Mario Levrero’s The Luminous Novel (Book acquired, 30 March 2021)

Mario Levrero’s The Luminous Novel is forthcoming in English translation by Annie McDermott from the good folks at And Other Stories. It’s a big ole book! Here is And Other Stories’ blurb:

A writer attempts to complete the novel for which he has been awarded a big fat Guggenheim grant, though for a long time he succeeds mainly in procrastinating – getting an electrician to rewire his living room so he can reposition his computer, buying an armchair, or rather, two: ‘In one, you can’t possibly read: it’s uncomfortable and your back ends up crooked and sore. In the other, you can’t possibly relax: the hard backrest means you have to sit up straight and pay attention, which makes it ideal if you want to read.’

Insomniacs, romantics and anyone who’s ever written (or failed to write) will fall in love with this compelling masterpiece told by a true original, with all his infuriating faults, charming wit and intriguing musings.

I loved the last two And Other Stories editions I read, by the way. I highly recommend Norah Lange’s Notes from Childhood (translated by Nora Whittle) — I wrote about it here.

The other AOS book was Ann Quin’s 1969 avant garde novel Passages, which is unlike anything else I’ve ever read (although Joyce’s Ulysses, Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies, Beckett, Derrida’s Glas, and Julia Kristeva come to mind). I reread it last weekend in an attempt to outline a review, which I hope to have up soon.

Angela Carter’s Fireworks (Book acquired, 2 April 2021)

I came across this 1976 first edition paperback of Angela Carter’s collection Fireworks two weeks ago and couldn’t pass it up, even though all of Fireworks is collected in Burning Your Boats, which I already own. I love the hornyassed cover by Bob Foulke. I cannot find anything else by Foulke on the internet.

Here is the opening of “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter”:

Here, we are high in the uplands.

A baleful almost-music, that of the tuneless cadences of an untutored orchestra repercussing in an ecstatic agony of echoes against the sounding boards of the mountains, lured us into the village square where we discover them twanging, plucking and abusing with horsehair bows a wide variety of crude stringed instruments. Our feet crunch upon dryly whispering shifting sawdust freshly scattered over impacted surfaces of years of sawdust clotted, here and there, with blood shed so long ago it has, with age, acquired the colour and texture of rust . . . sad, ominous stains, a threat, a menace, memorials of pain.

There is no brightness in the air. Today the sun will not irradiate the heroes of the dark spectacle to which accident and disharmony combined to invite us. Here, where the air is choked all day with diffuse moisture tremulously, endlessly the point of becoming rain, light falls as if filtered through muslin so at all hours a crepuscular gloaming prevails; the sky looks as though it is about to weep and so, gloomily illuminated through unshed tears, the tableau vivant before us is suffused with the sepia tints of an old photograph and nothing within it moves. The intent immobility of the spectators, wholly absorbed as they are in the performance of their hieratic ritual, is scarcely that of living things and this tableau vivant might be better termed a nature morte for the mirthless carnival is a celebration of a death. Their eyes, the whites of which are yellowish, are all fixed, as if attached by taut, invisible strings upon a wooden block lacquered black with the spilt dews of a millennia of victims.

And now the rustic bandsmen suspend their unmclodious music. This death must be concluded in the most dramatic silence. The wild mountain-dwellers are gathered together to watch a public execution; that is the only entertainment the country offers.

Time, suspended like the rain, begins again in silence, slowly.

Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen (Book acquired, sometime in February 2021)

The nice people at Contra Mundum continue to put out new Charles Baudelaire translations. Paris Spleen is out in a new translation from Rainer J. Hanshe. A little taste:

I wish I could get drunk on virtue. I’ll settle for wine.

Here’s Contra Mundum’s blurb:

In the 1850s, ancien and Haussmannian Paris clash, giving birth to a violent disjunction. At that moment in time, an other present is born, a new history, like Baudelaire’s poet freely abandoning his halo on the macadam. The laurel crown has been discarded; the pastoral poet is dead; classical lyric poetry is dead. The steam-driven, gaslit, electrically-charged poet is born. “Retreat Academic Muse!,” Baudelaire commands, “I don’t care about that old stutterer.”

With Paris Spleen, we move toward a new rhythm, a rhythm born of the pace, speed, and reality of a metropolis hitherto never seen or experienced. It is the rhythm of the street, of the swift-moving eye, of overloaded senses and hyper-perception, of newspapers and optical devices. Baudelaire’s life spans the essential birth of whole new forms of technology, including steam locomotives, gas light, and electricity, not to speak of the typewriter and the Daguerreotype. The dandy sees and moves with the coming speed of light. His life is one lived in the midst of illumination, mechanics, and simulacra.

Baudelaire’s Paris is a place of experience, a metropolis that spawns unique and particular realities, a kaleidoscope of visions and mirror of alternative societies. The grist of his poems is not ancient Greece or the Renaissance. As he stated in the so-called preface to Paris Spleen, it is especially from frequenting great cities, from the crossroads of their innumerable relations, that the haunting ideal of the prose poem was born. Our flâneur wanders swiftly through crowds, in contact, but anonymous, extracting from the city material to forge his new ars poetica, like a bricolage artist.

The future is called forth. The street is the new Olympus; the phantasmagoric city is a big harlot whose infernal charm continually rejuvenates the poet. The ironic, infernal beacon is the totem of the new age: the age of dissonance, the age of artificial paradises. “I love you, O infamous capital!” the poet exults.

Here is Paris Spleen, an invitation to voyage, to have the entirety of Baudelaire’s Paris enter into our flesh and for us to undergo contagion, if our spleens can handle it.

Transfixed before the mirror, arm in arm so no one could cheat, we gambled as to who would be the first to die | On Norah Lange’s Notes from Childhood (Book acquired, 30 March 2021)

I’ll admit I’d never heard of Norah Lange until the nice people at indie superpublisher And Other Stories alerted me to her memoir, Notes from Childhood.

Lange was an Argentinian writer, publishing poems and prose from the 1920s through  the 1950s. She was part of the Florida Group, along with Jorge Luis Borges and his sister, the painter Norah Borges, as well as Victoria Ocampo and others, and first published her poems in ultraist magazines.

In her note at the end of Notes from Childhood, Lange’s translator Charlotte Whittle suggests that Lange’s memoir marked a break from the ultraist school, embracing a new style of prose—her own style. Whittle points out that Lange’s “approach to memory” trains its “gaze on domestic, family scenes.”

Whittle continues,

Far from being a linear autobiography or tale of coming of age, this narrative takes the form of a constellation of pieces of childhood, and these pieces provide Lange with ground for experimentation.

I read the first forty pages of Notes from Childhood this afternoon; the book showed up last week and I didn’t have a spare half hour to carve from a day to sink into it.

I didn’t have a spare half hour this afternoon, but I opened it, after moving a pile of books to another pile of books, and then I just kept reading.

Lange’s Notes feels subtly cinematic—in vivid flashes, brief vignettes, scenes of a page or two, she conjure the irreal reality of childhood. The memoir opens in a hotel, where, in the dining room, Lange and her sisters spy the “owner of the circus, and next to him the strongest woman in the world,” who, every night “lifts three men with her teeth.” They later light lamps in their new old house to “watch the spiders and kissing bugs all over the walls.”

A few pages later, Lange describes her mother riding sidesaddle horseback in nine succinct but powerful paragraphs. She frames the poetic photograph for her reader:

I see her framed with a gentleness no one could touch without taking something away, without adding more grace than that which was essential and true.

And our narrator riffs on her eldest sister, Irene, framed through a “third window” in one chapter: “I was always a little afraid and a little in awe of her. She was six years older than me. Sometimes, she was allowed to sit at the table in the large dining room during visits from family friends.” Irene at the big table! We get a trickle of information about whispers of Irene, who is growing up while our narrator remains a child:

Susana and I, the youngest two, weren’t shrewd enough to guess the reason for these long whispering sessions. One afternoon, I heard them speak of breasts. When I think back, I understand the fear she must have felt—the first sister, all alone—when she saw her body begin to curve, her rib cage lose its rigidity, her breasts start to ache and stir imperceptibly.

A few chapters later (there aren’t really chapters in Notes), sister Marta, convalescent, repeats, “God is evil. God is evil.” A few pages later, schoolbound, Little Lange is enchanted by typeface:

Words in capital letters, like TWILIGHT, DISCOVERY, DAGUERREOTYPE, LABYRINTH, and THERAPEUTIC, brought me a zeal and contentment all by themselves that now I would have to describe as aesthetic.

And then this wonderful weird episode. Scene: Lange and the sisters:

We had made big hats out of paper and the five of us stood before the mirror, each absorbed by the reflection of her own face, contemplating the effect of shadow over our eyes, the changing glimmer taken on by the light from the window as it fell on our hair against the newspaper.

The door opened suddenly, and a gust of air caused the hats to teeter on our heads.

One of my sisters said,

“The first one who loses her hat will die before the others…”

Transfixed before the mirror, arm in arm so no one could cheat, we gambled as to who would be the first to die.

Great stuff! Read an excerpt of Notes from Childhood here.

Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography (Book acquired and then unacquired in that long COVID march of March 2020-March 2021)

Clifford Mead’s Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography was published in 1989 by Dalkey. As far as I can tell, the book is out of print and has not been updated.

I checked out Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography via interlibrary loan back in early March, 2020. My librarian borrowed it for me from the good librarians at the University of South Florida. I can’t really recall why I wanted it—probably not anything specific. I’ve used ILL to get a number of weird or rare items in the past, including a pristine copy of Samuel Chamberlain’s My Confessions (a major source for Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian), and a handful of early stories by William Gaddis (I did not need to get my hands on this juvenalia).

I probably got the bibliography on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. I think that’s the date because I tweeted this photo from its appendix:

If I recall correctly, I had taken that Monday (March 9th) and the preceding Friday off work. My family and I went to Georgia’s coastal Golden Isles and stayed on a houseboat for a few nights. It was the end of my kids’ spring break, and I would have a week of work before my spring break started.

This—the family vacation week—was the first week of March and I was beginning to get pretty paranoid about COVID-19. But I’d been paranoid and tired and really just exhausted for four years straight by now.

I took a break from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy to read Charles Wright’s novel The Wig that weekend. I read it on a houseboat with a corny name on Jekyll Island. We road bikes around the island and ate sea food, fried food. It was beautiful.

I came back to work, worried but happy to get the Pynchon bibliography, even if it only went to ’89, thus leaving out, like, the last three decades. That must have been, like I said, Tuesday, March 10th.

On Wednesday, March 11th, the NBA canceled their season and I knew what was up.

My department chair decorated our office suite with glittery shamrocks for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day.

I filled a box with the books and binders and gear I figured I needed to teach from home after Spring Break. A colleague made a joke, something like a, Hey did you get fired with that box in your hands? joke.

(Maybe I’ll see him this fall?)

(Those St. Patrick’s Day decorations are still up, by the way, and, once again, out of season. Although I think they fit the mode of the day, the zeitgeist, the long tacky sparkling sad celebratory day.)

And you more or less know the rest, having lived it in your own first-person perspective.

For most of the year that passed I kept Thomas Pynchon: A Bilbiography with my textbooks. I reached out to my librarian around the time it was due, 10 May 2020 (my wife and I were supposed to be in Chicago then; we weren’t). My librarian said to keep the book in good condition.

In the meantime, I picked up some of the books that Thomas Pynchon had blurbed, often preferring his blurbs to the novels he blurbed.

I read some of his juvenalia again, like “Ye Legend of Sir Stupid and the Purple Knight”:

In May I  finally read Pynchon’s latest (last?!) novel Bleeding Edge.

I looked online for bootleg editions of the material that showed up in Slow Learner. I read more of Slow Learner, leaving two tales…just to leave them, just to not have exhausted a…final supply?

In the absence of March Madness college basketball, I ran a silly bracket of dystopian/sci fi writers — “zeitgeisty” writers” — and Pynchon won, beating out J.G. Ballard, who I still think should have won.

(Someone wrote in to tell me that it was the “most shite” thing that I’ve ever done on the blog and to never do it again. Thanks guy! That felt good.)

And also,

I worried, fretted, washed, ranted, cried even at times, but

I never missed a meal and my family had a regular four square game going and Florida actually gave us real Spring weather, crisp and cool and sunny, and the trees bloomed and budded, and I figure in some ways I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

And the year passed, with its plague, its violent racism, its protests, all swelling into its ugly electioneering.

And then this Spring 2021 semester I went back in, setting my feet on campus for Tues and Thurs classes and the world seemed a bit more normal. We got a normal, boring president; a lot of us started to get the vaccine. Things felt…better? Like other folks, I looked forward to hanging out with all the folks I’d seen so little of in the last year.

I got my first vax jab a few weeks ago; I get my second this Friday. I look forward to hanging with “The Boys” (and “the girls,” and etc.)

 

At some point in the last year I shelved Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography with the rest of the Pynchon books in the house. I just assumed that it was mine, that it was an artifact of the plague year. My covid acquired.

But last week my librarian let me know, Hey, USF wants that Pynchon book back. I held on to it a second week, revisiting it in parts, but mostly to write this here blog post, mostly to find another way to say, Hey, what a year, eh? I’ll drop it off with my librarian tomorrow, but I think it’ll make me feel a bit sad.

But also maybe relieved.

 

Vítězslav Nezval’s Woman in the Plural (Book acquired, sometime last week)

Woman in the Plural is a newly-translated collection of poems and plays by Vítězslav Nezval. The new translation is by Ka (the volume also features art by Karel Teige).

Here’s a taste:

And here’s publisher Twisted Spoon’s blurb:

In the summer of 1935, Vítězslav Nezval, already one of the most celebrated Czech poets of his generation, embarked on a period of manic creativity that would result in three volumes of poetry written and published in a two-year span (1935-37), mirrored by three volumes of memoir-like poetic prose. These collections would not only reshape Czech poetry, blending approaches developed by the French Surrealists with national cultural sensibilities and political concerns, taken together they are among the highest achievements of the interwar avant-garde. Woman in the Plural (1936), the first volume in this loose trilogy, adopted “objective chance” as its modus operandi (whereas the third and final volume, The Absolute Gravedigger (1937), was guided by the paranoiac-critical method).

Appearing in English translation for the first time, Woman in the Plural displays Nezval’s prodigious talents in a variety of forms, styles, and genres as he spins images of the female form like a zoetrope to create novel and hallucinatory ways of conceiving woman’s mythical, divine, and creative power. It is an eclectic collection that blends profound free verse, at times reading like a cascade of automatic writing, with pages from Nezval’s dream journal, an exuberant set of Surrealist exercises, and a full-length play of chance encounters with “a woman like any other,” all the while addressing the social and political uncertainties of the 1930s. Led off by Karel Teige’s original collages from the first edition, Woman in the Plural is a vibrant and volatile tour de force from one of the greatest European artists of the 20th century.

Judith Schalansky’s Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands (Book acquired, 5 Feb. 2021)

I have no idea how Judith Schalansky’s Atlas was not on my atlas until earlier this month when BLCKDGRD sent me a copy. (For reading the whale book again, I think?)

Anyway, god love him forever.

It’s a beautiful big little small expansive book, as Sadie Stein attests in The Paris Review:

There’s a book I’ve returned to again and again, ever since its clementine-orange cover first caught my eye at a museum bookstore: A Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky, translated from the German by Christine Lo.

The subtitle is Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will, but don’t worry: this book isn’t precious. At least, not too precious—despite the somewhat whimsical conceit, the author approaches her idiosyncratic task with seriousness. The book looks serious, until you read that quirky subtitle: it looks like a pocket atlas. But then you open it. And each remote island’s entry—St. Kilda in the Atlantic, the Carolines of Micronesia, the American Pagan—is a prose poem of sorts. Facts sit side-by-side with a kind of highly personal fiction; we are given latitudes and detailed maps, but also lore and speculation. Of the antipodes the author writes, “cattle that are brought here die quickly and quietly in the dun-colored steppes of grass. And the thunderous echo of waves breaking against the hollows of the jagged coastline never ceases.”

 

Schalansky’s Atlas is not-exactly history, not-exactly prose-poetry—it seems to evoke its own genre out of preexisting modes.

This guy on Amazon was dissatisfied though:

The line maps are beautiful, but I’m no sailor.

(When the little book showed up, my darling wife insisted we give it to our charmed friend who’s spent the past few years sailing around the globe on his goddamn charmed catamaran, winding up in New Zealand around the time of the Covid thing. I told her this book was mine. But in the big-spirited spiritedness of Mr. BLCKDGRD, I’ll send him his own copy.)

Joy Williams’s State of Grace (Book acquired, 22 Feb. 2021–and some covers of books unacquired)

I did a Big Clean a weekend or two past, including a thorough dusting of shelves. I always try to purge titles that I know I’ll never read, reread, or that I have no real attachment to. I filled a box with about 25 books, mostly novels, mostly paperbacks, and took it to my favorite used bookstore.

There, I found to my joy Joy Williams’s first novel State of Grace in my beloved preferred ugly Vintage Contemporaries edition. (I loved Williams’s collection Taking Care, which I read as a VC edition.) I’ve got a big stack of newly-published novels that I need to get to once I finish rereading Whale-Book, but who knows. Maybe I’ll get to it sometime before summer.

In the meantime, here’s the first graf of Gail Godwin’s 1973 NYT review:

The fated heroine of this bleak but beautifully‐crafted first novel may well be the final, perfected archetype of all the “sad ladies”: that formidably fashionable sorority which has impinged on the past decade or so of American fiction. But I’ll remember Kate Jackson; I’ll reread her stubbornly depressing story, picking out those cleverly‐hidden but ever‐present clues of grace. Kate is no simple “slice‐of‐despair” character; her sad story becomes, through the author’s skill and intention, transsubstantiated into significant myth. This book is neither a self‐indulgent journal of despair, nor journalism of despair. It is premeditated, articulate, artistic—a novel.

As always, I browsed. Here are some covers that caught my eye, but I did not leave with them–just these photos:

S.D. Chrostowska’s collection A Cage for Every Child (Book acquired, some time early last week)

S.D. Chrostowska’s collection of short (and often very short) fictions A Cage for Every Child is forthcoming this summer from Sublunary Editions. Here’s their blurb:

A hunter of giant worms is surprised by the sentience of their prey. A flower sprouting in the palm of a hand delivers bad news. In an unknown country, power is transferred in hyper-sensual ways.

Whether fantastic or seemingly mundane, the twenty-four stories united in A Cage for Every Child unfold as uncanny encounters and brief sojourns in parallel worlds. Told in S. D. Chrostowska’s slyly provocative style, each tale questions the stability of our reality and the meaning of our pursuits.

I’ve read a few of the shorter pieces in Cage and am digging it so far. Here’s “Parable of the Cave, Redux”:

Read my review of Chrostowska’s 2013 novel Permission.

Read my interview with Chrostowska for 3:AM Magazine.

Ann Quin’s Passages (Book acquired, 30 Jan. 2021)

A new edition of Ann Quin’s third novel Passages is out in a few days from indie juggernaut And Other Stories. The new edition (the first in nearly two decades) features a new introduction from Claire-Louise Bennett, whose book (novel?) Pond was a favorite of mine a few years back.

Ann Quin’s first novel Berg was one of the best books I read in 2019, and one of the best books I’ve read in years. In my review of the novel a few years back, I wrote,

Read the book. There’s nothing I can do in this review that approaches the feeling of reading Ann Quin’s Berg. I can make lame comparisons, saying that it reminds me of James Joyce’s Ulysses (in its evocations of loose consciousness), or David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (in its oedipal voyeuristic griminess), or Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (for its surreal humor and dense claustrophobia). Or I can point out how ahead of her time Quin was, how Berg bridges modernism to postmodernism while simply not giving a fuck about silly terms like modernism and postmodernism.

I’m psyched to get into Passages.

Here’s And Other Stories’ blurb:

Ann Quin’s third novel Passages – an instant classic when published in 1969 – is perhaps her most harrowing investigation of the limits of identity and desire, as well as the possibilities of fiction. It is the story of a woman, accompanied by her lover, searching for her lost brother, who may have been a revolutionary, and who may have been tortured, imprisoned or killed. Roving a Mediterranean landscape, they live out their entangled existences, reluctant to give up, yet afraid of where their search will lead.

In ‘passages’ that alternate between the two protagonists’ perspectives, taking the form of diary excerpts, annotations and Burroughsian cut-ups, this fractured tale builds an intricate, musical system of theme and repetition. ‘All seasons passed through before the pattern formed, collected in parts.’

Erotic and terrifying by turns, Quin’s third novel allowed her writing freer rein than ever before, blazing a trail still being followed by such authors as Eimear McBride, Chris Kraus and Anna Burns. It stands as Quin’s most beguiling, poetic, and mysterious work.

Read an excerpt here.

Two Lovely Le Guins (Books acquired, 22 Jan. 2021)

I found two first-edition hardback Ursula K. Le Guin novels—my favorite Le Guins at that!—for next to nothing last week at my favorite local used bookstore.

The simple, elegant cover for Le Guin’s 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness was designed by Lena Fong Lueg. It employs an illustration by Jack Gaughan.

The jacket for 1974’s The Dispossessed was designed by Fred Winkowski.

In 2015, I undertook the project of reading (or in some cases rereading) Le Guin’s so-called Hainish novels. I wrote about those novels in a long post in January of 2016. Of the (maybe) eight novels in the Hainish cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are easily the strongest (although I really loved the one-two punch of Planet of Exile (1966) and City of Illusions (1967)).

Here is what I wrote about The Left Hand of Darkness:

The Left Hand of Darkness is amazing. Perfect in its strange imperfections and crammed with fables and myths and misunderstandings, it is the apotheosis of Le Guin’s synthesis of adventure with philosophy. Darkness is about shadows and weight. About pulling weight—literally, figuratively. It’s also the story of an ice planet. (A stranger comes to the ice planet!). It’s a political thriller. It’s a sexual thriller. But the impression that lingers strongest: The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the better literary evocations of friendship (its precarious awful strange wonderful tenuous strength) that I’ve ever read.

And here is what I wrote about The Dispossessed:

The Dispossessed feels closer to Le Guin’s non-Hainish 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven in some ways than it does to its so-called Hainish kin. Both novels formally (and spiritually) evoke yin and yang, opposition, conflict, stress, and, ultimately, synthesis. The Dispossessed is a riff on anarchy and stability, allegiance to one’s community and family weighed against personal vision and ecumenical dreams.

I also claimed that The Dispossessed is the best starting place for those new to Le Guin, but I think The Left Hand of Darkness is equally good, as are her Earthsea novels.

Éric Chevillard’s The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster (Book acquired, 8 Jan. 2021)

I have no idea what the fuck is going on over there at that Sublunary Editions indie press.

Their forthcoming title is The Posthumous Works of Thomas Pilaster by Éric Chevillard (translated from the French by Chris Clarke), and it looks really good, like in the Borgesian vein good. I read the section “So Many Seahorses” a few minutes ago and it made me laugh aloud.

If I ever finish Moby-Dick I’ll let you know more.

Sublunary’s blurb:

The literary world owes a great debt of gratitude to the executors who, charged with burning the remaining papers of their authorial charges, refuse, instead publishing them for the fanatic and meddlesome among us. Collected here are the remaining unpublished works—diaries and drafts, aphorisms and ephemera—of the late Thomas Pilaster, compiled by Marc-Antoine Marson, a longtime friend and fellow writer with whom Pilaster maintained a healthy rivalry. With rough edges and glints of genius present in equal measure, scholars and lay-readers alike will treasure these curious texts—So Many SeahorsesThe Vander Sons Company, and Three Attempts at the Reintroduction of the Man-Eating Tiger Into Our Countryside, to name a few—for generations to come.

Jonathan Buckley’s Live; live; live (Book acquired, 26 Dec. 2020)

Jonathan Buckley’s novel Live; live; live is forthcoming from NYRB in a few weeks. Their blurb:

Jonathan Buckley’s latest novel, Live; live; live, is a subtly suspenseful and slow-burning story about the occult as a source of psychological and existential truth. Lucas Judd is a man with a gift: He hears the dead speaking. Joshua lives next door, just a boy when he first meets his mysterious, kind neighbor. But as he grows up, his instructive friendship with Lucas is gradually altered by desire: Joshua’s attraction to, then obsession with Erin, the much younger woman with whom Lucas lives. The nature of her relationship to Lucas is unclear and unclassifiable: Is it erotic, platonic, pedagogical? And is Lucas a sham or a kind of shaman? Is Joshua really a reliable witness? At the heart of this powerful and resonant novel are timely questions about narrative truth and timeless questions about life, death, and belief. There are no certainties in Live; live; live, only mutability, permeability, and the beautifully observed cadence of change.

Richard Wollheim’s Germs (Book acquired, 24 Dec. 2020)

Richard Wollheim’s memoir Germs is forthcoming from NYRB in February. Their blurb:

Germs is about first things, the seeds from which a life grows, as well as about the illnesses it incurs, the damage it sustains. Written at the end of the life of Richard Wollheim, a major British philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century, this memoir is not the usual story of growing up, but very much about childhood, that early world we all share in which we do not know either the world or ourselves for sure, and in which things—houses, clothes, meals, parents, the past—loom large around us, seeming both inevitable and uncontrollable. Richard Wollheim’s remarkable, moving, and entirely original book recovers this formative moment that makes us who we are before we really are who we are and that haunts us all our lives in lucid and lyrical prose.

André Gide’s Marshlands (Book acquired, 9 Dec. 2020)

André Gide’s 1895 novel Marshland is out in a few weeks from NYRB in a new translation by Damion Searls.

NYRB’s blurb:

André Gide is the inventor of modern metafiction and of autofiction, and his short novel Marshlands shows him handling both forms with a deft and delightful touch. The protagonist of Marshlands is a writer who is writing a book called Marshlands, which is about a reclusive character who lives all alone in a stone tower. The narrator, by contrast, is anything but a recluse: He is an indefatigable social butterfly, flitting about the Paris literary world and always talking about, what else, the wonderful book he is writing, Marshlands. He tells his friends about the book, and they tell him what they think, which is not exactly flattering, and of course those responses become part of the book in the reader’s hand. Marshlands is both a poised satire of literary pretension and a superb literary invention, and Damion Searls’s new translation of this early masterwork by one of the key figures of twentieth-century literature brings out all the sparkle of the original.

Gide’s blurb:

I don’t understand a single thing in Marshlands. Did I write the book?

Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet (Book acquired, 1 Dec. 2020)

NYRB will have a new edition of surrealist painter Leonora Carrington’s 1976 novel The Hearing Trumpet out in early January of 2021. I started it this afternoon, and the first 20 or so pages seem to divert in style from the short stories I’ve read by her—definitely chock full of quirky imagery, but also relatively straightforward in their execution. At around the 20 page mark, though, the narrative dips into demented dreamland. Ali Smith’s blurb promises there’s more under the surface:

The Hearing Trumpet . . . reads on its parodic surface like an Agatha Christie domestic mystery, but one melted, dissolved by extreme heat into something unthinkably other, and reconstructed as the casebook of an alchemist. . . . It asks its readers to allow the dark, allow the wild and rethink how power works. It is a work of massive optimism. . . . One of the most original, joyful, satisfying, and quietly visionary novels of the twentieth century.

I also love the blurb from Luis Buñuel:

Reading The Hearing Trumpet liberates us from the miserable reality of our days.

Here’s NYRB’s blurb:

Leonora Carrington, painter, playwright, and novelist, was a surrealist trickster par excellence, and The Hearing Trumpet is the witty, celebratory key to her anarchic and allusive body of work. The novel begins in the bourgeois comfort of a residential corner of a Mexican city and ends with a man-made apocalypse that promises to usher in the earth’s rebirth. In between we are swept off to a most curious old-age home run by a self-improvement cult and drawn several centuries back in time with a cross-dressing Abbess who is on a quest to restore the Holy Grail to its rightful owner, the Goddess Venus. Guiding us is one of the most unexpected heroines in twentieth-century literature, a nonagenarian vegetarian named Marian Leatherby, who, as Olga Tokarczuk writes in her afterword, is “hard of hearing” but “full of life.”

Jim Gauer’s Novel Explosives (Book acquired, 30 Nov. 2020)

Oof she’s a big boy. Jim Gauer’s 2016 novel Novel Explosives showed up at Biblioklept World Headquarters on Sunday (a rare day for acquisitions). The novel has been praised by folks like Michael Silverblatt, Steven Moore, and Matt Bucher, and has been compared to the work of Pynchon, Bolaño, and Gaddis. It’s also pretty damn long. Anyway, Novel Explosives is being reprinted by indie Zerogram; their blurb:

IT’S THE WEEK AFTER EASTER, APRIL 13-20, AN OTHERWISE ORDINARY WEEK IN 2009… LATE in the week, a man wakes up in Guanajuato, Mexico, with his knowledge intact, but with no sense of who he is, or how he came to Guanajuato. EARLY in the week, a venture capital investor sits at his desk in Santa Monica, California, attempting to complete his business memoirs, but troubled by the fact that a recent deal appears to be some sort of money-laundering scheme. IN THE MIDDLE of the week, two gunmen for the Juárez Drug Cartel arrive at a small motel in El Paso, assigned to retrieve a suitcase full of currency, and eliminate the man who brought it to El Paso. THUS BEGINS the three-stranded narrative of Novel Explosives, a search for identity that travels through the worlds of venture capital finance, high-tech money-laundering methods, and the Juárez drug wars, a joyride of a novel with only one catch: the deeper into the book you go, the more dangerous it gets.