A Common Pornography

Kevin Sampsell Week (7): A Common Pornography, Future Tense Books

Because Kevin reads HTML Giant, I have addressed a few questions directly to him in this post. Let’s treat the comments section as an impromptu author interview. If you, readers, have questions, ask away. Maybe Kevin will be good enough to respond.

The original version of A Common Pornography from Future Tense Books (why don’t the planes fly anymore, Kevin?) is a slim 59 pages. It arrived to me in an envelope of Future Tense Books that I had asked the fiction buyer at my bookstore to order. I wanted our store to carry them even though we had no small press section, no good way to display or highlight small press books, and—sadly—no real audience in our customer base. But I read an article about him and liked his glasses. And his suit. (It was a nice suit, the suit you were wearing in the photo accompanying the article. So I got us to carry copies of A Common Pornography, Please Don’t Kill the Freshmen, and Grosse Point Girl.

(Note that all three of these books were subsequently expanded upon and released by major publishing companies. Note that Kevin Sampsell is a man with really good taste and an eye for emerging talent. See Elizabeth Ellen. See Suzanne Burns. See the beginning of the Tao Lin Today…Today thing. See Claudia Smith.)

The original version of A Common Pornography shares with its newer, slightly more heavyset brother book a number of things. The spareness of the pieces, for example. The directness of the language and confessional nature of the story. But there is a randomness to it, too. A serious embrace of the unserious.

The book is illustrated with collages by a woman named Melody Owen. (Who is Melody, Kevin? Tell us about her.) The images are built out of old photographs and clip art. They relate to the pieces that they accompany, but it seems that Owen grabbed bits from the language instead of recreating scenes.

Also, the book is filled with notes by Mike Daily. The title page refers to the as footnotes, but most actually appear in the margins, giving one the sense that they have purchased a copy of the book that had been previously owned and analyzed. And the notes themselves are random, funny, and sometimes seemingly unrelated, as if one has purchased a copy of the book that had been previously owned and analyzed by a crazy person or a liar. (Wikipedia has an entry about footnotes that includes a section called “Opponents of footnotes”.) How did Mike get involved, Kevin? Why did you ask him to add the notes? Mike, how did you approach adding the notes?

There’s something about the first version of A Common Pornography helped me figure out how to navigate my own writing. A lightness, maybe. The lack of photographs of the subjects (Kevin and his family) makes the book harder to pin down than the new version. The cover photograph for each version fits. The new cover: a chair. A room. Sit. Listen. The old cover: and industrial landscape. A flatness. An emptiness.

The books seem the same way. There’s a concrete beauty to the new version. It’s a chiseled book, and the little pieces fit in an ever-unfolding structure. It’s a Jericho Rose opening.

The original, though, floats a little. Maybe it’s the length. Maybe it’s the addition of the other two voices—the reworked images of Owen, Daily’s absurdist comments from the book’s peanut gallery.

It’s odd how the same book can feel so different. It’s odd how two versions of the same book can be exactly right in very different ways.

Uncategorized / 10 Comments
February 26th, 2010 / 8:01 pm


[part one is here]

There’s a little girl sitting in the children’s section of Skylight Books reading a picture book; she looks about six or seven.  (Too old to be reading a picture book.  What the fuck?  I was reading Bunnicula by that age.)  I’m sitting in the back of the audience, so I can see into that section of the bookstore.  Kevin Sampsell, who is reading from A Common Pornography, can’t.  He doesn’t know that the little kid is listening to him read about the time he had manual sex with a stranger in the back of a porn shop.

Kevin Sampsell corrupting small child (courtesy Sabra Embury)


Author Spotlight / 36 Comments
February 24th, 2010 / 1:13 pm

Kevin Sampsell Week (2): Smorgasboard

For day 2 of Kevin Sampsell week, I’d like to collect some various KS/A Common Pornography pornographalia from around the web and elsewhere. Below you’ll find some video, some review snippets, another excerpt from the memoir, and everything else to keep your Sampsell buzz afloat. If this turns out to be not enough, you can always peruse Kevin’s website, a free-flowing form of fun and e-orgasm. Hit it!

Kevin reads from ACP at the In The Flesh Reading Series 2-18-10

***** 5 Star review for ACP from Time Out New York: “…Sampsell shares loneliness with such intensity that his book almost defeats it—both his and yours.”

– A Sampsell short story (not in the memoir) from 52 Stories, “Jailbreak.”

Pillow Talk Episode 1: Kevin interviews our own Mike Young (produced & edited by Bryan Coffelt)

– A review of ACP on Blogcritics: “… The structure of A Common Pornography is narrative genius.”

…. and, lastly, for today, pg. 75 of A Common Pornography:


Dad gave me a vibrator once. Sort of oval-shaped. He gave it to me so I could wrap it and give it to Mom as a birthday present. Later, they kept it in a drawer by the bed. Then, shortly after, they slept in separate beds.

Author Spotlight / 22 Comments
February 23rd, 2010 / 1:43 pm

Kevin Sampsell Week (1): Chongo

Earlier this month saw the release of my label-brother Kevin Sampsell’s memoir A Common Pornography, which I read in the light of a late evening on a sofa I bought from a friend. I’d had big expectations and excitement about this book, which in the course of reading turned to not only the pay off of that wanting, but being stuck simultaneously by a kind of reading feeling I could have never seen coming. Herein, this week we’ll be talking about the book and other things Sampsell, including his press Future Tense Books.

Among the many wonderful things about this book, perhaps the most surprising and beautiful for me was how the period chronicled in Kevin’s book, essentially his youth, adolescence, into his current age, felt at some points so familiar, and at the same time catching me by the side of the head. Kevin’s rendering of the odd but somehow most defining moments of aging so often missed in these kinds of books is so well nailed–he doesn’t overdescribe them, or romanticize them, but lays them out in all their hairy light–calm, common, uncommon, etched.

From his obsessive collecting of select pieces of porn (which he keeps hidden in the ceiling of his parents house), to the strange ways of sexual becoming with friends and paid help, to just the air of those spaces and people that exist with us for a time and somehow are that time, all of this rendered in eerily calm and perfect sentences, sometimes somewhat like a minimal Gary Lutz, A Common Pornography is a book I will long remember for its poise, heart, and humor, and for its making of a picture of an age that no one else has nailed quite so beautifully, and singularly.

The book is made up of many 1-3 page sections, each with titles, that together follow the timeline of Kevin’s life, each of which alone makes for its own little amazing object. Here’s one to whet your bib.


The toughest kid at our school was named Chongo, and he was a short but muscular Mexican who always seemed to be suspended or doing Saturday school. He lived in the pit of this valley that ran alongside a long irrigation pipe. The pipe was connected to the ditches surrounding our neighborhood and it had a flat surface on top lined with flimsy two-by-fours. For some reason, we always called this pipe “the floons.” My friends and I would often have races on the floons. There was an element of danger whenever we did because there were big gaps where you could fall through and go into the dirty water. And if we went too far down the floons we’d be dangerously close to what we called “Chongo Country.” Other kids had told us that if you got a good look into Chongo Country, you’d see all sorts of stolen bikes and bike parts in his weed-filled yard. When Chongo had his shirt off, they said, you could see a tattoo of Pontius Pilate across his chest. We never dared to look.

Purchase A Common Pornography at the links above, or from the publisher, or Amazon.

Author Spotlight / 17 Comments
February 22nd, 2010 / 2:22 pm

A Common Ography

As a teaser to the forthcoming Kevin Sampsell week, here today in celebration of the release of his new book, A Common Pornography, Kevin offers some tips for that potentially awkward exchange at the bookseller’s counter, if you’re touchy about that kind of thing:

I’ll wait until Sampsell week to dig deeper into the pleasure of this book by my label-brother, but I can honestly there hasn’t been one that made me feel sentimental for awkward years and at the same time edging along the form of communicating that station, well, I can’t remember one ever. Kevin nails so hard a certain kind of maturation period, re: masturbation, weird fathers, prostitutes, porn, all delivered in a cleaner, simpler, but just as smart Lutz-ian style, you are going to really like ACP.

Author Spotlight / 6 Comments
January 19th, 2010 / 2:54 pm

Author Spotlight & Reviews

Peer Review: “A Common Pornography” by Kevin Sampsell

I don’t know if anyone else on this site is planning to write about my pressmate Kevin Sampsell’s new book–I hope someone is–but I feel like sharing some thoughts about it, so here goes. The main thing that strikes me is how effortless and propulsive the reading experience is. The package containing A Common Pornography (and a galley of Dennis Cooper’s Smothered in Hugs–it was like Christmas all over again!) arrived this afternoon around five, and yet, somehow, here it is a quarter after ten and I’m about three quarters through it.  I read it sitting in my desk chair. I read it on the subway. I read it in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. I read it on my couch. If I hadn’t put it down to write this blog post about it, I’d be reading it now.

Now, I know that Kevin is–like me–a Richard Brautigan fan, and I think there’s a very Brautigan-y energy at work in this book. Not a Brautigan tone, mind you–Kevin’s book isn’t emo or surrealistic–but here, as in a Brautigan, the chapters are very short, typically a page or two at most, and tend to be anchored by a single image or idea. The book doesn’t demand so much as suggest your attention–hey, you wanna hear a story? Sure. The subject matter (the author’s superlatively deranged upbringing) is sometimes dark (and/or gross) but Sampsell doesn’t plea for your sympathy, he doesn’t go for pointless shocks, and he doesn’t attempt some sort of showy “defiance” or “reclamation” or whatever. He’s just this guy remembering stuff that he did or that happened to him, or to people he knew, and sort of thinking about how it was all maybe a little weirder than he thought it was at the time. Some of it’s funny, and some of it’s touching, and some of it’s sad–and a lot of it is two or more of these things at once–but I think what it really succeeds at doing is creating an atmosphere that encompasses all of those states without forcing the reader to choose one, and that too for me is very Brautigan.

So anyway, that’s my first reaction to Kevin’s book. I’m excited to see him in February, because Harper has us scheduled to do a handful of events together–we’re doing a night in Boston (2/17) and then the following two nights in NYC, and hopefully I’ll be out to see him in Portland sometime later this spring. Want to know how we met? Okay, I’ll tell you the story. We met because right before I moved to Portland, Oregon from NYC in early ’05, I found a copy of Susannah Breslin’s You’re A Bad Man Aren’t You? which he had published through Future Tense, on the bookshelf at St. Mark’s. So I emailed him to say that I was moving to his town and we should get together. He was, I think, looking for an intern, and I know that I was looking for someone to publish the mess of short stories in my backpack. So we had lunch one day near Powell’s. There are a number of ways this meeting might have ended poorly, but instead what happened was I interviewed him for Bookslut, and we’ve been friends ever since. You can read that interview here. Fun interview fact: Kevin Sampsell was the first person I ever heard mention the following names–Sam Lipsyte, Gary Lutz, Gordon Lish, Diane Williams, Amy Hempel, Tao Lin. Not bad, right?

January 15th, 2010 / 12:12 am