How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life–John Fahey


As astute reader Nicky Longlunch pointed out in a comment on my last post on 50 Great Guitarists, John Fahey was not only a fantastic guitarist, he was also a published author. Fahey wrote three books–1970’s Charley Patton, a biography of that great blues guitarist (out of print now unless you buy the Charley Patton box set); 2000’s How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life, a collection of mostly humorous anecdotes and stories; and the posthumously published Vampire Vultures, a collection of Fahey’s letters, limericks, and interviews. HBMDML and VV are both still in print from Drag City (you can also read a PDF extract from HBMDML there).

I remember enjoying How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life back when it was first published, when Mr. Longlunch was kind enough to let me borrow it (I returned it folks!). I recall it as being funny, insightful, and Bukowski-spare; I recall it also exhibiting the same raw pathos that Bukowski infused in his work, but with none of the vulgar meanness. The best parts of the book detail Fahey’s young years in Maryland. I can’t really remember much else. I’d love to read it again, but I can’t really shell out $20 for a paperback right now. And unfortunately, I can’t just borrow it from Longlunch again, because he is no longer in possession.

In his comment, Longlunch griped at me to “Focus!” and he’s right–this blog is supposed to be focused on stolen books, and, poor guy, his copy of HBMDML is (I’m guessing) somewhere in Texas. Or he’s just misplaced it for the past seven years. Or he’s lying about it being MIA because he doesn’t want to loan it out. Which is fair, I guess.

Before I leave, I should also point out that Fahey isn’t the only author I overlooked in yesterday’s post. For years now, Pete Townshend has been doing “research” for his as-yet-unpublished autobiography. So we have that to look forward to.

We’re Ready for You, Mr. Grodin


A post over at RP a few days back reminded me of a long-forgotten chestnut by Charles Grodin, We’re Ready for You, Mr. Grodin, a memoir of the curmudgeon’s odyssey through TV land’s myriad talk shows. For readers too young to recall, Charles Grodin used to go on late-night talk shows and play a misanthropic git, provoking David Letterman or Johnny Carson with mean-spirited jibes. Of course, it was all an act; a kind of toned-down Andy Kaufman bit, perhaps. He even had his own talk show for a couple of years on CNBC; it was pretty all right decent okay (I think he does the Andy Rooney bit on 60 Minutes II now, but I’m not really sure because I won’t watch anything on CBS except Sunday Morning).

Well so and anyway, I remember the book as being pretty good, but obviously this is the sort of thing for Grodin fans only (and I must admit I love Grodin–and not just the Grodin of Seems Like Old Times or Midnight Run, but also the Grodin of Beethoven’s 2nd (superior in many ways to the original) (Grodin also had a cameo in Rosemary’s Baby, you may recall–a film I had a mild obsession with in my college years)).Sadly, I lent this book out and it never came home (hey, come to think of it, I haven’t written about a stolen book in a really long time. Slackin’). I’m not sure who I gave it to, but I have a suspicion a funny-looking redheaded kid might be the culprit. Now if only Michael Keaton would write a book…

Dave Eggers on Infinite Jest


Last week Little Brown published a new edition of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest featuring a new introduction by Dave Eggers. You can read the whole introduction here (thanks to Bob Tomorrowland for sending me the link).

Eggers’ intro weighs in on the current “readability” debate in contemporary fiction. In his 2002 essay “Mr. Difficult,” Jonathan Franzen (author of The Corrections) attacked “difficult fiction,” focusing on writers like William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon, whom Franzen views as “Status” writers who don’t really care about their audience. Franzen posits that “Contract” writers (like himself) take a more humanist, social approach. In his intro, Eggers avers that DFW’s work denies these classifications; the content of DFW’s work may be complex and weighty and downright philosophical, but DFW’s tone and his humor and his pathos ultimately allow for an accessible, fun read.

This blog has previously come out against Franzen’s argument: biblioklept is a fan of both the difficult and the more accessible–and the work of authors like Eggers and DFW prove that Franzen’s types are empty models. It’s too bad for Franzen that Gravity’s Rainbow and Ulysses require more work on the part of the reader than say, Stephen King or Tom Clancy. The Bible and Shakespeare and Moby-Dick and Gabriel García Márquez also require work from the reader, and no one could make a legitimate argument for removing them from the literary canon. One day, Infinite Jest will take its place in that same canon, alongside the work of Pynchon, John Barth and Don DeLillo–all authors whose work requires some effort on the part of the reader.

Eggers disscusses the effort required to read Infinite Jest, noting that it’s not a book you can simply put down and come back to a few weeks later. From my own IJ reading experience, I know this to be true: I made three attempts before finally getting into it; once I was “into” it, I was addicted, reading well past my bedtime, lugging the large object around on the Tokyo subway, reading snatches during my lunch break. IJ made me laugh loudly, it made me cry a few times; I even found myself so excited that I had to stand up during the climactic fight between Don Gately and the mysterious guys in Hawaiian shirts. When I finished the book, I immediately started re-reading it, sifting through its dense language for added meaning. And one day (month), when I have the time, I plan on reading it in its entirety again.

If you have any interest in this book, read Eggers’ foreward–he does a much better job selling this book than I could. I will say that this book is a favorite of mine, and that if you put the time and effort into it, you won’t be disappointed.

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.”


Microserfs, Douglas Coupland; loaned out, never to be returned. I remember this book as being relatively entertaining. I mostly recall the design of the book–very cool, playful, and ahead of its time. This book will be more interesting in twenty or twenty-five years. Coupland’s site: beautiful.

The Fortress of Solitude — Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude deserved the rave reviews it got back in 2003 when it first came out. I think it was a review in The Believer (although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in Nick Hornby’s sometimes-entertaining “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column) that prompted me to order a used copy via Amazon. I loved this book so much that of course I offered it up to Ricotta Parks, who apparently doesn’t read anything longer than a soup label anymore. Never fear, RP, I procured a nice cheap copy at the local B&N yesterday afternoon.

This book has it all: two main characters named after music legends, a magic ring, numerous Brian Eno references, gentrification, a Stan Brakhage-like filmmaker, 1970s Marvel comic books, confused sex, Brooklyn’s pre-hiphop hiphop culture, and a pretty cool Beatles archetype theory. Here is the Beatles archetype theory:

“‘Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can’t help it.’

‘Say the types again.’

‘Responsible-parent genius-parent genius-child clown-child.’

‘Okay, do Star Wars.’

‘Luke Paul, Han Solo John, Chewbacca George, the robots Ringo.'”

Biblioklept’s turn: Cheney Paul, Rove John, Condi Rice George, Bush Ringo.

Kinski Uncut


I took this from the book swap at my NOVA school in Shinjuku. I swapped in a video tape of a Nick at Nite Cosby Show marathon. This was immediately disappeared to great controversy. 

I later found out Kinski Uncut actually belonged to one of the Japanese students at Shinjuku-nishiguchi, who had given it to a teacher there. I didn’t know who Klaus Kinski was but I loved the pink cover. Also, at the time I consumed just about anything written in English. Since then I’ve seen him in a number of films, including his famous turn as the titular character in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Kinski Uncut (the punning title recalls the South Park movie) is actually a really cool, twisted autobio about a true weirdo. Kinski describes the destruction of his family, his POW internment in post-WWII Germany, acting out Goethe on tavern tables, trying to kill Werner Herzog, not getting the respect he deserves…and fucking lots and lots of different women. Kinski doesn’t seem to be able to not have sex with women, and if his claims in this book are true, he puts Wilt Chamberlain to shame.

I suspect that Ricotta Park, a notorious biblioklept, may be in current possession of this book.