character reminders that we all share this spaceship. And that it’s forever sinking.
5. Raw Deal #13 by Joey Alone
Raw Deal #13 is both one of my favorite zines I’ve recently read, but also one of those most frustrating. Favorite because it’s a dirty (like under your fingernails, not sexy), passionate (same) collection of trains, botany, graffiti, and art through the lens of a punk mindset. From saving rare trees by breeding them in abandoned Oakland lots, to going from trainhopper to legitimate brake man, Joey Alone inspires in all the right ways. Why frustrating? Because this is the only piece of writing by him that I can find. It was formerly called Loitering is Good and I’m assuming there’s 12 other issues out there somewhere, but I’ve never encountered a single one of them. Somebody help!
Fancy Notions is the blog of a friend of mine. But regardless of that, it is filled with wonders of lesser traveled highways, old superstitions, liquor store artwork, and creepy childhood memories. Always worth reading.
7. Dream River by Bill Callahan
In this case, we’ll ignore the music, but you should never actually do that. Bill Callahan, formerly Smog, has spent decades releasing one great album after another. Of the large chunk of his output that I’ve spent serious time with, I can’t think of a dud. Dream River is his most recent release and continues his style of extremely personal, but concise narratives. My favorite songwriter will probably forever be John Darnielle, but where Darnielle crams a devastating paragraph into a single measure of music, Callahan achieves the same emotional resonance by slurring a single syllable out over a few beats. His words hit you in that corner of the brain that makes your eyes glaze over and hands tense, as you relive your own version of the scene he’s spelling out.
8. Radon by Aaron Cometbus and Travis Fristoe
A friend of mine may have said it best when, after I made him read this, he said something along the lines of “This completely convinced me that Radon is my new favorite band before I had ever heard their music.” And it’s true. Fristoe and Cometbus tag team the story of a DIY punk band from Florida that never quite got the attention they deserved. A portrait of a scene, a punk field guide, and just some damn good writing. If you’ve ever felt passionately about a band, you’ll be able to relate.
9. The Florida Room’s marquee
The Florida Room is a bar–good bloody marys, cheap tater tots, and just around the corner from my house. All good reasons to go hang out. But the reason it fits into this list, is the marquee. Like a lot of bars with signs or chalkboards, there’s plenty of silly jokes and advertising, and sometimes it’s amusing to see the dirtier ones in big letters on a fairly busy street. However, it’s also the only bar marquee to ever make me tear up a little. Nobody likes to lose a friend (or even just an acquaintance in my case), but it’s nice to see their name up in lights one last time.
Looking forward, I’m not sure which party I’ll wander into this year, but I’m sure it’ll be something just as engrossing as the 2013 has been. And as for things around here, there’s a whole host of things I’m looking forward to reading. The top of the list right now (which is always changing) is Aftermath of Forever, the next issue of Railroad Semantics, and the newest from Joshua Ploeg, This Ain’t No Picnic. But most of all, thank you for supporting all that we do! It would all be useless without you.