Review

SOMETHING TO DO WITH SELF-HATE By Brian Alan Ellis

In this book, Brian Alan Ellis manages to capture that voice that not everybody knows, but if you know it, if you hear it every day, this book is for you.

Written in second person, narrator’s name unknown, and not following the conventional structure of most books, Something to do with Self-Hate is an easy, quick read loaded with those heavy sentences that shoot straight through the reader like bullets. It maintains a balance of dark humour, satire, and depressive/depressing ruminations.

Although it starts with the protagonist’s break-up, this is not a break-up book. This is the nothingness, helplessness, and uselessness that a lot of us feel every waking moment in modern day life, regardless of circumstances, burdened by the absurdity of being, with nothing to do except hang out with people just as helpless as yourself, working a dead-end job, and hating the person you see in the mirror. Not many authors know how to do this well, not the way Ellis does.

Personally, this is the book equivalent of BoJack Horseman*, filled with perfectly written phrases that I will forever quote. Some notable examples are:

“usually, if you don’t catch the name of the person you’re in bed with, you catch something else.”
“There’s just too much of that stabbing emptiness when it comes to being an individual.”

“You’ll wait for anything at this point [….] maybe the Nobel Prize in ineptness.”

“You knew from an early day that to get through life you’ll have to rely solely on imagination because everything was so disappointing.”

The only thing is, I wish this book were longer. Other than that, it’s a 5/5 from me.

*a perfect depiction of depression and anxiety without being too corny.

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Review

IN THE CITY OF SHY HUNTERS By Tom Spanbauer

Tom Spnabauer is one of the few living authors whose books I personally consider to be modern day classics. He’s somewhere in that zone between prose and poetry, and he broke that myth about less always being more.

In the City of Shy Hunters tells the story of Will Parker from Idaho who escapes to New York in search for the love of his life, and the story goes back and forth as the secrets of his childhood unfold, and he encounters people who are, much like himself, different, vulnerable, but not afraid to admit it.

Although the language is simple and the flow is steady, the book wraps the reader with barbed wire. It’s personal, visceral, and it goes to those places most writers refuse —or are too scared— to go to. Spanbauer’s art of Dangerous Writing, as he explains in this video, is summed up in the word Unpacking. He’s not a mirror reflecting the characters and events in the book, what he paints is not a picture but a feeling. Through the minor details and perfectly timed repetition, he tunes the mind of the reader to that of his characters. As painful as it is, it’s oddly comforting.

Every page, every paragraph of this book is a lesson on how to write, and I believe that all writers should read a Spanbauer book at least once in their lives. There are books that break the rules, and there are books that break your heart. This one is guaranteed to do both.

5/5.

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Review

ONE OF US By Iain Rowan

Another North East talent, a must-read. This is a book that managed to take the ordinary, and in a slow, cushioned manner, in deliberately simple language, turn it into something exciting and unusual.

All around this country, you can see people like Anna —doctors, nurses, engineers, all the refugees who had to leave home and come here to get treated like outsiders and second class citizens. In her home country, she was going to be a doctor, but in the UK she worked in the shadows, got paid cash in hand, and lived in poor conditions.

It seemed that no matter where she went, she couldn’t avoid trouble. She slowly delved into the world of criminals and human trafficking, and had to use her wit to stay alive. She’s flawed and perfectly smug as only medical students can be, she’s smart but not a genius, brutal but not cruel, and she’s just as real as my hands on the book.

What I find striking about Iain Rowan’s unmistakable style is that he clearly does the hard work. He’s as far from cliché as one can be without coming off as trying too hard, therefore his book is easy to read and just as easily, it can amaze.

5/5

We need more writers like this.

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15. THE DISASTER ARTIST By Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

If you haven’t watched The Room yet, I urge you to do so now that it’s back in the ever fleeting spotlight of the media. It’s not just a film, it’s an experience. Because underneath the hilarity and all the obvious overdone jokes, The Room is an actual dream come true.

I had to check out this audiobook when I was told it was read by Greg Sestero, and that all the quotes by Tommy Wiseau were read in his accent, I thought that would be hilarious, and for the first couple of hours or so, it was.

The Disaster Artist tells the real life story of a young American aspiring actor and his unusual, bizarre journey with the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau. It’s about how they met, how they became friends, and how they ended up making the cult classic The Room. What I expected from the book was vastly different from what was delivered. I knew nothing of Wiseau beyond The Room, and The Disaster Artist goes deeper into the psychology of him as a person, a broken person with a dark past, living with the spirit of a child, unhealthily infatuated with the American Dream, and in complete denial of his reality.

The thing is, I’m not quite sure what Sestero was thinking when he wrote the book. Other than the obvious, of course, take advantage of The Room’s success and people’s curiosity in order to sell, I’m not sure which direction he was going with the book. While every other page or so he would say something sentimental about Wiseau to show his human side, the majority or the book he was trying to paint him in a dark light and make him out as a sadistic, manipulative person. However, about maybe halfway through the book, you realise the only manipulative person in the story was Sestero himself. Wiseau clearly has a problem, if not many problems, but Sestero had no excuse. He exploited a lonely man who only wanted a friend, stayed friends with him because he needed a place to live in LA, and he starred in his film because he needed the money. And worst of all, he wrote this bloody thing because starring in The Room ruined his acting career.

I’m glad, however, that he wrote this book. I sure am glad that his writing is not as stiff and lifeless as his acting. The book shows a side of Tommy Wiseau that everyone who had seen The Room needs to see. Surely it’s easy to make jokes about a person when you forget that they’re human with hopes and dreams and pain and delusions. But in the end, Tommy got what he wanted. He will never be forgotten.

 

3/5

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14. CORPSES ‘N’ THINGS By Various Authors

Reading a book by an author based in the North East of England has been one of the things I’ve wanted to do since I moved country. I have a list of authors to go through, and this happened to be on the top, since it features more than one author (not North East based, mind, but still mostly in the UK) and also has a submission by a friend of mine.

Before I dissect each one of those stories individually, I have to mention a couple of things they all have in common, just to spare myself and whoever reads this the mundanity of repeating it under each submission:

The first thing is spelling and grammar. Now, I know that even the best selling books out there have a spelling error or two, but with the exception of Agony Host (I’m going to be saying that a lot) each page of each story has about three mistakes, be it spelling or punctuation. This is not something I’m going to blame the writers for, as all writers make mistakes (I’m sure there will be one or two mistakes in this review.) Besides, they could be dyslexic, typing fast, or whatever reason that wouldn’t undermine their brilliance as writers, this is the publisher’s duty to make sure their product looks as professional as possible.

Second thing I’d like to point out is that, again, with the exception of Agony Host, they all give off first draft vibes. Description is stiff and dialogue is stilted, and there’s a whole lot of telling and not showing, which makes me believe that not only are they first drafts but their first attempt at professional writing.
Now that we got that out of the way, I’ll go through them one by one:

1. AGONY HOST By Jason Green
Great way to start the book at a high point. This is my favourite and highest ranked story of all submissions, and possibly one of my favourite short stories of all. It starts with one of those paragraphs that gave me the this-is-gonna-be-good kind of tingle, and I had to go back and read it one more time. It didn’t disappoint, the story raised the bar and upheld that status until the end. Now, I’m not one to extrapolate or assume a metaphor, for all I know the writer could be telling a story about a quadriplegic man going through unlicensed experimental treatment, but I couldn’t help but notice the poignancy of the story and how much it made me think of depression and dissociation. I’m just throwing that out there, my guess is it wasn’t intentional but either way it appealed so much to my tendencies.

2. THE LAST MOMENT OF THE CONDEMNED By Mark Green
I love the narrative voice changing from first to third person and vice versa, that was cool. The twist was given away quite early which was disappointing, and some of the scenes could be described better but overall a good story and having a brazen killer with a dark past is always a winner.

3. ACID RAIN By Peta Alexander
The vivid, horrific description of something somewhat within the realms of possibility made this one stand out. An interesting take on what could happen if everything and everyone in the UK were to get wiped out of existence by 30 or so minutes of rain. No forewarnings, no preparations, nothing. It’s a frightening idea but, just like the rest of the stories in the anthology, it needed maybe two or three more drafts.

4. UNSAFE HOUSE By Josh Darling
OK, I loved and hated this one. It’s up there with Agony Host regarding presentation of the most unique ideas and on top of that, the best dialogue and most nuanced characters but my god was it all over the place. It infuriated me because clearly the author knows what he’s doing, he’s toying with gore while still keeping characters and events interesting, and I know it could have been so much better. The whole thing read like Tarantino directing a Palahniuk book —granting the latter wrote about zombies. If I knew Josh Darling wrote a film script, I’d be first to watch that.

5. RED ROOM By Peter J Mackie
A whole lot of gore for the sake of gore in this one. Personally can’t say I liked it, but I can see it appealing to those into Saw films.

6. A STORY WITH ZOMBIES By Peter Scott
A vibrant, light-hearted story that worked as great buffer, an interlude amongst all the gore porn, and the only one in this anthology which made me want to read more about the characters in their standalone book. It’s hard in this day and age to take something as overplayed as zombies and make something original out of it, so I like the way he decided to play with it and make something more comedy than it is horror, hence —I believe— the title.

7. THE WEDDING DEAD By Mark Green
Second submission by Green in this anthology. Hickson and Orcsan are respectively a human and a demon working together to exorcise the spirit of a bride in a town’s church. I found the dynamic between the two more interesting than the corpse bride, and personally enjoyed it more than THE LAST MOMENT OF THE CONDEMNED.

I’d like to end this on another collective note. Despite their flaws, these were all fun and easy to read, they were entertaining, and that’s almost all one wants out of a book. I understand that the whole idea behind this anthology is to get submissions by not-so-well-known authors and put it in print, and that’s a great thing to have, but the lack of editing and proofreading can severely undermine a good book.

3/5*

*After rating each one individually, that’s the average rating.

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13. THE NIGHTLY DISEASE By Max Booth III

I knew I was going to love this book before I’d started reading it. Being slightly familiar with Max Booth III’s work and knowing that he had a book about a hotel night auditor in the works, I’ve anticipated this one so much and knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be up there with Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More as best book I’ve read this year.

The Nightly Disease tells the story of Isaac —a depressed, misanthropic hotel night auditor— as he powers through night after night working a soul crushing job and dealing with a myriad of unnecessarily irate customers, two of which are sadistic psychopaths who torment him. Isaac’s favourite pastime is pursuing an unhealthy relationship with an equally disturbed woman, chatting to a fellow night auditor enabling each other’s bad habits, masturbating on the hotel roof, and dreading the looming threat of owls.

Every person that happens to cross paths with Isaac is fucked up in their own special way, and the poor kid can’t get a break as disasters pile up one after the other causing him to slowly lose his mind in different hilarious ways. Despite being likeable and relatable, Isaac is aggravating. He’s the kind of person that deserves a slap and a hug at the same time. Still, you can’t hate Isaac as much as he hates himself and everyone in the hotel.

Whatever Tom Spanbauer can do with love and pain, Max Booth III did with a thriller/comedy. I learned early on that reading this book in public was a bad idea as I looked quite daft laughing in the middle of a café. Max Booth III is a graceful writer who not only created the Bible for anyone who has ever worked in customer service, but he’s done it so well you can hear the protagonist’s voice deadpanning throughout, occasionally ending sentences with a shock punchline without you knowing there was a joke.

5/5
I’m going to recommend this one to everyone I know. Looking forward to reading How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers which I’d been planning to read before this one came out but there we are.

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12. THE STRANGER By Albert Camus

This is one of those books which I finished only in two sittings (mostly on a plane). It’s simple and to the point, fast paced, and being quite short also helped.

It starts with Meursault learning about the death of his mother, uncertain of when it happened, and follows as he goes to her funeral. He describes the funeral in a way that is bleak and eerily dissociated, and then that bleakness continues throughout, as he gratuitously kills a guy, right until his death sentence.

Other than a couple of paragraphs, Meursault is apathetic and blasé. The way he was described dealing with his mother’s death, possibly the worst thing anyone could ever go through, is corporeal rather than emotional, using sentences that are monotonous, business-like, and robotic. Whether Meursault is a sociopath or a psychopath, or whether he was battling depression, it’s never mentioned nor is it at all relevant.

What we’re dealing with here is a person who realised that nothing matters, and therefore to have emotions at all e.g. mourning his mother, remorse for murder, love for his girlfriend, it’s all futile. When he was certain he couldn’t take care of his mother, he sent her to a home. It was not the best option in a lot of people’s eyes but having her with him would have ended up being worse for her. He didn’t cry at her funeral, he didn’t fear death, and couldn’t justify killing the guy. The reasons he had for doing anything, and the reasons people have are completely different, because people tend to put meaning to things they didn’t understand in order to feel better — or feel something. 

The book didn’t make sense to me until I finished reading it and thought for a while, and I’m sure once I revisit it years or so from now it would make even more sense. I believe that nihilism as a state of mind is something everyone eventually reaches as they advance through life.

4/5

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