Book Shelves #14, April 1, 2012


Book shelves series #14, fourteenth Sunday of 2012.

This is a strange shelf: it’s the bottom shelf of the ladder book shelf I’ve been photographing over the past few weeks, and it’s probably the least organized so far. There’s also a higher ratio of unread books on this shelf than in previous shelves. Anyway, left to right:

I was far more enthusiastic about Jonathan Lethem just a few years ago. I still think The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn hold up (they do in my memory, anyway), but Chronic City was awful (then why is it still on my shelf) and You Don’t Love Me Yet is one of the most pointless, silly, and gross books I’ve ever read.

I had good intentions to read John Crowley’s Little, Big and  Patrick Chamoiseau’s Texaco and John Wray’s Lowboy and Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love: I’m actually pretty sure I got all these novels around the same time. They must have been in a stack that eventually got shelved here during a reshelving.

I’ve read at least five or six more Margaret Atwood novels than the ones here, but have no idea where they are (likely a combination of cheap mass markets that I gave to friends or lost).

Chris Bachelder’s U.S.! is an underread gem. Chris Adrian: Again, I was more enthusiastic about his work a few years ago, but I think it holds up. Also, would the person who borrowed my first edition hardback of The Children’s Hospital please return it? Padgett Powell’s slim novel is not bad.

Will Self’s Great Apes holds the distinction of being the ickiest novel I’ve ever read. Horrifying stuff. I bought it at an airport—in Bangkok? LA? Houston? I really can’t remember—I was returning to the US from Thailand and had bought the cheapest possible plane ticket—one that would basically keep me en route for three days, sleeping on planes and in airports. Anyway, Self’s nightmare book is bound up in that experience: it’s a riff on Kafka; dude wakes up to find that he’s become a chimp. It’s just so gross on so many levels. (Maybe I should add that I find seeing chimps dressed as humans to be the acme of perversion).

The Wells Tower collection is gold.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is gold, but I never got past the first 20 pages of number9dream, which seemed to really bite from William Gibson. I loved both the Tom McCarthy books, particularly C. Eco’s The Name of the Rose is a bit overrated and Baudolino’s first half is not bad, but it just goes on and on and on . . .  but it’s funny.

Lessons in Virtual Photography


After devouring U.S.! a few weeks ago, I went seeking more Chris Bachelder. What d’y’know, the guy wrote an e-book, Lessons in Virtual Photography, available for free from McSweeney’s. Go figure. Check it out here. It’s pretty funny.


U.S.!–Chris Bachelder


Chris Bachelder‘s superb novel U.S.! portrays an alternate (and somewhat hyperbolic) United States where the Left (big-L) keeps bringing Upton Sinclair (that guy who wrote The Jungle (maybe you read it in high school (I didn’t))) back to life. These would-be revolutionaries try to keep Sinclair (and hope) alive in spite of the fact that right-wing reactionary populist heroes keep assassinating him. In fact, in U.S.!, Upton Sinclair assassination is its own cottage industry.

Bachelder uses a dazzling range of approaches in the first 200 pages of the novel, employing everything from folk song lyrics to Amazon reviews to talk show transcripts in order to flesh out his alternate universe. The first part of U.S.! essentially sets up the last third of the novel, a relatively straight-forward third-person omniscient account of a Fourth of July book-burning in a Southern state. I won’t reveal any more of the plot, because I’m lazy and you should read this book for yourself.

Bachelder’s writing crackles with wit and surprising warmth, especially in the character of Sinclair, who comes across as a (literally) dusty out-of-touch relic, an idealist as equally unable to effect any change in the modern world as he was able to in his own era. Sinclair and the would-be revolutionaries who resuscitate him serve as Bachelder’s critique on America’s stale, impotent left (or is it Left?). Bachelder also savagely criticizes Sinclair’s rhetoric; one of the funniest sections of the first part of the book involves an analysis of exclamation points (and their overuse) in Sinclair’s novels. Toward the end of the novel, Bachelder employs a meta-critical strategy of adding more and more exclamation points to his own writing; the exaggerated gestures comically highlight the cartoonishly grotesque world of U.S.!, at the same time counterbalancing the understated but profound sadness of the novel.

My only gripe with U.S.! would be Bachelder’s rare lapse into what I like to call “workshop fiction”–fiction that seems the contrived and overwritten product of MFA work-shopping (did I mention that Bachelder got his MFA at my alma mater, the University of Florida at Gainesville? (other great writers associated with this glorious institution include Padgett Powell and Harry Crews)). As I noted though, these instances are rare and mostly notable because the majority of the novel is so fresh, original, and readable. This book is funny, poignant, and you should read it.

Knocked Up, Rakish Behavior, More Bibliomania, and a Brief Hiatus

So today we (id est, Mrs. Biblioklept and myself) saw Knocked Up, which is pretty much the best pregnancy movie I’ve ever seen (yes, better than 9 Months, Parenthood and Father of the Bride 2 put together, and at least equal to Rosemary’s Baby, which I’m not really sure even counts). Judd Apatow (we mentioned our love of Mr. Apatow’s work in a previous post) assembled a host of familiar faces from his regular crew (including his wife and daughters) to make a funny and honest (although certainly hyperbolic) movie about love, relationships, having kids, growing older, and all that crap. Highly recommended. For a more detailed review, check out this Slate article (warning: this is a typical Slate article, i.e. the author starts by saying they basically like what they’re about to discuss before hemming and hawing over every little detail in an effort to pick it apart. Still, on the whole, the article’s pretty good).

Now, writing about movies and card games and TV shows is all well and good, but once upon a time this was a blog about books (sort of), and perhaps some of you feel that I’ve gotten particularly lazy in my reading. This is actually far from the case; in fact, all I’ve been doing lately is reading. Only the reading I’ve been doing has been for a grad class revolving around the figure of the libertine. Summer school. Yay. Not that the class has been boring per se, just not really something that’s translated into anything I’ve felt the urge to write about. The poems and biographical of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester have been of great interest–this guy was downright naughty. Also a relatively recent play about Rochester called The Libertine was particularly good (much better than the movie version starring Johnny Depp that came out a year or two ago). The current reading for the class, however, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, is more than I can bear. We are reading the abridged version, which is about 550 pages, paperback. The unabridged version is a large-sized small-print trade paperback topping 1600 pages. I have no idea what the editor cut out (neither do I care). The last time I read a book like this was in high school–Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Both novels are painfully long accounts of a young lady’s trying circumstances. In both novels nothing really happens, and anything interesting that does happen is so coded that you have to read between the lines to figure it out (“Huh? Did Tess get raped? Huh?” also, “Huh? Did Clarissa get raped? Huh?”). Maybe I’m just a lazy reader.

But being a lazy reader hasn’t stopped me from buying more books. My bibliomania persists unchecked, fueled by bargain blowout prices on last year’s hardback remainders and promises of free shipping from Amazon. A quick run down of what I bought this week, complete with odds that I’ll actually finish the book.

Sanctuary, William Faulkner

Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner

The Portable Faulkner, ed. Malcolm Cowley

Fiction, Film, and Faulkner: The Art of Adaptation, Gene Phillips

Yes, I am taking a Faulkner class this summer. With the exception of the Phillips text, all materials were procured at my favorite local bookstore via store credit. Some of the books I used to get credit were not exactly mine. The Biblioklept strikes again! Likelihood that I’ll finish all of these: 99.9%. I’m a good student. I don’t cut any corners when it comes to class reading.

The Children’s Hospital, Chris Adrian

I’ve been wanting to read this all year; rave reviews all around. Likelihood that I’ll finish it: 50/50 might be generous. It’s pretty long (600 pages) and hardback (I have a very poor track record with hardback). I’ll give it a serious attempt in the two week window between the end of summer school and the fall semester. We’ll see.

U.S.!, Chris Bachelder

Another book I’ve heard only great things about. The Left (big-L) keeps reviving muckraker Upton Sinclair (you know, dude who wrote The Jungle) from the dead to help “the cause”; he is repeatedly assassinated. Likelihood that I’ll finish it: 99%–I started yesterday and am close to half finished. It’s very, very good, and I’ll try to review it later. It’s actually been a terrible distraction from Clarissa. Plus, according to the back of the book, Bachelder got his MFA from my alma mater, the University of Florida. So there.

Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon

I loved loved loved V. The Crying of Lot 49 was decent enough. Vineland was good enough, I suppose, albeit kind of silly. I’ve put down Gravity’s Rainbow more times than I can count. The first 100 pages of Mason & Dixon bored me to tears. Why did I buy this again? Oh, right, it was on sale. Likelihood that I’ll finish this: This book is hardcover and over a 1000 pages. Let’s just be honest–I will never finish this book. Maybe I’ll give it to a friend as a burdensome gift, a sort of annoying challenge.


I realize that this post has been overlong and probably looks like a weak attempt to compensate for not having written in some time (which it certainly is); however, it will have to suffice, gentle reader, for an indeterminate amount of time. Mrs. Biblioklept will be going into the exquisite labors of childbirth any minute now (really), so I’m not sure when I’ll have the leisure to post again. Until then.