Book Review: Hallow This Ground

 

In essays that take us from the field where flight 93 crashed on 9/11 to a bumpy road between two concentration camps at Treblinka, Colin Rafferty contemplates the personal in the public memorials marking some of history’s most tragic events. Part memoir, part new journalism, part lyric, and part immersion, Hallow This GroundRafferty (Indiana University Press, 2016) is more than a collection of essays. Rafferty leads the reader to a complete whole as thematic ties bind these essays together even as, individually, they stand alone.

At a time when Civil War monuments are hotly debated, Rafferty reminds us that a memorial, no matter which side of history you are on, is at best an approximation of the people and events it attempts to honor. And as we see the experience of each place grow personal for the author, we can’t help but bring our own experience to the read as well, creating a book that is so many things at once—warm, thoughtful, timely, informative, and wholly enjoyable.

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Goodreads Giveaway for Californium.

Goodreads is hosting a giveaway for signed copies of Californium right now through Seattle Review of BooksDecember 15.

Tell it to your snotty literati friends (I’m stealing that term from Jennifer Spiegel) . Yell it at your irritatingly cool punk/music friends. Or, just enter yourself and then re-gift the book over the holidays (because you already own it, right?).

Oh, and when you stop by Californium at Goodreads, bring some stars with you. They’re always much appreciated.

 

Denis Johnson: Front Row, Center

To say Denis Johnson was at the 2016 Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon isn’t quite enough. He wasn’t just there. He was sort of everywhere—popping into workshops, sitting in at presentations, mingling at receptions, and going to readings, so many readings, and usually sitting front row, center.

I have a picture of him at Padgett Powell’s reading, DJ01which you might think makes sense, one big name writer honoring another. But Denis didn’t discriminate. If you were reading, whether he knew your name or not, he was listening.

I know because about a week before the Padgett Powell reading, Denis was at my reading. He didn’t know my name, I’m certain, even if we share the same last name. Maybe he was there to hear my talented and better-known co-readers, David Caplan and Frank X. Gaspar. It was exactly two weeks before my debut novel, Californium, was to be released, and it was the first time I’d be reading from the novel, my uncorrected proof in my hands, a room full of people, and Denis Freakin’ Johnson shuffling into the room and sitting about five feet away from me, front row, center.

I read what I hoped was a funny chapter, the one where a group of high school boys are Disquiet_Itrying to come up with a name for their punk band and running through a list of possibilities: Atomic Anarchy, Gone Fission, Second Thoughts, Screaming Mimes, The Variables, Solve for X, Los Punks, and ¿Habla Anarchy?.  To my relief, people were laughing in all the right places, including Denis. After the reading, he even had a suggestion for a band name: Dowager Orgy.

At the time, it was one of the most affirming moments of my writing career. Denis Johnson didn’t just listen to my work, he reacted; he engaged in it. It was better than any blurb or review I could ever hope to get because it was a gut-level reaction, it was positive, and it was Denis Johnson.

I haven’t had a lot of time for reflection, for hindsight. This was all still less than a year ago. But even before I learned of Denis’s passing, I understood that what is more important about that day is all the days I saw Denis, at all those other events, being a generous writer and a gracious person. A lot of people will, and should, praise Denis’s talent in the coming days and weeks. I hope, if they had the pleasure of meeting him, their experiences weren’t unlike mine. Of course I hope my writing can someday be worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as his, that universities might pair our books in Johnson seminars, but it’s more important to me, a much better goal, that I try to be the kind of writer Denis was when I met him—honest, engaged, and sitting front row, center.

A tease of The Journal (Winter 2017)

To say there’s a bit of sex weaving its way through this latest issue of The Journal (issue 41.1) would be too crass, too shthe-journalallow, and only somewhat near the mark.

Poets Miguel Murphy (p. 18) and Adam Day (p. 66) are turning sex around (yes, all puns intended), turning it sideways (literally, you’ll see), making it new yet familiar, painful yet pleasurable, and you’ll be conflicted, unsure if you should be smirking or feeling guilty when it’s over. Then you’ll go back for more, wondering if you should but unable to stop yourself.

And don’t think you can slip away into some prose when someone starts reading over your shoulder. Kathryn Nuernberger’s nonfiction (26) will turn on you in pleasing ways as well, bring even more meaning to what the French call, “the little death.”

There’s much, much more to be loved in this issue but this is, after all, just a tease.

Californium by R. Dean Johnson

The Live Oak Review

Review by Paul Fuhr

51fpr5w-dwl-_sx332_bo1204203200_ (Plume Books, 2016)

There’s a moment midway through R. Dean Johnson’s Californium (Plume Books, 2016) where the novel’s teenage protagonists are comparing the logo of their new punk band to the iconic ones from the legendary bands before them: “Pretty soon, all we’ll need is the top part. Like how people know it’s the Dead Kennedys just by seeing the tomahawk or the Clash when all they see is the guy bent over, smashing his guitar.” It’s a moment that speaks to how emblems, symbols and patterns embed themselves in our consciousness and stay there, triggering instant recall upon seeing them. This is also true of Johnson’s writing: the longer you stay steeped in his words (SoCal, circa 1980), the longer it stays with you and the faster you identify with it. Johnson’s characters—Reece, Keith and Treat—join forces against the headwind of adolescence through the shared…

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DikNixon announces fall campaign stops

If you’d like to hear a bit of Californium: A Novel of Punk Rock, Growing Up, and Other Dangerous Things live this fall, you may be in luck. DikNixon (in the guise of my readings, book signings, and presentations) will be hitting the west coast and a few points in between.punk-reading-3

The complete (so far), fall 2016 Terrorize Your Neighbor Tour is below. A few events are still pending, and I’ve already confirmed a few more dates for spring, so if there isn’t a bookstore, university, or library near you on the list, there may be soon. Watch for updates.

If I know you, it would be great to see you at an event (and no, you don’t have to buy a book. It’s always great to see friends, old and new, at readings). And if I don’t know you, come say hi (you don’t have to buy a book either, but I’m assuming that’s what would bring you to the event in the first place).

Terrorize Your Neighbor Tour, Fall 2016

Sep. 17, Berea, KY – Presenting at Berea Writers Circle Meeting, 1:30pm

Sep. 21, St. Louis, MO – Reading at Subterranean Books, 6:30pm

Sep. 23 Lawton, OK – Reading at Cameron University, TBD

Oct. 4, London, KY – Presentation and book signing at Laurel County Library, 5:00pm

Oct. 8, Long Beach, CA – Reading at Gatsby Books, 3:00pm

Nov. 5, Frankfort, KY – Reading and book signing at Kentucky Book Fair, TBD

Dec. 9, Portland, OR – Reading at Late Night Library, TBD