I was looking for something else today—a book that might have been one of Pynchon’s sources for the Kabbalah stuff in Gravity’s Rainbow—when I came across this Penguin edition, Witchcraft and Sorcery, 1970, ed. Max Marwick. (I found a Pynchonian connection—easy to do, I know—when I opened the book to an essay entitled “Witchcraft amongst the Germanic and Slavonic Peoples”).
Ha! Look what showed up in today’s mail?
Powers of Darkness was Valdimar Ásmundsson’s 1901 Icelandic “translation” (Makt Myrkranna) of Stoker’s Dracula; however, translator Hand de Roos discovered that Ásmundsson had actually repurposed and added to the story.
Powers of Darkness is an incredible literary discovery: In 1900, Icelandic publisher and writer Valdimar Ásmundsson set out to translate Bram Stoker’s world famous 1897 novel Dracula. Called Makt Myrkranna (literally, “Powers of Darkness”), this Icelandic edition included an original preface written by Stoker himself. Makt Myrkranna was published in Iceland in 1901 but remained undiscovered outside of the country until 1986, when Dracula scholarship was astonished by the discovery of Stoker’s preface to the book. However, no one looked beyond the preface and deeper into Ásmundsson’s story.
In 2014, researcher Hans de Roos dove into the full text of Makt Myrkranna, only to discover that Ásmundsson hadn’t merely translated Dracula but had penned an entirely new version of the story, with all new characters and a totally reworked plot. The resulting narrative is one that is shorter, punchier, more erotic, and perhaps even more suspenseful than Stoker’s Dracula. Incredibly, Makt Myrkranna has never been translated or even read outside of Iceland until now.
Powers of Darkness presents the first ever translation into English of Stoker and Ásmundsson’s Makt Myrkranna. Powers of Darkness will amaze and entertain legions of fans of Gothic literature, horror, and vampire fiction.
The intro to the book is fascinating—lots of historical detail, newspaper clippings, and a thorough mapping of Castle Dracula. The text proper is riddled with comparative annotations. A sample:
Vítězslav Nezval’s 1937 poetry collection The Absolute Gravedigger is new in English translation by Stephan Delbos and Tereza Novická, thanks to Twisted Spoon Press. As usual, Twisted Spoon’s edition is a beauty, including some of Nezval’s original illustrations.
The Absolute Gravedigger seems comprised of seven “books,” and I ended up barreling through one of them, Bizarre Town, in one sitting. Nezval’s surrealist poems are seemingly spare, but the parts jar against each other in unsettling ways; Bizarre Town evokes Bosch, or Goya’s etchings.
You might know Nezval as the author of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, which was adapted into a marvelously disturbing 1970 film by Jaromil Jireš.
More to come as I read more, but for now, here’s Twisted Press’s blurb:
The Absolute Gravedigger, published in 1937, is in many ways the culmination of Vítězslav Nezval’s work as an avant-garde poet, combining the Poetism of his earlier work and his turn to Surrealism in the 1930s with his political concerns in the years leading up to World War II. It is above all a collection of startling verbal and visual inventiveness. And while a number of salient political issues emerge from the surrealistic ommatidia, Nezval’s imagination here is completely free-wheeling and untethered to any specific locale, as he displays mastery of a variety of forms, from long-limbed imaginative free verse narratives to short, formally rhymed meditations in quatrains, to prose and even visual art (the volume includes six of his decalcomania images).
Together with Nezval’s prior two collections, The Absolute Gravedigger forms one of the most important corpora of interwar Surrealist poetry. Yet here his wild albeit restrained mix of absolute freedom and formal perfection has shifted its focus to explore the darker imagery of putrefaction and entropy, the line breaks in the shorter lyric poems slicing the language into fragments that float in the mind with open-ended meaning and a multiplicity of readings. Inspired by Salvador Dalí’s paranoiac-critical method, the poems go in directions that are at first unimaginable but continue to evolve unexpectedly until they resolve or dissolve – like electron clouds, they have a form within which a seemingly chaotic energy reigns. Nezval’s language, however, is under absolute control, allowing him to reach into the polychromatic clouds of Surrealist uncertainty to form shapes we recognize, though never expected to see, to meld images and concepts into a constantly developing and dazzling kaleidoscope.
I filled 45 minutes that I had to wait for something at my favorite used bookstore. I spent most of the time perusing the section of German books—I’d never looked at them before. I was kinda sorta browsing for a copy of Arno Schmidt’s Zettels Traum. I picked up the English translation of Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream) not quite two weeks ago, and I was curious to see what the original looks like. It may or may not (I’m guessing probably not) have been there—I got a bit lost. (There are almost three million books in this store; at least 1000 or so in the German section, and not particularly well-organized).
I did pick up Schmidt’s sci-fi novel The Egghead Republic, which is much much shorter (and much much more accessible) than Bottom’s Dream. Here’s the blurb:
I couldn’t help but snap some pic of some of the German-language, German-published books I perused:
Aaron R. Even’s novel He Comes in Fire is new from Atticus Books. Their blurb:
In the late 1990s a rash of mysterious arsons swept the Southern United States. For some months the fires (many striking African-American churches in rural communities) made the national news, raising fears of a racist criminal conspiracy. Then slowly they faded from the public eye, with no clear pattern, motive, or responsible group ever detected.
He Comes In Fire is a fictional, investigative composite of a country in flames, a dark and fast-paced crime drama that explores how the search for comprehensible answers and meaning can lead a people astray—into false assumptions, accusations, and terrible miscarriages of justice.
The setting is a semi-fictitious county (Zion) in central Virginia, a stark and fallen world of preachers, felons, and lost souls whose voices God no longer hears. When a misunderstood drifter (Lucas Sneed) tangles with a preacher struggling to lead a moral life (Jack Dixon), the two men collide in an unforgiving place teeming with sin, selfishness, and violence.
Settright Road by Jon Boilard is forthcoming from Dzanc Books. Their blurb:
Settright Road is a collection of 20 short stories and one longer piece of fiction, all set in and around a string of busted Massachusetts mill towns during the cocaine-fueled 1980s.
Its pages are colored by unforgettable characters: a teenage lothario whose plans to escape his one-horse town by hopping a train to California are monkey-wrenched when he impregnates a local girl from a prominent family; fresh-out-of-prison Sean Folan, who nearly kills a man in a bar fight just so he’ll get locked up again; underage Bill Buick, who sells dope to hard-up townies and seduces high school girls, when he’s not driving a wedge between his aunt and her new boyfriend; and Eskimo — trouble in a too-tight dress — a dancer and a poet whose unsavory relationship with a strip club owner comes to a tragic end when she falls in love with a notorious backwoods brawler.
Jon Boilard lets loose these conflicted characters against a backdrop of the abject poverty that sits in stark contrast to the lush New England scenery; then he challenges us to root for these desperados despite the weight of their human errors.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Phrases: Six Films is new in English translation by Stuart Kendall from Contra Mundum Press. Their blurb:
Phrases presents the spoken language from six films by Jean-Luc Godard: Germany Nine Zero, The Kids Play Russian, JLG / JLG, 2 x 50 Years of French Cinema, For Ever Mozart and In Praise of Love. Completed between 1991 and 2001, during what has been called Godard’s “years of memory,” these films and videos were made alongside and in the shadow of his major work from that time, his monumental Histoire(s) du cinema, complementing and extending its themes. LikeHistoire(s), they offer meditations on, among other things, the tides of history, the fate of nations, the work of memory, the power of cinema, and, ultimately, the nature of love.
Gathered here, in written form, they are words without images: not exactly screenplays, not exactly poetry, something else entirely. Godard himself described them enigmatically: “Not books. Rather recollections of films, without the photos or the uninteresting details… Only the spoken phrases. They offer a little prolongation. One even discovers things that aren’t in the films in them, which is rather powerful for a recollection. These books aren’t literature or cinema. Traces of a film…”
In our era of ubiquitous streaming video, ebooks, and social media, these traces of cinema raise compelling questions for the future of media, cinematic, literary, and otherwise.
I can’t remember where or how I read about Marian Engel’s 1976 novel Bear, but I was intrigued. In lieu of the blurb, here’s Sara Bynoe at Hazlitt on Bear:
The first thing you need to know about Marian Engel’s 1976 novel Bear is that it is about a woman who has sex with a giant bear. Not a metaphorical, figurative, concept-within-a-creature bear: a real, furry, wild brown bear. There’s more to it than that, but why bury the lead?
The second thing you need to know, however, is that this is not some fringe underground chapbook: it won the Governor General’s award—the highest Canadian honour for the literary arts—in a year in which the jury included Mordecai Richler, Margaret Laurence, and Alice Munro.
We’re talking about Bear right now, though, because someone recently posted its cover and some particularly raunchy sections of the book to Imgur under the title, “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, CANADA?” There was even a little boost in e-book sales after the book’s cover—an illustration of a lithe, topless woman with flowing brunette locks being embraced from behind by a bear standing on its hind legs—went viral. It looks like a Harlequin romance novel: ursine Fabio and his eager human companion, lost together, alone in a world that will never understand the depths of their potentially life-threatening interspecies love.
Hazlitt also commissioned some alternate covers for Bear. I like the cover on the Nonpareil (2003) edition I got (a wood engraving by Wesley W. Bates)—but the original cover is a trashy doozy:
Picked up Samuel Delany’s famous/infamous novel Dhalgren today. I had an Audible credit and used it to get the audiobook (35 hours!), but as always, I need to do a tandem thing.
The book is enormous. I also hate the generic “prestige” cover (with a quote from Jonathan Lethem, of course). Okay, “hate” is a bit strong a verb, but c’mon—I mean look at this “genre” cover for Delany’s novel Driftglass that was right by the used copy of Dhalgren I picked up:
I also picked up Leon Forrest’s 1973 debut novel There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden on the recommendation of a dude I follow on Twitter who has the Good Taste. From Ralph Ellison’s introduction:
Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls has been on my radar forever (or at least since its publication in the late nineties), but I’d resisted picking it up until earlier this week—maybe because of its awful, awful cover (good lord), or maybe because of that off-putting subtitle, which just seems to scream, Boomer mythologies!
But after watching William Friedkin’s Sorcerer a third time, I wanted to read about the film, and Biskind’s book was easy to find used and so well hey. Of course I skipped to the index, and found enough pages on Sorcerer to take the book home. I read those pages at home, right away, with mounting disappointment, or frustration, rather. Biskind’s dishy, bitchy style is annoying, (although I assuaged the bad prose by reading the whole thing, as best as I could, in a Robert Evans accent) and beyond the bad prose is a paucity of information about, like, the actual filmmaking behind Sorcerer. It might be interesting to some people that Friedkin was a total asshole to his girlfriend, but I guess I wanted to know about the work, y’know? At least there’s a whole bunch of stuff on Heaven’s Gate too.
So well anyway, I read the introduction to the book and I can see how it does seem promising, but there’s also something deeply frustrating about Biskind’s approach (from the outset, anyway)—he seems to want to valorize the Baby Boomers at every turn. He introduces the first wave of the heroes of his book at “white men born in the mid- to late ’30s” without a hint of irony, noting that the “second wave was made up of the early boomers.” Of course it’s the names of the heroes that attract the reader: Bogdanovich, Coppola, Nichols, Scorsese, Malick, De Palma, etc. (It’s also sort of fascinating that even in the late ’90s, Biskind, a few paragraphs later, parses the “new group of actors” he lauds (Nicholson, De Niro, Keitel, et al) from “the women,” the “new faces.” Yeesh). My guess is that I’ll pick at this book as I watch and/or re-watch the films of the decade it valorizes—the films of the ’70s—the films that it so boomerishly insists were The Last Great Golden Age of Film Never to Be Replicated Again, Nope, That’s All Folks.
Here’s the trailer for Friedkin’s Sorcerer (the soundtrack is by Tangerine Dream, who also scored Michael Mann’s 1981 film Thief. Mann is not indexed in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls):
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows is new in hardback from Henry Holt & Co. Their blurb:
Annie Bell can’t escape the dust. It’s in her hair, covering the windowsills, coating the animals in the barn, in the corners of her children’s dry, cracked lips. It’s 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl descend. All around them the wheat harvests are drying out and people are packing up their belongings as storms lay waste to the Great Plains. As the Bells wait for the rains to come, Annie and each member of her family are pulled in different directions. Annie’s fragile young son, Fred, suffers from dust pneumonia; her headstrong daughter, Birdie, flush with first love, is choosing a dangerous path out of Mulehead; and Samuel, her husband, is plagued by disturbing dreams of rain.
As Annie, desperate for an escape of her own, flirts with the affections of an unlikely admirer, she must choose who she is going to become. With her warm storytelling and beautiful prose, Rae Meadows brings to life an unforgettable family that faces hardship with rare grit and determination. Rich in detail and epic in scope, I Will Send Rain is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, filled with hope, morality, and love.
I included Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma in a post I wrote a few weeks ago about books I start repeatedly yet have never been able to finish. Various folks on Twitter and elsewhere told me I need to stick it out with the novel, including Jacob Siefring, who suggested I try Richard Howard’s 1999 Modern Library translation (instead of the 1925 Moncrieff translation I’d been struggling with). Jacob wrote about this translation on his blog Bibliomanic, by the way. I’m a little over halfway through with Stanley Elkin’s novel The Dick Gibson Show and I plan to give this a shot next.
W.D. Clarke’s White Mythology comprises two novellas, Skinner Boxed and Love’s Alchemy. The physical book itself is beautiful, filled with epigraphs and images, occasional font shifts, and intriguing chapter titles (“The Pynchon Method,” for example).
Here’s the blurb:
Dr. Ed’s head should be spinning: a long-lost ‘son’ has just been sent over to his office by the temp agency, his shopping-addicted wife seems to have disappeared, and the clinical trial that he is running for a revolutionary new anti-depressant might well be going off the rails. But Dr. Ed is in control of everything, including himself.
Thus begins “Skinner Boxed”, the first of two thematically linked novellas that comprise White Mythology. In the second piece, “Love’s Alchemy”, five narrators deliver stories of betrayal that are nested like Russian dolls, stories that span an attempted seduction in Tokyo in 1987 back to a brotherly schism that erupts during a bottle rocket game of “war” in 1970s Massachusetts. From boys who poison their teacher’s plants to men who compulsively urinate into rivers, these strange (and strangely connected) monologues drop the reader into the pitch-black dunk tank of the soul.
Juan Pablo Villalobos’s I’ll Sell You a Dog is forthcoming (this August) from And Other Books. English translation by Rosalind Harvey. Publisher’s blurb:
Long before he was the taco seller whose ‘Gringo Dog’ recipe made him famous throughout Mexico City, our hero was an aspiring artist: an artist, that is, till his would-be girlfriend was stolen by Diego Rivera, and his dreams snuffed out by his hypochondriac mother. Now our hero is resident in a retirement home, where fending off boredom is far more gruelling than making tacos. Plagued by the literary salon that bumps about his building’s lobby and haunted by the self-pitying ghost of a neglected artist, Villalobos’s old man can’t help but misbehave.
He antagonises his neighbours, tortures American missionaries with passages from Adorno, flirts with the revolutionary greengrocer, and in short does everything that can be done to fend off the boredom of retirement and old age . . . while still holding a beer.
A delicious take-down of pretensions to cultural posterity, I’ll Sell You a Dog is a comic novel whose absurd inventions, scurrilous antics and oddball characters are vintage Villalobos.
Brad Watson’s novel Miss Jane is forthcoming in hardback from W.W. Norton this July. Their blurb:
Astonishing prose brings to life a forgotten woman and a lost world in a strange and bittersweet Southern pastoral.
Since his award-winning debut collection of stories, Last Days of the Dog- Men, Brad Watson has been expanding the literary traditions of the South, in work as melancholy, witty, strange, and lovely as any in America. Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, he explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place—namely, sex and marriage.
From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the highly erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.
My friend gave me Tiny Splendor’s Box of Books, Vol. IX last weekend.
Here’s the tracklist:
I was initially trying to limit myself to looking at one a day but then stopped trying to limit myself to looking at one a day and now I’ve looked at all of them. (Is “look” the right verb? Not sure. “Book” may not be the right noun, either. These book pamphlet art zine comic things are fun though).
This is what a few of the books look like out of the box:
Jeffrey Cheung’s book cracked me up.
And I really really dig Danny Shimodaa’s contribution:
And I’ll end the post with positive vibes from Cahill Wesson:
I love the covers of these two new titles from new indie Whisk(e)y Tit.
Here’s the not-blurb for Joey Truman’s Postal Child:
Whitey Whitlock had an ear for the birds. He could whistle their songs as well as they could. He did so on his route. He talked to the birds.The birds talked back.
Whitey was a black man. He was called Whitey because the index finger on his left hand was white. A birthmark. His first name was Esmerelda. Middle name Torno. His last name was Whitlock because his mom’s last name was Whitlock.
His mom was high when Whitey was born. She was also high when she named him. Esmerelda was the name of her sister, the only person in the world who ever treated her decently, and Torno was short for tornado, because that’s how it felt when Whitey came out.
Whitey’s mom had a penchant for the cocaine.
She was a good mom though. Albeit an inconsistent mom.Whitey learned how to deal with her mood swings and her ever-present hangovers. By the time he was three he could make his own breakfasts. By the time he was eight he could get himself to school. By the time he was ten he was doing all the shopping and housework. By the time he was twelve he could do all the paperwork that allowed him and his mom not to starve or be homeless. On one of the pubescent days leading up to his thirteenth birthday he woke up to find his mom dead on the couch.
And the blurb-blurb for James Strah’s Queer and Alone (which about, by the way, Whisk(e)y Tit publisher Miette threatens/offers to “tattoo the entire text to your torso while smoking clove cigarettes” (not sure who’s doing the smoking there)):
Monrovia. Bali. Bombay. Cayman Islands. Hollywood. The names of faraway places dot the pages of Queer and Alone like thousands of islands in a deep blue sea. Indeed, the hero – or is he an ironic anti-hero? – of this novel is a man literally at sea. He is Desmond Farrquahr who boards a steamer bound for Hong Kong by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Looking for experience, taking in the sights, hoping. For what?
Queer and Alone is a wildly exuberant travelogue as monologue, an eccentric American’s view of tourism. One might call it a “scatalogical romance,” with a story and a girl in every port. “It’s all part of the novel experience of being there,” Farrquahr wordplays with the reader. As narrator of the novel he shows off incredibly sly linguistic gifts that turn even the slightest image or sound into the dazzling rhythms of word magic.
Whether it’s describing racial fantasy films in Africa, investigating murder in Bombay, or seducing stately women in staterooms, Farrquahr manages to have the most ingenious takes on culture. In one of the most funny scenes in the novel the narrator is seen eating several (dis)courses of a chopstick dinner that makes the ideologies of both East and West seem like entangled sesame noodles. Tourism moves closer to zany anthopology whenever Farrquahr acts as guide.
Desmond Farrquahr is a very queer fellow if judged by any conventional standards. But isn’t the world itself a queer place these days?