March 26, 2014
Earlier this month, my good friend sent me Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy, a book-length interview between Oldham and musician Alan Licht. In the book, Oldham parses his identity from Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the character he’s been performing (in different versions) for over a decade now. The book is fascinating stuff and strangely personal/weird for me—reading his oral history is bizarre, I guess, because I remember it all happening. Like, I remember buying the 7″s he talks about making; I remember puzzling over the early Palace LPs, trying to glean meaning from the covers, the personnel. Palace—Oldham—B”P”B—soundtracked so much of my high school and college days that I inevitably had a falling out with him/them/it—or maybe that’s not the right word…what is the term for the emotional intensity we feel toward certain albums, certain records imprinted in the back of our souls? (I used a line from “For the Mekons et al” for my Senior yearbook quote but the fucking yearbook staff fucked it up. But fuck a yearbook anyway). Ease Down the Road was the last Oldham record that I let get to me; intellectually, I realize that the stuff he did after is somehow superior—tighter, richer even—but it couldn’t sink in, I wouldn’t let it sink in, too many too-good memories already there, I don’t know. I saw him on the Superwolf tour; he deepthroated the mic during an R. Kelly cover, and after the show my wife remarked that he would never be welcome as a guest in our home. I thought that seemed harsh. I tried—years later, reading this book—to explain that it was just a character. No dice.
March 20, 2014
Teju Cole’s Open City is one of my favorite novels of recent years, so I was psyched when Every Day Is for the Thief (which is kinda sorta his latest—it was published nearly a decade ago in Nigeria) showed up in the mail earlier this week. I read the first fifty pages yesterday (about a third of this short book). Thief reads like a memoir-essay, its reportorial style engaged and critical but at times obliquely distant. Our unnamed narrator (surely an iteration of Cole himself) returns “home” to Lagos after fifteen years in New York. Interspersed are Cole’s black and white photographs (echoes of Sebald). Full review to come; for now, publisher Random Houses’ blurb:
A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. In a city dense with story, the unnamed narrator moves through a mosaic of life, hoping to find inspiration for his own. He witnesses the “yahoo yahoo” diligently perpetrating email frauds from an Internet café, longs after a mysterious woman reading on a public bus who disembarks and disappears into a bookless crowd, and recalls the tragic fate of an eleven-year-old boy accused of stealing at a local market.
Along the way, the man reconnects with old friends, a former girlfriend, and extended family, taps into the energies of Lagos life—creative, malevolent, ambiguous—and slowly begins to reconcile the profound changes that have taken place in his country and the truth about himself.
In spare, precise prose that sees humanity everywhere, interwoven with original photos by the author, Every Day Is for the Thief—originally published in Nigeria in 2007—is a wholly original work of fiction. This revised and updated edition is the first version of this unique book to be made available outside Africa. You’ve never read a book like Every Day Is for the Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole.
Read the first chapter here.
March 16, 2014
I’d been wanting to pick up a collection of Grace Paley’s stories for awhile now. I wasn’t sure whether or not to pick up Enormous Changes at the Last Minute or The Little Disturbances of Man, so I just got both. The covers helped convince me, I’ll admit—I’m a sucker for Hopper, and John French Sloan is no slouch either. (I’m tempted here to launch into some vague critique of the covers that books by women get but nah).
I’ve already read most of Enormous Change, ingesting most of the tales while sitting in my car, waiting to pick my kids up after school, which seems like a perfect place to read it. Smart, odd, often sharp, scathing, precise, etc.—great stuff. I’ll try to do a full review but I’ve got a huge backlog. In the meantime, check out “Wants.”
March 5, 2014
Bhajju Shyam’s The London Jungle Book arrived a few days ago: Beautiful stuff. Full review to come, but blurb for now:
Hailed as a book that reverses the anthropological gaze, ‘The London Jungle Book’ is the personal story of Indian tribal artist Bhajju Shyam’s first encounter with a western city. Revised & fully updated to mark the 10th anniversary of that momentous journey, Bhajju’s rich art and poignant reflections are as relevant today as they ever were.
March 4, 2014
Laura McHugh’s novel The Weight of Blood is new in trade hardback next week from Random House. Their blurb:
The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.
What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.
The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
March 3, 2014
Domenica Ruta’s memoir With or Without You is new in trade paperback next week from Random House. Their blurb:
Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving town north of Boston, in a trash-filled house on a dead-end road surrounded by a river and a salt marsh. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious local figure, was a drug addict and sometimes dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, and whose highbrow taste was at odds with her hardscrabble life. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter a love of stories. Kathi frequently kept Domenica home from school to watch such classics as theGodfather movies and everything by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, telling her, “This is more important. I promise. You’ll thank me later.” And despite the fact that there was not a book to be found in her household, Domenica developed a love of reading, which helped her believe that she could transcend this life of undying grudges, self-inflicted misfortune, and the crooked moral code that Kathi and her cohorts lived by.
With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.
February 27, 2014
This one looks pretty good. Blurb from publisher Picador:
Bitter Eden is based on Tatamkhulu Afrika’s own capture in North Africa and his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II in Italy and Germany. This frank and beautifully wrought novel deals with three men who must negotiate the emotions that are brought to the surface by the physical closeness of survival in the male-only camps. The complex rituals of camp life and the strange loyalties and deep bonds among the men are heartbreakingly depicted. Bitter Eden is a tender, bitter, deeply felt book of lives inexorably changed, and of a war whose ending does not bring peace.
Read an excerpt here.
February 7, 2014
Picked up books last week, not needing them, but hey.
A digest of Kafka’s diaries; good stuff, great random reading.
This is a great little anecdote:
Austerlitz is of course the name of a W.G. Sebald novel. From that novel:
I also picked up the sixth issue of Swords of Cerebus by Dave Sim. It’s a second printing and in terrible shape and I already have the issues in other forms (reprint and graphic novel) but it’s still a pretty rare find. And I am a nerd.
The book also includes a short little excellent wordless comic, “A Night on the Town,” where Cerebus parties with a corpse. I have the reprint somewhere else, but still:
February 4, 2014
Naked Came the Post-Postmodernist showed up some time a few weeks ago and I still haven’t made time for it, despite an interesting premise and its collective authorship. Blurb:
Who killed Eric Davenport? A senior mathematics professor at Underhill College has been found dead in his office, the victim of murder. At Underhill, a small liberal arts college with a pricy tuition and a pampered student body, all of the students are close to their professors. But at least one loved Eric Davenport in a deeply inappropriate fashion. Some hated him. And then there is the faculty at war with itself. And the idiotic administration. And the twin boys who live next to campus. And what’s with all those praying mantises?
The collective work of Sarah Lawrence writing class 3303 – R, taught by novelist Melvin Jules Bukiet, here is a send-up of contemporary campus life that is also the latest installment in an inglorious literary tradition of wacky fun. And the mayhem hasn’t stopped. Soon, a student is found dead in the library, and, from the quad to the dorms, crime scenes and crises begin to multiply. A wealthy alumni donor becomes alarmed. Enter a libidinous medical examiner. Depicting rampant insecurities and raging egos, and with a cast of characters from conflicted faculty to student cliques, from hemp kids to Ugg girls and the J Crew crew, Naked Came the Post-Postmodernist takes us on a journey some may find eerily familiar. . . .
January 24, 2014
I was pleasantly surprised to get a box of great stuff in the mail from Ryan Mihaly, a frequent contributor to this blog (check out the second part of his interview with translator Ilan Stavans). Inside the handsome Penguin Classics Goethe was this little card:
I had never even heard of The Thoughtbook, Fitzgerald’s boyhood diary. Sample:
Tom Clark is The Best.
And always Hell.
Thanks again, Ryan!
January 15, 2014
So I read five of the thirteen stories in Gordon Lish’s forthcoming collection Goings In Thirteen Sittings (OR Books) the afternoon it arrived. Each story, told by a narrator named “Gordon,” I could not help but here in Lish’s precise but gruff voice. Great stuff. Full review forthcoming.
Today, Electric Literature is running Lish’s story “In the District, Into the Bargain.” First paragraph:
Here’s a bit for you. It’s an impressive one too. My bet is you are going to be really refreshingly impressed with it, or by it, which I have to tell you is what I myself was when the woman involved in the event disclosed her heart to me. First, as to setting—temporal, spatial, all that. So, fine, so the thing starts maybe all of an hour ago just a block from where I am sitting right this minute typing this up for you to read it and get out of it the same kick I did. She types too—the woman. She is always typing, is my understanding—or was, back when I used to see her somewhat, let us just fancy, social-wise. As a matter of fact, when I said to her, “What’s up? I mean what are you doing here in this neighborhood? Do you have a pass, were you issued a pass, a license maybe, any kind of a permit you can show me authorizing you to come up here into this restricted district of mine?” she laughed. I think she thought I was trying to be funny. Let me tell you something—that’s the one thing I never try to be—namely, funny. No, no, I was just doing what I could to maybe get away with having to snoggle for the usual sort of talk, lay on her a smart-aleck greeting of a sort, which apposition I only went to the bother of just now constructing so I could say sort and sorts, repeating and repeating stuff to stuff the insidious silence with insidious sound, however otiose or bootless or inutile dexterity appears (to be?) on the surface. You get what I’m getting at?—the stressing of the effect of there being something sly down beneath down under things as regards below the surface, see? But which surface, eh wot? Or, anyway, surface of exactly what, eh wot? (You see? Can’t help myself. It’s like this thing I’ve got which is like an irresistibly compulsive thing.) Oh, boy, I am all of a sudden so tired. I, Gordon, son of Reggie, am all of a sudden so suddenly utterly all in, just fucking pooped. Like, you know, like weary, wearied, ausgespielt if you’re German, right? Nap. But, hey, before I fall and hit my head, I’m just going to go ahead and take myself a little teensy tiny nap, fair enough? Be back in a shake, I promise.
January 12, 2014
His Day Is Done: A Nelson Mandela Tribute is a slim hardback book of a poem that takes fewer than five minutes to recite.
Here are the opening lines:
I’m restraining myself here but oh dear lord this is pretty bad poetry and there’s something that strikes me as utterly crass about the whole business of this little book, although I have no doubt that Angelou’s intentions are the purest (and even publisher Random House’s)—but yeesh.
January 5, 2014
Haven’t read Rafael Dieste (one of his books shows up in Bolaño’s novel 2666—Amalfitano hangs it in his backyard).
The Borges poetry collection matches nicely with these.
A poem by JLB:
January 3, 2014
A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros is new in English translation from Verso Books. Their blurb:
In A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros charts the many different ways we get from A to B—the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble—and shows what it tells us about ourselves.
He draws attention to other thinkers who also saw walking as a central part of their practice, and ponders over things like why Henry David Thoreau entered Walden Woods in pursuit of the wilderness; the reason Rimbaud walked in a fury while Nerval rambled to cure his melancholy. We learn how Rousseau had to walk to think, Nietzsche in order to write, while Kant walked to distract himself from contemplation. Brilliant, erudite and always entertaining, Gros is certain to make you reconsider this everyday activity.
I had hoped to crack into this a bit more over the holidays, but got wrapped up in another Verso book, Balestrini’s Tristano—and also like four other books. More to come.
December 27, 2013
I’m just two chapters shy of finishing Nanni Balestrini’s Tristano—I’ve kind of lax about these “book acquired” posts lately—so full review forthcoming. But here’s the blurb:
This book is unique as no other novel can claim to be: one of 109,027,350,432,000 possible variations of the same work of fiction.
Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde, Tristano was first published in 1966 in Italian. But only recently has digital technology made it possible to realise the author’s original vision. The novel comprises ten chapters, and the fifteen pairs of paragraphs in each of these are shuffled anew for each published copy. No two versions are the same. The random variations between copies enact the variegations of the human heart, as exemplified by the lovers at the centre of the story.
The copies of the English translation of Tristano are individually numbered, starting from 10,000 (running sequentially from the Italian and German editions). Included is a foreword by Umberto Eco explaining how Balestrini’s experiment with the physical medium of the novel demonstrates ‘that originality and creativity are nothing more than the chance handling of a combination’.
I’ll write a proper review in the next week or two, but the quick version is that This Is Not for Everyone, but you can probably already tell that from the blurb, right? The prose is also Not for Everyone, which is what I suspect most people who come to Tristano, interested in the concept, will be most disappointed in. Balestrini isn’t delivering a plot driven story that “recombines” into new versions for the reader. This is something closer to Donald Barthelme’s disruptions and displacements—poetic, strange, occasionally funny, moving.
December 27, 2013
Blurb for Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, new in paperback:
Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by just a few “bad apples.” But as award-winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of official orders to “kill anything that moves.”
Drawing on more than a decade of research into secret Pentagon archives and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors, Turse reveals for the first time the workings of a military machine that resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and wounded—what one soldier called “a My Lai a month.” Devastating and definitive, Kill Anything That Moves finally brings us face-to-face with the truth of a war that haunts America to this day.
December 20, 2013
Bingo’s Run by James A. Levine is new in hardback from Random House in January of 2014. Their blurb:
Meet Bingo, the greatest drug runner in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, and maybe the world. A teenage grifter, often mistaken for a younger boy, he faithfully serves Wolf, the drug lord of Kibera. Bingo spends his days throwing rocks at Krazi Hari, the prophet of Kibera’s garbage mound, “lipping” safari tourists of their cash, and hanging out with his best friend, Slo-George, a taciturn fellow whose girth is a mystery to Bingo in a place where there is never enough food. Bingo earns his keep by running “white” to a host of clients, including Thomas Hunsa, a reclusive artist whose paintings, rooted in African tradition, move him. But when Bingo witnesses a drug-related murder and Wolf sends him to an orphanage for “protection,” Bingo’s life changes and he learns that life itself is the “run.”
A modern trickster tale that draws on African folklore, Bingo’s Run is a wildly original, often very funny, and always moving story of a boy alone in a corrupt and dangerous world who must depend on his wits and inner resources to survive
December 19, 2013
Two new handsome fellas from indie press Sunnyoutside:
James Brubaker’s Pilot Season, which I read over the past few days, is a fun little volume that is better than its thin premise suggests (blurb from the back):
Pilot Season opens with a television executive attempting to save his floundering network’s fall roster. As his own anxieties, disappointments, and alienation from his own family play out through a steady stream of absurd television pilots, we are treated to sardonic parodies of the contemporary reality show-obsessed media culture. While critiquing the cruelty and exploration of the medium, Pilot Season also manages to laud the human spirit’s ability to trump our flaws.
Pilot Season shares a strong overlap with Matthew Winston’s This Coming Fall; the central conceit of that story is a voice that blithely announces a schedule of dystopian TV shows. (I read the books more or less at the same time—both are slim enough to fit in a pocket and can be discreetly absorbed during meetings, for example).
Rusty Barnes’s Reckoning is Appalachian noir propelled by dialogue, sex, and violence. Blurb from the back:
Richard Logan begins his summer day as any fourteen-year-old might: working at a farm job bringing in hay, avoiding his hard-headed father, and hanging out with his friends. When he stumbles onto an unconscious woman in the woods, he has no idea that the process of helping her will lead him into the darkness o fa the deeply held deceits of his rural Appalachian town. Both brutal and beautiful, Reckoning shows the seams and limits of family love and community tolerance while Richard discovers where manhood truly lies.
Reckoning and Pilot Season will be released in Spring of 2014.
December 12, 2013
Meandering through the bookstore on a Monday morn, I spied this beat up copy of Hans-Georg Rauch’s En Masse and had to have it.
I’d never heard of Rauch before, but his spidery ink drawings immediately intrigued me.
None of the images in En Masse is labeled—indeed, there are no words in the book.
Instead, Rauch plays with themes of creation and nihilism, sex and politics, architecture and nature.
This two page spread came out blurry via my iPhone pic—sorry—but in the book’s oversize 13″ x 9″ format the effect is overwhelming.
You can see some of the masses perhaps better in this close-up:
Rauch’s cartoony style is balanced with an Escher-like acumen; the guy can draft. But there’s a sense of humor here that I think puts him closer to Tomi Ungerer.