Zombies, Pre-teen Millionaires, and The Orange Priest of Orcus

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By Dan Bjork

I absolutely plowed through M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts, giddily even. I read on the subway, I read while my wife watched the Chilean version of Access Hollywood, I read at work while a high school freshman bickered with his mother about whether an hour was enough time to get to Wall Street from the UWS. This is all very new to me. I read hermetically (otherwise), super early in the morning, as an essential part of quieting my mind. I don’t really face the world without first spending 45 minutes inside someone else’s narrative. Most importantly, I think, this is first book I’ve read for FBC where an ‘I don’t have my hook yet’ panic never set in. Sunday night, while cooking a simple lentils, rice, and chicken thighs dish that leans heavily on Goya Adobo and should modestly get me through Wednesday (spoiler: it did), I began my notes. Assembling the roughest of outlines. All stemming from the single impression I had: that I really enjoyed this book.

And the notes were super simple, so much so I can share them in full: “Maybe it has something to do with the simple precision [re: language] –> its images are clear and never showy and never stacked to create ambiguity –> and this extends to the presentation of emotions as well. Situations are allowed to simply happen. Asked to bear the brunt of this weight. This flies in the face of everything my world-class education in writing 12 page stories seems to scream. How?”

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It’s Cold In Here

By Ryan Joe

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Note: This week, we were supposed to read half of Zero K, but I ended up powering through the whole thing. So needless to say, there are end-of-the-book spoilers.

I have never entirely figured out how to read Don DeLillo – a writer I admire but don’t really enjoy. I haven’t read a lot of him – White Noise, The Body Artist, half of Americana and now Zero K – but it’s enough for me to generally understand where he gives me the most trouble.

Typically, that’s when his characters stop seeming like real people and start becoming vessels for ideas about…well, media consumption, commercialism, history or whatever. Regardless of the topic, it’s the point where the characters become indistinguishable from the author, when his cast begin to seem like little DeLillo fingerpuppets.
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Book 2: ‘Zero K’ by Don DeLillo

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For the next two weeks, Football Book Club will be reading Zero K by Don DeLillo — and posting about M.R. Carey’s The Girl With all the Gifts.

Chandler — who will doubtlessly have a lot to say about RGIII’s latest injury and how it will impact her beloved Browns — nominated Zero K for Football Book Club because “she loves Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis but associates cryogenic freezing with Futurama and that terrible Mel Gibson movie Forever Young. What, she wondered, would this author’s sad, chilly take on a cheeseball sci-fi subgenre look like?”

The Hungry Games

By Chandler Klang Smith

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In an underground bunker, sometime in the near future, little Melanie is strapped into her chair and wheeled down the hall to class with her beloved teacher Miss Justineau, even though little Melanie can walk just fine. Little Melanie has lots of questions about her world, big questions, poignant questions, like: why are all the adults so sad? What happened to the cities? And why do I get this funny feeling in my tummy when I smell human flesh?

Spoiler: little Melanie is a zombie. Meta-spoiler: little Melanie is a zombie in the same way Twilight’s Edward Cullen is a vampire, meaning a zombie minus all the really troubling parts. Real talk: The Girl With All the Gifts has its strengths, but zombie fiction can be much more formally, emotionally, and intellectually ambitious than this. Colson Whitehead did it with Zone One (flawed but so, so smart), Manuel Gonzales did it with his short story “All of Me” (perfection), Kelly Link has done it repeatedly (there’s a reason her Twitter handle is @haszombiesinit), and though I haven’t read Bennett Sims’ A Questionable Shape, I hear it’s bitchin’. The premise is no excuse for an irising-in of readers’ expectations; if anything, it’s a lot to live up to. But it’s no fair just to compare a work of fiction to all its hotter siblings, so let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s going on with this particular book.
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Melanie, The Reluctant Zombie

By Ryan Joe

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Zombie Buddies! (Shaun of the Dead)

Like cell phones, every zombie iteration requires some kind of new feature. The 2002 film 28 Days Later gave us zombies that sprint – which is now de rigueur. And the 2013 video game The Last of Us – likely haunted by a segment from the BBC’s Planet Earth – introduced the fungus zombie.

Entering the mix is M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts, also about a fungal outbreak that turns people into zombies – though pop culture seems to agree that the word is too corny to accommodate our 21st century edginess. They’re all “walkers” or “the infected” or, in our present instance, “hungries.”

Because Girl came out only six months after The Last of Us, it’s probably unfair to compare though I’m having a hard time not because the two have such similar beats. Both feature a zombie apocalypse caused by an outbreak of the cordyceps fungus, a perilous roadtrip to “safety” during which initially hostile characters learn to trust and love each other, and a young girl whose brain is the locus of a possible vaccine – which of course is only accessible by dissecting her.
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Football Fever

by Chandler Klang Smith

When I was in college, I was in the habit of going to the local big box retailer and purchasing entirely valueless items that amused me for one reason or another – that stood out as talismans of a mainstream America that, with my retreat into a liberal/creative/intellectual bubble of raucous theme parties and postmodern texts, midnight breakfast and puppeteering assignments, I believed myself to have entirely escaped. I purchased, for example, the Womb Bear, a stuffed animal equipped with an abdominal sound system that emitted a steady whooshing meant to imitate the constant soothing white noise in utero, but which sounded to me like a radio tuned to an ocean planet’s bleakest shore (with an angry, fuzzy face to boot). I bought a zombie cheerleader Halloween costume, complete with a gray pigtailed wig (why gray? didn’t she die as a teenager?). I reveled in the cynicism, the laziness, that was the origin story of all this useless crap. And among my treasures, perhaps most memorable, most hilarious in its sheer failure of imagination, was the magnet, which consisted only of a green strip of Astroturf, adorned with a single glued-on miniature plastic football, the size of a fingernail. FOOTBALL FEVER read the explanatory text, a strip of labelmaker tape stuck on as an afterthought below.

Image result for football cake wreck This cake captures the same spirit as that magnet of yore.

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Football Book Club Is BACK

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Autumn brings crispness to the air, pumpkin syrup shipments to coffee conglomerates, and fresh new TV commercials thanks to the start of the NFL season.

It also brings the long-anticipated return of FOOTBALL BOOK CLUB. In which all members (except for Ryan, who is weak) abstain from watching professional football in favor of reading books. And this year, we’ve got a fantastic lineup:

September 12: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

September 19: Zero K by Don DeLillo (first half)

September 26: Zero K (second half)

October 3: Untamed State by Roxane Gay (first half)

October 10: Untamed State (second half)

October 17: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (first half)

October 24: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! (second half)

October 31: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (first half)

November 7: My Brilliant Friend (second half)

November 14: Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow

November 21: Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (first half)

November 28: Mr. Fox (second half)

December 12: A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem (first half)

December 19: A Gambler’s Anatomy (second half)

December 26: Kornwolf by Tristan Egolf (first half)

January 2: Kornwolf (second half)
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Book 1: ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’

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Much like Jay Cutler in Chicago, Football Book Club is back for another year — and you’re pretty much stuck with us.

To kick things off, this week we’re reading M.R. Carey’s zombie horror novel The Girl With all the Gifts .

Tired of zombies yet? Too bad, because Ryan Joe isn’t.

He nominated The Girl With All the Gifts for FBC because “he’s really into cannibalism and because he’s intellectually LAZY and wanted to kick things off with something easy to read.”

Perfect to Each Other: On ‘How to Be Happy’ and My First Season of FBC

By Dan Bjork

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How to Be Happy (proper) is preceded by an author’s note that instantly endeared me to the book: “This is not actually a book about how to be happy, however, and if you’re struggling, the following have been helpful for me.” After which, Eleanor Davis lists three books that can be a parachute, if you took the title of her book at face value and are indeed in search of one. In other words, what follows will not provide any single-entendre help. Don’t come here if what you need is a parachute. However, if what you do need is a parachute, here a few that have worked for me.

Which makes this as good a place as any to get into what I got out of the FBC this season: The beginning of a framework with which to talk about mental illness. The sort of ethereal marjoram I’ve thought around, more than about — the sort of stuff I’d never tried to digest in a way that would make any sort of communication about such possible. (And for me, being able to talk about mental illness goes hand in hand with building an understanding of it, of continually approaching a better understanding; I’m having a hard time describing a lifetime of [hopefully] increasing and multi-faceted understand, a process that is never and cannot possibly be complete, without using a word like ‘asymptotic,’ which I just now did anyway.)

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The Final Confession of Ryan Joe

By Ryan Joe

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I have a confession.

I have been watching NFL football since the playoffs. That, as well as other writing projects, have kept me from updating with any degree of regularity. If you weren’t watching, the playoffs were immensely entertaining, filled with on-field heroism (Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers), villainy (Vontaze Burfect, Adam Jones), and incompetence (Brian Hoyer, the Bengals).

It’s what makes the NFL so successful. Keep people entertained, and they’ll forget your bullshit.

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