William Gibson

Just out of high school, I had a mild obsession with William Gibson’s so-called cyberpunk novels. The first and most famous of these is Neuromancer, an incredibly prescient book that the Wachowski Bros. shamelessly ripped off in The Matrix. Neuromancer is the first in “The Sprawl” trilogy; Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive followed. I borrowed and never returned Neuromancer from Tilford; a few years ago I lent it, along with Burning Chrome, Gibson’s collection of short stories, to a student who in turn never returned them. I read Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive at the same time as my college roommate Jordan. I don’t know who has these books now.

In 1990 Gibson co-authored a book called The Difference Engine with Bruce Sterling. The Difference Engine posits a Victorian England where computers have already been created and are in use. The novel explores the consequences of a technological revolution coming a 100 years early. This book launched what is sometimes called the “steampunk” genre. After TDE, Gibson spent the 90s writing three novels often referred to as “The Bridge” trilogy: the first, Virtual Light, was pretty good (it had a really cool idea about “organic computers”); the second, Idoru, was pretty bad, really; the last, All Tomorrow’s Parties, was downright awful (I couldn’t finish it–I was embarrassed for one of my favorite authors!) At the beginning of the new millenium, technology had caught up to Gibson’s cyberpunk visions, making some of the details of his Bridge trilogy seem outdated or just plain hokey.

I knew our time together was up when I passed on a $4 copy of 2003’s Pattern Recognition at Barnes & Noble a few years ago. Despite his fiction taking a dip, Gibson’s blog, as well as his essays (often published in Wired magazine–check out what is probably his most famous piece, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”) remain relevant and entertaining. Maybe his forthcoming novel, Spook Country, will prove more entertaining; until then, at least we have the Sprawl Trilogy.

(Check out more William Gibson covers at this gallery)   

Girl With Curious Hair–David Foster Wallace


Scott Martin was kind enough to loan me this book. Did he know that it would forever change the way I read? It was the first semester of my freshman year in college, and I was slowly reaching beyond stuff like Henry Miller, Wm Burroughs and Franz Kafka. David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Girl With Curious Hair introduced me to a whole new world of writing. Reading DFW is like having a very witty friend tell you a moving and funny story over a  few beers. He’s hilarious, thought-provoking, and not nearly as hard to read as people seem to think (by the way, simply googling “David Foster Wallace” will yield several vitriolic essays by people who think that DFW is somehow duping his readers. He’s not. These people don’t know a good story when they read one.)

Girl features “real people” like Alex Trebek, David Letterman, and Lyndon Johnson as characters, but constantly destabilizes any realism these figures might lend to the story. The novella included in this collection, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, alludes directly to John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse (another book I’ve loaned out and never gotten back). Westward takes a critical but humorous look at how culture is commodified: the plot centers around a reunion for everyone who has ever acted in a McDonald’s commercial. At the reunion, plans are revealed for a series of real-life “Funhouses,” based on the work of “Dr. Ambrose” (Barth’s stand-in in Westward).

Girl with Curious Hair is probably the best starting point for anyone interested in DFW but daunted by 1000 pages of Infinite Jest (IJ is yet another one I loaned out and never got back). Girl‘s stories have a little more ‘pop’ to them than DFW’s latest collection, Oblivion, and Girl tends to be easier to find used than DFW’s other collections, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (actually a better collection, in my opinion) and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (a collection of hilarious essays and nonfiction).

To sum up: if you still haven’t read DFW go consume this book; when you’re done you’ll be left wondering: “What other good stuff have I been missing out on?”

Foucault’s Pendulum — Umberto Eco


Go here to see a Foucault Pendulum at work.

Snagged as part of the same cache from the Shinjuku-nishiguchi school that yielded Kinski Uncut. Not really a theft–I traded a VHS tape of a six-hour Cosby Show marathon into the book trade for these books.

Foucault’s Pendulum is a detective story fertile with semiotic pranks–a ludic maze of meaning, history, and logic. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code basically rips off Eco, keeping some of the gnostic speculation, and dumbing down both the plot and the writing. Steal from the greats, I guess…

Something I love about this book is that it was a huge bestseller and I always find meet people who’ve read it (or find out that people I know have read it). Have you, gentle reader, read this book?

I loaned the book to RP a few years back; perhaps he’ll consider loaning it to you.

Charles Bukowski

I must have been in the 1oth or 11th grade when I borrowed three Charles Bukowski novels from M***ael J***ings. These were:

Women, easily my favorite and Bukowski’s best. I didn’t return this one.

The short story collection, Tales of Ordinary Madness. I kept this one too, but it is no longer in my possession. Loaned out, never to be returned.

And another collection, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town. I think I gave this back; anyway, I don’t have it anymore.

I was reading Henry Miller and Hemingway at the time, and macho Bukowski fit right in. Something about being a teenager, trying to gain access to the “adult world”–or something like the adult world. How to act, what to say. I read just about all the short stories that Bukowski wrote. Factotum and Post Office were two of my favorites. Everyday when I see our mailman I think of Post Office.

 Our mailman is old, and skinny as a sick girl, and he has a nose like a bird’s beak to boot. He runs his entire route; he has a strange little knock-kneed hustle. He always tells me to “Stay safe” when I see him. He’s withered. Post Office makes working for the post office sound like an annihilating, damning, Sisyphean task. I wonder: “Does the mailman not feel safe?”

Charles Bukowski

Bukowski painted some pictures.

Factotum was recently made into a movie starring Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski. Mickey Rourke played the “real” Bukowski in a horrible-looking movie called Barfly. I haven’t seen either film.

So Bukowski’s sort of been “branded” commodified as “type”–like Hemingway and Miller (and HST, and Anaïs Nin, and Wm Burroughs,  and Nietzsche, and so on) He becomes a stolen writer, a lazy gesture, a footnote in the movie Swingers. Then again, maybe a few people saw that movie and picked up Hollywood, a really funny late-period Bukowski novel about making the film that will come to be Barfly. In Hollywood, Bukowski endures the trouble of having other people manipulate his writing and sweats sweats sweats that he might have sold out.

Riddley Walker–Russell Hoban

I never gave Riddley Walker back to Patrick Tilford (aka TLFRD). A few years ago I loaned it to a student who never returned it. Said student never returned Dune, or The Left Hand of Darkness, or several Jules Verne novels either. Doesn’t matter, I know that he read them.

This book is a favorite. Russell Hoban’s coming-of-age story takes place in a future that has regressed to the iron age due to a catastrophic war. Hoban writes in his own language, a mutated English, full of fragments of the 20th century.

I couldn’t find an image of the edition I stole/lost. This edtion from 2000 features an introduction by Will Self, whose latest book, The Book of Dave, apparently was directly influenced by Riddley Walker. Will Self’s book Great Apes deeply, deeply disturbed me. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans; Great Apes is the literary equivalent.

Great Apes was an airport bookstore buy; I suppose at some point on this blog I will address the “airport bookstore buy.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


I procured this from my cousin’s closet. My cousin Tripp is ten years older than me; he was in college at the time and I was staying with my aunt and uncle over the summer, in his old bedroom. I’m pretty sure both he and my uncle recommended that I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The edition (not pictured above–I couldn’t find the one I snagged, but it had a similar cover–more on the cover below) could have belonged to Tripp, but it may have belonged to my uncle.  

Reading Fear and Loathing was an initiation into some kind of new literature for me. It opened the way to authors like Vonnegut, Wm Burroughs, Herman Hesse, JD Salinger (admittedly, I read some Tom Robbins in this period as well. Ugh). Before HST I was reading lots and lots of science fiction and fantasy books, both classic and trash. I had also read lots of the “adventure classics,” stuff like Robinson Crusoe and Dracula and Great Expectations and the Tarzan novels. And comic books. Always comic books. But Fear and Loathing was something new for me; it combined the fantasy and adventure and weirdness I’d been reading with a political ethos and a sense of social-reality-via-unreality. Surreality. Fear and Loathing contained a whole new set of reading rules for me, chief among them: irony and paradox. All of a sudden, the verity of all past narrators was cast into doubt. I was savvy now. I was ironized. I was, y’know, hip to what may be under a text now, whereas before I was just scanning the text. Or at least it seemed that way. Looking back, I don’t know for sure. 

Of course I lent this book out to anyone who seemed vaguely interested. I did this for years, and amazingly, the book kept coming back to me. Must be some mystical sign when I think about it. Who returns books? I loaned it out all the way through college before it finally escaped me for ever. I’m not sure who has it now. At the point this particular edition left me forever, it had a duck-tape cover with title and author in Sharpie-font, courtesy of one innovative reader. I like to think others were initiated by it, but I know that most of the readers I lent it to had already read their revelation-text, whether it was that Kerouac book or Slaughterhouse Five or Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. And I haven’t read this book in years, although I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s movie. Still, it’ll always have a special place in my trunk full of drugs–er, heart.

Rear Window

I promise I’ll return this one.

This book makes a great introduction to film writing, although I’m not sure it’s necessarily for film fans — more of a theory book, really. This book is from my uncle’s library; for years now, whenever I visit my aunt and uncle down in the Gulf Coast, I pick this book up and read from it. My uncle also has a fantastic book of essays on Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The essays in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (ed. John Belton), written largely in the deconstructionist, post-Derrida vein, did much to influence my own college tries at film writing. I realize now that I learned more about contemporary theory (Lacanian psycholinguistics, Mulvey’s “the gaze,” etc) through these essays than I ever did in a classroom lecture. 

I didn’t mean to take this book; I’ll blame this one on the wife. Last time we stayed down in St. Pete Beach, I guess I had left the book out and she simply packed it up. We’re supposed to go down there this weekend; again, I promise to return it.