At the bookstore today with my youngest child, I couldn’t resist yet another copy of Moby-Dick, despite the many several editions already in our home.
Just love Hieronimus Fromm’s vivid illustrations here.
I was looking for something else when I found Everyman’s edition of The Complete Novels of Flann O’Brien. I gave away The Third Policeman to a friend who has yet to read it; I can also now give away At Swim-Two Birds. (I won’t give away my copy of The Poor Mouth though, which is illustrated by Ralph Steadman).
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.”
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.
Two remaining (late period) Donald Barthelme novels I haven’t read.
The King is a first edition paperback (with an author photo on the whole back cover—very odd) illustrated by the wonderful Barry Moser.
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:
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. . . .
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the seventh grade, my friend Tilford gave me a copy of They Might Be Giant’s album Flood. This was in 1991, back when “alternative” music was far more varied than it is now. What I mean by this is that back in those halcyon days, we listened to anything we could get our ears to—and really listened. This meant TMBG, R.E.M, RHCP, KMFDM, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Fugazi, the Dead Kennedys, The Dead Milkmen, The Meat Puppets, The Meatmen, The Minutemen—just anything different than what was on the radio. Lack of access to music meant that we listened to a wider diversity of bands than maybe Kids Today do. (These are all crotchety claims. Get off my lawn).
Anyway, Flood—the album, its freewheeling zaniness, its nasal vibe, its silliness, its diversity, its poppiness—so much of it is still imprinted on my brain. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” is probably the only TMBG song that I’ll still put on a mix CD (okay, that and “Minimum Wage”), but Flood is rich in its strange pop vibes. Songs like “Road Movie to Berlin” (later covered by Frank Black) and “They Might Be Giants” played on a loop in my brain in the early nineties. Other songs like the jokey cover “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man” pointed the way to the kind of kid-friendly skewed pop that would define the second half of TMBG’s career. “You Racist Friend” is one of the most direct protest songs I’ve ever heard.
I’ve never forgiven TMBG for quitting two songs in to their set when I saw them in 1996. John Linnell was too ill to continue, and called the show off. In retrospect, I understand why—dude was sick, really sick (I can remember his face)—but for me it was an easy break with a band that lacked the art rock verve that I found more interesting in the late nineties. I could write They Might Be Giants off as kid music. That’s undoubtedly an unfair assessment though.
S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer have written a new book (in the 33 1/3 series) on Flood. In the blurb, below, we get a clear overview of how important this record was—even if it isn’t discussed along with Sonic Youth’s Goo and Dirty, R.E.M.’s Green, or The Pixies’ last record (not to mention all the “grunge” bands that exploded after those records). Here’s the blurb:
For a few decades now, They Might Be Giants’ album Flood has been a beacon (or at least a nightlight) for people who might rather read than rock out, who care more about science fiction than Slayer, who are more often called clever than cool. Neither the band’s hip origins in the Lower East Side scene nor Flood’s platinum certification can cover up the record’s singular importance at the geek fringes of culture.
Flood’s significance to this audience helps us understand a certain way of being: it shows that geek identity doesn’t depend on references to Hobbits or Spock ears, but can instead be a set of creative and interpretive practices marked by playful excess—a flood of ideas.
The album also clarifies an historical moment. The brainy sort of kids who listened to They Might Be Giants saw their own cultural options grow explosively during the late 1980s and early 1990s amid the early tech boom and America’s advancing leftist social tides. Whether or not it was the band’s intention, Flood’s jubilant proclamation of an identity unconcerned with coolness found an ideal audience at an ideal turning point. This book tells the story.