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The First Sentence Of The New Yorker’s “Top 20 Over 40”

June 4, 2010

A few days ago, The New Yorker announced it’s list of the top 20 writers under 40 years old to look out for. Now, I wasn’t familiar with a whole lot of people on that list, so, I decided I should get familiar with each of their most recent works. But really, how much time do you think I have, people? Enough time to read 20 stories/books? I don’t think so. Therefore I decided to assemble the first sentence of each writer’s most recent story or book (some  stories I couldn’t access without subscription, so forgive me), and then choose from there which one I wanted to pursue. Please, help me out, guys! Help me choose what I should read next, or at least help me choose which sentence is the most intriguing out of the 20 supposedly most intriguing authors of the decade:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: “The first time our house was robbed, it was our neighbor Osita who climbed in through the dining room window and stole our TV, our VCR and the Purple Rain and Thriller videotapes my father had brought back from America.” — “Cell One” from The Thing Around Your Neck

Chris Adrian: “It took them both a long time to understand that the boy was sick, though she would point out that she had been the first to notice that he was unhappy, and had sought to remedy his discontent with sweeter treats and more delightful distractions.” — “A Tiny Feast”

Daniel Alarcon: “They took Norma off the air that Tuesday morning because a boy was dropped off at the station” — Lost City Radio

David Bezmogis: “‘Some businessmen’ was how Skinny Zyama had described the two gangsters from New Jersey.” — “The Russian Riviera”

Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum: “Many of Mr. Hempel’s students were performing in the show that evening, but to her own secret disappointment, she would not be appearing.” — Mrs. Hempel Chronicles

Joshua Ferris: “It was the cruelest winter.” — The Unnamed

Jonathan Safran Foer: “What about a teakettle?” — Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

Nell Freudenberger: “On Easter Sunday of 2005, my grandmother died, of very old age.” — “Grandmother’s House”

Rivka Galchen: “Some people would consider Jacob a physicist, some would consider him a philosopher or simply a “time expert,” though I tend to think of him in less reverent terms.” — “The Region Of Unlikeliness”

Nicole Krauss: “When they write my obituary.” — The History Of Love: A Novel

Yiyun Li: “When the waitress came to take the order, she asked how Suchen was doing with the smoke.” — “Alone”

Dinaw Mengestu: “At eight o’ clock Joseph and Kenneth come into the store.” —  The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Phillip Meyer: “Isaac’s mother was dead five years but he hadn’t stopped thinking about her.” — American Rust

C.E. Morgan: “She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to.” — All The Living: A Novel

Tea Obreht: “Neal had believed all the myths about hyenas.” — “The Laugh”

Z.Z. Packer: “By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop deiced to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909.” — Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

Karen Russell: “Stage 1: The initial period is one in which everything is new, exciting, and interesting for your students.” — “St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves” from eponymous story collection

Salvatore Scibona: “He was five feet one inch tall in street shoes, bearlike in his round and jowly face, hulking in his chest and shoulders, nearly just as stout around the middle, but hollow in the hips, and lacking proper can to sit on (though he was hardly ever known to sit) and wee at the ankles, and girlish at his tiny feet, a man in the shape of a lightbulk” — The End: A Novel

Gary Shteyngart: “I am Misha Borisovich Vainberg, age thirty, a grossly overweight man with small, deeply set blue eyes, a pretty Jewish beak that brings to mind the most distinguished breed of parrot, and lips so delicate you would want to wipe them with the naked back of your hand” — Absurdistan

Wells Tower: “Bob woke up on his face.” — “The Brown Coast” from story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

So…what should I read? (Let it be admitted that I’ve already read Karen Russell’s debut story collection and deemed it fabulous. Also, I am a big Z.Z. Packer fan and won’t let you forget it.)


You Should Read: The Book by Ben Loory

June 2, 2010


You Should Read is a weekly Wednesday short where I suggest short stories and poems on the web to bide a little time on this dreadful–when will Friday come?–24hrs in the middle of the week.

Okay so, we all know how obsessed I am with Ben Loory. I mean, he’s just fantastic, somehow I’m watching out for and whom I expect to have a short story collection or novel coming out soon or else he will suffer big time via my angry commenting. In fact, he’s already got a book coming out soon, but that’s another story. This story of Loory’s, entitled “The Book,” has a special place on my heart and NO, not just because it’s about books, though that’s always nice, but because it’s short, ‘accessible’, and feels like an awesome grown-up fable, the kind you read and think “hot diggety-dog, I am going to change my life!” And if you want to know what it’s about? Well, the first few sentences pretty much cover it.

First  Line(s): “The woman returns from the store with an armload of books. She reads them quickly, one by one, over the course of the next few weeks. But when she opens the last one, the woman frowns in surprise.

All the pages in the book are blank.

Every single one.”

Reading Time: 7min

Level of Enjoyment: HOT-DIGGETY DOG! Also, a little bit of that obligatory ‘not wanting to end’ feeling for the last few sentences.

Queries, And All The Authors Who Don’t Know How To Write Them

May 29, 2010

After reading yet another blog post from a literary agent complaining about how authors simply don’t invest enough time into writing a query–despite the availability of advice on how to write them–I’ve decided that all the queries filling your inboxes, dear literary agents, are obviously from people who do not read your blog.

Or maybe just from people who can’t read.

Or people who give up way too easily.

Or people who like clicking send.

Or people who read some of your blog post (a sentence or two), enough to know that they should send a query, and that they should include things like the book title or word count, but who never read further.

Or people who get really confused by the complex notion of ‘personalized query letters.’

Or people who penned their first book for NanoWrimo.

Or people who want to annoy literary agents.

Or people destined to try self-publishing.

Or people who are just really tired, okay, tired of there being all these BS hoops to jump through just to publish a brilliant book and maybe those agents just don’t UNDERSTAND, you know, because the publishing business is going down the tubes and how can they publish Dan Brown and not me, I mean, c’mon, obviously my literature is just so new and nuanced and CONTROVERSIAL that no one understands me and so says crappy things about my queries for no apparent reason and did Jane Austen have to write a query, huh? And maybe I’m the next Hemmingway, the next Nabokov, the next Bronte, maybe I’m just so new age that I define a my own genre and evidently you can’t appreciate it. In conclusion, the publishing world is a square, and I am only trying to be original, so bug off.

Or people who don’t know how to use the internet.

Or people who don’t know how to write, but are very very very confident that they have a story inside of them just like anyone else.

But don’t worry, dear literary agents, I read your blog. And I’m hoping I’m going to have something to wow your socks off pretty soon.

The Rumpus Book Club

May 27, 2010

When I heard about the chance to get cool new books in the mail before they’ve been officially released for only $25 smackaroos a month, you bet I couldn’t pass that offer down. I mean, what better way to support new authors, what better way to reconcile my OCD indecisiveness over what I should read next, and c’mon people, it’s from The Rumpus, and they know good books.

Join The Rumpus Book Club. We get the opportunity to read unreleased books, participate in an online discussion with the author at the end of the month, and, as the folks at The Rumpus have rightly emphasized, WE get the opportunity to be reviewers. “Rather than waiting to be told what books are approved for cultural consumption,” WE get to judge which books are good and which, not so much.

The first four books have been announced for this summer (Citrus County above is their first book for June). Am I psyched that August will feature Tao Lin’s much-anticipated novel, Richard Yates? Maybe. Am I even more excited about reading authors I’ve never been introduced to before? Definitely.

Bring it on, Rumpus. Bring it on.

You Should Read: If You Read This Book The World Will End by The Hypothetical Library&Neil Gaiman

May 26, 2010

You Should Read is a weekly Wednesday short where I suggest short stories and poems on the web to bide a little time on this dreadful–when will Friday come?–24hrs in the middle of the week.

It’s the best thing I’ve seen in a while and it’s from something called The Hypothetical Library where, to lightly paraphrase, imaginary book covers are designed for real authors. What does that mean, you ask? The Hypothetical Library is a place where authors can dream up a book they would never write, and then the HL team in turn dreams up a book cover to match the theoretical story.  But when the HP team got their hands on Neil Gaiman, things really heated up: Gaiman couldn’t possibly think of a book he would never write, an idea he would never want to expand on, and so he proposed that the only book that he could never write would be one too terrible to ever be read. And so, If You Read This Book The World Will End was born.

With such an intriguing title on their hands, The Hypothetical Library did a lot more than just create a book cover. They created a 3-D prototype, befit with a hefty padlock, an audio book, which begins to crackle and sputter and suggest doom about 1min in, and, finally, an e-book cover that, with its moving images and interactive features, was truly as innovative as I hope e-books will come to be. I’m hooked on The Hypothetical Library for sure, and does it make me a bad person to say that I really want to finish reading the one book that should never be read?

First  Line: “I awoke fitfully in a bed not my own, in a place unfamiliar.”

Reading Time: eternity. because one page in, you’ve just caused the apocalypse.

Level of Enjoyment: Doesn’t get better than this because (static) and you know things get crazy when (sputter) and I thought I was going to–NOOOOOOOO!  (something menacing approaching) AHHHHHH!  (The sound of limbs torn asunder. Silence.)

Living The Genre

May 24, 2010

When I read the genre, I live the life.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Where suddenly your everyday blah life begins to mirror that romance novel you were reading, since obviously the cute guy you saw in the hallway, the cute coworker you spotted walking back to his cubicle, obviously he was looking at you, and some great magnum opus of an epic romance is about to ensue. Your significant other says he/she just lost his cufflinks/earrings/t-shirt/dictionary, and guess what, Mr. Holmes, you are prepared to find named item if it’s the last thing you do, Scooby snacks or no.

I write literary fiction. But I read fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, romance, and yep, literary fiction. Some of my favorite blogs are from YA and mystery writers. Sure, YA does dominate the blogosphere, and sure I’m not going to emulate YA vis a vis to write literary fiction, but even a guilty reading of Twilight, or a gripping read of Nothing (haven’t read it yet, but read this article and really wanted to), all of these things improve my writing, make it more varied, more outside the box (I hate this phrase, because it is so not ‘outside the box’).

My English teacher once said she finds herself analyzing books so frequently that she’s begun to analyze the literary significances of  her own life. Maybe that’s a little too dramatic, or maybe there is a divine, writer-like deity who designs your storybook into a series of significant, character-evolving events. Who knows? But I’m lying on my couch right now, in the post-coitus of having just watched Lost the night before, and I believe that there is a sideways world where everyone I love is trying to right the wrongs. Shouldn’t we all have the chance to let ourselves go, let ourselves dream, let ourselves accept the idea that fictional plot twists/boogey monsters/romances/vampire/magics/you-name-it exist in our everyday life?

Pretty corny, right? Though I don’t know what poor corn on the cob did to get such a bad rep.

My Picks For The Moby Awards’ Best Book Trailers

May 20, 2010

Tonight is The Moby Awards, Melville House Publishing’s answer to judging the best and worst book trailers. For months they’ve been having people like you and me nominate certain trailers, and they’ve finally narrowed it down to the final five for each of the five categories. Before they pick it tonight (I’m so mad I can’t go, but I’ve been taking these really awesome Portuguese classes that directly conflict with the awards ceremony) let me tell you my top choice for each of the five categories:

Best Low Budget/Indie Book Trailer:

A Common Pornography was witty, but I felt it ultimately didn’t say anything about the book, and it felt stale after the first 40seconds in. I Love Lego NY might have been higher on my list if I hadn’t already read the book and known that they were just posting pages of it on the screen, which isn’t bad, except that the entire book is only about 20pages long, if that. Usually I don’t go for the ‘indie crap’ that I am in the Air Right Now by Kathryn Regina could have been about, but I loved the quote she used in the voice over, and the sketch animation (what the hell do you call that kind of animation? cause I’m no artist) heightened the experience.

My pick: I am in the Air Right Now by Kathryn Regina

Best Big Budget/Big House Book Trailer:

I couldn’t in my right mind give my winning vote to Vampire Hunter or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and High Before Homeroom felt like the silly, trashy, guy flick movie that it was portraying. Now Going West could have been a sure winner (wow, look at those visuals, having a book come alive and make up the landscape of your story, too cool) but I wasn’t inspired by the quote or the voice (which sounded warbled–maybe I just don’t get New Zealand accents?) but it lost out to Blameless by Gail Carriger because, as the entire blogosphere knows after having be entranced by it for months, may not have anything to do with the book, but man  is it fascinating to see how graphic designers design a book cover.

My Pick: Blameless by Gail Carriger

Best Performance by an Author:

Okay so, Daniel Handler in The Book vs. The Kindle, Round 10: A Seriously Unfortunate Event nearly did it for me, but what was so awesome about the video was less about Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snickett) and more about Green Apple Book’s hilarious “Book vs. Kindle” advertising campaign to discredit The Kindle. Once you got that out of the way, who wouldn’t choose Dennis Case and his pathetic nonattempts to  use technology to promote his book? Favorite line, when his publisher lets Dennis know that he can actually make a facebook page just for his book: “but I thought you needed something with a face!”

My pick: Dennis Cass in Head Case aka, Book Launch 2.0

Best Cameo in a Book Trailer:

My Pick: Jon Stewart in I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President

Cause everything else was eh, but Jon Stewart sure is a funny guy sometimes.

Least Likely Trailer to Sell the Book:

No question, no explanation, but it’s got to be  Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden by Cameron Pierce. And yes, I know this isn’t fair, because I found this trailer’s satirical take on Japanese cinema hilarious and it DID make me want to buy the book (which isn’t exactly the point of the category), but really, I couldn’t choose Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin, could I, considering it was an incredibly boring trailer but I would have bought the book regardless? So yeah, Shark Hunting in Paradise Gardens won, and has anyone else ever noticed Japan’s warped obsession with Christianity?

My pick: Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden by Cameron Pierce

Personal Awards:

Best title: Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden by Cameron Pierce

Best book cover:  I Am A Genius Of Unspeakable Evil And I Want To Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

Overall best trailer: Dennis Cass in Head Case

A Warm Spot In My Heart For: I am in the Air Right Now by Kathryn Regina

Anyone going to The Moby Awards? Make sure to tell me all about it!