How to talk about things like cheese: A review of BIG WORLD

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by Tara Atkinson, APRIL managing director

When Big World was published in 2009, my favorite story was “Not All Who Wander Are Lost,” about a bad waitress who doesn’t get along with the other waitresses — “The waitresses don’t talk to me for reasons having to do with I fuck everybody and get paid twelve dollars an hour to slice lemons.” I was a delivery driver/prep cook who wanted to be a real cook but was too slow and always being sent to the back kitchen, which I knew was the right call. While I was alone in the back kitchen I’d grate some cheese, run out of cheese to grate, wait for someone to call for a delivery, and either sneak back into the kitchen to warm my hands over the soup or into the storeroom to read a book. I read Big World sitting on a steel prep table and also at the bar, where I’d sit after my shift and use my employee discount on beer. Inside the cover I made a dated list under the title ‘plan’ that involved a juice fast and increased exercise regimen. (In another list dated two days later I listed “cravings for general food: wings, cheese fries with ranch, cheese.”) It was a similar life to the story’s narrator’s and I had similar romantic problems, too, but I wasn’t even a waitress — just a delivery driver. It was the accident of the right book at the right time.

Literature is full of beautiful descriptions of mountains, ocean waves, fogs, smiles, the effects of light hitting a woman’s hair. Such descriptions can be transporting and inspiring, but when I was the delivery driver/prep cook grating cheese in a Midwestern bar, I had my problems to think about. I didn’t want to be transported to an ocean of rollicking waves unless the transportation was literal (“Dear John, Sorry. Bye. Maybe love… who knows.”). The pile of mozzarella in front of me was ridiculous to imagine as a mountain of snow. Literature is not full of piles of mozzarella. That was the thing that got me about Big World. Not just that it “got me” or that the scenery was familiar, but the well-crafted and perfectly suited way Miller describes things like mozzarella cheese.

Like the detail in “He had salad dressing on his shirt, a wet spot where he’d tried to rub it off. I could see his chest hairs. It was like looking through a porthole” in “Leak.”

Or how the order in “I have a job that doesn’t pay very well and friends I never see. I still sleep in my ex-boyfriend’s t-shirt. There are magnets on my refrigerator and a clutter of pizza coupons in my drawer. Is this a life?” creates such emotional juxtaposition and resonance (the story is “Even the Interstate is Pretty”).

Or how the off-hand tone of the narrator’s thoughts in “Aunt Jemima’s Old-Fashioned Pancakes” add up to so much more than the words on the page when the friend says she wants a Mexican pizza from Taco Bell: “I know she knows exactly how many calories are in a Mexican Pizza, and that she’d work out until she’d burned the whole thing off, even if it took all night. Sometimes she loses it and eats an entire box of donuts and we can’t hang out because she has to run sprints the rest of the day.”

Or the quiet metaphor with all the perfectly-placed commas at the end of “Full,”: “I remember how, when I first started carrying a purse, it was empty so I filled it with things I didn’t need, to take up space.”

I wondered if such things were worth talking about. One former not-even shitty waitress still remembers this book, still thinks yes.

Mike Young and Megan Kaminiski will write you a Reverse Fan Mail!


"…I won’t explain, / not in the face of your expensive research and cheap / buses, not without a draft from your snowplow driver’s / early bourbon, not unless I’m allowed to debut the great / Hawaiian shirt of my intuition that suggests I call your / bullshit" —from Mike Young’s poem "What I’ve Learned from Sleeping in New England" in Sixth Finch. Read a great short story by Mike in Hobart if you want to see his other side.

Mike Young is the author of the story collection Look! Look! Feathers (Word Riot 2010) and two books of poems: We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough (Publishing Genius 2010) and Sprezzatura (Publishing Genius 2014). He edits NOÖ Journal, runs Magic Helicopter Press, writes for HTMLGIANT, and lives in Northampton, MA. Find him online at http://mikeayoung.tumblr.com.


"Down south the coastline crunches / rock-strewn wind-buried sand-showering / 
faces squinting eyes into secret coves / I have secrets too”—
from"Coast" published on Coconut. A convenient list of more poetry, some essays, even some videos on Megan’s website.

Megan Kaminski is the author of Desiring Map (Coconut Books, 2012) and six chapbooks of poetry, most recently This Place(Dusie, 2013) and Gemology (LRL Textile Editions, 2012). She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she teaches poetry at the University of Kansas and curates the Taproom Poetry Series.

If you donate for a ‘Reverse Fan Mail' to APRIL, we'll send your name to one of our favorite small press authors who will write a short, original work using your name as inspiration and you'll get a good-looking hard copy to show off.  There are illustrated versions, too!

More about our festival and our other thank you gifts at aprilfestival.com.

the amount of lit is overwhelming

APRIL doesn’t start until next Monday, but our friends are hosting a lot of great events this week!

Tomorrow, get some brews and books at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood. The event will feature readings from Adam Novy, Dylan Nice, Richard Chiem, and Cameron Pierce.

Thursday, join YesYes Books & Matthew Dickman as they raise funds for YouthCare, a non-profit benefitting homeless youth. The event will feature readings from Richard Chiem, Matthew Dickman, Elaina Ellis, Rachel Kessler, Sierra Nelson, and Corey Zeller.

Sunday, Paul Nelson hosts a discussion on the problem of the “Seattle nice” and the state of literary criticism in the Northwest. Panelists include Daemond Arrindell, Christine Deavel, Graham Isaac, and Kate Lebo. Plus, it’s online so you don’t even need to leave your couch!

This isn’t your elementary school’s book fair

Remember your elementary school’s annual book fair where you’d spend your lunch money on Goosebumps? We certainly do!

We’re excited to announce the almost complete line-up for our grown-up book fair (complete with a fully-stocked bar!), the third annual Small Press Expo, co-presented by Richard Hugo House, at Richard Hugo House on March 30, from 11 am – 4 pm. There you’ll have the chance to buy books from great presses like Hobart (SF/LD Books), Future Tense, Featherproof, Jaded Ibis, Caktrain, Magic Helicopter, and more. Are you with a press that would like to be involved? We still have table space, so apply here.

But it will also be so much more than a book fair! All throughout the day we’ll have readings and musical performances from:

12:30-1:30: SPLAB Poetry Bout: New Mexicans (Amalio Madueño and Nadine Maestas) vs. Cascadians (Stephen Roxborough and Anastacia Tolbert), hosted by Paul Nelson.

1:30-2:30: The Bushwick Book Club presents original music inspired by The Furnace, featuring Brad Loomis and Nancy K Dillon and others from the BBC.

2:30-3:30: Breadline March on an APRIL Afternoon, featuring Portland poet Michael Heald, and all-girl string trio “the Ink & the Echo.” Hosts Greg Bem and Jeremy Springsteed will perform pieces with string accompaniment. 

3:30-4: Other People’s Poetry & Prose: We’re bringing back a favorite event from Pilot Books. Bring your favorite small or independent press title and read to us. 

Mark your calendars! It’s going to be a great way to end the festival. And because we like you and want you to come, there’s no entry fee and the first ten attendees will get an APRIL tote.

friday reads, 1.25.13

"The Legend of Troy Cartwright" by Patrick Somerville at Hobart

"A life ago, I was a lake" by Danez Smith at The Collagist

And in case you missed it, Kate Zambreno’s live tweeting of the 50 Shades of Grey series. (You might have to scroll down a little, but it is worth it. Trust us.)