We were gone for two weeks over Easter break.  Two weeks, three places.  South, farther south and gloriously hot.  As always, when we weren’t moving we knew we’d be consuming stories in the form of books.  What to bring?

It occurred to me, before setting out, that I “owed” a few people a read.  For one thing, there was Brad Listi, who encouraged me to publish an entire novel — Cadaver Blues — online, serially, on the website he conjured out of thin air.  Like a lot of things one conjures out of thin air, the site took on a life of its own, but Brad continued to encourage.  I should return the favor, I thought, by buying and reading his book.

Along those lines, there were some other Nervous Breakdowners, people who make the machinery work and who have books in stores, solid TNB citizens who should be rewarded in some small way for all their efforts.

If I could load up a few of these, I’d do a good turn, get some entertainment, and maybe glean an insight or two.  But, as always, in opposition to my intentions there was also a countervailing force.

The countervailing force was inertia.  The inertia of books written by others that had waited in line a long time, calling to me from the shelf and the ether.  More than that, there was the inertia of my personal 3G travel rules — 1G having been the schlep-all-you-want-I’m-a-virile-young-man era; and 2G having been the paperbacks-only-keep-the-weight-down era (a rule my wife almost universally ignored).  These eras yielded a year ago to 3G: the if-it-ain’t-on-Kindle-it-ain’t-coming era.

Bless the electron, my wife honors the 3G principle, so in that spirit I could only take TNB writers whose books were available on Kindle.  Memo to the publishers of Duke Haney, Gina Frangello and Shya Scanlon: you missed a sale, at least for now.

But there was another force of inertia, not the figurative force, rather the one that pastes one’s hair back on Space Mountain and mitigates with extreme prejudice against reading and driving to visit the parents at the same time.  In short, Week One — when I had any reading time at all — was shot exploring The Magic Kingdom and reading Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom, the first book of his that I’ve read and the first in his King Alfred series.  I won’t discuss that work here, other than to say it’s a good yarn of the commercial variety and I learned that the dispeptic Alfred (who may have had Crohn’s disease) saved England (the first time) and that the word “starboard” was so called because the steering oar resided on that side of the boat.

Anyway, a week later, I settled onto a beach where I could grant three lucky TNB writers what we’ve all always wanted: someone who’s paying attention.  I settled in and can happily report that Brad Listi, Jonathan Evison and Greg Olear can really write (as if you didn’t know).  Herewith a fan’s notes:

Attention.  Deficit.  Disorder. by Brad Listi

Where I read it: on the beach.

What I gave up to read it: two swims in the ocean and a game of touch football with my nephews.

What it’s about: Wayne Fencer is a former film major who lives in Boulder, CO.  When an ex-girlfriend commits suicide, Wayne hits the road in search of life’s meaning, venturing from Playa del Carmen to Havana to the Appalachian Trail to New York City to Los Angeles.  His search reaches its denouement at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert.

Favorite character: Wayne’s mentally challenged Uncle Brian, who always speaks in ALL CAPS.  A sample exchange between the narrator and his uncle:

ME: You feel like a pizza?


ME: Okay then.  We’ll find a Pizza Hut.


If that little snippet doesn’t just about break your heart all by itself then you’re not human.

What’s really going on: The narrator sets out uncertainly on what may best be described as a gentle contemplation of life, but his journey (an assessment of his “trajectory,” he says) is ultimately more a search for self than for meaning, which is what makes it so touching.

In sum: a road trip book with soul.


All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison

Where I read it: on the beach, in bed.

What I gave up to read it: third cocktail of the evening, first cocktail of the next afternoon, an unspeakable thing or two.

What it’s about: When William Miller Jr. is almost eight years old, his mother dies.  A year later, his father remarries and he becomes enraptured by his new stepsister, Lulu.  The feeling is mutual, but the summer after sophomore year she goes off to sleep-away cheerleading camp and returns a different person.  She wants nothing to do with Will, but his obsession persists for years, until through sheer stubbornness he teases out the mystery of what changed that fateful summer.

Favorite character: Big Bill Miller, Will’s bodybuilder father, because, “more than anything else, he liked short endings.”

Sweet excerpt: “But while Doug and Ross [Will’s twin brothers] were playing with dumbbells and posing in their underwear in front of mirrors, I was living inside of myself; that is, my world was inside out.  I had senses, but they were all on the inside.  The sense that something was missing.  The sense that this missing thing would forever elude me.  The sense that forever as a measure of time no longer existed.  The sense that I was not being watched, and not being followed.  And finally, a sense that the universe had forsaken me, not out of malice, but as an oversight.”

What’s really going on: A great yearning of a novel, portraying an aching desire so consuming that the narrator realizes almost too late that he can hardly even think to locate his own purpose.

In sum: A tragic love story of blinding obsession.


Totally Killer by Greg Olear

Where I read it: on the beach, on the patio, in bed.

What I gave up to read it: a walk down the beach, a tennis round-robin, more unspeakable things.

What it’s about: In 1991, before the age of cell phones and the Internet, the narrator, Todd Lander, takes a new roommate into his New York City apartment, a pheromone-oozing beauty who’s desperately seeking gainful employment in a lousy job market.  She finds it, all right, but there are strings.  Oh, are there strings.

Favorite character: Asher Krug, the charismatic job placement specialist of the Quid Pro Quo employment agency, a deliciously cold-hearted villain.

Sharp opening line: “I never loved Taylor Schmidt.  Despite what you may have heard.”

What I can’t tell you: A lot.  It’s a mystery, it’s complicated, the narrator learns these things at his peril.  Like any good mystery, you have to read to the end to get it.

What I can tell you: It’s funny, smart and entertaining.

In sum: A satirical page-turning pop thriller.


The result of all this?  My happy new inertia: reading friends.

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J.E. Fishman, a former Big Six book editor and former literary agent, is author of the thriller Primacy, which Publishers Weekly called "appealing" and Kirkus called "good, boisterous fun." His mystery novel, Cadaver Blues, was serialized in 2010 on TNB and you can still find it here if you dig deep enough. It's now available in ebook and paperback. His financial thriller, The Dark Pool, was published this year, and his new series of police thrillers, Bomb Squad NYC, will be published in February 2014. He blogs here and at the Huffington Post. Please visit and follow him at his very fancy and expensive official author website.

14 responses to “Reading Friends (Part I)”

  1. admin says:

    Thanks for reading, Joel. Appreciate it.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Hi J.E.,

    Finally! something you’ve written I’m not behind with! HALLELUJAH!

    Is your book in print, so I can read it all at once? (Please say yes.)

    I agree with you about these books. I think they are all fine, good reading.
    Unfortunately, I already read them.
    Next time, report on some that I haven’t read yet, okay?

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      I’m the one who’s behind, but I’m catching up!

      Unfortunately, Cadaver Blues has no publisher yet because may agent says I have to finish it first. But I’m ahead of what’s posted, so, hopefully, before not too long…

  3. Irene Zion says:

    (Can I just call you Fishman?)
    When you finish, I’m just going to print it all and read it on paper.
    I don’t think I can retain my sanity and read the whole novel on the computer screen.
    I’ll buy it when it comes out though, promise!

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Thanks. I’m aware that it’s difficult to read an entire novel on a computer screen. The published version will, as they say, be a value add!

  4. Irene Zion says:


    I’m plenty impressed that you have just about finished an entire novel.
    So far, I can only write in short pieces.
    I suppose I could write a book and call it A Million Little Pieces….
    (Or has that been done before?)

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Actually, you don’t need a million little pieces for a book. Way fewer than that. Get going!

      • Irene Zion says:

        I have a lot of stories, but to put them together I have to face a couple of demons. I faced one in “Nevermore,” that was actually the hardest, so I think I can get to the other major one.
        Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    I think one of the things I like about TNB the most is that it guarantees exposure to a long gamut of new authors and voices who I ordinarily probably wouldn’t have found my way to.

    I mean, now I feel like I have to read everything everyone’s written. Otherwise, who’s going to read my stuff?


    I kid!

    The fact of the matter is that the works I’ve gotten ahold of through TNB (TK, BFL, PS, ADD – and more to come) have all been of exceptionally high quality, and I’m looking forward to reading more and more varied works.

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      I agree. Lotta talent here. You don’t HAVE to read all of them, though. Just me.

      Also kidding! I think.

  6. Greg Olear says:


    I’ve been on self-imposed hiatus this week, so I’m only seeing this now. Forgive the late response.

    Thanks for reading (and for Kindling…I’ve seen it on Kindle, and the mix tape image comes out just fine) and the props. It is, as you said, nice to have someone pay attention.

    On a more general note, I like the way you set this up…and it’s always fun to read this sort of thing when you’ve read all the books involved, as I have.

    Thanks again.


    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Yeah, quiet week all around, though I’m busy as hell.

      Anyway, hope this gets you a few more readers.


  7. jonathan evison says:

    . . . proud to have made your reading list, mr. fishman!!!

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