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…