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New in Paperback for March

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Here are just some of the paperbacks coming out in March that I can’t wait to read.
Crapalachia

Crapalachia: A Biography of Place by Scott McClanahan
A colorful and elegiac coming-of-age story that announces Scott McClanahan as a resounding, lasting talent.

We Only Have This Life to Live

We Have Only This Life to Live: Selected Essays, 1939–1975 by Jean-Paul Sartre, edited by Ronald Aronson and Adrian van den Hoven
Philosopher, novelist, playwright, biographer, journalist, and activist, Jean-Paul Sartre was also—and perhaps above all—a great essayist. The essay was uniquely suited to Sartre because of its intrinsically provisional and open-ended character. It is the perfect form in which to dramatize the existential character of our deepest intellectual, artistic, and political commitments. This new selection of Sartre’s essays, the first in English to draw on the entire ten volumes of his collected essays as well as previously unpublished work, includes extraordinarily searching appreciations of such writers and artists as Faulkner, Bataille, and Giacometti; Sartre’s great address to the French people at the end of the occupation, “The Republic of Silence”; sketches of the United States from his visit in the 1940s; reflections on politics that are both incisive and incendiary; portraits of Camus and Merleau-Ponty; and a candid reckoning with his own career from one of the interviews that ill-health made his prime mode of communication late in life.

The Bone Man

The Bone Man by Wolf Haas
At a wildly popular chicken shack in the Austrian countryside, where snooty Viennese gourmands go to indulge their secret passion for fried chicken, a gruesome discovery is made in the pile of chicken bones waiting to be fed into the basement grinder: human bones.
But when private eye Simon Brenner shows up to investigate, the manager of the restaurant, who hired him, has disappeared … while the owner of the place urges him to stay on and eat chicken.

Brenner likes chicken, so he stays, but as he waits for the manager, he discovers that the bucolic countryside is full of suspicious types: prostitutes, war profiteers, unsavory art dealers, Slavic soccer champs with dubious pasts — and at least one rather grisly murderer. And the more Brenner looks into things, the more it dawns on him that there’s a cleaver somewhere with his name on it.

Donnybrook

Donnybrook by Frank Bill*
The Donnybrook is a three-day bare-knuckle tournament held on a thousand-acre plot out in the sticks of southern Indiana. Twenty fighters. One wire-fence ring. Fight until only one man is left standing while a rowdy festival of onlookers—drunk and high on whatever’s on offer—bet on the fighters.

As we travel through the backwoods to get to the Donnybrook, we meet a cast of nasty, ruined characters driven to all sorts of evil, all in the name of getting their fix—drugs, violence, sex, money, honor. Donnybrook is exactly the fearless, explosive, amphetamine-fueled journey you’d expect from Frank Bill’s first novel . . . and then some.

Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler, afterword by Guy Trebay
When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind. Above all, there was its voice, ambivalent, curious, wry, the voice of Jen Fain, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Party guests, taxi drivers, brownstone dwellers, professors, journalists, presidents, and debutantes fill these dispatches from the world as Jen finds it.
A touchstone over the years for writers as different as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Hardwick, Speedboat returns to enthrall a new generation of readers.

The Comics Journal

The Comics Journal #302 edited by Gary Groth
In his longest published interview, Sendak looks back over a career spanning over 60 years and talks to Gary Groth about art, life, and death (especially death), how his childhood, his parents, and his siblings affected his art and outlook, his search for meaning — and also, on the lighter side, about his love (and hate) of movies. Kim Thompson conducts a career-spanning interview with French graphic novel pioneer Jacques Tardi. Art Spiegelman conducts a wide-ranging aesthetic colloquy on classic kids’ comics with a group of comics critics and historians. Michael Dooley moderates a roundtable discussion with Robert Williams, Joe Coleman, Marc Bell, and Esther Pearl Watson about the relationship between fine art and comics. Bob Levin provides a revelatory investigation of the twisted history of the Keep on Truckin’ litigation and a fascinating biographical portrait of R. Crumb’s lawyer, Albert Morse. The Comics Journal has been for 37 years the world’s foremost critical magazine about comics.

Solo Pass

Solo Pass by Ronald De Feo
A dark yet often funny novel narrated by a man who, for the past two months, has been a patient at a New York City mental ward. Having suffered a breakdown—due to his shattered marriage and an irrational fear of fading away as a human—he now finds himself caught between two worlds, neither of which is a place of comfort or fulfillment: the world of the ward, where abnormality and an odd sort of freedom reign, and the outside world, where convention and restrictive behavior rule. Finally on his way to becoming reasonably “normal” again, he requests and is granted a “solo pass,” which allows him to leave the (locked) ward for several hours and visit the city, with the promise that he will return to the hospital by evening.

As he prepares for his excursion, we get a picture of the ward he will temporarily leave behind—the staff and the patients, notably Mandy Reid, a schizophrenic and nymphomaniac who has become his closest friend there. Solo Pass is an unsettling satire that depicts, with inverted logic, the difficulties of madness and normalcy.

Messages in a Bottle

Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. (Bernard) Krigstein; Greg Sadowski (Editor); Marie Severin (IK)
Bernard Krigstein began his career as an unremarkable journeyman cartoonist during the 1940s and finished it as a respected fine artist and illustrator Krigstein’s legend rests mostly on the 30 or so stories he created for the EC Comics, but dozens of stories drawn for other, lesser publishers such as Rae Herman, Hillman, and Atlas (which would become Marvel) showcase his skills and radical reinterpretation of the comics page, in particular his groundbreaking slicing and dicing of time lapses through a series of narrow, nearly animated panels. This edition reprints the out-of-print 2004 hardcover B. Krigstein Comics, with a number of stories re-tooled and improved in terms of reproduction, and several new stories added.

*Disclaimer: Donnybrook is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan. I’m a publicist with Picador, also an imprint of Macmillan. I included Donnybrook for no other reason other than it looks awesome.

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Written by Gabrielle

March 5, 2013 at 6:55 am

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies

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Autobiography of a Super-TrampAs a New Yorker, every day I pass homeless people on the street, sometimes a group of them before I leave my neighborhood. One man sits on the corner store steps, babbling to himself, wasting away, dirty, feral; another, a young man, a little too friendly for comfort, asks what time it is and how I’m doing. A lifetime of training keeps me from making eye contact. Then there’s a woman who travels with these men, mumbling as she picks through garbage, wearing a thick wool hat, even in summer. Many times I’ve seen her with bruises on her face–from beatings, from a hard life, who knows. In the East Village, crust punks line the brick wall outside of McDonald’s–alternating between nodding off and begging for change. On the west side of town, a homeless poet hawks his work, boasting having once been published in The New York Times.

I’ve never pay them much mind, other than when they’ve gone too long without a bath, their meds, or a stretch of sobriety. With the poet on the street, I’ve walked by him so many times I can repeat his pitch, but never once have I considered that his writing might actually be good. Luckily, there are people like George Bernard Shaw in the world and every so often the talents of these unlikely characters are discovered.

In 1905, Shaw received an unsolicited manuscript delivered from a place called The Farm House, located in London. It was not unusual for him to receive aspiring writers’ work and, although undoubtedly busy with his own writing, “knowing how much these little books mean to their authors,” he felt bad if any of them went unread. This is how W.H. Davies, a poet and a tramp, was given a chance.

Based on the letters that often came with the manuscripts, Shaw would assess the nature of the sending author or publisher. However, when he held Davies’ book, he “could not place him. There were no author’s compliments, no publisher’s compliments … The author, as far as I could guess, had walked into a printer’s or stationer’s shop; handed him a manuscript; and ordered his book as he might have ordered a pair of boots.” Furthermore, in his letter, Davies asked for the price of half a crown or the return of the book.

After discerning that the author was “a real poet,” finding his work free from “literary vulgarity,” and considering it “like a draught of clear water in a desert,” Shaw sent money, along with professional advice–that one cannot make a living on poetry alone. But he didn’t stop there, he sent additional money along with a list of critics with instructions for Davies to send his collection to them as well. Shaw wondered if they would “recognize a poet when they met one.”

The Farm House was one of many public houses where Davies stayed during his time traveling up and down the East Coast of America, visiting the South and Midwest, and occasionally returning to England. These years, 1893 to 1899, are recorded in his memoir, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, first published in 1908 and reissued by Melville House in their Neversink Library series.

WH DaviesAlthough born and raised in Wales, it was The United States that Davies set his sights on and, despite receiving a weekly sum from his grandmother’s inheritance, he chose to travel as a hobo: hopping trains, sleeping in the elements, begging for food, and cohorting with unstable characters.

The book starts with a brief survey of Davies’ childhood. His father died when he was young, his mother remarried, and his brother was, as Davies called him in those pre-PC days, an “imbecile.” Davies’ family had a “great interest in pugilism” and encouraged his fighting. However, possibly altering the course of his life, his friend Dave introduced him to the joys of reading.

Through him I became a reader, in the first place with an idea of emulating his cleverness, which led to a love of literature for its own self. Of course I began with the common penny novel of the worst type, but acquired a taste for better work in a shorter time than boys usually do.

It’s this familiarity with physical abuse mixed with a sharp mind that helps Davies’ navigate the inhumane conditions and life-threatening situations he encounters.

Throughout The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, Davies writes his fellow travelers–and experiences–so large, the book often reads like a novel. The first person we meet is Brum, a quirky tramp with a keen business sense, a “notorious beggar.” Together, he and Davies “beat” from New York City to Chicago, the former playing the tutor to the latter as they look for suitable winter lodging and migrant work.

Through these companions, Davies learns to manipulate the Midwestern prison system for a warm place to stay; he witnesses firsthand the dangers of picking fruit in fields shared with snakes; and what comes to those who keep their money visible. His travels through the South bring him face to face with lynchings; meanwhile in Canada he finds “a kind-hearted race of people.”

Davies’ keen observations make The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp a work of cultural commentary, capturing a moment in history as seen from the ground. It’s How the Other Half Lives meets On the Road, one of those books that opens your eyes, changes your perspective, and makes you reconsider the world as you know it.

Links
Find The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp at our local bookstore
Read a chapter
Check out the other titles in Melville House’s Neversink Library 

Written by Gabrielle

February 5, 2013 at 6:48 am

New in Paperback for December

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Here’s what I’ll be looking for in the bookstores this month.

Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension by Michael Heald
Goodbye to the Nervous ApprehensionAcross eleven essays, Michael Heald compulsively measures himself against men like Eli Manning, Ryan Gosling, and Stephen Malkmus, and always comes up short. After a decade of failed relationships, estranged siblings, and abandoned hopes, he may or may not have learned his lesson. Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension is not nearly as depressing as any of this sounds.
Listen to Michael talk about publishing with Late Night Library

Tin House Winter 2013
Tin HouseIn this issue, we found it in young writer Helen Phillips’s story “Flesh & Blood,” about a woman who can see through people’s skin. We saw it in veteran Stuart Dybek’s fractured take on the operatic life in his story “Tosca.” And in Benjamin Percy, too, no stranger to fictional and personal risks, who writes here of his monthlong liver detox (spoiler: no meat and no alcohol do not tame Percy’s inner beast). Two books after being a New Voice in Tin House, Monica Ferrell returns to our pages with the poem “Oh You Absolute Darling.” Always searching for fresh writing, in this issue we are happy to introduce three New Voices: David Feinstein, Sam Ross, and Eric Burg. The venerable writer William Gass, interviewed here, says, “So you try, but you probably will fail. It’s a business. Failure is what happens.” To risk, to dare– that is his, and our, challenge.

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
Earthly PowersIn Earthly Powers Anthony Burgess, best known for A Clockwork Orange, explores the very essence of power through the lives of two modern men—Kenneth Toomey, eminent novelist, a man who has outlived his contemporaries to survive into honored, bitter, luxurious old age as a celebrity of dubious notoriety, and Don Carlo Campanati, a man of God, eventually beloved Pope, who rises through the Vatican as a shrewd manipulator to become the architect of church revolution and a candidate for sainthood.

As each pursues his career their relationship becomes the heart of a narrative that incorporates almost everyone of fame and distinction in the social, literary, and political life of America and Europe. This astonishing company is joined together by the art of a great novelist into an explosive and entertaining tour de force that will captivate fans of sweeping historical fiction. At the time of this posting, Open Letters Monthly is devoting their December issue to Burgess.

A Thousand Morons by Quim Monzao
A Thousand MoronsA Thousand Morons, Quim Monzó’s latest collection of short stories, is rife with very unfortunate characters. There’s the young boy in “A Cut” who is upbraided by his teacher when he rudely shows up for class with a huge gash in his neck. And the prince in “One Night” who tries everything to awaken a sleeping princess—yet fails completely.

An excellent combination of longer, elegiac stories of “morons,” aging, and the passage of time—with short, flashier pieces that display Monzó’s wit and playfulness—make this one of the strongest collections in the oeuvre of Catalan’s short fiction master.

The Penguin State of the World Atlas
Penguin State of the WorldNow in its ninth edition, the widely praised Penguin State of the World Atlas remains an accessible, unique visual survey of current events and global trends. Completely revised and updated, this distinctive atlas presents the latest statistics on communications and information technology, international trade, globalization of work, aging and new health risks, food and water, energy resources and consumption, global warming and biodiversity, literacy, gender equality, wars and peacekeeping, and more. Fascinating, troubling, and surprising, this is one atlas no student of the world should be without.

Written by Gabrielle

December 4, 2012 at 6:57 am

An Education with Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio

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It was by chance that I picked up a copy of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. A recent edition published by New York Review of Books was shelved in the adult section of the bookstore, a place I didn’t expect it to be. At first the haunting cover image, a close-up of a tree with wide-open, wet eyes, caught my attention, but it was the introduction from Umberto Eco and afterword by Rebecca West that made me linger. These two celebrated writers promised the mature analysis I would need after finishing a book known to me as story for children.

Luckily, I wasn’t familiar with Disney’s film adaptation, nor had I read its numerous variations. I was coming to it with the barest of information: wooden puppet wants to be a real boy; talking cricket named Jiminy; old man named Geppetto; nose grows when Pinocchio lies. As it turns out, Pinocchio’s longing to be human is not as prominent in the original, his nose is barely mentioned, and Jiminy Cricket is a near fabrication.

In fact, the truth about Jiminy Cricket is a perfect example of why reading, or revisiting, children’s books when you’re older can be so much fun.

After the cricket–known in Collodi’s version only as the Talking Cricket–reprimands Pinocchio for his obstinacy, the puppet throws a tantrum. On page 15 we read:

At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a rage, grabbed a wooden mallet from the workbench, and flung it at the Talking Cricket.

Perhaps he didn’t mean to hit him at all, but unfortunately he hit him square on the head. With his last breath the poor Cricket cried cree-cree-cree and then died on the spot, stuck to the wall.

At the time of Collodi’s writing–Pinocchio was serialized from 1881 to 1883–children’s books were a new genre. In her afterword, Rebecca West says, “Children’s literature was an innovation in nineteenth-century Italy (and elsewhere).” This alone would explain why Pinocchio feels more like a story with a child at its center rather than a children’s story.

While children’s authors today have a lineage to look to for guidance, Collodi was without a bookshelf to reference. Instead, as West points out, among his influences were Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Odyssey, and Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. We owe the slimness of the book to the Tuscan novella and Boccaccio’s Decameron, with which Collodi would have been familiar. Also an influence, according to West, was Celtic and Nordic mythology, playing a hand in Pinocchio’s “magical vegetation,” which gave Collodi the idea for a boy carved from a tree.

“It must be said first,” says Umberto Eco in his introduction, “that, though written in the nineteenth century, the original Pinocchio remains as readable as if it had been written in the twenty-first, so limpid and simple in its prose–and so musical in its simplicity.” Although the story breezes along, thanks to quick sentences, urgent dialogue, and short chapters, the story itself gives readers much to think about, as Eco acknowledges: “though it’s written in simple language, Pinocchio is not a simple book. … [it] doesn’t limit itself to one simple, basic moral, but rather deals with many.” A bildungsroman, he calls it: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character.

Pinocchio, although wooden, is very much a boy and now that he’s been let loose in the world, he must learn to behave. But, like most 6 and 7-year olds, Pinocchio is unruly. In addition to murdering the cricket who, from thereon in, appears as a ghost, Pinocchio has no sense of right and wrong; he has a profound lack of empathy and about as much willpower as his fleshy counterpart.

One of Pinocchio’s major failings is his aversion to school. Although Geppetto demands he go, even sacrificing his last coins for a text book, Pinocchio is easily distracted and lured into harmful situations. Two characters who pull Pinocchio away time and again are a pair of greedy creatures hoping to steal what few cents the boy has. In turn, it’s Pinocchio’s own greed and ignorance that gets in the way of his making good decisions.

“Pinocchio hesitated a little before answering, as he thought of the good Fairy, of old Geppetto, and of the Talking Cricket’s warnings. But in the end he did what all children with thick skulls and hard hearts do: in the end, that is, he said to the Fox and the Cat, ‘Let’s go then–I’m coming with you.’”

When Collodi was writing, Italy was in the midst of political upheaval. He had allied himself with the Republicans–those fighting against the Monarchy for a unified country. After unification, and before Collodi wrote Pinocchio, the school system was restructured. The process was not without many heated debates. During this time Collodi made a name for himself writing pedagogical tracts.

Although “attracted by order, discipline, and structured educational practices,” as West says in her afterword, Collodi was not a great fan of the programs initiated after the unification. She continues, “in spite of his interest in pedagogical writing, Collodi was highly suspicious of them [the programs] because he saw them as a threat to individuality and personal freedom.”

This tension between obedience and freedom–structured education vs. individualism–is at the center of Pinocchio, allowing it to be read as “a tale of both transgression and the necessity for conformity.”

Ultimately, Pinocchio learns to control his impulses and, as is suiting to a bildungsroman, shows moral and intellectual growth. But while the story comes to a close, in the mind of a careful reader it doesn’t end on the last page. The great triumph of Pinocchio is that it doesn’t give you answers, only questions. In this way, Collodi is still teaching. Although touted as a children’s book, Pinocchio leaves you with big, enduring issues rumbling around in your head: freedom vs. authoritarianism, what does youth owe society’s elders, what system of education is most effective, and how should we approach adolescent development. Anyone interested in the role of education and a child’s place in society will be well-served to read or reread this timeless classic.

::[Links]::
Buy Pinocchio at your local independent bookstore

Written by Gabrielle

October 9, 2012 at 6:51 am

New in Paperback for October

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I’d like to apologize now for increasing your To Be Read (TBR) pile but October’s paperback releases are astounding. I know I’ll have my eye out for these as they hit the stores. Some are already on display tables and shelves near you. Go out and find them. They are just asking to be devoured. Oh, and guys, don’t forget to drink water, eat, and talk to people. Happy October and happy reading!

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis intro by Keith Gessen (reissue)
Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Kingsley Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy.

More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy postwar manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh.

The Canvas by Benjamin Stein
Loosely based on the true story of Binjamin Wilkomirski, whose fabricated 1995 Holocaust memoir transfixed the reading public, The Canvas has a singular construction—its two inter-related narratives begin at either end of the book and meet in the middle.

Amnon Zichroni, a psychoanalyst in Zurich, encourages Minsky to write a book about his traumatic childhood experience in a Nazi death camp, a memoir which the journalist Jan Wechsler claims is a fiction. Ten years later, a suitcase arrives on Wechsler’s doorstep. Allegedly, he lost the suitcase an a trip to Israel, but Wechsler has no memory of the suitcase, nor the trip, and he travels to Israel to investigate the mystery. But it turns out he has been to Israel before, and his host on the trip, Amnon Zichroni, has been missing ever since.

Not My Bag by Sina Grace
From the artist of The Li’l Depressed Boy and Amber Benson’s Among The Ghosts, comes a retail hell story like you’ve never encountered before! A young artist takes a job at a department store in order to make ends meet… little does he know that he may meet his end! In this gothic story for fans of Persepolis, Blankets, and The Devil Wears Prada, can the artist withstand competitive pressure, treachery, and high fashion while still keeping his soul?

2017 by Olga Slavnikova
In the year 2017 in Russia– exactly 100 years after the revolution– poets and writers are obsolete, class distinctions are stingingly clear, and mischievous spirits intervene in the lives of humans from their home high in the mythical Riphean Mountains. Professor Anfilogov, a wealthy and emotionless man, sets out on an expedition to unearth priceless rubies that no one else has been able to locate. His expedition reveals ugly truths about man’s disregard for nature and the disasters created by insatiable greed.

The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem
In The Ecstasy of Influence, the incomparable Jonathan Lethem has compiled a career-spanning collection of occasional pieces—essays, memoir, liner notes, fiction, and criticism—which also doubles as a novelist’s manifesto, self-portrait, and confession. The result is an insightful, charming, and entertaining grab bag that covers everything from great novels to old films to graffiti to cyberculture.

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (reissue)
First published in 1934, Goodbye to Berlin has been popularized on stage and screen by Julie Harris in I Am a Camera and Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and caf s; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires — this was the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. Goodbye to Berlin is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable and “divinely decadent”Sally Bowles; plump Frau lein Schroeder, who considers reducing her Bu steto relieve her heart palpitations; Peter and Otto, a gay couple struggling to come to terms with their relationship; and the distinguished and doomed Jewish family, the Landauers.

That’s Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson
Benjamin arrives with his parents for a tour of Roaring Orchards, a therapeutic boarding school tucked away in upstate New York. Suddenly, his parents are gone and Benjamin learns that he is there to stay. Sixteen years old, a two-time failed suicide, Benjamin must navigate his way through a new world of morning meds, popped privileges, candor meetings and cartoon brunches–all run by adults who themselves have yet to really come of age.

The only person who comprehends the school’s many rules and rituals is Aubrey, the founder and headmaster. Fragile, brilliant, and prone to rage, he is as likely to use his authority to reward students as to punish them. But when Aubrey falls ill, life at the school begins to unravel. Benjamin has no one to rely on but the other students, especially Tidbit, an intriguing but untrustworthy girl with a “self-afflicting personality.” More and more, Benjamin thinks about running away from Roaring Orchards–but he feels an equal need to know just what it is he would be leaving behind.

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
A single mother takes her two sons on a trip to the seaside. They stay in a hotel, drink hot chocolate, and go to the funfair. She wants to protect them from an uncaring and uncomprehending world. She knows that it will be the last trip for her boys.

Beside the Sea is a haunting and thought-provoking story about how a mother’s love for her children can be more dangerous than the dark world she is seeking to keep at bay. It’s a hypnotizing look at an unhinged mind and the cold society that produced it. With language as captivating as the story that unfolds, Véronique Olmi creates an intimate portrait of madness and despair that won’t soon be forgotten.

The Thursday Night Men by Tonino Benacquista
Every Thursday night at 7 o’clock a group of three men meet in Paris. Each man’s life, his story, his situation, is as different from the others’ as can be. What unites them is heartache. Trouble, that is, with women. The meetings are held in a spirit of openness and tolerance.

In an almost religious silence each man confesses while the others listen.

In The Thursday Night Men, Benacquista gives his readers a variety of unexpected and amusing perspectives on romance, the relationship between the sexes, and friendship between men.

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
Shirley Jackson meets The Twilight Zone in this riveting novel of supernatural horror.
A village on the Devil‘s Moor: a place untouched by time and shrouded in superstition. There is the grand manor house whose occupants despise the villagers, the small pub whose regulars talk of revenants, the old mill no one dares to mention. This is where four young friends come of age—in an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion. Their innocent games soon bring them face-to-face with the village‘s darkest secrets in this eerily dispassionate, astonishingly assured novel, infused with the spirit of the Brothers Grimm and evocative of Stephen King‘s classic short story “Children of the Corn” and the films The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke andVillage of the Damned by Wolf Rilla.

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks
I Want My MTV tells the story of the first decade of MTV, the golden era when MTV’s programming was all videos, all the time, and kids watched religiously to see their favorite bands, learn about new music, and have something to talk about at parties. From its start in 1981 with a small cache of videos by mostly unknown British new wave acts to the launch of the reality-television craze with The Real World in 1992, MTV grew into a tastemaker, a career maker, and a mammoth business.

Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a testament to the channel that changed popular culture forever.

What paperbacks are you looking forward to this month? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

October 2, 2012 at 6:38 am

The Interior World of Stefan Zweig

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It’s been said that Stefan Zweig is either loved or unknown. Up until recently I’d never heard of the Austrian writer but after reading Confusion, Zweig’s novella published in 1927, I moved swiftly into the former. After The Post-Office Girl, his unfinished novel published posthumously in 1982, I was a committed evangelist.

Zweig was born in Austria in 1881 to Jewish parents and came of age during World War I. While patriotism and jingoism were the mode of the day, he chose pacifism. During Hitler’s rise to power, Zweig’s Jewish heritage, although he was not a religious person, became problematic and forced him and his second wife to flee Austria in 1934. They first went to London, then New York City, and ultimately Brazil. Rio was their final destination and the place where they tragically took their lives together by way of barbituate overdose.

The common theme that runs through Confusion and The Post-Office Girl is denial–pretending to be something one is not, denying one’s true nature or status in life. In the former it’s sexuality, in the latter it’s class. Zweig’s writing on these topics–questioningly, poignant, and counter-culturally–makes him feel ahead of his time. One can’t help but wonder what he would write if he were alive today.

Confusion, written from a reflective point of view 40 years later, begins with the protagonist, Roland, found in a compromising situation with a woman by his father a short time after heading to university. The incident left him “agitated and confused” and leads him to overthrow “the whole grandiose house of cards [he] had built during the last three months, a house constructed out of masculinity, student debauchery and bragging.” With his father’s approval he leaves the city of Berlin where his “sense of liberation was so powerfully intoxicating that [he] could not endure even the brief seclusion of the lecture hall” for a college in a small provincial town in central Germany.

Hoping to enroll in an English language and literature course, he walks in on a professor giving a lecture to a small gathering. Unnoticed, Roland observes this “animated discourse” and experiences “what Latin scholars call a raptus, where one is taken right out of oneself.”

“I had never before known language as ecstasy, the passion of discourse as an elemental act, and the unexpected shock drew me closer,” he continues. This initial meeting marks the beginning of an intense, and often confused (as the novella’s title alludes to), relationship between Roland and the professor.

Without a place to live, Roland accepts from his new teacher the empty apartment–a small room–just upstairs from where he and his wife reside. In addition to their physical closeness, and their daily interaction at school, the two are further entwined by a project: the writing of a second volume to the professors unfinished work, The Globe Theatre: History, Production, Poets.

However, a turbulently mannered man, it doesn’t take long before the professor’s moods affect the admiring student. Verging on emotional abuse, the teacher withholds praise, fluxuates between love and irritation, and, in the most extreme case, leaves town for days without explanation or information as to his whereabouts.

How I suffered from this man who moved from hot to cold like a bright flash of lightning, who unknowingly inflamed me, only to poor frosty water over me all of a sudden, whose exuberant mind spurred on my own, only to lash me with irony–I had a terrible feeling that the closer I tried to come to him, the more harshly, even fearfully, he repelled me.

To the modern reader, the homoerotic undertones reveal themselves early on and what would be considered commonplace in literature today, possibly even outdated–a man struggling with his sexuality in the face of a young student–is quite extraordinary when placed within the context of 1927 when it was first published.

As with Confusion, The Post-Office Girl draws us into the inner life of a tormented character. Here we’re introduced to Christine Hoeflehner, a 20-something post-office worker in a post-World War I Austria. She’s is a simple, honest young woman scraping by as she cares for her sick mother. One day the family receives a telegram from a rich aunt, currently vacationing in a resort in the Swiss Alps, inviting Christine for a visit. At the behest of her mother, Christine prepares for the short vacation.

From the moment she gets off the train and enters the car that will take her to the resort with other passengers, she’s aware of her shabby clothing, her unstylish hair, and her cheap luggage. “Once shame touches your being at any point, even the most distant nerve is implicated, whether you know it or not; any fleeting encounter or random thought will rake up the anguish and add to it,” says the narrator, offering the reader a window into Christine’s agony.

After an extensive makeover, an effort that takes nearly a full day, courtesy of her aunt, Christine embraces the affluence that surrounds her, as if she’s known no other way–or, more importantly, as if she never wants to return to her former life. Soon, she has the attention of many vacationing bachelors.

Early in her stay, an innocent mix-up regarding her name completes the transformation. From the unknown “Hoeflehner” to the respectable “von Boolen,” she is no longer a village girl but a debutante. At first this gives her a “twinge” but soon she settles into it as if it’s always been hers.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for jealousies to fester and just as quickly as Christine ascended this previously foreign world, her reputation is destroyed. Unbeknownst to her, rumors spread of intentional deceit. Her aunt, also once a poor village girl, to save her own reputation, sends her niece back from whence she came without so much as an explanation–or at least not one that makes much sense.

Christine, having gotten a taste of the riches available to this small segment of the population, can no longer return to her former life as a desk clerk. Distraught and wholly unsatisfied, she’s convinced of a scheme that promises to return her to a world of wealth.

Because the The Post Office Girl was left unfinished at the time of Zweig’s death, the reader is left guessing as to the fate of this desperate character. However, one should not fear the open-endedness–it is of no consequence to the enjoyment of the novel. As with Confusion, and as I am sure is true of all Zweig’s writing, the philosophical insights into human nature is what lends to the richness of the reading experience.

If Stefan Zweig is currently unknown to you, pick up one of these two books and join the ranks of the converted.

::[Links]::
Buy Confusion from your local bookstore
Buy The Post-Office Girl from your local bookstore
Reading Group Guide for The Post-Office Girl
Profile of Stefan Zweig in More Intelligent Life
Clive James’s entry on Stefan Zweig in ‘Cultural Amnesia’
Zweig’s official website

Written by Gabrielle

September 25, 2012 at 6:52 am

Walking with Robert Walser

with 4 comments

As I move further away in time from my suburban upbringing, where little was accessible by foot—a place where if neighbors see you walking on the side of the road they assume something is wrong—to life in a major city where cars are about as useful as an inner tube in the desert, I have become sensitive to speeds faster than a brisk walk or leisurely bike ride. Ten years on I am less inclined to want to move quickly through the streets.

If, on the odd chance that I’m in a taxi or hired car, my notion of Manhattan geography becomes distorted: 6th Avenue appears foreign; corners I encounter everyday no longer look familiar; I second guess my location at every major intersection; and there’s a profound disconnect between me and the people on the street with whom I normally jostle with for sidewalk space. I feel like a tourist, wide-eyed with wonder and amazement.

I believe it was my first roommate in Brooklyn who said, after just a few months of her living in this city, that she could no longer stand riding in cars, that the speed made her nervous. Whether it was power of suggestion or a phenomenon of urban living, soon I felt the same way. It didn’t take long before those 60 miles an hour on the highway, which in my teens were never fast enough, became moments of hyper awareness and breath-holding. After just a few short months of living the city life I, too, could no longer ride in cars comfortably.

Robert Walser, in his meditative novella The Walk, captures this feeling perfectly when he has the narrator say, “… I never shall understand, how it can be called a pleasure to hurtle past all the images and objects which our beautiful earth displays, as if one had gone mad and had to accelerate for fear of despair.”

The Walk begins with a writer taking a break from his daily work. He leaves his desk and steps out onto the “open, bright, and cheerful street, in a romantically adventurous state of mind”. Rather quickly, within the same paragraph, he hints at the shifts in mood ahead: “I vividly sensed a certain seriousness still before me and behind me.”

Largely composed of internal dialogue, the novel’s tone is determined by these sudden changes in the narrator’s reactions and diversions. A reader, unaccustomed to Walser’s writing, or sly comic writing in general, would be forgiven for at first being confused. They might even think twice about continuing. However, those who do will acclimate to the wild ups and downs, eventually find them endearing, and ultimately realize that this is where the humor lies.

The narrator, out on what will become a day-long walk, switches between aimless wandering and purposeful errand running. His mood vacillates from one extreme to the next depending on the environs. At one point he says, “almost everything I saw as I proceeded filled me with a fiery love” and, at another, “as I waked and marched along on the most beautiful of roads a juvenile, foolish shout of joy burst from my throat”. But soon, he sees a man he knows whose “sorrowful, gruesome air” fills him with “terror” and whose “tragic, atrocious appearance took every bright, beautiful prospect, all joy and gaiety” away from him. Then there’s the trip to the tailor that leaves him “vexed” and puts him in “ill humor”. Left in solitude long enough, he even ventures into mystical whimsy: “In the sweet light of love I believed I was able to recognize—or required to feel—that the inward self is the only self which really exists.”

Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time alone with their thoughts has had similar experiences with a quick-shifting mood, or so I’d like to believe. For those, like me, walking through a crowded city, one is faced with a range of emotions—sometimes changing as quickly as the traffic lights. On any given day I come across many things that can easily affect how I feel: a group of friends walking in a row on a narrow sidewalk; an elderly couple holding hands; an ill-behaved kid and a mom raising her voice; a pre-teen reading a book in a coffee shop rather than texting; 16-year-olds screaming down the street as school lets out. The possibilities are endless.

Not only does Walser express beautifully the reality of being out in the world and all the feelings that come along with it, but The Walk illustrates the philosophical turns the mind takes while in motion.

… all sorts of thoughts continue to preoccupy me, since, when I’m out walking, many notions, flashes of light, and lightning flashes quite of their own accord intrude and interrupt, to be carefully pondered upon …

How it might look that he’s out for a walk instead of at home writing frequently enters the narrator’s mind, making him self-conscious and, as mentioned above, forces him to mix his leisurely activity with a trip to the tailor, post office, and tax collector. “It will be seen how much I have to do, and how this apparently idele, easygoing walk is virtually teeming with practical business affairs,” he assures himself.

He’s not entirely paranoid. When he meets with the inspector of taxes and attempts to convince him of a low rate, he must defend his walks against an accusation of an idle lifestyle.

”Walk,” was my answer, “I definitely must, to invigorate myself and to maintain contact with the living world, without perceiving which I could neither write the half of one more single word, nor produce a poem in verse or prose. Without walking, I would be dead, and would have long since been forced to abandon my profession, which I love passionately. Also, without walking and gathering reports, I would not be able to render the tiniest report, nor to produce an essay, let alone a story. Without walking, I would be able to collect neither observations nor studies. …

On a far-wandering walk a thousand usable thoughts occur to me, which shut in at home, I would lamentably wither and dry up. …

I could go on quoting this incredible passage with all its wisdom on how to, as a writer, be an effective walker but I don’t want to rob even one person of the experience of reading it on their own in context.

The Walk was my first foray into Robert Walser’s work and, like the many writers and critics who appear to unequivocally love his writing, I know that this is just the beginning of my experience with him. As was said in 2008 on KCRW’s Bookworm, there appears to be something of a “Walser Bug.” I believe I’ve caught it and I can only hope it’s communicable.

::[Links]::
Find The Walk a local independent bookstore
An Introduction to Robert Walser (Words Without Borders)
The Genius of Robert Walser by J.M. Coetzee (New York Review of Books)
Still Small Voice: The fiction of Robert Walser (The New Yorker)
A Celebration of the Work of Swiss Writer Robert Walser (KCRW’s Bookworm)
A Tribute to Robert Walser at PEN
The Walk reviewed at Three Percent

Written by Gabrielle

July 24, 2012 at 7:04 am

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