Tagged book reviews

Please Let Me Help, Out Today!

Last month Jordan took on the giggle-filled task of reading and reviewing our latest hilarious book, available in a bookstore near you this month, Please Let Me Help. This unique book of letters may be too wild to be explained, but Jordan did a pretty good job. 

Book cover showing a leaking pipe fixed with band-aids

Starting my internship here only two weeks ago, I immediately started hearing perplexing comments on our new book Please Let Me Help. One coworker enthusiastically encouraging me to read it, referencing a multitude of tiny, hand-drawn vampires. From another, an elusive comment of, “It’s weird…” And a lot of conversations about who the heck our target market is.

So I committed a couple hours to sitting down and reading through it.

I’m not sure where to start.

But I’m a feelings person, and  Please Let Me Help: “Helpful” Letters to The World’s Most Wonderful Brands. makes me feel snarky, slightly rebellious, and like I’m “in” on inside joke with Zach Sternwalker at the companies’ expense.

Reading Please Let Me Help put me in that beautifully drifting and nonsensical mindset one has when musing on something absolutely ridiculous that also makes an element of sense. Like a modern epistolary Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where Port-O-Potties all have flowers and Christian Slater stars as Princess Diana. A place where the brief and formal rejections of Zach’s ludicrous suggestions become that which is laughable. Go fuck yourself, Taco Bell legal department. You obviously don’t get humor.

A strange and humorous letter to Michael Jordan

And that is the real value in the book, I think. Perhaps it was because I read it straight-through in one sitting, but Zach Sternwalker sucks you into this realm of nonsense, until you stand there with him looking across at the rest of the world with altered eyes. And we see its prude stuffiness. Please Let Me Help defamiliarizes us from our world’s business and consumer norms, showing its puffed-up silliness in an ironic, counter-silly way.

But the book doesn’t have to be all this. It stands on its own as just a gosh-darned funny read. It has that unadulterated silliness that reminds me of being deliriously tired, laughing over ridiculous ideas with an equally loopy friend. Who cares if none of it is realistic? For a moment, that which is realistic means nothing. And scheming up Dunkin’ Donuts’ marketing plan for toast is the most logical thing one can do. Like a much-needed breath of fresh air.

So I’d recommend Please Let Me Help to anyone who could use a break from the no-nonsense, logical professional environment we’ve become so accustomed to. Because you know what’s more fun than that? A teeny vampire in a pear suit. Or imagining how to pitch a post-workout human refrigerator to General Electric.

 


Thank you to Jordan Ellis, our Fall intern, for writing up this review. Get a copy of the book for yourself at Microcosm.Pub

Book Review: Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever

Dylan's selfie with Henry and Glenn Forever and EverWe ask all of our interns to choose a book and review it for our blog. Usually, when tasked with this assignment, they head downstairs to the warehouse and deliberate for a half hour. Sometimes it takes them a few days to choose. Not Dylan. He immediately knew. Here’s his review, and an appropriately tough selfie with the book:

Tom Neely’s Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever is hilarious. The idea of taking two icons from the hardcore punk scene (which, at its height in the mid-80s, was taken over by macho assholes who made the scene about faux masculinity) and creating a fictional gay romance between them is just genius.

The thing I appreciated most about the book, however, is its constant references and jokes about not just The Misfits and Black Flag but about heavy metal and punk music in general. This is also, unfortunately, what limits the audience of the book, since your average reader probably doesn’t know who the hell King Diamond or Ian MacKaye are, but for people who do understand these references, they make reading this book all the more enjoyable.

I myself lost it when aliens brought zombies to life and announced that their prime directive was to “exterminate the whole fucking place,” as well as every time I noticed all the random 138s scattered about.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with reasonable knowledge about punk and metal music and culture.
—Dylan Siegler

Applicant by Jesse Reklaw, reviewed!

applicant zine coverWe ask every intern to write a review of one of our books. Dane chose Jesse Reklaw’s Applicant. Here’s what he made of it:

I once had a roommate who told me that he simply didn’t like me as a person. This isn’t the sort of thing people say to one another, and for good reason. That level of honesty is more than hurtful. It is existentially threatening. One really cutting opinion from a trusted source can throw you, or at least me, straight back to an adolescent tailspin. Have you ever looked into your own eyes, late at night in the bathroom mirror, and whispering, asked yourself as honestly as you know how, “What the fuck?” This is Applicant.

In Applicant, earnest portraits of students are juxtaposed with the backhanded assessments of their professors and employers, people they trusted, spent countless hours with, looked up to. “Lack of personal discipline” reads the confidential recommendation under the portrait of a beefy grad student. Me too, brother. Next to a clean cut young man: “Somewhat too concerned with himself.” Which, if you have to ask.

The savagery is disturbing in the best way. This is the perfect book to leave on the back of your toilet if you’d like to introduce your guests to the horror of the void in the middle of their business. It is like looking through other people’s medicine cabinet. It’s like walking a mile in your sad-eyed uncle’s saggy BVDs. It is engrossing and strange but you will be glad you can leave whenever you need to. Reading Applicant is not unlike watching a pack of gazelles being ripped down by tweed-clad cheetahs. Part of me wants the naively hopeful gazelle to get away unharmed. Another part of me loves the spectacle of their demise.

But Applicant is more than absurdist-horror. The glimpses into the inner sanctum of 70s old-boy academia elevate this little pamphlet into read-out-loud-at-parties hilarity. Women are revealed to be on the brink of hysteria, if not childbirth. “Miss M___ is a black woman,” begins one assessment so fraught that, like fine art, it defies true analysis. I find myself wondering whether it is unbecoming to enjoy this as much as I do. Certainly to the people involved, there is nothing funny here, least of all to the hysteric young grad students apparently strewn about the Ivy League. I hope they never come across this book. One can only speculate what condition their nerves are in after all those children.

Fortunately, time and anonymity declaw the savagery. Whatever happened to these students has happened and they have made it or not, and the professors are all dead or retired and their prejudices are on the way out. The hope and pain and potential devastation are all safely in the past. Does that make it better to laugh at these people? But then I’m not laughing, at least not anymore. Instead I lean in, look each of them deep in the eyes and whisper, “What the fuck? What the fuck?”

Manspressions, reviewed!

We ask every intern who passes through our not-so-hallowed halls to choose a book and write a review of it. Adam Lujan, who’s been cheerfully and diligently applying himself to the mysteries of marketing data, climbing the mountain of learning effective product photography, and navigating the vast seas of spreadsheets that make up our publishing empire, chose a book near to our hearts… last year’s Manspressions: Decoding Men’s Behavior. Here’s his review!

Adam reading ManspressionsJoe Biel and Elly Blue’s Manspressions offers a vital cultural message in a digestible, tongue-in-cheek way. The book – featuring clever and, at times, laugh out loud illustrations by Meggyn Pomerleau – is a dictionary of terms associated with men’s behaviors. Topics range from work to dating to everyday interactions; Manspressions covers it all.

There’s mansgressions, mansclusion, manstalgia – to name a few. It’s an inventive, accurate assembly of terms meant to highlight and poke fun at the nuances of masculinity evident in everyday life. Its brilliance is in its simplicity. Taking behaviors and interactions many of us have faced – either performing or witnessing them – and exposing it in such a relatable fashion makes Manspressions successful and important.

There’s something for everyone in this book. It can be a wake-up call for some – beware of frightening moments of “do I do that?” – or a solidarity battle-cry for others. Because masculinity is hegemonic, so widespread, seeping into every crack of society, it’s hard not to relate to or recognize at least some of the manspressions laid bare in this book.

While Manspressions seeks to highlight these behaviors, to examine the eccentricities of masculinity, it’s all with good humor. And that’s what makes it so digestible – not to mention it’s a quick read and pocket-friendly. Biel and Blue understand the importance humor and self-awareness play in the long game of leveling out the gender playing field. And they also understand no one is perfect, no one is immune to performing these manspressions. As they so poignantly note, we’re all sometimes guilty of these displays of overt, toxic masculinity. And indeed it is quite toxic.

Isn’t it troubling that half of the human race is imprisoned by a set of social rules and standards that reduce them to nothing more than emotionless, power-hungry, phallic-obsessed walking manspressions? What sort of world does that create? What sort of people does that create?

Masculinity is the law of the land, it’s what pillars every major society on Earth – a patriarchy that roots itself deep in the world’s history. And that’s a beast of a system to dismantle or even examine. Recognizing it, laughing at it, and talking about it are all important first steps.

Often, individuals feel powerless to make a difference. How could I, as just one person, change the world? Especially now – with a baffling presidential candidate discussing his penis size at a national debate and a record company and justice system supporting a rapist over his victim – the immensity of the task can be overwhelming and bleak. And it may seem small, it may seem inconsequential or simple, but the answer is merely to change your world, to make those changes in your life.

Manspressions offers just that. It gives the terms, it gives the laughs, it opens up the conversation in a relatable way. It recognizes that we’re all products of the patriarchy and sometimes that seeps into how we behave. But there’s always hope, there’s always the possibility of change. And that is, as Biel and Blue put it, “priceless.”

Book Review: God, Forgive these Bastards

god, forgive these bastards book and lp setWe ask each of our interns to review one of our books before they go. Natalie heads home to Australia next week, and left us with these thoughts on our first and (until April 2016) only work of fiction…or is it fiction? To tell the truth, we’re not totally sure.

I originally overlooked this book when I read the title on its spine—I was feeling a little lazy that day and so I was looking for something that had a more ‘familiar’ title. But after flicking through a whole lot of DIY books, I began to crave something with a solid narrative, and that’s when I reached for God, Forgive These Bastards: Stories from the Forgotten Life of Georgia Tech Pitcher Henry Turner.

Being from Australia, I don’t really know much about baseball or anybody named Henry Turner. After I read this book, I honestly don’t know what I learnt from it at all. I realised quite quickly that these stories weren’t really all that much about baseball. In fact, to me at least, it felt like they were more about America and the strange things that can happen to you here.

God, Forgive These Bastards begins with Rob Morton meeting Henry for the first time, at a bus stop in Portland, Oregon. Beginning in an ordinary biographical kind-of-way, the stories then take you into a direction that’s a little less predictable. Kind of like when you accidentally catch the wrong bus and end up in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Some of Henry’s stories are violent and sad, and it was hard to know if they were true or not—and while I was reading them, I really didn’t want to know the truth.

The whole concept of the book reminds me of when I ride the buses and see all of the other regular commuters. I try and imagine stories about what their lives were like before they ended up riding the same buses as I do—and unless they approach me to tell a story about themselves, I’ve usually been too shy to strike up a conversation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, even though I’m sure that there are so many different things that you could take away from these stories, I feel like this book helped me examine how we perceive and contribute to our own ideas of ‘culture’. Like the way it feels as though we’re too absorbed in our own lives, and just too afraid of each other to talk and trade stories.

I did find that a couple parts of the book were hard to believe because it felt like there were missing details that I would’ve liked to know; nevertheless it was a good read. My favourite line from the book was in my least favourite chapter—my least favourite because all of the things that happen are just so dark and horrible. Henry explains how he is feeling at a time when he feels incredibly vulnerable: enry‘It was the kind of panic that I imagine the devil would make you feel if he walked over to the bed where you slept, lied down next to you, and wrapped his arms around your body.’ And I like this line the best because it describes exactly how I felt reading that chapter.

Morton also uses this book to talk about how down-and-out people like Henry are left unforgiven and hated. I don’t know if he’s really saying that we should forgive people for making us feel intense pain or for committing horrible crimes—it does come across that way—but Morton does explain that people shouldn’t be defined by the bad things that they’ve done, and I suppose that just listening to others to learn from their mistakes can be a good thing to do.

Henry’s stories are told with an honest voice, which makes the unbelievable, believable. These stories are crazy, and mean, and probably everything that you don’t want to imagine your life to ever be. God, Forgive These Bastards is definitely a book that I would read again, and the soundtrack by Mortons’s band, The Taxpayers, is equally as thrilling.

If you want to read the book while playing the soundtrack on vinyl, we’re doing another pressing, and it’ll be available again in 2016!

Slip of the Tongue

We ask each of our interns to choose a book from our catalog and review it. Hayley chose Katie Haegele’sSlip of the Tongue: Talking About Language.


Slip of the tongue book coverI knew I was going to enjoy Slip of the Tongue from the moment I held the skinny teal book in my hands. The bookish-English-major-nerd within me was immediately taken with Katie Haegele’s collection of essays, which attempt to make sense of the world through our collective and individual use of language. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how captivating I was going to find the author and her book. 

Haegele’s memoir is intelligent without being unapproachable, particularly considering its focus on something as academic as linguistics. This is in part due to her distinctively personal voice. Her short essays, insightful and clearly articulated, are utterly conversational – creating an intimacy with the reader, but with a surprising sense of informality. 

Reading this book truly felt like a conversation you fall into with someone you didn’t previously know so well, but somehow become instant best friends with; staying up all night fervently discussing life, without realizing the sun has left and come back again. 

Underlying the entire work is Haegele’s love of language. It radiates from each page, seeping into every story told—whether articulating the peculiar history of graffiti in Philadelphia or expressing the sharp pang she feels at the glimpse of her father’s coffee mug that reads “Pizzazz,” the single surviving relic of him following his death. I really enjoyed her various observations on language because, despite her reverence for it, she is never precious about it. Haegele isn’t as concerned with preserving language as she is with observing the ways it has transformed. Old ways of communicating aren’t necessarily superior to current forms. She doesn’t mind the formation of so-called ungraceful words like “chocoholic” or the decline of cursive. Language isn’t stagnate, it effortlessly morphs and changes with time. But for Haegele, this malleability makes language all the more important. Words are arbitrary—they’re random sounds we’ve assigned specific meaning to—yet, significantly, they’re formed out of an essential human need to communicate. I love this idea, that language could be haphazardly formed while at the same time shaped for a distinctly human purpose. 

I was particularly drawn to the essay “Another Word for Lonely,” which reflected on a few almost-synonyms of the word nostalgia found in different languages and cultures throughout the world. From a young age, I was fascinated with the past. I set out to find fossils in my backyard or begged my mother to buy me yet another twenty-five cent Victorian glass figurine. I loved these objects, and I would often dream of experiencing an older, grander time. They made me feel closer to a past I deeply longed for—admittedly a fictional, highly romanticized version of the past. But it was real to me, and I often feel that yearning still. 

So when this essay explored different words that varyingly express this nostalgia, I was immediately captivated. There was some comfort found in reading the definitions of saudade, kaiho, hiraeth, and sehnsecht. Sure, the word saudade doesn’t diminish my romanticism and kaiho doesn’t make me feel any less lonely, but having the language to more easily describe that indefinable yet universal “hypochondria of the heart” at least makes me feel a little more understood. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in feeling or striving to describe these nostalgic sentiments. 

And that is what is so great about Slip of the Tongue: it is so very human. In analyzing language Haegele is attempting to understand her own humanity, and she invites the reader into her life to make their own self-discoveries. It is so much more than a book about language; it is a book about life.

Aftermath of Forever: Relationships, described through music

aftermath of forever coverIn this new blog series, we ask Microcosm interns to pick any book we’ve published and review it. Cyn chose Aftermath of Forever: How I Loved and Lost and Found Myself. The Mixtape Diaries by Natalye Childress.

In college I went through a phase of pure obsession with young women’s romantic memoirs—the funny kind, that is. Chelsea Handler’s “My Horizontal Life”, the infamous Belle de Jour book, Abby Lee’s “Girl with a One-Track Mind”. I loved the brazen openness of these women, their realistic attitudes, and the humor they found in even the most awkward sexual experiences and heartbreaks.

So, Aftermath of Forever caught my attention immediately, and I loved it. 

At its base, this is a collection of short pieces about the author’s previous romantic interests. Some lovers, some potentials, and some that she just loved in one way or another. The chapters serve as odes to each of the men that have passed through her life after a fierce divorce in her early twenties.

Throughout the book, Natalye is very aware of the effect each man has on her life, both in the moment and long after. That awareness keeps her journey interesting, watching her wants, needs, and general lifestyle change and evolve with each passing beau, from her very open, early exploration of her own sexuality to casual exploits, and even falling for men she’d never expected to love.

Sometimes I questioned her normalcy when compared to needy, problematic men with a plethora of issues, but then Nat acknowledges and explores her own issues: questionable choices, occasional neediness, and common vulnerability. She expresses her wants and needs on almost every page and doesn’t apologize for them. On the road to finding and loving your self, that’s a huge step, and Natalye shows her strength in that aspect of herself. You can’t help but admire it as the stories go along.

The descriptions are well done and very realized, with a surprising amount of detail. Sometimes, though, this level of detail felt a little bit tedious, with every action transcribed, even when it served no purpose in the end. But I like that this level of focus shows Nat’s awareness of the world around her, and it does give really solid visuals, though near the end it sticks out a little more.

After reading for a while, I started building the provided playlists online and going back to re-read the chapters along with their designated musical selections. With the music playing, there’s an extra boost to the atmosphere of each chapter that isn’t as pronounced without it. Max’s chapter is soft indie and bittersweet, reflecting Natalye’s wistful feelings towards their almost-relationship, as well as her vulnerable time post-divorce. Van, her first lover, is accompanied by relaxed, chilled out romances with young, poppy elements, fitting well against their young, casual sexuality, and a feeling of something missing. Chaz has two lists, one being his own creation, mimicking the intense connection they shared in their life together, their sexual explorations, and pure trust. Marques, the boy in a band, gets a backdrop filled with metal, reflecting not just his musical tastes, but also their intense but erratic relationship.

The one part I thought was lacking was a level of reasoning for the lists. She gives a general explanation and theme of each, but since a mixtape has a very deliberate selection, I would have loved to know more about why she chose certain songs. More insight into her process, I think, would help me to connect with her more, and be more fun to read! 

Am I taking all of this a little too seriously? Maybe. But this book explores relationships through musical choices, and the way those choices are made, and then are able to meld with the individual chapters, is a huge part of experiencing the story.

I also appreciate that the book doesn’t end (spoiler alert!) with a chapter about Nat finding an awesome guy. This isn’t a book about finding love. It’s about navigating love while you find—and love—yourself. To that end, the ending works. And there’s a lesson in that alone, making this book kind of perfect for anyone struggling through similar experiences and looking for ways to make sense of it all. 

Be honest, never give up on your self, and always listen to music you love.

This is part of our series of Microcosm intern book reviews! The last one was Coco’s review of White Elephants.

White Elephants: A review

white elephants book cover

I began Katie Haegele’s White Elephants intrigued by the idea of finding magic in yard sales, because I too seek meaning in the conventionally benign. 

The book begins with a thoughtful meditation on the catalogue of experiences and objects that is to follow. It opens with a dose of explicit emotional honesty, which establishes the tone of vulnerability that pervades and characterizes the author’s writing. 

Just when I am growing bored with the endless tabulation of strange, kooky, sometimes creepy, random articles, Haegele expresses an impression so specific, so obscure, and so resonating that I feel an absolute sense of human connection. Things that I inherently understand, without having ever quite put into words myself. The feeling of autumn, crying internally—all small, and beautiful sentiments Katie captures with the clarity of her perceptive voice. The author is dreamy, she senses the life we instill in our possessions that eventually become discarded, and in rescuing them is perhaps saving a part of herself. 

White Elephants parallels rummage sales and yard sales with the death of one parent that catalyzes an intimacy with the other. It is a book about losing and finding, being lost and ultimately being found.

Find your own copy of White Elephants here. You can also read an interview with the author on our blog!

This is the first of a series of Microcosm intern book reviews. The next one is Cyn’s review of Aftermath of Forever.