online magazine for short, good writing

Month: November, 2012

5 Books To Get You Through the Holidays

by Treehouse Editors

Caleb Andrew Ward

It’s that time of year again, and regardless of religion, I think we can all agree that that goddamn Wham song needs to go. Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but if I have to hear this one more time I’ll drive to Wham’s house (yes, they all live together like the Partridge Family) and stab them all in the throat. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way we can get to the topic at hand: books. I love ’em, you love ’em. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like some form of literature. (That, or you were Googling “How to build a tree house” and somehow ended up on this page.)

Here is a list of five A-list books I suggest you take a look at to distract you from that unnecessary shopping list this “’tis the season” while you’re curled up next to an open fire with that bastard Jack Frost nipping at your nose—by the way when is it cool for anyone to nip at your nose? These aren’t all holiday books so relax and breath easy.

  1. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. Sedaris in all of his satirical wit has brought us a few tales of his own including “Santaland Diaries” which chronicles Sedaris’s stint as an elf working at Macy’s department store. Fun fact: “Santaland Diaries” was eventually published as a play and has been done several times here, in Wilmington, where I live and breathe.
  2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’m currently reading this three-part novel in which several characters in Tokyo experience intertwining situations where “Things are not always as they seem.”
  3. The Ice Storm by Rick Moody. Alcoholism, escapism, sexual revolution, children using drugs, warring families, and Rick Moody all wrapped up in one Thanksgiving weekend ice storm. Guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit. The film is also a fine adaptation of this nihilistic novel.
  4. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. This memoir by the writer of such poetry collections as Some Ether is written in a brutally fragmented structure. It chronicles Flynn’s time working at a homeless shelter where his own father stayed for some time. The film Being Flynn isn’t too bad either, starring Paul Dano and Robert De Niro.
  5. Flatscreen by Adam Wilson. If you’re looking for a lighter way to liven your literary mood this holiday season then sit down with ole Eli Schwartz as he bumbles through a life of sex, drugs, drugs, drugs, sex, and drugs. This first novel from Adam Wilson is a hilarious read that’ll tickle your senses and the weird fantasies you might have cooking up there. The book trailer is definitely worth a look as well.

My Top Five Favorite Texts Featuring Transsexuals

by a contributor

from Will Cordeiro, author of Pilgrimage:

  1. Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Ovid’s poem can be considered the locus classicus of transsexual literature, though there are several other ancient examples not to be missed, including The Satyricon and Plato’s Symposium; amor, as one of my Latin teachers long ago liked to point out, is at both the figurative and literal heart of Metamorphosis. The Caeneus episode in Book 12 recounts how the virgin Caenis was raped by Neptune, who then granted her one wish—she was transformed into a man who could not be wounded. Ovid’s epic as a whole, however, is one of continual change, narrative weaving into narrative, bodies mixing into other bodies, as the poem twists and braids to show how desires reinvent themselves. The idea of identity is itself only another myth.
  2. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography. The swashbuckling titular character, probably based on Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West, refuses to age: whooping it up through several centuries, he becomes a she and hobnobs with historical figures, from Elizabeth I to Alexander Pope. Taking hundreds of years to complete her novel, the eponymous heroine demonstrates how imaginative vivacity can overcome facile limitations such as time and gender. The title probably alludes to Ariosto’s outrageous gender-bending epic, Orlando Furioso, which features the fierce transsexual warrior Bradamante (a work that is also highly recommended, especially in the ottavarima translation by Barbara Reynolds, unless you’re lucky enough to know Italian).
  3. Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge. The sado-masochistic etiquette teacher, Myra, brings a whole new meaning to “finishing school.” The novel’s nonstop camping unceasingly refers to classic Hollywood films: whereas Orlando’s quixotic gender transformation is induced by literature, Myra’s is cinematic—her worship of divas seems to drive her to become one, with results that could be described as simultaneously disastrous and sublime. The book was perhaps inevitably adapted into the 1970’s cult film of the same name, starring Raquel Welch and bringing Mae West out of retirement. The film version (initially X-rated in the, ahem, “uncut” version) intersplices the gaudy Technicolor romp with short clips from the Hollywood films of Myra’s lexicon, as the filmic rewrite becomes even more directly citational in its approach to deconstructing the performative identities of those it portrays, sometimes blurring lines between the characters and actors, fiction and metafiction.
  4. Severo Sarduy’s Cobra. A Cuban drag queen undergoes a sex change in which she channels the pain of the operation into her voodoo-like doll and double, after which s/he’s rounded up into an outlaw motorcycle gang of Buddhist “bears” (and Bulls, and Tigers, oh my!).The loopy story loops around itself to swallow its own tale since the text prefers to leave staid conventions—such a narrative coherence—behind in a Barthesian jouissance that begs that its language be cruised. To give one example of how the text spins its new skin of signifiers, rending all straightforward codifications illegible: the glossolalia of the title Cobra refers to—among many other things—the Spanish word “cobrar,” which can mean to change (money), the COBRA group of post-surrealist painters, the Biblical serpent, and the Cobra Woman of Maria Montez. Enough slang’s slung that you can’t help getting bit by this ouroboros, experiencing your own readerly multiplicity even as you vicariously drain pleasure and painfrom its various dolled-up characters.
  5. Will Self’s Cock and Bull. The book is structured as a pair of novellas, in the first of which a woman mysteriously grows a penis she uses to rape her callow, alcoholic husband and in the second of which a sensitive footballer finds a vagina forming in the crook behind his knee. Each side of this tidy binary, however, reflects and refracts the other in troubling ways. The stories contrast the repressive gender norms of contemporary British society with the weird and wooly ways that sexuality breaks out in unforeseen places, the body budding and bumbling up disobediently to one’s will. The title, of course, alludes to going to great narrative lengths for nothing, and Self’s style by turns seduces and manhandles its reader. How much the text partakes in the misogyny it critiques may be a dangerously open question, but Self’s infectiously razor-sharp wit will leave one festering. The book skewers the grotty class realities and overwrought gender dichotomies that imprison its characters, and its so-called magic realism comes off more like spot-on verisimilitude, showing how one’s true self often takes a fantasmatic turn.


by a contributor

William Cordeiro

On a day like any other, the young man stared into the hourglass until he saw his own reflection. The grains had finished their pyramid. It was time he traveled to the navel of the earth. He passed through the city. He gazed at the ground where ants built their towers. Wind scoured the sands and the citizens scattered inside. Their eyes fixed on unraveling clouds; the horizon was lost behind the edges of buildings. He moved on, crossing a river. The water moved, too, with the sound of its loss. Over other bridges and onward, he climbed up a rise to a vista overlooking the wilderness. The sun blazed a ridge down dunes it stunned white. Across scrubland and scruff, he surveyed a cave. A black curtain of bats emerged from its mouth. Inside, over years, the cave’s tears had turned to pillars of stone. He found the graves of the fathers, bones at the verge where the survivors or slaves had burrowed a pit. The ribs ritually dumped in its womb. The remains were laid round in a chain, anchored in shadow, whittled to points, up-thrust like canines. Their array formed a fence, beyond which he heard the deep echo of nothing. His eyes had fallen into a galling abyss darker than ink. He made his return, across mountains solid with fog. All through the valley, lush tendrils and leaves discomposed his momentum; he ate speckled eggs from the flocks of huge birds, which swooped through the air, each nib of their quills lofting loops. He knifed through the brush. The rain was incessant, like the small eyes of thieves. Then, he rode over the sea, a turbulent mirror below which self-illuminating fish trawled an unfathomed waste. Finally, he arrived at his home, an old man, on a day like any other. In every direction, he could only look back. His memory as obscure now as the journal he kept. The path itself had been trampled into grains of fine dust.


William Cordeiro lives in Tucson, Arizona and is a currently a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell completing his dissertation on 18th century British literature. His creative work appears in many literary journals, including Crab Orchard Review, Fourteen Hills, Copper Nickel, and Harpur Palate. He is grateful for residencies from Risley Residential College, Provincetown Community Compact, Ora Lerman Trust, ART 342, Blue Mountain Center, and Petrified Forest National Park.

See William’s list of 5 Things You Should Read tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.

This Week in Words – Nov 24

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Happy Thanksgiving (weekend), readers!

I’d like to give a big, big, big thank-you on behalf of the Treehouse staff to all of our readers, contributors, and submitters. You all make Treehouse possible and let us keep doing what we love. We appreciate it!

Some Thanksgiving-themed links this week:

From The New Yorker: A turkey slide show! Turkeys being eaten, turkeys on pumpkins, girls riding turkeys – you name it.

Electric Literature made a list of stories, essays, and novels that mention Thanksgiving somewhere in their pages. They’ve linked to places you can either buy or read them. (I’m rather partial to Marie Bertino’s “North Of” which you can find right there at Electric Lit. That said, I’m a fan of David Sedaris, too, who also made the list.)

Finally, GalleyCat gives thanks for free e-books. They’ve given us a kickass flow chart to make it easy as (pumpkin?) pie to find a book we might dig (taken from the top 50 at Project Gutenberg).

5 Things I Know about You

by a contributor

from David Galef, author of On Holiday:

  1. You’re reading this, right?
  2. That must mean you’re a follower of Treehouse.
  3. I.e., you like a good read.
  4. Writerly work attracts certain types. I’ll bet you write, as well.
  5. You need to read more. We all do.

On Holiday

by a contributor

David Galef

Have you been to the banana-squashing festival in Minanga?

Velida marks the last day of the year you can legally eat ice cream on the island of Nectos.

The origins of Chopstick War Day are obscure.

No one has ever succeeded in photographing the Witches’ Sabbath Parade.

All the citizens dress up like cockroaches and copulate with whomever they can.

The idea is to commemorate the historic crossing of the Redback River with three inner tubes, a pot of oatmeal, and a sack of goose feathers balanced on one’s head.

The triangular fans from the Feast of Hangover depict the three transcendent states: drunk, unconscious, and dead.

On this one afternoon, the dogs rule the household.

One line of celebrants wears funny hats; the other side carries fedoras.

The Dance of the Arthritic Cripple started as an add-on to the Catholic mass at the Yellow Church on St. Tropisme.

The medieval Festival of Farts is thought to stem from a post-Lenten celebration of a cabbage surplus.

First the Master of Pajamas stretches, then the Night-Capped Trio yawns, and then the gaily bedecked cots are wheeled out, the first evening of Somnos.


The holiday ends when the participants run out of eggs.

The floats for the Prettiness Pageant become the kindling for next day’s Perfect Pyre Parade.

Unfortunately, the Feast of Hrofar, begun to take the peasants’ mind off the famine of 1470, supplies only one pancake for 800 revelers.

The Substitute Holiday can take the place of any other holiday in the calendar with just a day’s notice. Also, the Substitute Holiday Elders are ingenious in recycling objects from other holidays, such as turning decorated walking sticks into percussion instruments.

The orgies of the Bucharin Bacchanalia have been discontinued until several paternity suits are resolved.

The supposed effigy in the Punters’ Procession is a real woman imprisoned in papier mâché.

The city commission frequently has to double- or even triple-decker holidays, artfully juxtaposing Amputee Pride Parade with Skateboards in Procession and Nurse Appreciation Day.

Everyone at the Birth/Rebirth Gala knows what the six-foot candle stands for.

In a strategic move, the Glendale Chamber of Commerce is staging its Feast of the Tourist the week before Centerville’s Sightseeing Spectacular.

Questionnaires to be filled out by spectators after the Flaming Cocktail Throw will help make next year’s event even better.

David Galef has published over a dozen books and shows no sign of stopping. His latest are the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books) and Japanese Proverbs: Wit and Wisdom (Tuttle). He is a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Montclair State University.

See David’s 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

This Week in Words – Nov 17

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Philip Roth is calling it quits. He sort of snuck that news in under the table in a French mag. In response, The Millions has a list of 10 lessons that you can learn from Roth’s expansive body of work.

Jack Gilbert, brilliant poet, died this week which is terribly depressing. My sister has been inundating my e-mail inbox with Gilbert poems; the latest, “Failing and Flying,” effing blows my mind. And for good measure, “Prospero Without His Magic” is just tremendous too.

As you may know, I just completely love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The latest issue of Mother Jones includes an interview with Pullman in which he talks about his retelling of the Grimm fairy tales, what his daemon would look like, some conversation on religion, and (gasp!) the sequel he’s working on to that oh-so-heartbreaking tale I love so much.

McSweeney’s has some delectable Thanksgiving goodness for you. And if you haven’t already read it: Colin Nissan does an excellent job of wrapping up this holiday season in a neat little package decorated with gourds and cornucopias.