Books acquired, 27 and 28 June 2017

A highlight of an unexpected trip to Los Angeles a few weeks ago was getting to meet “in real life” with some people I’ve gotten to know over the internet. I met up with Ryan Chang, who’s written a number of excellent reviews for Biblioklept, and Adam Novy, whose novel The Avian Gospels is one of the best contemporary novels of the last decade. The weirdest part about hanging out was that it wasn’t weird at all.

After lunch and coffee, Ryan and I visited Alias Books East, a small but well-stocked book shop in Atwater Village. Plenty of books on art and film, and lots of literature in translation. I asked Ryan to pick out something for me to buy, and he chose Bohumil Hrabal’s The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, a title that had grabbed his attention when we first entered the store. Here’s NYRB’s blurb for the Hrabal:

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still contains two linked narratives by the incomparable Bohumil Hrabal, whom Milan Kundera has described as “Czechoslovakia’s greatest writer.” “Cutting It Short” is set before World War II in a small country town, and it relates the scandalizing escapades of Maryška, the flamboyant wife of Francin, who manages the local brewery. Maryška drinks. She rides a bicycle, letting her long hair fly. She butchers pigs, frolics in blood, and leads on the local butcher. She’s a Madame Bovary without apologies driven to keep up with the new fast-paced mechanized modern world that is obliterating whatever sleepy pieties are left over from the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. “The Little Town Where Time Stood Still” is told by Maryška and Francin’s son and concerns the exploits of his Uncle Pepin, who holds his own against the occupying Nazis but succumbs to silence as the new post–World War II Communist order cements its colorless control over daily life. Together, Hrabal’s rousing and outrageous yarns stand as a hilarious and heartbreaking tribute to the always imperiled sweetness of lust, love, and life.

Ryan picked up a first edition hardback of an Edward St. Aubyn novel and something else I can’t remember. The clerk also let us check out some of the signed hardbacks behind the counter, and I somehow didn’t spend sixty bucks on a copy of Ray with Barry Hannah’s signature.

I spent most of the next day wandering around downtown Los Angeles. Everyone had told me to check out The Last Bookstore, and I wasn’t disappointed. I spent over an hour browsing the huge space, wishing I had more time to linger, especially in the upstairs labyrinth and the wonderful little annex of art books and monographs.

I ended up buying the first book I handled at The Lost Bookstore, RE/Search’s 1990 oversized and illustrated edition of J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition. This is one of the first Ballard books I read, actually—a good friend of mine collected RE/Search titles throughout the nineties and let me borrow them. (I always returned them).

Opener:

And a random two-pager:

I also picked up another Ballard RE/Search title, a fat little book I’d never seen before named Quotes. Perfect airport reading. (And of course, being Ballard, there’s a whole section on airports). Random page:

I didn’t make it to the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, but, hey, save something for next time, right?

The Essential Short Stories of J.G. Ballard

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I. “Manhole 69” (1957)

II. “Chronopolis” (1960)

III.  “The Voices of Time” (1960)

IV. “The Overloaded Man” (1961)

V. “Billennium” (1961)

VI. “Thirteen to Centaurus” (1962)

VII. “The Subliminal Man” (1963)

VIII. “End-Game” (1963)

IX. “Time of Passage” (1964)

X. “The Lost Leonardo” (1964)

XI. “The Terminal Beach” (1964)

XII. “The Drowned Giant” (1964)

XIII. “The Beach Murders” (1966)

XIV.  “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race” (1966)

XV. “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” (1968)

XVI. “Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown” (1976)

XVII. “The Index” (1977)

XVIII. “The Dead Time” (1977)

XIX. “News from the Sun” (1981)

XX. “Myths of the Near Future” (1982)

XXI. “Memories of the Space Age” (1982)

XXII. “Answers to a Questionnaire” (1985)

XXIII. “A Guide to Virtual Death” (1992)

At 1200 pages and just under 100 stories, The Complete Short Stories is frankly too complete—but I read them all anyway. The list above is my suggestion for a volume I’d call The Essential Short Stories of J.G. Ballard. Each selection on the list is linked to a riff I wrote; in several cases, links to the full text of the story can be found at the riff.

Future Now, a 1986 Filmed Interview with JG Ballard

Shanghai Jim

Shanghai Jim is a fascinating BBC documentary about the strange expatriated life of J.G. Ballard. While the doc focuses on Ballard’s autobiographically-inspired works like Empire of the Sun, there is some detail about his experimental works. Lots of cool footage here, but the highlight, of course, is hearing Ballard tell his own story. Plenty of insight into his characters, their motives, and his reasons for writing. Go here if you hate squinting at Youtube vids or here for Ubuweb’s avi.

Continue reading “Shanghai Jim”

J.G. Ballard Cover Gallery

Some of our favorite Ballard covers:

1crash_cover2Nice gear shift…

1pocket_crashLove the enthusiasm there…

1drowned_pelham

1atrocityc760

My buddy Tilford lent me his RESearch edition of The Atrocity Exhibition (I didn’t steal it and that makes me a moral being). I think it’s probably the definitive edition. I wish I had it (maybe I should’ve stolen it…).

1impossiblec2143

Pulp fiction.

1terminalbeach1

Why is “Ballard” in katakana?

1highrise-book

This one is sorta Magritte by way of Calvino (if that makes any sense).

For lots more covers and lots more Ballard check out JG Ballard and Ballardian.

J.G. Ballard Remembered

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Author J.G. Ballard died of prostate cancer yesterday, at the age of 78. Ballard wrote over a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories. Ballard is probably most famous for his 1984 epic Empire of the Sun, which draws heavily on his childhood experiences during WWII Japanese-occupied Shanghai, but here at the Biblioklept we love his dystopian visions the most. Ballard’s early books like The Drowned World and short-story collection The Terminal Beach extend traditional adventure novels into strange dystopias and bizarre thought experiments. From the get-go, Ballard’s “sci-fi” (if you want to call it that) was less concerned with alien intelligences than it was with our internal and collective psychologies, and how we react to an increasingly mediated world. Hence novels like Crash, where human sexuality melds into technological fetishism, or The Atrocity Exhibition, a fragmented novel exploring the intersection of celebrity and Armageddon. Later novels like Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes respond to an increasingly paranoid and disconnected world, with a sardonic humor that is ultimately more frightening than soothing. Ballard never sought to alleviate or mock or answer to an increasingly complex and increasingly absurd world–he just dissected it and extrapolated it beyond most of our dim imaginations.

Ballard belongs to a select counter-tradition of writers and artists, fitting neatly between William Burroughs and William Gibson. Like his strange brothers Philip K. Dick and Thomas Disch, Ballard will always have a place in the avant-garde sci-fi cannon, and it’s likely that that place will only grow. Ballard was still writing up to his death, and his last novel Kingdom Come, a book that detailed the descent of consumerism into a type of fascism was as relevant as ever. Indeed, Ballard was far ahead of his time; as our world catches up to his visions, we will surely find an increasing relevancy in his body of work. He will be missed.