E.E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room ( Book acquired, mid-June 2022)

E.E. Cummings’ autobiographical novel The Enormous Room is forthcoming in a new edition from NYRB in July. Their blurb:

In 1917, after the entry of America into World War I, E. E. Cummings, a recent graduate of Harvard College, volunteered to serve on an ambulance corps in France. He arrived in Paris with a new friend, William Slater Brown, and they set about living it up in the big city before heading off to their assignment. Once in the field, they wrote irreverent letters about their experiences, which attracted the attention of the censors and ultimately led to their arrest. They were held for months in a military detention camp, sharing a single large room with a host of fellow detainees. It is this experience that Cummings relates in lightly fictionalized form in The Enormous Room, a book in which a tale of woe becomes an occasion of exuberant mischief. A free-spirited novel that displays the same formal swagger as his poems, a stinging denunciation of the stupidity of military authority, and a precursor to later books like Catch-22 and MASH, Cummings’s novel is an audacious, uninhibited, lyrical, and lasting contribution to American literature.

Anthony Michael Perri’s Lonely Boxer (Book acquired, 7 June 2022)

Anthony Michael Perri’s Lonely Boxer is good stuff—a terse, dark (and often funny) boxing story packed with punchy sentences. Jacket copy:

Lonely Boxer is a novella in vignettes. It deals with the themes of depression, loneliness, violence and morals. Recently released from jail, Lonely Boxer resumes his training regime. After all, this is the only place he feels comfortable – in the ring. And when a title fight between himself and the world’s most popular boxer, Famous Rafael, is announced, Lonely asks himself; will he be able to overcome his opponent? Along the way he’ll have to contend against an indifferent psychologist, an unreliable best friend, and an abusive mother. Will he be able to overcome all of these challenges and become the World Champ?

Giado Scodellaro’s Some of Them Will Carry Me/Amina Cain’s A Horse at Night (Books acquired, 7 June 2022)

Two forthcoming titles from Dorothy both look promising.

(Parenthetically–I finished Dorothy’s recent publication, Caren Beilin’s Revenge of the Scapegoat the other night and found it confounding, upsetting, engaging, and very, very funny. Should have a proper review in the next few days, if I can commit to writing about a novel that zapped and perplexed me.)

Here’s the blurb for Giada Scodellaro’s collection Some of Them Will Carry Me:

Giada Scodellaro’s stories range in length, style, and tone—a collage of social commentary, surrealism, recipes, folklore, and art. What brings them together is a focus on experiences of black women in moments of dislocation, and a cinematic prose style saturated with detail: a child’s legs bent upon the small bosom of their mother, three-piece suits floating in a river, a man holding a rotting banana during sex, wet cardboard, a woman walking naked through a traffic tunnel. In language that is lyrical, minimal, and often absurd, the diverse stories in Some of Them Will Carry Me deconstruct contemporary life while building a surprising new reality of language, intimacy, and loss.

And here’s the blurb for Amina Cain’s essay collection, A Horse at Night (which I dipped into this afternoon):

In Amina Cain’s first nonfiction book, a series of essayistic inquiries come together to form a sustained meditation on writers and their works, on the spaces of reading and writing fiction, and how these spaces take shape inside a life. Driven by primary questions of authenticity and freedom in the shadow of ecological and social collapse, Cain moves associatively through a personal canon of authors—including Marguerite Duras, Elena Ferrante, Renee Gladman, and Virginia Woolf—and topics as timely and various as female friendships, zazen meditation, neighborhood coyotes, landscape painting, book titles, and the politics of excess. A Horse at Night: On Writing is an intimate reckoning with the contemporary moment, and a quietly brilliant contribution to the lineage of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own or William H. Gass’s On Being Blue, books that are virtuosic arguments for—and beautiful demonstrations of—the essential unity of writing and life.

Blixa Bargeld’s “semi-fictional” tour diary, Europe Crosswise: A Litany (Book acquired, 6 June 2022)

Blixa Bargeld, the lead singer and guitarist of the German experimental noise band Einstürzende Neubauten published a “semi-fictional” account of his bands 2008 tour a year after the tour’s completion. That book, Europe Crosswise: A Litany is now available in English translation by Mark Kanak from Contra Mundum. Their blurb:

In this semi-fictional account, Blixa Bargeld recounts life on tour in 2008 with Einstürzende Neubauten — from Lisbon to Moscow, Oslo to Naples, criss-crossing Europe. Along the way we encounter mind numbing routines, interesting restaurants (good and bad), colorful museums, rocky bus rides, mundane hotels, odd characters and old friends — they’re all there.  Along with the structure holding it all together, namely, a recurring setlist that is invoked as a litany.  In the end the book proves to be a declaration of love for Europe, and in the current dark times we are presently living through, more immediate than ever.

The book, first published in German in 2009 and something of a semi-fictional travel journal from the “Alles Wieder Offen” Tour, will be published soon by Contra Mundum Press in an English translation by author, translator, and radioplay artist Mark Kanak.

Trey Ellis’s Platitudes (Book acquired, 6 June 2022)

I had a full 90 minutes to browse the second, downtown location of my favorite bookshop today, while my daughter completed onboarding at City Hall for her summer job. I picked up assigned summer reading for both of my kids, and came across a Vintage Contemporaries edition I’d never seen before: Trey Ellis’s debut novel PlatitudesThe blurb on the back by Ishmael Reed sold me on Platitudes:

I was zapped by Trey Ellis’s humongous talent. His book, Platitudes, is delightfully rad. He dares to have the gumption to write comically about American literary politics.

I also managed to avoid leaving with a bunch of massmarket paperbacks by Philip K. Dick—but here’s a pic of all their covers: 

—which I think are so much more interesting than these handsome, respectable, uniform contemporaries:

Marina Warner’s Esmond and Ilia (Book acquired, late May 2022)

Marina Warner’s “unreliable memoir” of her parents’ early life as a couple came to Biblioklept World Headquarters a few days ago. While I haven’t read much, the form (and content, to a certain degree), remind me of a post-Sebaldian mode. NYRB’s blurb:

Marina Warner’s father, Esmond, met her mother, Ilia, while serving as an officer in the British Army during the Second World War. As Allied forces fought their way north through Italy, Esmond found himself in the southern town of Bari, where Ilia had grown up, one of four girls of a widowed mother. The Englishman approaching middle age and the twenty-one-year-old Italian were soon married. Before the war had come to an end, Ilia was on her way alone to London to wait for her husband’s return and to learn how to be Mrs. Esmond Warner, an Englishwoman.

Ilia begins to learn the world of cricket, riding, canned food, and distant relations she has landed in, while Esmond, in spite of his connections, struggles to support his wife and young daughter. He comes up with the idea of opening a bookshop, a branch of W.H. Smith’s, in Cairo, where he had spent happy times during the North African campaign. In Egypt, however, nationalists are challenging foreign influences, especially British ones, and before long Cairo is on fire.

Deeply felt, closely observed, rich with strange lore, Esmond and Ilia is a picture of vanished worlds, a portrait of two people struggling to know each other and themselves, a daughter’s story of trying to come to terms with a past that is both hers and unknowable to her. It is an “unreliable memoir”—what memoir isn’t?—and a lasting work of literature, lyrical, sorrowful, shaped by love and wonder.

Last day of school

Today was the last day of school for my kids. They both started new schools this year (high school and middle school). It’s been a weird few years and a bad few days. My son chose not to attend the last two days but my daughter wanted to see her friends. My mother called me the afternoon of the Ulvade murders to ask if my kids were okay and I didn’t even know how to answer. My daughter has been in two active-shooter lockdowns already in her life and she’s not even 15. They’ve spent their entire life fully inscribed in this nightmare. One of the worst memories of my early parenthood was my daughter coming home from kindergarten and describing her first active-shooter practice drill: “Some of us were weeping,” she said. It was the word weeping that really stuck with my wife and me—the odd precision of it.

I don’t want to rant on here; that’s not what this blog is for, and not what I imagine those who check in on it want to read or see. I expressed my own sense of horror and despair obliquely on here the other day, in any case.

I spent too much of today staring at screens, reading, horrified and angry, still stunned by the stupidity of the world we’ve botched together. I tried to pick up the book I’ve been trying to read, but I found I couldn’t press into it, couldn’t focus on a sentence let alone a paragraph. I ended up playing a lot of internet chess, on the smaller screen.

And then I found myself exhausted, needing to get out of the house. So I pulled the same Friday trick I always do, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I went to the used bookstore down the road.

I like to browse and handle the material there, looking for oddities and weird scores. I ended up with a hardback ex-library copy of Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik (trans. Jamey Gambrell, RIP). It’s in the stack below, a stack of books I’ve read or am (ostensibly) reading:

And so some mini-not-reviews, top to bottom:

Kou Machida’s Rip It Up (trans. Daniel Joseph): Read it back in April when I was finishing up the semester—it was a wonderful punk-psych antidote to final essay doldrums. Short, kinetic, caustic, and surreal. I wrote about the first part here.

Caren Beilin’s Revenge of the Scapegoat: This is the novel I attempted to start a few days ago, after finishing William Burroughs’s The Western Lands. I am having a hard time reading anything right now, let alone writing any proper review. I hope the thing I once had comes back.

Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria (trans. Max Lawton): The best contemporary novel I’ve read in a long time—a polyglossic satirical epic pieced together in vital miniatures. Rich and dense but also loose and funny, Sorokin’s post-collapse world doesn’t seem all that bad.

Antonio di Benedtto’s The Silentiary (trans. Esther Allen): The narrator of this understated Kafkaesque novel cannot abide the increasing cacophony of 20th-century life. His resistance to noise is futile though, and comes at great cost to both himself and his family. The Silentiary is good stuff, but not as achieved as Di Benedetto’s novel Zama.

I bought Sorokin’s Day of Oprichnik today.

(Parenthetically: I went to the bookstore, as I stated above, to try to decompress, get away from screens, news, etc.—but I could not.

There was a young woman standing near the “RE” area in General Fiction having the loudest possible conversation one can have on a phone without actually yelling. She was talking at her mother about all the strife she has with her brother, who is also her roommate, and her father (who is divorced from the mother). The young woman cursed in almost every sentence she spoke, damning her brother for not taking out the trash, for not doing the dishes, etc. She near-shouted about her father’s siding with her brother, and about how the whole situation necessitates more therapy for her, and how she is the sane responsible one, while her brother is not. Her brother refuses to engage with her when she addresses him, claiming that he claims he can’t talk to her when she shouts, but how can she not be emotional when she’s angry? And how does that mean that she’s not rational, just because she’s yelling? And isn’t he really the abusive one, for shutting down on her and not responding when she, a grown-ass adult, is simply trying to confront him about not doing what he should be doing?

I put this information together in waves over 45 minutes. It was like running up a caustic radio show that tuned in and out depending on my proximity to its signal. Vile.)

William S. Burroughs’s final trilogy: I haven’t read WSB in ages, but I finished up his last novel, The Western Lands a few days ago (not pictured because it’s still in my car; I’d been rereading bits during carpool pick-up).. The final three books in Burroughs’s oeuvre are maybe his best (and most-overlooked), and The Place of Dead Roads is particularly fantastic.

Okay, I’m out of juice. I hope the summer is better for most of us, although there’s not much force in that verb, hope.

The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick (Book acquired, 25 April 2022)

NYRB has collected the uncollected essays of Elizabeth Hardwick and published it as The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick. Thirty-five essays, out in late May. NYRB’s blurb:

The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick is a companion collection to The Collected Essays, a book that proved a revelation of what, for many, had been an open secret: that Elizabeth Hardwick was one of the great American literary critics, and an extraordinary stylist in her own right. The thirty-five pieces that Alex Andriesse has gathered here—none previously featured in volumes of Hardwick’s work—make it clear that her powers extended far beyond literary criticism, encompassing a vast range of subjects, from New York City to Faye Dunaway, from Wagner’s Parsifal to Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, and from the pleasures of summertime to grits soufflé. In these often surprising, always well-wrought essays, we see Hardwick’s passion for people and places, her politics, her thoughts on feminism, and her ability, especially from the 1970s on, to write well about seemingly anything.

Kou Machida’s Rip It Up (Book acquired, 15 April 2022)

So I got into Kou Machida’s short novel Rip It Up last night. This Japanese novel (original title, きれぎれ [Kiregire]) gets its first English translation, via Daniel Joseph and Mercurial Editions, a new translation imprint from Inpatient Press. This is how the publisher describes Rip It Up:

Set in a kaleidoscopic hyperreal Japan circa Y2K, Rip It Up catalogues the misdeeds and misgivings of a down-and-out wannabe debonair who ekes out a meager living at the fringes of the art world, wracked by jealousy at his friend’s success and despondency of his own creative (and moral) bankruptcy. In turn hilarious and also horrifying, Machida’s pyrotechnic prose plumbs the discursive depths of the creative spirit, a head-spinning survey of degeneration and self-sabotage.

Machida’s psychedelic punk prose takes a few pages to tune into. The (as-yet?) unnamed narrator’s voice is tinged with madness and soaked with vitriol for the conformist society he can’t seem to get out of. He’s a rich kid, a lout, and a bum, obsessed with Satoe the horse-headed girl. Her head isn’t really a horse’s head; rather, it’s a mask she’s wearing when he first runs into her at a drunken Setsubun party at the “panty bar” where she works. He’s stumbled in after getting drunk at his friend’s funeral. The scene Machida conjures is simultaneously vile, hallucinatory, and hilarious, with salarymen and “little people gotten up to look like Fukusuke dolls” crashing about the place in a bizarre karaoke showdown. The narrator takes the mic, belting out malapropisms that synthesize and parody the lyrics of Western pop songs:

It’s not unusual to hi-de hi-de hi-de-hi

You’re as chaste as ice

And baby we were born to nun

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on Moon River

Any way the lunch grows, doesn’t really matter

A few pages later, the narrator still pines for the horse-headed girl, spending all his money at the panty bar. He has to go visit his rich mother for a “loan,” but she makes him embark on a stolid omiai, a marriage interview, which he torpedoes by declaring to the prospective partner and her dour mother “exactly what kind of person I am”:

That I spend all my free time at the panty bar. That I dropped out of high school. That I’m a spendthrift. That I’ve got my head in the clouds and I’ve never done an honest days work in my life because I despise hard work. That’s all.

I’m digging Rip It Up so far; it’s alienating, self-indulgent stuff. Daniel Joseph’s translation conveys a desperate, stuffy world, and shows how linguistic resistance might puncture stifling conformity. More thoughts to come. Check out Kou Machida’s seminal punk band Inu,

 

Four Books (Barthelme, Burroughs, and Barry [Hannah])

If you follow this blog even semi-regularly, you may know that I frequently frequent Chamblin Bookmine. This sprawling bookstore, with an inventory of close to three million books (mostly used, and often very weird), is about a mile from my house, and in some small ways might constitute a mute coauthor of this blog. I don’t get to their second location, Chamblin Uptown (in downtown Jacksonville) that often, and even less during the last few years (for obvious reasons), but I went downtown to watch my nephew wrestle last Sunday, and stopped by. In addition to a pair of Ishmael Reed massmarket 1970s paperbacks, I fetched a small stack of first-edition hardbacks by Donald Barthelme, William Burroughs, and Barry Hannah.

I was thrilled to find a first-edition of Donald Barthelme’s first novel Snow White (Atheneum, 1970), with a jacket by Lawrence Ratzkin. The cover sans jacket is also nice:

Overnight to Many Distant Cities isn’t Barthelme’s best collection, but I couldn’t pass up a first edition (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983). The cover features a photograph by Russell Munson.

So far this year, William S. Burroughs’ late novel Cities of the Red Night has been a reading highlight for me: apocalyptic, utopian, discursive, funny, and more poignant than I had remembered when I first read it two decades ago. I couldn’t pass up on a first-edition of its sequel, The Place of Dead Roads (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1983) with a jacket by Robert Reed (working from an old uncredited photograph). I found an audiobook of Dead Roads at my local library, so I might give that a shot.

 

I also grabbed a signed copy of Barry Hannah’s semi-autobiography, Boomerang (Houghton Mifflin, 1989), with a cover by one of my favorite designers, Fred Marcellino. Here’s the autograph:

Marcellino also did the cover for another signed Hannah I have, Captain Maximus (wait, is this Five Books?):

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Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic Voice (Book acquired, 12 April 2022)

Elizabeth Sewell’s 1960 work The Orphic Voice is getting a new edition this summer from NYRB. Their blurb:

Taking its bearings from the Greek myth of Orpheus, whose singing had the power to move the rocks and trees and to quiet the animals, Elizabeth Sewell’s The Orphic Voice transforms our understanding of the relationship between mind and nature. Myth, Sewell argues, is not mere fable but an ancient and vital form of reflection that unites poetry, philosophy, and natural science: Shakespeare with Francis Bacon and Giambattista Vico; Wordsworth and Rilke with Michael Polanyi. All these members of the Orphic company share a common perception that “discovery, in science and poetry, is a mythological situation in which the mind unites with a figure of its own devising as a means toward understanding the world.” Sewell’s visionary book, first published in 1960, presents brilliantly illuminating readings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, among other masterpieces, while deepening our understanding not only of poetry and the history of ideas but of the biological reach of the mind.

Four Books (By Ishmael Reed)

Seven years ago I came across three lovely 1970s mass market paperback Ishmael Reed novels. In the years since then, I’ve consumed most of Reed’s novels, even picking up an undervalued signed copy online. Two of my favorite Reed editions are from Avon Bard. This past Sunday, I came across two more Reed Avon Bard editions, and snapped them up, despite already owning them in hardback. While no designer or artist is credited, the signature on this edition of Flight to Canada clearly says “Andrew Rhodes”:

I’m pretty sure that Rhodes is the artist (and possibly designer) of the other Avon Bard Reeds I picked up years ago, Mumbo Jumbo

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—and Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (the signature is clear on this one):

 

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We can also see “Rhodes” on the copy of The Last Days of Louisiana Red I picked up on Sunday. (This book also has the stamp of a guy who lives (lived?) in Perry, Florida, a stamp I’ve come to recognize over the years as a guy who, at least at one point, had very similar taste to my own. I have a lot of his old books and I wonder about him sometimes.)

Here are some reviews I’ve written of Reed’s novels over the past few years:

A review of Ishmael Reed’s sharp satire The Last Days of Louisiana Red

Blog about Ishmael Reed’s 1976 neo-slave narrative Flight to Canada

A review of Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, Ishmael Reed’s syncretic Neo-HooDoo revenge Western

A review of Ishmael Reed’s Christmas satire, The Terrible Twos

Blog about Ishmael Reed’s novel Juice! (Book acquired, 10 Dec. 2019)

Kobo Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4 (Book acquired, 1 April 2022)

I was thrilled to find a first-edition U.S. hardback (Knopf, 1970, Book Club Edition) of Kobo Abe’s novel Inter Ice Age 4. The translation is by E. Dale Saunders, and is the only English translation of the novel that I am aware of. The jacket design is by Joseph del Gaudio; I’m not sure if he is responsible for this lovely little embossed image that takes up the bottom-right corner of the cover:

This edition includes five line drawings by Abe’s wife, the artist Machi Abe. Here is one of those drawings:

I’ve had a samizdat e-copy of Inter Ice Age 4 for ages now, but haven’t made it past the first 20 or so pages, but the intriguing, prescient plot has always intrigued me. First composed and published in serialization at the end of the 1950s, Inter Ice Age 4 is set in a world where the polar ice caps are rapidly melting. Scientists genetically modify gilled children to survive this new reality. A proto-AI, a computer that can tell the future is the novel’s central antagonist. Thank god nothing like that’s shaking down these days!

New books by Caren Beilin and Cristina Rivera Garza from the Dorothy Project (Books acquired, 28 March 2022)

Two new enticing titles from the Dorothy Project: Caren Beilin’s novel Revenge of the Scapegoat and Cristina Rivera Garza’s collection New and Selected Stories. 

The Beilin seems like a picaresque surrealist joint, which is right up my alley. Press copy:

One day Iris, an adjunct at a city arts college, receives a terrible package: recently unearthed letters that her father wrote to her in her teens, in which he blames her for their family’s crises. Driven by the raw fact of receiving these devastating letters not once but twice in a lifetime, and in a panic of chronic pain brought on by rheumatoid arthritis, Iris escapes to the countryside—or some absurdist version of it. Nazi cows, Picassos used as tampons, and a pair of arthritic feet that speak in the voices of Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet are standard fare in this beguiling novel of odd characters, surprising circumstances, and intuitive leaps, all brought together in profoundly serious ways.

I spent a half hour reading a few of the stories in the Rivera Garza collection, going from an older track to a few that haven’t yet been published in Spanish yet. The later stories seem more daring in form and content–exciting stuff.

New and Selected Stories brings together in English translation stories from across Rivera Garza’s career, drawing from three collections spanning over 30 years and including new writing not yet published in Spanish. It is a unique and remarkable body of work, and a window into the ever-evolving stylistic and thematic development of one of the boldest, most original, and affecting writers in the world today.

The collection seems like a great introduction to Rivera Garza’s three decades of work. The translations are by Sara Brooker, Lisa Dillman, Francisca González Arias, Alex Ross, and Rivera Garza herself.

Is this a review of David Shields’ “autobiography” The Very Last Interview?

Is David Shields’ new book The Last Interview indeed an “autobiography in question form, with the reader working to supply answers based on the questions that follow,” as Bret Easton Ellis’ blurb attests?

Is it “Brilliant,” as Bret Easton Ellis’ blurb attests?

(Is this the same David Shields who authored Reality Hunger?)

Does, as Chris Kraus’ blurb states, Shields remix and reimagine “2,000 of the most annoying questions he’s been asked during his forty-year writing life”?

Is it really an “operatic tragic sojourn across American cultural life” (Kraus)?

Does The Very Last Interview confirm “Shields as the most dangerously important American writer since William S. Burroughs,” as Kenneth Goldsmith claims in his blurb?

(Is this the same Kenneth Goldsmith who was called out seven years ago for a publicly reading Michael Brown’s autopsy under the guise of “conceptual poetry”?)

Is it actually “very funny,” as Sheila Heti’s blurb contends?

Should I flip it over and actually dig in?

Is that a Richard Diebenkorn painting adorning the cover?

Are there actually five more blurbs once one opens the book?

Does Shields organize this “remix: of questions he’s (supposedly) been asked into chapters with titles like “Process,” “Truth,” “Art,” “Failure,” “Criticism,” and “Suicide”?

Does Shields open each chapter with epigraphs?

Does he attribute the authors of the epigraphs?

Is there an epigraph from Nietzsche?

Why doesn’t he attribute any of the interviewers at any point in The Very Last Interview?

Does David Shields believe he is a genius?

Does he believe that his audience will find delight or joy or even a momentary reprieve from reading The Very Last Interview?

When Jonathan Lethem (whose blurb makes the inside but not the back cover) claims he “blasted through it in one night,” is it possible that by “night” he means a thin hour or two?

Is the book skinnier than its 150 pages might suggest?

Are there any bits of the book that are, as Heti blurbed, “Very, very funny”?

How about this trio?

“When we are not sure, we are alive” — are you sure this is something that Graham Green said?

Can you prove it?

Do you know what “JSTOR” stands for?

Does this little blip skate closer to mildly amusing as opposed to very very funny?

But is there a general undertone of contempt that radiates in Shields’ curation of questions?

What about these?

Do you share my contempt for Greenpoint hipsters who look and act cool but whose work is about as challenging as a Toblerone bar?

Did you every study with Gordon Lish?

What did he like about your bracelet-cum-watch?

(What would we get if we removed the hyphens from the phrase bracelet-cum-watch?)

Is it possible that David Shields overestimates how interesting he is?

Does he really want us to empathize at points, to provide answers for questions, such as the ones below?

What’s the matter with you?

No, seriously. What is your underlying impasse?

Why can’t you feel?

What’s buried beneath that seeming numbness?

Anything?

Is The Last Interview pretentious, solipsistic, shallow, bathetic, and also very readable?

Is The Last Interview available in paperback from NYRB next month?

Are we done?

Are we?

Ballard/Burroughs/James | Hello/Night/Witch (Books acquired 25 Feb. 2022)

Dropped by my beloved sprawling used bookstore yesterday to pick up a new copy of Marlon James’s Moon Witch, Spider King. It’s not exactly the sequel to 2019’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf as much as it is a kind of parallel story to that novel. From the publisher’s description:

In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Sogolon the Moon Witch proved a worthy adversary to Tracker as they clashed across a mythical African landscape in search of a mysterious boy who disappeared. In Moon Witch, Spider King, Sogolon takes center stage and gives her own account of what happened to the boy, and how she plotted and fought, triumphed and failed as she looked for him. It’s also the story of a century-long feud—seen through the eyes of a 177-year-old witch—that Sogolon had with the Aesi, chancellor to the king. It is said that Aesi works so closely with the king that together they are like the eight limbs of one spider. Aesi’s power is considerable—and deadly. It takes brains and courage to challenge him, which Sogolon does for reasons of her own.

I also couldn’t pass up a first-edition hardback of William S. Burroughs’s late novel Cities of the Red Night. I haven’t read it in at least twenty years, but I remember it as my favorite Burroughs novel. An excerpt, via The Floating Library–

The Cities of the Red Night were six in number: Tamaghis, Ba’dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, and Ghadis. These cities were located in an area roughly corresponding to the Gobi Desert, a hundred thousand years ago. At that time the desert was dotted with large oases and traversed by a river which emptied into the Caspian Sea….

…The towns of Ba’dan and Yass-Waddah were opposite each other on the river. Tamaghis, located in a desolate area to the north on a small oasis, could properly be called a desert town. Naufana and Ghadis were situated in mountainous areas to the west and south beyond the perimeter of usual trade routes between the other cities…

….The inhabitants were divided into an elite minority known as the Transmigrants and a majority known as the Receptacles. Within these categories were a number of occupational and specialized strata and the two classes were not in practice separate: Transmigrants acted as Receptacles and Receptacles became Transmigrants.

To show the system in operation: Here is an old Transmigrant on his deathbed. He has selected his future Receptacle parents, who are summoned to the death chamber. The parents then copulate, achieving orgasm just as the old Transmigrant dies so that his spirit enters the womb to be reborn. Every Transmigrant carries with him at all times a list of alternative parents, and in case of accident, violence, or sudden illness, the nearest parents are rushed to the scene. However, there was at first little chance of random or unexpected deaths since the Council of Transmigrants in Waghdas had attained such skill in the art of prophecy that they were able to chart a life from birth to death and determine in most cases the exact time and manner of death.

Many Transmigrants preferred not to wait for the infirmities of age and the ravages of illness, lest their spirit be so weakened so to be overwhelmed and absorbed by the Receptacle child. These hardy Transmigrants, in the full vigor of maturity, after rigorous training in concentration and astral projection, would select two death guides to kill them in front of the copulating parents. The methods of death most commonly employed were hanging and strangulation, the Transmigrant dying in orgasm, which was considered the most reliable method of ensuring a successful transfer. Drugs were also developed, large doses of which occasioned death in erotic convulsions, smaller doses being used to enhance sexual pleasure. And these drugs were often used in conjunction with other forms of death.

I also couldn’t pass up a mass market edition of J.G. Ballard’s 1981 novel Hello America (with a nice cover by Tim White). I have not read Hello America. Yet.

John Elizabeth Stintzi’s novel My Volcano (Book acquired, 20 Feb. 2022)

I finally had a spare half hour to dip into John Elizabeth Stintzi’s novel My Volcano this afternoon. After hearing about the novel from the good folks at weirdo indie stalwart Two Dollar Radio, I thought—well, look, here’s the publisher’s blurb:

My Volcano is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a menagerie of characters, as they each undergo personal eruptions, while the Earth itself is constantly shifting. It takes place during the turbulent summer of 2016, which saw the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and a spate of horrific hate-crimes across the country. This grounding in reality, contrasted with the sensational action that occurs in the narrative, floats the idea — which appears as the epigraph to the book, and also as a line within — that “reality is nothing but the opinion of power.” Parable, myth, science-fiction, eco-horror, My Volcano is a radical work of literary art, emerging as a subversive, intoxicating artistic statement.

–and the blurb at the TDR website is more detailed—

On June 2, 2016, a protrusion of rock growing from the Central Park Reservoir is spotted by a jogger. Three weeks later, when it finally stops growing, it’s nearly two-and-a-half miles tall, and has been determined to be an active volcano.

As the volcano grows and then looms over New York, an eight-year-old boy in Mexico City finds himself transported 500 years into the past, where he witnesses the fall of the Aztec Empire; a Nigerian scholar in Tokyo studies a folktale about a woman of fire who descends a mountain and destroys an entire village; a white trans writer in Jersey City struggles to write a sci-fi novel about a thriving civilization on an impossible planet; a nurse tends to Syrian refugees in Greece while grappling with the trauma of living through the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan; a nomadic farmer in Mongolia is stung by a bee, magically transforming him into a green, thorned, flowering creature that aspires to connect every living thing into its consciousness.

With its riveting and audacious vision, My Volcano is a tapestry on fire, a distorted and cinematic new work from the fiercely talented John Elizabeth Stintzi.

—anyway, I expected a kind of weirdness of prose, something “experimental” — but Stintzi’s prose is tight, lucid, and crisp. They employ filmic techniques, including interstitial chapters announcing the myriad horrific deaths recorded in 2016, including Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Flicking through the novel to graze these placards reminded me of the cruelty of the 2016, but also underlined that that cruelty was not especially special, besides, maybe, the fact that more folk could not deny systematic institutional violence in the grand ole USA. (Accept that they did. A lot of folk signed up for denying that shit.)

—well anyway, the intriguing thing, so far, is Stintzi’s spare evocations of extraordinary moments. There’s something both banal and beautiful in a sentence like, “The bumblebee in central Mongolia was eaten by a whitethroated needletail on JUNE 5.” Or hardly banal, but still frank and clear: “It didn’t take more than seeing strangely dressed Angel ingest a cloud for the Mexica people of Tenochtitlan to believe that he was holy.”

There’s also a heavy sadness under what I read, although maybe I brought that myself.