United States of Japan (Book acquired, 2.02.2016)

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Peter Tieryas’s United States of Japan — a “spiritual sequel to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle” — -is forthcoming from Angry Robot. Their blurb:

Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons — a group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest terrorist tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.

Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s tasked with getting to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something…kind of. He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than the censors originally suspected.d

A Splendid Savage (Book acquired, 1.29.2016)

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Steve Kemper’s biography of Frederick Russell Burnham, A Splendid Savage, is new in hardback from Norton. I interviewed Kemper a few years ago about A Labyrinth of Kingdoms, his biography of Heinrich Barth.

Norton’s blurb for A Splendid Savage:

A life of adventure and military daring on violent frontiers across the American West, Africa, Mexico, and the Klondike.

Frederick Russell Burnham’s (1861–1947) amazing story resembles a newsreel fused with a Saturday matinee thriller. One of the few people who could turn his garrulous friend Theodore Roosevelt into a listener, Burnham was once world-famous as “the American scout.” His expertise in woodcraft, learned from frontiersmen and Indians, helped inspire another friend, Robert Baden-Powell, to found the Boy Scouts. His adventures encompassed Apache wars and range feuds, booms and busts in mining camps around the globe, explorations in remote regions of Africa, and death-defying military feats that brought him renown and high honors. His skills led to his unusual appointment, as an American, to be Chief of Scouts for the British during the Boer War, where his daring exploits earned him the Distinguished Service Order from King Edward VII.

After a lifetime pursuing golden prospects from the deserts of Mexico and Africa to the tundra of the Klondike, Burnham found wealth, in his sixties, near his childhood home in southern California. Other men of his era had a few such adventures, but Burnham had them all. His friend H. Rider Haggard, author of many best-selling exotic tales, remarked, “In real life he is more interesting than any of my heroes of romance.”

Among other well-known individuals who figure in Burnham’s story are Cecil Rhodes and William Howard Taft, as well as some of the wealthiest men of the day, including John Hays Hammond, E. H. Harriman, Henry Payne Whitney, and the Guggenheim brothers.

Failure and tragedy streaked his life as well, but he was endlessly willing to set off into the unknown, where the future felt up for grabs and values worth dying for were at stake. Steve Kemper brings a quintessential American story to vivid life in this gripping biography.

Jowhor Ile’s And After Many Days (Book acquired, 1.27.2016)

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Jowhor Ile’s novel After Many Days is new in hardback next month from Tim Duggan Books/Penguin Random House. Their blurb:

Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal (Book acquired, 1.28.2016)

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Yann Martel’s novel The High Mountains of Portugal is new in hardback in the U.S. from Speigel & Grau.

Here’s the first two paragraphs of Urusla K. Le Guin’s review of the novel in The Guardian:

The High Mountains of Portugal, in Yann Martel’s novel of that name, turn out to be grassy uplands rather than high mountains; and the book turns out to be three stories rather than a novel. The stories, connected ingeniously, vary greatly in tone and quality. The first two display so little of the author’s narrative skill that they may offer more temptation to stop reading than to go on. Liking the last part of the book much better, I could wish that it stood alone.

In Martel’s Booker-winning Life of Pi, the author within the story tells us that he went to India with the intention of writing a novel set in Portugal. Then he met the Indian who told him the tale of Pi, and Portugal was forgotten. It’s recollected in the first part of this book in great detail: “He heads off down Rue São Miguel on to Largo São Miguel and then Rua de São João da Praça before turning on to Arco de Jesus.” This sort of street-rosary may delight Lisbon initiates but to others is made interesting only by the fact that the protagonist, Tomas, is walking backwards, and that he always does so. After some elaborate rationales for walking backwards, and a farcical encounter with a lamppost, we learn that he walks with “his back to the world, his back to God”, not because he is grieving for the sudden, recent death of his wife, his child, and his father, but because “he is objecting”.

Read the rest of Le Guin’s review.

Sebald/Purdy/Baxter (Books acquired, 1.05.2016)

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The Viceroys (Book acquired, 12.22.2015)

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Federico De Roberto 1894 novel The Viceroys is back in print again via the good people at Verso. This edition is translated by Archibald Colquhoun, with a foreword by Franco Moretti. Verso’s blurb:

A lost literary classic, written in 1894, The Viceroys is one of the most acclaimed masterworks of Italian realism.

The novel follows three generations of the aristocratic Uzeda family as it struggles to hold on to power in the face of the cataclysmic changes rocking Sicily. As Garibaldi’s triumphs move Italy toward unification, the Uzedas try every means to retain their position. De Roberto’s satirical and mordant pen depicts a cast of upper-class schemers, headed by the old matriarch, Donna Teresa, and exemplified by her arrogant and totally unscrupulous son, Consalvo, who rises to political eminence through lip service, double-dealing, and hypocrisy. The Viceroys is a vast dramatic panorama: a new world fighting to shrug off the viciousness and iniquities of the old.

Moretti’s blurb:
“A unique combination of naturalistic lucidity over the fate of impoverished aristocracies, and a Goya-like inventiveness in extracting from social disintegration a whole gallery of grotesques and monstrosities … a superb lesson in how coarse and rancid the collapse of a ruling class actually is.

Frankie Styne and the Silver Man (Book acquired, 12.09.2015)

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Kathy Page’s 1992 novel Frankie Styne and the Silver Man is getting a North American debut thanks to publisher Biblioasis. Blurb from the author’s website:

Frankie Styne, the successful author of a series of gruesome killer novels,  has lived  at 125 Onley Street for many years. Meticulous and obsessive, he lives a life of isolation, managing to keep both future and past at bay.

Next door, live Liz Meredith and her new baby, Jim. Liz has been told by her social worker Mrs Purvis that Jim has a rare disorder, and will never be like other children. But Mrs Purvis can’t see, as Liz can, that Jim already knows things no ordinary person could. Besides, Liz doesn’t want any help from the social services or from Tom and Alice, the couple at number 129. She wants to be left in peace so that she can imagine her way out of how things are.

When Frank’s solitary anonymity is threatened, he hatches a real-life plot which, as he begins to enact it, unexpectedly changes not only his own life, but also those of Liz and Jim. Sifting through our collective nightmares, Kathy Page has written a novel that is powerful, humorous, tragic and thoroughly surprising.

Debris Stories (Book acquired, 12.09.2015)

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Kevin Hardcastle’s collection Debris Stories is new this month from Biblioasis. Their blurb:

The eleven remarkable stories in Kevin Hardcastle’s debut Debris introduce an authentic new voice. Written in a lean and muscular style and brimming with both violence and compassion, these stories unflinchingly explore the lives of those—MMA fighters, the institutionalized, small-town criminals—who exist on the fringes of society, unveiling the blood and guts and beauty of life in our flyover regions

Bernard Sumner’s memoir, Chapter and Verse (Book acquired sometime in November of 2015)

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This afternoon, I finally got into Bernard Sumner’s memoir Chapter and Verse: New Order, Joy Division and Me. Actually, I obviously flicked through it when it showed up, looking at the glossy pictures, dabbling here and there (somehow read not one but two anecdotes about Seal (?)), and then reading the book’s first appendix, a transcript of a recording of Sumner’s hypnotizing Ian Curtis (excuse that mangled clause). The book has a U.S. Hardcover release from Thomas Dunne; their blurb:

Founding member and guitarist of Joy Division and the lead singer of New Order, Bernard Sumner has been famous over the years for his reticence. Until now . . .

An integral part of the Manchester, UK, music scene since the late 1970s, his is the definitive version of the events that created two of the most influential bands of all time.

Chapter and Verse includes a vivid and illuminating account of Bernard Sumner’s childhood, the early days of Joy Division, the band’s enormous critical and popular success, and the subsequent tragic death of Ian Curtis. Sumner describes the formation of New Order, takes us behind the scenes at the birth of classics such as “Blue Monday,” and gives his firsthand account of the ecstasy and the agony of the Haçienda days.

Sometimes moving, often hilarious, and occasionally completely out of control, this is a tale populated by some of the most colorful and creative characters in music history, such as Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton, and Martin Hannett. Others have told parts of the story, in film and book form. Now, for the first time, Bernard Sumner gives you chapter and verse.

Li Ang’s The Lost Garden (Book acquired, 11.20.2015)

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Li Ang’s novel The Lost Garden is new in English translation by Sylvia Li-chun Lin with Howard Goldblatt. Publisher Columbia University Press’s blurb:

In this eloquent and atmospheric novel, Li Ang further cements her reputation as one of our most sophisticated contemporary Chinese-language writers. The Lost Garden moves along two parallel lines. In one, we relive the family saga of Zhu Yinghong, whose father, Zhu Zuyan, was a gentry intellectual imprisoned for dissent in the early days of Chiang Kai-shek’s rule. After his release, Zhu Zuyan literally walled himself in his Lotus Garden, which he rebuilt according to his own desires.

Forever under suspicion, Zhu Zuyan indulged as much as he could in circumscribed pleasures, though they drained the family fortune. Eventually everything belonging to the household had to be sold, including the Lotus Garden. The second storyline picks up in modern-day Taipei as Zhu Yinghong meets Lin Xigeng, a real estate tycoon and playboy. Their cat-and-mouse courtship builds against the extravagant banquets and decadent entertainments of Taipei’s wealthy businessmen. Though the two ultimately marry, their high-styled romance dulls over time, forcing them on a quest to rediscover enchantment in the Lotus Garden. An expansive narrative rich with intimate detail, The Lost Garden is a moving portrait of the losses incurred as we struggle to hold on to our passions.

Le Guin, Stapledon, and the Brothers Strugatski (Books acquired, 11.13.2015)

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I like to think I know my way around the labyrinthine used bookstore I frequently frequent, but I somehow missed the “Ls” of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section and wound up in Misc S. I was headed to the “Ls” to pick up another Ursula K. Le Guin novel, after having finished Rocannon’s Worlthis afternoon. (I was looking not-so-specifically for The Word for World Is Forest, which my bookshop somehow didn’t have). Anyway, my eye was drawn to the Penguin edition of Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (above), which was one of those yeah, I know, I need to read it books. I also saw another one by the Strugatski bros, which I picked up, even though I still haven’t read Hard to Be a God.
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I couldn’t resist this hardback edition of Three Hainish Novels, an Ursula K. Le Guin omnibus, which collects Rocannon’s World with Planet of Exile and City of Illusion. I haven’t read the other two, but I’ll get to them after a rereading of The Dispossessed. IMG_0595

Ian Svenonius’s Censorship Now!! (Book acquired, 9.29.2015)

This is the blurb for Ian Svenonius’s book Censorship Now!!:
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The non-blurb is of course a blurb.

If you think that that move is brilliant, or even funny, you might dig Censorship Now!!

Publisher Akashic Books has the good sense to offer a description of the book:

In this outrageous and hilarious new essay collection, underground music icon Ian F. Svenonius tackles such diverse subjects as IKEA, Apple, the weather, the gentrification of punk by indie rock, Marion Barry, the film Heathers, Christian pornography, vampires, hoarding, the role of sugar in empire-building, how to properly tip at restaurants, the return of the hat in men’s fashion, and other highly topical matters. No one is left unscathed, and more than a few will be left scratching their heads even as they laugh.

In high school, I dug Svenonius’s first band Nation of Ulysses—more as a concept than for the music, really (I much preferred Dischord label mates Fugazi). The goofy-seriousiousness of Nation of Ulysses was entertaining and confusing, but like later musical projects The Make-Up and Weird War, Svenonius’s band never struck me as quite as dangerous as they wanted to be.

My best friend was always a bigger fan of Svenonius than I was—enough to have read the dude’s first book, The Psychic Soviet. I texted him when I first started reading Censorship Now!!, complaining that I couldn’t tell if Svenonius was serious or if the book was all a schtick, an ageing scenester’s put-on. My pal replied that Svenonius was “a professional sloganeer,” and that every sentence of The Psychic Soviet was a “pull quote.”

Every line a pull quote, every sentence a slogan is how Censorship Now!! reads (if those two exclamation marks didn’t tip you off). The book’s essays read like the rants of someone’s older brother trying to hip you to the truth, man. But after you grow up you wonder why the brother’s still living in his parents’ basement. Okay. That sounds a bit too, I don’t know, rude of me (?) — but I can’t find anything particularly profound in Svenonius’s raging against Apple and Wikipedia and the bourgeoisie. (His riff on Ikea (“Ikea wants couples to break up”) reeks of a bad comedy routine).

Censorship Now!! (which always reads like a talk book, and never as prose) is simultaneously reactionary and nostalgic. Svenonius hates all the things you’d expect him to (NPR, Urban Outfitters, Arcade Fire, gentrification) and even some things you might not expect (tipping). Loose opinion and easy reference are employed instead of facts (sample slogan:  “Destroy All Facts” How revolutionary!).

Does it matter? It doesn’t matter. The fourteen year-old me would’ve loved this shit. There’s a fourteen year-old out there that would love it now.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel Rocannon’s World (Book acquired, 11.07.2015)

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I just picked up Ursula K. Le Guin’s first novel Rocannon’s World on novelist Adam Novy’s recommendation. (Have you read Novy’s novel The Avian Gospels? It’s great).
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Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (Book acquired, 11.02.2015)

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Lina Wolff’s novel Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs is coming out early next year from And Other Stories. Their blurb:

At a run-down brothel in Caudal, Spain, the prostitutes are collecting stray dogs. Each is named after a famous male writer: Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis. When a john is cruel, the dogs are fed rotten meat. To the east, in Barcelona, an unflappable teenage girl is endeavouring to trace the peculiarities of her life back to one woman: Alba Cambó, writer of violent short stories, who left Caudal as a girl and never went back.

Mordantly funny, dryly sensual, written with a staggering lightness of touch, the debut novel in English by Swedish sensation Lina Wolff is a black and Bolaño-esque take on the limitations of love in a dog-eat-dog world.

Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris (Beautiful book acquired, 10.28.2015)

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I’ve said it before, but the good people at Nobrow are making some of the best literary objects I’ve seen in years—the graphic novels they publish are smart, beautiful, strange, and witty. The last time I wrote about a Nobrow title, it was Jon McNaught’s Birchwood Close, which I read after a weekend of (very) primitive island camping. In a little coincidence (or not), Nobrow’s new title, Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris showed up as I was packing my Subaru for a camping trip with my family. I couldn’t help but fly too-quickly through the pages, before relinquishing it to my daughter, who tried to take it camping with us. “I need something to read on the beach,” she claimed, but I told her it was too big to take along (it’s about the height of a wine bottle). In truth, I just didn’t want to risk the book’s getting damaged. We read it again a few times when we got home—first very quickly, then more slowly. Fun.
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I owe the thing a proper review, but for now here’s Nobrow’s blurb:

If you could stand still for 750 years, what could you learn about the world? It’s time to find out.

A literary graphic novel unlike anything else on the racks, 750 Years tells the story of our time, focusing on one single building in France as it sees its way through the upheavals of history. Beginning in the 13th Century and making its way towards today, this historically accurate story is the eagerly anticipated debut from Vincent Mahé.

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Edgar Allan Poe/Harry Clarke/Ludwig Wittgenstein (Books acquired, 10.26.2015)

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I’ve long admired Harry Clarke’s illustrations to Edgar Allan Poe (widely available for years now thanks to 50 Watts), and after posting Poe’s story “Berenice” with its Clarke illustration yesterday, I decided to see if my favorite local used book shop had a copy. Which they did. My kids had fun looking at the creepy pictures.IMG_0275 Continue reading “Edgar Allan Poe/Harry Clarke/Ludwig Wittgenstein (Books acquired, 10.26.2015)”

Greg Graffin’s Population Wars (Book acquired some time in September, 2015)

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Greg Graffin is probably best known for his work as the leader of Bad Religion, a band he formed when he was 15. Graffin is also an academic and author. His latest book, Population Wars, makes a compelling argument for coexistence. It’s an accessible and persuasive read, rooted in biology and hope. (And of the three books I’ve read by indie rockers of yore this year, it’s easily the best). Publisher Thomas Dunne’s blurb:

From the very beginning, life on Earth has been defined by war. Today those first wars continue to be fought around and inside us, influencing our individual behavior and that of civilization as a whole. War between populations—whether between different species or between rival groups of humans—is seen as an inevitable part of the evolutionary process. The popular concept of survival of the fittest explains and often excuses these actions.

In Population Wars, Greg Graffin points to where the mainstream view of evolutionary theory has led us astray. That misunderstanding has allowed us to justify wars on every level, whether against bacterial colonies or human societies, even when other, less violent solutions may be available. Through tales of mass extinctions, developing immune systems, human warfare, the American industrial heartland, and our degrading modern environment, Graffin demonstrates how an oversimplified idea of war, with its victorious winners and vanquished losers, prevents us from responding to the real problems we face. Along the way, Graffin reveals a paradox: When we challenge conventional definitions of war, we are left with a new problem—how to define ourselves.

Population Wars is a paradigm-shifting book about why humans behave the way they do and the ancient history that explains that behavior. In reading it, you’ll see why we need to rethink the reasons for war, not only the human military kind but also Darwin’s “war of nature,” and find hope for a less violent future for mankind.

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