Thursday, December 31, 2015

The R.E.M. 2016 Reading Challenge

I really love reading challenges because of the way it stretches your reading comfort zone, but I've always sucked at actually completing them. 

In 2015, over at Goodreads, we kicked off our most outrageous challenge ever, borrowing The Beatles Reading Challenge from another group I was a part of, which had turned their songs into reading tasks. (Looks like most of the people who joined in on that one are a bunch of quitters too, like me!)

There's just something about reading challenges though, and so..... because I am glutton for punishment, here we are again!

For 2016, I wanted to keep with the music theme. And I chose REM because they have a huge discography and I have been a hard-core REM fan  going waaaaay back. It was CRAZY FUN turning each of their songs into reading tasks. And it was the perfect opportunity for me to revisit each one, re-familiarizing myself with the lyrics and trying to come up with tasks that matched the themes and symbolism behind each song.

What I think is most cool about these kinds of reading challenges... is that you don't have to be a fan of the bands to participate. You just have to be a fan of READING!!


So here's how this works:

*The goal is to cross off as many of REM songs as you can throughout the course of 2016

You can challenge yourself to complete one entire album, focus on completing one decades-worth of albums, or build your own challenge by hitting your favorite song titles... it's totally up to you!

*You cross off the songs by reading a book that meets the criteria listed after each song title.

If the book meets multiple reading tasks, cool! You can apply it to multiple song titles, OR you can make the reading challenge more challenging by limiting yourself to one title per book.

*There is a built in redundancy with some of the tasks

They are repetitive on purpose, to give you an opportunity to read more than one type of book and still get credit for completing a task. (Sneaky, I know!)

*You can copy and paste the entire list, or your customized challenge list, into your own thread in this goodreads folder and strike through the song titles as you complete them, OR, you can simply copy and paste each song title and its criteria from the master list here as you complete it. (be sure to write the book title and author next to the song title so we know what you read!)


And here's the list.... 
broken down by album, in the order of their release.

(The album titles are hyperlinked to REMhq, where you can click through to each song title and listen to the tracks for additional inspiration!)

"Wolves, Lower" – read a book that centers on wolves or prominently features wild dogs
"Gardening at Night" – read a book that takes place primarily at night
"Carnival of Sorts (boxcars)" – read a book about a carnival, or that features a circus
"1,000,000" – read a ‘doorstopper’ (a book that is more than 600 pages long)
"Stumble" – read a book that you just happened to 'stumble' upon

MURMUR (1983)
"Radio Free Europe" – read a book that takes place in Europe
"Pilgrimage" - read a book about a character who goes on a long journey
"Laughing" – read a book that will make you laugh
"Talk About the Passion" – read an erotica book
"Moral Kiosk" – read a book in which one of the characters is struggling with their morality
"Perfect Circle" – read a book about a tight knit group of friends or family
"Catapult" – read a book set in medieval times
"Sitting Still" – read a book in which nothing seems to happen
"9-9" – read a book with 9 in the title, or a book that has only 9 chapters
"Shaking Through" – read a scary book
"We Walk" – read a book about a protagonist, or group of characters, who’s main mode of transportation is walking
"West of the Fields" – read a book about someone who has gone away, or is gone from home too long

"Harborcoat" – read a book that is left open for interpretation, whose plot is ambiguous
"7 Chinese Brothers" – read a book about pain, loss, bereavement
"So. Central Rain" – read a book in which the character or characters are waiting for something
"Pretty Persuasion" – read a book that someone recommended to you
Time After Time (AnnElise)" – read a book that spans a large period of time
"Second Guessing – read a book that you’ve been hesitant to pick up
"Letter Never Sent" – read a book that is told primarily in letters or diary entries
"Camera" – read a book that centers on photography or on a particular photograph
"(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville" – read a book you promised yourself you would never revisit
"Little America" – read a book set in the western era

"Feeling Gravity’s Pull" – read a space opera or a book that takes place in outer space
"Maps and Legends" – read a book that contains its own map/legend
"Driver 8" – read a book that prominently features a train as the main mode of transportation, or features a protagonist who has to travel a long distance
"Life and How to Live it" – read a self-help book
"Old Man Kensey" – read a book that features an old man as the protagonist
"Can’t Get There From Here" – read a book that seems to go nowhere
"Green Grow the Rushes" – read a book that is set in summertime
"Kohoutek" – read a book that revolves around astronomy, or prominently features stars, a sun, or a moon.
"Auctioneer (Another Engine)" – read a book about wanderlust
"Good Advices" – read a book written by an author you’d never heard of before
"Wendell Gee" – read a book about a dream or in which dreams are prominently featured

"Begin the Begin" – read a book you’ve already read
"These Days" – read a book that takes place in present day
"Fall on Me" – read a book about oppression
"Cuyahoga" – read a book that takes place on or near a river, in which a river is prominently featured
"Hyena" – read a book with an animal in the title
"Underneath the Bunker" – read a book about the end of the world
"The Flowers of Guatemala" -read a book that takes place in a foreign country
"I Believe" – read a book about fairy tales or a book that is a spin on a fairy tale
"What if We Give It Away" – read a book about giving up or giving something up
"Just a Touch" – read a book that uses multiple formats or gimmicks in which to tell its story
"Swan Swan H" – read a book with a word repeated in the title
"Superman" – read a book about a superhero

"Crazy" – read a book about a protagonist who goes crazy
"There She Goes Again" – read a book about a prostitute or that features prostitution
"Burning Down" – read a book that has the word burn or fire in the title
"Voice of Harold" – read a book that gives you goosebumps
"Burning Hell" – read a book that prominently features religion or a religious protagonist
"Toys in the Attic" – read a book that exudes nostalgia
"Windout" – read a book with multiple twists and turns
"Ages of You" – read a book with the word You in the title
"Pale Blue Eyes" – read a book that gives you all the feels
"Bandwagon" – read a book that everyone else is reading
"Femme Fatale" – read a book that features a woman who plays hard to get
"Walter’s Theme" – read a book with a man’s name in the title
"King of the Road" – read a book that takes place mostly on the road or prominently features a motel/hotel

"Finest Worksong" – read a book that revolves around music
"Welcome to the Occupation" – read a book about a blue collar protagonist
"Exhuming McCarthy" – read a book about politics or that features politics in some way
"Disturbance at the Heron House" – read a book about rioting or a world gone to chaos
"Strange" – read a “bizarro” or “experimental fiction” book
"It’s the End of the World as We Know It" – read a book that deals with some form of corruption
"The One I Love" – read a book that is an anti-love story
"Fireplace" – read a cozy mystery
"Lightnin’ Hopkins" – read a book that prominently features freakish weather
"King of Birds" – read a book that features birds, or has the name of a bird in the title
"Oddfellows Local 151" – read a book about firemen or that features a firehouse/firemen

GREEN (1988)
"Pop Song 89" – read a book that is about another book
"Get Up" – read a book that sounds boring
"You are the Everything" – read a book in which the protagonist is pining for someone
"Stand" – read a book that deals with direction (either literally or figuratively)
"World Leader Pretend" – read a book that revolves around war
"The Wrong Child" – read a non-YA book in which the protagonist is a child
"Orange Crush" – read a book about a protagonist who is called away or forced to leave
"Turn You Inside Out" – read a book that hinges itself on dishonesty
"Hairshirt" – read a book with a weird title
"I Remember California" – read a book that takes place in California
"Untitled" – read a book that deals with protection in some way 

OUT OF TIME (1991)
“Radio Song” – read a book that has to do with music, or prominently features a radio station
“Losing My Religion” – read a book that is considered an author’s “biggest” hit
“Low” – read a book about the morning after, or regrets
“Near Wild Heaven” – read a book that deals with the end of a relationship
“Shiny Happy People” – read a book about a utopia, or the search for utopia
“Belong” – read a book that revolves around a child, but does not feature a child as the protagonist
“Half a World Away” – read a book about a band
“Texarkana” – read a book in which the main character is searching for something
“Country Feedback” – read a book about heartbreak, about unrequited love
“Me in Honey” – read a book with the word Sweet or Sweetness in the title

“Drive” – read a book that revolves around youth
“Try Not to Breathe” – read a book about giving up
“The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” – read a book about a humorous love
“Everybody Hurts” – read a book about depression
“Sweetness Follows” – read a book about death, or that prominently features a funeral
“Monty Got a Raw Deal” – read a book in which one of the characters gets “a raw deal”. 
“Ignoreland” – read a book that similarly features the word ‘land’ in its title
“Star Me Kitten” – read a book that features the F-word, either in title or in text, or uses asterisks in the title
“Man on the Moon” – read a book that is a tribute to someone or something else
“Nightswimming” – read a book on a dare (have someone dare you to read something)
“Find the River” – read a book with River in the title

MONSTER (1994)
“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” – read a book that encapsulates Generation-X
“Crush with Eyeliner” – read a book about discovering identity
“King of Comedy” – read a book that makes you laugh
“I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” – read a fantasy book, as a distraction from real life
“Star 69” – read a book by an author you are crazy obsessed with
“Strange Currencies” – read a book that features a strange obsession, or OCD
“Tongue” – read a book with a body part in the title
“Bang and Blame” – read a book about a one night stand
“I Took Your Name” – read a book in which something is taken away
“Let Me In” – read a book that messes with your emotions
“Circus Envy” – read a book that revolves around jealousy 
“You” – read a book written in second person

“How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us” – read a book set in the wild west
“The Wake-Up Bomb” – read a book about drugs, or drug addiction
“New Test Leper” – read a book about a character who is struggling with a disease
“Undertow” – read a book that takes place primarily on or under the water/ocean
“E Bow the Letter” – read a book that revolves around two best friends
“Leave” – read a book with the word leave or leaving in the title
“Departure” – read a book that is unlike the rest of a particular author’s bibliography
“Bittersweet Me” – read a book that features a bitter protagonist
“Be Mine” – read a collection of love poems
“Binky the Doormat” – read a book that is known for being strange or bizarre
“So Fast, So Numb” – read a book with a coma in the title
“Low Desert” – read a road-trip book
“Electrolite" – read a book that was written in the 20th century

UP (1998)
“Airportman” – read a book that takes place primarily in an airport or features a character who spends time in or around one
“Lotus” – read a book that is highly symbolic or allegorical
“Suspicion” – read a book you have been putting off
“Hope” – read a book with just one word in the title
“At My Most Beautiful” – read a book about goofy, silly love
“The Apologist” – read a book with ‘ist’ in the title
“Sad Professor” – read a book that features a teacher as the protagonist
“You’re in the Air” – read a book with the words Your or You’re in the title
“Walk Unafraid” – read a book that others have found incredibly scary
“Why Not Smile” – read a book about a protagonist who is habitually unhappy
“Day Sleeper” – read a book that features a protagonist who works the grave yard shift
“Diminished” – read a collection of flash fiction or short stories
“Parakeet” – read a book that’s told from an animal’s POV
“Falls to Climb” – read a book that features a character who is viewed as a martyr 

REVEAL (2001)
“The Lifting” – read a prequel
“I’ve Been High” – read a book that is told in past tense
“All the Way to Reno” – read a book that features a protagonist who is trying to get their big break
“She Just Wants to Be” – read a book written by a female author
“Disappear” – read a book that involves magic or a magician
“Saturn Return” – read a book about a character who does what they want, who goes against the norm
“Beat a Drum” – read a book with an instrument in its title
“Imitation of Life” – read a book that revolves around art, or a specific piece of art
“Summer Turns to High” – read a book with Summer in the title
“Chorus and the Ring” – read a book about forgetting or denying
“I’ll Take the Rain” – read a book that takes place during a storm, or features a lot of rain
“Beachball” – read a book that is typically referred to as a ‘beach read’

“Leaving New York” – read a book that takes place in New York
“Electron Blue “– read a book with a color in the title
“The Outsiders” – read a book that takes place primarily outside
“Make it All Ok” – read a book that makes you feel good
“Final Straw” – read the last book in a series
“I Wanted to Be Wrong” – read a book that you wish you could have changed the ending to
“Wanderlust” – read a book about a character who is running away from something
“The Boy in the Well” – read a non-YA book that features a young boy as the protagonist
“Aftermath” – read a book about the survivors of an apocalypse
“High Speed Train” – read a book that has a mode of transportation in the title
“The Worst Joke Ever “– read a book that others found funny but you did not
“The Ascent of Man” – read a book about books
“Around the Sun” – read a book that features space travel

“Living Well is the Best Revenge” – read a book that has a great revenge scene
“Man Sized Wreath” – read a Christmas themed novel 
“Supernatural Superserious” – read a book that takes place in a summer or day camp
“Hollow Man” – read a book that has failed to meet the hype that surrounded it
“Houston” – read a book that is set in a big city
“Accelerate” – read a book that is less than 125 pages long
“Until the Day is Done” – read a book in one sitting
“Mr Richards” – read a book that prominently features a president
“Sing for the Submarine” – read a classic dystopian/apocalyptic novel
“Horse to Water” – read a book that involves a fight of some sort 

Good luck! And feel free to have some conversation in the comments section here to let us know how you are making out!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2015" Lists

We've been putting our own little spin on Top End-of-the-Year Lists for four years running. In the past, we had asked small press authors to share some of their favorite reads from the year. This year, we're shaking things up again and asking our review contributors to share theirs....

TNBBC Review Contributor Series: Top Reads of 2015

Lavinia Ludow - Author

Lavinia's Top 3 Books of 2015

This year was a big one for many of my favorite writers who have refined their narrative voices and produced some of the most original, intense, and darkly beautiful novels circulating the scene today. I'm pleased to announce my top 3 selections of 2015:

The New York Stories
Ben Tanzer
Full Review here at the Next Best Book Blog

Tanzer's token humorous and crisp narration presents an intimate glimpse into the lives of writers, runners, sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. We have the privilege of seeing some at their most honest and vulnerable and others as they make mistakes, come of age, regress in maturity, and carry forward hope that they will make better choices next time.

The Things I Don't See
Nathan Holic
Full Review at Entropy

Nail-bitingly creepy and crammed with tension so thick you need an emotional machete to hack through (or maybe just a Xanax), Holic produced a contemporary graphic novel of unparalleled personality and edge.

No Tears for Old Scratch
Ken Wohlrob
Full Review at Small Press Reviews
A bizarre and sociopath of a stranger blows into Smalltown, USA and disrupts the delicate yet mundane balance. Electrifying narration and weird details make for one darkly wild ride. 


Drew Broussard - Blogger at Raging Biblioholism

Drew's Top 3 Overlooked Books of 2015:

The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon 

I don't think anybody, maybe even the author himself, expected Sasha Hemon's next book to be an indie comedy... but here we are and here it is and we're better for it. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and indelibly rendered, it's not life-changing in the slightest - largely why I think it slipped off the radar pretty quickly - but it's a damn good time and lord knows we need more of those.

Girl at War by Sara Nović 

A beautiful debut novel, showcasing an incredible young talent. Nović is writing about war and the psychological repercussions of violence (physical, territorial, emotional) in ways that people twice her age should be taking notes on. I'm surprised that this one didn't get more accolades this year, but am confident that Nović's time will come.

Inked by Eric Smith 

One of the nicest guys in publishing turns out to be a cracking good fantasy author, too. Inked is the first book in a series and Smith delivers a cool twist on magic while keeping things accessible and fun. This was my go-to rec for teens this year and I hope the series gains in audience as it goes along!


Bronwyn Mauldin - Author

Bronwyn's Most Highly Recommended Books of 2015:

I’ll start with three books I reviewed here on TNBBB:

New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani 
(translated by Judith Landry) 

A heartbreaking World War II mystery with a linguistic twist.  

Bessarabian Stamps by Oleg Woolf 
(translated by Boris Dralyuk) 

A slim volume of stories that is as much about trains, rain and the role of birds in Odessan seafaring as it is not. 

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels 

A fictionalized account of the life of the man who invented the theremin, the only musical instrument that is played by not touching it: a perfect metaphor for his doomed love for Clara Reisenberg.


The audiobook of The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami was also terrific.
I’ve been a fan since Lalami's Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits was first published by indie press Algonquin Books. Really, you can’t go wrong by reading everything she’s ever written. 

I absolutely devoured Zazen by Vanessa Veselka (reviewed here in 2011). 
It’s like Portlandia except wonderfully dark and serious, and yet also hilarious. 
It seems even more timely today than when it was first published.


Melanie Page - Blogger at Grab The Lapels

Melanie's Picks for the Best Books of 2015:

SuperMutant Magic Academy (2015, Drawn & Quarterly)

Jillian Tamaki released these comics, each about a page long, on her website before they were compiled into this book. There are several reoccurring characters who attend a prep school. Many of the students seem pretty normal, while others have obvious magical talents. These teens are deep and adolescent, funny and pensive.

Furiously Happy (2015, Flatiron Books)

Jenny Lawson’s follow up to her 2013 memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was a must-read this year. Known around the web as “The Bloggess,” Lawson is a writer who has a way of creating dialogues about mental illness in language that gets you thinking. Meanwhile, you’re laughing at her obsessions with taxidermied animals and watching her husband Victor suffer the decisions of his unique wife. You can read my review at Grab the Lapels.

How to Knock a Bravebird Off Her Perch (2014, Bravebird Publishing)

D. Bryant Simmons is a do-everything woman. She’s an activist, publisher, and writer. Her Bravebird series starts with the story of a woman who marries young and struggles with staying or leaving her husband, who knocks her around when he’s in the mood. The book isn’t your typical domestic abuse novel; Simmons has a way of making you question every characters’ decisions, from the wife to the husband to the children in a way that realistically blurs the lines of good guy/bad guy. You can read my review at Grab the Lapels.

The Rabbi’s Cat (2007, Pantheon)

Joann Sfar’s graphic novel was originally published in French and later translated into English. His charming cat is inquisitive, kind, and cruel—basically, like a real cat. The story digs into religious philosophies, how families and individuals change, and makes you laugh along the way. You can read my review at TNBBC.

Gag (2014, Roundfire Books)

Melissa Unger’s rather small novel is one of those surprising stories that you can never get a bead on, making for lots of interesting turns of events. After one man has not eaten food for 15 years, he heads to France, food capitol of the world, to understand his condition. There, he meets one person who will challenge him to consider the problems of others. It’s a novel that seems more about metaphor than reality written in post-modern tradition. You can read my review at TNBBC.


Lori Hettler - Founder / TNBBC

Lori's Best Small Press Books of 2015:

The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell

The Only Ones was one of many post-pandemic novels I was itching to get my hands on this year. It hinges itself on more than just surviving the unsurvivable. It tackles more than just rebuilding society. Dibbell's novel sticks its hands into the evolutionary food chain and calls into question the roles of man and god. It's a story about understanding your worth and overcoming your "heritage". It's about embracing motherhood, even if you don't know what that is, and the near-obsessive desire to give your children a better childhood than you had. I loved the language of the book. And Carola eases us into it so smoothly, it's like we've been talking her lingo all along.

A Shelter of Others by Charles Dodd White

Within its pages, Charles Dodd White has penned a stark, gritty novel of love and longing, violence and protection, of things said but not spoken, of the ghosts from our past haunting our present. It's gothic in feel and raw in its language, every sentence like a sucker punch, felt in the stomach long after each page has been turned. It was a refreshing break from my recent post-apocalyptic and experimental lit binge. It reminds you just how powerful literary fiction can be at its very core, at its most honest - stripped of gimmick and genre. And I fan-girled all over the cover too. 

The Z Club by JW Bouchard

There is nothing better than picking up a book with the intention of reading just a few lines on that first page to test it out, when the next thing you know, it's four hours later and you've read the darn thing cover to cover. The Z Club is fantastically hyper-aware of itself and pokes fun at all of the very best things about the genre. Old school zombie aficionados will find a ton to love here. Complete with requisite groans of braaaaaiiiinsssss and a stupid-wicked stash of weaponry, our man JW does the zombie genre proud. We even get to watch our little band of small time heroes battle a big ass boss - as one does - because defeating swarm after swarm of brain eating, flesh slurping, rotbags isn't enough. Oh, and those deleted scenes at the end? Priceless! You can tell he had as much fun writing the novel as I had reading it. A hugely entertaining read all zombie fans should add to their lists, and a superb example of self publishing done right.

Death Thing by Andrew Hilbert

From gritty cover to grindhouse content, Andrew Hilbert's Death Thing is the best kind of revenge novel. An unrepentant gore-fest, Death Thing was an absolute delight to read. Hilbert is like the Simon Pegg of slasher novels. He's grindzarro horror (yes, I'm coining a term, part grindhouse, part bizarro horror), where the characters are actually characters, with, you know, real personalities and stuff, that do some pretty fucked up shit and keep us glued to our seats, turning the pages just to see how much more fucked up things can get.

Moon Up, Past Full by Eric Shonkwiler

Eric Shonkwiler is quickly making his way up my list of all time favorite authors.Eric continues to astound and amaze me with the way he lifts the Midwest up and off the page. His characters climb right out of his stories and plop down next to you on the couch. They are speaking directly to you. They shrug and hold their palms up. They demand your forgiveness. They play on your humanity. They got a shit deal and they played it the best way they could. They are all running from something. And they are all running towards something else. And in the end, we are left wondering whether the past they are leaving behind would have been better than the future they are barrelling headfirst into.

Honorable Mentions:

Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty by Brian Alan Ellis
F 250 by Bud Smith
The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman (not small press but soooo fucking good!)
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (not small press but still amazing!)