If you’re taking a leisurely five-day weekend to celebrate the Fourth of July, you’re going to need something to read. And I’m assuming you’ve already read all the adventures of everyone’s favorite patriotic vampire. So it’s time for you folks to branch out a little.
If you’re looking for something scary, then I suggest the latest collection of short stories from my friend and teacher John Rember. Sudden Death Over Time is set almost entirely among the academics at a tiny liberal arts college as they struggle to find their own reasons to live. And while that might not sound like the stuff of horror, in places it is absolutely terrifying. John’s prose is as mercilessly lucid as ever, and he wrestles with the existential questions most of us prefer to avoid without strong chemicals. My personal favorite was the piece about the professor who’d personally taken charge of the college’s stash of deadly materials accumulated in the glory days of the Cold War, when you could get plutonium and biotoxins through the mail. You can order the book direct from the publisher here.
Coming To My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride is by Alyssa Harad, another refugee, like me, from the great state of Idaho. I admit, I haven’t read this yet, but Alyssa was always a gifted and ridiculously smart writer, so it’s worth checking out. It hits July 5, and sounds fascinating. After thinking of herself as primarily a bookish intellectural, she discovers an unknown sensual obsession in perfume just before she’s about to get married. Think Eat, Pray, Love without the entitlement issues. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this hit Oprah-like levels of success, so get your copy now.
Yet another Boise native, Stephanie Reents just released The Kissing List, a collection of short stories about the early days of semi-adulthood: the escape from grad school; the first, crappy apartments; and the inevitable collisions with love and mortality. Filled with effortless, elegant prose and surprising moments of grace.
When I was at the University of Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA program, (#humblebrag) I got to meet a writer I’ve admired for a long time, Steve Almond. He was gracious about my fanboy piddling all over his sneakers, so I suggest you pick up his new collection of stories, God Bless America, or any of his seriously funny, smart and occasionally sex-drenched work.
Or you can do yourself a favor and read anything by Emily Rapp and be amazed by her ability, her strength, and her breathtaking honesty. (Seriously, I write about vampires to avoid thinking about the stuff she confronts in just a few paragraphs.)
After all that, you might be in the mood for some lighthearted mayhem. Fortunately, my friend Cody Goodfellow has got you covered. His book, All-Monster Action, destroys the entire planet in a war fought between weaponized Godzillas and bioengineered freaks, and it is ridiculously fun.
Finally, there’s Glen Duncan’s Tallula Rising, the sequel to The Last Werewolf. It’s brilliant. Read both books if you haven’t already. Then read everything else he’s done. Duncan is one of the greatest prose stylists I’ve ever read. Werewolves and vampires are just the bacon and hot fudge on top of the sundae.
As it turns out, there’s nothing like monsters fighting monsters to take your mind off — or maybe illuminate — the great struggle of humanity to simply live through all the joy and pain the world serves up to us, every day.
Okay. That should hold you until at least next week. Get reading.