Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Presidential Intentions,(Amazon) Doug Wood, one of the nation's leading advertising lawyers, has written a political thriller and much more. Wood, who is also the author of an authoritative text on advertising industry law, has crafted a meditation on the art of politics, and the difficult life compromises that strain family relationships. In particular, he focuses on what happens to a candidate as he (or in this case she)  is moved along the path to a run for the Presidency.

As the book opens, the protagonist , Samantha Harrison, is the Republican candidate for president in 2016, running against - you guessed it- Hillary Clinton.  Harrison’s story is told in flashbacks, including her time as a Stanford student who marries her economics professor who is twice her age, and to her achieving both an MBA and a law degree. She moves  to Washington DC, entering and abruptly leaving a high-  powered law firm under unusual circumstances,  but without sacrificing her integrity.  Later, she becomes a tough Virginia prosecutor, and then remakes her career as  a first as a congresswoman, and then governor of Virginia.  All this occurs at the same time as she is  raising two children while her husband, Benjamin, who deplores Washington politics, lives with the children away from the District. 

Wood is eloquent on family life but he also zeroes in on the intricacies of crime (there’s a  trial of a sex offender going on), and international terror threats (in the shape of a threatened  Al Qaeda nuclear attack.) He weaves Harrison into the story, and along the way brings the reader into the Oval Office and the counter-intelligence process.

His expertise in all things Washington and legal, and his panoramic view of the geo-political scene, make this an exciting read. But the heart of the book goes beyond the admittedly page -turning text. It lies instead in the debate and tensions between Samantha, as a prosecutor, politician and public servant and those persons standing for mere  expediency and political clout. Samantha’s character is etched in speeches and epigrams in which she reveals her passionate convictions as a conservative with strong human values. It's all here --  from abortion to capital punishment to entitlement programs to the current issues befuddling the Obama administration. And it makes for a most refreshing point of view, harking back to the days when politics was less of a blood sport and more the arena for something more philosophical and public spirited. 

Presidential Intentions is a sharply-edged portrait of a candidate and a country deeply divided from within the family and throughout the political arena at large. It’s a cri de coeur for a more honest version of a polity befitting American ideals.   Strongly recommended.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Children's Abecedary

A Children’s Abecedary
C 2014 by E.M.Kabak

A is for Abdul killed by a drone
B is Bahirah a refugee  alone
C is for Cala married at eight
D is for Dima consumed by war’s fate
E is Ermina a volunteer shahid
F is Fatima offed by Janja weed
G is Ghazal attacked by a leopard
H is Hanif who was salted and peppered
I is for Ihab by blasphemy banned
J is Jamal buried in sand
K is Kareem in a small capsized boat
L is for Leila- sold for a goat
M is is Malikah digging in trash
N is Nuriya trafficked for cash
O is for Omar- a machine gun’s his tool
P is for Purvez  who can’t attend school
 Q is Qasim a child soldier lauded
R is for Rafi who’s been waterboarded
S is Sabirah who only eats rice
T is Tariq- taught that reading’s a vice
U is Ulfah who walks behind men
V is Varisha too poor for a pen
W is for Walid who buys guns for drugs
X is Xobeen smuggled in rugs
Y is for Yasmine who lives in the mud
Z is Zahira washed away by a flood

This is an alphabet herein displayed
To show the world’s children who’ve all been betrayed

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Safe Vacation(to the tune of Memphis Tennessee)

The Safe Vacation
C 2014 by E.M.Kabak(to the tune of Memphis Tennessee)

I’m going to Fallujah on a ten day package tour
Though I think it might be safer livin’ in the sewer
Lying in a hotel bed once shelled in Ramadi
With a side trip to Aleppo’s Museum of the IED

The waiter that brings up room service-yes you’ve rightly guessed
Seems adorned in some once worn suicide type vest
So off it is to Africa- to the airport in Bangui
Where half the city’s population’s sleeping fitfully

So now you’re in a new place- will the bullets fly and kiss you
In your quarters in the crumbling port of Mogadishu…
One night there take a chopper say your prayers and then Amen
Now in Sa’na are you insane inside drone prone Yemen?

Check into the grand hotel -your room’s festooned with flowers
Perhaps because they’re planned you’re next- you flee within the hour
For now it’s on to Asia where your next reverie-
A three mile hike by foot and bike in the Korean DMZ

And the Japanese ship captain on your China Sea bound cruise
Has you wincing and convincing it’s your life to lose
He makes you think it’s safer in Peshawar Pakistan
So you go there and then to Makhachkala Dagestan

Now it’s time you fly home-which airline you don’t care
But why did you now take the view from Chechnya Chartered Air
Phew- the trip is over-- you’re home-don’t hold your breath
In the U.S., polar vertex, lest you freeze to death

So much now is changing. it’s all just shifting sands
Next year there’ll be tailgate parties rockin’ in Teheran…
Who knows the safest place to go soon may be IRAN!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Edgy Lit Top 25 Books -Part I

Welcome back!And Happy New Year to all. Here we present Edgylit's best 25 books of 2013, with a tribute to a couple published a while ago. They are listed in no particular order.Here are the first few:

Javier Marias-The Infatuations(Knopf)-A masterly metaphysical murder mystery touching on life,death. morality and chance.It starts with the protagonist. Maria Dolz,  each day watching in the same Madrid  cafe a middle aged Perfect Couple- Miguel Desvern and his wife Luisa Alday- having their breakfast. It is only some time later that Maria reads in the press that Miguel has been stabbed to death by a beggar in an apparent random murder.Bringing condolences to the widow,Maria meets her husband's friend , Diaz-Varuela, and soon thereafter begins an intermittent affair with him.
As one critic points out, this is a novel where chance may or may not survive a deeper, more
 introspective look.
The translation is by the redoubtable Margaret Jull Costa and is her usual, predictably brilliant work.It has been pointed out that the title in Spanish is Enamoramiento, the act of falling in love briefly but with great passion, whereas the word Infatuations characterizes a state of intense relations often entered into with folly. That's what happens though when works get published in different countries with a different culture and their personnel attend to such issues.
More to the point, there is, in this reader's judgment,no writer who handles long sentences with the same deftness that others display for the short clipped phrase.One feels that he/she is in the presence of a true master, perhaps the finest stylist in Europe, if not the world today.
After you finish The Infatuations you can proceed to one or more of  Marias' oeuvre-recommended is the trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, which turns the spy novel into a Shakespearean voyage, worthy of Cervantes.

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yamagahira(Doubleday)
An enthralling first novel, twenty years in the works,loosely based on the life of Carleton Gajdusek, Nobel prize -winning scientist who discovered  as a result of field work in New Guinea ,the connection betweeen between eating at mortuary(cannibal) feasts and developing kore, which is now known as brain prion disease. Gajdusek however stumbled badly by adopting many young boys and bringing them back to the US where in Maryland he was charged with molestation, ultimately served a year in jail and retired in disgrace in Europe.
In Yamagahira's talented hands,these episodes are bookends in what is a wondrous picture of a doctor-anthropologist doing field work on the mythical South Pacific island of Ivu' Ivu where he and members of the expedition encounter a Stone Age tribe.The text,which is replete with detailed close observance of the lives of the people ,  reads like an exciting piece of field work, along with fictionalized scholarly footnotes; it is hard to believe that one is reading a novel.
The tale turns on the discovery of a subgroup of the islanders who as a result of certain contact with the flesh of an aquatic creature, live to become 200 years old, but also see their minds atrophy even as their bodies retain what appearsto be something akin to eternal  youth.The novel touches on these themes as well as the rivalry among scientists on being the first to publish and the ultimate contest by the pharmaceutical companies to capitalize on the discovery and take over the island for their own purposes.with the usual play between the values of different civilizations .
With taste and a fine hand, an engaging and provocatively entertaining read.

A Life In Books,The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley-by Warren Lehrer(Goff Books)
A unique offering from the multitalented author and innovative book designer Leherer.He has won numerous awards for book design and is the author/creator of numerous books/multimedia projects,including the recent Crossing the Boulevard, prepared with his wife Judith Sloan, as a series of interviews with immigrants to Queens and beautifully designed sections on the neighborhoods of Queens, perhaps the most ethnically varied, diverse community in the country.
A Life in Books is the fictionalized confession of Bleu Mobley, an author invented by Lehrer as a former inner city youth who became a journalist college professor and accidental best selling writer.The memoir,allegedly weitten from a jail cell,contains a list of 101 books published by Mobley and Lehrer has quoted excerpts from and designed and published book covers from many of them; the book is a humorous trip through  publishing with all its conceits and marketing tricks from "Out Sourcing Grandma" to the toilet paper poems (an art series)  and children's books(How Bad People Go Bye Bye) etc etc. A literary multimedia satirical romp through the last half century of publishing. Wonderful.

24/7-Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep by Jonathan Crary(Verso)
A philosophical polemic by a distinguished art history professor at Columbia University and a co founder of Zone magazine( an early post-modern Bible),the book is a pungent cri de coeur against how the marketplace  creates a sense of perpetual consumer and business activity and in doing so has changed the cyclical rhythm of life and effectively  even colonized sleep.Packed with quotable zingers, it treats the marginalization of social life and its replacement by an interface with machines that dwarfs all other relations not only during the daytime but at night as well. We now live in a culture where those in close contact with each other interact more with machines and mimic them than with their fellow citizens One doesn't have to be an anticapitalist to observe  the increasingly rapid hybridization of humans-  A killer book.

Out of the Mountains -The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla byDavid Kilcullen (Oxford)
Kilcullen is an Australian expert on military intelligence and the book is a brilliant futurist tract on the conflation of four trends- increasing population, urbanization( as more move to the cities away from rural areas, particularly in Asia Africa and the Americas but elsewhere too), littoralization(the clustering of such cities in coastal areas)-and connectivity-particularly the spread of smart phones , social media sites and email among the world's population , including the poor, oppressed and insurgent populations. It makes the cities and the surrounding areas all arenas in a battle for competitive control among governments, insurgent groups, criminal gangs.fundamentalist radicals and other niche groups.
Again, one doesn't have to be a conservative or think tank spook to appreciate the brilliance of this text.
Just  for a few examples- We all remember(don't we now) what happened in Paris after the Revolutions of 1848, the populist rebellion that blew throughout Eueope and affected huge changes in its political and legal landscape. Haussman tore down down many of the side streets and cul de sacs  into which the police did not dare follow the rebelling groups and replaced them with a number of grand boulevards including the famous right bank eponymous avenue that in each case were large enough to allow a whole infantry column to march down, thus increasing the presence of the police in various parts of the city. That did not happen in the 1950's when the Algerian insurgency was able to win a victory over France in part because of the winding alleys and overhanging houses of the casbah in Algiers. And it's no secret that when the antiwar groups protested in NY City in 2004 , the NYPD made them march down or up the wide Avenues but then penned them for their rally in cornered off areas. Funny how some of us learn our civics lessons!

Then there was the attack by terrorists in Mumbai in late November 2008-One of the facilities attacked was the world famous Taj Hotel, where in the day or so before the Indian security forces deployed maximum strenth to rout the 4 terrorists stuck inside the Taj(10 terrorists in all did a huge amount of damage including shooting 150 people dead in the railway station), several folks holed up in a private dining club in the Taj. But they made a  mistake with their connectivity in tweeting and emailing their loved ones and others and when this was broadcast on tv, the handlers of the terrorists operating remotely dialed in  and communicated the location of the hideout to the four remaining terrorists who killed a few more before finally being despatched.
This  is an endlessly fascinating guide to what we hope may not be such a dystopian urban future.
Now real estate agents go out and sell those coops!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Expo- Waiting for Marias et al

BEA(Book Expo) is taking place this week at the Javits Center and we are surveying numerous new books and titles; there are a number of incredibly wonderful titles being published this year, many of them lost in the wake of the NY Times book reviews, which seem more and more pitched to those who hold book club discussions and read responsively...
 We have finished the UK edition of Javier Marias' The Infatuations. Marias, a prolific Spanish writer who has been compared to Proust and Henry James is more like a mad Cervantes, mixed with a dollop Of Sterne and then tiopped off with a layer of Proust.

There is no reading experience I have ever encountered that is as rich as the 3 volume Your Face Tomorrow, the existential espionage masterpiece of story telling published over the last fifteen years.
There is no writer whose paragraph if not page long sentences are more compelling. Even Laszlo Krasznahorkai does nor compel this level of excitement.

The plot(such as it is) can be neatly summarized thusly; A Madrileno, separated from his wife and two children who remain in Spain, takes a position with the BBC in London as a translator- At a party given by one of his former Oxford dons, he is recruited by Btitish espionage because he has the unique intuitive ability to read people's faces and predict what they will do "tomorow"or further in the future(the line comes from Henry IV,part 2, and is ascribed to Prince Hal)
In volume 2, most of the action takes place in a London Disco where the protagonist,Jaime Deza and his boss, the enigmatic Tupra, are entertaining a mafioso type, whose wife is being hit on by a Spanish compatriot, the latter who winds up in the handicapped men's room brought there by Deza at the direction of the boss,and who gets the living daylights pounded out of him by Tupra. When Deza later asks why this is ok,Tupra says 'why not" an d the nin volume 3 proceeds to lead him on a tour of past espionage videofootage;as a result, when Deza returns to Spain and finds that his estranged wife has bruises much like those the Spanish compatriot suffered in the men's room,(which she ascribes to being "hit by a garage door:" he takes  appropriate action as well.,before the denouement of the novel.
None of this can explain the incredible poweer of Marias'style of writing with his long loopimg paragraphs to engage with tthe culture the history and identity of numerous subjects from the Spanish Civil war(in which his father was informed on and exiled but not assassinated by Franco)and subjects ranging from the last Judgment to the relationship between botox and the botulin toxin that was used in the assassination of reinhard heydrich, the nazi Commandant of Prague)which provoked the fierce reprisal and slaughter by the Nazis of the inhabitants of a nearby Czech town)to obnscure works of art. A fabulous journey by a truly brilliant writer.

Take this passage for example quoted in extenso, but only part of an even longer soliloquoy:
in which the narrator is explaining why he cannot finish off the abusive boyfriend of his estranged wife:"I don't want anyone to disapear- was my next thought-I don't believe in the Last Judgment or in a great final dance of sorrow and contentment nor in some kind of rowdy get-together at which the murdered will rise up before their murderers and present their accusations to a bored and horrified judge.I don't believe that because I don't belong to the age of steadfast faith and because it's not necessary;...(and quoting what he imagines the about to be murdered victim would  say):".You're taking my life more for reasons of jealousy than justice,I haven't killed anyone not as far as you know,you're putting a bullet in my forehead or beneath my ear lobe not because you think I am beating up the woman who is no l onger your wife,as if I were some vulgar wife-beater,  ...but because you are afraid of me and and are going to fight for what is yours, as do all those who commit crimes and have to convince themselves that their crimes were necessary : for your God, for your king, for your country, your culture or your race;for your flag, your legend, your language, your class,or your space.for your honor, your religion, for your family, for your strongbox, for your purse, for your sox;;or for your wife......"
What more can one say-as brilliant a prose stylist as I have ever encountered..

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Expo 2012

Here we are- approaching another Book Expo in a year when more and more readers are using the Kindle, Nook or iPad, and fewer and fewer companies are distributing print galleys or the like.
In addition, since we started following publishing as writers, lawyers collectors and students of the industry, the number of publishing stalwarts has shrunk to a half dozen megacorporations where every title has to be separately financially justified(no longer can the big sellers be depended on to support the midlist), and if you read Andre Schiffrin's brilliant works, including The Business of Books, rhe number of bookshops in major metropolitan areas has shrunk by 90%- This happened even before the full flowering of the net,Amazon and e-books. The high rents in places like Manhattan have turned the neighborhood bookshop into a relic of the past in a ghost town virtually devoid of bookstores. Only the Strand and McNally Jackson seem to be thriving.Brooklyn calls of course!

Still, one cannot suppress the excitement of meeting one's former colleagues and seeing them go through the motions of hawking and grinding out the literature and publicity for this fall's new title list.

We, as usual, are particularly interested in seeing Dalkey Archive, the New Press, and those University Presses still able to afford a booth in the somewhat antiquated Javits Center, as well as the mainstream publishers of books like Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoir of life under the fatwa after the publication of his Satanic Verses in late 1988.(Joseph Anton was a pseudonym he chose while on the run, using the first names of Conrad and Chekhov.)

And, after all, despite the appalling of lack of fiction in translation, America is still a place where a huge number of titles are published each year in a climate of general press freedom, although authors of books that espouse a more fundamental radical view of the society are sometimes ignored by the establishment - but we suppose that's better than being harassed and surveilled, no?


Just a short mention of two recently released titles-Death Sentences, by Kawamata Chiaka, and published by The University of Minnesota, which has a seriously intellectual publishing program.Here the sharing of a surrealist poem over time kills its readers, a theme close to William Burrough's concept of language as a virus, and picked by recently in a similar contxt by Ben Marcus in his most recent novel The Flame Alphabet. See also the brilliant riff of a secret language coded for death in Delillo's mesmerizing "The Names"

The other book is by David Talbot, founder of Salon-it's a complulsively entertaining valentine to San Francisco, The Season of the Witch about Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City by the Bay- A wondrous romp from Janis Joplin and the Diggers through the SLA, Patty Hearst, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple and the tragic intersection of George Mosconi Harvey MIlk and Dan White-, ending with the bonding together in the Super Bowl victories engineered by Bill Walsh for the San Francisco 49ers. Just whipping through the book reminds one of how far ahead of our Eastern metropolitan culture is this city on the Bay.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Books of 2011- Nos 6-10

6-Unoriginal Genius by Marjorie Perloff,University of Chicago Press. Famed Professor of Poetics Perloff(Professor Emerita at Stamford U) takes us on a journey through the poetics of copying, citation, and constraint based writing. Landmarks along the way include Walter Benjamin's Arcade Project, Charles Bernstein's opera, Susan Howe's the Midnight, the Oulipo and Kenneth Goldsmith's summary of CBS am traffic reports. The one volume that will get you up to speed on how to read and enjoy the new poetics.

7-El Narco, Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo(Bloomsbury Press)British journalist Grillo's dazzling report from on the scene about how the cartels have been transformed into a major criminal insurgency, with due consequences for the US. Based on interviews and on the scene coverage by this ourstanding journalist now residing in Mexico City. Chilling.

8--Romain Gary- A Tall Story by David Bellos(Harvill Secker UK). Bellos, Professor of French and Comparative Lit,Princeton U.,is already well known form his brilliant biographies, including of Georges Perec, the Oulipo master, as well as translating much of Perec's work, including Life: A User's Manual and a recent text on the nature of translation.Here (in a book shamefully not yet published in the US) he gives us the biography of Romain Gary,whose life moved from Vilna to immigrant status ,to airman in UK with the French resistance, diplomat(French Consul General in Los Angeles),celebrity spouse(Jean Seberg) to best - selling author, the only man to win the French Goncourt Prize twice. This, included the creation of a fake identity- that of Emile Ajar, under which he avoided the requirement that the prize could only be won once by an author.And it eventually earned Gary the scorn of critics.
The many lives of a most unusual man-and the role that deception plays in our own self-constructed lives.Wonderfully written and a fascinating study in the nature of identity in this world.

9-This is Madness by Darian Leader(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books,UK). An absolutely riveting book by a psychoanalyst on the nature of psychosis- and how those afflicted use delusions and other seeming badges of lunacy to construct their way through their own conditions to a kind of mental equilibrium. Replete with Lacanian analysis beautifully explained ( for a change) and lots of examples from practice and history.With special chapters om Aimee(Lacan's famous patient who stabbed well-known French actress Huguette Duflos outside a French theatre), The Wolf Man, and Dr Harold Shipman,who put to death in excess of 250 persons by morphine injections. An enriching study on what triggers psychotic outbreaks and what can remedy psychosis.A plea for individual- centered treatment in an age of compulsory drugs and uniformity.

10-Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas- A long,demanding but brilliant masterpiece from the author of A Book of Memories, called the most important novel since WWII by Susan Sontag. Published to mixed reviews by a bunch of Anglo- Saxon reviewers who by and large have neither the time nor the temperament to enjoy a book so heavily based on the politique of the body,nor willing to read a novel whose transcription chapter by chapter does not flow with the ease of reading expected by some, this is yet the one novel where the politics and aesthetics of sex interfaces with the history of Hungary and Central Europe from the years of World War 2 through the Hungarian Revolution to the dismantling of Communism.The beastly self in all its turgid glory,in juxtaposition to the rational and socially acceptable self- a rambling tour through espionage, duplicity, repression and death and the emotionally tangled lives of the many characters who step in and out of its pages.Not to be missed, especially for its epic descriptions of marathon sex and its relation to our emotional lives. Called an example of bad sex writing by a few critics. some may yet find it the ultimate in sticky fingers and slippery epiphanies.

These books should be available from, or the publishers directly