Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trip to Europe PT 2

London was a whirlwind two day tour of bookshops (and a few restaurants) and the results were quite favorable. The London Review of Books has a wonderful shop in Bloomsbury, with a tea and snack room next door on Bury Place. Their stock is well-chosen,literary, and there is an excellent ctiticism/philosophy section,in addition to the extensive new titles and backlist general fiction and nonfiction.They are particularly strong in translated fiction. One of the titles that I could not put down is Dubravka Ugresic's fabulous Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, published by Canongate in its series of myths brought up to the current times.
Lest we not forget that LRB is also the publisher of their crazy collected personals "They Call Me Naughty Lola'- (also available in The US)
These are contained in a two page section of classifieds at the end of the paper and contain such gems as these:

“67-year-old disaffiliated flaneur picking my toothless way through the urban sprawl, self-destructive, sliding toward pathos, jacked up on Viagra and on the lookout for a contortionist who plays the trumpet.”

My finger on the pulse of culture, my ear to the ground of philosophy, my hip in the medical waste bin of Glasgow Royal Infirmary. 14% plastic and counting - geriatric brainiac and compulsive NHS malingering fool (M, 81), looking for richer, older sex-starved woman on the brink of death to exploit and ruin every replacement operation I've had since 1974. Box no. 7648 (quickly, the clock's ticking, and so is this pacemaker).

John Sandoe books ,off Fulham Road in Chelsea is another wondrous place where virtually all the sales help are published authors. They are involved in publishing a journal-Slightly Foxed, and quite knowledgeable about the entire literary scene. A priceless experience.

Then there are the politicals- Bookmarks in Bloomsbury, a socialist center and publisher , where people like Robert Fisk go to read, and Housman's,in the once cheeky but now comfortable area near St Pancras International railroad station at King's Cross. They have a diverse stock of anarchist and left-wing stuff, including some of the wilder books by Stewart Home;they also publish an annual peace diary with worldwide listings of concerned groups. There are also a host of small ,literary shops in the outer fringes,like Primrose Books.
One of the more unusual places in Bayswater, is Al- Saqi Books, a Lebanese publisher and bookseller; it was there I picked up a brilliant title- Honor Killings, By Turkish Journalist Ayse Onal- She interviewed several men in Turkish prisons for honour killings in an attempt to understand the social pressures that motivated them to commit these reprehensible crimes.This book and two others, by the way, are the subject of a brilliant review in the Nov edition of London review of Books by Jacqueline Rose,who teaches at the University of London and is , among other things, a Lacan expert.

Another highly recommended title is The Little Black Book of Griselidis Real- Memoirs of an Anarchist Whore. I picked it up in NY right before leaving for the trip and read it in three days. Ms Real,who passed away in 2005 was an educated Swisswoman who became a prostitute early in life, scribed several memoirs as well as wrote poetry and letters including those to her friend Jean- Luc Hennig which constitute the first part of the book. Her writings have been published in Europe , but before this US Semiotexte version, never released in the USA.
The letters are a revelation of what it is to be a whore, from the standpoint of an advanced mind. The black book of client's specialities and helpful hints is a staggering insight into the trade. In later life, Ms Real campaigned for civil rights for sex workers. She was reburied in 2009 in the cemetery in Geneva which also holds the remains of Jean Piaget, Jorge Borges, and John Calvin. Truly one of the elect!

Patrice Mugny, a local politician who championed the transfer, said the city was "in no case apologizing for prostitution, but honoring an individual who distinguished herself by battling for human dignity."

"This shows that human dignity is not a question of social status, that it is not limited by moral prescriptions," he said at the ceremony.

Ruth Morgan Thomas, a leading European campaigner for prostitutes, said the burial was an important recognition for sex workers "who demand simply to be treated without discrimination and valued as an integral part of society."


But when I asked for her books(in French) at La Hune in Paris and a few other stores, they were out of stock....

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Tour of European Bookshops

We are back from a whirlwind and pocketbook denting two week sojourn to Paris, London, Venice and Rome.I am sad to report, though it should come as no surprise that there is a dearth of book stores in Italy selling English-language product. We were tickled though to run into Mark di Martino at the Anglo- American bookstore in the shadow of the Spanish steps in Roma;Mark recognized us as former patrons of the now defunct Gotham BookMart on 47th St, where he used to be employed before becoming an expat. And there is a charming bookshop in Venice on one of those impossible to immediately locate, but ultimately findable side streets called the Marco Polo Bookshop, specializing( much like Idlewild in NY and Daunt's in London)in fiction and travel organized by country.There you can browse some uniquely available Italian fiction not likely to have found its way across the Atlantic or if it did, to have remained in print here- such as Gadda's and Pavese's work, as well as that of Lalla Romano. The owner is terrifically helpful as well.

Paris is a somewhat different matter. Its version of Brentano's, which was a not particularly good bookshop in the vicinity of L'Opera, recently closed, but it was not much of a loss. Most Americanos are familiar with Shakespeare's bookshop, in the shadow of Notre Dame and the Seine, which trades off its in name only relationship to the original bookshop of the 1920's habituated by James Joyce and the American literary expat community.It's a grand place to pick up an ingenue for those willing to stoop to such nefarious actions.(speaking from observation only here)And it's open every might until midnight.

Then there's also a branch of the pedestrian W H Smith British chain, but the names don't get exciting until you reach Galignani and Village Voice. Galignani, the ultimate Paris upscale tradebook store and on the continent since 1808, as it brags in its video, sells both French and English language books - with the English language titles from the US and Uk- It's a carriage trade Scribner's store,if one remembers that grand outpost on 5th and 48th St in Manhatttan, where publishing heir Charlie Scribner himself could occasionally be seen pretending to work on the second floor and where Ms Patti Smith, I believe, sold me three copies of Gravity's Rainbow(the little known book club first) before she became famous. She was a lovely sales clerk by the way.And,in its strategic location on the Rue du Rivoli next to Angelina's , (originally Rumpelmeyer's) with its exquisite African hot chocolate sipped by 60 year old aristocratic French women and their 25 yr old boytoys.
Lots of good titles, an excellent world fiction department,good lit crit, art and photography and always something no one else has in stock.

The true gem of the area of course is Odile Hellier's wondrous Village Voice Bookstore on the Rue Princesse in the 6th arondissement.This classic two floor shop stocks a great selection of titles in all areas in English, and always has the latest serious fiction and nonfiction titles published in the US and UK. The staff is particularly helpful, and witty I might add, and you can meet some rather interesting expats if you hang around enough. They also have frequent readings- Michael Chabon, Gary Snyder , Mavis Gallant, et al. The problem is that the decline of the dollar has made it somewhat more difficult to be an expat living off a pension in France, but it looks like they will weather the storm with the help of the tourist trade as they are the best game in town.

There is one shop that draws me back to Paris every year-it does not specialize in English language titles, but instead in a small, cramped space on the Rue Git le Coeur-just off the St Andre des Artes-and opposite what used to be the flea-ridden Beat Hotel, where William Burroughs wrote and Ginsberg edited piles of manuscript pages of Naked Lunch strewn on the floor back in the 1950's--
There, at Un Regard Moderne, in an incredibly crowded store where books fall off piles and shelves every three minutes,the incredibly knowledgeable Msr Jacques Noel presides over a collection of graphic artist's books, erotica, art, photography, books on film, off beat volumes and limited edition silkscreens, and where aspiring graphic artists ,collectors and those touched by his and the store's eclectic brilliance ,come from around the world to shop.Jacques will have the newest Art Spiegelman and R Crumb books as fast as they arrive in the US,plus titles from Spain , Germany, Japan, and France and elsewhere-Only he can find them, but they're always there-An amazing experience- I have found the most unusual stuff there- and I always go back three or four times on any trip- My favorite bookstore in the world- and several hundred other mesmerized bookaholics can equally testify.

On this trip to Paris I picked up and read a stunning novel published by Harper Collins India- The Story of My Assassins, by Tarun J.Tejpal, the Indian journalist and author of one previous novel. Under the guise of a description of the protagonist investigative journalist's being protected by the authorities from assassination by some unknown force,the author tells the tale of various members of the underclass, who coalesce to form the arrested group here. His is a slightly overmuscular prose but the story-telling is bewitching and full of telling details which burn their way in to your brain and make you realize how hard the lives of millions on the planet are and how difficult it is to survive as a refugee in the ctiies of India.Very compelling even with the violence described as murderers make "brain curry" of their victims.

I also had the good fortune to acquire a lovely illustrated volume- based on a gallery exhibit- entitled Maisons Closes- a history of the elegant closed house bordellos in Paris,which functioned until made illegal by the authorities just after World War II. At that time, and perhaps unwisely, women were pushed back into the street and the Rue Sainte Denis ,Les Halles, and the notorious Pigalle to conduct their trade,often into the arms of and under the control of pimps. A stunning collection of photos, art, and drawings and the exhibit itself is on a block once known for such tempting establishments.

Then there was the major literary discovery of the trip, a piece of erotica written by one of our most famous popular authors scribed at the very outset of his career. More on that and London, as well as a review of the brilliant "Baba Yaga Laid an Egg" by acclaimed Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic-This is a title in Canongate's myth and literature series, which has inspired modern retelling of myths and fairy tales.
Ugresic crafts her volume as a triptych of memoir, novella and detailed post modern scholarship on the myth of the famous witch figure of eastern Europe. Her 20 years of teaching the theory of literature make for an unusual resonance of scholarship and story telling beautifully woven together-Delicious indeed,and another feather in the cap of a writer who seems far more qualified for the Nobel than some of the most recent recipients.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

postscript on Raymond Federman( see previous post and obit

Raymond Federman was born in Paris on May 15, 1928, the son of Simon and Marguerite Federman. In 1942, when Raymond was 14, the Gestapo came to the family’s door. Telling him not to make a sound, his mother shoved him into a tiny closet on a stairway landing. Raymond huddled there, listening, as his parents and sisters, Jacqueline and Sarah, were marched down the stairs.

Raymond spent the war in hiding on a farm in the South of France. His parents and sisters died in Auschwitz.

Mr. Federman came to the United States in 1947; in the Korean War, he served with the United States Army in Korea and Japan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in French from Columbia in 1957, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Before joining the faculty at Buffalo in 1964, Mr. Federman taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He retired from Buffalo, where he also taught French and comparative literature, in 1999.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Jung,Federman and a Lot of News

Raymond Federman, 81, died last week. He immigrated to the US in 1947, just after the war and was a bilingual writer, teacher, and co-founderof the Fiction Collective, which has published some of the best experimental avant- garde fiction of the last two decades. More inportantly,his novels, Take it Or Leave it (considered one of the great road novels and the first major post- structuralist novel), and the legendary Double or Nothing,a "concrete" novel, much like concrete poetry where the words are used as physical material and on each page assume a different shape, are masterpieces of modernist writing.You couldn't do this quite as easily without an advanced computer program these days.We mourn the death of a great writer, who hopefully will be read more in retrospect.

C.G. Jung. The Philemon Foundation has been granted permission to publish the unpublished masterworks of Carl Jung, beginning with Liber Novus, the Red Book, where Jung wrote down over a period of 16 years (1914-1930) the results of his dialogues with the self and visions of spirit beings encountered therough an active use of the imagination supported by dramatic dialogue spoken out loud by Jung. These visions were to form the core of much of Jung's later writings, and are accompanied in the Red Book by Jung's own illuminated paintings of the visions and calligraphy- in a text and in a format that is as gorgeous as a medieval Book of Kells.Held close to Jung's intimates for 80 years, the release of the Red Book(published by WW Norton at $195 )is the publishing event of the year.
The release is accompanied by a major exhibit at the Rubin Museum of Art in NY City , which is also presenting a 3 month program of lectures, interviews with persons in the arts and films. On Friday night, Oct. 9, the head of the Philemon project, translator and essayist whose work appears in the Red Book, Dr Sonu Shamdasani gave a lecture with slides and Q and A at the NY Academy of Medicine to an assembled and entranced crowd, primarily consisting of authors, and Jungian analysts. It was a memorable event as it was to be surrounded by such an intellectually distinguished audience.I took a cab to GCS with a couple of Alabama Analysts( no it's not an oxymoron) in the afterglow.
The book itself is a magnificent production and is likely to revive popular interest in the importance of Jungian psychology(beyond the archetypes that comprise the basis of most screenplays and the personality types that Jung reported on- extroverts, introverts, those with highly developed intuition-- These are the basis of much of our common scientific knowledge-
What may flow as well is a reconsideration of the role and importance of alchemy as a symbolic basis for understanding the nature of humanity and life. That becomes clear as one reads the Red Book and compares it to Jung's great late-life texts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy- An Appreciation

He's been shadowing our lives
with a vision of dark stars
painted nightly in the firmament
like some glorious lit up bars

If the canvas must break up now
let it all be cosmic dust
spreading love's truth and passion
fueling up where justice rusts

Friday, August 21, 2009

Desert by LeClezio Explains the Nobel

Desert by Nobel- prize winner J.M.G. Le CLezio, which was cited by the academy in its presentation of the award,more than rewards its readers. The academy called "Desert" his breakthrough novel,one which examined both a lost African culture and also treated Europe and its hard-edged cities from the perspective of a Moroccan immigrant.
Desert is published by the award-winning publisher David R.Godine, who also published "Life, A User's Manual",one of the great works of the 20th century by Oulipo author Georges Perec(and shortly to be reissued in a corrected format this fall).

"Desert" consists of two intercut stories,one the story of a doomed rebellion of Ma el Ainine, the sheik known as Water of the Eyes and his Tuareg warriors , their women and children, on a death march away from colonial soldiers across the barren desert they love in the first decade of the 20th century. Le Clezio pairs this story with a tale of one of the descendants of the group, an orphaned girl named Lalla who lives with her aunt in a shantyown on the edge of the desert in the last half of the century.

Le CLezio, who started his career with postmodern sagas of the wars and diseases of civilization and the rigors of existential life, now turns to a prose poem of lived experience and oral storytelling ,which is long on beauteous description of people and their environs , but short on character development and traditional plot. But you feel so strongly the sensuous lived experience that you can imagine yourself picking sand grains out of your skin listening to some griot as the sun boiled down the horizon-
The writing is exquisite, as is the concern with humanity and suffering and the idelible portrait drawn of the desert and its nuanced radiant life in the midst of barrenness. The fact that Lalla was taken places in the desert by the speechless orphan the Hartani that no other human had occasioned to go, presages her return to the desert after she escapes to Marseilles to avoid a forced marriage, becomes rich from being a photographer's model, and then is impregnated.

The money is thrown aside - for a return to the wind blown harsh environment where free men live.
For otherwise, in the words of the nomad song--"One day,one day,the crow will turn white, the sea will go dry,we will find honey in the desert forever, we will make bedding of acadia sprays,oh, one day, the snake will spit no more poison,and the rifle bullets will bring no more death, for that will be the day I will leave my love..'

No book I have ever read has captured the love and the blood passion for such raw and impassioned existence. The wind and sand and stars are veritable characters in this absolutely stunning novel, which returns humanity to all of us.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pynchon Book/Obama Gates and Crowley Playing the Dozens

Lots of News- First of all, Pynchon's "Inherent Vice",Penguin $27.95, to be published August 4, really is a TRP "Beach read". It's a light psychedelic 60's LA doper noir story punctuated by a lot of raucous humor,surfing lore and with more than a few brilliant insights into our crazed culture, as it slipped form the activist 60's into the retrenched 70's. A lot of fun and probably the most "accessible"book ever written by a modern master.You're not likely to forget Doc Sportello as another classic P.I. in the museum of notable literary detectives.
I went back to Gravity's Rainbow after finishing "Against the Day" which I adored, and found it to be every bit the classic as I had when I first, on the 7th try, learned to read it with joy.
Inherent Vice is packed with sex, nefarious police goings-on and enough marijuana smoke that one can almost get a contact high from its pages.It recaptures Pynchon's spirit of resistance against the system, his love for "excluded middles" and his wisdom that some things are just inherent vice, a maritime term for unisurable risks, or glistening doubt, take your pick.The book is studded with the usual Pynchonalia of weird named characters, and tons of pop culture references to surf bands and John Garfield movies, among other waystations of our wacky culture. It's a quick read indeed that proves that Pynchon is the hippest post- 70 dude around.This is a real w--i--p--e--o--u--t!For shizzle.

Before we talk of Nobel Prize winner JMG LeCLezio's brilliant"Desert" ($25.95) to be published next week from David Godine(Long may he keep the faith)- here is a little aside about the recent Obama- Gates arrest controversy.

Obama Gates and Crowley: Playing the Dozens-C 2009
The raging controversy over the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by Cambridge Mass police after “breaking and entering “ his own home, followed by the media termed "unfortunate comment" of Pres Obama about stupid actions of police,has shaken the nation. The story is punctuated in part by a claim, denied by Gates, that when Officer Crowley asked him to discuss things outside , the Professor replied, I’ll talk to your mama outside.”
The “your mama” reference brings back “the Dozens”, the national children’s insult games, which include a litany of “Your mama ‘ is so stupid or so fat or so whatever that….(Here we attach the insult) Well maybe, if Gates and Crowley are going to accept the invitation to go to the White House this week, they could settle the affair by playing the dozens then and there.
Like this:
Crowley- Your mama so stupid she thinks Brittany Spears is a UK cavalry regiment.
Gates: Your mama is so dumb she believes a charge to the “Jewry” is a tax on temples.
Crowley:Your mama think waterboarding an Olympic sport
Gates:Your mama says Minni-sota is found in a vending machine.
Crowley:Your mama say Helmand, Afghanistan is where people get killed for mayonnaise.
Gates: Your mama says police “brew” tality is the precinct beer bill.
It’s only a short distance of course before they both turn on the President with…..
Gates and Crowley to Obama: Your mama think Yes We Can” is a sardine company slogan…..
But isn’t this is much better way of ending a dispute,a children’s game followed of course by a gourmet meal and a walk in the Rose garden, and so appropriate for a nation, which is so childish as to believe it can actually win wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time it transacts the nation's real business of heading off a depression , bailing out the banks and establishing national health care.

ps- For those who want to read more on the dozens,pick up the books by Bruce Jackson or trace the world-wide history of children's insult games in the once and perhaps still published Maledicta -the Journal of Vituperative Expression compiled by university scholar Reinhold Aman- He has a website but the resource material is best found in that discredited institution, the public library.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Methland, The Dumbest Generation, Empire of Illusion

Methland by Nick Reding,(Bloomsbury 2009) which was saved from possible oblivion by a front page article in last week's Sunday NYT Book review, is a terrific piece of journalism that tells two stories- the decay of a small town, Oelwein Iowa, killed by big agriculture, and globalism and whose residents turned to methampetamine to stay up all day working or escaping from road-kill reality,and viewed through the lenses of its doctor, prosecutor, and chief of police as well as some of its meth lab operators. It's a brilliant synthesis of investigative journalism and a nuanced portrayal of American life as more and more communities start to resemble developing nations and not the prosperous middle-class America we grew up with. A page-turning read as well.

The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein,Tarcher pb$15.95) and Empire of Illusions, by Pulitzer-Prize winner Chris Hedges(just out from Nation Books ($24.95)both treat of the triumph of spectacle and the decline of literacy in America.
Dumbest Generation uses multiple federal and state studies to prove that the advance in computer intelligence, and spatial understanding of our youth has been accompanied by an appalling decline in their respective reading and writing skills, as well as civic education,visits to museums etc.The author calls for a return to the traditional values, liberal arts education and more emphasis on learning. Yes, there are too many choices,'tis true, too much infotainment,and useless screen time, but the answer remains clouded- Turning in the last chapter to the Daniel Bells and Irving Kristols of the world, whose sorry propping up of a failed establishment in the late 60's ,funded by the same defense research that overwhelms universities today, is not the solution either. Maybe no one has the answer.

Empire of Illusions,whose author wrote the polemic War is a Force that Gives us meaning, and American Fascists( a book on the Christian radical right) examines the decline of literacy and the replacement by spectacle, the growth of violent porn, the decline of wisdom and replacement by elite business schools catering to a generation of money- hungry uneducated business school graduates and finally the decline of America, a subject covered by Chalmers Johnson and others equally well. It's an unrelenting course in misery, punctuated by the author's pleas for a love saves all solution at the end- Don't get me wrong- Hedges is right on target throughout this book and remains a great moral voice in the wildernesss of our lives. But it was hard springing up with joy in the morning after staying up at night to read its bitter truths.
Two passages stand out though- the comparison of Orwell's dystopian 1984 to Huxley's Brave new World. Orwell's was a society that relied on coercion and control, and Huxley's on a surfeiting of happy, irrelevant trivia to dope the populace.With the growth of mobile screen culture(we love it ok!) offering thousands of soporific alternatives to reading the morning newspapers, to the endless housewives and business commuters mindlessly playing sudoku we are truly, in the words Of George HW Bush, "in the deep doo-doo".Huxley, after all, was the visionary here.

The other passage contains a pungent quote from Andrew Lahde,a Santa Monica hedge fund manager,who made an 850 percent gain by betting on the subprime mortgage collapse,then abruptly shut his fund down in 2008 and took the profits before the crash. Said he ,in a farewell letter to investors:

"The low-hanging fruit,ie idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking" and speaking of the oligarchic class- he went on:
"These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received...rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government.All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy ended up only making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God Bless America."

Well. someone has to keep the Hopium flowing - who can that be?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Werner Herzog and The Spell of the Sensuous

Werner Herzog, the acclaimed German director of Aguirre The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, Encounters at the Edge of the World, and dozens of other films, including a large number of documentaries and shorts, spoke Friday night, June 26 before a packed crowd of 150 or more persons at the McNally Robinson bookshop in Soho.
Herzog, known for his extraordinary film making voyages through the Amazon, to the edge of a volcano in Guadeloupe about to explode , to Antarctica,and numerous other remote corners of the world, gave the audience a trip instead through his mind while making Fitzcarraldo. This is the film about an obsessive early 20th century entrepeneurial dreamer who wants to build an opera house in the jungle town of Iquitos so Enrico Caruso can sing there. In a cracked effort to corner the rubber market,he attempts to pull a 320 ton steamboat across the jungle hills and an isthmus separating two rivers. The film starred Klaus Kinski in one of his memorably insane roles with Herzog as director and the film was itself the basis of a documentary by Les Blank about its making entitled Burden of Dreams.
Now 30 years later, Herzog has written a memoir of those days, entitled Conquest of the Useless, following the pattern of diary entries from his unique mind- It is witty, profound and surreal- and was sold along with a copy of a newly translated short prose work "Of Walking in Ice", first published thirty years ago about a walk Herzog took from Munich to Paris in the late fall snows of 1974 because he had convinced himself it would help save his friend Lotte Eisner, who was seriously ill in Paris at the time.(He reached her and she lived for many years afterward) Herzog , who is a self-taught scholar,writes powerfully descriptive,almost surreal passages, but as his mother once said, his powers of description dwarf his abilities to explain-Never mind- he is a genius at what he does.

Herzog was brusquely funny in his repartee about our"bastardized culture"- he deplores shamans,ayuahasca(the legendary tryptamine on the vine), loathes the drug culture, and cinema verite and believes his documentaries are "fiction in disguise."He spoke of the famous scene in Nosferatu, when he convinced the city of Delft, Netherlands to allow him to release 11000 painted rats upon the arrival of Dracula(Nosferatu's) boat-This was done upon the payment of substantial sums and the promise to recapture all of them- Actually 11400 were captured as they had rapidly propagated in the interim.(This film, by the way, is so good it creates the illusion it is presenting almost an anthropolgical view of the gypsy settlements depicted in thevampire-savaged countryside.)

And as for nature,it is not there to be venerated but feared-it is erotic , obscene and pastorals here.

Compare this wild work with David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous,where Abram treats of ecological magic and demonstrates that our truest human attributes spring as in oral culture from our relationships wth the senses and the elements and the earth and animate natural world. We have lost a great bit when we solely depend on written language and alphabets- even as we have in Kabbalah the concentrated and refined magic of the written word , compared to the wild and multiplicitous magic of the natural intelligent world.

Abram, who is associated with the Alliance for Wild Ethics, is one of the greatest teachers on the planet- I cannot too highly recommend his text..You read the book with the sense that all life, rocks, and plants are charged with the life force. You will likely feel very different about bird song as well after you dabble in its pages.
More of Abram and of Jay Griffiths, and The Welsh writer's brilliant study "Wild' in the near future.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Book Expo Blahs and the Insect Trust

Book Expo ended a few days ago, and was a scaled down event compared to the past, reflecting the current economic climate.Many small publishers didn't take booths;only some of these were seen at tables in the section of their respective distributors. More troubling, or promising, depending on your point of view, was the absence of galleys from the large publishers.In at least one case,print galleys are being replaced by electronic ones. All that,coupled with the publication in the NYT of a major article by Charles McGrath on the Kindle,left an air of premonition on the future of the book industry.
And yet the vitality and energy of those who love books suffused through the crowd, bent over as usual by bags filled with signed books and in some cases galleys , going about their business, pushing though the aisles.

What was more distrubing to me were the conversations with some of those sales reps manning the booths, including those of university presses, about the reading habits of their children. I heard more than one reference to the"two-minute attention span".
Ultimately, the Kindle is here to stay , and though it cannot replace the tactility of a tangible book, and it's not fun reading in bed, it will at least share the stage with print publications in the (I'm afraid) very near future. That means smaller print runs for the publishers;maybe someday the concept of a physical library will disappear, but that is further off in the future.
When, however, you combine the death of newspapers with the poor reading habits of some of the people, that is a double whammy for the culture and the polity. Perhaps by then we will all be cyberflesh, and it won't matter-

"Just picture it" said a visionary friend of mine at BookExpo just salivating to go to Burning Man later this summer--" A giant insect trust stands over all the publishing conglomerates, pushing the wares of virtual publishing". Yes, he can see "the thoracic secretions now sealing the pages of future writings in favor of electronic transmissions- for after all, in an oxygen starved silicone state dystopia, insects and computers will outlive us all.."
Well, it's far fetched but WS Burroughs might have least as a metaphor
for the hive behavior now taking place.

Still, there were some lovely books we picked up or noted in catalogues, including a terrific new title from the University of Minnesota entitled Otaku, Japan's Database Animals. It s about the culture of those who produce and consume manga(comics), anime(graphic films) and other products ,including fan merchandise, related to these forms of popular visual culture. It's really about the end of traditional narrative and its replacement by a fragmented database reality for these people, if not the society at large. Finally available here after translation from the Japanese, this is an exceptionally interesting work by Hiroki Azuma. Highly recommended for anyone seeking to understand the speed of change in culture.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another bookstore closing-In Memoriam

We attended all three days of BookExpoAmerica at Javits Center and will report the bad and good news shortly.
But first...... the New York Times reports in its editions of Saturday May 30 that the Morningside Bookshop at Broadway and 114th St. cannot pay its rent to Columbia University and is closing this weekend. The owner of Book Culture(formerly Labyrinth Books), the City's best academic bookshop and a nearby competitor has a proposal to the University to take over the lease, but for now it seems that this is but another death in the Long Sad Departure of independent bookselling in New York.
Before Peter Soter took over this shop, it existed in several prior iterations, including as Papyrus Books, where it was also a general paperback and hardcover store, and before that(going back to the 1960's) as Taylor's House of Paperbacks, where it served Columbia students before Barnes and Noble as the only full blown on campus source for trade books.
Columbia had another general bookstore (which thrived on selling texts )called at various times Salters, Barnard Bookforum, and Posman's Books on Broadway between 115th and 116th st, but Posman Books closed the shop as well as its Village store in the 1990's, leaving open only its store in Grand Central Station.Taylor's House of Paperbacks and its progeny were the last of the old-fashioned straight up trade stores in the neighborhood.

Bookculture is a truly wonderful shop just two blocks away, and the presence of Bank St Books and the Columbia university bookstore makes it hard to argue that the area is a cultural wasteland. Still, the survival of independent bookselling has become an urgent matter, and when Book Culture opened, it was (at least then) supported by Columbia which wanted to draw academics to Morningside Heights with a store to rival Seminary Coop in Chicago, considered by many the nation's best academic bookstore on the campus of the University of Chicago.

I remember buying books and cashing my checks with Lou Taylor at the House of Paperbacks shop in the 1960's, when he was already an older man who consciously bore the image of an elder labor organizer and one most suspicious of authority, as we students went out to protest the Vietnam War and various doings on campus. We lived in the neighborhood then and after graduation and would often spot Lou out at midnight on one of his Upper West Side rambles around West 106 St or Broadway; he was a very thin man, who did not wear expensive clothes, had an unshaven appearance and a knowing laugh and was always supportive of the students. I think he drew some kind of wild electric energy from the young, but he was a comrade who could introduce you to good reading as well as just sell books.
Two blocks away, on the side of one of the buildings on Broadway loomed that huge sign"The Wages of Sin is Death but the Gift of God is Eternal Life Through Jesus Christ" that was the subject of much student parody as it existed in counterpoint to Dante (Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here)
It's a long and tortuous history, and we could go on about the wonderful people who ran Papyrus as well, but the point is - Let's Save Independent Bookselling, even if it takes a national or state bill and tax-favored status to support it. Without it, and without newspapers, we are a much poorer nation, and one lacking in civics and liberal arts.

Keep the Renaissance alive!The struggle continues!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unlimited Intimacy by Tim Dean

The University of Chicago blurb and the review by distinguished scholar Martha Nussbaum says it all about this provocative tome from Dean, Professor of English at the University of Buffalo and scholar of sexual difference, as well as one of the few people who can write intelligently sbout sex, Lacan and Freud--

Unlimited Intimacy is about barebacking—when gay men deliberately abandon condoms and embrace unprotected sex— Purposely flying in the face of decades of safe-sex campaigning and HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives, barebacking is unquestionably radical behavior, behavior that most people would rather condemn than understand. Unlimited Intimacy, Tim Dean’s riveting investigation into barebacking and the distinctive subculture that has grown around it, could not be more timely

Dean’s profoundly reflective account is neither a manifesto nor an apology; instead, it is a searching analysis that tests the very limits of the study of sex in the twenty-first century. Dean’s extensive research into the subculture provides a tour of the scene’s bars, sex clubs, and Web sites; offers an explicit but sophisticated analysis of its pornography; and documents his own personal experiences in the culture. But ultimately, it is HIV that animates the controversy around barebacking, and Unlimited Intimacy explores how barebackers think about transmitting the virus—especially the idea that deliberately sharing it establishes a new network of kinship among the infected. According to Dean, intimacy makes us vulnerable, exposes us to emotional risk, and forces us to drop our psychological barriers. As a committed experiment in intimacy without limits—one that makes those metaphors of intimacy quite literal—barebacking thus says a great deal about how intimacy works.

"Unlimited Intimacy is novel, fascinating, insightful, and courageous. Tim Dean convincingly argues that confronting head-on a sexual subculture that is alien to most readers, and understanding the fantasies that propel it, is a very good way of stimulating thought - not only about that subculture, but about one's own choices and behavior, and about the general social process of demonizing and pathologizing certain sexual practices." - Martha Nussbaum"

An amazing book- it should not be off our radar.I wonder,however,how many of the few remaining book review sites will consider it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Expo 2- Zizek and Mary Jo and Jacques Lacan

There are a number of interesting sessions this year at Book Expo, but also the usual overhyped "books" which are nothing more than PR vehicles thrown off by a bloated entertainment industry. How many times can one look at celebrity photographs without becoming numb or worse, nauseous? Still, I am looking forward, beyond visiting the university presses, New Press, Feral House, and Dalkey Archive,( are they even going to be there this year) to snagging a copy of Mary Jo Buttafuoco's "autobiography" "Getting It Through My Thick Skull" and subjecting it to Lacanian analysis by Slavoj Zizek. What a traveling duo they would make- why Hegel and Marx would gavrotte in their graves!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Expo/ New Recommendations

Book Expo looms, starting this week with the usual onslaught of exhibitors, celebrity authors, declining number of available proofs, and those delicious chocolate chip muffins at the Javits Center in New York which can get all over your signed copy of that first edition Richard Russo or Joyce Carol Oates and ruin its pristine conditon- But we will be there,shlepping around and blogging the good independent book publishers still eking out a living as well as reporting on the insanity that always takes place inside the crowded,overheated convention space.

A few notes: We finished Chloe Hooper's Tall Men (Scribner), a sensationally written moral thriller about the death in custody of an aboriginal Australian and the first time in Australian history that a policeman was charged with the death in custody of a prisoner- it's a succinct tale of the clash of cultures and the unwinding of the dirty laundry of the past, as well as a birds- eye view into the power and resilience of the aborigines of Australia, a subject also covered in the recent non-fiction title Terra Nulla by Sven Lindqvist (The New Press).

PEN events- The recently concluded World Voices multi-venue conference at which some 150 authors and translators appeared was a magnificent event, but barely covered in the mainstream press. We will be referring in the weeks to come to several of the sessions, but we were particularly impressed with several authors, including Nicole Brossard, the French-Canadian poet published by Coach House in Toronto, whose experimental prose reaches an astonishing place and can cut to the core of consciousness like few other writers.

At the closing session, the revolutionary Egyptian writer,and doctor Nawal El Saadawi was interviewed by M. Anthony Kwame Appiah, President of PEN, and after a description of her many lifetime achievements, the time spent in jail ( she has been both a foe of the Sadat and Islamic Governments), informed the audience that she does not like to be sitting above the people to whom she is speaking. El Saadawi , now in her 70's.with the sparkle of wisdom both in her eyes and voice, has written histories of women,plays, novels and autobiographies, and is a firm opponent of patriarchy, class and militarism-as well as female genital mutilation and male circumcision(about the latter of course very little opposition has arisen-but the subject will be covered in this column before the Jewish High Holidays this year).She was inspirational, but the applause given could have been more enthusiastic- maybe many in the traditional left-liberal audience have slipped out of their utopiate idealistic phases.
El-Saadawi's books are available here and in the UK/London. More to follow.

William Logan, the award -winning poet and literary critic(The Undiscovered Country) has a new volume of criticism/essays out from Columbia Univ. Press-Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue- He's a schooled and concise critic-But watch out- he can be twice as snarky as Gore Vidal- Listen to how he garrots Gary Snyder- taking the position that one may agree with Snyder's ecological position, but that does not excuse, says Logan,the style of his writings.
"This compassionate, benign, grizzled patriarch,supporter of just causes,a Buddhist(more or less), is the sort of man you'd call...up to overhaul a tractor engine or drag a cow out of the mud(he's also the sort that calls a mountain for help and thinks that it answers.) But.. for a decent poem, look elsewhere, advises Logan As he puts it,"Books like Gary Snyder's should come free in a box of granola."

There are more than a handful of these zinger missiles in this delightful tome.And some excellent essays on Lowell, Bishop and two pieces on Pynchon.One may pick at Pynchon's recent writings,especially since Mason and Dixon and Against The Day are such long tracts, but I found the latter brilliant and,upon a second reading of Gravity's Rainbow, remain convinced it is one of the great books of the last several centuries.Still, one reads Logan primarily for the poetry criticism and there are dozens of short reviews, both enlightening and for some of us worth reading on educational grounds alone from someone who keeps track of modern poets while their books are sloughed off in obscure sections of chain bookshops.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone

Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, just published by Nation Books, is another unclassifiable brilliant work, which employs the vignette style of literary telling used in the Memory of Fire trilogy, a masterpiece in its own right about the Americas and applies it to the broader history of humankind. The trilogy mixed origin fables with historical anecdotes and terse psychological portraits of major events and persons in the history of Latin America to give back to all,including the vanquished and forgotten the memory of resistance and to open the path to a more enlightened and just future. In Mirrors,this approach is used with great success in a one volume tract.Quite a remarkable piece of storytelling it is!

Galeano, whose editorial work includes Epoca and the famous Argentine-based magazine Crisis, as well as being director of the University of Montivideo Press, fled his native Uruguay and Argentina during the repressive 1970's and lived for many years in Spain, where he wrote the Memory of Fire trilogy,before returning to Latin America as Pinochet was being rejected by Chileans and ultimately to Montivideo in 1985. He has been both a writer, publisher and activist. In the late 1960's he covered the uprising and guerilla war in Guatamala, and earlier during the same period was privileged to have interviewed Che Guevara, a piece thereon which appeared in his collection of astringent and powerful essays published in the 1990's entitled We Say No.

He was also present and spoke publicly in Mexico at the beginning of the Zapatista movement.

His credentials are unparallelled both as a freedom fighter and as a scribe.

Galeano has taken it upon himself to hold up the image of the shattered or buried mirror, which becomes an instrument of sound and vision to bring together persons in a "network of voices "that speak and struggle to resist injustice and inequity.

To quote from the Zapatists Encuentro-"A pocket mirror of voices,...the world in which sounds may be listened to separately,[recognizing their specicificity and brought together] into one great sound."

Long treasured as a writer and spokesperson for those who seek a more progressive society,Galeano rocketed into the mass media recently when, at a Presidential leadership conference in Trinidad, Hugo Chavez publicly gave to Barack Obama a copy of his Open Veins of Latin America, Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. This early text, written in a more traditional discursive style in a three month whirlwind and published originally by Monthly Review Press more than 35 years ago, jumped from the number 54000 position to the No. 2 bestselling book on as a result.

That title was however followed by Days and Nights of Love and War, the first English-language translation to reflect Galeano's vignette style of prose poetry.

Galeano's is one of the most penetrating ,truthful and pure voices we are privileged to hear- From Days and Nights, above, here is a simple incident which occurred in Buenos Aires 1975--After describing the fate of some of those who met their deaths at the hands of the Argentine repression:

I met Ana[B.] She was[one of the lucky ones]. They blindfolded her and yanked her out of the house in Buenos Aires. She doesn't know where they went.They tied up her hands and legs. A nylon cord was placed around her neck. They hit and kicked her while they asked about an article she had published:

"This is a Holy War. We have tried and condemned you.Now you will be shot."

At daybreak they made her get out of the car and pushed her against a tree. Her face was against the tree but she felt several men get in line and kneel.She heard the click of their guns. A drop of sweat rolled down he rneck. Then came the explosion. Afterward Ana discovered she was alive. She touched herself and was intact. She heard the sound of cars driving off.

She managed to untie herself and pull off the blindfold. It was raining and the sky was very dark. Dogs were barking someplace.She was surrounded by tall tress.

"A morning made to die in," she thought.

"Mirrors" applies this protocol to the entire history of our planet. It's the kind of book one can read a page at a time or swallow up in 50 page doses-filled with all-encompassing brilliant gems. There is an apologia from Galeano that unlike Memory of Fire, there are no bibliographic sources , for the pagination thereof would itself exceed that of the main text.

One of my favorite anecdotes is about a photograph of Munich's Odeonplatz in August 1914 as the assembled crowd cheers the declaration of war by imperial Germany. Lost somewhere at the edges in this famous photo by Heinrich Hoffmann is a young dissolute painter whose eyes in a "state of bliss" turn toward heaven, mouth agape, hat in hand. Little did Hoffmann (who became a photographer years later of the German High Command) know then that he had captured on film "the Messiah, the avenger" of Germany's subsequent defeat and the chaos that followed, the "redeemer" of the race.. Herr Hitler, caught in the ecstasy of his madness.

Galeano has not lost his touch. Each book he puts out is different from the one that precedes it and seems better than the last. You finish "Mirrors" with a sense of astonishment and inspiration that washes over one like a cold mountain stream. He is one of the greatest chroniclers of our history and the greatest of the despised, oppressed and cast out peoples of this planet. Galeano's writings are an indispensable antidote to traditional history, which as has been said is a trick the victors play on the vanquished.


Mirrors is another milestone in the brilliant career of Eduardo Galeano. As unforgettable in its own way as Leaves of Grass.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Afghan Elegy C2009 ( Music Traditional/ Muss I Den/Wooden Heart_

There’s no way we can win
All this killing all this sin
Let's stop now let’s begin
There’s no way we can win this war

Using drone bombing runs
the lost daughters the lost sons
By the people we are shunned
And each day we will break God’s law

As the empire teeters in the wind
It’s possessed by a fatal flaw

As death rains from above
We have smothered the peace doves
No beauty sense and love --
There’s no way we can win this war…

Friday, April 24, 2009

Waiting for Galeano

Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan master writer, has a new book '"Mirrors" coming out soon from Nation Books. As soon as we locate a galley we will review. We have read Galeano for many years, including his Memory of Fire Trilogy,wherein he in capsule size segments gives the reader dose after dose of exquisitely written pieces on colonial oppression and resistance throughout Latin America from antiquity to now. The Book of Embraces, a series of short lyrical pieces with imaginative graphics by Galeano is an equally inventive set on art, poliitcs, and psyche, and a critique of modern capitalism. Days and Nights of Love and War is a terrific memoir and the earliest English-language (in translation) version of his anecdotal style. And of course it was his early "Open Veins of Latin America",a more traditional written history of colonial exploitation that was a gift from Hugo Chavez to Pres. Obama at the recent Trinidad Summit- and the book rocketed from somewhere in the 50000's on Amazon to No 2 as a result.Galeano is one of the most profound voices we have and we look forward with great excitement to his new work.

Robert Gardner

Gardner is one of the great independent cinematographers of our time with an empahsis on anthropolgical films and aesthetics. A review of his work, including his eloquent film diaries captured in Impulse to Preserve, is forthcoming here soon.

J G Ballard passed away last week. His incredible oeuvre of semi-dystopian science fiction/parables will stand with the works of both science fiction and surrealist writers for ages.More on his world soon.

The New York Times reports that the Taliban are moving closer to Islamabad and one sign of the crisis is that Richard Holbrooke is now writing several memos a day to Hillary Clinton ...Hmmmmmm....


Monday, April 13, 2009

We Need Snipers

We Need Snipers
C 2009 all rights reserved

We need snipers
We need snipers
to get rid of all the vermin and the vipers
Clear the windows of the world’s dirt with those wipers
Protect our democracy—

We need snipers
we’re still in diapers
shooting killing using suicide bombs
our best snipers take out pied pipers
and restore to us a deadly numbing calm

when you’re taken on a subway
or held hostage on a bus
we’ve an army now of snipers
who can make this scum eat dust

We need snipers
Our side swipers
To defend against the pirates of the sea
Long-Range shooters-roto-rooters
Who’ll extirpate filth from our society

Just remember
By November
Lips may threaten
If they speak too free

And with scopes that work at night
Even miles away they’ll bite
As they turn their sights on you and me

Thursday, April 2, 2009

OULIPO adventures in New York

Various outposts of French culture are hosting a series of workshops with members of the O.U.L.I.P.O. in New York this week. The OULIPO is an acronym for Ouvroir(Workplace) of Potential Literature, Its members include the deceased Raymond Queneau, and George Perec, the multitalented essayist, anagrammist, novelist (Life- A User's Manual, and A Void, a lipogrammatic novel written entirely without the letter e, the novelist/poet essayist Harry Mathews , Marcel Benabou, Jacques Roubaud, Ian Monk, and others, all of whom write under the constraint of one or another rule or yardstick, often mathematical. It's a heady mind exercise and for those who enjoy right-brain thinking and word play, one of the great pleasures in life.

In tribute to OULIPO, here is a short exercise I penned this am--(more to report later this week)--

An Interlude with Professor Spooner(ism)(i.e. a transposition of sounds of two or more words-let me sew you to your sheet-let me show you to your seat)
C 2009

When I met her on the commuter train in Greenwich she spoke of her great love for literature, and her incandescent beauty and seductive intellectual openness immediately sent fires through my cortical cells.As she recounted stories of her athletic prowess, and skiing skills, I dreamed that I counded my wock into her het pole as she lead her shell-spraped wegs just perfectly in the exercise. ”Would you like to be apping my whiped striss” she purred –although at the moment I would have preferred to have roseed the rimmering puckbud .And as for clicking that lorged engit, that went without saying, at least heuristically.
But just when I was sure she had genished her flapowering overtalia, the illusions disappeared and I awoke as if from an opium daze-
I felt somehow cheated , defrauded and I called upon Inspector Onamandias Ozynism, the leading ontological detective to put her to the test. ‘Madam”, he abruptly addressed her”, I am afraid that your disappy is pussearing faster than my 401k account” ‘In fact, your punt is nothing but a Schonzi ceme through and through”.
“I ‘m afraid I have a warrant to protest your arruberance,”, he continued ,’unless you can put up a collin as merkateral.”
‘Wait’ she replied- hold off on that warrant and I might just bruck your fexed oversains out right now.”

And, I am sadly informed, the temptation was too overwhelming for justice to carry the day

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Short interlude on Express Kidnapping

A while ago the Mexican Cultural Institute sponsored a reception at Idlewild Books launching David Lida's new book-"First Stop in the New World, Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century". David is a New Yorker living in Mexico who has written short stories as well as essays and travel literature. All downplayed the violence reflected in recent press reports ( and now NY Times articles as well as Hilary's great Mexican adventure). But David did concede the reality of the "Express Kidnapping- ie when you foolishly flag down a cab in the street (as opposed to arranging one in advance) and are held up for your ATM card, then usually unceremoniously dumped off- alive -in some suburb or out of the way place to make your way back to your hotel.Well it's better than being kidnapped and actually held for ransom , a fate of many of the full- time residents-
But so what, he says----let's face it, Mexico City still is one of the world's great cities, with the Greatest Anthropological Museum on the planet-oh that statue of Coatlicue can produce a lot more nightmares and excursions into the subconscious than all the vampire and werewolf films combined-

And it is such a world class food capital that even the Wall St Journal recognized it recently in a mouth -watering weekend piece, as well as the home of one of the planet's richest men-Carlos Slim ,who someday may own and control the New York Times..

No,you can't pretend to be a literate and imaginative involved citizen of the world and not visit Ciudad Mexico every few years to keep up with the culture

Express Kidnapper to Jack Benny:
"Your money or yourlife." Long pause and silence. Robber:"I said your money or YOUR LIFE." Benny; "I'm thinking, I'm THINKING."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's NYTimes story on The Supreme Court- in Support of Stripsearching the Following:

A Fox news bunny
Suzie Orman for your money
and shot glasses from those in a drunken stupor
Glue sniffers for epoxy
Rush Limbaugh for some oxy--
and jewels in the stool of commodities trading poopers

the 60 Minutes crew
including Leslie Stahl
are they carrying
their interviewees' fetish/devil dolls?

All hedge fund liars
to see if they're now wired
and FEMA employees who're checked for contraband
Southern Governors' rimulus
for some rejected stimulus
and fundamentalists' undies for literature they've banned

Those black robed judges
who guard the Constitution
for evidence they're lubricated for prostitution

Our world's slowed economy might move ahead and lurch
if only it's subjected to a little stripsearch

C2009- All rights reserved

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annals of Bookselling-The 100 Proof Seekers

No, they are not alcoholics,they are the proof seekers, an unlikely, if not somewhat unruly crowd which haunts and controls that area in the corner of the New York City bookstore basement that houses in several bookcases, the uncorrected advance review copies of books to be published.In their hangout, they control admission and departures so thoroughly that the section has been compared to the tribal areas of Waziristan where the Pakistan army dares not show its face.

And they are a motley group, from the 70ish short "retired investor" with wiry hair who is in the shop, I am told , every day, with his adoring wife,to the woman with the brown and white mutt often seen at the review desk downstairs picking up a bundle of 5 books, the guy with the oversized brown tortoise-shellglasses who looks like an aging hippie and who reads with his nose literally buried into the pages, and others of varying persuasions, at least some of whom are quite quite knowledgeable about books.

According to store legend, they have been known to push and shove overtly if not banish hostile proof seekers out of the aisle back onto the main section downstairs, preserving their proximity to the new proofs just dumped on the shelves.

For these are narrow aisles and there is no order ,alphabetically or otherwise to these filings- you just have to plunge in , look fast and grab. And they all cost a mere $1.49(up from 99c two years ago).Do some of them resell these treasures on e-Bay? Who knows- You can wait far and long before a proof even claims a $50 price- Like 2666 by Bolano.

So when I ventured into the basement one recent Friday evening and saw the knot of people hovering over and against the two shelves that had just received a deposit of new titles, I knew I had litle chance of moving them aside. I therefore engaged in a bit of pleasant banter, and with the delicacy necessary to thread between the tentacles of an octopus, reached between them and precisely and gently with two fingers picked out the autobiography of ex 1968 Columbia radical Mark Rudd and the terrific account by Michela Wrong-"It's Our Turn to Eat, The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower" .

At last the group fanned out over the basement, leading me to forget those critical passages in "Crowds and Power" by Nobel prize winning author Elias Canetti, about the organic quality and latent explosive powers possessed by a crowd.

I had my prizes, picked up a translation by Anne Carson ,of the three plays constituting the Oresteia, one each from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and headed for the exit ,happy to escape with a good stash and no fatal wounds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Baseball and the Baptist/Spring Fever

(last performed in Istanbul to a religion class of visiting Americans from a midwest college)

C 2009-All rights reserved

Baseball is an ancient sport
though the history books don't say it
but long before the Doubledays
it was dangerous to play it
the Mayans gamed on ball courts
with the losers' lives held liable
the first World Serious event
is recorded in the Bible
Slugging John the Baptist led the league against the state
until the day fair Salome
faced him at home plate
Salome was appetizing
John was none the wiser
she wound up to pitch
and he wound up an appetizer
all eyes were on her serpent dance
she dropped all seven veils
John was so entranced
but never lived to tell the tale
She placed her fingers on his lips
kissed his shuttered eyes
dipped his head in dressing
and pronounced him as baptized

Against raw power of the state
this preacher's prowess stuck out
But after Herod's foul play
it was all too plain he'd struck out
when he slammed his bat
returning headless to the dugout
Blazing John the Baptist
had just one run in- with state
But when the preacher took strike three
his head stayed on the plate

They buried him to save some face
between the mound and second base.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Perfect Wave of Dangerous Dining-A Restaurant Recommendation from Yemen

Sometimes the greatest culinary surprises are buried deep in our literature. Thus, for example in the 1991 travel adventure Motoring with Mohammed by Eric Hansen, a fine essayist and writer of whimsical travel a la Eric Newby and Redmond O' Hanlon,we find the author shipwrecked off the coast of Yemen. Rescued by the Yemeni military on Groundhog Day 1978, he and his group of sailing compadres are brought to the capital, Sa'na,an ancient city with fine mud-brick tower houses that dot the skyline and convey along with the many delicate minarets the aura of Scheherezade. There in the country reputed to be once the home of the legendary Queen of Sheba, he stays with an American Peace Corps worker, who recommends to him at his specific request an authentic Yemeni restaurant not frequented by tourists.(How many times have we naively made the same request ?)
We next find him waiting in line to enter an underground eatery with no name displayed, being borne up by the surging crowd in the air and pressed down the "foot-worn" stone steps to enter an inferno of hot earthen ovens--There he is forced to climb over the tables one after another to reach an open chair and winds up being wedged between two quite heavily armed men.They proceed to instruct him in the fine art of attracting the waiter's attention by hitting him with moistened spitballs made from their napkins. (I would love to do this in French Laundry or Taillevent in Paris(and who could object, surely not the French poodles perched under the tables)-it alone would be worth the cost of the meal although in the Oyster Bar in New York it might take a very long toss, with the significant air resistance entering into the calculus )

He then strikes the waiter in the shoulders with some precisely thrown overheads, and orders Salah, a highly spiced potato, garlic, and mutton stew, covered in a frothy sauce called bulba made from whipped fenugreek paste and served in an earthenware pot so hot it leaves scar marks on the table.

And of course it is delicious.Eating with his fingers and energized by the chilis, the author pays the bill and leaves the restaurant in an opium-like daze.

Now that is the kind of dining experience even those of us who have taken far-flung journeys dream about!It's the perfect wave -that once in a lifetime experience of dangerous and delicious dining,from which, even within the constraints of that dreaded word "tourism" you emerge presumably alive with your adrenalin and gastric juices in free flow.
For me, this evoked memories of a trip 30 years ago to the famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi, where you trace your steps down narrow alleyways to a step down raffish joint with what was considered by many India's best tandoor cooking. The butter chicken there still melts on my tongue, and it was predictable many years later when the chef was cajoled to go to London to open a well-financed "branch" in Covent Garden that the inevitable comparisons would be made-
I sampled the cuisine in this upscale dining establishment on a recent trip to London
It was quite tasty, subtle, well prepared but lacked the touch of brilliance of the original-
What is it about underground restaurants- are they close to the axis of the world- do they draw sustenance from the roots of the tree of life so that when they cook their pungent specialities one remembers them for a lifetime.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Free Bernie Now! Discarded Defense Strategy?

(Note to the reader)-This piece of discarded scrap paper was found near the defense table at Federal Court in Manhattan shortly after Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to one of the greatest swindles in history. It may represent an earlier defense strategy to use "the secret trope".

Free Bernie Now
C 2009- all rights reserved

He never killed or raped
He's no Jeffrey Dahmer
Free Bernie now
He pacified investors
made them feel much calmer
Free Bernie now

Avoiding all the market's nasty twists and turns
He gave us for so many years such great returns
Before him all the Wall St. wizards once did bow
Free Bernie now

He knew for what a larcenous heart ever yearns
Free Bernie now
and taught us all a lesson each investor learns
Free Bernie now

When your 401K account approaches nil-0
and there is little left to hide under the pillow
"It wasn't cause of me that it dropped- the Dow"
Free Bernie now

Free Bernie now
Free Bernie now
When the world is in the shitter
don't throw out the kitty litter

If it takes a thief well look
there is no one finer
who could suck out all the wealth
all the way from China
when it comes to fields of cash
who's the one to plow
Free Bernie now ( yeah yeah!)
Free Bernie Now!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Should the Obama Team Do Now-A Swiftian Solution

What will the Obama team do
Please don’t hold your breath
The quickest way to jumpstart us today
Is prescribe the remedy- death

Surround the bankers with controls
And give them asset protection
But if they fail
don’t put ‘em in jail
give ‘em a lethal injection

Don’t allow the subprime makers
a balance sheet surprise
Bury them instead
Up to their head
With sand that covers their eyes

If you find the hedge fund cupboard
Has been stripped quite bare
Extinguish sins of commission
or omission-
use an electric chair

If a money fund fails to hear
The redemption bell when clanging
Tow those in charge
On the deck of a barge
And give them death by hanging

If you find on audit that
Your broker’s records are odd
Go on a spree – issue a decree
And a YouTube firing squad

If it appears a long recession
Like Japan’s is being cloned
Get the past heads
Of the Fed
Together to be stoned

If fraudsters have been sewed
Into the web of financial embedding
I recommend
You effect their end
and do it by beheading

if interest rates have spiked
take your economic team
for an overhaul
to that part of Gaul
that will use the guillotine

If the banks
Even after TARP fail to lend at last
Shower their CEO’s with praise
And then with poison gas

Don’t give the winning sports teams
Parades ,or toss confetti
Just take the losers
And the drug users
And get out your machete

Don’t let private equity
Managers cause more pain
Take them at night
On a pleasure flight
And toss ‘em from the plane

What will the Obama team do
Please don’t hold your breath
The fastest way to recover today
Prescribe the remedy-death

C 2009 by Moncure C-All rights reserved

Monday, March 9, 2009

An Anecdotal History of the Strand Bookstore-Part I

The Strand is the Foyle's of New York City-Foyle's being a British institution since 1906 and the Strand existing on Book Row and Broadway since 1927, having moved to its present location in the late 1950's.Owner Fred Bass had the foresight to purchase the building at Broadway and 12th St many years ago and thereby was able to insulate his successful business from blinding increases in rent as well as take advantage of New York's lucrative real estate market for commercial space.

I have spent a decent portion of a lifetime haunting its nooks and crannies, and watching it grow in value and importance to bookselling in, and the cultural foundations of, New York as other stores on Book Row-4th Ave running up to Union Square- closed and were boarded up to be replaced by a host of branded irrelevancies.

And we all have tales to tell- some of which must remain classified to protect the
not so innocent.

Not fabricated embarrassing story of enormous social importance No 1-

In the mid 1960's and for a couple of decades thereafter , the Strand had an interior bathroom in the middle of the first floor, which was neither air conditioned nor well ventilated. This was all in the period before the furnishing and ventilation were enormously improved in the 1990's; they remain so to this day. The Strand bathroom during the 1960's was tiny, malodorous and even more difficult to adjust to than the commode on an airplane.

On a cold winter's day, I sat on the throne, did my business and as is my wont peered briefly beneath my shivering legs to watch gravity carry off what appeared to be two purple pieces disappearing down the bowl- In a state of shock, I spent 15 minutes feverishly looking in the medical section for an encyclopedia that would shed light on this bizarre and I thought potentially life- threatening symptom. I found nothing definitive, and still overcome with anxiety, went to a nearby coffee shop to have a diet coke and a piece of pie. As I was pulling my wallet out of my back pocket, it suddenly hit me that the purple material was two opera tickets to see Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera(part of an assignment in my Music Humanities course at Columbia College). They had fallen out of that pocket as I contortedly wriggled my butt to get out of the stinking toilet as quickly as possible.Relieved that the source of this crepuscular vision was two pieces of paper, but annoyed that I would have to repurchase tickets for myself and a friend, I proceeded to do so ( standing room only) and waited on line in the snow outside the old Met Opera House on west 39th st for over two hours, contracting bronchitis as a result.

ps- Next time I bought opera tickets -to Siegfried with Birgit Nillson I believe- I stapled them to my shirt and by accident to my chest- thus presaging the invention of punk years before its time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Congo LIne

The Congo is the name of a new travel guide issued by the venerable travel guide publisher Bradt and authored by Sean Rorison.Bradt is known for its coverage of such exotic lands as Madagascar ,Niger and Chad as well as Iran and Iraq, American intervention and hysteria notwithstanding.
The Congo, where millions have perished in recent wars in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo- until recently known as Zaire, and the ex-Marxist Republic of the Congo(formerly part of French Equatorial Africa, as all philatelists should know.
These wars have involved Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, and Burundi in a continuous struggle for control over natural resources-including gold, oil, lead, zinc and uranium in what has turned out to be the richest failed state in the world.
And the Congo has been the source of a drive for exploration and extraction since King Leopold of Belgium purported to annex it as his private reserve( separate and apart from the Belgian state)and loosed a reign of terror and extermination that brought cries from the world and anticipated along with the killing of the Hereros by the Germans the actions of the Nazis in the 20th century.

It has been the subject of a number of famous books, from Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Stanley's Through the Dark Continent to Colin Turnbull's pygmy tome The Forest People and Michela Wrong's account of the years of Mobutu Sese Seko, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz.

And the Congo is where Bogie and Katherine Hepburn went upriver in The African Queen-how many times have you seen that film..and the site in Kinshasa of the Ali -George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle, in which Ali won back his heavyweight championship after playing possum in the famous fifth round Rope-A-Dope.

Sounds like it's worth a trip now- after all it's the center of the Ituri pygmy population, once called sorcerers by Herodotus and one of the remaining hunter- gatherer tribes ( even as they were literally hunted down and cannibalized by fighters in the recent Civil Wars.) It's home too to the bonobo ape-with its steamy promiscous sex reminiscent to some of Southern California and immortalized in Will Self's scathing satire, Great Apes(which has little to do with California by the way).As well as home to the leopard, pangolin, okapi and male gorilla- see Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall for more reading in this area.

The Congo was at the center of African Marxist politics in the early 60's when Patrice Lumumba, a young idealist Marxist was assassinated by you know which intelligence agency and when the country's polity dissolved in a battle between Joseph Kasavubu and Moishe Tshombe until the accession of Mobutu Sese Seko stamped a brand of corrupt military dictatorship over the land for almost 30 years. Most recently, Laurent Kabila, who trained with Che Guevara in an unsuccessful Cuban 60's sally, and then his son Joseph have ruled over parts of the land, and Laurent NKunda, a charismatic Tutsi priest- soldier with a pet goat named Betsy,chalked up more than a few crimes against humanity before being returned to his native Rwanda for some R&R and downtime.

Yes, this is the place for those truly lunatic travellers among us, who throw caution to the winds and execute codicils to their wills at each airport they frequent-

You'll learn from this thorough guide that if one needs surgery it is advisable to be "evacuated to a neighboring friendly country" with better medical standards and God forbid you should need a transfusion and try to secure one within the parameters of this nation- your trajectory is likely to be vertical- straight into the ground.

Diseases to watch out for- bilharzia,malaria, meningitis, tickbite fever,pneumonic plague(but only in remote unsanitary areas) and the not to be discounted ebola fever- You remember that one of course- it's when every opening of the body bleeds as you become a living(but not for long) stigmata.

In this connection, it is advised to avoid handling dead chimpanzees-hopefully that is not the reason why you are here, after your hedge fund advisory position was lost.
And do not under any circumstance try to show anyone a magic trick, for the accusation of sorcery is common in an animist culture which associates disease and bad fortune with witchery. Many children, abandoned by their parents, and adults have been torn to pieces as a result.And just think what would happen if the Crucible opened in Brazzaville?

All this and more can be yours when you pick up a copy of Congo at Idlewild Books, the lovely travel/fiction store recently opened by former UN Press officer David Del Vecchio on 19th st in Manhattan where books are arranged by country in a manner reminiscent of the downstairs of Dent Booksellers in London

Friday, February 27, 2009

Annals of Booking 2-Outrageous Tales

Reminiscing about the many closed bookshops(that's not like a maison close)-I recall this story about Endicott Books, the grande dame of West Side carriage trade shops on Columbus between 80 th and 81st. This store had beautiful carpeting, 4 0r 5 steps up to sections in well-lit corners with what seemed to be - mahogany wood tables and bookcases. And, more notably a rather good selection of trade fiction and non-fiction, including well-chosen volumes of high quality, and an excellent collection of literary mags(more about that later and the loss of the great corner mag shop on Sixth ave and 11th street)
Anyway, when we first moved our main residence to Connecticut, and the kids were pre-teen, we would always come in the City once on the weekend and I would make quick runs to Endicott, Books & Co and St Marks while the troupe sat double-parked in the car, unless we could get a space and they piled in as well.
I was a pretty big customer of Endicott-and had been allowed bathroom privileges , in the small interior room on the left side of the main floor. Standing in line with 5 books which I had just purchased I told the clerk that I needed to use the bathroom - He replied in a skittish voice that it wasn't allowed.When I explained to him that the manager, his ostensible superior had allowed me to use the facilities on several occasions and reminded him,of the obscene(accordingto my spouse) volume of purchases I made in the last few years, he acknowledged all that.But then stated that the manager should not have allowed me- Was there some kind of store power play going on here - did I miss the rim the last time- hardly likely- I looked him down, knowing that the double-parked trio of my nuclear family would be furious if I spent much more time here--

I contemplated the alternatives and offered up this with a determined look on my face that did not exclude the obvious intestinal distress I was suffering
Can you tell me the corner of the store that is least frequented by customers??

He looked back in sheer disgust, reached for the key and rudely thrust it in my palm-----Well, just this time he mumbled with a pained expression that looked like he had just lost out on an inheritance at a reading of the will of a distant relative...

I went about my business but counted a great moral victory- such are the little triumphs of life...

Annals of Booking in New 1

We've all heard the sad tales about the decline in independent bookstores in New York, including a study summarized in the now defunct New York Sun about how NY State ranked I believe 50th in per capita bookstores per thousand population, a figure attributable not to the growth of chain stores or the net(since that would apply in all 50 states) but primarily to the huge increases in real estate and rental prices in the place of greatest population density-our own beloved Manahatta-

In Andre's Schiffrin's brilliant book, The Business of Books, published 8 years ago he details in a publishing industry chart from the mid-nineties the explosive (implosive?) decline in big city bookselling before then.
With the closing in the last couple of years of legendary stores like Coliseum(of west 57th and 42 nd st fame) and the immortal Gotham Book Mart, there are a mere handful of great independents left. Compare this to London, where I was over the winter holidays -There are well over a hundred independent shops and many terrific ones, even with high rentals, but many are far from the center. Will there more of an upsurge in the boroughs- There are a few good shops in Brooklyn, almost nil in Queens.

The most interesting restaurants (ethnically at least) are now in those boroughs. Will bookshops be able to migrate successfully- There's always hope in a city which remarkably regenerates itself through every crisis.

But if there's any money left over from the economic stimulus, it would be a good idea to sponsor public trusts for independent bookselling-It's that kind of knowledge transmission- even with the ubiquitous but never sufficient Kindle, that helps keep the ideals of civilization more fully alive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stumbling Along-Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

This Prix Goncourt winning novel, written in French by American expat Littell, who lives in Barcelona , arrives on our shores next week already battered by the usual coterie of critics-quoting Adorno on the impossibity of making art out of the holocaust and complaining that the kinky sexual preferences of the narrator(including his incestuous wishes) make him a poor candidate for an everyman is capable of horror theory of genocide.

Better that people should read the 970 page tome before leaping to conclusions.Once you've read Pynchon, Foster Wallace and the like, it's a relatively easy task. Then the debate can start. It's just too easy to put a book down without getting down to actually traversing all its pages.And I harbor a healthy suspicion that few critics made it through to the end.