Blog about some recent reading (Spring break/quarantine (?) edition)

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Left to right:

I used interlibrary loan to check out a copy of Clifford Mead’s Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography. It’s pretty neat, and includes some photos of Our Reclusive Favorite that I’d never seen before, like this one:

I read Charles Wright’s 1966 novel The Wig last weekend. The novel is amazing—a picaresque, burlesque, Black black comedy that made me want to reread Invisible Man and read all the Ishmael Reed that I’ve left unread. And more Charles Wright. The energy of The Wig enraptured me; Wright’s cartoon vision of 1960’s Harlem is poised just on the edge of horror. I loved loved loved this novel, and aim for a full review sometime this week.

To its right is The Complete Gary Lutz, which I’ve been nibbling at for a few months. It’s like a rich cheese block or a lovely single malt—not something to inhale all at once, but wonderful in moderation.

I’ve also been picking through Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, mostly reading the journalism at the front end. (I’m saving the play, Delray’s New Moon for…I don’t know…like a quarantine or something?)

This afternoon, I dipped into Marrow and Bone, Walter Kempowski’s satirical road novel set in Germany and Poland right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlotte Collins’s translation renders Kempowski’s prose as frank, funny, and often ironic.

I’m a little over halfway through Rudolph Wurlitzer’s 1969 cult classic Nog. The novel is far more abject and despair-inflected than I had imagined, and so far, anyway, the despair and abjection isn’t leavened with any humor that’s registered with me. I dig the absurdity, but I’ve got to admit that the book isn’t working for me. I wanted to love it—-blurbed by Pynchon, right? features an imaginary octopus, right?—but something’s missing for me. (The vague something in the previous sentence is humor—there are maybe some jokes or japes I’m missing, to be fair, but…) The book’s strengths bleed over with its weaknesses. Wurlitzer does an admirable job portraying a consciousness dissolving and resolving, only to desire to not desire consciousness at all, only static, Buddhist peace. Nog is essentially a narrative voice, a howl disintegrating in on itself, bubbling down, and revivifying itself via verbal goo to speak anew. There are Big Western Themes, too—Wurlitzer’s critique of America’s favorite myth of Manifest Destiny is subtle but sharp. The novel’s druggy haze recalls William Burroughs or Allen Ginsberg, but a bit more focused. It so far makes me think of better novels by João Gilberto Noll, though. I very much love two films that Rudolph Wurlitzer wrote: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971; dir. Monte Hellman) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973; dir. Sam Peckinpah). I’d love to see two others he wrote: America (1986; dir. Robert Downey Sr.) and Walker (1987; dir. Alex Cox).

Nog also has some really gross sex scenes.

(I think I might be enjoying Wurlitzer’s debut novel more if I hadn’t read The Wig immediately before it.)

The last two skinny volumes there on the right are new joints from Sublunary Editions. Vik Shirley’s Corpses is like a thirty-paragraph prose-poem, part comic, part morbid.  The blurb for Jessica Sequeira’s A Luminous History of the Palm describes the tract:

This little book can be read as a series of small portraits through time, all of which include a palm tree. Or it can be read as a revolutionary tract. The palm is a symbol traced through history, a hidden portal to intimate moments that bring geographies and situations to life. A vital presence, it coaxes out vitality. It’s everywhere once you start to look, a secret joyful emblem.

To the right of Palms is a pothos plant that was formerly thriving on the window sill of my office. Our college’s spring break starts tomorrow, but I wasn’t sure if we’d be coming back after it, so I brought my plants home. It turns out we’ll come back, sans students. I brought my textbooks home too, but I forgot my copy of  S.D. Chrostowska’s novel The Eyelid, which I’d brought to work to snack on. So it isn’t in this blog, except it is.

It hadn’t been murder, the courts decided. It was only a happening | From Charles Wright’s novel The Wig

I remembered Abraham Lincoln, who had died for me. I remembered the Negro maid who had walked from Grapetree, Mississippi, to Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, and was flogged for being too maidenly fair. I remember the young man who, competing for the title “Blacker the Berry, Sweeter the Juice,” was killed during an avant-garde happening in a Washington Mews carriage house. The killing did not take place during a Black Mass, as was first reported. The Negro youth had committed a sexual outrage, according to Confidential Magazine in its exclusive interview with the hostess and the hostess, who were famous for their collection of Contemporary Stone Art. Their sexual safaris were legendary too. Inspired by childhood tales of lynchings (ah, the gyrations the moans, the sweat, the smell of fresh blood, the uncircumcised odor), the couple had explored Latin rice-and-bean delights, European around-the-world-scootee-roots, Near Eastern lamb, flip-flop, and it’s-all-in-the-family.

Hoping to avoid the press, which arrived by helicopter, fifty miles from shore, exhausted, jaded, they returned to their native land on a luxury liner but in steerage class, with seventy pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage.

“It was off-season,” the hostess had jokingly told reporters. The host added with great dignity: “We are returning to our native land, where fornication is pure and simple. We’re returning to the womb of nature.” They went into seclusion in their Greenwich Village carriage house until the night of the celebrated “happening,” the night that was to reestablish their worldly reputation. The gleaming, white-toothed young Negro with the rough but carefully-combed kinky hair (if one ran one’s hand through his hair, one trembled and saw Venus and Mars) displayed a rosebud instead of a penis! The effrontery—a Negro and nipped in the bud! Certainly a shock that could drive anyone to murder, only it hadn’t been murder, the courts decided. It was only a happening.

From Charles Wright’s fantastic 1966 novel The Wig. 

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