(Another copy of) The Charterhouse of Parma (Book acquired sometime the week before last)

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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.

White Mythology (Book acquired, 6.17.2016)

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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.

You can preview White Mythology at Clarke’s site.

New Villalobos (Book acquired, 5.24.2016)

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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 Miss Jane (Book acquired, 5.12.2016)

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.

Tiny Splendor’s Box of Books Vol IX (Books acquired, 5.14.2016)

My friend gave me Tiny Splendor’s Box of Books, Vol. IX last weekend.

Here’s the tracklist:

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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:

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Jeffrey Cheung’s book cracked me up.

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And I really really dig Danny Shimodaa’s contribution:

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And I’ll end the post with positive vibes from Cahill Wesson:img_2374

 

 

Postal Child / Queer and Alone (Books acquired, 05.05.2016)

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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?

A quick riff on the first 30 pages of Quiet Creature on the Corner, João Gilberto Noll’s nightmare novella (Book acquired, 5.03.2016)

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In today’s mail I found a small package from Two Lines Press containing João Gilberto Noll’s 1991 novella Quiet Creature on the Corner, freshly translated into English from Portuguese by Adam Morris.

I started into the Noll. Each sentence made me want to read the next sentence. What is it about? you ask, perhaps. Well. I’m not sure. Let’s say the style, the tone, the mood are what matters here: Dark, nightmarish, abject, kinetic, surreal. There’s a picaresque bent to Quiet Creature: one damn thing happening after another. Dare I drop the K wordKafkaesque? Sure. (The opening pages remind me much of the opening sections of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, for some reason—the dark dream logic). Okay, but what is it about? Gosh. Wait, there’s a blurb on the back of the book:

Quiet Creature on the Corner throws us into a strange world without rational cause and effect, where everyone always seems to lack just a few necessary facts. The narrator is an unemployed poet who is thrown in jail after inexplicably raping his neighbor. but then he’s abruptly taken to a countryside manor where all that’s required of him is to write poetry. What do his captors really want from him?

I’ve just gotten to the countryside manor part myself, so I can’t say. I know that in the 30 pages before that all kinds of weird dark disjointed shit happens. For example, on the third page, in the novella’s sixth paragraph, our poet narrator, leaving the public library, observes that “soot was falling, and nobody could really say where it came from—in certain places so thick that you couldn’t see the other side of the street.” This is like maybe an early little metaphor of the image-logic of Quiet Creature on the Corner (I love the crunch of the title). At the end of the paragraph, the narrator goes to a pornographic film which he describes to us.

Or another example—and here is where the book zapped me. Our narrator is taken from jail to a clinic, where he is given a nice clean bed and decides to sleep, finally:

I dreamed I was writing a poem in which two horses were whinnying. When I woke up, there they were, still whinnying, only this time outside the poem, a few steps a way, and I could mount them if I wanted to.

And then, for a few pages, Quiet Creature enters into a semi-bucolic reverie, as our hero lives another life, complete with farm, kids, a wife. Hay. I apply semi- to bucolic; sinister vibes underwrite every line so far of this novella. The poet doesn’t so much wake up out of this reverie as he leaves it to walk into another dream/nightmare.

More to come.

Books acquired, almost for their covers alone, 4.25.2016 (Elkin, Fine, Michaux)

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I swung by my favorite used bookstore this afternoon; it’s right near the grocery store and I needed to pick up some mint and some ricotta. I was hoping to pick up Elena Ferrante’s novel My Brilliant Friend at the bookstore. I started the audiobook of My Brilliant Friend today, after finishing the audiobook of Adrian Jones Pearson’s novel Cow Country  this weekend. (Full review of Cow Country forthcoming but a real quick review: great performance/reading of a very strange book which I enjoyed very much, but which I also suspect will have very limited appeal. Cow cult classic to come). But so anyway, I’m really digging the Ferrante, and decided I wanted to obtain a physical copy to reread passages (and maybe share some on this blog). My store had several copies of four of Ferrante’s novels–but no Friend. While scanning the section, my eye alighted (alit?) on a strange-looking hardback spine—Warren Fine’s Their Family. I turned it around and the cover…well, I knew I was gonna leave with it. Knopf, 1972—a few years before Gordon Lish was to become editor there, sure, but interesting bona fides I suppose. Fine does not seem to be beloved by anyone on the internet, and his books seem to have failed to go into second printings of any kind. The Fs are near the Es, and I glanced over the works of Mr. Stanley Elkin, who has his own section there, somehow. I finally broke through the second chapter of his novel The Franchiser this weekend (it’s all unattributed dialog, that chapter, sorta like Gaddis’s JR); I’m really digging The Franchiser now that I’ve tuned into the voice. (It also helps to not try reading it exclusively at night after too many bourbons or wines). Again, the spine of the novel looked interesting so I flipped The Dick Gibson Show around and, again, I knew I was gonna leave with it. Henri Michaux’s Miserable Miracle I found in the “Drugs” section—which I was not perusing (because I am no longer 19)—well I guess I was perusing it, but that’s only because it happens to be right next to this particular bookshop’s collection of Black Sparrow Press titles, which I always scan over. Anyway, the Michaux’s Miserable Miracle was turned face out; NYRB titles always deserve a quick scan, and the cover reminded me of a Cy Twombly painting. Flicking through it revealed a strange structure, full of marginal side notes and doodles and diagrams and drawings. And oh, it’s about a mescaline trip, I think. You can actually read it here, but this version is missing all the drawings and sidenotes.

Oh, and so then I forgot to go pick up the ricotta and the mint.

Yuri Herrera’s The Transmigration of Bodies (Book acquired, 4.16.2016; consumed 4.17.2016)

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I was a big fan of the last novella I read by Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World (also from publisher And Other Stories, and also translated by Lisa Dillman). So I was psyched when his newest offering (in English translation) The Transmigration of Bodies arrived at Biblioklept World Headquarters this weekend. I read the first half of Transmigration yesterday lying in the hammock, just enjoying the hell out of it. Herrera’s style condenses the mythic with the real; Transmigration begins with a surreal plague, flies buzzing over blood—or just some other filth?—and our (anti-)hero, a fixer who goes by The Redeemer. (Everyone in Transmigration gets a hardboiled name: The Dolphin, Three Times Blonde, Unruly, Neeyanderthal. Etc.). Anyway, the book isn’t out until July, so I’ll wait to do a full review until then, but here’s And Other Stories‘ blurb:

A plague has brought death to the city. Two feuding crime families with blood on their hands need our hard-boiled hero, The Redeemer, to broker peace. Both his instincts and the vacant streets warn him to stay indoors, but The Redeemer ventures out into the city’s underbelly to arrange for the exchange of the bodies they hold hostage.

Yuri Herrera’s novel is a response to the violence of contemporary Mexico. With echoes of Romeo and Juliet, Roberto Bolaño and Raymond Chandler, The Transmigration of Bodies is a noirish tragedy and a tribute to those bodies – loved, sanctified, lusted after, and defiled – that violent crime has touched.

Romeo and Juliet, Roberto Bolaño and Raymond Chandler” — yes, absolutely — and I would add Nicolas Winding Refn to that list. Herrera’s vivid neon noir is of a piece with Drive and Only God Forgives, and the grime here recalls his wonderful Pusher trilogy to me. I dig it.

The Short Stories of Oscar Wilde, featuring Illustrations from Paintings by James Hill (Book acquired, 3.25.2016)

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The Heritage Press collection The Short Stories of Oscar Wilde (1968), featuring paintings by James Hill.

Tom Clark stories (Book acquired, 4.09.2016)

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Extinction: A Radical History (Book acquired, 3.28.2016)

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I’ve been looking forward to this one. Ashley Dawson’s Extinction: A Radical History is forthcoming from OR Books. Their blurb:

Some thousands of years ago, the world was home to an immense variety of large mammals. From wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to giant ground sloths and armadillos the size of automobiles, these spectacular creatures roamed freely. Then human beings arrived. Devouring their way down the food chain as they spread across the planet, they began a process of voracious extinction that has continued to the present.

Headlines today are made by the existential threat confronting remaining large animals such as rhinos and pandas. But the devastation summoned by humans extends to humbler realms of creatures including beetles, bats and butterflies. Researchers generally agree that the current extinction rate is nothing short of catastrophic. Currently the earth is losing about a hundred species every day.

This relentless extinction, Ashley Dawson contends in a primer that combines vast scope with elegant precision, is the product of a global attack on the commons, the great trove of air, water, plants and creatures, as well as collectively created cultural forms such as language, that have been regarded traditionally as the inheritance of humanity as a whole.

This attack has its genesis in the need for capital to expand relentlessly into all spheres of life. Extinction, Dawson argues, cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of our economic system. To achieve this we need to transgress the boundaries between science, environmentalism and radical politics. Extinction: A Radical History performs this task with both brio and brilliance.

Crossing the Sea with Syrians on the Exodus to Europe (Book acquired, 2.22.2016)

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Crossing the Sea with Syrians on the Exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer (in English translation by Sarah Prybus) is new in hardback this month from And Other Stories. Their blurb:

Award-winning journalist Wolfgang Bauer and photographer Stanislav Krupař were the first undercover reporters to document the journey of Syrian refugees from Egypt to Europe. Posing as English teachers in 2014, they were direct witnesses to the brutality of smuggler gangs, the processes of detainment and deportation, the dangers of sea-crossing on rickety boats, and the final furtive journey through Europe. Combining their own travels with other eyewitness accounts in the first book of reportage of its kind, Crossing the Sea brings to life both the systemic problems and the individual faces behind the crisis, and is a passionate appeal for more humanitarian refugee policies.

Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights (Book acquired, 3.07.2016)

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 I picked up Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights yesterday. (I was browsing the “H, classics” for something else, which I did not find, but I found this). Here’s the beginning of Joan Didion’s 1979 review in The New York Times:

“I have always, all of my life, been looking for help from a man,” we are told near the beginning of Elizabeth Hardwick’s subtle new book. “It has come many times and many more than not. This began early.” . . . “Sleepless Nights” is a novel, but it is a novel in which the subject is memory and to which the “I” whose memories are in question is entirely and deliberately the author: we recognize the events and addresses of Elizabeth Hardwick’s life not only from her earlier work, but from the poems of her husband, the late Robert Lowell. We study in another light the rainy afternoons and dyed satin shoes and high-school drunkenness of the Kentucky adolescence, the thin coats and yearnings toward home of the graduate years at Columbia, the households in Maine and Europe and on Marlborough Street in Boston and West 67th Street in New York. We are presented the entire itinerary, shown all the punched tickets and transfers. The result is less a “story about” or “of” a life than a shattered meditation on it, a work as evocative and difficult to place as Claude Levi-Strauss’s “Tristes Tropiques,” which it oddly recalls. The author observes of her enigmatic narrative: “It certainly hasn’t the drama of: I saw the old, white-bearded frigate master on the dock and signed up for the journey. But after all, ‘I’ am a woman.”

This strikes an interesting note, a balance of Oriental diffidence and exquisite contempt, of irony and direct statement, that exactly expresses the sensibility at work in “Sleepless Nights.” “But after all, ‘I’ am a woman.” Triste Tropique indeed. By way of suggesting his own intention, Levi-Strauss quoted Chateaubriand: “Every man carries within himself a world made up of all that he has seen and loved, and it is to this world that he returns, incessantly.” In certain ways, the mysterious and somnambulistic “difference” of being a woman has been, over 35 years, Elizabeth Hardwick’s great subject, the tropic to which she has returned incessantly: it colored both of her early novels, “The Ghostly Lover” in 1945 and “The Simple Truth” in 1955, as well as many of the essays collected in 1962 as “A View of My Own” and all of those published in 1974 as “Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature.”

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure (Book acquired, 2.22.2016)

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I’m pretty excited about Hideo Furukawa’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure (new this month from Columbia University Press in English translation by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka). Columbia UP’s blurb:

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure is a multifaceted literary response to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown that devastated northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. The novel is narrated by Hideo Furukawa, who travels back to his childhood home near Fukushima after 3/11 to reconnect with a place that is now doubly alien. His ruminations conjure the region’s storied past, particularly its thousand-year history of horses, humans, and the struggle with a rugged terrain. Standing in the morning light, these horses also tell their stories, heightening the sense of liberation, chaos, and loss that accompanies Furukawa’s rich recollections. A fusion of fiction, history, and memoir, this book plays with form and feeling in ways reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory and W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn yet draws its own, unforgettable portrait of personal and cultural dislocation.

Read an excerpt here.

Three Books

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Professor Noah’s Spaceship by Brian Wilsdsmith. First edition hardback by Oxford University Press, 1980; distributed through Macmillan Book Clubs. Design, cover, and art by Brian Wildsmith. This book is too beautiful.

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See Again, Say Again by Antonio Frasconi. First edition oversized hardback published by Hacourt, Brace and World, 1964. Cover design, fonts, and woodcuts by Antonio Frasconi.

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Do You Hear What I Hear? by Helen Borten. First edition hardback reprint by Flying Eye Books, a division of Nobrow; the book was originally published in 1960. Illustration and design by Helen Borten. Nowbrow kindly sent me a copy of Do You Hear What I Hear?—the book is beautiful, the text is lovely—Borten’s technique is to represent sound—or rather the feeling of sound (which is to say, the feeling of the feeling of sound) through language and art. Like any great children’s book, Do You Hear What I Hearis best read out loud, and my five-year-old son loved it so much that I had to read it again to him immediately after the first reading. We’ve read it a few times since then. Great stuff.

He Wants (Book acquired, some time in February 2016)

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British author Alison Moore’s novel He Wants is getting a release on this side of the Atlantic from Canadian publisher Biblioasis.

From novelist Rachel Cusk’s review of He Wants two years ago in The Guardian:

Following her Booker-shortlisted The Lighthouse, Alison Moore’s artistically pleasing second novel is a sort of Midlands Death in Venice, a story of ageing and thwarted desire in which a man drifts away from his moorings into Dionysian impulses, after a lifetime spent serving the values of the humdrum contemporary community in which he lives.

He Wants evokes a world that is purposefully pedestrian – the Dionysian impulses pertain to halves of shandy and the desire to taste a Swiss liqueur called Goldschläger – but its themes of self-realisation, identity and mortality are grand enough. Moore’s protagonist, a widower RE teacher who is approaching retirement, is intimately captured in the midst of a disintegration brought about by the loss of the structures that have thus far formed and maintained his personality: work, marriage and certain relationships that have created or reinforced his sense of existence.