The New Guy’s Guide to ThePicadorBookRoom (Part 1):
It’s not easy being the new guy, so to break the ice—and get a heads-up on their tastes—I decided to hound my coworkers for their absolute favorite Picador title. The assignment: Pick a book, or two, that knocked you to the floor. There was no lack of enthusiasm so The Newb’s Guide to ThePicadorBookRoom will be in two parts.
James, our Executive Director of Publicity, had me picking up this book of stories by his description:
One of my favorite books on the Picador list is John Haskell’s 2004 debut, I Am Not Jackson Pollock. When I try to describe this book to people I always mention Borges, but then immediately backtrack and end up (over)explaining what I mean by that. Jack Haskell’s not like Borges—no one is—but both Haskell and Borges occupy a space between fiction and nonfiction in their writing, with stories that read like essays (or are they fictional essays?).
A highlight in the collection is “Elephant Feelings” which alternates between the stories of an elephant named Topsy who was electrocuted in Coney Island in 1903 for killing a man (true—Youtube has video of the execution, which was a public exhibition–ed. note video at bottom of post); the Hottentot Venus, who was exhibited as an oddity in Paris in the first half of the 19th century (also true); and the Indian God Ganesha who had the head of an elephant (myth). My favorite line:
“Elephants remember so well because their experiences are stored in their bodies, and they have big bodies, and her big body was filled with unpleasant thoughts and emotions. “
John Haskell writes simply unlike anyone else.
PJ, assistant to the publisher and fellow new guy in the office, picked Wells Tower’s debut of short stories which I also enjoyed:
In Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower manages to write from numerous, wholly unlike perspectives convincingly. His stories are devastating and often feature cataclysmic circumstances, but tenderness and humanity is always present. Just when you start to think “wow, this guy really hates his characters,” he gives them a little redemption and peace. Just a little, though.
What is your favorite Picador title? See if you can guess what is coming in Wednesday’s installment.
Also, check out the footage shot by Thomas Edison in 1903 that inspired a story from I Am Not Jackson Pollock.
This post is part of a week-long miniseries celebrating National Short Story Month. Today, Picador intern Anya presents Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
Wells Tower’s debut collection of stories is not for the faint of heart, or for that matter, the weak of stomach.
Tower’s characters seem to harvest emotional brutality and use it as ammunition in their most intimate and enmeshed relationships. Thrown into the mix are raw images, sounds, smells, and tastes that are wildly imaginative and hard to stomach. They linger and haunt you long after you’ve read them. Take, for instance, the story “The Brown Coast,” a sickening call to the senses replete with:
- cracker bits “stuck in the sweaty creases of his elbows and his neck, and…lodged deep into his buttock crack…”
- a refrigerator that breathes out a “sour-thermos smell”
- ice cubes that taste like “old laundry”
- “a square of plywood showcasing a row of withered turkey beards” (for those of you who, like me, are not familiar with turkey anatomy, this is the cluster of long, hair-like feathers that grows from the center of a turkey’s chest)
- an old fish tank containing a bottle of hair tonic, a “waterlogged bat corpse,” who’s aerator breathes “a steady green sigh of bubbles throughout the tank.”
Just the sight and sound of the words themselves seems to create a kind of literary synesthesia that could upset even the strongest of constitutions. But it is well worth the tummy-ache.
Watch animator Chris Roth’s short adaptation of the titular story here.
As for a number of readers, Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is one of my favorite story collections of the last few years. This line was a gut punch when I first read it, and only becomes more powerful with each year. (Tower sprinkles a number of lines this good throughout the collection.)
THE PICADOR BOOK ROOM is a group publishing blog maintained by the employees of Picador Books. Any views expressed in these posts are those of the authors listed below.