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


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)


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.

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!!:

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)


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).

Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (Book acquired, 11.02.2015)


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)


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.

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.


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


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)


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.


Paul Kirchner’s The Bus…and The Bus 2 (Books acquired, 10.03.2015)


Paul Kirchner’s The Bus is excellent. We know this, yes? Editions Tanibis sent me their copy of the surreal, philosophical strip’s first run. I’ve enjoyed going back through it again (bingeing, to be honest)—Tanibis’s volume is beautiful, crisp, and far more complete than the Imgur album that was such a hit this year.

Tanibis also sent along The Bus 2, which publishes late this month, and I’ll have a full review then (some time after Halloween), but for now, a teaser:


A bicentennial edition of Jane Austen’s Emma from Penguin Classics


Last month, to mark its bicentennial, Penguin Classics published a deluxe edition of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. It’s a beautiful, hefty book, with deckle edges, French flaps, and a cool cover by Dadu Shin.


Beyond its obvious aesthetic appeal, Penguin’s new edition offers its readers helpful resources, including a note on spelling in the novel, a glossary, and a range of essays that offer context for better appreciating the plot (topics include “Dancing,” “Food,” and “Health”). Indeed, this edition seems geared towards helping younger readers appreciate and enjoy Emma. In a prefatory note, editor Juliette Wells writes:

This edition is designed to help. It’s a reader’s edition, not a scholarly one. In other words, the information you’ll find here is intended to support your understanding and appreciation of Emma rather than to instruct you in literary terms, theoretical perspectives, or critical debates. In choosing what to include, I’ve borne in mind what I’ve heard from students and others over the years about what has intrigued, and frustrated, them in reading this novel.

Wells’s brief introduction helps offer new readers context about the novel’s composition, publication, and reception. She even offers a short series of tips for reading Emma (sample: “If you’re feeling frustrated or bored because nothing much seems to be happening, remember that Austen’s own contemporaries commented on how little plot Emma contains and how ordinary its characters and events are”). The edition also features helpful maps (by Wells), along with illustrations and title pages from previous editions. The volume concludes with a suggested reading and viewing list “for further exploration.”

Emma is obviously in the public domain and available in plenty of inexpensive versions (like the Dover Thrift copy I read in high school)—but this new Penguin Classics edition makes a strong case for itself as the future go-to version for high school students. Wells’s editorial vision (and the aesthetic design of the book) show a strong love for Austen’s text that will carry over to a new generation of readers.  Continue reading “A bicentennial edition of Jane Austen’s Emma from Penguin Classics”

Sebald’s Vision (Book acquired 10.06.2015)


  1. I can barely keep up with these “book acquired” posts this fall.
  2. I was actually reading Sebald last night—his essay on Rousseau in A Place in the Country. “How difficult it is in general to bring the machinery of thought to a standstill“—yes, yes, of course. Machinery! If there was just a switch…
  3. I mean that I would love to be like, transcendentalist (transcendent?  transcending? to transcend? trance? tr….) but the feeling of the feeling, the machinery of thought gets in the way. But anyway—
  4. (Sebald in this picture, and a few others, looks so much like my father that it frightens the fuck out of me. It’s horrifying).
  5. [Optometry joke]
  6. I was going somewhere with this (or not): Sebald’s Vision by Carol Jacobs. Publisher Columbia University Press’s blurb:

    W. G. Sebald’s writing has been widely recognized for its intense, nuanced engagement with the Holocaust, the Allied bombing of Germany in WWII, and other episodes of violence throughout history. Through his inventive use of narrative form and juxtaposition of image and text, Sebald’s work has offered readers new ways to think about remembering and representing trauma.

    In Sebald’s Vision, Carol Jacobs examines the author’s prose, novels, and poems, illuminating the ethical and aesthetic questions that shaped his remarkable oeuvre. Through the trope of “vision,” Jacobs explores aspects of Sebald’s writing and the way the author’s indirect depiction of events highlights the ethical imperative of representing history while at the same time calling into question the possibility of such representation.

    Jacobs’s lucid readings of Sebald’s work also consider his famous juxtaposition of images and use of citations to explain his interest in the vagaries of perception. Isolating different ideas of vision in some of his most noted works, including Rings of Saturn, Austerlitz, and After Nature, as well as in Sebald’s interviews, poetry, art criticism, and his lecture Air War and Literature, Jacobs introduces new perspectives for understanding the distinctiveness of Sebald’s work and its profound moral implications.