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The Other Best Books of 2011

Like everything else having to do with the holiday season, best-of-the-year book lists are designed to sadden and disillusion us. We are made to feel inadequate for not reading enough and, worse, we’re reminded of our utter lack of resolution to improve in the coming year. As we scan these year-end lists we find ourselves thinking some variety of this thought: No, I didn’t fuckin read fuckin Jeffrey Eugenides’ new book, just as I didn’t read his last book or the one before that—and, yes, I’m too lazy and self-absorbed and cheap and generally defiant to read anything by him in 2012. Face it, friends, if you actually did go out and buy all of the New York Times Top Books of 2011, you’d just end up stacking them into a neat pile, climbing onto it and hanging yourself.

But, wait, don’t do it! There’s plenty of porn out there—and where there’s porn, there’s hope. A wonderful world of books awaits us, a world of stories that we actually want to read. We are living in a period of renaissance, a golden age of the smutty written word. These e-books are short, reasonably priced and always deliver a satisfying ending. And, there’s a lot of them.

So, for those of us who aren’t interested in hearing about—much less reading—this year’s contenders for the Great American novel, for the vast, silent majority who are frankly more interested in coming than in coming-of-age novels, I offer a humbler, and more honest, Best Books of 2011.

1) Moan for Uncle by Terry Towers (Soft & Hard Erotic Publishing)

Future historians may dub 2011 ‘the year of forbidden uncle love.’ It seemed like everywhere you went this year, everyone was moaning for Uncle Grant. There’s a reason that both Moan for Uncle and its sequel, Moan for Uncle 2, cracked Amazon’s top ten erotic bestseller list (an especially impressive achievement for books in that rarefied category of ‘pseudo-incest’). Chicks loved it—why? The complex emotional bond between college freshman Nikki and her CIA agent uncle gives Moan’s hard-core scenes an undercurrent of melancholy, for this is a doomed love that dare not speak its shared last name.

2) Gang Bang the Bride by Rachel Boleyn (Sweet Nothings Publications)

Gang Bang the Bride is, to borrow a phrase from Disney’s PR department, an instant classic. Classic, because it deals in fundamental questions; instant, because that is precisely the manner in which it gratifies. Gang Bang the Bride isn’t just about gang-banging a particular bride—though it is about that, and copiously so—no, GBB is a cry in the caveman wilderness, a trenchant critique of the institution of modern marriage.

3) Blackmailed into Bed by Lynda Chance (Amazon Digital Services)

It pains me to say it, but Blackmailed into Bed is about America. It’s about us. A lonely Louisiana cop throws his weight around with Amy, a divorcee who’s been doing everything in her power to repel his domineering charm. Finally, fatefully, on a traffic stop at the side of lonely interstate on the bayou, the cowboy lieutenant makes her an offer that she cannot, that she dares not, refuse. This bleak book makes plain what we all know: the American Dream is finished. But this doesn’t mean that our civilization’s death throes can’t also be mind-blowingly arousing.

4) Her Best Friend’s Dad by Rachel Boleyn (Sweet Nothings)

Her Best Friend’s Dad peels away the layers of the narrative onion to discover a revelatory truth. Only now, with the fifth installment of this twisting-and-turning series, have we arrived at the core of the story: after much ado, Sarah has finally won over her best friend’s dad. But, as it turns out, this drama is only an appetizer to the even more explosive sexual power play between her, her best friend’s father, her professor, and her professor’s wife. And it all starts when she discovers that her college algebra exams have been intentionally mis-graded. There are touches in this series of the Greek dramatic cycle, The Oresteia. This story transcends its modern context and reaches toward something more universal.


5) Brother Sister Sex Stories by Tawny Black, Jewel Zahn and Jade K. Scott (Taboo Smut Publishers)

For better or worse, Brother Sister delivers on its promise. These stories are nothing but a collection of sick, perverted filth. The best that can be said of them is that they don’t technically involve blood relations. But even this crucial detail is often left ambiguous. Still, there’s little use in condemning these authoresses. Don’t blame the messengers. These gothic tales challenge the reader to resist the lure of the most troubling fantasies out there. Are you up to the challenge? Only one way to find out.


Happy Birthday, Regis Philbin!

On this day, some 80 years ago, Regis Francis Xavier Philbin was born


This Day in Kafka: To Some Extent Also Happy

In honor of today’s Red Sox doubleheader I offer you, the consumer, a This Day in Kafka twofer.

On this day, exactly one hundred years ago, Franz Kafka wrote the following entry in his diary:

15 August 1911. The time which has just gone by and in which I haven’t written a word has been so important for me because I have stopped being ashamed of my body in the swimming pools of Prague, Königsberg, and Czernoschitz. How late I make up for my education now, at the age of twenty-eight, a delayed start they would call it at the race track. And the harm of such misfortune consists, perhaps, not in the fact that one does not win; this is indeed the only visible, clear, healthy kernel of the misfortune, progressively dissolving and losing its boundaries, that drives one to the interior of the circle, when after all the circle should be run around. Aside from that I have also observed a great many other things in myself during this period which was to some extent also happy, and will try to write it down in the next few days.

But a year later, i.e. ninety-nine years ago on this day in Kafka, the situation was a bit different:

15 August 1912. Wasted day. Spent sleeping and lying down. Feast of St. Mary on the Altstader Ring. The man with a voice that seemed to come from a hole in the ground. Thought much of–what embarrassment before writing down names–Felice. O. has just been reciting poems by Goethe. She chooses them with right feeling. ‘Trost in Tranen’ ‘An Lotte’ ‘An Werther’ ‘An den Mond.’

Again read old diaries instead of keeping away from them. I live as irrationally as is at all possible. And the publication of the thirty-one pages is to blame for everything. Even more to blame, of course, is my weakness, which permits a thing of this sort to influence me. Instead of shaking myself I sit here and consider how I could express all this as insultingly as possible. But my horrible calm interferes with my inventiveness. I am curious as to how I shall find a way out of this state. I don’t permit others to push me, nor do I know which is ‘the right path.’ So what will happen? Have I finally run aground, a great mass in shallow water? In that case, however, I should at least be able to turn my head. That’s what I do.

What Will Happen?

My Japanese Reviews Are In!

Greetings and kisses, dear readers! I have received an exciting wire from Tokyo. Translations of reviews are in for the translation of my book, Running the Books, or as it is known in Japan, People in Prison Library: Librarian, He is Graduate of Harvard University. 

First, from the Weekly Bunshun:

Avi Steinberg, who calls Harvard “a lovely assisted-living facility” and boasts that his next step was “law school or prison,” has a definitely unyielding spirit despite his far-from-sheriff character. His nonfiction books will surely continue to resonate with the readers of the hip hop generation.

Needless to say, my success at connecting with the Japanese hip hop generation came as extremely welcome news. Word of this development sent my spirit–which, as the reviewer aptly notes, is definitely unyielding–to even greater heights of being definitely unyielding.

shout-out from my japanese homies

But once the excitement of those first few hours died down I realized something: I’m not definitely unyielding. I yield often. So, in the spirit of being definitely yielding, I offer you some other Japanese blurbs of keimushiyo toshiyokan no hitobito habado o dete shishiyo ni natsuta otoko no nitsuki (People in Prison Library: Librarian, He is Graduate of Harvard University). 

Kyoto Shinbun:

He learns real lessons about life, which he may not be able to find in the books on the library shelves……Through his flexible mind and perspective we can see the realities of the prison.

Iwate Nippon:

This queer library looks like the water source of a variety of stories, which becomes big and small rivers……Readers would surely feel empathy toward the protagonist who tries to face the prisoners seriously and sincerely.

Nikkei Shinbun, a newspaper read by Japanese businesspeople:

This nonfiction book is much more interesting than those run-of-the-mill translated fictions……We can see how it is difficult to keep appropriate distances from the prisoners, and this dilemma must have helped the author to grow up as a writer……This book is full of the words and wits which we need in order to be good and worthy human beings.


Books and IKEA: A Sunday Editorial

Lured by the promise of reasonably priced meatballs I recently made a trip to IKEA, whereupon I discovered that IKEA-brand meat products are an even better deal that I’d banked on: they come with a side of mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce! I also discovered that IKEA takes books seriously. The bookshelves in many of the showroom displays were brimming with shiny new Swedish-language volumes, including many Swedish translations of American authors. (I got the distinct sense that Anne Tyler is huge over there. Also, for the record, I can report that IKEA tactfully omitted Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich from the shelves abutting the store’s potentially-lethal window curtains). All of this bookishness accords nicely with the store’s overall approach: to give you, the regular citizen, permission to imagine, for at least for one exquisite moment, that you too can live some alternate contented, brightly-lit and stylishly-industrious Scandinavian existence.

As usual with IKEA, the vision changes dramatically when you get home, back to your drab American reality, and open up the box, which turns out to be a pile of rubble and a booklet with 63-step instructions narrated with nightmarish clarity by these two naked sleazebags:

IKEA representatives grinning after telling an off-color joke


And what’s more, upon further reflection, the tactful omission of Ivan Ilyich wasn’t in fact tactful but rather an act of deceit, an attempt to withhold from us the grim fact that Ivan Ilyich’s “most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible life” was in many ways the essence of the IKEA-esque. Turns out IKEA wants us to ignore all warnings, and is leading us directly to those deadly Tolstoyan curtains. The store’s sunny image is further clouded when you discover that even the shiny-Swedish-edition-of-Anne Tyler-thing was yet another ruse. In my instruction booklet, I discovered some shocking uses for books. Behold, step 24:

Followed by step 25:

That’s right, gang. These Swedes are instructing us to take our cherished books, toss them onto the floor, onto the dirty floor like rags, and use them as props for heavy pieces of furniture. And if that weren’t bad enough, they’re telling us to pound our poor books into the floor with a hammer. And do these naked little demons warn people not to use the Bible or the Book of Mormon for this purpose? No. And do you know why? Because the Swedes are Socialists. Borges warned us about this. He reminded us that the Great Wall of China was built by a regime that destroyed books. Now IKEA proves that even a regime whose ambition hardly extends beyond building wobbly coffee tables still has the audacity to beat up on a few innocent volumes.

Let us pause to praise the Christ-like resilience of our books. They suffer for us. They sacrifice their bodies for us. They prop up our half-made dressers so that we might be clothed, our free-standing kitchen islands so that we might be fed. They endure hammer blows for us. Would the Kindle do that? Think about that the next time the Devil lures you into his showroom with promises of cut-rate meatballs. And remember, my friends, sin always comes served up with a free side of mashed potatoes, and sometimes even with sweet lingonberry sauce.

Running the Books, Japanese Edition: Update

More news is trickling in from the Land of the Rising Sun. Here’s one piece, hot off the ticker: I have just learned that the title for the Japanese edition of Running the Books can be translated as

People in Prison Library–Librarian, He is Graduate from Harvard University

I only wish my dear granddad were around to see this!

In other news, I am listed as ‘Abi Sutainbagu,’ which, unless I’m wrong, sounds much cooler than ‘Avi Steinberg.’

All of Japan is Talking about Running the Books! (Or So I’m Told.)

Yatta! My book is officially out in Japan!! And it has a stately cover that fills me with the overwhelming desire to sip fine scotch. My thanks goes out to the Kashiwa Shobo imprint for producing this handsome volume.

I’ve learned a great deal during the translation process. Not the least of which is that my Japanese translator, the great Kaori Nozawa, is an amateur specialist in the Jackass narrative cycle, a field of expertise that came in handy during the fact-checking of this new edition.

Well, it turns out all of that fact-checking and editing paid off, big time. Here’s an email from Kaori:

Running the Books has been quite well accepted in Japan. I will introduce you some of the book reviews in some time. For now, I’m attaching the digital photos of the Japanese edition which I’ve got from my editor, Mr. Yagi.

When I get my hands on some translations of my Japanese reviews, I will pass them on to you, the consumer. In the meantime, allow me to present–with many thanks to Kaori and Mr. Yagi–the US premiere of keimushiyo toshiyokan no hitobito habado o dete shishiyo ni natsuta otoko no nitsuki.

(Please indulge me this oversized image. I just can’t help marveling at the steepness, the mystery and the downright woodenness of those bookshelves!)

How the Macho Have Fallen!

Today we mourn the untimely loss of Randall Mario Poffo, better known by his wrestling moniker, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. For decades as a fighter and Slim Jim beef jerky pitchman, Macho Man acquitted himself with dignity, with honor, and with style. Especially, with style. If there was one heterosexual man in the world who taught the boys of my generation that it was not just okay but praiseworthy to strut around in a red bikini speedo with matching red sequined vest and ludicrous sunglasses, it was Macho Man. In an American sports culture where meek post-game humility is sadly prevalent, Macho Man showed us another way, a better and more emotionally honest way. He was a macho man among men. Always he boasted, he taunted, he flexed, he cocked his big shiny fedora. He hated losers even more than he hated Communists. In his inimitably unhinged fashion, he made outrageous claims–or rather, claims that would have been outrageous had he not consistently delivered on them. In the ring, he was deft and brutal. Outside of the ring, he was a poet of vengeance. In short, he was an American, Ohio born. He was kind to the elderly and good with children. He could fly and walk on water. He could give sight to the blind. He made his Jewish mother proud. Above all, Macho Man was a master wrestler, one of the best of a golden age that included Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Brutus the Barber Beefcake, The Hart Brothers and Jake the Snake Roberts, among many others. Macho Man Randy Savage was 58.

The Championship Title Belt matched his outfit better than any other wrestler's


Winter Solstice II: Things Seen in the Sky

After much speculation in the blogosphere, I’ve finally revealed my #1 book recommendation of the year.

Hint: It’s a dense German text written in 1958. Oh, and it’s about UFOs and how it’s kind of a shame that they’ve become a symbol of anal probing. My thanks to the good folks at The Millions for their openness to paranormal book suggestions.

This Day in Kafka: Winter Solstice

Turning away, briefly, from my coverage of the ongoing anabolic steroid crisis in publishing, I’d like unveil yet another new series on this a-here blog. I call it, This Day in Kafka.

On this very day, some eighty-eight moons ago, on a night much like tonight, Kafka wrote the following words in his diary:

I was startled out of a deep sleep. By the light of candle I saw a strange man sitting at a little table in the center of the room. Broad and heavy, he sat in the dim light, his unbuttoned winter coat making him appear even broader.

Something about the sudden, unsolicited intimacy with this strange fat man–shrouded in shifting light, in the dead of winter–that totally puts me in the mood for tonight’s super-freaky Solstice lunar eclipse!

"A strange man, broad and heavy, sitting in the dim light..."