best of 2014

Somehow it’s already a new year and I’m still convincing myself to get back in my regular rhythm of work and writing and socializing and sleeping 6-7 hrs/night instead of 8-10 hrs/night with extended naps in between. Having just come back “down south” to NYC and out of the cold, dark place that is New England in winter, I’d like to suggest we just skip over January and February.  As I made a concerted effort to stay offline, I neglected some year end chores like thinking about just what it was I consumed in 2014: words, music, film. I read very little new fiction and listened mostly to classical and friends’ music but here for good measure are lists of things I found worthwhile in 2014:

2014 books (no particular order):

  • Bark: Lorrie Moore
  • Can’t and Won’t: Lydia Davis
  • The Laughing Monsters: Denis Johnson
  • The Shell Collector: Anthony Doerr (I know…not released in 2014 but one of the best I read in 2014)
  • Remembering the Year of the French: (Guy Beiner, also not released in 2014)
  • Lila: Marilynne Robinson
  • The Beautiful Thing that Awaits us All: Laird Barron
  • This Side of Brightness: Colum McCann

2014 music (music released in 2014 or performances in 2014 – in no particular order)

  • Jack White: Lazaretto
  • The Black Keys: Turn Blue
  • St. Paul & Broken Bones: Half the City
  • Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast
  • Mastodon: Once more round the sun
  • Nick Cave live at Town Hall
  • Bryan Ferry live at the Beacon Theater
  • Jessie Kilguss: Devastate Me
  • Peg Simone live at various

2014 movies (released in 2014 – no particular order)

  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Frank
  • Maleficent
  • The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Calvary
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several hundred manuscripts in…

In my “spare time” when I’m not at work or school or the library, I work as an editor for Black Lawrence Press. As part of this work, I read hundreds of fiction manuscripts. These mainly come in through BLP’s contests but also through an open reading period. I’ve read some stellar work, some mediocre work, and some incredibly shoddy work. What always gets me though is when writers don’t take the time to check basics like formatting (what’s with all the single-spaced mss?), spelling, basic punctuation and grammar, and little nit-picky things – keeping a character’s named spelled the same way consistently, knowing basic geographical details of the city where a story is based, I could go on but…Reading this I feel I’m being one of those awful cranky-pants editors who forgets that that manuscript is someone’s hard-fought work. I guess my point is: if you DO love your work enough to send it out into the world, why not love it enough to polish it up? And why not also read the basic submission guidelines for the press you’re submitting to? {And yes, I know that last sentence I just wrote is in dire need of a strong editorial hand.} Given all the above, as I said, I’ve also come across some truly stellar work. Jon Chopan’s Pulled from the River, TJ Beitelman’s John the Revelator, and a stunning short story, Blood, by Matthew Cheney that’s one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read in ages. You can read Blood here: http://www.one-story.com/index.php?page=stories&story_id=81 where it was first published in 2006. You can also read it in his short story collection coming out on Black Lawrence Press at some point in the hopefully not too distant future (print publishing being the slow moving beast that it is).  So I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s a LOT of great writing out there and there could be more if writers would take better care of their work – clean it up, care about word choices, read & learn from more great writers, and by all means: double-space those manuscripts. I treat all manuscripts with equal respect and I value the work every writer is attempting but I won’t go blind for anybody’s work.