Three Books


Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. 1978 mass market paperback by Bard Books, a division of Avon Books. No designer or illustrator credited. I picked this copy up after giving away the edition I read this summer. An amazing novel.

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down by Ishmael Reed. 1977 mass market paperback by Bard Books, a division of Avon Books. No designer or illustrator credited—but the cover illustration seems to be signed “Andrew Rhodes.” Haven’t read this one yet.IMG_0549The Free-Lance Pallbearers by Ishmael Reed. 1969 mass market paperback by Bantam Books. No designer or illustrator credited. I finished this last week—a slim, strange, dazzling work.

Most newness is new in all the same old ways (William H. Gass)

‘Make it new,’ Ezra Pound commanded, and ‘innovative’ is a good name for some kinds of fiction; however, most newness is new in all the same old ways: falsely, as products are said to be new by virtue of minuscule and trivial additions; or vapidly, when the touted differences are pointless; or opportunistically, when alterations are made simply in order to profit from imaginary improvements; or differentially, when newness merely marks a moment, place, or person off from others and gives it its own identity, however dopey.

From William H. Gass’s essay “Anywhere but Kansas.” Collected in Tests of Time.

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.


nogu: naked. Gk gumnos.

Screenshot 2015-11-01 at 4

From Joseph T. Shipley’s The Origin of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

Three Books


The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor. Edited by Sally Fitzgerald. 1979 2nd edition hardback from FS&G. Jacket design by Janet Halverson. A marvelous book—Fitzgerald’s editing is wonderful here—there’s a rich index that makes this book a pick me up and read me anytime kind of resource. Particularly great are O’Connor’s letters to ‘A,’ a smart reader whom O’Connor struck up a friendship with in letters.IMG_0522

The Marble Faun; or The Romance of Monte Beni by Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1958 mass market paperback by Pocket Books. No designer credited. I love this cover and design—simple and elegant. The Marble Faun is the only Hawthorne novel (book, really) that I’ve yet to read.IMG_0523

Habitations of the Word: Essays by William H. Gass. 1985 trade paperback by Touchstone/Simon and Schuster. Cover design by Koppel & Scher—and what a great design! (The quotation on the cover is from Gass’s essay “The Soul Inside the Sentence”). I had pulled this book out to find some lines from the first essay, “Emerson and the Essay,” for an American lit class I’m teaching. The essays collected here are brilliant stuff—literary criticism that surpasses “literary criticism.”

Reviews and riffs of September and October, 2015 (and an unrelated tiger)

The only way I could muster a review of Gordon Lish’s challenging novel (spokening?!) Cess was in a faux-dialog with myself.

I reread Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree in September and considered if Suttree dies at the end.

Then I reread Blood Meridian for the umpteenth time.

I reviewed Penguin Classics bicentennial edition of Jane Austen’s Emma.

I wrote about Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant, arguing it was most successful as an evocation of “not knowing.”

Ryan Chang and I continued our discussion of New American Stories, an anthology edited by Ben Marcus. We mostly rapped about stories by Robert Coover and Tao Lin.

I had somehow never read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven before October of 2015.

And, special for Halloween, but really just because I really wanted to reread it, I wrote about one of my favorite ghost tales, Roberto Bolaño’s short story “The Return.”

I also read Autobiography of Red and Red Doc> by Anne Carson during September-October, but erased everything I tried to write on them. I found Autobiography particularly excellent—a real How is this possible? kind of read.

Unrelated tiger by Utagawa Kunisada:

The Witch — Salvator Rosa


No supernaturalism, only the occult continuation of infinite nature

Daydream, which is to thought as the nebula is to the star, borders on sleep, and is concerned with it as its frontier. An atmosphere inhabited by living transparencies: there’s a beginning of the unknown. But beyond it the Possible opens out, immense. Other beings, other facts, are there. No supernaturalism, only the occult continuation of infinite nature … Sleep is in contact with the Possible, which we also call the improbable. The world of the night is a world. Night, as night, is a universe … The dark things of the unknown world become neighbors of man, whether by true communication or by a visionary enlargement of the distances of the abyss … and the sleeper, not quite seeing, not quite unconscious, glimpses the strange animalities, weird vegetations, terrible or radiant pallors, ghosts, masks, figures, hydras, confusions, moonless moonlights, obscure unmakings of miracle, growths and vanishings within a murky depth, shapes floating in shadow, the whole mystery which we call Dreaming, and which is nothing other than the approach of an invisible reality. The dream is the aquarium of Night.


The Hugo citation comes from Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven—Le Guin uses it as a preface to the seventh chapter. It’s beautiful on its own; it also functions as a kind of poetic summary of The Lathe of Heaven.

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.


Three Blurbs

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