‘Station Eleven’ reviewed

Station ElevenStation Eleven is the best novel I have read this year. The 2014 genre-bending, post-apocalyptic, award-winning effort from Emily St. John Mandel was the seventh book I have read in 2015. Admittedly, I didn’t think it would be as good as it was, and I only picked it up because it was so highly recommended.

I don’t always trust reviews from critics; there is less frequency of trust when it comes to friends’ reviews. But I want you to take my word for it: Station Eleven is compelling, well-written, and poignant. It is a novel that you have to read.


‘The Girl on the Train’ reviewed

The Girl on the TrainI decided to mix things up for my last book of the month. I picked up a hot thriller – so hot that some have claimed it’s the most gripping book of the genre since Gone Girl. I’m not so certain that Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train is going to be the runaway hit that some are predicting. Sure, it will get a lot of sales, but I feel that maybe people will walk away dissatisfied. 


‘We Are Not Ourselves’ reviewed

We Are Not OurselvesIf you’ve read anything about We Are Not Ourselves by newcomer Matthew Thomas, you know it’s about Alzheimer’s disease. No critic tried to hide that fact; furthermore, Barnes& Noble’s own description of it enlightens readers about the affliction. Well, that’s about half right.


‘Redeployment’ reviewed

RedeploymentThe war in Iraq was monumental in my life. Not in the sense that I knew anybody who shipped off and never came back. It didn’t even give me a sense of patriotism pulsing though my body. They were just there, looming over my life in a post-9/11 world. I picked up Phil Klay’s short story collection Redeployment because I read a review claiming it was the first book to shed a light on these wars with a realness than no other writer has yet to capture.


‘Everything I Never Told You’ reviewed

'Everything I Never Told You'I picked up Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You because I saw it on a few Best of 2014 posts and because of the publisher’s description of the novel. It tells us the first line of the novel. It’s a good first line: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

The publisher’s description goes on to say the novel is an exploration into an Asian-American family in the 1970s. That the death of Lydia – a high school aged girl who is half Chinese (she inherited her father’s dark hair) and half full-blooded American (inherits her mother’s bright blue eyes) – was a catalyst for the unravelling of the family.


5 more short stories you can – and should – read online right now

UPDATE 2: Yet another 5 short stories you can – and should – read online right now can be found here.

UPDATE: Another 5 short stories you can – and should – read online right now can be found here.

My friends over at Paste Magazine wrote an article called “5 Short Stories You Can – And Should – Read Online Right Now.” It’s good. It contains one from the 1880s, 1950s, and three that were written since 2010.

It got me thinking about short stories that I like. I started seeing if they were available for free – either legally or not. We know that there is a lot on the World Wide Web and it’s easy to find a lot of PDFs or just copy/pasted stories out there. Here are five that I like; in no particular order. Unsurprisingly, most of them come from my favorite source of short stories: The New Yorker.

“That Bus is Another World” by Stephen King – 2014 

I wouldn’t call myself a Stephen King fan (I’m not outside of Different Seasons and Misery). I’m not a fan of horror. But I am a fan of a suspenseful narrative. And that’s what this story is. You’ll have to read a PDF scan of Esquire to get this online, but it’s there. It follows a man named Wilson who is late to a meeting he flew into New York to take. In typical King fashion, the story is not what it appears. There’s a bus, obviously. What happens on that bus is definitely another world away from Wilson. It’s a breezy read that leaves you both wanting to know more, but begging that you’ll never find out.

“Cold Pastoral” by Marina Keegan – 2012

I have been obsessed with the late Marina Keegan as of late. Her story is tragic: a rising literary star who graduated from Yale with a job waiting for her at The New Yorker, only to have her life cut short at 22 by a car accident. Her family and writing mentor put together a collection called The Opposite of Loneliness (named for an essay she wrote shortly before commencement). “Cold Pastoral” is one of those stories. It eerily deals with death. In it, the narrator’s sort-of-boyfriend dies. The character is left with a feeling of emptiness, but also of anxiety. She wasn’t the love of his life; they were just consistently having sex. Keegan beautifully weaves in numerous emotions in such a short amount of space.

“Alma” by Junot Diaz – 2007

Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her collects nine interlinked stories surrounding the relationship between a young man named Yunior and his love interest Alma. This is the shortest in the collection with a word count under 1,000, but that doesn’t mean there is any less impact. Written in second person, you become Yunior. You’re called bad names as Alma claims horrific things about you. You’re sucked in almost instantly and aren’t let go until Alma decides to let you go. There’s a resounding punch to the gut that any man – or even woman – who reads this will take some time to recover.

“Story, With Bird” by Kevin Canty – 2014

This was published pretty recently. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Canty, but I love this story. It’s not a traditional story in the sense that it just delves into bits and pieces of a narrative, but leaves a lasting impression of those moments in time. It’s about a couple who likes to drink more than they like each other. It really impacted me because it was similar in tone and theme to a story I had been editing for a few weeks. If you want to read a good, atmospheric story, then this is one short on you definitely need to click.

“Just Before Black” by James Franco – 2010

This may not be the best story by the actor-turned-director-turned-curator-turned-writer. Franco might not even be a good writer. But this was my first introduction to the actor’s stories and it stuck with me. It was nice to read a story by someone who wasn’t a “writer.” Not yet anyway. Reading it again four years later, I understand why not everyone was in love with Franco’s early work. Yet, it’s still interesting to read if you like how his views on suburbia developed; especially in his collection Palo Alto.

“The Point”

The following as a short piece of fiction adapted from the episode “Double Double Date” of the ABC series The Wonder Years. The dialogue and a portion of the narration was taken directly from the episode written by Sy Rosen and Mark B. Perry.

We had just run off from both of our dates at the school dance. The night was warm and the sky was clear. Stars sparkled over the placid town that nurtured me my entire life. We parked in my parents’ car at a make-out spot on a cliff, known as the Point, overlooking the town in my tux and her in a ravishing pale dress. The effect the dress had by contrasting with her skin drove me wild. We couldn’t believe we ran off, but we had no choice. It was as if the stars, and the universe, and destiny had bound us together.

I moved to her and put my arm around her shoulders, but my cufflink had gotten caught in her corsage. Her face turned from total infatuation to total confusion in an instant. I leaned over and struggled to fix the problem. I was closer to her than ever before, and I didn’t want to break free. As I fiddled with my silver hook and her lilies, I awkwardly relayed a story about two people kissing and getting their braces stuck together. She made fun of me for believing that they had to go to the hospital, but when I finally dislodged from her, I saw her looking deep into my eyes, mouth agape and breathing heavy.

“Maybe I’ll just stay here for a while,” I said with my arm still around her. She was pushed into me; accepting the fact I would never let her go.

“You’re so cute,” she said, her eyes never breaking from mine. “You’ve always been cute.”

I wanted her again. We had been torn apart for too long. I gently took her chin to guide her eyes back to mine once more.

“I guess that’s why you’ve been crazy about me since the day we met.”

“I was not,” she responded. She couldn’t stop staring and smiling. “You were crazy about me.”

Now I couldn’t stop staring and smiling. “You’re right.”

And that’s when it happened. At that moment, all the feelings that she and I had been trying to bottle up finally came rushing to the surface. We couldn’t hide our passions anymore. I stroked her face and felt her soft lips. Her breath was warm on my fingers. So I leaned in closer and kissed her… Right on the eye.

I pulled away and our eyes locked. Hers broke away for a moment, but returned with a fire. And then she kissed me… On my eye.

I stroked the back of her head. Feeling her velvety, midnight black hair and whispered, “What happened?”

She looked at me wide-eyed and just as nervous as I was before telling me, “I’m not sure.”

And the thing was neither of us knew. Maybe our aim was off. Or maybe it was something else.

Our glances broke again, but she spoke.

“I was just thinking about the first time we ever met.”

“Yeah,” I barely was about to get the word out of my throat. “You were wearing a little yellow raincoat, and that stupid yellow rain hat.”

Her smile grew. Our faces were inches from each other and she said, “You were soaking wet.”

“My brother told me my folks got me a horse,” I revealed to her part of the story she never knew. “When I ran outside, he locked the door.”

“You came to my house to dry off.”

“Yeah. Right,” I said, always whispering as quietly as she was. “So,” I paused to notice the beauty in her deep chocolate eyes, “Do you want to try that again?”

Without missing a beat, she informed me, “I’d like to think about it for a little while.”

Even though I was hurt because I wanted nothing more than to kiss her, I agreed with her and said that’s what I wanted. She nuzzled her head against me, resting it on my shoulder. Maybe she wanted to kiss, and I know I did. We sat there holding each other as I waited passionately. The long cuddle continued. But the thing was that’s all we did. Maybe it was happening too fast. Maybe we wanted to hold on to what we had. Or maybe we both knew there were things we had to find before we found each other.

All we really knew for sure was, as we sat there looking out over the lights of the town where we had grown up together, it all felt right. It all felt… Perfect.

‘This One Summer’ reviewed

This One Summer


This 300+ page graphic novel was conceived by cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, the creators of the critically acclaimed Skim. The story follows Rose, a pre-teen whose parents are in a rough patch, and whose friend Windy – a year and a half younger than she – is a ball of energy and slightly annoying. Over the course of her time spent at a cottage for yet another summer, Rose talks about boobs, watches horror films, and gets intertwined with local store clerk Duncan’s life.

What is so delectable about this book is that it may read like a young adult novel, but it’s depth of character and theme rival some of the best writers of our time. Mariko is in charge of the words. She perfectly gets inside of Rose’s head as she narrates the story, but also nails the dialogue and emotional output of a wide range of characters. Sometimes – especially in comics – dialogue seems almost like an afterthought. It’s there to help guide the plot that the pictures can’t tell. In this case, it drives us deeper into the characters and makes a connection not often found in comics.

If Mariko’s words can do all of that, Jillian’s art is nearly a masterpiece. Expressed in black, white and grey, the artist uses heavy contrasting images and large portions of blank space to focus the reader onto a detail. While that is common in comics, what isn’t common is that she uses these techniques to tap into emotions ranging from uncertainty to tension. There’s certain pages that emphasize quick panels, highlighting a wide variety of thoughts and plot, while some of the best work are entire pages of large panels dedicated to a single moment.

The story and art are so cohesively married that this is something that everyone would enjoy. Simply put, it gives you the satisfaction of a novel that takes you on an emotional ride, much like The Fault in Our Stars, but has the brevity and delectable art of some of the most influential comics around.

After 300+ pages I felt both satisfied and craving more, but not really wanting more because it would ruin such a beautiful experience. This One Summer might be about preteen girls, but it will teach a 25-year-old man a thing or two about life.


Below is a page excerpt from the book.

This One Summer excerpt

A brief guide to reading baseball

Reading Baseball
America’s Pastime has been emblazoned in ink on the page for almost as long as it has been a sport. While there are some great pieces of fiction ranging from the classic The Natural to the modern hit The Art of Fielding, the most beautiful way to read baseball is in the non-fiction form. Here’s an alphabetical list mixed with some titles I love or some that have been recommended to me. (Note: books written by big name stars like Tony LaRussa or Pete Rose have been left off this list.)