Archive for June 2009

#russbooks Day 5: Book Overload

June 7, 2009

Frankly, we’ve gotten a little overwhelmed with books around here. Russ has a rich and intense collection, and every day I’m finding more books I want to read. Looking at a collection like this every day is like eating in a 5-star French restaurant every night: there’s noplace I’d rather have dinner, but after a few days, I need to just step back and cleanse my palate, and let my senses catch up. Looking back, the fatigue was already setting in by Day 4.

While we looked at each book and transcribed them all, we’re becoming like that old food critic on Iron Chef. And that does not suit our style. So I’m going to relate what we discovered in Box #5…and then declare a bit of a break, in which I will enjoy these books we’re discovering at a rate that will allow me to do them justice–and return to our adventure, refreshed.

barbarfriendish #russbooks Day 5: “Jesus, Russ,” says @rachaelish. “You pack like Grandma!” These books are SAFE.

It’s true. It’s almost as if, when Russ was packing Box #5, he psychically anticipated what would happen to Box #4 but misdirected his energies…

barbarfriendish Book # 34 A Good and Happy Child/Justin Evans. The cover looks like something that ate Where the Wild Things Are. #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #35 The Female Thing/Laura Kipnis #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #36 The Session ARC signed by Aaron Petrovich. Fascinating back cover. “And all of this is in that tiny little book?” #russbooks

This one went onto the TBR stack. It’s a tiny little thing (published by Akashik) at 5×8 and only 59 pages, and the cover price ($10.95 for all that) is the poster child for why most small presses only ever lose money. But, oh, the back cover copy:

Funny, frantic, and with a subversive intelligence, Aaron Petrovich’s Keatonesque heroes, Detectives Smith and Smith, stumble upon a bizarre new religion while following the trail of a murdered mathematician’s missing organs. Their investigation to discover the truth–about the mathematician, the men and women who may have eaten him, and, ultimately, the nature of truth, sanity, and identity–leads them into a lunatic asylum they may never leave.

Writing in pitch-perfect language reminiscent of Beckett, Chandler, and Duras, Petrovich elevates rapid ire banter to an hysterical musical litany that carries the detectives, and the reader, right along with it.

Who wouldn’t want to read that?

barbarfriendish Book #37 She’s Gone Kwame Dawes #russbooks

barbarfriendish “Oh, God,” says @rachaelish of Book #38: Surveillance/Jonathan Raban. “This is one of those post-9/11 books.” #russbooks

This is exactly what I was talking about, before. The old cranky guy on Iron Chef. He doesn’t like anything anymore; he’s eaten too much exotic food and needs to spend a few weeks on PB&J. Our recovery time should be faster.

barbarfriendish Book #39 Your Body is Changing/Jack Pendarvis ARC signed #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #40 ARC of Stray by Sheri Joseph signed. These last two books=the Wordsmiths grand opening event. (moment of silence) #russbooks

Ms. Joseph’s endorsement to Russ in her book actually mentions the event. I have only wonderful memories of Wordsmiths, but right now reminders like this just make me sad. It won’t always be this way, of course, but it does cast a bit of a pall on the adventure.

barbarfriendish Book #41 Seth Godin/Meatball Sundae ARC #russbooks

Love Seth Godin, and haven’t read this one. Onto the TBR pile it goes.

barbarfriendish Book #42 The Open-Face Sandwich/ 5th Planet collection. Um, photographs of roadkill as art? #russbooks

Really? Photos of roadkill=art?

IMO the greatest beauty of small press is that it can fulfill the publisher’s vision of art. And lest I seem to belabor the point, it’s worth noting that this collection from 5th Planet contains quite a number of short stories as well. But the feature I’m referring to up there definitely occupies the position of centerfold, with expensive heavy-paper-foldouts done centerfold style to allow the viewer to appreciate, if that is the correct word for it, the painstakingly-executed photos of roadkill and the maps of the places where they were taken. I have absolute faith that the artist is making a point, and the publisher is too. But I must confess it’s not my cuppa.

That’s okay. This is the beauty of indie press. Who else would go to such lengths to make a point they believed in?

barbarfriendish Book #43 “This is what everyone needs”: ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life/Kolberg & Nadeau Lots of fold-downs #russbooks

I looked at this book, some hours later. It amused me greatly by presenting the first few chapters in definite ADD style. But lots of food for thought for a person who may, like so many Americans, be at least slightly ADD.

(Personally, I just think I’m over-ambitious.)

barbarfriendish Book #44 What Was She Thinking?/Zoe Heller #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #45 ANOTHER ARC of Greasy Rider/Greg Melville. This one is signed. #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #46 ARC of When We Were Romans/Matthew Kneale #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #47 ARC of Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain. Interesting cover. #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #48 ARC of New Stories from the South, 2007/ed. Jones & Pories #russbooks

barbarfriendish Book #49 The Theory of Light & Matter/Porter #russbooks

Here’s the group shot:

The contents of Box #5

And that’s it for now. I’ll be doing other things for the next few days, most of which I’m looking forward to sharing in the future–and digesting this string of rich literary meals in a saner fashion. More soon…

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#russbooks Day 4: Not for the Faint of Heart

June 6, 2009

In hindsight, I should have realized we were in for a rough ride when the box fell apart.

All I did was pick the poor thing up from the stack, and one entire side gave out, spilling books everywhere. We stuffed them back into the remains of the box, trying to preserve the order of the stack (this is for posterity, after all) and carried the whole mess into the study for its photo-op.

Even the box is falling apart

barbarfriendish More #russbooks… in a #fail box. This is Box #4

Poor thing. It doesn’t look substantially better when we open it:

The interior, if you care to call it that

All unsuspecting, we pick up the first book:

barbarfriendish Book #27 The End of Mr. Y/Scarlett Thomas. “If you knew this book was cursed, would you read it?” #russbooks

Uplifting title, non? Actually, the back cover copy sounds interesting, in a rather Kubrickian way. It’s going onto my TBR stack. Meanwhile Rachael, who has someplace to go after we finish today’s liveblog, is already pawing through the rest of the books.

barbarfriendish “This is the box of depress,” says @rachaelish. “Just this cover makes me wanna shoot myself.” #russbooks Ah, we’re in litfic territory now.

But, no, Gentle Reader: I’m wrong as usual. The reality is much worse. This book contains elements of the literary, but also the remains of a Women’s Studies class, and none of it (despite the fact that the Sedaris volume is billed as humor) will do anything to lift the spirits. Unless we’re talking about spirits of the liquid variety. Case in point:

barbarfriendish Book #28 Paradise/Toni Morrison. “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.” …make mine a double #russbooks

This just isn't light reading

It soon gets even more delightful:

barbarfriendish Book #29 A Natural History of Rape/Thornhill & Palmer #russbooks

Now, I have to admit I’ve put this book on my TBR stack. The authors make a very interesting case for the proposition that society really can’t take steps to move itself beyond rape until we understand where rape comes from: that it’s not strictly a sociological issue, but that there are issues of biology at work as well. I’ve come away from the more sociological and/or behavioralist works I’ve read on this topic profoundly dissatisfied, and clearly the applications of those theories aren’t really working out. I’d like an opportunity to understand.

I do wonder why Russ saved it, however. I feel confident rape is not one of his vices.

barbarfriendish Book #30 The Pillars of the Earth/Ken Follett. “It lost me at the first sentence,” says @rachaelish–but I’m curious… #russbooks

Now my TBR stack is growing. I’d heard about this book when it first came out and wondered. Now that it is in my house I must make time for it.

barbarfriendish Book #31 Naked/David Sedaris #russbooks

Humor is a very individual thing. I glance through this book: it’s well-written and keenly-observed, but the humor is of a flavor that may get a wry smile out of me now and then, not the sustained laughter the blurbs promise. Your mileage may vary, and Russ’s obviously does: I know he’s a Sedaris fan.

Meanwhile Rachael, overwhelmed by it all, has thrown in the towel:

Rachael can't do this anymore

But the book on top of her head looks promising:

barbarfriendish Book #32 Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, vol 2 The Kingdom on the Waves–ARC/MT Anderson. intrigued; where’s vol 1? #russbooks

I wonder if the Library Gods have smiled on me and the first volume is somewhere in the Big Stack of Boxes. Otherwise I’m going to have to track it down.

There’s only one book left:

barbarfriendish Book #33 What is the What/Dave Eggers –with DOUBLE FOLD-DOWN #russbooks

The Double Fold-down

You’ve heard about this book, of course, even if you don’t recognize the title. (I didn’t.) It’s the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the boys from Sudan who came to America.

By the time we’re through with this box, we’re ready to give up, just like the box. I even forget to sign off. I can only hope there is no one out there waiting for more transmissions from Box #4, the Box of Depress.

We’ll be opening the next box this evening. Because hope springs eternal, maybe.

Back to the beginning of the #russbooks adventure

#russbooks Day 3: Going Solo

June 5, 2009

It must be stated, in plain language, that opening a box of #russbooks is one of those things that is simply not as much fun when done alone. Rachael had Other Engagements yesterday, so I opened yesterday’s box by myself. In many ways it was oddly like going to a library–not least because this particular box contained more old favorites than books gathered in the course of Publicity Work.

There are few pictures; there just wasn’t that much to see. Even if someone had come in and photographed me, all they really would have seen was me perusing books. Again, like the library.

The one constant: the box mug-shots:

Box #3

I am, of course, already very conscious of the fact that I am George Burns without his Gracie today; the last thing I want to do is get bogged down in something Heavy. I can already tell this box isn’t going to make things easy.

The contents of Box #3

barbarfriendish The first two books are a McSweeney’s Humor collection & a Toni Morrison. Guess which I picked up first? #russbooks

barbarfriendish Yes, I’m that self-indulgent. Book #18 Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans/ Dave Eggers et. al #russbooks

Created in Darkeness by Troubled Americans is clearly too funny for its own good. Just reading the Table of Contents made me laugh. I’m looking forward to reading it. If this were the library I’d be carrying it around with me now.

Meanwhile Russ goes to bat for Ms. Morrison, who hardly needs defending:

russmarshalek @barbarfriendish I LOVE TONI. she is my GRANDMA. only not mean and dead. #russbooks

I must admit she can write. I didn’t see Russ’s note of encouragement until after I picked up the book, because I was immediately sucked in. How’s this for a first sentence?

In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood.

If more of what showed up in my submissions stack was that confident and arresting right from the first phrase, Mercury Retrograde’s publication roster would be much deeper.

In that place

Who starts a novel like that? Don’t you already feel that you are missing something and must dig in to catch up? And the rest of the sentence only escalates the intensity. That’s craft.


But there are still more books in the box.

barbarfriendish Book #20 Microserfs/Douglas Coupland. Book is like a transmission from one of my previous lives. Goes on the expanding TBR stack #russbooks

Yes, it’s true: I am a Geek.  I am married to a Geek. I raise Geeks. During the eighties I worked for a series of cutting-edge, mostly start-up, computer companies. During the nineties I consulted for a few others, even while I was making the transition to what I really wanted to be doing: you know, this Writing thing. I read a few pages of this book and it makes me laugh, because I see all the people I used to work with, the companies I used to work for. Hell, I see me.*

If you are not a Geek and you want to know what it is to be one, go find this book. Read it for the discussion of one-dimensional and two-dimensional foods alone.

barbarfriendish Book #21 The Reading Group Guide edition of Nickel and Dimed/Barbara Ehrenreich #russbooks

This is a very interesting book, a piece of true investigative journalism in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vein (well, without Jack Nicholson and all that other exciting stuff)  concerning the lives of people who have no alternative but to make things work on minimum wage, or to try to. It’s almost ten years old; how much more relevant is it now, I wonder?

barbarfriendish Book #22 Zora Neale Hurston/Their Eyes Were Watching God #russbooks

Are we developing a theme here?

Next up:

barbarfriendish Book #23 CS Lewis Narnia Omnibus #russbooks

Full disclosure: as a Literary Chick who loves SFF, I am perennially bewildered and–I must confess here–a bit hurt by all the litfic kids who look down on SFF. I think SFF is some of the most important literature of our era: it is the literature of ideas. And what could be more important than that? Finding SFF, to which genre Narnia definitely belongs, in the collection of litfic kids should be rewarding. But invariably it is like getting hit with a spitball, because they never love the really good stuff.

I will spare you the litany of all the things I hate about Narnia. I will just say that I wish people who love literature and Narnia would dig a bit deeper into SFF, because Narnia is the least of it. And if that gets me hit with a dozen flaming spitballs, so be it.

barbarfriendish Book #24 The Fire This Time ed. Labaton & Martin. Finally, some turn-downs… #russbooks

There are some interesting essays in this one. I’ll be coming back to it.

barbarfriendish Book #25 Wow. Really. Verses That Hurt ed. Jordan & Amy Trachtenberg. #russbooks

I am not a poetry aficionado, but this is fantastic. Manifesto alone is worth the price of admission:

Here is my personal message to all of you careerist, slime bucket, fame seeking, sychophantic, weakworded, same voiced, gladhanding, asskissing,backstabbing, envying, self serving assholes who are littering the downtown scene in ever increasing numbers while you choke the creativity out of yourselves asyou turnoff thousands of potential power of the wordlovers by the oxygen you use up on the performing stages of New York City  while you make your dullwitted stab toward your myopic fantasy of love, admiration, approval, sex and immortality which you think your 10 minutes of standing in front of a crowd that has long since stopped listening to you will confer on your sorry asses.

Clearly we have been in some of the same workshops, Penny Arcade and I.


And finally:

barbarfriendish Book #26 The Annotated Lolita/Vladimir Nabokov #russbooks

Not an ARC among these, I believe. These are all true #russbooks.


* It occurs to me, hours later, that my former life in Computer World has prepared me admirably for small-press publishing. I still feel that an eighty-five hour work week is perfectly normal.

Back to the beginning of the #russbooks adventure
Next #russbooks installment



#russbooks Day 2: live from Bat Country

June 4, 2009

I wish I could say that because I write fiction in my first-floor study and run a publishing house out of the basement (or the “terrace level”, as the realtor who sold us the place liked to call it, because two sides have daylight and you can walk out to the back yard) that everything in my house is all literary, and the event of liveblogging the book collection of a well-known Book Insider is treated with appropriate reverence. But after I bring in Box #2 and take the obligatory Box Mugshot

#russbooks Box #2
The red scrawl across the top is “Russ”, in RussScrawl

I sit down in front of Twitter, and this conversation transpires:

barbarfriendish Where did I leave off yesterday? “in bat country” @rachaelish says… ha-ha. #russbooks

and immediately Rachael’s cell rings. Rachael is The Coolest Kid at Riverwood HS, and her phone rings a lot. This morning the conversation is with a friend who wants to discuss taking gym as a summer school course over the interwebs. (Yes, you can do that at Riverwood. They’re very progressive. I wish I had been able to take gym over the internet when I was in HS. Think of the humiliation I would have been spared.)

But I digress, as usual. Finally the conversation ends and I open the box:

Inside #russbooks Box #2
Ooooo…what’s THAT???

Now, as everyone knows, I am a Fantasy Geek, so my eye is drawn by something stronger than gravity to the book on the left:

barbarfriendish Book #12 The Keep/Jennifer Egan. This ARC has seen some action, including page turn-downs. I’m intrigued. #russbooks

Rachael is a sometime Fantasy Geek herself, so before I get a chance to do more than give the book more than a once-over, she has, as the members of her generation like to say, yoinked it.

What happens next is one of those magical moments in the development of an aspiring writer. Rachael learns the cold hard truth of ARCs.

Rachael learns about ARCs
There’s an error right on the Damn First Page!

ARCs, for those of you not in the book trade who have wandered in here because you heard there were Free Drinks,

–everybody in the book trade, go have a drink–

are “Advance Review Copies”: early-development-stage books given out by publishers to reviewers, tastemakers, booksellers, and anybody else who they think might help them sell books in one way or another. They are very much unfinished, even though in many cases they really look like they’ve got it together. There are guaranteed to be errors. It’s understood. The practice of producing ARCs allows targeted people to read the book before it comes out. Russ said later, of this particular ARC,

russmarshalek@barbarfriendish the arc of “the keep” has an unclosed parenthetical aside as errata. it kept me up all night.


The Keep isn’t fantasy, but it looks interesting–both in its own right and as an ARC. We’ll be discussing it further, later, but for now I’ve got to move ahead.

The next book looks a bit beaten up, but a closer look reveals a cover skillfully designed to look like a rather shelf-worn dust jacket.

barbarfriendish Book #13 Bee Season/Myla Goldberg–signed. #russbooks

Once I read the back cover, I understand: it’s Another Damn Spelling Bee Story. Am I the only person who is tired of stories about kids in spelling bees? Meanwhile Rachael has yoinked another book from the box:

barbarfriendish @rachaelish jumps the gun and pulls out Book #14 The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide/Douglas Adams. I’m on my own now… #russbooks

As you know, Bob, I’m a Geek. And I know that the litfic kids don’t think SFF is Cool Enough, not even when it’s character-driven, literary, philosophical, or (my fave) all of the above. So does this book in this box constitute a Guilty Pleasure?

With the next book, we’re back on familiar turf: Southern Lit.

barbarfriendish Book #15 Bastard out of Carolina/Dorothy Allison. This is a definite Russ Book… #russbooks

Now, I have a degree in English, but if I were stranded at a bus station with the Douglas Adams Omnibus and a work of Southern Lit, it would require a blizzard of several days’ duration before I would even consider picking up the latter. I’m just sayin’.

That’s why I publish SFF.


barbarfriendish “Look, it’s me!” says @rachaelish: Book #16 Running With Scissors/Augusten Burroughs. Those who saw today’s blog will understand. #russbooks


"Look, it's me!" says @rachaelish

The Unknown Reader


Not just because of the amusing synchronicity, this book intrigues. We look it over for a while. I am especially amused by the account of redecorating the kitchen. But there’s still one more book in the box:

barbarfriendish Book # 17 Between Here and the Yellow Sea/Nic Pizzolatto #russbooks

And that’s Box #2.

barbarfriendish This was a small box…some interesting turn-downs, some intriguing ARC studies. blog & pix soon… #russbooks

I’ll be doing another box later today…

Back to the beginning of the #russbooks adventure
Next #russbooks installment

#russbooks: Day 1

June 3, 2009

It all happened so fast.

It seems to me that opening up a box of books is something that should be done slowly: savored, with a cup of coffee perhaps. But these are Russ’s books, and I don’t want to get coffee on them, and anyone who has ever been in a meeting with me knows there is a statistically-significant chance of me overturning my coffee without warning or regard for the laws of physics; and not only would I be looking at these books, I’d be taking pictures and doing my first-ever liveblog. So coffee was out of the question.

However, that decision–combined with my sense that I was doing this #russbooks exploration for an audience–made me go a bit too fast. As if I were doing the whole thing for a webcam rather than just using Twitter.

Hmmm, I think almost 24 hours later as I write this blog post, maybe I should go upstairs and see if I can find the webcam Daniel never bothered to take out of the box…yeah, and see if the geriatric machine that occupies my study could run it without keeling over.
Maybe if this month’s sales totals will allow me to finally do that upgrade I’ve needed for lo these many months…but I digress, as usual. We were talking about Russ and his mysterious boxes of books. Let’s see what’s in the first one. (more…)

Premiering tomorrow: #russbooks

June 1, 2009

I have a Secret Stash.

Shortly before Russ Marshalek, the coolest kid at #BEA09, left Atlanta for The Big Apple (am I jealous? do I feel the bite of my Exile? nah.) he entrusted to me his Stash of Books Important Enough to Save.

Niall guards Russ's Stash of Books

Niall guards Russ's Stash of Books

I was very excited. Not as excited as I would be to return permanently to the Correct Side of the Mason-Dixon Line, you understand, but as excited as boxes of books on loan could make a book nerd. Russ is a man with Access to Books: as  Publicity Director for the ill-fated Wordsmiths Books in Decatur, GA (moment of silence) he received ARCs of all the up-and-coming forthcoming books from everybody who wanted to book an author tour. (These days, of course, he gets to go to #BEA09 and pick up free copies of everything everybody’s giving away–so I know he’s got something to read, despite the fact that I’ve got the Stash from the Past.) Meanwhile I’d been thinking that Mercury Retrograde has been under-utilizing the promotional opportunity that ARCs present, so I’d been looking forward to looking at other publishers’ ARCs and stealing their ideas learning from them.

It’s been a busy couple of months. I haven’t had time to dig into the Secret Stash of #russbooks. But I have very nearly completed what must be done for Mercury Retrograde’s forthcoming books for fall–and after Russ liveblogged BEA for Baby Got Books, I suddenly became inspired to liveblog my exploration of #russbooks. What does the Coolest Kid at BEA read? More to the point, which books has he found important enough to save & protect?

Protected by Demon Cat

Protected by Demon Cat

Surely I am not the only one who wants to know the answers to these questions.

Besides…one of the things in my Secret Stash is a box of personal items.

Russ's Personal Stuff

Russ's Personal Stuff

I will be unpacking a box per day, liveblogging the unfolding wonder on Twitter under the #russbooks hashtag. I’ll also be blogging the whole thing with pictures, right here, on a one-day lag. So set your favorite Twitter app to monitor #russbooks and play along.


Next #russbooks installment