Inherent Vice (William Gaddis’s J R)

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From page 571 of my Penguin edition of William Gaddis’s novel J R. The phrase appears as part of the character Jack Gibbs’s work in progress, Agapē AgapeThe phrase is not especially uncommon, I suppose, in art history, and I (obliquely) remark it in this post for my own amusement.

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.

Reviews and riffs of November, 2015 – January, 2016 (and unrelated fox studies)

I was unblocked for years, getting reviews or riffs or whathaveyous out at least once a week. For months now—more than months, really—the words don’t come out, or they come out in quips on Twitter. Or I don’t feel like they’re necessary. I guess that’s fine. I’m not sure what I’m doing with the blog at this point. So anyway, these are the signed pieces on the blog over the last three months.

I reviewed two titles from Nowbrow, Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris and Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators; both graphic novels center on Paris. 

I also reviewed Paul Kirchner’s The Bus 2.

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I riffed on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, suggesting that “SW: TFA takes Star Wars itself (as brand-mythos) as its central subject. The film is “about” Star Wars.”

David Bowie died.

I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels and riffed on them.

And I wondered if anything good happened in Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight.

There were several books I wanted to write about and failed to write about in the past three months, notable The Free-Lance Pall Bearers by Ishmael Reed, Vertigo by Joanna Walsh, and Lucia Berlin’s Homesick. They were all great and good and grand.

Unrelated Studies of a Fox (1669-1671) by Pieter Boel:

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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:

Shuiyuan Recipe — Lin Shih-Yung

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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.

Three Books

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J R by William Gaddis. 1993 trade paperback edition by Penguin. Cover art is a detail of an Associated Gas and Electric Company stock certificate “Courtesy of William Gaddis.” No designer credited.

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. 1997 first paperback printing edition by Abacus (Great Britain). No designer credited.

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The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara. First paperback printing by Aurora, 1998. Cover design by Todd Michael Bushman.

Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos (William Gaddis)

Before we go any further here, has it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of the knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from the outside. In fact it’s the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos . . .

So I’m going through William Gaddis’s novel J R again (via Nick Sullivan’s amazing audiobook recording-performance)…

Three Books

The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller. 1964 paperback by Penguin Books. Cover drawing by the English cartoonist and art critic Osbert Lancaster.

The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir. 1964 paperback by Penguin Books. Cover art by Anthony Common.

The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann. 1961 paperback by Penguin Books. Cover art by the English artist Brian Wildsmith, who is perhaps most famous for his marvelous children’s book illustrations.

Three Books

Last week on Three Books, I featured three books I kinda sorta maybe plan to read in 2016. Here are three more:

Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon. First edition hardback by Little, Brown (1984). Jacket design by Fred Marcellino. I’ve only read “Entropy” from this collection so far. (I actually tried to use it in my Intro American Lit class—it’s in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. E, somehow—and no, it didn’t go over well, but hey).

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz; English translation by Adrian Nathan West. First edition trade paperback from Dorothy (2015). Cover art is Anonymous by Hella van ‘t Hof. Book design by Danielle Dutton. I started this as the chaser to Ishmael Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers—proved to be a false start (went on a Le Guin jag instead). Feels like a one-sitting read.

The Easy Chain by Evan Dara. First edition trade paperback from Aurora (2008). Cover and design by Todd Michael Bushman. Does anyone want to read The Easy Chain with me?

There are a number of difficulties with dirty words, the first of which is that there aren’t nearly enough of them (William H. Gass)

There are a number of difficulties with dirty words, the first of which is that there aren’t nearly enough of them; the second is that the people who use them are normally numskulls and prudes; the third is that in general they’re not at all sexy, and the main reason for this is that no one loves them enough. Contrary to those romantic myths which glorify the speech of mountain men and working people, Irish elves and Phoenician sailors, the words which in our language are worst off are the ones which the worst-off use. Poverty and isolation produce impoverished and isolated minds, small vocabularies, a real but fickle passion for slang, most of which is like the stuff which Woolworths sells for ashtrays, words swung at random, wildly, as though one were clubbing rats, or words misused in an honest but hopeless attempt to make do, like attacking tins with toothpicks; there is a dominance of cliché and verbal stereotype, an abundance of expletives and stammer words: you know, man, like wow! neat, fabulous, far-out, sensaysh. I am firmly of the opinion that people who can’t speak have nothing to say. It’s one more thing we do to the poor, the deprived: cut out their tongues . . . allow them a language as lousy as their lives.

Thin in content, few in number, constantly abused: what chance do the unspeakables have? Change is resisted fiercely, additions are denied. I have introduced ‘squeer,’ ‘crott,’ ‘kotswinkling,’ and ‘papdapper,’ with no success. Sometimes obvious substitutes, like ‘socksucker,’ catch on, but not for long. What we need, of course, is a language which will allow us to distinguish the normal or routine fuck from the glorious, the rare, or the lousy one—a fack from a fick, a fick from a fock—but we have more names for parts of horses than we have for kinds of kisses, and our earthy words are all . . . well . . . ‘dirty.’ It says something dirty about us, no doubt, because in a society which had a mind for the body and other similarly vital things, there would be a word for coming down, or going up, words for nibbles on the bias, earlobe loving, and every variety of tongue track. After all, how many kinds of birds do we distinguish?

We have a name for the Second Coming but none for a second coming. In fact our entire vocabulary for states of consciousness is critically impoverished.

From William H. Gass’s On Being Blue.

Three Books

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Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte. English translation by Cesare Foligno. 2005 trade paperback by NYRB. Cover painting is Odd Nerdrum’s The Dentures; cover design by Katy Homans. Bought this a while ago and have been meaning to take a serious crack at it for some time now.
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1982 Janine by Alasdair Gray. 1985 trade paperback by Penguin. No designer credited, but I’d bet money Gray did the cover illustration himself. Picked this up after loving the hell out of Lanark, but I keep getting pulled away from it: another one to try in 2016.img_1272

The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen. Trade paperback by New Directions (no year given, but “Fifth Printing” noted). Cover art is a photo of Patchen’s manuscript for the volume; no photographer or designer is credited. Shelved next to the Gray; will attempt again this year.

A probably incomplete list of books I read in 2015

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon*

Dockwood, Jon McNaught

A German Picturesque, Jason Schwartz*

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon*

Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles

Flee, Evan Dara

Birchfield Close, Jon McNaught

Nazi Literature in the Americas, Roberto Bolaño*

Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera

Infinite Fictions, David Winters

Syrian Notebooks, Jonathan Littell

Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon

Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

Gaha: Babes of the Abyss, Jon Frankel

The Spectators, Victor Hussenot

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace*

The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink

Cess, Gordon Lish

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

High Rise, J.G. Ballard*

Millennium People, J.G. Ballard

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

Mislaid, Nell Zink

The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson

Culture and Value, Ludwig Wittgenstein

Martian Time-Slip, Philip K. Dick

Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

Suttree, Cormac McCarthy*

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy*

Red Doc>, Anne Carson

The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Bus, Paul Kirchner

The Bus 2, Paul Kirchner

The Free-Lance Pall Bearers, Ishmael Reed

Vertigo, Joanna Walsh

Rocannon’s World, Ursula K. LeGuin

Censorship Now!!, Ian Svenonius

750 Years in Paris, Vincent Mahé

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin*

The Word for World Is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin

Planet of Exile, Ursula K. Le Guin

City of Illusions, Ursula K. Le Guin

Homesick, Lucia Berlin

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin*

* indicates a reread

Three Books (or, My three favorite reading experiences in 2015)

These were my three favorite (?!) reading experiences in 2015:

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Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. 1973 first edition trade paperback by Viking. Cover design and illustration by Marc Getter.img_1218

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. First Vintage Contemporaries edition, trade paperback, 1998. Cover design by Carol Devine Carson.

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Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. 1978 mass market paperback by Bard Books, a division of Avon Books. No designer or illustrator credited.

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.