Monday, June 10, 2013

June Reader Spotlight - Kevin Still, aka Mr. Bristle

This month's Reader Spotlight features a very good friend of mine with whom I share words on as frequent of an occasion as we can devise.  We've actually known each other for over 15 years now.  He's someone who strings together words in a way I envy, in a way that subtly forces you to follow. 

Please welcome Kevin Still!

Age: 35
Hometown/Where you live: 
I'm from El Dorado, Arkansas, home of the haunted Rialto movie theater where my buddy Xon was the manager and got me into free films during high school. Now I live in Bryan, Texas, home of two theaters that charge $4 a matinee ticket. We see a lot of movies.

Welcome to Reader Spotlight!  Share with our blog viewers out there your reading habits: What's your favorite place to read? Favorite time of the day to read?  If you could pick the PERFECT place to escape to with a book, where would that be?
AT HOME: Our living room windows gush loads of natural light. We do not turn on lamps or the overheads until late evening. My ideal reading happens in the mornings, perched on a couch near those windows, coffee on the side table, pen in hand, pug curled up by my side. I start my reading as early as possible due to sinking cognition in the early afternoon and evening hours. I prefer to read or write in the mornings, perform chores and house work in the afternoons, and engage films or neighbors in the evening.
IN PUBLIC: I'm a huge fan of good coffee and tables stuck off in the corner. I don't like those big, coveted comfy chairs. I want a small table with a straight back, uncomfortable chair that keeps me focused. And I want free refills, plenty of foot traffic for people watching, and low overhead music so I can easily eavesdrop. Although I'm a huge proponent of local businesses, I'm on a first name basis with most employees at Panera Bread Co. around the corner. Their iced coffee is perfect.

In order from least to most, what would you say your top three books are?
I'm answering this according to June 6, 2013 standards. Ask me again in six months and you might get a different list. Also, I'm not sure I have a most favorite book. Alright, enough disclaimers, here's three books I loved the shit out of: 1.) Horns by Joe Hill. I'm not sure I've read a finer novel, other than maybe A Prayer For Owen MeanyHorns is quite dark, which makes it difficult to recommend, but it's also impossible to put down, beautifully structured, and haunting as crap. I didn't pick up another book for several weeks just to allow Horns to settle. It's one I hope to re-read this summer. 2.) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It's been awhile, but there was a long season - couple years, actually - when I carried Tinker Creek on my person the way I once carried my Bible. Tinker Creekis gorgeous and breathtaking and chock full of perfect metaphors and sentences. Also, I feel totally awed that Dillard wrote this amazing genuflection on nature while sitting in front of a concrete wall in a library at night. This is a huge testament to the power of the human imagination and the writer's ultimate responsibility with words. 3.) Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk. This is an odd title to put on this list because it's not really a great book. I enjoyed it, but I did not immediately slough off a dozen emails and text messages recommending it to friends. Still, I think about this book more than I think about any other book. And I return to it more often than any other book besides Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. Palahniuk says things here about writing, reading, community, friendships, and urgency that struck - and continue to strike - a major chord in me. So much so that I keep my copy close by and I use passages of the text in my classes. (You wouldn't believe how many of my college freshmen have never heard of Fight Club: film or book.) Although I would like to have ended my response here with some great classic by Willa Cather or Faulkningway, but I can't fake the funk. I'm also working my way through Palahniuk's canon, and it's a hit-or-miss study of literary structures, character development, and lyrical urgency.

Favorite author?
Flannery O'Connor. But there are a few other people I would read any and everything by: Joe Hill, David Sedaris, Jack Ketchum, George Saunders, Karen Russell, Chuck Palahniuk, John Updike. I always get desperately excited when Stephen King publishes anything new, even if I don't make an attempt to read it.

What do you look for in a main character?  Do you want him/her to be some butt-kicking badass, a level-headed pacifist, a hot-tempered hero?
Heroes are fun, but rarely believable or inspiring. As a die-hard John Hughes fan, I love characters who possess good intentions and great hope but still find themselves plagued by life circumstances or deflated self-esteem. My favorite genre is the "coming-of-age" story where we see the down-and-out kid overcome that one thing holding him or her back. They may not always save the day but they land squarely on promise. I'm not sure you can find anything more heroic than that.

What are your character pet-peeves? 
Two things drive me nuts. One, when a character simply fulfills a paper-thin stereotype, ie. the busty blond, the overly effeminate gay, the butch lesbian, the street-wise token black kid, the dopy obese guy, the prudish mousy girl, the skater pothead, the shallow or overly judgmental believer, the overly handsome blue eyed all American male with perfect abs who excels at everything he sets his bear-size hands to. Do these people exist? Yes. But shatter the stereotype. Two, characters who remain static. If people are not changing or growing or falling apart, I can't be asked to care.

What do you look for by the time you finish a book?  What expectations do you have going into a book?
My primary hope is to follow interesting people through a unique situation via vehicles of beautiful sentences and unique structure. Give me that and you've got my readerly devotion. I'm surprised that's not always easy to find.

What draws you to pick up a book in the first place, or more importantly, lay down some hard earned money on?
Besides a trusted recommendation:
1.) I'll purchase and read anything written or recommended by the authors listed in the "favorites" question.
2.) An author's interesting account of research or writing processes can pique my curiosity.
3.) I sure don't mind a good memoir by a super funny person, ie. Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman.

What are you currently reading?
FOR INSPIRATION: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk. My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.
FOR LEISURE: The Son by Philipp Meyer. And the current Entertainment Weekly is always folded open on the back of the ol' American Standard.

What kind of story would you love to read, but just can’t seem to find?
I want to read a story that explores a personal crisis of religious faith, particularly at a young age. Christian fiction generally strives to glorify the attainment and bolstering of faith. Mainstream American fiction often battles and degrades faith. I would like to see characters in a story earnestly grappling with faith the way many young people do. They've been raised in a particular faith system. They've seen it fail or they've discovered it's inevitable perversity. And then they strive to make sense of it. That's the story I would like to read, but I've never found it. So I started writing it this summer. 

Thanks so much to Mr. Bristle.  You can read more from Kevin over at his blog:

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