Brent Hendricks has always been obsessed with endings (namely the apocalypse), but his relationship with death became much more complicated when, in 2002, his father’s body (along with 338 others) was discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in Georgia. The bodies thought to be cremated were found decomposing in broken refrigerators and out back in the woods. Some of them had been there for years.
The Order of the Good Death calls Hendricks’ book about the Tri-State Crematory Incident, A Long Day at the End of the World, “an incredible read we cannot recommend highly enough.” Check out The Order’s interview with Hendricks for the first installment of their new series, Real American Death Heroes.
You may not care for the blues. You may not have been mesmerized by a “particularly vivid montage sequence” in the 1994 documentary “Crumb.” You may have never even picked up a guitar and felt its strings beneath your fingers.
But under no circumstances can we imagine you reading the opening lines of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” and not being instantly sucked down the rabbit hole into prewar American music (“Early jazz was a thing in hip circles, but only a few true freaks were into the country blues”), the “so-called Blues Mafia” whose contribution to our national soundtrack is “past accounting,” the living room of a census man who has become custodian to one of the most precious and unwieldy archives of American cultural field work, and arriving, finally, at the feet of two women who, save for a haunting, breathtakingly few extant records, had almost eluded history altogether.
The borders surrounding Area X might be expanding more rapidly than we’d thought—already there are signs of it here in Manhattan: vines creeping up the Flatiron building, strange vegetation sprouting through the asphalt. It looks like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation might not be fiction, but prophesy: Area X seems to be infecting the real world.
If you can Google it, it must be true! We’re certainly not going outside to find out—we’ve read about what happens to people in Area X.
March Madness is upon us. By which, of course, we mean The Morning News Tournament of Books, the literary world’s antidote to college basketball—or, perhaps, its capitulation to the national obsession with bracketology. There are some serious problems with this year’s tournament: Notably, the absence of any FSG Originals titles (how do you have a no-holds-barred competition and not include Donnybrook?), and specifically, the failure of The Isle of Youth (or even Originals’ hardcover-favorite Hild) to move from the long list into the tourney itself, presumably because the organizers were looking to preserve some element of parity and suspense in the competition. But the panel of judges is acceptable—we’re looking forward to reading John Darnielle weigh in next week, and of course John Freeman are famous for their irresistible discernment. But the smart set says the real action is in the comments section. And how can we disagree when today’s Match Commentary opens with:
I thought Freeman’s judgment was tremendous—it’s not surprising for those of us who know his work (I highly recommend How to Read a Novelist)...
The (also not surprising) fact is, we don’t disagree at all—Freeman’s judgment is in fact tremendous, and that fact that the tremendousness is unsurprising shouldn’t stop you from reading his noble effort to step beween The Son and Eleanor and Park, a pair of books who’ve clearly been itching for a match-up all year long. It may not be 2014’s great Cinderella story (but maybe it is! No spoilers here!), it’s well worth reading—an eloquent and inspiring example of a critic reading two very different, accomplished books on their own terms, and then unapologetically doing what the Tournament demands: anointing the better book. Naturally, we also agree that that sheer tremendousness of Freeman’s judgment should spur you to read How to Read a Novelist. It is in fact chock-full of upsets, nail-biters, and Cinderella stories.
First, last week the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Laura van den Berg the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for The Isle of Youth. The prize recognizes “a young writer of considerable literary talent for a work published in 2013.” You’ll hear no argument from us. We’ve been crowing about Laura’s considerable literary talent for months. And we are thrilled, honored, and grateful—maybe not quite so thrilled, honored, and grateful as Laura herself, but still pretty damn thrilled, honored, and grateful—to have the American Academy join the cause. Especially when you look at the Rosenthal’s recent winners: Claire Vaye Watkins, Teju Cole, Monique Truong, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Chris Adrian… Hot damn!
The only thing better than this animated cover of Acceptance was Jeff VanderMeer’s reaction to it when he visited our offices a couple weeks ago: pure, unadulterated, boyish delight.
(It really seemed to be that poor mouse that gave him the giggles.)
But as far as the internet is concerned, BuzzFeed had the exclusive first look, which they featured today along with Lincoln Michel’s interview with Jeff.
Computers love poetry too.
The algorithm behind Times Haiku: Serendipitous Poetry from the New York Times uses an electronic syllable-counting dictionary to scan articles for potential poems embedded in its prose, and it came across this gem from Rachel Nolan’s wonderful review of Quesadillas in the Times Book Review.
AREA X WANTS YOU!
Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation has made its way across the Atlantic this week, and our friends at Fourth Estate—who are publishing the book in the UK—pointed us in the direction of this mysterious website for The Southern Reach, claiming to be able to deliver “the truth” about Area X. Start with the video above. From there, explore at your own risk. You could be gone for days…or longer…
In other British Annihilation news, The Guardian greeted the book with a rave review—
You enter Area X with them, thinking the uncanny must lurk in some particular spot. The lighthouse? The reed beds? The “tower”? Very quickly you spot your mistake, as a subtle, well-engineered wrongness turns up in every character, every deed, every observation until, at last, you find yourself afraid to turn the page.
—as has The Telegraph—
The writing itself has a clarity that makes the abundancy of the setting more powerful. Little surprise, therefore, that Annihilation shows signs of being the novel that will allow VanderMeer to break through to a new and larger audience.