A German Picturesque (Book acquired, 1.23.2014)

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Pharos is reissuing Jason Schwartz’s debut collection A German Picturesque, pictured on the right, above, by the original. The title was selected and introduced by Ben Marcus, who quotes from the interview Schwartz granted me last year—

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I actually think that it was this review which led to Ben Marcus consenting to talk with me over the phone for an hour in December. I’ve been typing that interview very slowly and swear it’s on the horizon. Painful dreadful anxious work. Interview with Marcus to come. Review of Schwartz to come.

DFW’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, books as memory objects, etc.

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On our short walk home from her school yesterday, my darling daughter inquires if we can go to the bookstore. She needs some new Junie B. Jones, she reports. I assent.

This particular bookstore is about a mile away, a big labyrinth of shelves and stacks and strange little closets crammed with books. The owner once kindly estimated to me that the place houses somewhere between one million and two million books, but probably not more than three million books. The place is a hive, or better yet a brain. An archive.

On this warmish January afternoon, a coverless paperback wedged and warped keeps the front door propped open. My daughter doesn’t dally, fetching up a bevy of Ms. Jones’ adventures (and the third volume of Ivy + Bean to boot: “It’s Ivy “plus” Bean, not Ivy “and” Bean, her graceful correction).

We have a few minutes before we need to pick up my son, so I do a fairly regular patrol about the premises, looking for a copy of Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies for a colleague. No dice. And, out of weird old habits, go past the last shelf, where Vollmann’s underattended tomes rest near David Foster Wallace novels, always depleted. I like to look at the new covers, I guess.

Well so and anyway, I spied a pristine hardcover copy of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, clearly never read, and thought, Oh hey, this must be a first edition. Which it was and Oh hey you don’t need this book.

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There is nothing rare or especially valuable about a first hardback U.S. edition of Hideous Men. The store is selling it for half of the publisher’s recommended price, but I have more than enough credit (thanks unsolicited review copies!) to pick it up. Which I do. Despite of course already owning it in the far more flexible trade paperback edition (first edition!) inscribed by some of the dearest damn friends who gave it to me for a birthday, an edition I reread memorably over a few weeks in Italy, an edition warped by strange moistures (I’d love to pretend the warping arose from the salty splash of the ancient Mediterranean but my own body sweat is a far more likely culprit).

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Brief Interviews is my favorite collection of David Foster Wallace stories. The stories here are much better than those in his first collection, Girl with Curious Hair (which, the first DFW I read, has a special place in my gizzards), and though there’s nothing here that can touch the best moments of Oblivion (“The Suffering Channel” and “Good Old Neon”), the collection is cohesive, propulsive, engaging, its longer pieces punctuated by blips and vignettes. Here is the first selection, “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life”:

When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed very hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.

The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.

So I picked up the hardback first edition, realizing that what I really wanted (in addition to this edition that I didn’t and don’t really need) was the copy that I read in college, the copy I borrowed from UF’s Library West (I’ll pay you $10,000 if you can think of a better library name, which you can’t), a flat brown squashed brick—-I must’ve been one of the first to read it, this was in ’99 or early ’00—I checked it out three times and then I had to return it. I ripped off “Adult World (I)” and “Adult World (II)” (these are actually the same story, but…) for a project in some bullshit class I was taking at the time, some class called Post-Historical Visual Culture or some other such nonsense—I didn’t rip off the plot, but the structure, the whole narrative/outline thing that Wallace did there. (My story was about a geneticist trying to clone a son or maybe someone to love, I can’t recall, shudder to recall…And why was I turning in a story and not an essay?!).

Why do I want the very edition that I first read, Dewey’s decimals imprinted on its drab jacketless spine? Why do I want an object that proclaims first, first, first, even though I don’t need it—why the compulsion? And then the sentimental compulsion to keep a less sturdy paperback version just because my name is incribed in itjust because I recall so vividly shaving my beard in Minori in Amalfi after reading “Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko” and realizing that Oh my god this story is fucking terrible, DFW, I get what you’re doing, but my god. 

A book is a memory object, a placeholder, a bookmark for the memory of the reading experience, because we don’t remember what we read, not really. I have a few novels committed to memory (more or less) through yearly rereading, through teaching, but on the whole the details fade, the misremembering opens to misreading. My dream is to disband all of my books, march them out into the world, my memory secure, transcendent, stable, eternal, etc.—the objects gone, their dusty physicality imprinted in some psychic library of the soul. But I don’t believe in my dream, and even though I dig e-books, they don’t shock my memory in the same way that old pressed leaves do. So I live with these guys, nestled together unnecessarily, necessarily so.

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Kelly Link’s Get In Trouble (Book acquired, 1.14.2015)

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Kelly Link’s new collection Get In Trouble is forthcoming from Random House in hardback. Their blurb:

She has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction” and by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure.” Now Kelly Link’s eagerly awaited new collection—her first for adult readers in a decade—proves indelibly that this bewitchingly original writer is among the finest we have.

Link has won an ardent following for her ability, with each new short story, to take readers deeply into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe. The nine exquisite examples in this collection show her in full command of her formidable powers. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.

Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty—and the hidden strengths—of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do

The Revenant (Book acquired some time in December, 2014)

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Michael Punke’s novel (of revenge!) The Revenant is being adapted into an upcoming Iñárritu film, and consequently getting the hardback reissue treatment. The Wikipedia entry:

The Revenant is an upcoming American westernthriller film produced and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The screenplay, adapted from Michael Punke’s 2003 novel of the same name, was written by González Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith and is partially based in the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass. The film is set to star Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson.

Development of the film began in August 2001 when Akiva Goldsman purchased Punke’s manuscript with the intent of producing the film. The film was originally set to be directed by Park Chan-wook with Samuel L. Jackson in mind to star, and later by John Hillcoat with Christian Bale in negotiations to star. Both directors left the project, and González Iñárritu signed on to direct in August 2011. In April 2014, after several delays in production due to other projects, González Iñárritu confirmed that he was beginning work on The Revenantand that DiCaprio would play the lead role. Principal photography began in October 2014, and is scheduled to last 80 days.

I still haven’t seen Birdman.

Introduction to English Rhetoric (Book acquired, 12.25.2014)

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For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me Introduction to English Rhetoric (1886) by the Rev. Charles Coppens, SJ. You can read the book here.

William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion (Book acquired, 12.27.2014)

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William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion is new from University of Delaware Press and editors Christopher K. Coffman and Daniel Lukes. Their blurb:

The essays in this collection make a case for regarding William T. Vollmann as the most ambitious, productive, and important living author in the US. His oeuvre includes not only outstanding work in numerous literary genres, but also global reportage, ethical treatises, paintings, photographs, and many other productions. His reputation as a daring traveler and his fascination with life on the margins have earned him an extra-literary renown unequaled in our time. Perhaps most importantly, his work is exceptional in relation to the literary moment. Vollmann is a member of a group of authors who are responding to the skeptical ironies of postmodernism with a reinvigoration of fiction’s affective possibilities and moral sensibilities, but he stands out even among this cohort for his prioritization of moral engagement, historical awareness, and geopolitical scope. Included in this book in addition to twelve scholarly critical essays are reflections on Vollmann by many of his peers, confidantes, and collaborators, including Jonathan Franzen, James Franco, and Michael Glawogger. With a preface by Larry McCaffery and an afterword by Michael Hemmingson, this book offers readings of most of Vollmann’s works, includes the first critical engagements with several key titles, and introduces a range of voices from international Vollmann scholarship.

The book (it’s beautiful, by the way) intersperses the more “academic” essays that comprise its bulk with shorter riffs, memoirs, and vignettes about Vollmann, or reading Vollmann (I wish Franzen would’ve devoted a few more lines in his piece “A Friendship” to describing the time he got to shoot Vollmann’s Tec 9, but it’s still a fascinating little piece). I read a few of these (Franco refers to our author as “Volhman” and then ends his “essay” with this parenthetical aside: “(Shit, I went back online, and I see that there is no ‘h’ in his name. Sorry, Billy.”)

I haven’t gotten into any of the the critical essays yet, but a scan over the book’s index and bibliography indicates a serious work of scholarship, while a cursory scan of a few of the more intriguing titles (“‘Strange Hungers': William T. Vollmann’s Literary Performances of Abject Masculinity”; “The Ethics of the Archive and the William T. Vollmann Collection”; “Imperial Photography”) suggests a unified work with a tone decidedly divorced from stale academic language. More to come.

Balestrini/Pasolini (Books acquired, 12.27.2014)

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So I picked up two ebooks from Verso today for less than a pint of beer. Ridiculous! The Unseen by Nanni Balestrini, and Pasolini’s unproduced screenplay St. Paul. All kinds of great stuff. I think my favorite thing about Verso’s ebooks is how straightforward they are to access—no weird third-party app or DRM issues.

The Collected Works of Jane Bowles (Book Acquired, 12.19.2014)

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I picked up My Sister’s Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles mostly because I couldn’t find a stand-alone version of the novel Two Serious Ladies. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have, y’know, all of her stuff (or really most of her stuff), but I’m not really a fan of omnibus editions. My interest in Two Serious Ladies was piqued by Ben Marcus, whom I interviewed by phone earlier this month (still transcribing that one; hope to run it in January). He spoke highly of the book and includes it on his writing syllabus.

Emily Carroll’s Ann by the Bed (Book acquired, 12.05.2014)

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I was pleasantly surprised when a copy of Emily Carroll’s issue of Frontier came in Friday’s mail. I tried to read it right away but a domestic chore intervened—which ended up working out better, really. I read it in bed by the light of my iPhone’s flashlight, which is exactly as god intended.

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Publisher Youth in Decline’s blurb:

Our final issue of 2014 features an eerie and stunning original comic by Emily Carroll titled, “Ann by the Bed.” Experience the dreadful tale of Ann Herron’s bloody murder, and the awful legacy that persists today in Southern Ontario.

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Full review forthcoming. Until then, check out Carroll’s excellent comics,“The Prince and the Sea,” and “His Face All Red.”

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Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp (Book acquired, 12.04.2014)

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Bolaño’s Antwerp. Found it today at the bookstore. I was there picking up a book I’d ordered as a present for someone else. Honest.
Antwerp is Bolaño’s first novel and it’s not particularly great, but I didn’t own it up until now, and I guess I’m a completist nerd, and this New Directions clothbound edition is beautiful, so…
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Making Nice (Book Acquired, Some Time in Early November)

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Matt Summell’s debut is Making Nice. Christine Schutt compares it to Barry Hannah and James Dickey. Keep meaning to dip into it. Publisher Henry Holt’s blurb:

A gut-punch of a debut about love, grief, and family; the arrival of a brilliant, infectious new voice for our age

In Matt Sumell’s blazing first book, our hero Alby flails wildly against the world around him—he punches his sister (she deserved it), “unprotectos” broads (they deserved it and liked it), gets drunk and picks fights (all deserved), defends defenseless creatures both large and small, and spews insults at children, slow drivers, old ladies, and every single surviving member of his family. In each of these stories Alby distills the anguish, the terror, the humor, and the strange grace—or lack of—he experiences in the aftermath of his mother’s death. Swirling at the center of Alby’s rage is a grief so big, so profound, it might swallow him whole. As he drinks, screws, and jokes his way through his pain and heartache, Alby’s anger, his kindness, and his capacity for good bubble up when he (and we) least expect it. Sumell delivers “a naked rendering of a heart sorting through its broken pieces to survive.*”

Making Nice is a powerful, full-steam-ahead ride that will keep you laughing even as you try to catch your breath; a new classic about love, loss, and the fine line between grappling through grief and fighting for (and with) the only family you’ve got.

 

The Vorrh (Book Acquired, 11.13.2014)

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Brian Catling’s historical-fantasy novel The Vorrh is getting a U.S. publication next year from Vintage. I’m thinking that the actual cover will be that image on the upperish-mid-left side of the back cover of the uncorrected proof I got. Vintage also send this neat little string-bound teaser that consists of Alan Moore’s gushing introduction to The Vorrh and an interview with Catling. The cover is one of Catlin’s paintings.

Vintage’s blurb:

The Vorrh follows a brilliant cast of characters through a parallel Africa where fact, fiction, and fantasy collide. Tsungali, a native marksman conscripted by the colonial authorities–against whom he once led a revolt–is on the hunt for an English bowman named Williams. Williams has made it his mission to become the first human to traverse the Vorrh, a vast forest at the edge of the colonial city of Essenwald. The Vorrh is endless, eternal; a place of demons and angels. Sentient, oppressive, and magical, the Vorrh can bend time and wipe a person’s memory. Between the hunter and the hunted are Ishmael, a curious and noble Cyclops raised by Bakelite robots; the evil Dr. Hoffman, who punishes the son of a servant by surgically inverting his hands; and the slave owner MacLeish, who drives his workers to insanity, only to pay the ultimate price. Along with these fictional creations, Brian Catling mixes in historical figures, including surrealist Raymond Roussel and photographer and Edward Muybridge.  In this author’s  hands none of this seems exotic or fantastical. It all simply is.

Jon McNaught’s Dockwood (Book Acquired, 11.21.2014)

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Jon McNaught’s Dockwood. From Nobrow. It’s beautiful. Full review forthcoming.
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Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. (Book Acquired, 11.18.2014)

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This one looks pretty good: Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. U.S. publisher St. Martin’s Press’s blurb:

Viv Albertine is a pioneer. As lead guitarist and songwriter for the seminal band The Slits, she influenced a future generation of artists including Kurt Cobain and Carrie Brownstein. She formed a band with Sid Vicious and was there the night he met Nancy Spungeon. She tempted Johnny Thunders…toured America with the Clash…dated Mick Jones…and inspired the classic Clash anthem “Train in Vain.” But Albertine was no mere muse. In Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Albertine delivers a unique and unfiltered look at a traditionally male-dominated scene.

Her story is so much more than a music memoir. Albertine’s narrative is nothing less than a fierce correspondence from a life on the fringes of culture. The author recalls rebelling from conformity and patriarchal society ever since her days as an adolescent girl in the same London suburb of Muswell Hill where the Kinks formed. With brash honesty—and an unforgiving memory—Albertine writes of immersing herself into punk culture among the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Of her devastation when the Slits broke up and her reinvention as a director and screenwriter. Or abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer. Navigating infidelity and negotiating divorce. And launching her recent comeback as a solo artist with her debut album, The Vermilion Border.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. is a raw chronicle of music, fashion, love, sex, feminism, and more that connects the early days of punk to the Riot Grrl movement and beyond. But even more profoundly, Viv Albertine’s remarkable memoir is the story of an empowered woman staying true to herself and making it on her own in the modern world.

How to Be a Good Wife (Book Acquired, Some Time in October, 2014)

 

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Emma Chapman’s novel How to Be a Good Wife is new in trade paperback from Picador. Their blurb:

Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after college. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.

But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.

Yet another copy of Infinite Jest (Book Acquired, 11.10.2014)

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I took my daughter to the bookstore today—she has the day off school—and let her pick out almost as many books as she wanted. (She had trouble carrying more than six, so that’s where we stopped).

Meandering out, I spied this 1997 paperback printing of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (I love how UK trade paperback editions often seem blockierdenser, more squarish than US editions). Anyway, the book isn’t particular rare, even for a first edition, but I hadn’t seen it before (even a pic). I took a quick pic and walked away.

And then walked back of the copy of IJ after purchasing my daughter’s books—only to say to myself in a reasonable voice, No, you already own a copy, no, no, you don’t need another book, especially one you’ve already read, already own. So I walked out of the store with my daughter.

And then went back inside to buy it (or rather use my trade credit—swollen from unasked-for review copies of books I have no interest in—to acquire it).

I have no sentimental attachments to the ubiquitous beclouded-covered copy I bought a few years ago (purchased to replace a copy I did like (one with annotations, one I actually wished I still had) that I had lent to a friend who never read it or returned it (and then moved))—so maybe I’ll give it away or take it to my office or something.

Going Dark (Book Acquired, 11.01.2014)

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James W. Hall’s Going Dark. Got a review copy last month and somehow got shoved to the bottom of another pile. Mea culpa. Publisher Macmillan’s blurb:

Earth Liberation Front is a loosely-knit national organization of radical environmental activists who take a “by any means necessary” approach to defending the planet. In the last decade, ELF has been responsible for almost a hundred million dollars in damage mainly through arson. The FBI ranks them, along with other eco-radicals, as the number one homegrown terrorist threat. And Flynn Moss—Thorn’s newly discovered son—appears to be among ELF’s members. “no-holds-barred action…A fine thriller on every level.” —Booklist Flynn has naively fallen in with an ELF cell in Miami, where he’s engaged in non-violent protest against one of Florida’s largest nuclear power plants. But soon Flynn uncovers another, darker plot among ELF operatives—one that involves a radioactive catastrophe rivaling Chernobyl or Fukushima. With a growing sense of dread about his involvement in such a scheme, Flynn summons Thorn to help him escape from Prince Key, the remote island off the shores of Miami where the ELF group is camped. But just as soon as Thorn leads the fight to save Flynn, he reaches a frightening realization: In order to protect his son, he must join the eco-terrorists and help them complete their deadly mission. And time is running out in Going Dark

An Ecology of World Literature (Book Acquired, 11.08.2014)

IMG_3909.JPGAn Ecology of World Literature by Alexander Beercroft just showed up in today’s mail. Publisher Verso’s blurb:

What constitutes a nation’s literature? How do literatures of different countries interact with one another? In this groundbreaking study, Alexander Beecroft develops a new way of thinking about world literature. Drawing on a series of examples and case studies, the book ranges from ancient epic to the contemporary fiction of Roberto Bolaño and Amitav Ghosh.

Moving across literary ecologies of varying sizes, from small societies to the planet as a whole, the environments in which literary texts are produced and circulated, An Ecology of World Literature places in dialogue scholarly perspectives on ancient and modern, western and non-western texts, navigating literary study into new and uncharted territory.

 

There Was and There Was Not (Book Acquired Some Time in Late October, 2014)

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There Was and There Was Not by Maline Toumani. Forthcoming from Metropolitan. Their blurb:

A young Armenian-American goes to Turkey in a “love thine enemy” experiment that becomes a transformative reflection on how we use—and abuse—our personal histories

Meline Toumani grew up in a close-knit Armenian community in New Jersey where Turkish restaurants were shunned and products made in Turkey were boycotted. The source of this enmity was the Armenian genocide of 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government, and Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge it. A century onward, Armenian and Turkish lobbies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince governments, courts and scholars of their clashing versions of history.

Frustrated by her community’s all-consuming campaigns for genocide recognition, Toumani leaves a promising job at The New York Timesand moves to Istanbul. Instead of demonizing Turks, she sets out to understand them, and in a series of extraordinary encounters over the course of four years, she tries to talk about the Armenian issue, finding her way into conversations that are taboo and sometimes illegal. Along the way, we get a snapshot of Turkish society in the throes of change, and an intimate portrait of a writer coming to terms with the issues that drove her halfway across the world.

In this far-reaching quest, told with eloquence and power, Toumani probes universal questions: how to belong to a community without conforming to it, how to acknowledge a tragedy without exploiting it, and most importantly how to remember a genocide without perpetuating the kind of hatred that gave rise to it in the first place