An essay, a digital comic, short stories, and a parenting memoir

An essay, a digital comic, short stories, and a parenting memoir

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at five essential releases, some recent, some not.

Rage” by Laura Bogart
Laura Bogart’s autobiographical essay “Rage” has all the qualities associated with the emotion—it’s terse, boiled-down, and powerful—combined with something more: eloquence, touched with a streak of dark humor. “For years,” she writes, “I would say that my father gifted me with rage. This may sound like ‘I tripped into the door again’ dressed up in riot grrl bravado. But I am never sugar and spice and everything nice. I am piss and vinegar and what the fuck do you think you’re looking at?” Bogart describes how her father’s “gift” enabled her to stand up to him—“When I am thirteen years old, I tell my father that if he lifts his hands to me again, I will kill him. I haven’t had my first period, but I have a plan.”—and finally, to her sorrow, gave her the strength to reject his pleas that they soften up enough to reconnect. It’s the kind of thing that can make you almost wished you’d experienced what the author had lived through, if it’s the price to pay for writing something like this. [Phil Dyess-Nugent]

The Three Paradoxes by Paul Hornscheimer
I still support my local brick-and-mortar comics store, but I do monitor the “new” releases on the Comixology iPad app to see if any interesting older graphic novels get added to the digital catalog. Last week, Paul Hornscheimer’s autobiographical book The Three Paradoxes popped up, and I’d heard good things. It didn’t disappoint. I was hooked as I read an early scene where Paul asks his father a question that he knows will elicit a long, dull answer. Paul uses the time to brainstorm an ending to his latest comic, so we bounce between Paul’s dad and the creative iterations that are happening in Paul’s head. It’s a novel duality of action—novel because there’s hardly any action on either side of the scene, yet it’s engrossing just the same. That’s only one of the moments where the story juggles Paul’s real-world ennui with the frustrations of his fiction. These threads converge toward the end of the book, and they even hint at the prospect of resolving each other. But as the title suggests, this isn’t a story about resolutions. It’s about holding up life’s prosaic unsolvable problems and examining them from a variety of angles. [John Teti]

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir Of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood by Drew Magary
I couldn’t really recommend Drew Magary’s dad-book to the childless, but those of you with young’ns might feel better about your own parenting skills after reading about his. Which isn’t to say the Deadspin and GQ writer is a shitty dad—he’s just a regular guy who gets frustrated with his flock and makes some marginally bad decisions. There’s a story in which he can’t get through to his tantrum-ing daughter, so he tries in vain to spank her, then ends up putting her in a cold shower. (This isn’t something he read in a parenting book, but more of a spur-of-the-moment decision.) He’s far from irredeemable—Someone Could Get Hurt isn’t a guy bragging about being selfish; it’s more about a guy coming to terms with redefining his own selfishness once more important people entered his life. [Josh Modell]

Tenth Of December
We’re about halfway through the year, and still the best book I’ve read so far in 2013 is George Saunders’ latest short story collection Tenth Of December. A lot has been said about Saunders’ work in the wake of its release, and the book is a rather unexpected bestseller, though may be due to an unusually overzealous marketing campaign and all the digital ink spilled proclaiming Saunders as the “writer of our time.” But damn it if Saunders isn’t worth that attention after nearly two decades grinding out some of the best short stories in recent memory. It’s a bit like the book equivalent of The National breaking through on High Violet after gradually building up to that point. Tenth Of December doesn’t have Saunders’ absolute best stories—“CivilWarLand In Bad Decline,” “Sea Oak,” and others are in his previous collections—but it has stunning pieces like “The Semplica Girl Diaries” and “Victory Lap,” stories that question the real world by holding up a funhouse mirror with a comically altered reflection. “Escape From Spiderhead” has grown into my favorite story in the collection, a commentary on crime, pharmaceuticals, and sexuality, all tempered by a biting black humor. Slate’s Audio Book Club recently did an in-depth discussion of Saunders’ work, particularly the stories in Tenth Of December, that devotes an appropriate amount of time to digging into what’s so appealing about this particular concentrated array of Saunders’ talent. [Kevin McFarland]

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