Five Finger Exercises For The Damned

Posted by Dan Saturday, March 17, 2007
When you do enough online reviewing (assuming you have something nice to say) you'll eventually start seeing snippets of your reviews crop up on various printed works. While it's a good feeling to know that the subject of one of your essays liked what you wrote enough to use it, it's a kind of dubious honor at best. After all, we all know that a critic doesn't really create anything right?

There's a certain kind of poetry in a well crafted essay, and the best critical essayists from Michele de Montaigne to Hunter S. Thompson, to Lester Bangs, to Harlan Ellison can make what is basically just an essay that says, "I liked it." or "I didn't like it and here's why." nearly as entertaining as the work that was reviewed.

One of the fun things I do when I'm writing a critical essay is to include the literary equivalent of a DVD easter egg. These are sentences that I've specifically written, that I think would make great cover copy. The trick is to work these in well enough so that they don't really jump out at you unless you're specifically looking for something cool to put on the back cover of your new graphic novel.

There's an art to writing good cover copy that transcends even the art of the critical essay. It's much harder to tell people how cool something is in just a few sentences than it is to use an entire essay. I've gotten good enough at it that at this point, that when someone picks out a few lines from one of my reviews for cover copy, it's almost always exactly the lines I wanted. So I thought I'd share with you all some of the practice runs I do on a regular basis, just to flex those specific writing muscles. Some of these are better than others, but they were all good practice, and they at least give you all a rare peek at my non comics related reading list. These are five finger exercises for those of us poor souls, damned to that special hell reserved for the most despised of all writers, the critic.

Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
Bar none, the best vampire novel since Bram Stoker's original, and Ms. Brite can write circles around the old bard. Lost Souls is hip, relevant, and more than a little responsible for most modern teen-agers wanting to dress in pale and black.

The Store by Bentley Little
Have you ever got the feeling while walking through Wal Mart that there was something...wrong? The feeling that just under the surface was something seething and evil. Bentley Little captures the true horror of the big box store in this masterpiece of genre fiction.

Collected Fictions by Jorge Louis Borges
Andrew Hurley does a stellar job of translating the finest short fiction of this master storyteller. This volume is a treasure mound of stories, and a must have for anyone who loves to read.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Mrs. Madrigal is the landlord you always wanted but never got, and the stories are told through the eyes of her renters at 28 Barbary Lane. Classic coming of age fiction by an astounding writer. Maupin is a national treasure and his work should not be missed.

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk had the unfortunate luck of having his first novel Fight Club stick firmly into the heart of the pop culture zeitgeist, guaranteeing his succeeding work would be ignored. This is a collection of some of his best short fiction. Smashing reads all around.

Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem
Lethem is the best living short story writer who isn't Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison. Although the three are a fair comparison, Lethem shines brightly enough all on his own. This is his most recent collection of short fiction, and it's absolutely excellent.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
A brilliant updating of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz, told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Turns out she was a lot deeper than we ever gave her credit for, and her side of the story makes for an excellent read.

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
All the mysteries, myths and magics of life on planet Earth are revealed through the parable of a love story that takes place in a pack of Camel cigarettes. Still Life With Woodpecker is a work of pure genius by one of the best modern writers.

Slippage by Harlan Ellison
Often mis-classified as a science fiction writer, Harlan Ellison consistently transcends the limitations of genre. Slippage is a masterpiece of collected short stories by the most amazing writer on the planet!

Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison
Required reading for anyone who has ever lost someone they care about. Ellison brings forth all the pain of lost loved ones and channels it into an amazing collection of scalpel sharp short fiction.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Read the book before you go see the new Richard Linkletter movie. This book will make you think twice before going out to eat at any restauraunt that labels itself fast food.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Even though the pandas come across as jerks, this is still the best English lesson of the new millennium. Truss makes the mind-numbingly boring subjects of grammar and punctuation fun by injecting them with wit and humor.

Classic Feynman by Richard Feynman
A collection of hilarious essays by the amazing physicist who's tragic death shortly after his investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, keeps the conspiracy theory nuts in business to this day. Feynman makes Carl Sagan look like a piker when it comes to making advanced physics potable for the masses.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Meet the amazing people who make and serve food in some of the world's best eateries. Master chef and gonzo journalist Anthony Bourdain takes us on a tour of back kitchens and dark alleyways around the world.

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Im an essayist, critic, online blogger, short story writer and to borrow a descriptor from Peter David, "Writer of stuff." I love all things pop culture related: Music, Movies, Comics, Books, Politics... if you can label it I probably have an opinion about it, and I love to argue. All informed opinions are welcome here.
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