Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Review of Enjoy The Journey by Giridhar Veeramaneni

By Giridhar Veeramaneni
19.99 ($Cdn)
213 pages
ISBN: 0-9737089-0-5

Whenever I attend book fairs, comic conventions etc… I try to pick up one thing. Exhibiting at the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in May I had about the last 5 minutes of the show to look around. I picked up Enjoy the Journey almost purely on a whim. I suppose I felt kinship with an author struggling to sell their self-published work at a somewhat empty fair. Also, I’ve never gone wrong with an Indian author and a few brief glimpses at the text convinced me that this writer would be no different. I don’t know what it is, but I have yet to run across an Indian author I haven’t liked.

I’m quite pleased to add Giridhar Veeramaneni to that list.

Enjoy the Journey is a great example of a book that would probably never get picked up by a ‘professional’ press – big or small. Wittingly or not, it breaks all the rules. It’s a collection of 23 stories that are refreshingly sincere, open and unpretentious about everyday mundane things. It’s not about extreme poverty, or the grand bourgeoisie or the privileged artist. Its stories have clear endings, often with a simple moral or lesson - if not the reader, than for the narrator. There are small spelling mistakes and unusual grammar in the book that I’m sure any publisher would point out. But these ‘incorrect’ (but sensible) aspects really support not only the authors voice, but the fact that this is a real book put together by a real person who lives in real life. A professional editor would probably read a middle-road writing group hack who’ll never make it. I read something quite different from this.

Enjoy the Journey’s stories range from Found by the Sheppard, in which the narrator humorously compares a church (which he tells his wife he is going to) with a strip club next door (which is where he actually goes), to Surviving in Toronto, which isn’t so much a story as a series of tips on how to save money by carrying around free napkins you get at fast food joints, arranging your bus trips to exploit holes in the transfer system, etc… There is no high art here, no pretension, just simple stories about life. Sometimes they clean up a little too cleanly, are almost a bit too much Reader’s Digest (although the Indo-Canadian immigrant angle helps keep this from being cliché), yet you easily forgive this because reading Enjoy the Journey feels like reading a letter from a close, sincere friend.

Nearly every story situates the narrator as an outsider learning a new environment, culture or job, observing, misunderstanding, erring and then finally understanding his surroundings. I think any undergrounder could appreciate the frank, honest and sincere way Veeramaneni looks at the world. Sheshu the Philosopher is a great story about classism/elitism that any underground enthusiast can relate to. Arranged Marriage provides a really interesting look at arranged marriages vs. the western dating system and provides a strong argument for and against both.

One of my favourite moments in the book comes in Creative Writer when the narrator, who has suddenly decided he doesn’t want to be an engineer or doctor like all the rest of the people in his town in India, but a creative writer instead. He applies for a school in Canada with the hopes of studying creative writing. He is so busy that he barely gets a chance to write and so, at the last minute, cobbles something together for the deadline. He is not accepted. It is a big moment of disappointment for the narrator as it represents a complete failure of his dreams. I, on the other hand, bit my nails in anticipation of this and cheered loudly when he failed to be accepted: Enjoy the journey is an excellent example of all the things a professional writing program would crush out of an author – halting someone from following their own path, making their own understandings, being honest and sincere, characteristics Veeramaneni’s work and characters thrive with. After a while, the author overcomes this and pursues his own path in becoming a writer.

I assume this story is true to Veeramaneni’s own experience and it’s a delightful moment in the book because if he had gotten into that course, I have much doubt that he would have gone on to write these honest, relevant and, most importantly, personally unique stories, nor would he have self-published and I wouldn’t have been reading it or enjoying it enough to review it here.

I really recommend this book if you can get your hands on it.

To order: The book is available on, however if you contact the author at I’m sure you can get a good discount off the Amazon price and a signed copy.

Review by Leopold McGinnis

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review of Seoul in Slices by Steve Kostecke

Can be purchased in the zeen store
at for $3.

Steve Kostestke lives in Japan. He is also the author of Auslanders Raus and Azian Kix. And he is the editor-and-chief of the ULA website and the ULA’s communal zeen Slush Pile.

Seoul in Slices supplies a first person view into what it means to be an American in Seoul. Seoul in Slices doesn’t give any grand tales of being imprisioned in third world jails, feeding the starving, or trying to find his grandmother who died there fifty years ago. It’s a zeen about guy who has some good, bad, and weird times in Seoul and thought the world might be interested in what he did and what happened to him there.

There are four sections in the zeen, I’ll go through them one by one.

In the first section called, “Seoul in Slices,” Kostecke gives small sketches of Seoul life. He shows the little things about Seoul that if you were just a tourist you would miss like describing what a Ppikki is, “A runaway whose job it is to stand around the happening night spots and get you to come to a certain bar or dance club (where he’ll get a commission).” Or, “Motorbikes on the sidewalk. Revving and threading through the crowds. Getting on People’s asses. The way that Koreans get out of the way. The way that they accept it. One time a motorbike gets on my ass. I’m with two friends. I say to them: “One of these days I’m gonna hook one of these guys.” The motorbike guy miraculously speaks English. Gets up along side me and says: “You don’t like it, get out of Korea!”

Which I think shows to the reader that Kostecke isn’t just some lame rich kid backpacker, but a real resident of Seoul. He has learned the city as a person living in it, not as a tourist passing through.

Kostecke also gives anecdotes of his times with other foreign teachers living there which are really funny, “British guy I know is gay. Speaks Korean. Knows Seoul in and out. Gets sex whenever and wherever he wants it. Gay culture plus a sexually-curious-about-foreigners culture. When he gets drunk he gets obnoxious. As we weave through the crowds he blurts out in English to passing boys: “Would mind terribly if I sucked your dick?” Does this for an entire stretch of road.”

The next section is called, “A Sketch of my Last Days in Seoul.” In the section he tells stories about a woman named Lexa he went out with one night and who got completely drunk and got into fights, hit on twenty guys, and screamed “Queen Mother” at everybody. Then he told a story about how the places he was teaching at were trying to fuck him out of pay. Then he goes to a club with a friend named Jeff. Then Kostecke did something really cool, here’s the quote, “Jeff heading over to a neighboring lounge which he had to two weeks before and now – heroically – to “save” one of he girls from her life of degradation.” Note that he put quotations around “save”, that showed to me that Kostecke tried to emphasize the absurdity of that without making it a big deal, no rant was needed. Because with Kostecke either you are going to understand what he meant by that, and if you don’t a rant won’t make you understand it either. Either you been there, know, and understand. Or you’re out of touch and aren’t going to get it no matter what he says. I thought that was really cool.

The third section Kostecke titled “Hyperfiction” which he described as, “A prose style in competition with tvs, vcrs, cable, the internet, computer games, surround sound cinemas, top-forty radio stations, and a whole lot more.”

The “Hyperfiction” section is a collection of tiny stories written in very terse short sentences. He achieved this by not adding any fluffy dumb shit to the lines. The story “One Tiny Sec” was used for The Underground versus Professionals experiment, and was enjoyed by everyone that read it.

In the story, “Tits” he talks about having an anorexic girlfriend he doesn’t actually like but stays with anyway and says this great line anyone can relate to, “The summer ended as did everything else. Barbie kept accusing me of things that were true and I kept denying them.”

The final section of Seoul in Slices has a review of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma where he calls Coupland’s book “Primetime TV” and deconstructs the book to show that it is unworthy of the praise it has received by the media. Kostecke says about Coupland’s prose at one point, “It floats up into the air and becomes puffy little clouds that never rain.”

Kostecke Seoul in Slices is a great read if you enjoy travel literature that is more about a person living in a certain part of the world that grew up in a completely different culture and circumstances. And not just some person visiting a certain place and having wild obviously exaggerated adventures while there.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Review of Chasing Pace by C.B. Forest

ISBN: 1894494-86-5
Baico Publishing
$22.95 C$, 17.95 $US
315 pages

Unlike most books I read, I was a bit privy to this book’s journey to publication. First time Ottawan author, C. B. Forrest, spent a few years shipping the thing around and, at one point, finding an interested publisher who couldn’t decide whether it should be written in 1st or 3rd person had the author re-write it into 3rd before deciding it was better in 1st and then going out of business. After another series of submissions the book was picked up by a small press just across the border in Quebec and published, after conversion again, in 3rd person. If anything, this highlights how editors, for the most part, should focus on publishing, rather than nit-picking the instincts of the author.

Anyway, knowing all this and receiving a complimentary copy of the book via a friend in Ottawa, I set into the novel. Here is the review:

Chasing Pace is, superficially, about a small town Canadian journalist in his forties, Ben Canon, who has never really amounted to anything. Recently divorced, even more recently unemployed and an alcoholic/self-medicator who boards with an 80 year old ‘captain’ Ben suddenly decides the best way to spend his severance cheque and solve all his and the world’s problems is to drive down to Miami to find the star of a short-lived children’s television show from his youth: Commander Pace. Along the way he runs into a blind barber, a corrupt cop, a cop who’d rather be a Buddhist and a one-legged stripper who all, in some way, help him come to grips with his own demons.

Overall, Chasing Pace is a good read, mostly for the reason that the plot keeps rolling and never really goes where you expect it to go. The characters, as well, all stray far enough from stereotypes to keep them interesting, as well. Chasing Pace is by no means a ‘book you can’t put down’ but is definitely a book you keep wanting to come back to.

The book, however, seems a lot like a Frank Kapra-corn film but with strippers and alcoholics. This is mostly good, however, the scenarios and characters often wade a bit too close to cliché/corn – strippers with hearts of gold, small town corrupt cops, citizens uniting to thwart the mean-spirited schemes of the town’s own Mr. Potter-type and open a drug clinic… Yet, no character is without his quirks/problems and stay far enough away to avoid being too cliché. In some ways, these are like Kapracorn characters updated for the new millennium and for this reason remain interesting.

The end of the novel is satisfying, however, despite avoiding the clichéd happy ending, wraps up a little too cleanly and not exactly believably. Ben Canon comes to terms with his own personal problems finally; however it’s not clear why this happens, exactly. It’s accepted, but the connections and the catalyst to the events in the story aren’t quite solid enough. I’m certainly not against polemics or saying something in a story and give points to this book for its efforts, however, the points it does make come dangerously close to being preachy (on somewhat tired topics – manhood, war, death, life) near the end. [Another weird thing about the novel is that virtually every character seems to have been involved in a major war (Korea, WWII, Vietnam, Yugoslavia…), yet totally independent of the plot. Ben Canon’s obsessive attachment to his long dead grandfather is also a bit difficult to understand.]

Overall, however, Chasing Pace is an enjoyable novel, better than most you’ll find on the corporate bookshelves. It isn’t snobby and it takes the risk of saying something. The writing and plotting are incredibly, incredibly tight and the storyline intriguing. If you’re looking for something with a solid plot, interesting characters, unpretentious, tight writing while providing something other than the tired same-old then Chasing Pace should satisfy.

Review by Leopold McGinnis

Thursday, April 28, 2005

review of Magenta's Adventures Underground by Carol Lewis/Karen Lillis

ISBN: 0-9753862-0-4
Published by Words Like Kudzu Press, NY
By Carol Lewis/Karen Lillis, with illustration by Regine Polenz

Magenta’s Adventures Underground is an interesting modernization of Alice in Wonderland. It isn’t some cheese-mo psychedelic goth fairy tale, though; just like Alice, Magenta has a political agenda.

There are familiar images from the classic story. Certain images, Lewis left untouched. Magenta curtsies constantly. Other scenes, Lewis gives her own twist and makes them pertinent to the present. For example, a very disturbing game of chess:

“The game: The chessmen, Magenta took note, were in military gear:
Pawns were combat troops and members of the taxpaying workforce, Knights were soldiers in tanks, Rooks were single-family homes with a full arsenal of
rifles in the basement, Kings were business moguls with their fingers hovering
above the red button should the market need a nuclear attack to help it along,
and Queens were transvestite hookers in full makeup and six-inch heels; on
their heads they wore nurses’ caps.”

Magenta is already underground when the book begins. She hasn’t followed a rabbit down a hole; she was pushing and shoving down the steps in Grand Central Station. The chess game, being played by a dog, a vulture, and a cat-lizard is taking place in the terminal of the number seven train.

Magenta relates her story to this talking animal audience. She expresses her disillusionment at finding New York, once a haven for misunderstood artists, writers, and assorted other weirdoes, overrun by elitist trendy fuckers.

“We came to this city a few years ago from another planet, my brother and I; we were determined to find Bohemia; we headed straight for the East Village. When we got there we realized: we were thirty years too late. The apartment we landed—which once housed spontaneous theatre events and cost its renters $25.00 a month—costs us $2500 . . . There was a time when everyone who wished to could live here for a song.”

Magenta leaves not long after that along with a rat. While on the uptown A train, she sees a wounded Iraqi pigeon, sent by the UN, give a speech, to which no one listens. The pigeon begs the train passengers, (who later throw rotten tomatoes at him) “PRETTY-PLEASE DON’T BOMB MY COUNTRY.”

Magenta is then sexually assaulted and beaten by a female security officer. She slips into an unconsciousness clouded with strange and vaguely erotic dreams. When she wakes, she is in an underground cave, surrounded by Discarded Veterans. The book ends with an endless dance with a three-legged dog.

For anyone who enjoyed Alice in Wonderland enough to do more than watch the Disney cartoon, Magenta is a welcomed updated version too dark and complex to be encompassed in a 90 minute G-rated feature. Even if you’ve never read Alice in Wonderland, Lewis’ book is fun and entertaining. It is sadly funny at some points, and it will make you mad about all the right things. Of course, we’re all mad here . . .

Review by Bernice Mullins

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Security by James Nowlan


James Nowlan was born in Chicago. He has lived under freeway over-passes in California, been a bike messenger in New York, a security guard in Paris, and an English teacher in Czechoslovakia. Security is his first novel. He has also written and directed a feature length digital film, Compte à Rebours.

Nowlan’s book causes (if you want it to or not) immense realization of what it is like to be a person of the lower-classes. I don’t mean in a Barbara Ehrenreich way either to create pity for the lower classes. The book is aimed at the bulk of America; it shows the oppression of lower class people, through jobs, looks, and language. It makes you reflect on certain scenes in your own life and become prone to the moments of oppression in the future.

The lead character in the story is Thomas. He is an American who grew up with a mother who was sent to the mental ward, a useless father, and spent time as a child amongst religious nuts who played with snakes to prove their faith. He grows up to sleep under over-passes in California, live in New York City and eventually make it to Paris.

Thomas’ life is shitty. He grew up poor and is not afraid of showing the differences between the rich and poor. In the story, he takes a class in college and he and his girlfriend Isabelle do a serious project for class concerning the pimps and prostitutes and winos of New York. Several rich kids want to get him involved with starting a social program that tells winos the reason they are drunks and poor is because they aren’t vegetarians. Concerning the rich kids at college after hearing their vegetarian program he wrote, “The student then directed a penetrating look at Tom who didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, throw up, jump out the window or kick them all out into the street. He wouldn’t have a chance to do the last because they all packed up and left perfunctorily as they came leaving Tom and Isabelle to wondering why they bothered even trying to be a part of something that they so obviously could never belong to.”

Security also shows the alienation in lines like, “Hanging up the phone Tom felt suddenly more alone than ever before in his life, an unbreachable gulf separating him and the rest of humanity.” Nowlan didn’t play around, he gets to the point and if you want to or not, you have to digest it. The writing is too concrete, too direct, too straight forward to throw a bunch of literary terminology into the discussion. The prose is direct and it conveys without confusing the reader. The language resembles that of a John Grishman or Steven King but instead of telling the story of lawyers or a horror story it is showing the life of a man who is alone, alienated, broken, has one tragedy forced upon him after another. And even though shit happens to him he tries to pick himself and go on, but something else horrible happens. The Samuel Beckett quote kept running through my head the whole time, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” while reading the book.

Nowlan’s book is only 98 pages long, but that is all that is needed. The scenes are short and to the point. And within those short scenes there is so much pain, horror, and lines like, “After transferring to the commuter train he could feel the palpable presence of a certain doom approaching and when crossing the plain towards the institutional looking residential block he felt like a condemned man on a police skiff seeing Alcatraz rising from the green waves of San Francisco bay.” Security is concentrated human suffering. The book is like The Call of the Wild, The Stranger or The Old Man and the Sea the book is small but what it conveys is very big.

Security is about a person who lives a shitty life, not an unusually shitty life. But a life that resembles a lot of people’s lives is this world. And he doesn’t make a big deal out of it, no self-pity takes place. He gets stabbed in the story, if you are in the lower-classes you or several people you know have been stabbed and shot. He doesn’t have health insurance which is common and experienced by many. Rich people often treat him like he is shit, which is common. He doesn’t make a big deal about it like he is apart from it that is what he writes about because that is what he knows.

It is in very intense third person. Nowlan does not speak in vernacular or use any experimental techniques for his narrative. Which for someone who loves first person vernacular narrative that could pose a problem for the fun of the story, but a lot of the narrative has Tom’s thoughts fused into it which makes it entertaining. But what is good about it is that someone who has spent their lives reading regular pop literature could easily pick up Nowlan’s book and not be daunted by it, his prose is very accessible.

Security is a story of an alienated human struggling and struggling and struggling without getting any rewards. If you know you could relate to that, Security would be a very good book to read.

review done by Noah Cicero

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Review of the Urban Hermitt’s Fanzine #18

by Steve Kostecke
The zine can be had for $3 cash at:
The Urban Hermitt
POB 460412
San Fran CA 94146

In case you’re not enlightened, the Hermitt regularly puts out a zine which describes his unbelievably adventurous and happenin’ life, usually set in way-liberal settings like Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest. This time around, he astounds us with an issue that describes his road tour (as spoken word artiste) with a punk Scottish Oi! band (not “boy band”) and a group of anti-monkey-lab-testing activists. And as if that isn’t unique enough, everything about this journey through America outdoes itself. The shows they perform at—from Texas through the South, the East, and the Midwest—are full of black-hearted skinheads who either boo our beloved Hermitt, give him the dreaded slow death-clap, or throw various harmful projectiles towards his person. How he manages to climb the stage for each performance is beyond human comprehension.

Even though his art is trashed time and time again, the Urban Hermitt keeps at it, as a true word-artist should. This zine reveals a slice of life of a real American poet.

Even with so much working against him, the Hermitt keeps the humor up. Every page is filled with laughs and smirks. Like when he gets sick:

“Where are you going?” Peter asked me as I tried to sneak across the street to the hospital.
“Yeah Hermitt, where are you going?” Braxton asked in his cocky-British accent.
“Ok! I’m going across the street to get antibiotics at the hospital becuz I have strep throat,” I said, on the defense. It was the West Coast liberals versus the West Coast liberals.
“I can’t fawking believe you, Hermitt!” Braxton yelled.
“Cuz I’m like…dying?”
“Why are you getting evil corporate animal torturing drugs and you’re on this fawking tour?”
“It’s all relative.”
“No it’s not Hermitt! And what about the monkeys? What about the fawkin’ monkeys? You disgust me Hermitt! I regret letting you on this tour!”
I had nothing to say back, just some eye rolls. Guilt tripped by the liberals, I didn’t get antibiotics and continued to go on dying.

The Hermitt also digs deep, as usual, in his perceptions of the world around him (his writing is one natural flow of organic expression interpreting the social phenomena constantly bombarding him). Here’s what he says while at an arrival gate at an airport:

At the airport, a flight from London landed … There were loads of Arabic families walking through the gate, mothers completely covered in black veils taking care of the children. Fathers in suits, acting as if they ruled over their wives.
“Man, that’s so sexist and messed up,” I thought to myself. “Those women being covered up!”
But then a bunch of Euro-white ladies came through the gate. They too took care of the children while their husbands in business suits or polo shirts acted like they were ruler of the wife. The thing that I began to notice was that the Euro-white ladies were no more different than the Arabic ladies. Instead of a black veil, they had shaved legs, make-up, “feminine” hair doos, and pink clothing. Sure, maybe some of them chose and liked to be that way, but not all of them. Just another prison in exchange for another.

So if you want to know “what’s up on the 24/7 in the ’99, yo!” in American Lit, you better get your hands on a copy of this zine—and all previous issues, for that matter. The Hermitt’s writing is one of the clearest cases why underground writing makes corporate lit look long dead and gone.