Friday, December 17, 2004

Steve Almond

Y'know, I've been reading all these "Top 100," "Top 5," "Top Whatever" lists lately, and it's sorta made me think about my own top stuff. I'm kinda slow on the uptake reading new stuff, unless it's by one of my all-time favorite authors (like if Murakami or Dybek has something new out, and come to think of it, Stuart did put something new out, so I'll talk about that, too). But my "Top 1" for the year has to be for favorite author discovered. Not that he hadn't already been discovered by tons of other people, but I didn't discover him until this year. I'm talking, as the title would suggest, of Steve Almond. Steve Almond, let me just say, is hella cool.

The story of the discovery goes something like this: late last year, I joined Zoetrope, where I read a ton of great stuff by writers completely new to me. One of the pieces I read there was Does it Please You? by Ellen Meister. I solicited it for SmokeLong. Happily, Ellen agreed, and we got to chatting and became purty good buddies. I asked her to guest edit our next issue. She agreed to that, too. Yay!

Now, Ellen isn't in the habit of writing fan letters, but a few years before, she'd read something of Steve's online (and I wish I could remember what it was; I'd link to it). She loved it. She emailed him. He emailed back. This is something I've since discovered myself about Steve--if you email him, he emails back, and does so pretty quickly. They became email buddies of a sort. So when she was our Guest Editor, she asked him if he ever wrote flash, not seriously expecting that he'd submit. After all, he was a big deal, having been published in some pretty swanky places. But he sent us The Evening of the Dock. This, of course, sent me off on a mission to read as much of his stuff as I could. I checked out My Life in Heavy Metal from our local library. It was official: I was in love. I needed more.

Fortunately, it was easy to get more, as Steve's Candyfreak was about to hit bookstores everywhere, including Seattle's Elliot Bay Book Book Company, where he'd be doing a reading. Yippee! I bought "Freak" a few days before his appearance here and devoured it. One of the funniest books I've ever read. An actual laugh-out-loud-and-read-it-aloud-to-people-around-you books. An excerpt:

...the Marathon Bar, which stormed the racks in 1974, enjoyed a meteoric rise, died young, and left a beautiful corpse. The Marathon: a rope of caramel covered in chocolate, not even a solid piece that is, half air holes, an obvious rip-off to anyone who has mastered the basic Piagetian stages, but we couldn't resist the gimmick. And then, as if we weren't bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence: If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick.

While I never actually measured my dick with a Marathon Bar, I found myself stunned that I hadn't. Perhaps I was too young by a couple years. I remember the bar from just before I was ten. The whole book is filled with great nuggets about the candy industry, and is flat-out hilarious, while also surprisingly poignant.

Anyway, I strongly recommend both of the preceding books. "Heavy Metal," by the way, is a collection of short stories from a genre sometimes referred to as "dick lit," the "chick lit" for guys. It's great, great stuff, and I found that I easily placed myself into the protagonists' shoes far too often. When I told Steve after the reading how much I identified with one character in particular, he replied, "God, that's too bad. I'm really sorry."

So... buy his books. And if you're looking for more news about Steve, check out his site at His readings are a joy above and beyond the books. Firstly, he's a terrific reader (many writers aren't). Secondly, he feeds you. Really, really good candy. Get your freak on.

Oh, and Steve, if you stumble across this via Google or some other happy accident, send us another flash, would ya?


At 5:26 PM, Blogger Ellen said...

FYI, the story I read that knocked my socks off appeared in Other Voices and was called "Larsen's Novel." At the time, I was researching lit mags and reading dozens of stories. I was impressed with so many of them, but this was the only one that stopped me in my tracks. It was so rich with humor, pathos, humanity and gorgeous dialogue that I thought, Who IS this Almond guy? So I googled him and well ... you know the rest.

Incidentally, did you know your Blogmaster thing makes people jump through hoops to post a comment? They practically force you to start a blog with them just to say hello. For real.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Dave Clapper said...

Yeah, I don't think I have any control over who it lets post. Or maybe I do. I'll take a look. Thanks for taking the trouble to be able to post, though. :)


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