Stuff I’ve Read That You Should Read, Too

By Eli Ryder

Originally, I was going to throw a together a lighthearted commentary outlining a few of the reasons we’re rejecting stories from our magazine. I’m not good at that sort of thing, however, and it came out sounding like ivory-tower jackassery aimed at changing what you put on your pages. I mean, spell stuff right and build interesting sentences, be surprising, push boundaries, yes, all of those things. But do all that in your own way, not the way anyone else says you should. Shit. I’m prescribing again.

Instead of continuing in that vein, I think I’d like to just talk about some books I’ve read recently that exemplify what we’d like to see in the pages of Automata. Yes, our first blog post listed some things. Sue me. I’m going to write more here. The goal being, of course, that you check some of this stuff out and enjoy it. That’s why we started this thing—to enjoy reading stuff we’ve never seen before. So dig in, with your tea or whiskey or whiskeytea or whatever, and get down on some of this stuff.

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You Must Be This Happy to Enter, Elizabeth Crane

The whole collection is great, but I want to draw your attention in particular to “My Life is Awesome! And Great!” This is an example of how powerful small surprises can be. Mechanics that writers often take for granted, in this case end-sentence punctuation, create more meaning than we’re aware of. Crane highlights that power in this story. It’s fantastic. Also, since I can’t pass on a weird situation, check out “Betty the Zombie.”

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Skullcrack City, Jeremy Robert Johnson

This dude is out there. Where Crane’s collection deals with familiar emotion in surprising ways, Johnson’s novel is an unrelenting barrage of weird that abandons every plot chart you’ve ever seen. It’s the only novel I’ve read that doesn’t stop accelerating. There’s no downhill. And, as you might expect from a novel that doesn’t give you a chance to breathe, to process what you’ve just read, its content departs from familiarity at word two. Big ole mind-bender, this one. But it’s still driven by relatability. Given its content, that’s a miracle magic trick. Check out his story collections, too, if you’re into the kind of stuff that makes you question your sanity for enjoying it.

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The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt

I read this to reach into a genre I don’t normally read, thinking westerns could help me work through some setting stuff in my own writing. I’m glad I did. I don’t know how deWitt pulled off the subtle emotional shifts and complex character and world dynamics he did while staying in the simple voice of his protagonist. But I guess that goes to show you that simple things done right generate outstanding results. Another funny-and-heartbreaking entry on this list, The Sisters Brothers manages to satisfy all your gun-fighting and horse-riding adventure cravings while simultaneously touching all the right nerves.

I could go on and on about genre-twisting, envelope-pushing work. That’s why we decided we wanted to run the between-classification, hard-to-categorize stuff. The three aforementioned texts skirt lines and shove barricades. We like that stuff.

Happy writing,