IMG_5390 FINAL-1Gina Frangello is the author of the novel My Sister’s Continent and the story collection Slut Lullabies. She is one of the most bold, fearless, unhindered writers I’ve ever read. After reading the manuscript of My Sister’s Continent, one editor was quoted as having said, “I couldn’t explain this book to a marketing rep without blushing or breaking down.” Here are six sex questions for the inimitable and amazing Gina Frangello.

It’s always a joy to sit down and talk with Michael Kimball. He’s into his cats, he plays softball (and is quite competitive!), he likes music, and he wears interesting T-shirts that make you want to scoot your chair back so you can get a good look. BIG RAY is Michael’s fourth book and, I think, his most intimate and moving. Whereas his other novels (Us, The Way the Family Got Away, Dear Everybody) all deal with loss of some sort, and are touching and powerful, BIG RAY emotionally dives down to a whole new level. You can’t help but be somewhat changed after reading this book.

Here’s what Michael Kimball has to say about BIG RAY:

Michael Kardos is one of those great, nice guys who doesn’t piss people off and doesn’t behave like some chest-inflating, flea-bitten ape. So it’s not surprising that he wrote a book about a great, nice guy who, in general, doesn’t piss people off or act like some loamy-smelling jungle animal. The great guy in Mike’s book, however, gets into a whole lot of trouble—more trouble than you and I, hopefully, will ever have. The Three-Day Affair earned starred reviews in Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, which named it one of the best books of Fall 2012.

Here are six questions for Michael Kardos:

If you don’t know who Junot Díaz is, you should. His writing stands out as startlingly original in a world that often feels crammed with literary replication. He is the author of Drown; he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and he is the author of the newly-released This is How You Lose Her, a story collection that centers around the charming and irresistible Yunior whose flaws only make us love him more.

Michael Downs is the award-winning author of House of Good Hope and the newly-released and highly-acclaimed The Greatest Show. His short stories have been widely published and have been listed in Best American Short Stories many times. Michael also writes a blog with his wife, the journalist Sheri Venema, who is 17 years older than he. The blog is called, aptly, HimPlus17. I asked Michael if instead of doing the usual writer-on-tour-book-interview we could do the Six Question Sex Interview. Thankfully, he and Sheri agreed!

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2011.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL

The hilarious, award-winning comedy writer Larry Doyle has a new book out this month. Deliriously Happy is a compilation of short, funny pieces Larry wrote for The New Yorker, Esquire and other magazines. You might know Larry from when he wrote and produced The Simpsons. Or maybe you know him from his first novel, I Love You Beth Cooper. If you’re a true Larry Doyle fan then you know that he also wrote the wildly fun and inventive novel Go, Mutants! and was a writer on Beavis and Butthead. And then there are the Hollywood films he’s written! Because there’s so much to talk about with Larry, I thought I’d narrow it down by subject matter and number. Hence, here is the Larry Doyle Six Question Sex Interview:

 

There is sex in all your books but it’s never straight-forward sexy. It’s always, well, embarrassingly funny. Can you explain this?

I was unaware that sex was not embarrassing. Clearly I should have read up more on the subject before attempting it.

Most sex writing is embarrassing and funny, though not intentionally. My goal is to one day write an amazing sex scene, Olympic and profound, that is also funny on purpose. That will be my life’s work.

When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my parents’ room and steal whatever book was on the nightstand on my mom’s side of the bed. I tried Anaïs Nin, I tried The Bell Jar, I even tried The Happy Hooker and, alas, none of them could hold my attention. And then one day I found Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. And I couldn’t stop reading. The book felt magical in its ability to transport me into the mind of a grown woman. It was the ideal reading experience, one that launched me into a lifetime of reading and, eventually, writing. Since that time, Erica Jong has written volumes of poetry, a memoir, two nonfiction books, and seven other novels, includingFanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones; Shylock’s Daughter (formerly titled Serenissima); and Inventing Memory. Recently she edited a very spirited and diverse collection of essays titled, Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex.

Meg Tuite’s novel-in-stories, DOMESTIC APPARITION, is a riveting, somewhat heartbreaking romp through the growing up years of a Catholic girl, Michelle. She gets high with and worships her rebellious lesbian sister, admires her nerdy, genius brother, and is afraid of their sometimes violent father.  The book travels from childhood where Michelle and her sister trick their cousin into chugging a glass of straight liquor, to her early twenties where Michelle works at a job she hates with a woman she learns to admire.  In between there is stolen art, lessons on the Papal history, and a tall girl who gets a thrill from defecating on a neighbor’s lawn.

Ellen Sussman’s fourth book, FRENCH LESSONS, just came out to rave reviews.  People magazine gave it four out of four stars, a ¾ page layout, and the title of People Pick. You may already know Ellen from her first novel, On a Night Like This. Or perhaps you’ve picked up the two anthologies she’s edited: Bad Girls:26 Writers Misbehave, or Dirty Words: A Literary Encylopedia of Sex. Ellen’s writing is witty, engaging, and always sexy.

My mother was the one who sent me Donald Ray Pollock’s first book, KNOCKEMSTIFF.  She had heard him on NPR, called me that day and told me about the interview.  Then she read the book and it was all over for her, true love.  It’s sort of like my daughter with Justin Bieber.  KNOCKEMSTIFF is a captivating, extraordinary book that will knock you over but, amazingly, Donald Ray Pollock’s second book, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, is even better.  It was a pleasure to talk to Donald Ray Pollock about his new book.  He is modest, kind, and one of those people whose success makes you happier than it does jealous.

A touching, funny, and unflinching look at a dysfunctional family, Drinking Closer to Home (Harper Perennial) by Jessica Anya Blau is a history that many of us may have lived. Hippie parents, competition between siblings, and the growing pains that we all endured: these are the fond memories and nightmares of our youth. What do you do when your mother quits being a mother? When your father grows pot plants in the back yard? When your older sister turns into a cigarette smoking, hard drinking woman on the prowl? When your younger sister retreats into her shell, a beach bunny with hidden dreams? When you suspect your brilliant brother of being gay, a ghost lost in the shadow of his dominant sisters? These stories are told in a series of flashbacks from 1968 to the present while the family is gathered around the hospital bed of their mother as she recuperates from a heart attack. Their sordid tales of youth and adventure unfold at a rapid clip, as the present-day regrets and promises to change float about the sterile hospital room and the messy homestead as well. Louise the freewheeling mother; Buzzy the worrisome father; Anna the wild older sister; Portia the heartbroken younger sister; and Emery the shy brother, run us through the wringer, and in the process, endear themselves to us—holding up mirrors, and windows, and open hands, looking for forgiveness.

It smelled like men. And maybe that was because there were over thirty of them and only three women. One woman was teaching naked yoga and as far as I could see (I dipped my head in to glance at the class), all the followers were men.

It seems as though everyone is talking about Michael Kimball and his new newly released novel, US.  Sam Lipsyte calls Kimball a “Hero of contemporary fiction.”  Blake Butler says US is one of only two books that ever made him cry.  And Gary Lutz says that Kimball is “One of our most supremely gifted and virtuosic renderers of the human predicament.” 

US might break your heart, but it’s a good kind of break-the kind that reminds you how nice it is to be alive.

Francine Prose is way more prolific than you or I.  She has written fourteen novels, three short story collections, one children’s book, and four books of non-fiction.  Additionally, she teaches, writes book reviews for the New York Times, is a a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bard College,  has won a Guggenheim award, has been nominated for a National Book Award, and has been president of the PEN American Center.  Her subject matter ranges from her fascination with Anne Frank, to the sordidness of faculty affairs at colleges, to Caravaggio, to 911, to death, life, and love. Her work is often funny, sometimes irreverent, occasionally serious, and always smart and beautifully crafted.  I sat down with Francine at Japonica in New York City to chat with her about writing, publishing, her new novel, marriage, and the semester she was my teacher in graduate school.