Best of Print 1995

Words: Printed, Spoken, and Painted

1995. It wasn't the best year in book publishing: Martin Amis - genius or con man? - seemed be the de rigueur topic at parties where Those Who Read and Write gathered (witness the disparate opinions on his book from Jason Cohen, Marion Winik, and Spike Gillespie). But it wasn't the worst, either. Words have taken on a new life, on screen, on stage, and, of course, on the page. This year, we've included thoughts on spoken word, poetry, and graphic novels, reflecting the ever-expanding universe of words. Hope these opinions inspire you to explore it!

- Margaret Moser

Marion Winik:
Top Ten Books of 1995

1. The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

2. Sabbath's Theater by Phillip Roth

3. In the Cut by Susanna Moore

4. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealey

5. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore

6. Secret Life by Michael Ryan

7. Any Rough Times Are Now Behind You
by Dave Alvin

8. Come and Go, Molly Snow by Mary Ann
Taylor Hall

9. 1995 O. Henry Prize Stories

10. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Not New, But Highlights of My Year:

* Endless Love, Scott Spencer

* Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia- Marquez

Haven't Read Yet, But Am Dying To:

* The Information, Martin Amis

* The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. Phillip Lopate

Marion Winik is the author of Telling and the upcoming First Comes Love, Chronicle contributor, and NPR commentator. Phil West:

Local Literary Top Ten

This is a list of the readings, books, accomplishments, and developments in the local literature scene that left the most resonant impressions on me this year. To all those people who bought locally written books or went out to see readings this year, let me be the first to thank you. Reaching your eyes and ears is why we write in the first place.

*Li-Young Lee reading at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas: Lee's poetry is dense, intelligent, and exciting, his perspective is skewed and fascinating, and his demeanor is kind and charming. Of the gifted writers UT has brought to town this past year, Lee was far and away the most satisfying to hear.

* Rebecca Brown readings at the Harry Ransom Center, UT, and Bookwoman: Last year, Brown's Austin reading was attended by a handful of devotees. This past year, her fan base has grown and she gave them a confident reading and a heartfelt sharing of herself. It's a classic case of good things happening to good people who work hard at crafting their art to a graceful elevation.

* Last night of the Chicago House: This past October, Chicago House, the venerable home to a wide assortment of Austin poets, closed its doors for perhaps the last time. Chicago House meant a lot to poets, and the show of support by some of Austin's best, most active poets on the last Tuesday reading was heartening in the light of losing a warm, supportive home for the arts.

* Marion Winik, Telling: As a regular voice on NPR, Chronicle regular Winik is one of Austin's more visible representatives to the book-buying nation, and her essays are consistently sharp, funny, and endearing. Telling compiles many of her best moments so far, and leaves me anxiously awaiting a sequel.

* eNteLechY's Austin issue: eNteLechY is a fine literary magazine based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and their decision to release an issue on Austin poets early this past year was a heartening honor for the local poetry scene. The wait was long but the end product is well worth it - some of the best poets in the community now have a shot at being picked up coast to coast, in a sharp-looking and well-executed lit mag.

* The release of Revival: Revival is a spotlight with a slightly funkier hue; this compilation book, released by San Francisco's Manic D Press, features samples of the best performance poetry from the 1994 Lollapalooza Tour. Familiar local poets, ex-Austinites, and new Austinites emerge as some of the best and most literate writers in the entire book.

* The release of The Tree Is Older Than You Are: This book, edited by San Antonio native and friend of Austin Naomi Shihab Nye, is an important anthology featuring poems from Mexico, in both Spanish and English, intended for children. Teachers are already starting to use it, according to Nye, and there's plenty for children to love about it, but there's plenty in there for adults as well.

* Wammo's Second Place Finish at the National Poetry Slam, Ann Arbor, Michigan: 118 poets, including myself, from over 30 American and Canadian cities (plus Pakistan and Sweden) competed for fame, fortune, and respect. Austin's own Wammo, delivering his work with a mania topping even his best local readings, came oh-so-tantalizingly close to winning it all.

* Coffehaus: The KVRX-FM poetry show has just expanded to an hour and continues to be the best poetry radio show in town. Hosts Brett Holloway-Reeves and Tom Dey are knowledgeable, affable hosts who do their homework and tap into the full spectrum of the local scene.

* The opening of the Book People flagship store at Sixth and Lamar: Book People's move to its massive new location has made it the best bookstore in town - it boasts a wide selection, friendly staff, and a regular reading and booksigning series. My New Year's Resolution is to spend more time there: reading books, buying books, and taking time to stop and smell the incense in the Buddha Corner on the third floor.

Phil West relocated here from Seattle, is a poet and writer, and a performer with the Austin Slam Team. Spike Gillespie:
Books for '95
(well, you read 'em in '96) If it weren't for my friends, who force me to remember that part of being a writer is reading, I might get totally sucked into the self-indulgent swamp of ceaselessly puking out one personal essay after another. Elena, in particular, is very good about bringing me a book, and telling me "No pressure, read it when you can" - though we all know when a book, a book loaned especially, sits beside the bed, the pressure is enormous. A good thing and the main reason I read what I did read this year, which was minimal but excellent. Here's what I suggest you get to build your own guilty stack. (Note, one selection comes from Elena. She is waiting til '96 to give me a copy. New Year. New guilt. Can't wait.)

* Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.

* Tuscaloosa by Glasgow Philips.

* Four Screenplays by William Goldman. The essays alone are worth it. And reading screenplays, even for the non-aspiring screenwriter, is actually quite fun.

* Satan Says by Sharon Olds. Poetry that blows the lid off of poetry.

* The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds. For those of you who can't get enough of a great thing.

* Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger.

* The Information by Martin Amis. It's hard, hard, hard. And way too clever. But you can get all smarmy about reading it when chatting at cocktail parties.

* Mother and Son by Michael Sledge. Awesome, memoir of a Texas kid growing up Houston in the Seventies. You'll laugh, you'll cry, etc., etc.

* Elena's Choice: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. "It's a fictional account of four real sisters caught up in the revolution in the Dominican Republic. A believable story about how people become politicized. You may want to read this in preparation for the next 10 years."

* High Tide in Tuscon by Barbara Kingsolver

* eNteLechY is put out by Steven Horn in Knoxville, Tennessee. This isn't, technically, a book, but it is an absolute must-have. It's a poetry/fiction quarterly (well, maybe not quarterly, but you get the idea.) Anyway, Volume 2 #1, oddly and happily enough is titled The Big Black Texas Issue. The writing is just swell - featured are such Austin writers as Gale Sprinkle, Marlys West, Phil West, Marvin Gordon Kimbrough, D.G. Grace, and others. You can get a copy by e-mailing entelechy@aol.com or by writing: Flat Earth Press, 3163 Pine Valley Rd, Fairfield CA, 94533. One issue, $7.95; subscription $13.80.

Spike Gillespie has also written for Cosmopolitan, Playboy, and is a regular columnist for Prodigy's online service. Ric Williams:

Top Ten Local Reads

* Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest by Daniel Quinn. A must for Ishmael fans. A provocative, brave autobiography by our most famous environmentalist.

* Where Three Roads Meet by John Campion, Paul Christensen, John Herndon. Intelligent, vivid. Political spirituality. As strong as any poetry you've read from anywhere this year.

*One Dozen American Poems by W. Joe Hoppe was his most mature work to date. Wild-eyed wonder, American expansive. Generous, curious.

* Letter to the Lizard King by Chuck Taylor. These are the choices, kids. Nihilism is too easy for such a high price.

* Coming up a Cloud by Darla McBryde. Languid, a postcard from a long lost love.

* Untitled by Gilbert Garcia. Clear-eyed, unpretentious take on emotional terrorism.

* Amerikan Journeys: Jornadas Americanas by the late, legendary Chicano poet Ricardo Sanchez. "We are a mutual humanity."

* Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review 7. Dark, dark, dark. Cuddle up and get drunk on a good bottle of red.

* Emergency Room by Albert Huffstickler. "Death shuns no one./He is the ultimate democrat."

* I Don't Belong Here by Gale Sprinkle. Quiet paean to the everyday courage displayed everywhere one human faces another who is just as frightened as she.

* 10A-Z. Bad News Bingo, ND, Lost Armadillos in Heat, Art-Core. All the other cool 'zines I've been fortunate (???) enuf to spew upon.

Ric Williams, a poet himself, is the longtime editor of the Chronicle's litera section.

Ric Williams:
Top Poets of Austin

This does not take into account performance. Some of our best performance artists fall flat when it comes to the written page. - Ric Williams

* John Campion

* Susan Bright

* Albert Huffstickler

* Marlys West

* Bill Jeffers

* Pat LittleDog

* W. Joe Hoppe

* Tammy Gomez

* Raul Salinas

* Thom the World Poet

* Larry Thoren Robin Bradford:
Best Books I've Read in 1995 1. Grace Paley: The Collected Stories. Grace Paley has cared about all the right things for 35 years and I am grateful: "Of course, because of this planet, which is dropping away from us in poisonous disgust, I'm hardly ever home."

2. The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich. Everything my heart wants to know when I drive past a reservation; Northern Exposure for readers. Says our love-sick twentysomething hero: "I am a mad dog biting himself for sympathy."

3. The Shrouded Woman (published with The House of Mist) by Maria Luisa Bombal. The mother of magic realism shows us the after-life: "Must we die in order to know certain things?"

4. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Optimistic advice inspired by Blake, Van Gogh, and Chekhov first published in 1938, for the writer within us all: "Work with love."

5. Shelter by Jayne Anne Phillips. A girls' summer camp in the South, pipe-layers nearby, an escaped con who hears the Devil, the cook's boy and his secret, the girls and theirs: "Waking up scared was like sleeping on mirrors..."

Robin Bradford, a 1995 O. Henry Award winner, is currently at work on her first novel. Jason Cohen:

Best and Worst of 1995
Cheers

* The Blue Afternoon by William Boyd. Nothing special, just Boyd's usual storytelling imagination and astonishing sense of place (the Phillipines, in this case). Plus an overwhelming romanticism - both metaphysically and emotionally - and a dash of murder-mystery suspense.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. If you have a better relationship with Al Green than you do with your significant other, this novel's dead-accurate portrayal of rock & roll obsession should truly frighten you. It's a comedy, of course.

Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen. Anybody should be able to write an entertaining book with the following elements: a ruined post-hurricane Florida landscape, low-level con men, a human a skull collector, a roadkill eating eco-terrorist, and wild monkeys. But only Carl Hiaasen did, in his customarily giddy and pointed satirical fashion.

* It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon. A welcome addition to the canon of rock history from one-time Chron writer Gordon, who takes up the mantle of Guralnick, Palmer, and Marcus to capture the other Memphis - he tells of the unrecognized genius lunatics beyond Sun/Stax/Hi, etc., tapping a rich and highly personal vein of soul and fire.

Jeers

Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcattera. Don't hate this book because of the "is it really a true story?" controversy. Hate it because it's awful. If it were a novel, it would still be poorly written and unworthy of suspending disbelief. An overwrought, clichéd wannabe movie - soon to be starring Pitt and De Niro, natch.

The Information by Martin Amis. There's plenty of nasty comedy and literary inside baseball here, but after all the hubbub it has to be said that this is a turgid, vague, and decidedly one-note opus. As far as I'm concerned he still deserves whatever they want to pay him.

The Slacker Handbook by Sarah Dunn. Just on principle. Actually I'm jealous - I saw an article on her that used the phrase "Generation Ecch" as a headline, and hers sold better. Hi, Sarah!

R.I.P.

69-year-old Ross Thomas began writing in the Sixties, after a career that included time in the military and Africa, plus a long stint scheming and flacking as a public relations man. When it came to big-money conspiracies and government plots, Thomas always gave the impression, illusory or not, that he knew what he was talking about a little too well. His conniving, cynical political thrillers were unparalleled in their crafty

plotting, dark hilariousness, and endless stock of way-colorful characters, usually with names like "Chubb Dunjee" and "Otherguy Overby." The best of them include The Fools in Town Are on Our Side, Chinaman's Chance, and Briarpatch. Having penned the screenplay for Wim Wenders' Hammet many years ago, Thomas also wrote the script for last year's Bad Company, a film that positively reaked of his lightly nasty double-crossing touch. There will never be another writer quite like him.

Jason Cohen co-authored Generation Ecch! with Michael Krugman and writes for Rolling Stone but may be better known as an object of Courtney Love's affection. Suzy Banks:
Books of the Year * The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

* The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

* The Elusive City by Jonathan Barnett

* Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

* bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and

Life, Anne Lamott

* Mondo Canine by Jon Winokur

* The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

* Wildlife of the Southwest by Oren Arnold

* Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons

* Memoirs from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin

Suzy Banks, construction expert and Chronicle columnist, got her first press junket this year. It was to Trinidad. Martin Wagner:
Year in Comics 1995 Last year, the comics industry experienced a tumultuous shakeup, with three significant results: the reduction (if not destruction) of juvenile superhero comics as the only commercially viable genre; the rise of small-press/self-published comics, geared towards more sophisticated readers; and the coming-of-age of the "graphic novel" as the storytelling format of choice. Other comics wonks may disagree with the particulars there but from where I'm sitting, they are indeed the three most important breakthroughs in a year of almost total chaos and panic. Here's the short version:

1. The bottom falls out from under the majors; everybody freaks. The superhero speculators' market (in which the major publishers flooded the market with new titles and "special editions" to appeal to gullible collectors), chugging along like a freight train two years ago, dies like a dog when most of these collectors grow a brain stem and realize the cases of foil-embossed nonsense cluttering their closets aren't worth a plug nickel. (Spray Chanel #9 on a dog turd, and it is still, in fact, a dog turd.) Marvel Comics, the only publicly traded comics publisher, reels under its plummeting comics sales, blaming everything except the fact its books stink. They buy New Jersey-based Heroes World, the #3 distributor, and announce that from July 1 Marvel Comics will be exclusively distributed through them. Retailers groan as they now must buy from at least two distributors. Some shops do the unthinkable, dropping virtually all Marvel product except the sacrosanct Spider-Man and X-Men lines. Other major publishers like DC, Dark Horse, and Image, sign exclusivity deals with distributor #1, Baltimore's Diamond. The #2 distributor, Madison's Capital City, sues everybody. Many superhero-only retailers go belly up. Others hold on by diversifying their stock and relying on bursts of revenue from sales of such fads as Magic the Gathering, a game that seems to hook its players like heroin. Marvel reportedly begins looking into licensing most of their titles to other publishers rather than publish themselves; Image artists begin speed-dialing Marvel. By November, nobody has any money and everybody's depressed.

2. Small-press alternative comics suddenly have juice. Many retailers who were previously not doing so begin supporting independent publishers of alternative comics. Some do it from a sense of rebellion against Marvel and its ilk; some do it because they don't know what else to buy. They all find out these books are pretty good. Small-press-only conventions and expos, which were unthought-of even by the publishers of such items in 1992, dot the country. We even had one in Austin in February. Artists begin self-publishing in droves. Comics magazines like Wizard, which once utterly ignored the non-mainstream, begin covering it properly. At least two distribution companies emerge to handle the small press alone. And while everyone is aware that after the inital burst of excitement in this area, things will mellow out as they always do, the momentum is in place for long-term success. The books aren't moving 100,000 units, but more of them are moving. By year's end, any comic shop still in business is prominently displaying a solid alternative comics section, rather than burying them behind the counter.

3. The "graphic novel" gains prominence as the publishing format of choice. Previously a novelty item in the minds of many, the industry begins to understand the "graphic novel" (comics in bookshelf editions, and Jesus, I hate that term!) for what it is, a publishing format that has permanent retail shelf-life, that appeals strongly to actual readers (as opposed to the dinks who just tape comics up in bags and never even open them), and gives the artwork therein true longevity for new readers decades hence - you know, like books! Several companies announce a graphic novel line. Some creators, including yours truly, announce their intention to publish only in bookshelf editions in the future. Even DC Comics gets into the act by launching Paradox Press, which publishes what may be this year's top awards contender, Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby, the tale of a gay teen coming out during the civil rights unrest of the early Sixties. Retail outlets like Tower Records begin stocking graphic novels.

So what will 1996 bring? Hopefully a continued increase in the legitimacy of the non-mainstream. Already, though, there is frightening news of comic shops being busted again for carrying adult material, further symptoms of the public's undying misconception that this is an art form exclusively for children. Two retailers from Oklahoma - neither of whom have been proven to have sold adult comics to minors - are currently facing potentially massive jail terms courtesy of our friends in the National Socia - er, ahem, the Christian Coalition. Let's pray this setback is smoothed over quickly and justly, in order to allow the art of comics to continue to mature freely. Martin Wagner is the creator and publisher of the comic series Hepcats. Write him at hepcats@eden.com or his WWW page at http://www.eden.com/hepcats/

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