What We’re Reading: April 2020

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every month as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for the month.

 

Novels

water & power
By Steven Dunn

“Navy veteran Steven Dunn’s second novel, water & power, plunges into military culture and engages with perceptions of heroism and terrorism. In this shifting landscape, deployments are feared, absurd bureaucracy is normalized, and service members are consecrated. water & power is a collage of voices, documents, and critical explorations that disrupt the usual frequency channels of military narratives.”

 

Dune
By Frank Herbert

“In 1965, after being rejected by more than a dozen publishing houses, a book called Dune was brought out by the Chilton Book Company. Its respected author, journalist Frank Herbert, had written Dune with nothing more in mind than to entertain his readers with the telling of a particularly complex story, one which had occupied his thoughts for more than six years. No one—not Herbert, not Chilton, not the science fiction community at the time—had any idea that Dune would be adopted and read by successive generations with a fervor bordering on cult worship. Or that it would prove to be merely the first of what have now become five international bestsellers about a desert world of the future—the planet Arrakis, called Dune.”

 

Awesome
By Jack Pendarvis

“A giant strides this land. A giant who builds robots, sweats mescaline, and kisses like a dream. From the rocky coast of New England to the golden hay fields of Stockton, California, he searches for America’s greatest treasures. You might recognize him by the twinkle in his eye or the lustrous derby hat perched on top of his boulder-sized head.

But for a dude who has it all, he sure seems sad a lot of the time—what’s up with that? And what exactly does he plan to do with all of those wonderful treasures, besides cart them around the country in his enormous red wagon? Is there someone, a beautiful lady named Glorious Jones, perhaps, who has asked him to gather the bounty of America in order to prove his love for her?”

 

City of Ash and Red
By Hye-young Pyun (Translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

“Distinguished for his talents as a rat killer, the nameless protagonist of Hye-young Pyun’s City of Ash and Red is sent by the extermination company he works for on an extended assignment in C, a country descending into chaos and paranoia, swept by a contagious disease, and flooded with trash. No sooner does he disembark than he is whisked away by quarantine officials and detained overnight. Isolated and forgotten, he realizes that he is stranded with no means of contacting the outside world. Still worse, when he finally manages to reach an old friend, he is told that his ex-wife’s body was found in his apartment and he is the prime suspect. Barely managing to escape arrest, he must struggle to survive in the streets of this foreign city gripped with fear of contamination and reestablish contact with his company and friends in order to clear his reputation.But as the man’s former life slips further and further from his grasp, and he looks back on his time with his wife, it becomes clear that he may not quite be who he seems. From the bestselling author of The HoleCity of Ash and Red is an apocalyptic account of the destructive impact of fear and paranoia on people’s lives as well as a haunting novel about a man’s loss of himself and his humanity.”

 

The Castle of Otranto
By Horace Walpole

“On the day of his wedding, Conrad, heir to the house of Otranto, is killed in mysterious circumstances. His calculating father Manfred fears that his dynasty will now come to an end and determines to marry his son’s bride himself—despite the fact he is already married. But a series of terrifying supernatural omens soon threaten this unlawful union, as the curse placed on Manfred’s ancestor, who usurped the lawful Prince of Otranto, begins to unfold. First published pseudonymously in 1764, purporting to be an ancient Italian text from the time of the crusades, The Castle of Otranto is a founding work of Gothic fiction. With its compelling blend of sinister portents, tempestuous passions and ghostly visitations, it spawned an entire literary tradition and influenced such writers as Ann Radcliffe and Bram Stoker.”

 

Negative Space
By B.R. Yeager

“Like smoke off a collision between Dennis Cooper’s George Miles Cycle and Beyond The Black Rainbow, absorbing the energy of mind control, reincarnation, parallel universes, altered states, school shootings, obsession, suicidal ideation, and so much else, B.R. Yeager’s multi-valent voicing of drugged up, occult youth reveals fresh tunnels into the gray space between the body and the spirit, the living and the dead, providing a well-aimed shot in the arm for the world of conceptual contemporary horror.” —Blake Butler

 

Short Stories

Hour of the Wolf
By M Kitchell

Hour of the Wolf is a hypnagogic incantation from writer M Kitchell. Robed figures and furry men, ice caves and deserts, god and serpent, shapelessness and sacred geometry, mysterious artifacts and unfolding perceptions coalesce in a pentacle of overlaid story bodies, each sinking deeper into its own true consciousness, while at the same time constructing an indexical sequence of translation from raw sense to mediated artifice, a primer of the dissolution of life into text. Hour of the Wolf combines experience and meaning into a ritual object, a book that is not a place separate from this world, but an impossible place within it.”

 

Freaky Tales from the Force: Season One
Edited by Jonathan Raab

“Elected as county sheriff on a paranormal defense and anti-goblinry platform, Sheriff Kotto has defended the citizens of his Rust Belt community from secret societies, malignant aliens, blood-stealing nonprofit organizations, and more. To document his war against the paranormal, Kotto stars in Freaky Tales From the Force, a local documentary-style public access television show produced by reporter Veronica Cartwright. Join Sheriff Kotto, his intrepid deputies, and the public access television crew as they investigate a variety of supernatural threats including wendigos, a lizard boy, evil clones, a haunted numbers station, flesh creepers, the wreckage of neoliberal economic policies, a Nazi sorcerer, a spectral locomotive—and a season-spanning threat: cosmic bloodsuckers from outer space! Each story in this anthology represents one episode of Freaky Tales‘ inaugural season, capturing all the high-octane, hard-drinking, high-strange action. Featuring special guest star writers and a new long-form story arc, Freaky Tales From the Force: Season One is the perfect book for readers new to the Kottoverse and long-time fans alike. Tune in, crack a beer, watch the skies—and support your local sheriff!”

 

Children of the New World
By Alexander Weinstein

Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.”

 

Poetry

Kids of the Black Hole
By Marty Cain

“Inhabiting the space between elegy and prophecy, Marty Cain’s poem floats in a drowning country parallel to the United States of America. Where loss flickers at the edge of each frame, ‘the earth turns itself inside out’ like a teenager in a dreamscape, baptized in tears.” —Lucas de Lima

 

Obit
By Victoria Chang

“After her mother died, poet Victoria Chang refused to write elegies. Rather, she distilled her grief during a feverish two weeks by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. In Obit, Chang writes of ‘the way memory gets up after someone has died and starts walking.’ These poems reinvent the form of newspaper obituary to both name what has died (‘civility,’ ‘language,’ ‘the future,’ ‘Mother’s blue dress’) and the cultural impact of death on the living. Whereas elegy attempts to immortalize the dead, an obituary expresses loss, and the love for the dead becomes a conduit for self-expression. In this unflinching and lyrical book, Chang meets her grief and creates a powerful testament for the living.”

 

Sisyphusina
By Shira Dentz

Sisyphusina is a cross-genre collection of prose, poetry, visual art, and improvisatory music, centered on female aging. Faced with linguistic and literary traditions that lack rich vocabularies to describe female aging, Shira Dentz uses the hybrid form as an attempt to suture new language that reflects internal and physical processes that constitute a shifting identity. By deviating from formal classical construction, and using the recurring image of a rose, Sisyphusina circles around conventions of beauty, questioning traditional aesthetic values of continuity, coherence, and symmetry. Some of the book’s images are drawn from separate multimedia collaborations between the author and composer Pauline Oliveros, artist Kathy High, and artist Kathline Carr. A musical composition improvised by Pauline Oliveros, based on one of her text scores, titled ‘Aging Music,’ is the book’s coda, and readers can listen to it online by scanning a QR code inside the book. The interweaving of these collaborations with the author’s voice and voices from other sources imbue this book with a porous texture, and reimagines the boundary of the book as a membrane.”

 

What Narcissism Means to Me
By Tony Hoagland

“In What Narcissism Means to Me, award-winning poet Tony Hoagland levels his particular brand of acute irony not only on the personal life, but also on some provinces of American culture. In playful narratives, lyrical outbursts, and overheard conversations, Hoagland cruises the milieu, exploring the spiritual vacancies of American satisfaction. With humor, rich tonal complexity, and aggressive moral intelligence, these poems bring pity to our folly and celebrate our resilience.”

 

Toxicon and Arachne
By Joyelle McSweeney

“In Toxicon and Arachne, McSweeney allows the lyric to course through her like a toxin, producing a quiver of lyrics like poisoned arrows. Toxicon was written in anticipation of the birth of McSweeney’s daughter, Arachne. But when Arachne was born sick, lived briefly, and then died, McSweeney unexpectedly endured a second inundation of lyricism, which would become the poems in Arachne, this time spun with grief. Toxicon and Arachne is the culmination of eight years of engagement with lyric under a regime of global and personal catastrophes.”

 

Communicatingroups
By Stu Watson

“In his ruminations on fame, violence, family, death, and aspiration, Stu Watson’s deployment of some of history’s best-known figures lends this book an essayistic plausibility that resonates now. Against all odds, the verve of his poetic style summons new suspense to Watson’s embellishments on well-known tales. Communicatingroups builds a weird romance with a spine-tingling fascination all its own.” —Chris Hosea

 

Nonfiction

Walden: Life in the Woods
By Henry David Thoreau

“Experience a year in the life of Thoreau at Walden Pond in this classic work. Visit the bean-field, the village, and the ponds; learn about our brute neighbors, the higher laws of nature and humankind, and the benefits of reading and solitude.”

 

 

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Image: visitaikensc.com

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