Book Giveaway: 'The Flame Alphabet' by Ben Marcus

'The Flame Alphabet' by Ben Marcus

Okay, by a show of hands, who here likes books? How about free books? Because the fine folks at Knopf have given us two copies of the latest from Ben Marcus (Notable American Women, The Father Costume, The Age of Wire and String), and we're gonna give them to you.

This is a good one, people. It's called The Flame Alphabet, and is a kinda-sorta post apocalyptic horror novel about the killing power of language. It's part Ballard, part Cronenberg, and is steeped in mystic Judaism. I just finished the book and really enjoyed it. From the dust jacket:

A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal. Radio transmissions from strange sources indicate that people are going into hiding. All Sam and Claire need to do is look around the neighborhood: In the park, parents wither beneath the powerful screams of their children. At night, suburban side streets become routes of shameful escape for fathers trying to get outside the radius of affliction.

With Claire nearing collapse, it seems their only means of survival is to flee from their daughter, Esther, who laughs at her parents’ sickness, unaware that in just a few years she, too, will be susceptible to the language toxicity. But Sam and Claire find it isn’t so easy to leave the daughter they still love, even as they waste away from her malevolent speech. On the eve of their departure, Claire mysteriously disappears, and Sam, determined to find a cure for this new toxic language, presses on alone into a world beyond recognition.

The Flame Alphabet invites the question: What is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?

Want one? All you have to do to is tell me why I should give it to you in the comments below. Only one comment per person, and you MUST have a registered account with an avatar. Sorry, no staff participation. Also, no unrelated comments, please. The two that tickle my fickle fancy most get a copy of the book. You have until the end of the day on Tuesday. Have at you!

The Flame Alphabet comes out Tuesday, January 17th, from Knopf.

Part Number:
Joshua Chaplinsky

News by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this January 13, 2012 - 8:11am

I watched the trailer for this yesterday! It is very scary!

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine January 13, 2012 - 8:14am

What did I just say about unrelated comments, Rob? (And by unrelated, I mean 'non-entry' comments.)

Rebecca Sylvester's picture
Rebecca Sylvester from Pittsburgh is reading 1Q84 January 13, 2012 - 8:22am

Give it to me, because long ago, I killed my grandmother with malevolent words.

derekberry's picture
derekberry from South Carolina is reading Eating Animals January 13, 2012 - 8:30am

That book would be great in my hands because I would use it to figure out how to kill with my words. Sort of like using the lullaby from Chuck Palahniuk's book, but any words. Then we'd never have to go to school!

Amanda Makenzie's picture
Amanda Makenzie from New York is reading Alice I Have Been January 13, 2012 - 8:42am

I would love to get a copy of The Flame Alphabet. My kids got a snow day today. They are all home. My oldest is in timeout for poking his brother in the eye like Larry from Three Stooges. My middle child is nagging to check his email for the twelfth time today (he's eight and only has one contact, his grandma). My youngest just ran outside in snow boots... just snow boots, nothing else. A post-apocalyptic world where adults wither from the sound of children's voices sounds like the kind of uplifting read I could use right now.

J.S. Wright's picture
J.S. Wright from Milwaukee is reading Black Spring January 13, 2012 - 8:48am

I want... nay, need this book, as I plan on taking over the world by means of being the awkwardly evil overlord for the next generation of kids, and frankly I have no idea how to go about doing it.  I figure this novel may give me an idea or two.

"Why kids?" you ask, if their influence can get Rebecca Black a record contract worth millions, just imagine what I could get them to do with a source of information like this story... and then... wait 'till the time when they're not so damn short!!

*maniacal laugh*

Instag8r's picture
Instag8r from Residing in Parker, CO but originally from WV is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy January 13, 2012 - 8:53am

I need that book! I love horror movies but my wife refuses to watch them. She is a voracious reader of smart horror novels though. And she loves gifts. Please give me that book so I can give it to my wife. Help a fella get some how 'bout it?

twodoggarage's picture
twodoggarage from Rhode Island is reading Machine Man by Max Barry January 13, 2012 - 9:29am

listen to my words...
you can hear them through this text...
the pixels dissolve into sounds entering your ears...
radiant musics...
you close your eyes swimming in resplendent seas...
never before have you experienced such sublime peace...
i am controlling your emotions...
i have complete power over your actions...
you will send me a copy of the book "The Flame Alphabet"...
you will do this because I have read all of Ben Marcus' previous works...
you will do this because i too am jewish...
you will do this because i have two young children and must learn how to protect myself from their evil death bringing voices...
you will do this because hey, I REALLY want to read the damn thing!



Chris King's picture
Chris King from Los Alamitos is reading everything January 13, 2012 - 9:34am

I've been working full time at an unpain internship since September. I was able to grab 12 books with the gift cards I recieved for Christmas but I'm already down to 10. Another book would help me save some much needed cash for another week or two once my current stack dwindles down. Thanks!

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 13, 2012 - 9:41am

1) I can't afford to buy it, but if I could I would

2) If it were at my library, I would get it there

3) If words could kill... wait, they can. never mind.

3b) I studied Jewish mysticism just for kicks, so I would get both allusions and illusions

4) I've read & seen Pontypool, which is a story about language-epidemic also - I love reading disparate tomes with common thematic elements

5) I love books

6) I must have this book. I already love it - love it hard. love it long. love it thoroughly for ever and ever

Ashley Ann's picture
Ashley Ann is reading The Hunger Games January 13, 2012 - 9:51am

I have never read this author or even heard of them to be honest. Certainly sounds like an interesting read. Getting a free copy sounds like a cool intro to an author. But I never win contests. So I'll probably put it on my amazon wish list and get it that way hehe. So this post was incredibly counterintuitive. Sorry about that. I think I just like to hear myself talk. Even if it's in my head apparently. Pick me! (I actually just put that because I didn't want to go under the unrelated posts category. I would have felt bad. I would like to win but I don't really have a reason other than that)

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 13, 2012 - 12:02pm

Because if you don't I will send you a copy of Coelho's Aleph.

Karen Downey-Heywood's picture
Karen Downey-Heywood from from MA. currently reside in MO. is reading On the Power of Color, Stones, and Crystals by Edgar Cayce January 13, 2012 - 12:59pm

As your newest member, I believe you should send me the book as a Welcome-and-Thank-You-for-Joining gift.  I will be so grateful I will share your website with all my contacts and I have many contacts who will in turn join your most fabulous website! 

Cori_Writes's picture
Cori_Writes from Riverside, California is reading Black Elk Speaks January 13, 2012 - 1:08pm

I would like this book because I am trying to get my students to understand that words are critical--who is talking, who is listening, who is supposed to be listening, and who's mediating those words--it's absolutely essential for getting everything out of this quarter's texts. So is the idea of communication--what happens when it breaks down, is subverted, or is forsaken entirely?

I think this book's premise could be scarifyingly intriguing for me; it could get me some new ideas in how to get it across to them that communication is devastatingly powerful in ways they often take for granted.

(Plus, I'm not going to say no to a free book.)

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin January 13, 2012 - 1:47pm

*ahem* in my best Jackson Five voice:

"A buh, buh, buh, buh, buh.

A buh, buh, buh, buh, buh.

ABC, easy as books for free,

Or simple as send to me,

ABC, books for free, Shamon, A-hee-hee."

If nothing else I bet you've got that song stuck in your head now :P


Utah's picture
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry January 13, 2012 - 2:43pm

You should give me  a copy of this book.  I have a child and another on the way.  The child we already have makes constant noises with her mouth:  complaints, demands, complaints.  The noise level ratchets up as each day progresses.  I am nearing the end of my rope.  Combine this with the fact that, within months, another child will live in my home, one with its own unique yet deadly language, and I don't know if I will live to see the 2012 apocalypse. 

But it seems the answers to my potentially life-threatening problem might lie in this book.  I don't want to die.

Please give me the book.

Save my life.

Daniel W Broallt's picture
Daniel W Broallt from Texas is reading The Emerald Mile January 13, 2012 - 7:47pm








Hairless Huevosed Hat Hopper

Instant potatoes


Knuckle-nutted Kindergarten Kreeper


Maggot Marshmellow

Necrophilic Numb-Nut

Odiforious Ogre






Ugly Underarm


Weak-Willed Wishy-Washy Worm


Yesterday's Yuck


give me, please.

Korey's picture
Korey January 14, 2012 - 11:38am

Kids are immune because they understand how to harness the awesome power of Alphabits.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs January 14, 2012 - 1:17pm

I am poor.

Typewriter Demigod's picture
Typewriter Demigod from London is reading "White Noise" by DeLilo, "Moby-Dick" by Hermann Mellivile and "Uylsses" by Joyce January 14, 2012 - 5:17pm

give me the book, because I am the only person here who won't use it to kill anyone. That's not to say I won't greviously harm then with it, but that's not the point. Give me the book, because I'll use it in such a way, that the entire of Maine shall be erased from the map. Since everyone in Maine is a maniac, it won't particularly matter, anyway.

Oh, and because if you don't, I'll say that I enjoy locomotives.



aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. January 15, 2012 - 6:20am

Give me the book or don't, fuck you!  How about that? lol

JamestheBaker's picture
JamestheBaker from Oregon is reading The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein January 15, 2012 - 4:50pm

Sounds like an extremely interesting piece of literature. And I am damn hungry for a really good read!!!!

Eric Nentrup's picture
Eric Nentrup January 16, 2012 - 8:23am

I'd like a free copy because I'm an English teacher in an Urban Charter High School. 'Nuff said.

insatiablebooksluts's picture
insatiablebooksluts from Columbus, OH is reading Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter January 16, 2012 - 8:28am

Give me this book, because only I can protect it from those who would use its information to destroy others. In fact, I should probably have both copies, just to be safe. (I don't know if you noticed, but there are a lot of other commenters who are bent on the destruction of mankind. Or, barring that, whole states. This worries me.)

Jay.SJ's picture
Jay.SJ from London is reading Warmed and Bound January 16, 2012 - 8:31am

My name is Jay. J is a letter of the alphabet. I would like to be on fire.

Jami Kali's picture
Jami Kali from Pennsylvania is reading words January 16, 2012 - 8:49am

Give it to me because I equal less than half Michelle Obama (during her nutrition programs for childhood obesity).

So in other words, I'm equivalent to the total weight watchers points in two quarter pounders with cheese, three big macs, a nine-piece chicken nugget, super sized fry, and a chocolate shake. (Warning: Your daily allowance should only fall between nineteen and twenty-five points).

Laramore Black's picture
Laramore Black from Joplin, Missouri is reading Mario Kart 8 January 16, 2012 - 10:08am

What an awkward place to get an erection, give it to me to smack this thing around with.

EricMBacon's picture
EricMBacon from Vermont is reading The Autobiography of a Corpse January 16, 2012 - 3:36pm

I have never won anything since the first swim meet. Don't give it to me because I just compromised my belief system as an atheist and prayed for it. It would be terrifying for the universe to make me doubt that there is no no god.

Lucas Cripps's picture
Lucas Cripps January 16, 2012 - 4:40pm

This sounds like something I would read. It just sounds badass, this is my first time hearing of Ben Marcus. I enjoy similar authors though, such as: Chuck Palahniuk, Denis Johnson, Kurt Vonnegut, Amy Hempel, Chelsea Cain... I think this would be a great book to introduce me to Mr. Marcus. I really, really want to read it! 

Susan Curtis's picture
Susan Curtis January 17, 2012 - 9:55pm

I would love a copy, because the book sounds so mystical. Which I have been reading lots of magical novels. I am a book blogger, Jewish and non Jewish book blogger, and because I love to read books. This one sounds great.  Never win anything and would love to get a chance.