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.

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