Review: Don’t Read This Book

Don't Read This BookDon’t Read This Book (2019 Not A Pipe Publishing) by Benjamin Gorman

At once hilarious and heartbreaking, this novel uses fantasy monsters and rollicking comedy to make sophisticated philosophical and political points about identity and meaning. A tall order that Don’t Read This Book fulfills, and then some.

The story is set in our familiar world, but with one difference: all the monsters and magical creatures of myth and legend are real, hiding among humans … and preying on them. They have long ago formed a governing body with rules that prevent the various creature factions from attacking each other. They meet annually in Las Vegas for a convention. Bel (vampire) and Nando (werewolf) are buddy cops, tasked with capturing and punishing monsters who break the rules. But now they have a new unofficial assignment: rescue a kidnapped human writer and keep her—and her manuscript—away from the necromancer who would use this book to destroy modern civilization.

It would be a spoiler to reveal why he believes a novel could do this, but it has a lot to do with what gives life meaning and how that differs depending on who you are. Lena, the writer in question, exists at an intersection of identities: Black, Latina, lesbian, Millennial…Oregonian. She begins the story full of doubt and fear but under the influence and protection of her unlikely rescuers, she rediscovers her voice and power. Her heartbreaks and triumphs felt real and I couldn’t help rooting for her.

In addition to Las Vegas, Gorman makes good use of real-life settings in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, and France for scenes of narrow escapes and monster battles. Also like the real world, his monster population includes literal internet trolls, flinging flaming poo and thriving on chaos. Most real of all, it takes all the good guys working together to achieve their goal. Still, my favorite character and the true hero of the piece is Josef, a faceless clay golem who punches Nazis. Go, Josef!

Until April 19, 2019, you can pre-order your copy (and consider getting one for your local library) using the Kickstarter here! Or ask for it at your favorite independent bookstore, or order from Amazon here.

Shelter

20171224_114500Many years ago (2003 or ’04) I wrote a Christmas story to share at the Seattle Writers Association holiday potluck. I didn’t think about it again until December 2018 when the organizers of an online author event put out a call for short stories to use as prizes. I remembered this story but couldn’t find it on my computer. Believe it or not, I turned up the hard copy! It was short enough to retype and update, and I enjoyed reading it again. I hope you will, too.

SHELTER

Christmas, Anna thought, was like a big cup of Diet Coke. It promised sweetness and abundance and refreshment, but when you finally took a sip, it was flat and artificial. That was the problem: all the stress and none of the sparkle. Christmas had lost its fizz.

Anna remembered Christmas magic from long ago, when she was a little girl. And as a mother, she had made the magic herself. Even after Will died and she had to go back to work at the hospital in order to support three children, all by herself with no help from anyone, thank you very much. Those children were now grown and too mature for magic. They still expected lavish gifts from their mother, though they had yet to present her with grandchildren. There was no one to make magic for.

To battle holiday blues, Dear Abby advised helping those less fortunate, and then the church bulletin had asked for shelter volunteers for Christmas Eve. Full of enthusiastic good intentions, Anna signed up. She pictured the hospitality and Christmas cheer she would offer, a hostess to the needy young guests in this, her second home. Their gratitude would warm her heart, and just like in a TV movie, she would rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.

Late on Christmas Eve, Anna sat on a metal folding chair, watching people sleep. Rather than joy at sharing, she felt battered by the invasion. They had tromped in, armored with piercings, grimy backpacks, and attitude. Anna soon gave up trying to converse. She didn’t know their families (did they have families?), disqualifying that small-talk staple. They didn’t care that this building was erected in 1927 and nearly lost in the Depression, or that the congregation had been organized over 100 years ago, or that Anna had had her wedding reception in this very room, long before anyone thought of running a thrift shop or hosting a homeless shelter in a church fellowship hall. It was like trying to communicate with members of another species.

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Mother’s Day

050615-0658For Mother’s Day, I share another gift of short fiction.

I wrote the original version of “Mother’s Day” several years before my own mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so she was able to read and enjoy it. It later won a large prize in a small contest and a small prize in a large contest, and still stands as the only fiction that has earned me any money; $100 total, I think.

These days, I write enough fiction in the present tense that it no longer seems weird or experimental. This was the first effort.

MOTHER’S DAY

It is the first day of third grade. I am going to skip all the way to school. My flopping braids beat my back and my new yellow dress flaps against my legs. My arms drink September sunshine as I spring first on one foot, then the other. My mother calls to me from the porch. I turn back, but my mouth does not reply with the usual, “Yes, Mama?” I can’t move my lips. The street, the houses, the sunshine, and Mama all fade into gray.

“Good morning,” says a woman’s voice. “How are you today?”

Where am I? I’m lying in bed with light shining on my closed eyelids. I must be awake, but it feels like a dream. I keep my eyes closed. I want to go home, one more time.

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