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Unusual, Neglected and/or Lost Literature

Major update during Nov. 2008 including reformatting (e.g. what was I thinking using all those HTML lists?), many new entries, and adding new material to old entries (although I've not yet found the motivation to check for all the dead links).


Contained herein are links and books in my personal collection (well, a few aren't...yet) in the general category of unusual literature, for which the best definition I can come up with at the moment is: stuff I like that's a little or a lot different than most of the stuff you'll find down at the local Books'R'Us. The list will expand in number and in content as I add personal editorial content as well as comments from elsewhere [Right. Don't stay up late waiting for the former. - Ed.] Some of the volumes are obviously intrinsically better pieces of literature than others, but intrinsic literary quality will not in itself be a criterion for including/excluding a volume from the list. Actually, there probably won't be any criteria for excluding volumes from the list unless I have a strong visceral reaction against a particular volume, and even then I can probably get over it.

I guess the ultimate goal is to provide somewhere for myself and others of my particular bent (and I use that word very deliberately) to go to find something to read during those times when the usual fodder just isn't satisfying the need, as well as to provide a web presence for the writings of obscure/unusual authors who deserve wider recognition. To put it another way, if your interests are anywhere near consonant with mine, you've hit the mother lode. If not, run like hell, but with the hopefully comforting thought that there are another billion or so pages on the web.

I've chosen/pinched/pilfered reviews basedly almost entirely on their informational content rather than their opinion of the book, on the theory that the more you know about the author and the book the more you'll be able to appreciate it. If you like the review, check out the link to that reviewer and you'll probably find more good stuff by them. If you want my opinion just ask. If I have one I'll share it, and if I don't I won't. If you don't want your review on here, just ask and I'll delete it.

Suggestions and commentary are more than welcome and will be fully credited unless otherwise desired. Email to:

baum@stommel.tamu.edu

For anyone interested, my personal collection has been cataloged and can be browsed by poking around here.

Enjoy.



Meta, i.e. Other Sources Similar to This Page


99 Novels
An article written by Anthony Burgess to accompany his "99 Novels" book, wherein he listed and wrote brief essays about "99 fine novels produced between 1930 and now [i.e. 1983]." If I hadn't chanced upon that book in the mid-1980s, this page almost surely wouldn't exist. Thanks, Wilson.
Alternate List Source

The Most Unusual Books at the Complete Review
The Most Obscure Books at the Complete Review
The 20th Century's Greatest Hits: 100 English Language BOoks of Fiction
A reaction to the 1998 Modern Library list of the 100 greatest English language novels. This one's a whole lot more fun.

Rough Guide's "Cult Fiction: The Isolation Ward"
A book dedicated to authors who produced one cult novel.

Books About Books
Rich, creamery metabookage.

Top 50 Irish Novels
Created by the Irish Times. The Irish novelists are better at the unusual than most.

50 Essential Alternative Horror Books
New York Review of Books Classics
Modern Horror Fiction: 113 Best Books
Checklist of Lost Race Literature
The Encyclopedia of Steampunk
This is mostly in Polish, although a Chronology is in English.

The Invisible Library
"A collection of books that only appear in other books. Within the library's catalog you will find imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound." Alas, this marvelous site seems to have vanished. A degree of consolation can be found at the Wikipedia List of Fictional Books, though. Hooray for the archive.org copy.

Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Works
"What we have here is a site dedicated to presenting works in the fields of science-fiction and fantasy--sometimes collectively called "speculative fiction"--that get high grades for literary quality without needing any bonus points just for being science fiction or fantasy. The books are judged as literature, not as "science-fiction books" or "fantasy books"."

Fantastic Metropolis
"Since its inception in October 2001, Fantastic Metropolis has been engaged in what is part of a permanent revolution against sterile, stereotypical fiction by encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas between genres and cultures, while showcasing speculative literature written by uniquely talented and creative people from around the world."

10 Overlooked Odd Speculative Fiction Classics

The Exploits of Engelbrecht - Maurice Richardson
The Hereafter Gang - Neil Barrett, Jr.
Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book - Don Webb
Dr. Adder - K. W. Jeter
Bones of the Moon - Jonathan Carroll
Zod Wallop - William Browning Spencer
Lunatics - Bradley Denton
Mind Parasites - Colin Wilson
Dead in the West - Joe R. Lansdale
Anno Dracula - Kim Newman

Matt's Top 10 Overlooked, Unknown and Forgotten Books of Speculative Fiction
Lost Book Archives
Best Overlooked Fantastical Fiction
The Lost Club Journal
Science Fiction Curiosities
It Goes on the Shelf
Overlooked Gems of SF and Fantasy
The Cheap Truth
"Cyberpunk's one-page propaganda organ, Cheap Truth, was given away free to anyone who asked for it. Cheap Truth was never copyrighted; photocopy 'piracy' was actively encouraged. Cheap Truth deliberately mocked established [SF gurus] and urged every soul within earshot to boot up a word-processor and join the cause."

Desperado Literature
The Weird Review
The Green Man Review
Nabakovilia
"Nabokovilia is a haphazard collection of quotes by writers who have snuck references to Nabokov and things Nabokovian into their work."

The Electronic Labyrinth
"A study of the implications of hypertext for creative writers looking to move beyond traditional notions of linearity."

Encyclopedia of Superfictions
Rap Sheet's One Book Project
"What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?"

The Modern World
"The web's largest site devoted to exploring twentieth-century experimental literature."

The Compulsive Reader

Dalkey Archive Reading Guides

Overlooked Works of Fiction
Important Works of Fiction with a Reputation for Being "Difficult"
Out-of-Print Works That Should Be Reissued
Best War Novels Since 1945
Under-Read Works of Fiction Booksellers are Passionate About
Out-of-Print Works of Literature That Should Be Reprinted
Funniest Works of Fiction
Challenging Novels College Students Should Read

Dalkey Archive Press
Any Amount of Books

Meta-Books


Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission - Michael Ondaatje et al., ed.
A Reader's Delight - Noel Perrin
Unknown Masterpieces - Edwin Frank, ed.
Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason - Nancy Pearl
Nicholas Brisbanes trilogy:

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
Patience & Fortitude : A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture
A Splendor of Letters : The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World
Imaginary Books and Libraries - John Webster Spargo
Bound to Please - Michael Dirda
The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction - Michaela Bushell, Helen Rodiss and Paul Simpson
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die - Peter Ackroyd and Peter Boxall
The Footnote: A Curious History - Anthony Grafton
The Devil's Details: A History of Footnotes - Chuck Zerby
Indexers and Indexes in Fact & Fiction - Hazel K. Bell
Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities - Kevin Jackson

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels : An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle
Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels : An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987 - David Pringle
Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorne and Michael Moorcock
Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
Horror: Another 100 Books - Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
They Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels - Jim Huang
100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century - Jim Huang
Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers - Jim Huang
The Crown Crime Companion: The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time - MWA
Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books - H. R. F. Keating

50 Best Alternative Horror Titles

Authors

The Ambrose Bierce Appreciation Society
The Garden of Forking Paths: Jorge Luis Borges
The Avram Davidson Website
Lionel Fanthorpe Appreciation Page
Harry Stephen Keeler Society
The Nights and Cities of Gerald Kersh
R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page
Jerusalem Dreaming: An Appreciation of the Writings of Edward Whittemore

Weblogs

Anecdotal Evidence
I'vebeenreadinglately
Mumpsimus - Displaced thoughts on misplaced literature.
Clews's Reviews: A Book Log
The Library of Babel: A Book Log
Outside of a Dog: A Book Log
Virtual Marginalia

Amazon Lists of Exceptional Interest

Remarkable Books: An Eclectic List
Exotic Fantasy and SF Favorites
Concealed Labyrinths Innovative Etc. Etc. Prose
Some Restrictions Apply: Oulipo Novels & Texts
Eclectic List of Literary Obscurities
Obscure Writers Deserving More Attention
Not Dead Yet 1
Not Dead Yet 2
Not Dead Yet 3
The Experience of the Other Night
Library of Peripheral Experiences
Books at the End of the Night
No One Should Read These Books
Strange Books
Read Closely Enough and Your Eyes Will Fall Out
Curious Contraptions
Essential Genre Reference Works
Truly Modern Suspension Bridges
Labors of Love, by Odd Ducks
Logophiles and Hyperbolists
Metamania
books about nothing
Where Lies the Strange, the Corrupted
Strange Nonlinear Fiction
The Slipstream Core Canon

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
Little, Big - John Crowley
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link
Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany
Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories - Angela Carter
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Love and Sleep - John Crowley
Daemonomania - John Crowley
Endless Things - John Crowley
Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology - James Patrick Kelly, ed.
The Complete Short Stories - J. G. Ballard
Stranger Things Happen - Kelly Link
The Lottery and Other Stories - Shirley Jackson
Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon
Conjunctions: 39, The New Wave Fabulists - Peter Straub, ed.
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
The Trial - Franz Kafka
Absurdists, Surrealists and Annihilation
Books selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 1)
Books selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 2)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 3)
Books Selected by Borges for his 'Personal Library" (Part 4)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 5)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 6)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 7)
Searching archives: Researchers and the meaning of the past
The Disciples, Collaborators, and Contemporaries of Borges
Labyrinths and Puzzles and Mysteries, Oh My!
Isomorphisms, Strange Loops, Multiple Levels of Meaning
Pornography for Astral Bodies: An Announcement
The Great Heresy
Society of Skeletons and Paleobotanists
Tuxedo Fred, or The Peruvian Swordsmith: An Allegory
Pataphysics, Situationism, Dada, Whathaveyou
Tomes of Surreal and Symbolist Literature
Little Read Books That Are Well Worth Reading
Fantasy Nouveau
Science Fiction Nouveau
Beyond Bridget: Uproarious Fictitious Diaries and Memoirs
Books to Tickle Your Funny Bone
Some Like It British: Humour for Confirmed Anglophiles
Dictionaries of the Strange and Fabulous
Science Fiction Plus Absurdism
Entertaining But Different: Strange Fiction
Weird Reads
Fiction: Obscure But Great
Vintage Weirdness
Some Masterpieces of Fantastic Fiction
Future Nobel Prizes
Sterne and Kafka Revisited: Fantastic Excursions
Altered States: Brilliant But Twisted Books
Metafiction and Surreal SF Absurdisms
The Age of Irony: Reading List
Lost Maps or Manuscripts, Lost Libraries, Gothic Winds
Postmodernism for the Impatient
Classic Lit: The Lesser Known Authors
Twentieth Century Lit Redux 1
Twentieth Century Lit Redux 2
Wet Moth Exhaustion
Magic Realism I
Magic Realism II
Magic Realism III
Masterpieces of Magic Realism
Lists Are Like Pairs of Pants
The Blazing Lights of the Sun
Found Poetry and Altered Texts
The Book That Exploded
Exploded Metaphysical Surrealism
Great Experimental Fiction
Bizarro and Other Literary Oddities
Best Experimental Fiction, Postmodernism, and Bizarro
Obscure and Esoteric Delights
Best Books You've Never Heard Of
Incredible Fictional Literature
Obscure Russian Books You Should Read
Post-Modern, Warped and Highly Innovative
Time is a Mid-Night Scream
Bizarre Journeys
Great Absurdist and Surrealist Fiction
Unimaginable Domains from the Void
Jazz History Ken Burns and Wynton Don't Want You to Know
Fantasies of Time and Place
20 Overlooked Cult Beauties
1994 - Growing Up Weightless - John M. Ford
1993 - Through the Heart - Richard Grant
1992 - King of Morning, Queen of Day - Ian McDonald
1991 - Points of Departure - Pat Murphy
1990 - Subterranean Gallery - Richard Paul Russo
1989 - Wetware - Rudy Rucker
1989 - Four Hundred Billion Stars - Paul McAuley
1988 - Strange Toys - Patricia Geary
1987 - Homunculus - James Blaylock
1986 - Dinner at Deviant's Palace - Tim Powers
1985 - Neuromancer - William Gibson
1984 - The Anubis Gates - Tim Powers
1983 - Software - Rudy Rucker


AAA


J. R. Ackerley

My Dog Tulip - J. R. Ackerley

Reviews:

"I think My Dog Tulip is possibly the best book about dogs I have ever read. It doesn't suprise me to see that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (The Hidden Life of Dogs) has written the introduction to the current edition, as Ackerley opened up some of the territory she was to explore. They remind me of each other quite a lot.

In the first scene of My Dog Tulip, Ackerley meets a little old lady wheeling a little dog around the park in a pram. The dog is dressed up in a blanket and she is cooing to him like an invalid. It's obvious that this highly anthropomorphised canine is the sort of dog Ackerley wants NOT to portray. He commented at the time that he wanted to restore beastliness to beasts, and as E.M. Forster put it, Tulip is 'a dog of dogdom', not just 'an appendage of man.' My Dog Tulip lampoons the British middle class as well as human anthropocentrism in general. Ackerley's technique of combining shocking subject matter with a genteel, decorous prose style is always a joy to read. It's also definately the main reason he managed to get away with publishing this book in 1956. It's no small measure of the success of this balancing act, that a book which still manages to upset a minority of readers in 2001 was published in 1956 to general critical acclaim.

What you get, if you buy My Dog Tulip, is a very detailed account of Ackerley's life with his dog Queenie (he changed the name to Tulip, only after it was suggested to him that 'Queenie' might cause some tittilation, as Ackerley had been a somewhat outspoken member of London's gay community for some time). At times it is hilarious - never more so than when he's poking fun at English propriety. At other times it is very touching, and at others there is a barely concealed anger against human arrogance. Yes, there are many, detailed descriptions of canine bodily functions - one chapter is titled 'Liquids and solids'. In my view Ackerley pulls this off with complete dignitiy, even if I'm reminded of Salvador Dali explaining to a shocked society lady how he covers himself with filth when he paints, but in order to attract "only the cleanest flies."

When the real Queenie died, Ackerley was devestated, and never really recovered. The greatest achievement of My Dog Tulip is its final chapter 'The Turn of the Screw', where suddenly the style of the writing changes; the comic veneer is dropped, and suddenly all the imagery about life, death and reproduction make sense. Tulip is still with him, but time is against them. It is one of the most beautiful and moving ruminations on mortality that I've read." - T. Gadd

We Think the World of You - J. R. Ackerley

Reviews:

"It's practically impossible to imagine a book like this being published in today's publishing atmosphere, but thankfully, NYRB is around to buck that trend. I mean what editor today would manage a straight face upon opening a proposal about a middle-aged gay man taking care of the irrepressible dog of his working-class lover who's in jail? But as usual, with any work of art -- craft, talent, intelligence, compassion -- this remarkable work is so much more than that. Around its droll premise, Ackerley found a way to brilliantly expose the pettiness of people, regardless (or precisely because) of their social standing. The dog, which is just as vividly alive as each of this novel's (bipedal) characters, is really only it's lovable catalyst. But finally, what makes this work astounding is how it slyly and assuredly gets funnier and funnier and more blackly though generously hilarious with each successive page. A real snicker of a book." - wordtron


Henry Adams

Reviews:

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres - Henry Adams

"Privately printed in 1904 (and revised seven years later), "Mont Saint Michel and Chartres" was never meant for the general public. It's the intellectual's ultimate "what I did on my summer vacation" essay, written for friends as a gift to accompany their excursions through France. The first half is a highly personal travel book and an idiosyncratic guide to art and architecture of medieval French cathedrals (particularly of Chartres); the last six chapters offer a succinct excursion through the spiritual mindset of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

If you've never been to Mont Saint Michel or to Chartres, the first ten chapters can be hard going; it's like reading a 250-page description of a painting you've never seen. Even if you have been to both locations, it's unlikely you'll remember the details Adams expected his readers to have in front of them. Fortunately, his prose is not dry (and is at times characteristically witty). Adams is able to render vividly the fleches, the portals, the arches, the statues, and the stained glass panels, and he provides the tourist with a thorough understanding of the achievement represented by medieval religious art. He also supplies as background a wealth of related literary and historical references .

The tenth chapter (and the last of Adams's official "tour") focuses less on the cathedral of Chartres itself and more on the cult of the Virgin that it represents. It serves as a segue to the second half of the book, which will be far more accessible to general readers. He compares contemporary portrayals of three queens--Eleanor of Guienne (Aquitaine), Blanche of Castile, and Mary of Champagne (who wasn't really a queen, but never mind)--to the representations of the Virgin Mary in the art, in poetry, and in hagiography. "The Virgin was a real person, whose tastes, wishes, instincts, passions, were intimately known," Adams argues. "Like other Queens, she had many of the failings and prejudices of her humanity." The final three chapters turn to the intellectual life: the ongoing tensions between universalism and nominalism, Bernard and Abelard, mysticism and rationalism--all culminating in the balancing act of Thomas Aquinas.

Over 75 years ago the "Cambridge History of English and American Literature" judged Adams's book as "probably the best expression of the spirit of the Middle Ages." Well, not quite; such a view could be proffered by a literary critic perhaps, but certainly not by a historian, and I think Adams himself would have been appalled by such a statement. (A more accurate and more thorough account from the early twentieth century is Charles Homer Haskins's "Renaissance of the Twelfth Century," published in 1927.) What Adams offers here is a glimpse of the medieval Catholic intellectual spirit as seen through the prism of his own rather conservative nineteenth-century Protestantism. His book is not so much a scholarly treatise as it is a wistful refashioning of the medieval spirit." - D. Cloyce Smith


Demetrio Aguilera-Malta

Seven Serpents and Seven Moons - Demetrio Aguilera-Malta


Robert Aickman

Cold Hand in Mine - Robert Aickman

Reviews:

"Along with Sub Rosa, one of the twentieth century's two or three greatest collections of weird fiction, Cold Hand in Mine stands among Aickman's best books. It contains eight "strange stories", his preferred term for his own works and a very apposite label: more ambiguous and more inclusive than the usual "ghost story" rubric, and much more appropriate to Aickman's achievement, which in his best stories is less that of a teller of ghostly tales than that of the ghost itself. "The Hospice", in which a man spends a night at the establishment of the title, is a brilliant example. The surroundings are luxurious, the food plentiful and rich, the staff polite and obliging; yet the guests (inmates?) are prone to strange moods and night-time excursions - and at least one of them is chained to the wall during dinner. The protagonist leaves the Hospice in the morning, physically unharmed but riding in a hearse which has come for one of the residents. Sexual unease and perversity pervade several of the tales, most spectacularly "The Swords", in which a beautifully described, tatty circus act is the instrument of a young man's fall from innocence; and "Niemandswasser", one of the best in this best of collections, in which a German aristocrat, alone in the unclaimed, desolate middle of an icy lake ("no man's water"), meets a dreadful female apparition with a mouth of spiny, fishlike teeth. More conventional and far more civilised is the vampire story "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal"; but that's the only nod to genre conventions you're likely to find here. "The Same Dog", with its weird deja-vu plot; "Meeting Mr Millar" with its narrator's haunted neighbour; "The Clock Watcher", which is partly, perhaps, about the triumph of time over love; and "The Real Road to the Church", in which a woman witnesses a strange ceremony, then meets, and flees from, the image of her own soul, are all exquisitely written, startling and haunting. An encounter with a real ghost could hardly be more unsettling than an encounter with one of Aickman's stories." - Phillip Challinor

The Wine Dark Sea - Robert Aickman

Reviews:

"'The Wine Dark Sea' is a fabulous collection by an unjustly neglected author. Robert Aickman writes stories unparalleled by any other writer. It's not hyperbole to call him the finest spooky story writer of the 20th century.

This particular collection, published several years after Aickman's death, gathers together several of his later stories. My favorite story is the eerie 'The Wine-Dark Sea' which tells the tale of a vacationer in Greece who, against the admonishments of his Greek hosts, takes a boat out to a deserted island. Once there he finds three exotic women who claim to be sorceresses. What follows is a magnificent story of magic, love, and betrayal. Quite simply one of the finest novellas I've ever read.

The rest of the stories in the collection are all fine reading, but none approaches the level of the title story. Of particular note is 'The Trains', the creepy story of two girls bumming through Europe who stumble across a mansion with a mysterious past.

As a previous reviewer noted, Aickman's stories aren't easy to read. You get the most out of an Aickman story if you go slowly, read every word, and occasionally re-read paragraphs. This method, combined with his lengthy stories, means that one story can take you up to an hour to read. It's a lengthy process, but the stories are worth it.

I'm only exaggerating a little when I say that it's a tragedy Aickman's stories are out-of-print. There was a very ..., complete collection released in the UK in 2000, but that doesn't help us Americans!" - Fosky Bob


Joan Aiken

The Cockatrice Boys - Joan Aiken

Reviews:

"This is one of Starscape Books' better reprints, and one that relatively few readers will know about. Joan Aiken, best known for her "Wolves of Willoughby Chase" books, serves up a delightful fantasy/horror/comedy story that is sure to win over any fan of things that go bump in the night.

Cockatrices have invaded England. What are cockatrices? It's a general term for various malevolent, nasty, omnivorous beasties that arrived via luggage at an airport (hee!) and soon begin snorking up the unwary inhabitants. In a matter of years, people are hiding from them as they roam through England and lay waste to it. General Grugg-Pennington is given an order: Create an armored train and have a special corps of soldiers to deal with the cockatrices.

One of the people who volunteers is the boy Dakin -- Dakin is brought along because he plays the drums, and repetitive loud noises kill some of the cockatrices. Things become substantially more complex when Dakin's cousin Sauna ends up on the train as well. But something evil is massing in the north -- something connected to Sauna and the cockatrices, and something that will do anything to achieve its ends.

There are plot holes in this that you could throw a Flying Hammerhead through (why don't the people just leave England? Why can't they use an electronic recording instead of drums?) but somehow it never really matters. It's fun. Just fun. Aiken expertly mixes goofy Brit humor with a grimmer tone (sort of post-apocalypse-lite) in a newer kind of England where green leafy vegetables are a precious rarity and German dogs are imported to fight the Snarks. The flying sharks, the slightly dotty old lady, the pleasant old Brit soldiers, the apartment full of porcelain knickknacks, and so on. The plotting is tight; it gets darker as the book progresses, bringing in such old details as Michael Scott and covens of plotting witches.

Dakin is a suitably plucky everyboy, polite and dutiful and thoroughly sympathetic. Sauna is a bit more of a dark horse, as her ancestry and abilities are slowly revealed. The characters around them are less 3-D, but are great fun. There is some violence and creepiness, but nothing too major; this book may, however, scare some younger kids. The scenes with the eerie, almost ghoulish "Aunt Flossie" and her malicious rat were absolutely horrific.

Paper and binding are about average. My only beef? The cover! It's awful! Gris Grimly's drawings are quite good on the inside -- creepy and suitable, kind of a sharp-edged Edward Gorey -- ... In addition, the ending is a bit vague.

This is a really fun romp that kids will enjoy, and adults can chuckle over as well." - E. A. Solinas


Daniel Akst

St. Burl's Obituary - Daniel Akst


Vassily Aksyonov

The Burn - Vassily Aksyonov

"The Burn by Vassily Aksynov is an outstanding literary achievement. The Burn tells the story of the children of the revolution, raised on Soviet Ideology and the disillusionment that followed the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Its protagonists are five talented, sophisticated, cynical and albeit hopeful denizens of Moscow: a famous jazz saxophonist who is the idol of the city's rebellious youth; a melancholy romantic writer; a scientist disturbed by the militaristic use to which his discoveries are being appropriated; a doctor searching for the mysterious substance that is the source of life; and a sculptor od scandalous works. Frustrated by hopes for freedom in all its guises, the novel is infatuated by the profuse and copious draughts of alcohol and the salacious yet sensually sublime sexual experiences. Each of the five disenchanted souls share a common middle name and the acquaintance with Tolya von Steinbock. Each representing an aspect of Tolya: with particular reference to his childhood, spent in the work camps of Siberia where his mother was a political prisoner (this fact an autobiographical anecdote reminisced with poignancy and humor by Aksynov). Wildly inventive, obscene, outrageous, surreal and verging on the perilous hold of a numb infatuation with the detritus that overstates the omniscient social strictures, this novel is eloquently rendered by Michael Glenny in a tortured assiduosly immanent prose, acid in its disdain for conventions and melodious in its evocations of the protagonists' insolent wanderings. The novel marked a new era for Russian letters, one which returned its critical sphere to the realms of Dostoevsky and Bulgakov, where the individual is buffetted by normative quandaries that insinuate upon his personhood while forging its very structure of feeling. The language and the narrative composition is of extraordinary beauty, treading the contours of A Dreiser with the inpertinence of a Henry Miller. This outstanding expression of the Soviet experience goes beyond the semantic sway of time and place and retrieves the overwhelming affects the madhouse of the ideological intimations between the individual and the social order annotates as it fashions an irreverent and blasphemous fantasia of indolence and contempt. Even if you are not into Russian literature this is a novel that will entertain and provoke as much as it offers insights into the art of novel writing more broadly speaking." - Luca Graziuso

"Thomas Pynchon is the first writer that springs to mind after reading the first few pages of The Burn. Then slowly you discover that this incredibly eclectic panoply resonates with Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, J.P.Donleavy, John Barth, Ken Kesey, Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow. The Burn is undoubtedly the first truly serious effort by a major contemporary Russian classic to transcend the constraints of culture topologies and hermeneutics pushing the translator's job into the realm of the impossible. Should it be "translation proper", or "transmutation", or "partial tranformation" or some symbiotic balance between the three? To what extent the attainment of this serendipity could be enhanced by total immersion and participant observation? A simple example. In the first chapter of The Master and Margarita thirsty Berlioz accompanied by the poet approach a kiosk and are offered a lukewarm fruit lemonade. So far so good. Then Bulgakov writes: suddenly both were overwhelmed by the smell of a barbershop(translation is mine). Images and associations of what barbershop does it invoke? Downtown Moscow beauty parlors and saloons today are redolent with Estee Lauder and Ralph Lauren, so what does the reference really connote, could it be just skipped as something of marginal significance or even complete irrelevance? Indeed, the barbershops with cheap cologne that smelled like fruit lemonade have long been gone, but I still remember the tonsorial establishments of the early fifties and that provides an olfactory input to supplement and augment the semantics. This builds a springboard for free association whose crazy kaleidoscope takes me on a journey down the memory lane, and bingo, here I am ensconced in a chair in a barbershop that smells like Bulgakov's lemonade. The Burn is undoubtedly, a colossal enterprise,it's cerebral, witty, hilarious, extraordinarily elegant and scandalously bawdy, a seminal book by all standards. I have yet to read its English translation by the impeccable Michael Glenny to compare notes, so to speak. However I have a strong suspicion that no matter how brilliant the translation, only a reader possessing the highest level of cross-cultural literacy could make a connection. Which brings me to another interesting point, Conrad and Nabokov both wrote in English. Nabokov once made an interesting comment in an interview, he said(this is not a quote, just a paraphrase) that he could write a perfect description of a sunset or a crawling insect, however the problems arose if he were to ask directions to the nearest convenience store. The proverbial barbershop again!" - Ilia Toumadjanov


Brian Aldiss

Barefoot in the Head (1969) - Brian Aldiss

Reviews:

"This book deserves to be rediscovered, from lonely out-of-print land, if only for the awesome premise that Aldiss has created. Europe has been devastated by chemical warfare, and the weapon was psychedelic drugs. The unlikely perpetrator is Kuwait of all places, and that's ironic in more ways than one. Now the whole population is on a multiple personality-inducing acid trip. An aid worker named Charteris was one of the few people not affected, and as the only sane person around, all of the headtrippers think this guy is the messiah. But it turns out that the psychoactive effects of the drug are contagious, so Charteris becomes affected himself and starts to believe that he really is the messiah. As Charteris becomes more and more insane as the book progresses, so does the third-person narrator along with Aldiss' writing style, leading toward complete incomprehensibility.

Sadly, such an incredible premise is buried under a completely misguided writing endeavor. Aldiss has used this interesting idea to merely experiment with writing techniques that were derivative for their time. The book is 100% 1969 and is showing its age. The stream-of-insanity writing style that Aldiss inflicts on us here is a thinly disguised copy of the groundbreaking works of William Burroughs, plus a little of Philip K. Dick. This is even more evident when you consider that most of Aldiss' other works are more straightforward sci-fi. So the incredible potential of the premise is squandered beneath waves of faddish psychedelic writing style and an exasperating parade of made-up terminology (though I admit I like the adjective "vonnegutsy.") This type of writing has been done successfully, and can bend your mind to extreme proportions, but get it from the originators.

The actual plot elements, theme, and character development of this story could fit into a much more focused short story of twenty pages. This tale had infinitely more potential when it started. A real disappointment." - domsdayer520


Felipe Alfau

Chromos - Felipe Alfau

Reviews:

"Written in the 1940s but unpublished until now, this surreal and labyrinthine fiction is the only other novel by Felipe Alfau, whose 1936 Locus was reissued to great acclaim in 1989. Set in New York City, Chromos explores the predicament - one that is at once indicative of modern exile and explosively funny - of a community of "Americaniards," Spanish exiles in the New World, adrift in the no-man's land between languages and cultures, spinning out theories on everything from social improvement (can the earth be saved by breeding smaller people?) to the best method of cooking paella, all the while bombarding one another with stories and stories within stories." - Back cover propaganda

"There are so many interesting things to say about Felipe Alfau and his novel, "Chromos," that it is difficult to decide where to begin. There is the novel itself, of course, a complex and sometimes difficult post-modernist narrative written years before the appearance of the so-called post-modernists (Alfau was, in other words, ahead of his time). There is the history of the novel's publication, a fascinating tale in its own right. There is the fact that Alfau, a Spaniard who came to the United States at the age of fourteen, wrote "Chromos" and his earlier novel, "Locos," in English, rather than his native Spanish. And there is, finally, the biography and the views of the author himself-the former enigmatic, almost mysterious, in its obscurity; the latter disturbingly reactionary, reminiscent of Ezra Pound and forcing the reader to separate the man from his work.

"Chromos" is a series of narratives within narratives of a coterie of Spanish immigrants living in New York City sometime between the two World Wars. Among the main characters is Don Pedro Guzman O'Moor Algoracid, also known as Peter Guz and the Moor, and his close friend, Dr. Jose de los Rios, whom the Moor calls Dr. Jesuscristo. It is the Moor who first tells the novel's unidentified first person narrator to write the story of Spaniards living in New York, of the "Americaniards" as he calls them:

"You should write a book about the Americaniards, somebody should-but you have not written for a long time-anyway you could not write any more about your people in Spain-have been too long away, forgotten too much-don't know what it's all about and you could not write about Americans-don't know enough-impossible ever to understand another people. I could not understand them when I first came and every day I understand them less. We meet, we talk, but neither knows what it's all about-total confusion. My English was abominable when I arrived and everyday I speak it worse-impossible; can't understand a damn thing."

It is this request that frames the narrative, the Moor mysteriously taking the reluctant narrator to an old, dark, cockroach-infested basement apartment devoid of furniture (except for a book-filled bookcase), its walls covered by chromos-chromolithographs-"depicting people and scenes that came to life, but more like things remembered or imagined."

From this place, the unidentified narrator of "Chromos" relates his close relationship with the writer Garcia. It is Garcia who provides two narratives within the larger framing story, reading aloud to the narrator from two different works-one the seemingly "corny" and salacious multi-generational saga of the rise and decline of the Sandoval family in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Spain, the other the cinematic narrative of a Spaniard named Ramos who, in a Mephistophelian bargain, is given the ability to skip through time and emigrates to America in the early twentieth century. All the time, while Garcia narrates the stories contained in his two novels, the larger narrative of "Chromos" provides a first-person account of the day-to-day life of the Moor, Dr. de los Rios, Garcia, and the narrator. And the narrator, too, provides another narration as he sees into the mind-sees the imagination and dreams-of the seemingly forlorn, hapless character Fulano. Indeed, one of the most powerful narrative sequences of "Chromos" occurs near the end, when the narrator details Fulano's sordid, obsessive, sexual and homicidal dreams of a female store mannequin.

"Chromos" is, in short, a complex novel that reminds the reader of the post-modern writings of Borges, Calvino, Coover, Pynchon, and others. It is, in this sense, a remarkable achievement since it was written in 1948, long before such fictions became prominent. And this leads us to the next part of the story, the fact that while "Chromos" was written in 1948, it was not published until 1990, when it was nominated for the National Book Award. For this, we have an editor of the Dalkey Archive to thank. As related in a 1990 article in Newsday, reprinted at the Dalkey Archive web site (http://www.centerforbookculture.org):

"In 1987, Steve Moore, [an editor at] a small publishing company, Dalkey Archive, found a copy of "Locos" [Alfau's 1936 novel] at a barn sale in Massachusetts. He paid $10 for it and after reading it, immediately found Mr. Alfau's number in the Manhattan phone book. Mr. Alfau, living alone in Chelsea, told them to publish the book if they wanted to; he didn't care what happened. When "Locos" did reasonably well, Mr. Alfau told them to use the money for somebody else's unpublished work. He had no use for money. Moore asked Mr. Alfau if he had written anything else. Mr. Alfau took "Chromos" out of the dresser where it had been since 1948."

While a native Spaniard and Spanish speaker, Alfau wrote in English and, for this reason, he has been compared to other writers who adopted another, non-native language for writing their fictions, writers like Conrad, Beckett, Nabokov, and Brodsky. Indeed, the first paragraph of "Chromos" adumbrates the theme not only of the immigrant living in a foreign country, but the way that immigrant experience is further occluded by language:

"The moment one learns English, complications set in. Try as one may, one cannot elude this conclusion, one must inevitably come back to it. This applies to all persons, including those born to the language and, at times, even more so to Latins, including Spaniards. It manifests itself in an awareness of implications and intricacies to which one had never given a thought; it afflicts one with that officiousness of philosophy which, having no business of its own, gets in everybody's way and, in the case of Latins, they lose that racial characteristic of taking things for granted and leaving them to their own devices without inquiring into causes, motives or ends, to meddle indiscreetly into reasons which are none of one's affair and to become not only self-conscious, but conscious of other things which never gave a damn for one's existence."

So what is a reader of "Chromos" to make of all this? If you believe Alfau himself, not too much. When asked in an interview about the sale of his first novel, "Locos," which departed drastically from the commercially accepted novels of the time, he replied: "I got $250 for `Locos.' But you are right. In fact, I don't see how anybody could like my books or could even understand them. They are unreadable."

In that same interview, published in the Spring, 1993, edition of Review of Contemporary Fiction (and reprinted at the Dalkey Archive web site), Alfau-ninety years old at the time and demonstrating his reputation as iconoclastic, opinionated, curmudgeonly, and politically incorrect-is quoted as follows: "I think democracy is a disgrace. Machiavelli was absolutely right: the difference between tyranny and democracy is that in tyranny you need to serve only one master, whereas in a pluralistic society you have to obey many. I always thought Generalissimo Francisco Franco was a trustworthy ruler of Spain, and thus supported him. Since his death, the Iberian peninsula is in complete chaos. In fact, at the time of the Spanish Civil War, I championed Franco's cause in this country as much as I could."

While Alfau's politics and personality may seem anathema, "Chromos" is a remarkable work of literary imagination and narrative structure that should be read by anyone interested in modern and post-modern writing. While perhaps "unreadable," as Alfau says, by those looking for a traditional linear narrative with an unvarnished plot, "Chromos" is a joyride for those who like experimentation, complexity and intellectual pyrotechnics." - A Reader

Locos: A Comedy of Gestures - Felipe Alfau

Reviews:

"I share the puzzlement of the reviewer below over why this isn't considered one of the 20th Century's great works of fiction. I'd go further and say this is probably the most underrated novel of the last 100 years. The most important literature not only blazes a trail, but does so in a way that compares favorably to the books it inspires. This is true for Locos. The book should have had a stronger edit, but what Alfau achieves here - stories that rewrite each other, characters who morph into each other - unleashed new powers from the fictional narrative that have yet to be fully tapped. There's a moment at the end of a story called "A Character" that is one of the very few mindblowing experiences I've had reading fiction. Alfau was probably the first novelist since Laurence Sterne to understand this potential in narration. There's a character in Locos named Fulano who, desperate to get others to notice him, breaks a storefront window. The owner comes out, ignores Fulano and wonders how such a thing could have happened. In a sad way, Locos is like Fulano. Everyone marvels at the glass it shattered, but nobody can see Locos." - A Customer

Dalkey Archive

NYRB


Marcel Allain

Fantomas - Marcel Allain

Reviews:

"Paris is the grip of fear. One name is at the root of this panic: "Fantomas." In a matter of days, a wealthy heiress is hacked to death in her room. A young guest, Charles Rambert stands accused by his own father of the crime, and commits suicide. A Russian princess is robbed in her room. An English lord, a veteran of the Boer War, goes missing. One detective, Juve, knows that Fantomas is the mastermind of so much misery. Can he unmask the criminal in time? Or is this all a figment of Juve's mind?

Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain's creation "Fantomas" is the pinnacle of pulp brilliance. He's one of the great literary super-villains, a shadowy crime-lord who "spreads terror" for the absolute pleasure of it. He doesn't want to rule the world. He makes his living from crime, but clearly enjoys the notoriety his crimes bring him. In a sense, Fantomas is a break-point between the fantastic qualities 19th century pulp, and the down-to-earth crime fiction of the mid-20th century.

The first novel is a rip-roaring ride of horror and intrigue, as Fantomas layers scheme upon scheme, murdering and stealing for the pleasure of it. A master of disguise, Fantomas moves through the novel as an ambiguity, appearing as various people, usually people he has murdered, forwarding his loathsome schemes. Juve, also a master of disguise, is obsessed with capturing the fiend. He also moves as a shadow, under the guise of beggars and criminals, investigating each lead that might bring Fantomas to the guillotine.

The novel is episodic, naturally, as it was originally serialized. There is an almost maddeningly number of interconnected plot-lines. Juve and Fantomas play a bloody game of cat and mouse, each hidden under impossible disguises. Fantomas' crimes alternate from being dashing and Robin-Hoodesque to terrifyingly violent and bloody. He murders because he can, willingly slaughtering dozens so as to do away with an assumed identity. While the writing is fairly overwrought, it is also quite lush and lurid, sweeping up the reader and leading them to compulsively read the next exciting episode, as cliffhangers abound and plot-twists litter the landscape.

Naturally, the character development is secondary. Each character is drawn in broad-strokes: the dogged, obsessed Juve; the mysterious, malign Fantomas; the hapless Charles Rambert, and; the pitiable victims who find themselves caught in Fantomas' web. Further, the narrative is not a single linear plot, but rather a tangled web of events, some of which are resolved quickly, others which are never adequately followed to their conclusion. More than anything, the authors were interested in excitement, and they give that to the reader in spades.

"Fantomas" is simply the first in a series of over 30 books. Sadly, the first one has only recently come back into print in English. Hopefully, more of adventures of this lurid, prototypical arch-villain will be available soon." - Ian Fowler


Thomas Amory

The Life and Opinions of John Buncle, Esquire - Thomas Amory

Reviews:

In the year 1756, there resided in the Barbican, where the great John Milton had lived before him, a funny elderly personage called Mr. Thomas Amory, of whom not nearly so much is recorded as the lovers of literary anecdote would like to possess. He was sixty-five years of age; he was an Irish gentleman of means, and he was an ardent Unitarian. Some unkind people have suggested that he was out of his mind, and he had, it is certain, many peculiarities. One was, that he never left his house, or ventured into the streets, save "like a bat, in the dusk of the evening." He was, in short, what is called a "crank," and he gloried in his eccentricity. He desired that it might be written on his tombstone, "Here lies an Odd Man." For sixty years he had made no effort to attract popular attention, but in 1755 he had published a sort of romance, called Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, and now he succeeded it by the truly extraordinary work, the name of which stands at the head of this article. Ten years later there would appear another volume of John Buncle, and then Amory disappeared again. All we know is, that he died in 1788, at the very respectable age of ninety-seven. So little is known about him, so successfully did he hide "like a bat" through the dusk of nearly a century, that we may be glad to eke out the scanty information given above by a passage of autobiography from the preface of the book before us : "I was born in London, and carried an infant to Ireland, where I learned the Irish language, and became intimately acquainted with its original inhabitants. I was not only a lover of books from the time I could spell them to this hour, but read with an extraordinary pleasure, before I was twenty, the works of several of the Fathers, and all the old romances; which tinged my ideas with a certain piety and extravagance that rendered my virtues as well as my imperfections particularly mine. . . . The dull, the formal, and the visionary, the hardhonest man, and the poor-liver, are a people I have had no connection with; but have always kept company with the polite, the generous, the lively, the rational, and the brightest freethinkers of this age. Besides all this, I was in the days of my youth, one of the most active men in the world at every exercise; and to a degree of rashness, often venturesome, when there was no necessity for running any hazards; in diebus illis, I have descended headforemost, from a high cliff into the ocean, to swim, when I could, and ought, to have gone off a rock not a yard from the surface of the deep. I have swam near a mile and a half out in the sea to a ship that lay off, gone on board, got clothes from the mate of the vessel, and proceeded with them to the next port; while my companion I left on the beach concluded me drowned, and related my sad fate in the town. I have taken a cool thrust over a bottle, without the least animosity on either side, but both of us depending on our skill in the small sword for preservation from mischief. Such things as these I now call wrong."

If this is not a person of whom we would like to know more, I know not what the romance of biography is. Thomas Amory's life must have been a streak of crimson on the grey surface of the eighteenth century. It is really a misfortune that the red is almost all washed off.

No odder book than John Buncle was published in England throughout the long life of Amory. Romances there were, like Gulliver's Travels and Peter Wilkins, in which the incidents were much more incredible, but there was no supposition that these would be treated as real history. The curious feature of John Buncle is that the story is told with the strictest attention to realism and detail, and yet is embroidered all over with the impossible. There can be no doubt that Amory, who belonged to an older school, was affected by the form of the new novels which were the fashion in 1756. He wished to be as particular as Mr. Richardson, as manly as Captain Fielding, as breezy and vigorous as Dr. Smollett, the three new writers who were all the talk of the town. But there was a twist in his brain which made his pictures of real life appear like scenes looked at through flawed glass.

The memoirs of John Buncle take the form of an autobiography, and there has been much discussion as to how much is, and how much is not, the personal history of Amory. I confess I cannot see why we should not suppose all of it to be invented, although it certainly is odd to relate anecdotes and impressions of Dr. Swift, a propos of nothing at all, unless they formed part of the author's experience. For one thing, the hero is represented as being born about thirteen years later than Amory was "if, indeed, we possess the true date of our worthy's birth." Buncle goes to college and becomes an earnest Unitarian. The incidents of his life are all intellectual, until one "glorious first of August," when he sallies forth from college with his gun and dog, and after four hours' walk discovers that he has lost his way. He is in the midst of splendid mountain scenery - which leads us to wonder at which English University he was studying - and descends through woody ravines and cliffs that overhang torrents, till he suddenly comes in sight of a "little harmonic building that had every charm and proportion architecture could give it." Finding one of the garden doors open, and being very hungry, the adventurous Buncle strolls in, and finds himself in "a grotto or shell-house, in which a politeness of fancy had produced and blended the greatest beauties of nature and decoration." (There are more grottoes in the pages of Amory than exist in the whole of the British Islands.) This shell-house opened into a library, and in the library a beauteous object was sitting and reading. She was studying a Hebrew Bible, and making philological notes on a small desk. She raised her eyes and approached the stranger, "to know who I wanted" (for Buncle's style, though picturesque, is not always grammatically irreproachable.)

Before he could answer, a venerable gentleman was at his side, to whom the young sportsman confessed that he was dying of hunger and had lost his way. Mr. Noel, a patriarchal widower of vast wealth, was inhabiting this mansion in the sole company of his only daughter, the lovely being just referred to. Mr. Buncle was immediately "stiffened by enchantment" at the beauty of Miss Harriot Noel, and could not be induced to leave when he had eaten his breakfast. This difficulty was removed by the old gentleman asking him to stay to dinner, until the time of which meal Miss Noel should entertain him. At about 10 A.m. Mr. Buncle offers his hand to the astonished Miss Noel, who, with great propriety, bids him recollect that he is an entire stranger to her. They then have a long conversation about the Chaldeans, and the "primaevity" of the Hebrew language, and the extraordinary longevity of the Antediluvians; at the close of which (circa 11.15 A.m.) Buncle proposes again. "You force me to smile (the illustrious Miss Noel replied), and oblige me to call you an odd compound of a man," and to distract his thoughts, she takes him round her famous grotto. The conversation, all repeated at length, turns on conchology and on the philosophy of Epictetus until it is time for dinner, when Mr. Noel and young Buncle drink a bottle of old Alicant, and discuss the gallery of Verres and the poetry of Catullus. Left alone at last, Buncle still does not go away, but at 5 P.m. proposes for the third time, "over a pot of tea." Miss Noel says that the conversation will have to take some other turn, or she must leave the room. They therefore immediately "consider the miracle at Babel," and the argument of Hutchinson on the Hebrew word Shephah, until, while Miss Noel is in the very act of explaining that "the Aramitish was the customary language of the line of Shem," young Buncle (circa 7.30) "could not help snatching this beauty to my arms, and without thinking what I did, impressed on her balmy mouth half a dozen kisses. This was wrong, and gave offence," but then papa returning, the trio sat down peacefully to cribbage and a little music. Of course Miss Noel is ultimately won, and this is a very fair specimen of the conduct of the book.

A fortnight before the marriage, however, "the small-pox steps in, and in seven days" time reduced the finest human frame in the universe to the most hideous and offensive block," and Miss Harriot Noel dies. If this dismal occurrence is rather abruptly introduced, it is because Buncle has to be betrothed, in succession, to six other lively and delicious young females, all of them beautiful, all of them learned, and all of them earnestly convinced Unitarians. If they did not rapidly die off, how could they be seven ? Buncle mourns the decease of each, and then hastily forms an equally violent attachment to another. It must be admitted that he is a sad wife-waster. Azora is one of the most delightful of these deciduous loves. She "had an amazing collection of the most rational philosophical ideas, and she delivered them in the most pleasing dress." She resided in a grotto within a romantic dale in Yorkshire, in a "little female republic" of one hundred souls, all of them "straight, clean, handsome girls." In this glen there is only one man, and he a fossil. Miss Melmoth, who would discuss the paulo-post futurum of a Greek verb with the utmost care and politeness, and had studied "the Minerva of Sanctius and Hickes' Northern Thesaurus," was another nice young lady, though rather free in her manner with gentlemen. But they all die, sacrificed to the insatiable fate of Buncle.

Here the reader may like to enjoy a sample of Buncle as a philosopher. It is a characteristic passage :

Such was the soliloquy I spoke, as I gazed on the skeleton of John Orton; and just as I had ended, the boys brought in the wild turkey, which they had very ingeniously roasted, and with some of Mrs. Burcot's fine ale and bread, I had an excellent supper. The bones of the penitent Orton I removed to a hole I had ordered my lad to dig for them; the skull excepted, which I kept, and still keep on my table for a memento mori ; and that I may never forget the good lesson which the percipient who once resided in it had given. It is often the subject of my meditation. When I am alone of an evening, in my closet, which is often my case, I have the skull of John Orton before me, and as I smoke a philosophic pipe, with my eyes fastened on it, I learn more from the solemn object than I could from the most philosophical and laboured speculations. What a wild and hot head once - how cold and still now; poor skull, I say : and what was the end of all thy daring, frolics and gambols - thy licentiousness and impiety - a severe and bitter repentance. In piety and goodness John Orton found at last that happiness the world could not give him.

Hazlitt has said that "the soul of Rabelais passed into John Amory." His name was Thomas, not John, and there is very little that is Rabelaisian in his spirit. One sees what Hazlitt meant - the voluble and diffuse learning, the desultory thread of narration, the mixture of religion and animalism. But the resemblance is very superficial, and the parallel too complimentary to Amory. It is difficult to think of the soul of Rabelais in connection with a pedantic and uxorious Unitarian. To lovers of odd books, John Buncle will always have a genuine attraction. Its learning would have dazzled Dr. Primrose, and is put on in glittering spars and shells, like the ornaments of the many grottoes that it describes. It is diversified by descriptions of natural scenery, which are often exceedingly felicitous and original, and it is quickened by the human warmth and flush of the love passages, which, with all their quaintness, are extremely human. It is essentially a "healthy" book, as Charles Lamb, with such a startling result, assured the Scotchman. Amory was a fervid admirer of womankind, and he favoured a rare type, the learned lady who bears her learning lightly and can discuss "the quadrations of curvilinear spaces" without ceasing to be "a bouncing, dear, delightful girl," and adroit in the preparation of toast and chocolate. The style of the book is very careless and irregular, but rises in its best pages to an admirable picturesqueness. - Edmund Gosse


Anonymous

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes: His Fortunes and Adversities - Anonymous

Reviews:

"I read this short comic masterpiece as part of a survey course in Spanish and Latin American literature along with more monumental and recognized works of the genre (Cervantes' Don Quijote, Unamuno's Fog, and Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, to name a few.)

To my surprise, this little tome was the liveliest, most engaging, and by far, the most digestible of the lot (although the other three are indispensable reading and highly recommended as well).

Lazarillo de Tormes ranks as one of the true cornerstones of world literature yet (INHO) it is still riproaringly funny and insightful without being heavy-handed or tedious. Even though I read Lazarillo in Spanish and cannot commment on this translation, I imagine the story would translate without much ado into English. As a first-year Spanish student, I devoured it in a single afternoon.

In many ways, it seems to me to be the precursor to Hucklebery Finn. I came away from reading this short tome with the same sense of empathy for the character of Lazarillo as I had had for Huck Finn. Like HF, the tale of Lazarillo de Tormes is episodic in nature with a series of adventures featuring quirky antagonists who are each (the reader later realizes) satiric portraits of the various social classes of the day (the priest, the gentleman, the beggar thief, etc.) Both books inspired laughter, pathos, sympathy, empathy -- and ultimately, an overarching sense of the flawed yet ultimately endearing human qualities that imbue us all-- and transcend the centuries. Even though Lazarillo de Tormes predates Twain's masterpiece by three full centuries, I found it equally accessible, being a delightful and extremely quick read. In short, it is one of the earliest examples of the proto-novel, and to my mind-- still one of the best.

Highly recommended for all readers of all ages." - Robert G.

One Man's Odyssey to Annihilate Violence - Anonymous, M.D., Ph.D.


Charles Ardai

Fifty-to-One - Charles Ardai

Reviews:

"As a member of the Hard Case Crime Book Club, I get my books just a few weeks before the publication date. This month's selection Fifty-To-One is written by the co-founder of Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai.

As the fiftieth novel to be published by Hard Case Crime, Fifty-To-One marks a significant milestone in the company's history, and consequently the novel is cleverly structured to mark and also to pay homage to the forty-nine novels previously published. Each chapter bears the title of one of those forty-nine novels, and it's no mean feat that the chapter titles correspond chronologically to the publication of the novels in the Hard Case canon. While it may appear fairly easy to fit titles such as: Say It With Bullets and Kiss Her Goodbye into the storyline, I imagine Ardai tearing his hair out to work chapter titles A Diet of Treacle, and Lemons Never Lie into the plot. But Ardai manages to weave the chapter titles into the plot so seamlessly that I had made considerable headway into the novel before I twigged the strategy.

Also in this commemorative issue, the center of the book includes an insert illustrating all fifty covers of the novels published so far, and that's a bonus for readers who may have missed a title or two.

The novel begins with Tricia Heverstadt, a naive young girl who arrives in New York from South Dakota. Within a few minutes of her arrival, she's fleeced of her savings, and in the pursuit of revenge, she runs head-on into the offices of Hard Case Crime (yes, art does imitate life in this instance) and its shady publisher, Charley Borden. Ever on the lookout for a quick buck, Borden specializes in cheap knock-off titles such as Eye the Jury. Borden's Hard Case Crime titles look like "drugstore crime novels, the covers lurid and peppered with ladies in negligees and men with guns." Borden's goal is to sweep the market with a tell-all expose about the mob, and Tricia decides to write the book. Taking a job as a dancer in a sleazy mob-owned nightclub, she sets out to gather the dirt on mobsters. In spite of eavesdropping every chance she gets, Tricia doesn't pick up any tidbits about gangster life, but she's a creative woman. Fabricating a tale about a disgruntled mobster who rips off his mafia boss, Tricia packs her fantastic story into a confessional bestseller, I Robbed the Mob, supposedly written by an anonymous mobster.

The book's tale of a fictional robbery uncannily mirrors a real-life heist, and soon Tricia and Borden are on the run from vengeful gangsters while they simultaneously look for answers and clues to help them identify the real robbers.

Fifty-To-One is definitely one of the humorous entries in the Hard Case Crime canon. Tricia and Borden's misadventures result in a madcap romp through New York, but with female boxers, hard-edged dames and legions of gangsters, there are still moments of gritty violence and bloody encounters. What's so particularly enjoyable here is the manner in which Hard Case Crime reinvented itself through fiction into the classic noir era of 40s/50s America, and this is achieved smoothly and with a pleasant wry sense of humor, proving that Ardai is quite at home in this era--and probably longs to be there--at least within the pages of this action-packed pulp novel." - anomie


Reinaldo Arenas

Hallucinations; Or, the Ill-Fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando - Reinaldo Arenas

For many years Fray Servando had been fleeing the Spanish Inquisition all across Europe, constantly beset by the humiliations and hardships that exile and banishment impose, when one afternoon, in a botanical garden in Italy, he came across a thing which brought tears of despair and dejection to his eyes - a Mexican agave, the yucca, or century plant, which is pervasive throughout Mexico. This specimen was jailed in a little cell, behind a protective picket, and it had attached to it a kind of ID card. - first paragraph

The Peasant Revolts - Gaby Wood


Alain Arias-Misson

The Mind Crime of August Saint - Alain Arias-Misson

Determined to solve a dual crime - on the one hand an abstract Millenial Conspiracy perpetrated against the conventional "logocentric" mind, on the other a gruesome muder - litterateur-detective August Saint embarks on a most peculiar investigation, one that requires him to unravel the collusion of a dazzling assortment of unlikely characters. In his investigation Saint wanders through a distinctly familiar European landscape, but simultaneously, inexplicably, finds himself traversing parallel media-spawned realities.

He discovers that movies, comic strips, news articles, biographies, and fiction have each captured a channel on some formerly unimaginable, universal, television-like network. There characters and incidents, while indulging in spatio-temporal experimentation and dodging astrogel intervention from outer space, evolve infinitely and cross media with impunity. In this reconfigured universe Saint mingles with celebrities from movies, television, and literature; courts a beautiful Cuban maiden; and witnesses the twentieth century's most magnificent and horrific events. His discovery, after these endless and exhausting adventures? The conspirators in the crime are legion. The include a Belgian comic book hero, an agile "bi-locating" friar, an aristocratic Proustian masochist, a sinister clerical familiar, an NYPD Chief of Detectives, a distinguished Italian film director, the Baader-Meinhof gang, assorted literary luminaries, and possibly even Dr. Spock. At last, the criminal is captured and brought to trial, and in his features Saint recognizes a very familiar face. - Back cover propaganda
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American Book Review - Tim W. Brown

The "Information Superhighway" has commanded a lot of attention lately. Mainly you hear promises of a better tomorrow: 600 TV stations, interactive video, home shopping, mail-carrying capabilities that one day might rival the U.S. Postal Service. But increasing numbers of leaders in government and industry (Vice President Al Gore among them) are warning darkly of its potential to become a zone of anarchy, where computer criminals prey on you and information spies from every quarter invade your privacy. Alain Arias-Misson shares this latter vision; in August Saint he creates a character who is channel-surfing through a huge cosmic conspiracy.

A self-styled "sleuth of the transcendent," August gets tangled up with a wide range of historical and fictional characters, including Elena, his beautiful Cuban lover; his main rival in solving the case, Chief Inspector Nickastra, a police detective from a TV crime drama; international terrorists Carlos the Jackal and Ali Aga; Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom; Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate; the cast of Star Trek; the Belgian comic book hero Tintin and his Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum sidekicks; and several Roman Catholic clerics who labor more for this world than the next. Everyone travels freely through time and space, showing up in such far-flung locations as the Jonestown Massacre, the Canary Islands at the site of the worst airplane crash in history, Havana during the height of the Cuban Revolution, Joyce's Dublin, and Jerusalem during the first-ever Holy Week. All appear to be involved in a plot that "was vast and comprehended many personages and violent events and synchronicities."
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Roberto Arlt

The Seven Madmen (1929) - Roberto Arlt

"This is one of the strangest (and greatest) novels of the 20th century. Written by the eccentric Argentinian Roberto Arlt, it explores the tortured inner life of bill-collector Remo Erdosain and follows him as he becomes involved with a bizarre terrorist plot to overthrow the government. Filled with lunatics, pimps, and prostitutes, this novel creates a vivid picture of Buenos Aires in the 1920s, where the lucky few live in luxury and the rest suffer the strain and humiliation of poverty and social impotence. If you are looking for a brilliant and disturbing novel, look no further--there is nothing else like The Seven Madmen. Hopefully we will see the rest of Arlt's work come out in English translation soon, as well as that of his contemporary Roberto Mariani, because this is cutting-edge literature at its finest. Arlt was a true rebel who was way ahead of his time, and The Seven Madmen belongs near the top of any list of great 20th century novels. Its style remains stunningly innovative to this day." - A Reader


Fernando Arrabal

Tower Struck by Lightning - Fernando Arrabal


Hans Carl Artmann

The Quest for Dr. U: Or a Solitary Mirror in Which the Day Reflects - Hans Carl Artmann

Reviews:

Hans Carl Artmann, an Austrian born in 1921, is one of the most remarkable experimental writers of his generation. In the 1950s he was the principal founder of "The Vienna Group": the group's black romanticism, allied to a scepticism partly derived from Wittgenstein, had a widespread influence on German letters.

His works are at once humorous, profound, flippant and stylish. The Quest for Dr. U is no exception, a protean adventure story which sets out to subvert its numerous literary models: Victorian detective fiction, fantastic, romantic, "pulp" and avant-garde fictions. Its hero pursues an ultimate villain, the volatile Dr. Unspeakable, through a bizarre labyrinth of situation and genre. - Back cover propaganda


Miguel Angel Asturias

Mulata - Miguel Angel Asturias

Reviews:

"No book compares to the Mulata. Not just in quality, though it's a wonderful book, or in prose style, though it's beautifully and psychedelically (yes) written, but in topic, which is as far out there yet as perfectly (il)logical as anything I've ever read. Based it seems on Guatemalan mythology, the plot follows a poor farmer (name forgotten by me) who starts out dissatisfied with his economic state and makes a deal with Tazol, the corn-husk devil, an enigmatic being whose first request of him is that he go to market with his fly open to lead the town's women into temptation (thus the title of the other translation, "the Mulata and Mr. Fly"). He ends up divorcing his wife (in a sense; he turns her into a kind of inanimate doll) and marrying a Mulata, who is doubly-sexed and indeterminately dangerous. The book continues to interact with more demons, witches, beasts, gods, etc, etc. Pure loveliness. There is none better. If someone would only translate "Leyendas de Guatemala" ... the itch for more might be scratched, but as it is, this is your only option. and a necessary one." - Fax


Daisy Ashford

The Young Visitors: Or, Mr. Salteena's Plan - Daisy Ashford

Reviews:

"How many self styled "comic" novels could hope to be as funny as this one...not many in my opinion. When a novel can be read through in a couple of hours and give you laughs on every page, you'd be mad not to buy it. Plus you'll probably want to read it again. There's plenty of information surrounding the background to this unique book, so I won't repeat any of it here. But basically, anyone with an interest in humour, absurd romantic situations, social history and a love of the English language simply has to have a copy of this. The charm of this book lies chiefly in the reading, it cannot be understood by just having it explained to you. Nor does it translate well to filmed adaptation; the recent BBC dramatisation with Jim Broadbent made a real ham-fisted job of it, adding their own extra plot and even making up new dialogue and mis-spellings...unforgivable!!

I agree with another reviewer who has mentioned that the J.M. Barrie forward is almost as entertaining as the book itself, drawing attention as it does to many of the best passages. Everybody I have introduced this book to has fallen in love with it, because it's nothing less than a pleasure to read. And its cheap too. In fact, my review could really be confined to two words - "Buy It!"" - A. Griffiths


Paul Auster

The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster

Amazon reviewer Stone Junction:

How do you discuss a mystery that's not a mystery? More importantly, how do you WRITE three mysteries that aren't? And still manage to create involving, memorable, and deeply disturbing novels? I don't know how, but Paul Auster has figured out. In the space of three short novels, Auster has developed mysteries that are more concerned with ideas than plot, with the style of writing rather than the content. He has, in short, written THE NEW YORK TRILOGY.

Describing the plots does no justice to the novels (they are, after all, practically plotless), but I will endeavor to summarize. CITY OF GLASS tracks Quinn, a frustrated novelist who agrees to accept a detective case, after being mistaken for the detective Paul Auster. GHOSTS follows the exploits of Blue, a detective hired by White to spy on Black, for reasons which remain obscure. THE LOCKED ROOM is centered on an author who has been charged with the task of tending to an old friend's vast literary output, after the friend has mysteriously vanished from civilization.

As mentioned previously, these novels ARE mysteries, on their surfaces. (That's initially what drew me to their pages.) But Auster isn't concerned with the intricacies of the detective genre. He is far more fascinated with the image of the author, that person who creates people out of thin air and smoke. Auster delves into what the make-up of such a person may be, a person who's public character is defined by the artistic output, not by whom the author actually is. Who the author actually may be, or what the author's opinion is as to his or her own writings, is not important. It is a schizophrenic life, to be sure, and Auster knows it. Are we defined by our inner monologue, or do our actions govern our identities? Is who we purport to be as important as how we appear to be?

CITY OF GLASS is an excellent example of Auster's musings on this theme. As Quinn slowly begins to develop his detective persona, he can feel his previous author persona begin to slip away. By his inadvertent creation of a new persona, he erases his past; but as he was only really defined by his novels, it is a far easier task than it first appeared. This culminates in an exploration of the inner workings of personal discovery that reminds me of nothing so much than Arthur C. Clarke's elliptical finale to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Is it environment, or public perception, or biology that determines what we turn out to be? Auster interweaves this theme into all three of his novels. The character of Stillman, in CITY OF GLASS, is so obsessed with this idea that he deprived his son of any form of contact, trying to discover the hidden, secret language of God. Fanshawe, in THE LOCKED ROOM, is determined that he distance himself from what he was perceived to be, unwilling to accept anyone's characterization of his psyche. Blue, in GHOSTS, discovers that what he fears the most is true, that his existence is his job; outside of that, nothing he thinks or feels has any effect.

Mind you, none of this would raise the themes above the quality of a academic treatise without Auster's remarkable writing ability. While he may be loathe to be judged by his output, the fact remains that Auster can relate a story with the best of them. His characters, while purposefully vague, still manage to create an empathy with the reader. The quest for identity, that search for the ego, is a universally understandable topic. Auster achieves the feat of simultaneously having the characters understand themselves at the same time that the reader does. Any discussion of the past is irrelevant, it's the NOW that matters. The author in THE LOCKED ROOM gradually understands this in his quest for the missing friend Fanshawe. What he discovers about Fanshawe only serves to confuse. Perhaps he was better off with his own personal memories, rather than try to incorporate the recollections of others.

Auster also realizes that one's opinions about a novel can differ from another's; it makes no difference. What is important is what YOU thought, not what others may tell you to think. The NEW YORK TRILOGY seems designed to provoke different responses, alternate beliefs as to what it all means. I personally haven't been privy to such a possibility as to the ultimate meaning of a thing since witnessing Peter Greenaway's remarkable film THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER. What does it all ultimately mean? Who knows? What's important is that it affected me, on a level I wasn't expecting. It is a pleasant surprise.


BBB


Windy Baboulene

The Blue Road - Windy Baboulene

Amazon:

"I first read Windy's book in manuscript, having met the fellow online through the now defunct "studguppies" online writing workshop. For some reason, we had hit it off--likely because he said nice things about my stories, while I couldn't get enough of his Monty Python-ish humor. And while we stayed connected all these years since, I had nearly forgotten Windy's book and how funny I had thought it, and what a shame it was that he hadn't sold it yet.

Except he had sold it and it was finally published, nearly ten years later. I had nearly forgotten about it, except that I finally had an opportunity to meet him in the flesh due to a recent trip to Brighton. "Windy, old boy," I said, "I must beg a copy of your book," neglecting to mention that I have no idea where that original manuscript copy may have been misplaced in my numerous moves. Being the kind of stand-up guy that he is, he not only presented me one gratis, but he also signed it with his real name and not just some pseudonym foisted off on the less-suspecting.

Ten years later, and the book is only better than I remember. First off, the big difference is a title change, to one that is more metaphorical and about the entire book rather than just culled from one of the more hilarious episodes. I suspect there's been some general word-smithing as well, although my memory isn't good enough to be able to pin anything exact down.

Windy was only seventeen when he felt the call of the open sea--the "blue road." Of course, it was either that or jail, given his young prolictivities which had recently centered around attempting to burn down the school chemistry lab. The education he was to receive as a merchant marine was much more practical, and likely more suited to his destructive temperament, than the one behind a desk or in front of a chalkboard. He joins the classroom of the confined space where he discovers the amazing properties of coconut oil. Windy undergoes the crossing-the-line ceremony, not for the weak of stomach (and definitely not to be read while eating dinner). And he learns about the love of the sea, and the sea of love, or at least what sometimes passes for that when one is young and apt to ship out on the next tide.

Like other British travel writers, Windy has the ability to be both self-effacing and courageous, that ability to keep a stiff-upper lip in times of crises. In a manner similar to Eric Newby, Windy strings the reader along on a story that goes for pages to then quickly be undercut by a single line that reveals the narrator hasn't got quite the upper-hand he was telling us about. And, like Redmond O'Hanlon, Windy's travels are the kind that you don't mind joining in virtually but might think twice about if he rang you on the mobile to join in for a quick jaunt next Tuesday.

But mainly, Windy's funny, and that's why you need to read this book. Yes, you can learn about the merchant marines, and yes, there's some bits about places you never heard about before, but the reason you keep reading is because you want that next pain in your side just like the one you got from reading just a few pages back. Not to worry, because Windy's patter is perfect, just as if you were in the audience for one of the better stand-up comics.

I know, you're thinking, "He's a friend--you're just saying these things because you know him." Ahem. I dare you read this book and not laugh. It really is that good, and deserves to be better known." - Glen Engel-Cox


Kirsten Bakis

Lives of the Monster Dogs - Kirsten Bakis

SciFi.com Review - John Clute

Amazon reviewer Anne Schneidervin:

The year is 2009, and Cleo Pira has an interesting job - as a free-lance journalist she is able to investigate unusual stories. She comes across a tale most bizare-if it is true-that the 150 self-proclaimed "monster dogs" who have appeared in N.Y.C. are not a hoax.

Cleo is invited to be their biographer and recount the history of their creation, through the efforts of mad Prussian scientist, Augustus Rank. The dogs have been surgically altered to walk upright, speak, use prosthetic limbs and have an intelligence similar to humans. Their own historian, Ludwig Von Sacher, has fallen prey to a malady that seems to be spreading throughout their colony-a type of insanity which has no cure. Ludwig comes to love Cleo, though his mental deterioration causes him to confuse her with Augustus Rank's mother, Maria, whose ghost seems to occasionally enter both of their lives.

The dogs reveal their emigration from Canada to America was precipitated by their destruction of the human scientists/masters who held them captive. The rebellion in "Rankstadt" (the city) occurred after Augustus Rank's death and was lead by a dog Mops Hacker, who had been ill-used. The beautiful Samoyed, Lydia, was the only dog who did not participate; instead, she killed Mops Hacker when the opportunity presented itself, despite the fact she loved him. Lydia is an interesting character, but throughout the book keeps her secrets from being revealed, which is frustrating.

The story is moved forward through three diaries; Cleo's, Ludwig's and the deceased Augustus Rank. Rank was the true monster, rather than the dogs. His diary is revolting as he recounts the horrible and twisted acts of vivisection he performed on numerous small animals- and the enjoyment he received from this. His uncle finds some of his surgical "experiments" and instead of having him locked up (and hopefully throwing away the key) lauds Rank as a child prodigy and promptly enrolls him in medical school as a surgeon.

Rank manages to murder his half-brother and gloat about it in his diary; he also dreams of creating "monster dogs" who would be absolutely obedient to him: "Their minds will be my mind, their hearts will be mine, their teeth will by my teeth, their hands will be my hands." He achieves this bizarre goal, and enlists followers to help him carry on with the so-called glorious work. For some reason, the dogs who learn of Rank (who is long gone by the time of their creation) obsess and long for him as "their father" but hate their actual creators (Rank's scientists.) Part of this stems from the fact that somehow they have lost their love of humankind through the changing process. This is clearly demonstrated in the opera they write and perform, which is quite unusual. Lydia and Ludwig are the only dogs that demonstrate they still retain love for human beings through their behaviour towards Cleo.

This is NOT a "Watership Down" type of novel; it really is closer to an Anne Rice story in style, which at times is both lyrical and haunting. The depths of the dogs' true natures and the obvious loss of love for men (with the exceptions I have noted) is never fully plumbed. Parts of the story are disjointed, and I suspect an over-zealous editor was a factor. The ending is rushed and unsatisfying. However, the writing style is compelling; the plot is unique; the characters leave you wanting to find out more about them.

In the same vein, one may compare "The Monster Dogs" to "Sirius" by Olaf Stapledon, a rather hard-to-find book which has at its core the same theme and issues. The difference is that in "Sirius" the intelligence-enhanced dog is raised by a loving family who strive to understand and accomodate the terrible loneliness which such a genetically-altered being is subject to. In Stapledon's book, the best of the dog's traits,unconditional love and loyalty, are more pronounced. Bakis' dogs have lost this; an irony, since this was the one thing Rank wanted more than anything from his creations, feeling himself an outcast from society.

The question of how dogs would relate to people if they themselves were manipulated into being a semblence of humans is an intriguing one; the theme of psychosis following the dispensation of accelerated intelligence without proper grounding a recurrent one. Compare "Flowers for Algernon" which also has the short and heady rise to genius followed by an abrupt descent into inevitable madness.


John Franklin Bardin

The Deadly Percheron (1946) - John Franklin Bardin

Amazon:

"Dr George Matthews, a psychiatrist, encounters a patient who claims he is paid by a leprechaun to wear a flower in his hair. Another, he claims, pays him to whistle at Carnegie Hall during performances. A third pays him to give quarters away. Jacob Blunt wants Dr Matthews to confirm that he's mad. Dr Matthews is curious, so he accompanies his patient to a rendezvous with one of the leprechauns. His name is Eustace and he isn't at all pleased to see the doctor.

So begins the Deadly Percheron. After that it gets strange. First published in 1946 this unique murder mystery transcends the boundaries of the genre. It's noir, it's nightmarish, it's compulsive. John Franklin Bardin drags the reader into a world where the nature of identity is constantly questioned. Is our hero who he says he is? Can he be trusted? Is he, in fact, sane? Reality, as seen through his eyes, is a shifting kaleidoscope of memories.

As the murders mount up the fragments of his shattered psyche are slotted together. Slowly reality stabilises. At the end of the novel, but only then, it all makes sense. Who killed Frances Raye? Well, now, let's start at the beginning..."Jacob Blunt was my last patient. He came into my office wearing a scarlet hibiscus in his curly blond hair. He sat down in the easy chair across from my desk, and said, "Doctor, I think I'm losing my mind.""" - A W BUCHAN


Julian Barnes

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters - Julian Barnes

Reviews:

"The novelty inherent in Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters is - in part - that it is not really a 'novel.' It is more of a comically tragic reminiscence of Joyce's Dubliners than your standard long-prose work, complete with protagonist, antagonist, and the typical one-plot, one setting structure. Its 10 ½ stories bluntly give us a non-revisionist's history of the world by traveling from a tale of 'unclean' woodworm stowaways upon Noah's Ark to Barnes' conception of Heaven. It is realist and fantastic at once, telling how it was, is, and is to be with such honesty, depth, and sensitivity that its classification should be a sort of jocular Capotesque non-fiction novel.

A History of the World's most curious feature is its division. Ten strikingly different stories and one half-chapter side-note are seem as if they are randomly slapped together until the reader starts to make the connections. The woodworms stowed away on the Ark are in a subsequent chapter tried for the destruction of church property and blasphemous offence against God when their progeny take residence in and consume the Catholic cathedral of Mamirolle. The trial sings with critique of man's distortion of the religious impulse and social commentary. The Ark comes up in nearly every chapter, establishing a sort of nautical theme tied together with the wreck of the Medusa, a 17th century French naval frigate and the theories of the modern human's ascent from the sea from an amphibious state. Barnes also maintains a religious theme throughout the work, adding a discussion of Jonah in the whale, a timely leap into Middle Eastern religion turned politics, and a philosophical treatise on the meaning and purpose of heaven. All of this is weaved together to form a mystical collage of human nature and history.

As one might surmise from the title, the ½ chapter is of great importance to the unity of the narrative. Entitled 'Parenthesis' these 19 pages of side note seem to be a larger version of the 'aside' in which the author speaks directly to the reader. Barnes includes this personal commentary to reveal the main theme of the work: an exploration of love and its value for the human species. Love is the only tool we have to beat down the history of the world and make life plausible, give it some meaning.

History isn't what happened. History is just what historians tell us. There was a pattern, a plan, a movement, expansion, the march of democracy; it is a tapestry, a flow of events, a complex narrative, connected, explicable. One good story leads to another. And we the readers of history, we scan the pattern for hopeful conclusions, for the way ahead. And we cling to history as a series of salon pictures, conversation pieces whose participants we can easily reimagine back into life, when all the time it's more like a multi-media collage, with paint applied by decorator's roller rather than camel-hair brush (240).

Because of the confusion of sentient existence, 'Our random mutation [love] is essential because it is unnecessary.' (238) We don't NEED it, that's why it means something and how it empowers us.

Simply stated, Barnes' novel (alright, I admit, it is a novel - however NOVEL) wants us to be more conscious of what a blessing it is to be a sentient, thoughtful beings capable of reading novels. It wants us to not get tied up in 'historical facts' and to realize that we can get more out of a fictional account of history which admits to this condition than from revisionist histories around the world that disguise themselves in FACT. Or maybe, it just wants us to read it and enjoy it." - Christopher D. Curry


Neil Barrett Jr.

The Hereafter Gang - Neil Barrett Jr.

Reviews:

"Here is The Neal Barrett Jr. Story. At first sight it looks very much like The Elmore Leonard Story: The Sequel. After 30 years of hardworking obscurity, a period during which he has published only paperback originals, Neal Barrett finally gets a hardback house to take him seriously. In 1987, when he s almost 60, Through Darkest America is released to a chorus of surprised reviews, and all seems set for the bandwagon. But something happens. The hardback house turns sour on sf, and Barrett s next novel, a sequel to the breakthrough book, comes out as a paperback, and sinks out of sight. This is not a great career move, this is not The Elmore Leonard Story. This is not how to enjoy a prosperous old age.

We come to 1991, and to The Hereafter Gang (Mark V. Ziesing, 1991), and we simply do not know what to think. The book itself is attractively produced, and distributed widely within the sf world; but there seems no way, all the same, that a small press like Ziesing can hope to muscle into the chains. It seems unlikely, therefore, that this second potential breakthrough novel will reach the very wide readership it deserves. The Hereafter Gang is almost as hilarious as Larry McMurtry s Texasville, and less earthbound; nearly as haunted as Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and less suffocating. Like both those books, it attempts to hold on to America as the century blows us away; like neither of them, it bites the bullet, in language of tensile brilliance. In The Hereafter Gang, the only way to recapture the past or to hold on to the present is to die.

Doug Hoover is 58 years old but looks 35. He lies about his age, not through vanity, but so he can continue living the life he wants to lead, which means avoiding permanent employment, and sleeping with alnost every woman he meets. Suddenly he finds that he has gotten stuck. He is becoming far too successful in his job public relations work in Dallas and is now due for promotion, and he discovers that he seems to have been married for several years to one woman, Erlene Lamprey, who owns one book in the world and whose. "idea of outdoors was a windchime in front of the A/C." It is time to light out for the Territory, like Huck Finn.

But at the end of the century, in the heart of Dallas, there s not much territory to light out for. Ricocheting from one bar to another, and frightened half to death by a succession of terrible, sharp chest pains, Doug skedaddles into the world of memories: the sharp scents and colors of youth; the precious polished cars and toys and girls of his early years. Guided by an amiable young drifter, with whom he identifies, and seduced by a sweet-and-sour teenaged "Southern girl," he exits the no-exit freeways of 990 and immerses himself in the past.

In other words, Doug Hoover has died. The Hereafter Gang is a posthumous fantasy. Like similar work by a wide variety of writers, from Vladimir Nabokov to Flann O Brien, from John Crowley to Gene Wolfe, it tells of a hero who, after the death of the body, must sift through the materials of the life he has left in order to make sense of his naked soul. But posthumous fantasies tend to slide all too easily into intolerable solitude, as the hero narrows in on himself; and it is here that Barrett leaps sideways from his models. The posthumous landscapes visited by Doug are peopled: the folk he loved, the small towns he grew up in, the beverages he drank, the World War I planes he made models of, the Western heroes he emulated, all congregate. His search for order turns into a clambake.

At this point, the novel risks becoming a feelgood traipse through theme park suburbs of the dead, full of portion-control sweetness and light. It is a dangerous moment, but Barrett gets past it with great skill. After all the sleek contrivance of the plot, and the strange exhilaration of a posthumous landscape next to which the real world seems impossibly scarred and tawdry, The Hereafter Gang finds itself in the American soul of its hero. In Doug, Barrett has created a figure too complex and ornery to sort himself out glibly, and too American to go quietly into the good night; an awful man, and almost a great one. Nothing Doug has done in his life is alien to him, nothing is turned away. The dreadful and the garish and the good, he embraces it all. The Hereafter Gang is a celebration of this embrace. It is one of the great American novels. Try to find it." - Washington Post, 6/30/1991

Interstate Dreams - Neil Barrett Jr.


Donald Barthelme

Sixty Stories - Donald Barthelme

Reviews:

"In his review of "American Beauty," the New Yorker movie critic David Denby writes, "I can think of no other American movie that sets us tensions with smarty pants social satire and resolves them with a burst of metaphysics." The same can be said for many of the stories in this collection. The first three fourth's of "The School," for example, is narrated with the deadpan cool that predominated in popular eighties minimalism. It is textbook black humor. But "The School" ends with a poetic riff on cultural relativism, exposing everything that came before in the story, and giving us a glimpse of the narrator's frailties. And then with the final two lines, Barthelme throws in an oddball joke, making the story even more uncertain. It's like on The Simpsons, when you get their craziest, surreal joke right before a commercial break. A Barthelme story simultaneously invites interpretation and outguesses the reader.

Another great thing about both Barthelme's stories and "American Beauty" is that when a narrative stradles that border between reality and parody, the characters get away with making the most straightforward thematic statements. In "The Seargent," a story about a middle aged man who somehow finds himself stuck in the army again, the narrator keeps repeating, "This is all a mistake. I'm not supposed to be here," etc. "Of course I deserve this." If the protagonist of a realistic, mid-life crisis story made these statements it would be interpreted as too obvious. Suspension of disbelief might be violated. When the situation is absurd, however, the characters can be beautifully direct. Artificial people bemoaning the fact that they are bound within an artificial form can be very poignant to us real people bound by necessity. Our situations are curiously congruent.

This is my favorite book. It reminds me a lot of when I was a kid and I had a favorite toy. It is informed by the French noveau roman novel, though less dark, where the experience of reading is given primacy over the experience of the characters. If I had simply bought the book and read the stories in order then put it back on the shelf, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the enjoyment that I did out of it. This book is in my library and I go to the shelf and peruse through it whenever I need a break from studying. It has so much play and creativity. Barthelme has said that collage is the dominant twentieth century art form. Pieces of writing that resemble advertising copy or quips from a political documentary, are juxtaposed with philosophical discursiveness. And the humor, fortunately, keeps it from getting overly pretentious, though some might find it pretentious at first. I've talked to a number of readers who think Barthelme is just faddish, conceited and intentionally obscure. If you find that's the case, I encourage you to give it time. Especially if you're a fan of contemporary short stories. If not for any other reason, it'll give you a new perspective on Lorrie Moore and Raymond Carver, among others. If I had to choose favorites, I'd say "Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel" and "Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning," but all the stories in this book are worth it." - Webb Haymaker

The Teachings of Don B. - Donald Barthelme


Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

Augustus Carp Esq. by Himself - Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

London Review of Books - Thomas Jones

The spoof memoir Augustus Carp, Esq. by Himself: Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man was first published anonymously in 1924. Carp is a pious, hypocritical, gluttonous, not very bright and, yes, carping resident of Camberwell, and the narrator of what Anthony Burgess called 'one of the great comic novels of the 20th century'. He begins one recollection of his childhood with a description of how he was 'happily employed combing a grey rabbit, to which I was deeply attached, and which I had named, but a day or two previously, after the major prophet Isaiah'. That use of 'major' speaks volumes. Twenty years ago, Burgess persuaded Heinemann to bring out a new edition, and in the process discovered that the author was Dr Bashford, a Post Office medical officer from Hampstead who went on to become Honorary Physician to George VI. Whether or not this meant he was expected or even allowed to combat the King's diseases I don't know; either way it didn't stop him getting a knighthood. His name doesn't appear on the cover of the most recent edition of Augustus Carp (Prion, £8.99), but he is acknowledged on the title page, and his potted biography is in Robert Robinson's introduction. Carp, unlike his author, has no pretensions to modesty:

It is customary, I have noticed, in publishing an autobiography, to preface it with some sort of apology. But there are times, and surely the present is one of them, when to do so is manifestly unnecessary. In an age when every standard of decent conduct has either been torn down or is threatened with destruction; when every newspaper is daily reporting scenes of violence, divorce and arson; when quite young girls smoke cigarettes and even, I am assured, sometimes cigars; when mature women, the mothers of unhappy children, enter the sea in one-piece bathing-costumes; and when married men, the heads of households, prefer the flicker of the cinematograph to the Athanasian Creed - then it is obviously a task, not to be justifiably avoided, to place some higher example before the world.


Augusto Roa Bastos

I, the Supreme - Augusto Roa Bastos

Reviews:

"There are three great novels about the Latin American dictator and all of them are very different. Miguel Asturias' Mr. President deals with a backwater banana republic where the president for life's presence itself is minor. What occurs instead is the lethal working out of a hideously unjust system which crushes and destroys all who resist and those who are caught in its clutches. Then there is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, an example of high modernism at its most brilliant. In sentences of increasingly serpentine length (in the end consisting of the final chapter of forty-five pages) Garcia Marquez deals with an aged dictator who has ruled for centuries and is capable of every iniquity (such as serving up a cabinet minister for his treacherous colleagues to eat) while living in a world of pretend power and real submission (he has to sell his country's sea to pay off the Americans). This book is also high modernist, but is very different. Instead of the fantastic elements of the Autumn of the Patriarch we have here the story of the founder of Paraguay, Dr. Francia. Dr. Francia consolidated his country's independence by creating a regime of isolation and absolute power. He expelled the Jesuits and set up his own Catholic Church so it would not be beholden to Rome. He was utterly ruthless and the result, according to E. Bradford Burns was an autarky that probably benefited the masses more in terms of literacy and nutrition than any other Latin American country of the time. Its fate, however, was to be crushed by the surrounding countries in the great war of 1870-73 where the male population was almost literally devastated.

No venal tinpot hack, Dr. Francia appears as a man of frightening sincerity, in an account that is of direct revelance to the fate of Castro's Cuba. I, the Supreme begins with a proclamation in which the dicators calls for the decapitation of his corpse and the lynching of all his ministers. It continues with tales of prisoners forced to live in boats travelling down the rivers of Paraguay without ever stopping. We read of Francia's dialogue with a sycophantic Vicar General ("How long did the trial of the infamous traitors to the Fatherland last? As long as it was necessary in order not to rush to judgement. They were granted every right to defend themselves. In the end every recourse was exhausted. It might be said that the case was never closed. It is still open. Not all the guilty parties were sentenced to death and executed."), who then goes on to condemn his priests for siring dozens and hundreds of illegitimate children. Like Lenin and indeed Stalin he rants against the jungle of bureaucracy that he himself has created, he outsmarts the greedy surrounding oligarchies who wish to absorb Paraguay, he reminds his civil servants not to express and exploit the Indian population. We read reports of how school children are indoctrinated to see their great leader ("The Supreme Government is very old. Older than the Lord God, that our schoolmaster...tells us about in a low voice.) The book is a masterpiece of polyphony, filled with many voices and viewpoints, combined with a richness of metaphor and incident and a complexity of moral vision that have few competitors this century. Writing for a country that has possessed only brief and shadowy vestiges of liberty, Roa Bastos deals with its pain in a way that should be required reading for all who care about democracy." - pnotley


John Calvin Batchelor

The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica (1983) - John Calvin Batchelor

Reviews:

"Writing from the point of view in the early 80's and fresh from the chaos of the 70's oil crisis Batchelor naturally used this experience to build his world which in SF terms would be classified as a "near future" narrative.

More accurately his book is that rare animal in the XX century a political fiction talking about the issues of freedom and personal responsibility in the face of antiutopian fictions like 1984 or The Brave New World and actual political utopian projects like the Soviet Union or Third Reich.

It is easily recognizable that Batchelor is writing from a Libertarian perspective and that would allow me to label the book as a 'Libertarian fable' however this book is much more.

Taking Sweden in the early 70's as the location of his books beginning the writer appropriates the heritage of Norse mythology and epic poems for his flawed hero and this imagery stays with the reader throughout the book in tone, names and a whole chapter that takes place during a 'berserk' war fury during which the Hero Skallagrim Strider commits many crimes.

However Batchelor posits his crimes against the political crimes of those who convicted not just the hero but millions to a fate worse than his. The metaphor of the 'road to hell is paved with good intentions' is aptly used here.

In the end the Hero is given a sort of a political redemption by becoming a "Republic of one" incarnating the libertarian ideal of personal responsibility and freedom in the wastes of Antarctic islands.

Fascinating read that will stay with you, slightly dated due to the basic premise of a breakdown in world social order by Oil crisis, racism and religious fervour. Otherwise, to the point, asking the most fundamental questions about the political animal-Man." - Milos Tomin


Wolfgang Bauer

Feverhead - Wolfgang Bauer

Reviews:

"Wolfgang Bauer is an incredible oddity, the man must be either insane or the purest form of genius. I don't believe this alone. Malcolm Green must feel the same way to have taken the time to translate this complex, hilarious, amazing piece from the well-known (at least in Europe) Austrian playwright. An out of this world journey, The Feverhead will drag you around the world, maybe even to Heaven or Hell. You might even meet ULF! Imagine it...ULF! Weird and Wacky, but extremely compelling, with twists and turns that will keep you at the tip of seat or wherever you read, this book is a treasure. Being the only in print English work of Mr. Bauer, you will feel priviliged and honored to have it in your collection to return to again and again. A book not only to read and own, but maybe even to live by." - Reid Harris Cooper


Martin Bax

The Hospital Ship - Martin Bax


Pierre Bayard

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read - Pierre Bayard

Reviews:

"Pierre Bayard's "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read," translated superbly from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman, comes at a time when a number of experts declare that reading in America is on the decline. Since the 2004 report from the US National Endowment for the Arts documented that Americans are reading less and less, there are more distractions than ever that keep people away from bookstores and libraries. The Internet, cable television, and other forms of entertainment, as well as the pressures of work, family, and social responsibilities quickly gobble up our days. For some people, a lack of erudition presents no problem. However, for those who would like to appear knowledgeable (even if they are anything but), Bayard comes to the rescue.

The author, a Professor of French Literature and a psychoanalyst, assures us that "it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven't read it in its entirety--or even opened it." Whew, what a relief! In addition, Bayard informs guilt-ridden non-readers that they are in very good company, since "mendacity is the rule" when it comes to reading. Few individuals who wish to be taken seriously by their peers will admit to never having read certain "canonical texts," so they simply lie and pretend to have read them. The whole spectrum of non-reading is covered here: books we've never cracked open, those we've merely skimmed, books that we've never laid eyes on but have heard about from others, and those that we read years ago and have long since forgotten. When books fade from our consciousness, we might as well not have read them at all, Bayard asserts. In many cases, "Our relation to books is a shadowy space haunted by the ghosts of memory...." Therefore, if you are a non-reader, fear not; you have nothing to be ashamed of and you are certainly not alone.

The author quotes works both well-known and obscure, such as Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose," Graham Greene's "The Third Man," and Balzac's "Lost Illusions" to support his thesis. He uses intricate and arcane philosophical arguments that are almost mathematical in their precision, to "prove" that one can and should avoid delving too deeply into books. He even uses his own jargon (some of which is borrowed from other disciplines) to describe ways in which non-readers relate to unread books and to one another: screen books, inner books, phantom books, virtual libraries, and the collective library.

Although to the casual reader Bayard may seem to be playing it straight, "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" is brilliant and subtle satire. Amazon reviewers should take special note of the Oscar Wilde quotation that serves as the book's epigraph: "I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so." Comments such as these that demonstrate how foolish it is to actually read the books that we talk about are so absurd (although they appear logical on the surface because they are couched in such ornate language), that Bayard ends up strengthening the opposite viewpoint. Those steeped in literature, even if they do not recall every word they have read, are generally people worth knowing; they are far more interesting to talk to than those who spout empty phrases devoid of precision or depth; people's lives are richer because of their intimate knowledge of books. They do not have to worry about surviving professional and social situations on a wing and a prayter, hoping never to be exposed as frauds who profess to have literary knowledge that they lack. Ironically, Bayard ultimately demonstrates the power of books to evoke passion, sway hearts and minds, subvert the social order, and change our lives. "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" is provocative, thought provoking, and great fun. Rather than pretending to read it, read it!" - E. Bukowsky


Muharem Bazdulj

The Second Book - Muharem Bazdulj

Amazon:

"The protagonists of The Second Book, are connected vertically and horizontally by their struggles. Nietzsche, on the edge of madness, spends a number of mornings contemplating his sweeping ideas and the tiny details of life through hazes left by "the gluey fingers of sleep." In "The Hot Sun's Golden Circle," the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, discoverer of monotheism, embarks on a search for the only true god of Egypt. Bazdulj's charming and funny "The Story of Two Brothers" examines the lives of William and Henry James from the shadows of the Old Testament and the age-old archetype of conflict between an eldest brother and the "maladjusted impracticality" of the younger.

Muharem Bazdulj has broken from the pack of new Eastern European writers influenced by innovators such as Danilo Ki¿, Milan Kundera, and Jorge Luis Borges. Employing a light touch, a daring anti-nationalist tone, and the kind of ambition that inspires nothing less than a rewriting of Bosnian and Yugoslavian history, Bazdulj weaves the imagined realities of history into fiction and fiction into history. To quote one critic, for Bazdulj history "is the sum of interpretations while imagination is the sum of facts." - Anon


William Beckford

The History of Caliph Vathek - William Beckford

Online text version

"The tale of Vathek is undeniably a wonderful oriental fable, where enlightenment ethics are presented and critiqued. If read in conjunction with Samuel Johnson "Rasselas", Montesquieu's Persian Letters and "Arabian Nights" one may be able to better understand the landscape upon which orientalism (a term used by Beckford himself to illuminate the period's infatuation with the orient, not to be confused with Said's) and enlightenment values where divulged. Beckford's tale however speaks of a more prescient sphere where the author's inner struggles and thwarted tragic desultoriness devolves. As with all literature this compact gem stands on her own; however many have tried to extract a moral import and some have even described a mystique of knowledge and a system of ethics with undue fastidiousness. In a more likely scenario we have a wonton fable whimsical and indulgent, crafted as a parody of "orientalism". Knowledge of Beckford's life may serve the reader well but should not hinder her enjoyment. The author's disquietude trumps an increasing distance from the absurd drive and hedonistic tendencies of the protagonist, while we feel a sympathetic kinship laxed the more into the novella we proceed. The author wrote this fable in French and supervised the translation as best he could. The grotesque and the sublime are here married insolubly but tend to find a balance suspended over a void that derides and insinuates the emptiness of a spiritual fantasy in turmoil.

The ending paragraphs are singed with a sad glow that seems to recriminate as much as it moralizes: much like a father that punishes a child only to feel remorse over the fact that his own blood cannot enjoy what is most enjoyable. He is not convinced and Beckford created a wonderful fable where much is exposed, but the simplicity, the arrogance and the conviction are to be regaled with the same comic grotesque sprightliness with which he infuses his narrative.

A quick fun read that demands little of us, but in degrees can disclose a sensibility we may be dismissive of if we are to package it as a tale where orientalism meets enlightenment values." - Luca Graziuso

Review

William Beckford was an eccentric millionaire; his short novel Vathek is an eccentric novel. It is apparently a morality tale based on some of the stories in the Arabian Nights. It tells the story of Vathek, an imaginary descendant and successor of Caliph Haroun al Raschid. He has two passions: for decadent luxury (vast feasts, beautiful concubines) and arcane knowledge. When an evil looking Indian magician visits his court, his desire for knowldge becomes even greater when he sees something of the magical power of this man. He becomes willing to go to any lengths to discover his secrets, even abjuring Islam and sacrificing the fifty most beautiful children in his realm. However, the episode has been arranged by Mohammed to give Vathek a last chance to repent of his evildoing, and disaster awaits him when he fails to do so.
...


Alan Beechey

An Embarassment of Corpses - Alan Beechey

"This novel made me homesick for England. But pleasantly so. It opens in London's Trafalgar Square, which lives in my memory as the place to go on Christmas Eve. There would be a huge Christmas tree, sent over from Norway, I believe, all decorated and lit up, and hundreds of people singing Christmas carols. There's no Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in the opening of this book. There is a body instead. It is discovered by Oliver Swithin, who has hay-colored hair that is straight and floppy. teeth that are too prominent, docile blue eyes behind wire-framed spectacles. He is wearing a tuxedo that has seen better days. Not a macho hero, one deduces almost immediately. Sir Hargreaves (Harry) Random was "floating face-down in a Trafalgar Square Fountain....with a look of mild irritation on his face, mortified in all senses of the word." Listen to this. Far above ... the rising sun was gilding the pigeon guano on Nelson's hat." (For the unknowing, Nelson's column is one of the primary features of Trafalgar Square.) There are a lot of wonderfully visual and fresh images like that throughout this well-wrought novel. Here's a description of a police officer, Sergeant Welkin: "He was an overweight man in his thirties, with a black moustache and a harsh boxer's face, who invariably reminded people of someone else they knew. He bred Burmese cats." Oliver writes a series of books about a "Foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ex-public-schoolboy ferret named Finsbury.... giving the beast all the vices he had never possessed." The series of course becomes a critical and financial success, though not for Oliver, who isn't getting any of the money. "Hoist by your own pet," Oliver's uncle murmurs. The Finsbury books expose the infants of England to the evils of alcohol, drugs, pornography, promiscuity, soccer hooliganism, smoking, and country and western music." (Ahem! Excuse me?) Mr. Beechey very cleverly, after introducing Finsbury, obeys the dictum that if you show a ferret early in the plot, the ferret should bite someone before the end. If left to myself here, I'd quote the whole book and you wouldn't have to buy it and that would never do. Oliver as sleuth is assisted by, or sometimes desisted by, his Uncle , Inspector Tim Mallard of the Yard. He sleuths by Zodiac signs, following the trail of a serial murderer. He also yearns for Sergeant Effie Strongitharm and fantasizes her response to him with replies that range from a snorted "With *you*?" to a breathless, "At last--take me now, my shy young hero among men." He's not too successful with Effie, which is hardly surprising. There are many surprises in this book so I'm not going to tell anything about the plot progression. One big surprise almost lifted me out of bed, where I was reading. For a few pages, I was really......no that would be a spoiler. There are a lot of puns in this book, and as you've seen--much humor. Not of the slapstick kind, but my favorite kind of understated English humor that depends mostly on a very satisfying use of words. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment. I loved this book And I've decided I have to visit London next year. For sure." - Margaret Chittenden


Max Beerbohm

Seven Men/Two Others - Max Beerbohm

Project Gutenberg

NYRB Introduction - John Updike

In Seven Men the brilliant English caricaturist and critic Max Beerbohm turns his comic searchlight upon the fantastic fin-de-siecle world of the 1890s--the age of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and the young Yeats, as well of Beerbohm's own first success. In a series of luminous sketches, Beerbohm captures the likes of Enoch Soames; only begetter of the neglected poetic masterwork Fungoids; Maltby and Braxton, two fashionable novelists caught in a bitter rivalry; and "Savonarola" Brown, author of a truly incredible tragedy encompassing the entire Italian Renaissance. One of the masterpieces of modern humorous writing. Seven Men is also a shrewdly perceptive, heartfelt homage to the wonderfully eccentric character of a bygone age.

Max Beerbohm at the Victorian Web

Max Beerbohm at the 1890s Society


Brendan Behan

Confessions of an Irish Rebel - Brendan Behan


John Bellairs

The Face in the Frost - John Bellairs

Amazon:

""The Face In The Frost" is a richly imaginative tale of two wizards, Prospero (not the one you're thinking of) and Roger Bacon, who must overcome a third wizard, the evil Melichus before he destroys them, and a lot of other folks as well.

Even if you think you've heard this story before, you've never come across a variation like this one. The closest analogue that I can come up with is "Howl's Moving Castle" for its eccentricity, but 'Face' outdoes 'Howl' in this respect as well as in its fear quotient. The scary scenes approach M.R. James in intensity, and they are always preceded by migraine-like aura. Prospero senses that something is slightly off about the inn where he is staying. He is still trying to figure out what is bothering him at four in the morning:

"Strange thoughts began to come to him now: locked boxes and empty rooms. Four dials and a black hole. Four cards and a blank. And a dead sound on the stroke of four. Why did that mirror bother him?

"Quietly, Prospero got dressed, took his staff from the corner, and opened the door of his room. The hall was dark and silent...He lit [a candle] and tiptoed down the stairs to the place where the mirror hung. Prospero stared and felt a chill pass through his body. The mirror showed nothing-not his face, not his candle, not the wall behind him. All he saw was a black glassy surface."

Prospero explores further and finds his landlady standing fully-clothed in her room, with a butcher knife in her hand. "In her slowly rising head were two black holes. Prospero saw in his mind a doll that had terrified him when he was a child. The eyes had rattled in the china skull. Now the woman's voice, mechanical and heavy: "Why don't you sleep? Go to sleep." Her mouth opened wide, impossibly wide, and then the whole face stretched and writhed and yawned in the faint light."

Prospero manages to escape the inn and town that were nothing more than an elaborate trap set up by Melichus to destroy him. He is reunited with his friend, Roger Bacon and they continue on their quest to find and destroy Melichus's evil magic.

There are delightfully eccentric set-pieces in 'Face:' a king who builds elaborate clock-works of the universe; a monk who collects strange plants; a talking mirror that divulges scores from a 1943 Cubs-Giants baseball game. I suspect the author wove his fantasy out of migraines, nightmares, and a love of mechanical oddities and spells that turn tomatoes into squishy red carriages. Prospero himself has a "cherrywood bedstead with a bassoon carved into one of the fat headposts, so that it could be played as you lay in bed and meditated...On a shelf over the experiment table was the inevitable skull, which the wizard put there to remind him of death, though it usually reminded him that he needed to go to the dentist."

I'd better put an end to this review before I quote the whole book. It's so good, it pulls me in every time I open it---Enchanting, in the original sense of the word, and frightening, too." - E. A. Lovitt


Thomas Berger

Who is Teddy Villanova? - Thomas Berger


Michel Bernanos

The Other Side of the Mountain (1968) - Michel Bernanos

Jeff Vandermeer:

"With Candide-like brevity and the sanctity of spare prose, Bernanos chills the reader with one of the most quietly horrific accounts of an explorer¿s journey to another place. The book is long out of print¿a situation that should be rectified immediately. This little piece of the alien and the alienated gets under your skin in a myriad of unsettling ways. It begins as a simple Robert Louis Stevenson/Melville story of a youth indentured at sea to a brutal crew¿ who becomes lost¿ who turns to cannibalism¿ who then passes into a strange land:

All around us was the liquid void. The day grew lighter and lighter and on the horizon a curious red hue preluded the sun-a color akin to blood. Slowly it spread. I had never seen anything quite like it and for a moment I imagined I was having hallucinations. I was amazed to see that when the sun finally rose it was entirely speckled with this same strange color, as if it had suffered a wound¿

Until gradually the narrative¿s inexorable and steady pace by itself acclimatizes us to upcoming disaster with image after image that will remain with you long after the last page has been read. Some books are strange fish. They fit no known pattern. Their scales flicker with an emerald and unknowable light. But you¿d be mistaken to throw them back."


Lord Berners

Collected Tales and Fantasies of Lord Berners - Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson Berners

Amazon:

"Lord Berners' Collected Tales and Fantasies are six rather bizarre tales or short novellas, filled with dark and mysterious happenings. The characters who inhabit these stories are equally as bizarre and eccentric as the tales themselves, and, although they contain some hilarious satire in the style of Evelyn Waugh or "Saki," the narratives are laced with violence and tragedy. Lord Berners' characters include an assortment of eccentric artistocratic types that he knew between the years dividing the two World Wars. His characters include a mixture of neurotics, paranoids, megalomaniacs, pederasts, parasites, and what Monty Python would call "upper-class twits," all of whom partake in the most amazing adventures. In one of the best stories, "Far from the Madding War," the author himself makes a brief appearance as Lord FritzCricket. Berners admits that his own outlandish personality is that of "the Unstable Peer," an eccentric born into the aristocracy who can act in any way he pleases. Let us look briefly at a few of the stories. "Percy Wallingford," (written in 1914) tells the adventures of a self-assured and talented man who, on the eve of World War I, has his confidence destroyed by his wife, a fantastic woman who can see in the dark and who strips him of his self-assurance. "The Camel," (written in 1936) relates the mysterious appearance of a camel at a vicarage in the quiet British town of Slumbermere, which violently disrupts the easy life there and forces people to confront their own fears, anxieties, and jealousies. It is a deceptively dark and disturbing tale, perhaps influenced by the novels of Thomas Hardy and Anthony Trollope which also dealt with small-town British rustic life. "Mr. Pidger," (1939) takes place on the eve of World War II and is, in reality, a British country-house farce in the best tradition. Lord Berens takes the models of the genre - a dog-hating misanthrope, a missing will, an ill-tempered dog, an over bearing wife, and a reticent husband - and molds them into a bizarre burlesque with tragic overtones. "Count Omega" (1941) is a satire on reincarnation, Freudian sexual psychoanalysis, modern music, and practical jokes, which involves the ego-centered musician Emanuel Smith, maliciously modeled on the British composer Sir William Walton. "The Romance of a Nose" (1941) may be the weakest tale of the collection, a rather plodding story about a Queen with an enormous nose and the chicanery that takes place in international politics. Berners' final story in the collection, "Far From the Madding War" (1941) is in itself worth the price of the book. It is an outrageous reaction to World War II, peopled with whimsical neurotics and eccentrics in the university town of "All Saints." It is Lord Berners' satirical attack on Oxford and Cambridge Universities' reaction to the war, and an intimation of his own nervous breakdown during and after the war years when his private world was shattered. It is a hilarious yet disturbing story. I highly recommend these six stories to those Anglophile readers like myself who enjoy the works of such writers as Evelyn Waugh, "Saki," J.P. Donlevy, George MacDonald Fraser, or John Mortimer. Lord Berners is indeed a talented author who writes stylishly and with a sharp satiric thrust. I have enjoyed his music (now recorded on several CD's) and his excellent memoir, "The Château de Résenlieu," which was recently published. I hope that more of his fine literary work will be published." - Russel E. Higgins


Thomas Bernhard

Gargoyles: A Novel - Thomas Bernhard

""The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed," writes Thomas Bernhard, and that one sentence can be said to sum up his view of human life. If you're of a tendency to agree, you're of a tendency to enjoy the work of literature's answer to anyone obtuse enough to tell you to "Have a Nice Day!" Just be sure to have plenty of Zoloft and Wellbutrin XL on hand because Bernhard is potent stuff.

If "Gargoyles" were a boxing match instead of a book and Bernhard a fighter you could say he came out swinging hard at the opening bell and faded away in the middle rounds...only to come back stronger than ever to knock you out cold in the end. The minimal plot describes a son who, having returned from university for the weekend, accompanies his physician father on his daily rounds through the countryside. The day starts offs with a brutal murder at a local inn and ends with a visit to a mad prince holed up in his mountain estate. In between, father and son check in on a variety of patients--each one of them a "gargoyle," a human grotesque, suffering from one or another of the awful maladies of existence. Hemmed in by illness, grief, loneliness, age, hopelessness, these poor souls are a parade of human misery, the victims of the horrors that flesh is heir to.

The son is the ostensible narrator of these events, but Bernhard has him take a primarily background role, letting the patients and their grim circumstances speak for themselves. This technique culminates in the final one hundred or so pages of *Gargoyles* which are mainly the text of an extended monologue by the novel's most intriguing character: the prince of a large and decaying estate who is clearly on the verge of the sort of insanity that may be the clearest wisdom of all.

It's precisely this extended monologue that proves to be the strongest--and weakest--part of the novel. There were stretches where this speech read like nothing more than the ravings of your typical schizophrenic--gibberish interspersed with the occasional gleam of brilliant insight and dark humor--and, as such, became somewhat tiresome. But just when you start to sense your eyes glazing over, Bernard kicks things into overdrive and the prince's monologue becomes a riveting panegyric of proverb and prophecy that relentlessly hammers shut every door that one might have hoped could lead to an escape from human despair. This `madman's monologue,' which at first seems mind-numbingly arbitrary and inconsistent builds in coherence and power until the novel's finale where Bernhard sets off a nihilistic fireworks display of devastating aphoristic brilliance. It's truly one of the great "mad rants" of world literature--a tour de force performance not to be missed.

Not without its weaknesses, *Gargoyles* is nonetheless a challenging and rewarding novel that manages, ultimately, to be more than a `mere' novel--but an irrefutable testament to the tragedy of the human condition...a tragedy that, incredibly, is not without its share of laughs." - Mark Nadja

Woodcutters

Amazon:

"Woodcutters is definitely my favourite novel by Thomas Bernhard. It is Thomas Bernhard at his best. He got sued by former friends of his when he published the book so as in many of his books the narrator is very close to or maybe even identical with Thomas Bernhard himself.

Basically, the book consists of two parts. In the first part, the narrator sits in a chair and watches his hosts plus their other guests waiting for an actor to have dinner. The narrator had bumped into his hosts whom he hadn't seen for many years and they had invited him to join their dinner. A mutual friend of them had just committed suicide so he had felt obliged to join them - much to his regret. The second part describes the actual dinner. However, most of the book consists of what the narrator is thinking about his former friends, about friendships in general and about relationships between people. This nearly endless rant evolves around every possible aspect and like a surgeon Bernhard cuts deep into what everybody takes for granted and lays open treachery, lies, and hypocrisy (If you believe in family values and in a good world, this book might disturb you quite a bit!). As I mentioned before, old friends of Bernhard's sued him when the book was published because it was too obvious he was actually referring to them - and he was showing them in a way nobody would possibly want to be shown. This is not to say that Bernhard is necessarily a misanthrop. Quite surprisingly, when the narrator leaves the dinner table abruptly, he runs back home "through Vienna the city I loved like no other city" - quite a surprise after his Vienna-bashing. To me, Thomas Bernhard always was a deeply disturbed person who hated the world because it wasn't as nice as he wanted to believe it was." - joerg colberg


Morris Bishop

A Gallery of Eccentrics Or, A Set of Twelve Originals & Extravagants from Elagabalus, the Waggish Emperor to Mr. Professor Porson, the Tippling Philologer (1928) - Morris Bishop


Jack Black

You Can't Win - Jack Black

Reviews:

"I first discovered Jack Black's `You Can't Win', as I suspect many readers did, when I found out that it was William S Burroughs' favourite book. Until I read it, though, I couldn't imagine just how big an influence it was on Burroughs - who drew upon its style, and the code of honour it describes, for the entirety of his writing career.

When you read Burroughs' foreword to this edition of `You Can't Win', it hits you that he didn't (as you might assume with a favourite book) reread the book regularly. Rather, he memorised the book as a boy, and then throughout his life `read' the version memorised in his own mind. Even the passages that Burroughs quotes in the foreword aren't word-for-word precise (I compared them with the text of the book proper), because they've been committed to myth and memory, and are recited in ritualistic fashion.

All of which aside, `You Can't Win' deserves to be known as more than just `the book that inspired Burroughs'. It's written in a plain, unsentimental style which has as much in common with the writing of Charles Bukowski as it does with the Beats - a style of writing which reached its apotheosis with `The Grass Arena', the harrowing autobiography of the British alcoholic vagrant John Healy. (Now, someone should teach a literature class comparing `You Can't Win' and `The Grass Arena' - THAT would be an inspiration.) What these writers have in common is that when you read them, you instantly think: `Now this is good, compelling, uncluttered prose.'

Many of those who have posted reviews below rightly praise Jack Black's memorable language and characterisation, which make `You Can't Win' into a kind of turn-of-the-century lexicon and encyclopaedia of the life of American thieves and hobos. But I was even more struck by Black's remarkable resolve, self-dependency and moral fortitude, and above all his categorical refusal to feel sorry for himself, or to let the reader feel sorry for him.

Three passages in the book in particular, all of which concern prison, are horrific - two passages in which Black is punished by flogging, and an absolutely unbearable passage in which he is tortured in a straitjacket by a sadistic prison warden. If these passages had been written by a lesser writer, I could not bear to read them. But Black takes the reader firmly by the hand, conveys what happened to him, and moves on.

Describing the first flogging: `It would not be fair to the reader for me to attempt a detailed description of this flogging.... If I could go away to some lonely, desolate spot and concentrate deeply enough I might manage to put myself in the flogging master's place and make a better job of reporting the matter. But that would entail a mental strain I hesitate to accept, and I doubt if the result would justify the effort.'

Describing the second flogging: `To make an unpleasant story short, I will say he beat me like a balky horse, and I took it like one - with my ears laid back and my teeth bared. All the philosophy and logic and clear reasoning I had got out of books and meditation in my two years were beaten out of me in 30 seconds, and I went out of that room foolishly hating everything a foot high.'

Describing being tortured in a straitjacket: `Every hour Cochrane came in and asked if I was ready to give up the hop. When I denied having it, he tightened me up some more and went away. The torture became maddening. Some time during the second day I rolled over to the wall and beat my forehead against it trying to knock myself out. Cochrane came in, saw what I was doing, and dragged me back to the middle of the cell. I hadn't strength enough left to roll back to the wall, so I stayed there and suffered.'

Black opens the book with a description of his own face, and fittingly enough, there is a photograph of him near the front of the book. Many times while reading `You Can't Win', I found myself flicking back to look at that careworn, yet amiable face, and picturing Black's exploits in my mind. The afterword to this edition, which outlines Black's life after the book was published, is equally fascinating - I was moved almost to tears to read that he simply vanished in 1932, and was strongly suspected of having tied weights to his feet and thrown himself into New York Harbour.

Of course, `You Can't Win' is a unique and priceless document of a bygone American era. But lest you find yourself feeling nostalgic for this way of life - as readers are prone to feel, whenever they read vivid descriptions of times before they were born, and as William S Burroughs is certainly guilty of feeling in his foreword - Black cautions us against precisely this kind of nostalgia (and ironically, uses an irresistibly romantic description of the past to do so):

`I'm not finding fault with these brave days of jungle music, synthetic liquor, and dimple-kneed maids, and anybody that thinks the world is going to the bowwows because of them ought to think back to San Francisco or any big city of 20 years ago - when train conductors steered suckers against the bunko men; when coppers located "work" for burglars and stalled them while they worked; when pickpockets paid the police so much a day for "exclusive privileges" and had to put a substitute "mob" in their district if they wanted to go out of town to a country fair for a week. Those were the days when there were saloons by the thousand; when the saloonkeeper ordered the police to pinch the Salvation Army for disturbing the peace by singing hymns in the street; when there were race tracks, gambling unrestricted, crooked prize fights; when there were cribs by the mile and hop joints by the score. These things may exist now, but if they do, I don't know where. I knew where they were then, and with plenty of money and leisure I did them all.'" - Sandy Starr


Maurice Blanchot

Thomas the Obscure - Maurice Blanchot

"Admirers of Kierkegaard, Sartre and Beckett will enjoy Blanchot's philosophical rumination on existence in the form of this odd novela tragic existential romance of sorts. Thomas and Anne meet at a country hotel and believe themselves to be in love. We learn nothing of their pasts, mutual or personal, or of their plans or hopes. Such superficialities as character development do not concern Blanchot. Instead, the narrative focuses on the neurotic pair's inner worlds, where every slight notion and observation of the outer world carries explicit philosophical implications. The mental processes play unbroken for pages like impassioned and cerebral jazz piano pieces: the ocean is the modern soul, creatures are ideas, cats talk in monologues and the greatest action is a nervous collapse. With this couple, Blanchot examines the extent to which we are separated from our fellow humans by our solipsistic natures. Insight and true high comedy reign throughout these suffering-soaked chapters, remarkably and elegantly translated by Lamberton. For those who dare, this new version of the first novel by the influential French writer, a mystifying and ingenious work, will not soon leave the memory." - Amazon


James Blinn

The Aardvark is Ready for War - James Blinn


Roberto Bolano

The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolano

Reviews:

"Bolano is a a master storyteller. Best book i've read in years.

THE STORY: Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are the young leaders of literary movement they call the Visceral Realists, think BaaderMeinhoff Literary Brigade. The movement is part-gag -- a sendup of Andre Breton's surrealist movement and its "purges" -- but also an attack on the old guard of Latin American literature, people like Octavio Paz (who they jokingly/seriously threaten to kidnap) and Garcia Marquez. They show up with their teenage cohorts at literary events and heckle the sacred cows as the old men of letters attempt to recite their poetry! They threaten their critics with duels (as any self respecting man of letters must do)! Some of the Visceral Realists don't even appear to read! The motley group of Mexico City street kids -- Ulises, Arturo, Lupe, Garcia Madero, Maria and Angelica Font, Luscious Skin, San Estifanio -- are bonded by their belief in poetry, the poets life, their alienation, and their youth.

The story follows this gang from their beginnings in 1970s Mexico City through their wanderings throughout the world (Spain, France, West and Central Africa, Latin America, San Diego)and into the 1990s. The realization that the life of a poet is both the happiest and the saddest thing. And it finds Arturo, Ulises, Garcia Madero, and Lupe lost in the Sonora Desert running from an angry pimp and searching for a lost poet, the first Visceral Realist, a woman who disappeared into the desert some forty years before.

Oh yeah, there's alot of sex and drugs, some violence, poignancy and irreverancy. And there's a lot of poetry.

I can't recommend it enough, especially for those who believe that books can offer more than entertainment, for those who dream the naive and true dream that books and the people who write them are revolutionary." - D. Domingos

2666: A Novel - Roberto Bolano

Reviews:

"As any reader would tell you, in America, every reader of literature is in search of the Great American Novel, every reviewer tries to proclaim one work, or another to be almost there, but it always seems to fall short. Post-Modernist of late have been holding the praise, I say this do to the recent death of David Foster Wallace, whose major, nearly unreadable tome Infinite Jest played more like the Emperor's New Clothes to reviewers, than an actual work that examined anything of life and meaning and the world (At least not in the clear and lucid prose that you find here).

Roberto Bolano was a great writer because, unlike the writers in America who take on large scopes, Jonathan Franzen etc., Roberto Bolano believed in the power of the written word. While American writers cried they didn't have an audience and people weren't reading, Roberto Bolano's books delcared the eternal importance of literature, and writing, while at the same time, showing it in both its gritty realism (poverty) and its heaped of forgotteness (writers of importance who may one day become relevant).

This book is brilliant because, even though the paragraphs are long and sometimes laborous, but never are they tedious, never do you feel a word was misused or overused, never, as you do with a lot of books that write in the style that Roberto Bolano seemed to perfect, do you feel that he was ever trying to write in the way he was wriitng. Reading 2666, reading any of his works, you feel as if he sat down and what came out came out, as if you're reading a work right from his mind. A writer once said, "Writing's easy, all you have to do is sit down and open a vein," and that's what Roberto Bolano did.

The Critic Section is entertaining, a high praise to literature. Though many critics have pointed out that its second feels disjointed and a bit awkward, I'd be hard press to find such a book that created an interesting beginning about what potentially could've been an uninteresting subject (this seems to be Roberto Bolano's greatest ability, Nazi Literature in the America's, a fictional encyclopedia of far right authors). The Part about Amalfitano had a beautiful allure and moved quickly.

I don't want to give blurbs for each part, it trivializes this great work, there is no doubt if I were talk freely about each part in this review it would be a second book. When I first found Bolano, I came to him, not without urging, but not wanting to commit myself to a six hundred page brick of a book about Spanish Poets called the Savage Detectives right off the bat, so I decided to get Amulet, only because it was cheap and I had a thirty percent off coupon. I read the book in six hours and thought there couldn't be anything more special. I read his book of short stories Last Evenings On Earth and thought the urgency and brilliance of his words shows an aptitude that I haven't seen in a long time in literature. His works renewed a zeal, that feeling one gets when they're reading something they hadn't known existed. I went to the Savage Detectives quickly, and if there wasn't a great Novel of the 21st century, this was certainly it--Not American, not Latin American, Not French or Asian--but a novel, a brilliant work of fiction, from Bolano's mind to the page. A novel which broke rules that seemed so impossible to break and did it in such a way it was too beautiful to ignore. Now this book, 2666, a behemouth, a dying man's last work, a work he fought hard to get done, and left partially unfinished (though you really can't tell). This work, we can all hope, is the beginning of something, and not the final statement of a dead man, but the awakening statement to a world of writers to stop chasing the Great French or American or Mexican or Canadian or Chinese novel, and start writing the Great World Novel. This is what 2666 is, the first and maybe only great world novel. It eclipses his former works and unites them in a way that no other novel has probably ever done for an authors body of work. It came in the 21st century. It's either a start of something great to come, or the remnants of the end of the 20th century. I hope for the former, fear the latter.

Buy this book, devour it, and enjoy. It deserves to be read by anyone who has ever read a book of literature and found themselves tired with the latest strand of same old same old literary fodder. This book steps out, its a blood letting for the masses, its a speedball ride into the lurid and entertaining, into the frightening and the joyful, into the horrors of this world and into its beauties. It's a portrait and serial, pulp and high form, horrorific journalism and perfected prose, lucid and direct, a work that will have you finish and turn to the front page to start over again." - N. m Oliver


Nelson Slade Bond

The Far Side of Nowhere - Nelson Slade Bond


Jorge Luis Borges

The Chronicles of Bustos Domecq - Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy-Casares

The Book of Imaginary Beings - Jorge Luis Borges

Borges Biography - The Modern World

A small child is taken to the zoo for the first time. This child may be any one of us or, to put it another way, we have been this child and have forgotten about it. In these grounds-these terrible grounds-the child sees living animals he has never before glimpsed; he sees jaguars, vultures, bison, and-what is still stranger-giraffes. He sees for the first time the bewildering variety of the animal kingdom, and this spectacle, which might alarm or frighten him, he enjoys. He enjoys it so much that going to the zoo is one of the pleasures of childhood, or is thought to be such. How can we explain this everyday and yet mysterious event? We can, of course, deny it. We can suppose that children suddenly rushed off to the zoo will become, in due time, neurotic, and the truth is there can hardly be a child who has not visited the zoo and there is hardly a grown-up who is not a neurotic. It may be stated that all children, by definition, are explorers, and that to discover the camel is in itself no stranger than to discover a mirror or water or a staircase. It can also be stated that the child trusts his parents, who take him to this place full of animals. Besides, his toy tiger and the pictures of tigers in the encyclopedia have somehow taught him to look at the flesh-and-bone tiger without fear. Plato (if he were invited to join in this discussion) would tell us that the child had already seen the tiger in a primal world of archetypes, and that now on seeing the tiger he recognizes it. Schopenhauer (even more wondrously) would tell us that the child looks at the tigers without fear because he is aware that he is the tigers and the tigers are him or, more accurately, that both he and the tigers are but forms of that single essence, the Will.

Let us pass now from the zoo of reality to the zoo of mythologies, to the zoo whose denizens are not lions but sphinxes and griffons and centaurs. The population of this second zoo should exceed by far the population of the first, since a monster is no more than a combination of parts of real beings, and the possibilities of permutation border on the infinite. In the centaur, the horse and man are blended; in the Minotaur, the bull and man (Dante imagined it as having the face of a man and the body of a bull); and in this way it seems we could evolve an endless variety of monsters combinations of fishes, birds, and reptiles, limited only by our own boredom or disgust. This, however, does not happen; our monsters would be stillborn, thank God. Flaubert has rounded up, in the last pages of his Temptation of Saint Anthony, a number of medieval and classical monsters and has tried-so say his commentators-to concoct a few new ones; his sum total is hardly impressive, and but few of them really stir our imaginations. Anyone looking into the pages of the present handbook will soon find out that the zoology of dreams is far poorer than the zoology of the Maker. We are as ignorant of the meaning of the dragon as we are of the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the dragon's image that appeals to the human imagination, and so we find the dragon in quite distinct places and times. It is, so to speak, a necessary monster, not an ephemeral or accidental one, such as the three-headed chimera or the catoblepas. We have deliberately excluded the many legends of men taking the shapes of animals: the lobisdn, the werewolf, and so on.

A work of this kind is unavoidably incomplete; each new edition forms the basis of future editions, which themselves may grow on endlessly. We invite the eventual reader in Colombia or Paraguay to send us the names, accurate description, and most conspicuous traits of their local monsters. As with all miscellanies, as with the inexhaustible volumes of Robert Burton, of F razer, or of Pliny. Zoologia Fantastica is not meant to be read straight through; rather, we should like the reader to dip into these pages at random, just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope. The sources of this collection are manifold; they are recorded in each piece. May we be forgiven any accidental omission. - Preface to 1957 Edition


Fantastic Zoology: A Graphical Interpretation of J. L. Borges "Book of Imaginary Beings"
The complete series of illustrations for The Book of Imaginary Beings was done by the graduate students in the Department of Illustration and Art of the Book at the Vakalo School of Art and Design in Athens,xi Greece. The project was carried out under the Art Direction of Hector Haralambous and Dimitris Kritsotakis and started with a few selected students. As it went on many more students insisted that they had fallen in love with the theme of the book and that they would like to do it as well.
...


The Book of Fantasy - Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo, Adolfo Bioy Casares, eds.

In 1937 three friends in Buenos Aires sat talking one night about fantastic literature. This was a half century before the literature of fantasy became a sub-genre unto itself - or should I say literary ghetto? Anyhow, the three - Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo - started talking, according to Casares:

`... about fantastic literature ... discussing the stories which seemed best to us. One of us suggested that if we put together the fragments of the same type we had listed in our notebooks, we would have a good book. As a result we drew up this book ... simply a compilation of stories from fantastic literature which seemed to us to be the best.'

The result was originally published in Argentina in 1940 as Antologia de la Literature. Revised editions were published in 1965 and 1976, with the first English language edition published in Great Britain in 1988. The U.S. edition of The Book of Fantasy is of course now out of print. After all, who would want an anthology of fantastical short stories chosen by one of the great authors of the last century (from his vast reading of the literature of the previous half-millennium) when they could buy another fat, worthless fantasy trilogy chock full of vowel-less, boring trolls, elves, and various other mythological creatures standing in for the dead horse.

The version I've got is a trade paperback and contains over 70 stories in its 384 pages - Borges preferred the short in reading as well as writing. There's an introduction by Ursula Le Guin and a list of sources for all the stories (although most are long, long out of print and, I'll bet, damned hard to find and damned expensive once you find them). Each story begins with a short bio of the author, many of which are as intriguing as the stories themselves, e.g.

I. A. Ireland, English savant born in Hanley in 1871. He claimed descent from the infamous impostor William H. Ireland, who had invented an ancestor, William Henrye Irlaunde, to whom Shakespeare had allegedly bequeathed his manuscripts. He published A Brief History of Nightmares (1899),

Spanish Literature (1900), The Tenth Book of Annals of Tacitus, newly done into English (1911).

Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919) studied law at the universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg but, after depressions which led to several suicide attempts, turned to writing, encouraged by Gorki. His sensational themes, treated in a highly realistic manner, made his reputation; amongst his works are In the Fog (1902) and The Red Laugh (1904), as well as numerous plays.

A corking good read. - S. Baum


W. E. Bowman

The Ascent of Rum Doodle and The Cruise of the Talking Fish - W. E. Bowman

Reviews:

"Mount Everest is a mere planetary pimple compared to Rum Doodle, the fictional 40,000 1/2 foot mountain in "The Ascent of Rum Doodle," a hilarious spoof of mountain climbing expeditions. Perhaps the reason why Rum Doodle was not previously conquered was "because it is there"--way out "there"--in the remote Central Asian Kingdom of Yogistan. The Yogistani language alone crippled many expeditions. The language, a branch of the aneroid-megalithic tongue, contains no verbs and is spoken entirely through the stomach. Over 95% of Yogistanis understandably suffer from gastritis. Altitude deafness often compounds the problem. The ascent begins inauspiciously enough with two great circles until Jungle, the route-finder, releases the safety catch on his compass. Risibility rises with altitude as the intrepid six Rum Doodle dandies and their 3,000 porters overcome one embarrassment after another in their quest for mountaineering immortality. No praise is too high for the men who could go no higher. Or could they have? Why are there no photographs at the top? What about the Atrocious Snowman? And then there's the question inquiring minds most want to know: "Can I see my house from there?" Read this book at your own risk--of laughing aloud! But "The Cruise of the Talking Fish" was a mediocre book at best." - Mark J. Rhomberg


Roger Boylan

Killoyle - Roger Boylan

Reviews:

"Any book subtitled "An Irish Farce" is worth a thorough reading, and Killoyle was no disappointment. The story alternates between despair and hilarity - this is Ireland, after all - as it follows the lives of the inhabitants of Killoyle. Among many other folks, there is the aging editor of a glamour magazine, a waiter who is something of a poet, and the resident nutcase who likes making prank phone calls as much as he likes books by or about God. Of course, being a novel about Ireland, there are the requisite problems: drinking, sex, God, and Ireland itself.

The real genius of the novel is the footnotes, including gems like this one: "This round-buying will be the death of the Irish nation, you mark my words. Once I was conned into buying eleven rounds in the space of a single wet lunch, with no one else in the bar!" The persona of the footnotes provides comic relief, criticism, rude comments, and seemingly random filler throughout the text. However, from driving directions to snappy comebacks, the footnotes provide, as they should, the details that flesh out the story.

Besides being just plain fun to read, Killoyle is worth a look because Boylan rose to the challenge of doing something 'new' with the novel. I applaud him and his witty footnotes, and I highly recommend Killoyle if you are in the mood for a good yarn." - piratebean


Malcolm Bradbury

Dr. Criminale (1993) - Malcolm Bradbury

The Daily Channel - George D. Girton

This is a comic novel about philosophy in Europe today, or shall we say ten years ago?

You may ask, how is this possible, to have a comic novel about Philosophy. And it would be a good question, with perhaps only one definitive answer: this book.

Written as an entertaining and evocative travelogue of the places Frances Jay must visit (London, Budapest, Lake Como, Geneva, Brussels, Buenos Aires and of course Paris) in search of the famous philosophe and 20th-century intellect Bazlo Criminale.

Well, actually it's written as a mystery and a love story, but the travel writing is great. And of course it's serious, too. After all, no book about love, life, and philosophy can be funny all the way through, especially when a great deal of money is involved. And so many wives.
...

My Strange Quest for Mensonge : Structuralism's Hidden Hero - Malcolm Bradbury

Amazon:

"I lent my copy to so many people that I don't know where it ended up. I was looking this up to order a copy, and I was horror striken to learn it is O.P.

Let me put it this way: this is the funniest book ever written about academia, and the best academic parody ever written. The book is the recounting of an attempt to gather concrete evidence concerning Mensonge, who is the deconstructionist's deconstructionist. In "What is an Author?" Foucault argues that in the creative act, it is not the individual who write the work, but all of society that writes the work through the individual who serves merely as the nexus for society. Mensonge is the fictional author of one of the most difficult of deconstructionist classics, of which only a few dozen copies exist, and each one of which differs from all the other copies, because the type was changed randomly by the incompetent printers who produced the final copies. The title of the work in English would be (I can't remember the French title precisely, which is the only title given in the book, and I can't double check this, because I don't know where my copy is) FORNICATION AS A CULTURAL ACT. Mensonge takes the Foucaultian insight a step further, and argues that in the act of fornication, it is not the individual but society as a whole that is engaged in the act.

This book is a priceless jewel for anyone who has studied any literary theory in the past thirty years or even heard the name Derrida. Bradbury's comments about academia are hysterical, the near-encounters and Mensonge sitings he describes are delightfully surreal, and the style in which he pursues his subject unyieldingly real in an obvious absurd situation. The bibliography is worth the cost of the book, with, for instance, genuine writings by Barthes alongside patently made-up articles on Mensonge.

If no publisher takes this book up again, the MLA should print it and distribute it for free." - Robert Moore

At the Gates of Commonsense - Lidia Vianu

...
The one book that gives Bradbury the status he probably always hungered for, that of an ironist of the intellect, is My Strange Quest for Mensonge, Structuralim's Hidden Hero (1987). As one who has put Structuralism and Deconstruction both behind and aside, subscribing to intelligible criticism, I am delighted with Malcolm Bradbury in this small book. It ought to be forcefully fed to many academics. It offers such relief from the incomprehensible theories that lead nowhere, the babble of minds which have lost all love for and sense of everyday language. It mocks at all those who attempt to deprive literature and criticism of relaxed, unpretentious readers, who merely want to enjoy a text, not hack it. It is subtle humour for a very good cause. Actually, Mensonge may be Bradbury at his best.
...

Encyclopedia of Superfictions

A little known French philosopher whose biography was written by Malcolm Bradbury. The following quote from this great work sums up its tone:
"As Francois Mitterand was heard to say the other day, teasing at a shrimp vol-au-vent at some Quay d'Orsay reception to do with the Channel Tunnel,'Aujourd'hui, mes amis, et les anglais, nous sommes tous de necessite structuralistes.'

"And we may take it Mitterand's statement was true, or as true as true is in a time when, thanks to deconstruction , truth is very much an open question. For it is quite certain that these two separate yet related tendencies (structuralism and deconstruction ) are our philosophy, our condition, our crisis and our promise, and we cannot say nay to them. Whether we realise it or not, they dominate the flavour of life and thinking in the last quarter of the 20th century just as existentialism did in the third quarter. They are, in the realm of cognition, what Texas is to California in the realm of growth potential and property values, but with the added advantage of not being directly oil related. Where existentialism was intense and heavy, strong on plight and anguish, structuralism-deconstruction , in keeping with the times, is clean absurdism or cool philosophy; it is laid back, requires no weighty black gear, and goes very well with Perrier water and skiing."

Why Come to Slaka?: The Official Guide to an Imaginary, Mysteriously Mobile Piece of Europe - Malcolm Bradbury

Amazon:

"What? You not been to Slaka ? Not yet, you say ? Don't know how to ? Why go ? Where it is ? All your questions and answers are available in "Welcome to Slaka", a guidebook to the land of Slaka, a guidebook translated from native Slakan by the late Malcolm Bradbury, Professor of English and expert on Eastern Europe.

Bradbury keeps the spirit of Slaka and the original Slakan in his amazing translation. Chapters with headings such as "Slaka : how was?", "Slaka: how to?" and "Slaka: how is?" cover her history, travel routes and current affairs. Creative photographs and statistics help the reader imagine the country, as do the collection of very useful phrases translated to Slakan; these include "Help! Help!", "Police!", "You mean this is the police?", "Let me go." and "Take me to the Consulate".

With intimate details of restaurants and the night life, the recommended spots for tourists, and Slakan customs, "Welcome to Slaka" is my favourite guidebook beating the Lonely Planet for its sheer inventiveness. As Slaka is ignored by most map-makers and guide-books ( even the Lonely Planet does cover Slaka - Not yet, Not yet!), as if it does not exist, "Welcome to Slaka" is a remarkable book, helping us understand the life and times in Slaka. On my bookshelf, it stands next to that other classic "Photographs of Greeneland".

For those who love to travel, while sitting at home, for those who love laughter cloaked in seriousness (and vice versa), for those who have missed out on this unique world, "Welcome to Slaka" is a must-read, a remarkable document that stands unparalleled in English literature." - surajit basu


Ernest Bramah

Kai Lung's Golden Hours - Ernest Bramah

Reviews:

"I tried to write my comments on Ernest Bramagh's Kai Lung's Golden Hours, which I just finished, in the same style:

In the opinion of this lowly reader, the esteemed author before our unworthy eyes has created a gem of the highest quality, polished by fine craft.

But you can only do this so long before you get frustrated, which is why you have to admire Bramagh, because he could maintain this oblique and ornate style throughout and still manage to tell a compelling and, more than often, extremely humorous story.

The titular character, Kai Lung, is a storyteller who runs afoul of the local authorities, in particular a rather nasty advisor. The problem is that Kai has set his eyes on a most beautiful young woman who is also highly desired by the advisor, and the mandarin in charge is quite corrupt. The one saving grace for Kai Lung is that the mandarin also likes a good story. Like Scherazade, Kai Lung is therefore in the positive of entertaining for his life, and that he is able to accomplish this is not due to the fragment of 1001 stories available to him, but also the help of his beloved (a fairly strong female character given the situation and the date this was written, 1922).

Not everyone will care for this book, because a style as circular and dense as this doesn't lead itself to the short-attention-span-generation (only James Branch Cabell has a more elaborate, yet beautiful, prose form in fantasy). I don't know what it was about the 1920s that enabled the creation of such great comedy (Bramagh, Cabell, P.G. Wodehouse [who first became popular as a novelist in the 1920s], Thorne Smith). Maybe it was the post-War jubiliation, the underground of prohibition, or the pre-Depression stockmarket? Not ours to wonder why, but just to enjoy and laugh." - Glen Engel Cox

The Wallet of Kai Lung - Ernest Bramah

Reviews:

"Bramah sure can spin a phrase. The book is a collection of stories told by Kai Lung, and as such is excellent. You are transported back into this fictional China, where introductions can take hours as the two people flatter each other & humble themselves endlessly. The stories are very amusing, but be forewarned; the language takes some time to read through & comprehend. Not a book to breeze through (but oh so rewarding when you do read it!)" - David C. Johnson

The Mirror of Kong Ho - Ernest Bramah

Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat - Ernest Bramah

Best Max Carrados Detective Stories - Ernest Bramah


Sebastian Brant

The Ship of Fools - Sebastian Brant

Stultifera Navis: The Medieval Satire of Sebastian Brant

In 1494, humanist Sebastian Brant published Das Narrenschiff, or The Ship of Fools, a long, moralistic poem written in the German language. Born in Strasbourg, Germany circa 1457, Brant earned degrees in philosopy and law at the University of Basel, then continued there as a lecturer. He wrote a law textbook and several poems prior to Das Narrenschiff, as well as editing books and broadsides for local printers. Brant was a loyalist to the Holy Roman Empire, and when Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1499, Brant returned to imperial Strasbourg. There he worked for the city in various administrative capacities until his death in 1521.

In Das Narrenschiff, Brant describes 110 assorted follies and vices, each undertaken by a different fool, devoting chapters to such offenses as Arrogance Toward God, Marrying for Money, and Noise in Church. Some of the chapters are united by the common theme of a ship which will bear the assembled fools to Narragonia, the island of fools. Das Narrenschiff proved so popular that it went through multiple editions, and was translated into Latin, French, English, Dutch, and Low German.
...
Brant's message was enhanced by a set of stunning woodcuts, most of them believed to have been carved by a young Albrecht Dürer during a short stay in Basel in 1494. Each woodcut illustrates a chapter from Das Narrenschiff, giving either a literal or allegorical interpretation of that particular sin or vice. Most of them feature a fool in a foolscap decorated with bells engaging in the activity being ridiculed. Dürer's detailed backgrounds show interiors furnished with slanted desks and diamond-paned windows, and hilly landscapes dotted with rocks and plants. Additional woodcuts are the work of the Haintz-Nar-Meister, the Gnad-Her-Meister, and two anonymous artists.
...

Review - Duchan Caudill


Gerd Brantenberg

Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes - Gerd Brantenberg

Amazon:

This book is both hilarious and makes you think. It's subtitled "A satire of the sexes", and that basically says it all. It's an upside-down society, in which men are repressed and taken advantage of, and women have all the power. There men wear the skirts and have to cover their unattractive, flat chests, while women wear the pants and can walk around topless if they want to. And the men take care of the kids, once the woman has decided she wants to have one. The whole language reflects this society's views, e.g. by referring to humanity as Woman, rather than Man. It's written in Norwegian originally, and I really feel sorry for the translator who had to find culturally and linguistically comparable expressions. I've read the original, and the language "switch" is even more successful there. (... that "history" was left in the original form, which it should rightfully be, as this has nothing to do with the pronoun "his") It does lose a bit of the wordplay-effect of the original, which is inevitable. Still I think the translation is good, considering the differences between the languages.

Because of the "creative" language it's a bit heavy to read, especially in the beginning. At least I found myself trying to "translate" back to the usual way of saying things - the patriarcaic way. But if you're looking for a book out of the ordinary and don't mind the effort, this is an interesting read.


Reginald Bretnor

The Schimmelhorn File: Memoirs of a Dirty Old Genius - Reginald Bretnor


Hermann Broch

The Death of Virgil - Hermann Broch


Christine Brooke-Rose

Amalgamemnon - Christine Brooke-Rose

Amazon:

"To give a plot synopsis of this novel would be almost pointless because the book is all about voice. The narrator spills out words and puns and jams them together (as in the title) to make new words, thus forcing the reader to think in new ways about how the words relate. It is also a novel of ideas, and in many ways, a novel about power. The narrator posits herself as Cassandra to the various Agamemnon's (thus amalgamemnon) that ignore her. Technnology, capitalism, and Wester, male-dominated society are all forces that she struggles with. Interestingly, Brooke-Rose also foresees the power of terrorism and the threat of fundamentalism that responds to these same sources of powers. To be sure, though, this is mostly a novel about language, and if you don't enjoy playful, postmodern punning, then skip this one." - Russ Mayes


Fredric Brown

From These Ashes: The Comlete Short SF of Fredric Brown - Fredric Brown

Night of the Jabberwock - Fredric Brown

Reviews:

"Doc Stoeger is the editor of the Carmel Clarion, Carmel City's weekly newspaper, put to bed on Thursday night and released on Friday. On this particular Thursday night, the paper is looking extremely void of news and Doc complains that he wishes something would happen on a Thursday night to give him a hot story. As well as being editor of the local paper, Doc is also an aficionado of the works of Lewis Carroll and enjoys nothing more than spouting verse in Smiley's bar when work is over. The Lewis Carroll references become very important to the storyline and are scattered liberally throughout the book.

Before the night is half over, Doc's wishes come true as he is absolutely deluged with exciting stories that would make terrific reading the next morning. From bank robbers, to a factory fire, to the capture of a criminal gang. But as quickly as they break, the stories evaporate leaving him with the prospect of delivering a newspaper with nothing worthwhile to read.

In the midst of his newspaper worries, Doc is visited by a man calling himself Yehudi Smith - a name of great significance to a Lewis Carroll fan. Yehudi seems to know a great deal about Doc and about his fascination with Lewis Carroll and he invites Doc to accompany him later that night on a hunt for the Jabberwock. As surreal as this prospect seems, Doc is convinced that the prospect isn't as crazy as it first seems, so he agrees to go.

This is just the start of an amazing night for Doc Stoeger. Before the night is through, he finds himself in an unbelievably hopeless predicament on the run from the police, desperately trying to make sense of the night's events. It seems that the story goes off the rails and heads into the realms of fantasy, but the key to the whole story is hidden in the fact that, although everything that happens seems impossibly fantastic, when logic is applied and reasoned out carefully, the events become part of a very clever plot.

This is a brilliantly constructed book combining the strange and, at times, nonsensical talents of Lewis Carroll's brilliance with a scathingly clever mystery. This is the first book I have read by Fredric Brown, but I am now hopelessly and helplessly hooked." - Untouchable


Mikhail Bulgakov

Black Snow - Mikhail Bulgakov

Reviews:

"Bulgakov is certainly one of the best Russian writers, and 'The Theatre Novel' is certainly among his best works. Unfortunately, it's been translated in English as 'Black Snow', which changes the idea of the book quite a great deal - 'Black Snow' is the title of the novel written by Maxudov (the main character), but in this case Bulgakov doesn't mean that we are reading THAT novel. It is quite misleading; Maxudov's 'Black Snow' is NOT 'The Theatre (or Theatral) Novel'.

The novel itself is quite hard to understand; I believe it could be best understood by those who have a good deal of knowledge about the situation Bulgakov is describing. I cannot say I have that, therefore it is not as easy to read this novel as it is to read other works by Bulgakov. However, the novel is definitely a masterpiece - the descriptions, for example, are overwhelmingly vivid and warm, which stands out even more considering that most modern (and pre-modern) novels do not depict that warmth and depth of feeling. The strikingly accurate descriptions of human emotions seem to be a thing that can most often be found in good Russian literature (Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Chekhov...), and that's why you need Bulgakov to use almost half-a-page to list different kinds of people, for example...

The plot of the novel is quite hard to follow - which only illustrates how much of a genius Bulgakov is, as he manages to brilliantly reveal the confusion Maxudov experiences and the absurdity of his world. The feeling of uncertainty never leaves Maxudov. Nor does it leave the reader...

I'd have given this book 5 stars if Bulgakov hadn't also written 'The Master And Margarita'. 'The Theatre Novel' is a great book, but it simply cannot be as great as that one..." - anybody else


Anthony Burgess

The prolific and fascinating Burgess is unfortunately known to most only as the author of that book on which Kubrick based "A Clockwork Orange." Herein we'll laud the neglected stuff.

The Complete Enderby - Anthony Burgess

Reviews:

"The first thing to say about these books is that they're very funny. - They're very funny! - I spent several nights during the reading of them chuckling myself to sleep over the Enderbian maladventures I had ingested during my day's reading. They're also an uproarious satire of (and I'm sure to be leaving several things/groups/people out):

Postwar England
Poetry Awards
Women's Magazines
Magazines of any sort
Rome
Papism
Avaricious-Papist-Magazine editing women
Poets who sell out
Modern avant-garde film
Psychiatry (Big one here)
Psychiatrists (Even Bigger)
Pop Music
Pop Music Stars
Selenologists
Randy women Selenologists
Beat poets
The film industry in general
America
The American Bicentennial
Creative writing students
Women Creative Writing students
Black (Or, er, Afro-American) Creative Writing students
Talk shows
Subways
New York City
American women -"These American women were very straightforward people, quick to disclose their madness." P.534
American men - "The men were a bit slower." P.534
Spiritualist sessions
Hiberno-American Anti-Anglo sentiments
Theatre people
The American spelling of "Theater"
Anyone who dares to mess with Shakespeare

Well, that will do for starters. What makes all this satire, um, digestible, so to speak, is there is really no vitriol in it (or, well, not very much) and, further, what makes it actually palatable is that one is so busy pitying poor Enderby, in the first two books at least, that the verbal cuts, often hidden among Enderbian musings, hit us so often at unawares. Also, the old-fashioned poet trying to heed his Muse and not sully himself with the modern world catches it the most.

There is, though, a problem that another reviewer has pointed out - The problem of identifying with either Enderby or Burgess - or perhaps Enderburgess. The first two books, Inside Mr. Enderby and Enderby Outside, are much superior, in my mind, to the last two books. Here, Enderby is a character separate from Burgess. Yes, it's still partly autobiographical, but not SO autobiographical that one feels one is reading about Burgess himself, which is the sense that overwhelmed at least this reader while poring over (still chuckling, mind you) The Clockwork Testament and Enderby's Dark Lady.

Finally, there is something more to all this than just laughs (though these certainly help things along). Enderburgess truly believes in the sacredness of poetry and the poet's mission. He heartily defends them against the slings and arrows of the modern world, much to his sadness and discomfiture, it must be said.

The girl who comes to Enderby at the end of Enderby Outside, and serves, more or less, as his Muse incarnate, intones:

"When Shelley said what he said about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he wasn't really using fancy language. It's only by the exact use of words that people can begin to understand themselves." P.358 This is the Enderburgessian motto, the recurrent theme throughout the book. I can think of no better one with which to laugh and learn or relearn the poet's mission." - Daniel Myers

Tremor of Intent - Anthony Burgess

The Wanting Seed - Anthony Burgess

Reviews:

"Your bookstore is stocked full of novels predicting mankind's future, but none quite like this. With the Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess turns the typical dystopian novel on its ear. Instead of a methodical, technorganic world, Mr. Burgess presents a smelly, macrobiotic mess of overpopulation and disharmony. Instead of a more stringent emphasis on rightwing ideals, the aforementioned overpopulation has caused an enthusiastic governmental endorsement of homosexuality and opposition to typical family ideals. Instead of a grim, foreboding atmosphere, Mr. Burgess employs a lighthearted, quirky tone, allowing readers to smirk at the ridiculousness and incongruity to which the world of the Wanting Seed has been driven. It is obvious that Mr. Burgess, the same literary practical joker who filled his best-know book, A Clockwork Orange, with make-up slang, meant to poke some well-needed fun at the dismal 1984/Brave New World genre.

But just because the Wanting Seed is a work of playful parody and dark comedy does not mean there is nothing profound about it. In fact if I had to pick the one dystopian novel towards which our society is most surely leaning, it would be this one (which is pretty amazing considering it was written in 1962). As counties like China and India are regulating procreation and instituting their own versions of Mr. Burgess' "population police" and the value of human life wilts ever downward, I wonder how close we are to vision of the Wanting Seed. The novel stands as a warning that repressing man's natural urges and diminishing his worth is not the answer to the problem. Your bookstore is stocked full of novels predicting mankind's future, but few as startling and important as this." - P. Nicholas Keppler


Sir Richard Francis Burton

The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-yezdi - Sir Richard Francis Burton

Reviews:

"The word Kasidah can be translated Testament, and here it conveys several of the meanings of that word. It is a statement about what the author believes and what he does not, it is concerned with the authority and veracity of scriptures, and it is deeply concerned with the meaning and consequences of death.

Burton here melds his broad knowledge of Western philosophy and religion with a deep understanding of Eastern philosophical and metaphysical thought, and he presents it flawlessly in the poetic idiom of the Sufis. This work stands alone, incomparable, for it is truly a unique work of genius. The Way of the Sufi is here presented in Western thought, clothed in poetic Sufi garb.

The Kasidah is an Agnostic Gospel. It calls for an abandonment of argument over what can never be known an acceptance that death is a mystery that we cannot penetrate, and a shunning of bribes of heaven or threats of hell. Burton offers instead his code for living the life before us - "Do what thy manhood bids thee do/ from none but self expect applause;/ He noblest lives and noblest dies/ who makes and keeps his self-made laws."

The Kasidah expresses Burton's life philosophy, stark, with a terrible beauty. It has been called his spiritual autobiography. More than any of his many other works, it reveals the heart and mind of this brilliant and amazing man. That is more than enough reason to read this powerful book.

This book should be read by anyone with an interest in Sir Richard Burton, Sufi poetry, the philosophy of applied Agnosticism, or works of unique and powerful vision. It has my highest recommendation." - Theo Logos

Vikram and the Vampire or Tales of Hindu Devilry - Sir Richard Francis Burton

Reviews:

"1893. This volume is Volume V of the Memorial Edition of the Works of Captain Sir Richard F. Burton. This translation contains eleven of the best tales surrounding the legend of a huge bat, vampire or evil spirit which inhabited and animated dead bodies. They are old and thoroughly Hindu legends composed in Sanskrit, and are the germ which culminated in the Arabian Nights. The stories turn chiefly on a great king named Vikram, the King Arthur of the East. There is not a dull page found within and this work will please those who delight in the weird and supernatural, the grotesque and the wild life. Illustrated." - Anon


Robert Burton

The Anatomy of Melancholy - Robert Burton

Reviews:

"Don't be misled by the title of this book, nor by what others may have told you about it. In the first place, it isn't so much a book about 'Melancholy' (or abnormal psychology, or depression, or whatever) as a book about Burton himself and, ultimately, about humankind. Secondly, it isn't so much a book for students of the history of English prose, as one for lovers of language who joy in the strong taste of English when it was at its most masculine and vigorous. Finally, it isn't so much a book for those interested in the renaissance, as for those interested in life.

Burton is not a writer for fops and milquetoasts. He was a crusty old devil who used to go down to the river to listen to the bargemen cursing so that he could keep in touch with the true tongue of his race. Sometimes I think he might have been better off as the swashbuckling Captain of a pirate ship. But somehow he ended up as a scholar, and instead of watching the ocean satisfyingly swallowing up his victims, he himself became an ocean of learning swallowing up whole libraries. His book, in consequence, although it may have begun as a mere 'medical treatise,' soon exploded beyond its bounds to become, in the words of one of his editors, "a grand literary entertainment, as well as a rich mine of miscellaneous learning."

Of his own book he has this to say : "... a rhapsody of rags gathered together from several dung-hills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out, without art, invention, judgement, wit, learning, harsh, raw, rude, phantastical, absurd, insolent, indiscreet, ill-composed, indigested, vain, scurrile, idle, dull, and dry; I confess all..." But don't believe him, he's in one of his irascible moods and exaggerating. In fact it's a marvelous book.

Here's a bit more of the crusty Burton I love; it's on his fellow scholars : "Heretofore learning was graced by judicious scholars, but now noble sciences are vilified by base and illiterate scribblers."

And here is Burton warming to the subject of contemporary theologians : "Theologasters, if they can but pay ... proceed to the very highest degrees. Hence it comes that such a pack of vile buffoons, ignoramuses wandering in the twilight of learning, ghosts of clergymen, itinerant quacks, dolts, clods, asses, mere cattle, intrude with unwashed feet upon the sacred precincts of Theology, bringing with them nothing save brazen impudence, and some hackneyed quillets and scholastic trifles not good enough for a crowd at a street corner."

Finally a passage I can't resist quoting which shows something of Burton's prose at its best, though I leave you to guess the subject: "... with this tempest of contention the serenity of charity is overclouded, and there be too many spirits conjured up already in this kind in all sciences, and more than we can tell how to lay, which do so furiously rage, and keep such a racket, that as Fabius said, "It had been much better for some of them to have been born dumb, and altogether illiterate, than so far to dote to their own destruction."

To fully appreciate these quotations you would have to see them in context, and I'm conscious of having touched on only one of his many moods and aspects. But a taste for Burton isn't difficult to acquire. He's a mine of curious learning. When in full stride he can be very funny, and it's easy to share his feelings as he often seems to be describing, not so much his own world as today's.

But he does demand stamina. His prose overwhelms and washes over us like a huge tsunami, and for that reason he's probably best taken in small doses. If you are unfamiliar with his work and were to approach him with that in mind, you might find that (as is the case with Montaigne, a very different writer) you had discovered not so much a book as a companion for life." - tepi


Dino Buzzati

The Tartar Steppe - Dino Buzzati

Reviews:

"On first thought, this is a overwhelmingly desolate book. It is the life of Giovanni Drogo who, after graduation as military officer, is sent to Fort Bastiani, located on "the Northern frontier", and beyond which the Tartar steppe lies for miles and miles. At Fort Bastiani, nothing ever happens. Holding the absurd hope that some day something will happen that will bring him military glory, Drogo consumes his life amidst the boredom and the rutine of the site. But his hope never dies: as another reviewer correctly noted, it acts like a drug on him. I haven't spoiled anything about the plot: some day, something will happen.

This novel is pure literary magic, and it is a shame and a pity that it is so ignored, especially in English-speaking countries. Note: Enlgish-language literature is certainly one of the best corpus of literature in the world, but their ignorance of many other literatures is in their own detriment, unfortunately.

"The Tartar steppe" is a masterpiece which, with an ironic and subtle sense of humor, talks about the desolation, the apparent uselessness of living, the futility of existence. It talks about it, but in a subtle yet powerful manner contradicts those theses: Drogo will show the reader that, no matter how dull and empty your life is, there is ALWAYS something about life that makes it worth living. Fort Bastiani and the Tartar Steppe are both real and symbolic: they may be an office, a shop, a house or a city.

Read this novel and you will love it forever, not only for its content but for Buzzati's excellent handling of words. He showed he was a great writer. But beyond the style, you'll remember it every other time, when you feel you are Giovanni Drogo, eager for something to happen." - Guillermo Maynez


CCC


James Branch Cabell

Jurgen - James Branch Cabell

Reviews:

""I have finished Jurgen; a great and beautiful book, and the saddest book I ever read. I don't know why, exactly. The book hurts me -- tears me to small pieces -- but somehow it sets me free. It says the word that I've been trying to pronounce for so long. It tells me everything I am, and have been, and may be, unsparingly...I don't know why I cry over it so much. It's too -- something-or-other -- to stand. I've been sitting here tonight, reading it aloud, with the tears streaming down my face..." -- Deems Taylor, in a letter dated December 12, 1920.

What can I add to that? Jurgen is on my short list of very favorite books. It wrestles, in its odd way, with the fundamental tragedy of human life in general and male life in particular: We are doomed to age and die; meanwhile happiness will prove elusive. Wow, I'm making this sound awfully depressing, aren't I? But that's not right. Jurgen is humorous and fun and weirdly uplifting. Jurgen's strange adventures manage to represent all that a man may pursue and aspire to. The tale burns, but in a wonderfully brilliant way. (I made that comment about the tragedy of "male life" because Jurgen is, among other things, the quintessential rogue. His notion of how happiness might be ideally pursued differs somewhat from the ideas of the females he holds discourse with. Thus does Cabell illustrate a reality that we can either acknowledge or deny; take your choice. Enlightened people will prefer the latter.)

Jurgen isn't for everyone. Some will "get it" and some won't. I once handed a copy to a person who returned it with the comment that he wasn't a fan of the S&S ("swords & sorcery") genre. This surprised me; the book can only be described as S&S by someone who does not look below the surface. I mention this not to mock but to warn. Jurgen may be better appreciated by those who are stirred by symbol and metaphor. We may not be prancing through a magical world as Jurgen does, but some of us will see echoes of our own dreams and nightmares in his story. If you're such a person, then Jurgen may hit you like a ton of bricks. Otherwise you'll chuck the manuscript against the wall.

It's worth noting that Jurgen, in its circumspect way, managed to offend the contemporary powers-that-be. The book is obscurely suggestive without being explicit; it went over the heads of some, but others saw what was going on, and they either guffawed or objected vigorously. There were serious attempts to suppress it, which of course only made the text notorious. It was (and still is) politically incorrect, and it garnered something of a counter-cultural following for all the wrong reasons. Well, so be it. The book is great, and that's all there is to say.

The tale incorporates supporting characters and environments rummaged from myth and history. You won't need to know all these background details to understand or enjoy the plot; however if you should want to follow up, some rabid fans (of which there were many) put together a collection of footnotes way back in 1928. It's long out of print, but you'll find an Amazon listing on it (Amazon lists everything!); search Amazon books for ASIN=B00085DJ0A. A copy of the notes is also posted online; search the web on the phrase "Notes on Jurgen".

If you buy the book, you'll want the Dover paperback edition (ISBN=0486235076), which is a trade paperback and includes the wonderful old illustrations. Holding this edition in my hands just feels right. There's also a great unabridged audio cassette (ISBN=1574534505), rendered by a troupe of actors. They do a very nice job, switching to the most appropriate character to read the text as the book progresses.

Cabell was a prolific author, with "Jurgen" being his best-known (and probably his greatest) work. If you're unfamiliar with Cabell, "Jurgen" is the book to start with. If you want to follow up, look for "Figures of Earth"." - David Rolfe

"Early in his journey, Cabell's Jurgen comes to a place known as 'The Garden Between Dawn and Sunrise.' In the garden live all the imaginary creatures that humankind has ever created: centaurs and sphinxes, fairies, valkyries, and baba-yagas. Jurgen is surprised when he sees his first-love wandering around the garden, but his guide replies "Why, all the women that man has ever loved live here...for very obvious reasons."

Moments like this, simultaneously jaded and genuine, sentimental and cynical, are the most delightful parts of 'Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice.' Nominally the story of a medieval pawnbroker's quest to find his lost wife, 'Jurgen' becomes a bildungsroman in reverse as, on the way, its hero regains his youth and visits the lands of European myth, from Camelot to Cocaigne (the land of pleasure) -- each land shows Jurgen a way of life, and he rejects each in favor of his own sardonic stoicism, for he is, after all, a "monstrously clever fellow."

That phrase describes Cabell as much as it does Jurgen: the author is remarkably erudite, and, like a doting parent hiding easter eggs, drops in-jokes through the book on subjects as far-ranging as troubadour poetry and tantric sex. Cabell corresponded with Aleister Crowley in his day, and, in ours, is an influence on Neil Gaiman ('The Sandman,' 'Neverwhere,' etc.). The book itself caused quite a splash when it became the centerpiece of one of the biggest censorship trials of the early 20th century: something to do with Jurgen's very large *ahem* sword.

Social satire and an idiosyncratic cynicism in the guise of a scholarly romance-fantasy, 'Jurgen' is what would have happened if J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Parker had gotten together to write a book." - A Customer


Italo Calvino

Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday - Italo Calvino, ed.

Amazon:

"The brilliant Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985) compiled Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday, a historical overview of great fantastic literature of the 19th century. Many of his 26 selections are from well-known authors (Sir Walter Scott, Honoré de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Ivan Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells), but Calvino largely avoided their best-known stories; the only inclusions likely to be familiar to many Americans are Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," and H.G. Wells's "The Country of the Blind." The remaining contributors range from moderately well-known to obscure. So the reader who purchases Fantastic Tales gains not only an intelligently annotated anthology of superb fiction, but, in one pleasant sense, a collection of mostly new stories.

Interestingly, some of the finest stories are by authors least known in America. Théophile Gautier's beautifully written, wrenchingly ironic "The Beautiful Vampire" establishes the traditions for romantic vampire fiction. Mérimée's "The Venus of Ille," a tale of culture clashes (Parisian and rural, ancient classical, and contemporary Christian), is sharp, well-written, and uncommonly horrific. With the gorgeous "A Lasting Love," the sole woman contributor, Vernon Lee, paints the most vivid portrait of obsessive, transcendent, destructive love.

Caveat: Calvino's introductions sometimes reveal more of the plot than readers will like." - Cynthia Ward

The Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino

Amazon:

"Calvino never fails to mesmerize. His books suck you in and don't let go until the final word (and that final word always seems to include a touch of sadness that the novel is over). This is one of Calvino's earlier works, written in 1957, the same year he left the communist party (his reason is summed up in: "my decision to resign as a member of the party is founded on the fact that my discrepancies with those of the party have become an obstacle to whatever form of political participation I could undertake"). "The Baron in the Trees" does include some passages about disappointed political ideals (e.g., about the French Revolution), but the book touches on far too many topics to reduce it to a mere "political" novel.

The story begins, as the first line of the novel tells us, on the fifteenth of June, 1767. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò is a member of a family whose father has sights on climbing the aristocratic ladder. In the very first chapter there is a family scuffle, during dinner, which results in Cosimo going into the trees and vowing never to come down ("And he kept his word" Cosimo's brother, who narrates the story, states). Cosimo then resigns himself to a life in the trees. After some initial mishaps (dealing with rain, bathing, food, etc), he proves himself very adaptable to living off the ground. Human adaptability seems to be at the back of the story (along with many other things); his family and town almost grow accustomed to Cosimo's darting amongst the branches. Cosimo even makes a name for himself "up in the trees" (Voltaire asks about him, and Napolean insists on meeting him). Of course the big question that comes from this action, in the very opening of the novel, is why did Cosimo go up into the trees? Why didn't he simply run away? One possible answer is that he wanted to make an example of himself. Living in the trees (especially in the 18th century) would likely make one into a spectacle. Running away wouldn't make as strong of a point, and would sever ties to his family which Cosimo does not want to do (this becomes more obvious as the novel moves on). And why does he stay in the trees? One possible answer is that which his brother gives to Voltaire: "My brother considers that anyone who wants to see the earth properly must keep himself at a necessary distance from it." Another possibility is, close to the novel's end, Cosimo is speaking with a Russian officer, who says, right after some members of his unit present him with the severed heads of some hussars, "You see.. War... For years now I've been dealing as best I can with a thing that in itself is appalling; war... and all this for ideals which I shall never, perhaps, be able to fully explain to myself..." Cosimo answers in like: "I too have lived many years for ideals which I would never be able to explain to myself; but I do something entirely good. I live on trees." Rambunctous and impetuous youth led Cosimo into the trees (he was only twelve when he took to the branches), but his ideals, once established, kept him there the rest of his life. All of us make descions in our youth that we either follow through with or abandon. Cosimo never abandoned his decision, for good or ill.

The novel reads like an adventure in places (e.g., when the feared, or imaginary, "Gian dei Brughi" is terrorizing the countryside, but evetually becomes addicted to novels - which in and of itself makes for a hilarious few chapters - Cosimo is there for almost every move); in other places it reads like a heartbreaking love story (e.g., Cosimo's nearly lifelong affair with Viola, which becomes so intense it's almost painful to read). A lot of action goes on in the trees, and the reader will likely not conclude that Cosimo has "missed something" as a result of his decision. Overall the novel is so readable that it's hard to put down (it could probably be completed in one long sitting). It has that mix of reality and fantasy that Calvino is famous for (it's easy to find references to Calvino as "one of the world's best fabulists"). Like other Calvino it's funny (Cosimo's sister serves bizarre arrangements of food to the family), heartbreaking (did Cosimo find true love in the trees or did he fail miserably?), poignant (he finds a great comrade in a small daschund he names "Ottimo Massimo" but the dog ultimately belongs to someone else), and a great read. The decisions one makes in life have impact on oneself and others, and in Cosimo's case his decision had vast impact on his immediate surroundings, regardless of the reasons why. Make a good decision for yourself and read this book." - ewomack

Cosmicomics - Italo Calvino

Amazon:

I have never read a book quite like this one. It is definitely not a novel, in as much as there is not a set beginning, middle, climax and denouement, nor one or more characters that we follow throughout the book in a series of adventures and incidents. While the book contains a dozen short stories with a common link that may be described as science fiction, I would not call it strictly a book of this genre.

"Cosmicomics" may instead be described as a series of beautifully and imaginatively written poetic fables that defy time and space. They take place prior to, during and after the galaxies and the universe were formed, throughout myriad evolutionary cycles, prior to the birth of mankind, and even ante-dating the beginning of what is commonly called life. These tales concern atoms, molecules and other worldly beings interacting, almost interacting, and even repelling one another while travelling between gravitational and anti-gravitational forces. They may be floating around in space, chasing each other or being chased at one and the same time. There is a story of betting on the chance occurrances of historical, pre-historical, and pre-planetary incidents, and of lovers living in a time before colors, when black, white and shades of gray were the natural order of things. There is a wondrous tale of a time during the formation of the universe, when the earth and the moon abutted one another and people utilized a ladder to climb from the earth to the moon to spoon out milk. One of the most beautiful of these parables concerns the last dinosaur to survive on earth and his relationship and near love affair with one of the new ones. This is truly a book to cherish.

The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount - Italo Calvino

"Calvino rarely, if ever, disappoints. This book includes two early stories, both of which have everything you would expect from Calvino: surrealism, wisdom, fabulism, and poignancy derived from bizarre and unexpected sources. Reading them is a unique experience, much like reading anything Calvino has written; these stories, being earlier works, are slightly more conventional (for Calvino) in that they follow a plot line and a story unfolds linearly (contrasted with later works such as "Invisible Cities" or "Cosmicomics" where there's a story, but not in a completely conventional sense).

"The Nonexistent Knight" is about just that: a knight in Charlemagne's army who doesn't exist, but "inhabits" an empty suit of armor. The knight, Agilulf, is an exemplar of chivalry, and annoys almost everyone. When the validity of his knighthood is brought into question, a great chase ensues between the main characters of the story, which, when the smoke clears, culminates in a "confession" of the narrator. The story's mood is a strangely profound tongue-in-cheek. It is moving, funny, and intense.

"The Cloven Viscount", by contrast, is a harsh and violent story that includes enough whimsy to keep it from sinking into a hopelessly depressing tale. After the mostly upbeat feel of "The Nonexistent Knight" the brutal imagery of this story is shocking. The story involves a Viscount who is in fact cloven, that is, literally cloven in two by a Turkish cannon. He is not only cloven physically, but in other more interesting ways. The implications this story presents are numerous and incredibly thought-provoking. When the two halves of the Viscount occupy the same town, the feelings of the townsfolk are summed up in this brilliant passage: "...our sensibilities became numbed, since we felt ourselves lost between an evil and a virtue equally inhuman."

This short book is another incredible example of the writing of Italo Calvino. It may not be his absolute best work, but even Calvino at his worst makes for engaging and unforgettable reading. His stories defy description and stretch the boundaries of literature beyond what is usually expected. After reading one of his books, you just want to read more." - ewomack


Elias Canetti

Auto-da-Fe - Elias Canetti

Reviews:

"The history of Canetti's odd, inventive novel provides clues to its understanding. According to his memoirs, Canetti originally conceived the "Human Comedy of Madmen," a fictional cycle portraying eight characters. Of these, only one character lived on in his imagination: Brand the Book Man. Inspired by Gogol, modeled after Stendhal's "The Red and the Black," and informed by Jacob Burckhardt's "History of Greek Civilization," Canetti's surviving portrait is an allegorical odyssey of a recluse who lives only for his books.

Yet those already familiar with "Auto da Fe" know that there is no character named Brand in the book. During the year (1930-31) that Canetti finished his novel, he changed the main character's name from Brand [German for conflagration] to Kant and the novel's title to "Kant Catches Fire." Canetti explains in the second volume of his memoirs that the lingering emotions he felt from his presence when a mob burned down Vienna's Palace of Justice in 1927 made this new title "hard to endure." And so "Kant became Kien [German for resinous pinewood]; the ignitability of the world, a threat that I felt, was maintained in the name of the chief character." Likewise, he changed the title to Die Blendung [The Blinding], a reference to the biblical legend of Samson. It was under this title that the book was published in 1935, but it was soon banned by the Nazis.

The main character is a leading Sinologist whose meticulous scholarship and linguistic expertise make him famous among an elite group, but Kien's lack of social skills ultimately defines him: he refuses to be part of the crowd (the dynamics of which is one of Canetti's real-life intellectual preoccupations). Kien's 25,000-volume library overtakes his entire apartment, the 40,000 characters of the Chinese alphabet challenge his intellect, and his only human relationships are daily contacts with a housekeeper of eight years and morning ventures to the bookshops that dot the city of Vienna. His cloistered life is shattered, however, when he decides to marry the housekeeper; her conniving greed is eventually wedded to the brute force of the building's superintendent, a retired police officer whose nascent fascism finds full expression in his treatment of Kien. Eventually, Kien conflates his fear and hatred of his wife with the misogyny he has learned from his vast readings.

Simultaneously bizarre and uncomplicated, the story reads like a 450-page Homeric epic filtered through the psychoses of the Brothers Grimm. Expelled from his book-dominated oasis, Kien descends into the underworld of Vienna, a journey that results in the destruction of the world as he knows it. Dwarfs, prostitutes, blind men--each of the major and minor characters develops his or her own perspective of the events through which they live; when their internally consistent yet outwardly incongruent worlds clash, the results alternate between absurdity and madness. What it is all supposed to mean will engage the patient reader's imagination for weeks."- D. Cloyce Smith

The Memoirs of Elias Canetti : The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, The Play of the Eyes - Elias Canetti

Reviews:

The uncompromising achievement of Elias Canetti has been matched by few writers this century. Canetti worked brilliantly in many forms, but the three volumes that comprise his autobiography are where his genius is perhaps most evident. The first volume, The Tongue Set Free, presents the events, personalities, and intellectual forces that fed Canetti's early creative development. The Torch in My Ear explores his admiration for the first great mentor of his adulthood, Karl Krauss, and also describes his first marriage. The final volume, The Play of the Eyes, is set in Vienna between 1931 and 1937, with the European catastrophe imminent; here he vividly portrays relationships with Hermann Broch and Robert Musil, among others. - Amazon

Crowds and Power - Elias Canetti

Reviews:

"Canetti's book is somewhat strange; it is also gripping and often uncannily accurate about the nature of power. At the same time it is full of conceptual nodes and holes that reflect the peculiarities of his own life and the times in which he lived (e.g., can the world's wide array of political arrangements be reduced to the narrow spectrum of paranoid rulers, their enablers, and the preponderant human majority of quasi-slaves that Canetti presents as typical throughout all of human history?) Taking into account his own early life as an "undesirable element" (a Jew) who was not fully welcome in the land of his birth (Bulgaria) and who was then cast out of the society of his adolescence and early manhood in Vienna (where he acquired his higher education and the language of his thought and writing) his focus in Crowds and Power makes sense in a very personal way -- had you led his life with all of its insults you too might have arrived at similar conclusions about the dismal nature of "power relationships" among people, especially if you came of age during the pan-European turmoils of the first half of twentieth century, a very bad time for the human race.

The work is "Nietzschean" in its construction and often in its tone (and, from the light shed on human thinking, there are shades of Kafka in the work as well - man as beset, mortified and made anxious by the social walls that surround him and metastasize in growth and shape in his mind.) As in Nietzsche, there are idiosyncratic topic groupings and unexpected leaps between groupings. Canetti illuminates his central point by setting intellectual bonfires in a circle around it. There are strikingly original chapters that deal with topics such as "transformation" (the key to understanding totemism), "the mask", and the blatant intrusiveness of asking any but the simplest question. The style is often aphoristic, and many of its aphorisms are slaps in the reader's face, prodding us gently with the message that it's time to wake up.

Unusual typologies and word-usages abound (e.g., "increase pack", "lamentation pack", "crowd crystals", "command stings", "paralytic sensibility", and, most importantly, his catholic terms "Crowd" and "Survivor", each of which embraces a wealth of pathologies.) These oddities are not a product of faulty translation, since Canetti knew English well enough not to allow his key terms to be misrepresented by a lazy choice in that language. The work ranges widely through history, cultural anthropology, psychology, and evolutionary theory as these analytical frameworks were applied in his day to the explanation of specific behavior patterns in men, monkeys, and other animals, all within his general interpretation that discrete pieces of evidence from these disciplines fall under the heading of "the crowd phenomenon", either literally or metaphorically.

We are left with considering men to be either Survivors or Slaves. The only "free" man who avoids the "sting" built into every command and its acceptance or rejection is the man who altogether evades situations in which commands are given and responded to. By avoiding the normal situation of playing a part in a social hierarchy he becomes free; such a man has to be, by definition, marginal, perhaps even a social isolate. (Canetti was well-known for his individualism and his prickliness, brutally self-illuminated in Party in the Blitz - one wonders if he considered his behavior to be the tokens of such a hypothetical "free man"?) There is something in Canetti's typology that is akin to Raul Hilberg's Holocaust-studies classification of hundreds of millions of Europeans as either perpetrators, victims, or (not entirely innocent) bystanders - for Canetti seems to see human history as a sort of continuous political holocaust, a repetitive nightmare of power relations from which we cannot awake.

Canetti's Survivor runs the gamut from the winner of a duel or contest through the warrior (especially the warrior as a general or commander of troops) through the ordinary king to the most paranoid (and therefore bloodthirsty) absolute ruler -- undoubtedly the unsavory careers of Hitler and Stalin were prompting him in this typological direction. The ultimate Survivor best differentiates himself from the Crowd by standing alone amid a pile of corpses his commands have created; yet he remains anxious that the vast majority of humanity (i.e., the dead) will still try to interfere in his life, control his thoughts, and suck him into their bleak vortex. Canetti lived long enough to entertain the cases of Mao or Pol Pot, and these could only strengthen his conviction about the correctness of his analysis of power and its recurring tendency to manifest itself in psychotic demi-godly rulers.

In spite of the level of Germanic abstraction and reification in the presentation of his ideas about power, much of the evidentiary material he draws upon is still useful in the analysis of contemporary social and ideological phenomena. Some of the material is surprisingly germane today -- who could have guessed the present temporal consequences of the basic outlook of Shiite Islam, which, sixty years ago, he characterized as a wounded and resentful cult of lamentation that could only be soothed and healed by a yearned-for apocalyptic ending of human history? Wounded beasts are dangerous, especially when new-found wealth is coupled to old resentments.

He summarizes his equations by his closing comments on the case of Daniel Paul Schreber. (On a parenthetical note, reading of Schreber's father's exploits -- inventing devices to physically restrain his own children -- goes a long way toward explaining not only the substance of many of Schreber's delusions, but also the popularity in 19th century Germany of illustrated childhood discipline manuals, some of them presented in darkly comical form, e.g., Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter. What dark roads this mania led to, hardly comical, is left to the reader's imagination.) Schreber became the demented sounding-board of Kraeplein, Bleuler, Freud and many other observors who wished to generalize about something (and even everything) important about all of us, based on minute examination of the delusions of this most famous, and most eloquent, late Victorian madman. The correct medical diagnosis of Schreber's condition was that he suffered from "paranoid schizophrenia" accompanied by florid delusions of grandeur. According to Canetti it is these attributes which also characterize history's great men, and what delusional power over man and the universe Schreber wielded in his fantasies, those great men have wielded over our bodies and minds. It's a grim picture and may even be an accurate one.

The work concludes with a brief epilogue in which hope of escape from our almost biological thralldom to power might be based on our understanding the roots of our craven condition as they are diagnosed by the author. If the success of the "talking cure" in psychiatry is taken as our model, then we're still in for a long and gloomy night." - Robert T. O'Keeffe


P. H. Cannon

Scream for Jeeves: A Parody (1994) - P. H. Cannon

Amazon:

Cannon parodies P.G. Wodehouse and H.P. Lovecraft by combining the two, and brevity, clean prose and a good ear make it work. Bertie Wooster retells three Lovecraft tales in the manner of the ``Jeeves'' stories, and the humor comes from Bertie's cheery, puerile voice describing Lovecraft's horrors, interspersed with doses of Lovecraft's overwrought prose. The best is ``Cats, Rats, and Bertie Wooster,'' which sticks to ``The Rats in the Walls,'' although sometimes too many Lovecraft elements threaten to capsize this fragile craft. ``Something Foetid'' adds Lovecraft's Randolph Carter to ``Cool Air.'' ``The Rummy Affair of Young Charlie,'' mixing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and ``Arthur Jermyn'' with ``The Music of Erich Zann,'' seems disjointed and the climax is muddled. Occasional anachronisms jar, and it seems inconsistent, even in the world of ``H.P.G. Wodecraft,'' that Bertie should be so familiar with the lore that in Lovecraft's stories is exotic and abstruse. In the sometimes stilted closing essay on Lovecraft, Wodehouse and A.C. Doyle, Cannon strains after connections among the three, to no apparent purpose. But, quibbles aside, the book is clever and fun. One needs to have read some Wodehouse and a lot of Lovecraft to get all the jokes, but fans will be tickled.


Karl Capek

Tales from Two Pockets - Karl Capek

Reviews:

"The fourth Earl of Chesterfield once admonished his son to "wear your learning, like your watch in a private pocket: and do not merely pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one." The stories contained in Karel Capek's "Tales From Two Pockets", unlike Chesterfield's watch, are worth taking out and reading again and again and again.

Karel Capek played a pivotal role in Czech arts, literature, and politics in the years of the first Czech Republic. He was a playwright and, with his brother, authored "RUR", the play that introduced the word robot to the world. His novel War With the Newts remains today one of the great pieces of dystopian fiction. His life and work during this period was inextricably linked with a strong belief in the newly born Czechoslovakian Republic. Capek's devout faith in democracy and his aversion to both fascism and communism was well known. His intimate socio-political relationship with Czech President Tomas Masaryk served as an inspiration to Vaclav Havel the artist who became president after the Velvet Revolution.

The 48 stories in Tales From Two Pockets first appeared in print in 1928 in a Prague newspaper. They were known as pocket tales because presumably the newspaper could be folded and placed in ones coat pocket after getting off the tram. Immensely popular the first 24 stories were published in book form as Tales from One Pocket. The remaining 24 stories were originally published as Tales From the Other Pocket. This edition, published by Catbird Press (which has done a marvelous job of publishing English editions of Czech masterpieces) and excellently translated by Norma Comrada, contain all 48 tales.

To call the first 24 stories detective stories would not do them justice. They do tend to involve a murder or a crime of some sort but Capek stands the genre on its head. They involve more than the solution of a crime. Capek tends to work around the crime to look and spin small stories that tell us a little bit more about human nature than about the crime business. Each story contains a snippet; they are too short to be an exegesis on humanity. But each snippet is worth reading and after you read one or two you can put them in your pocket and start all over again.

The second 24 stories each flow from one into another. Think of a group of people sitting around a table in a bar. One tells a story about a crime or some other foul deed. After one story is finished someone pipes in and announces, "I can top that". They stories flow seamlessly one to another. Again, no single story packs a huge `message' but cumulatively they are thought provoking and provocative. It should also be mentioned that the stories are also just fun to read. Capek was one of the first Czech authors to write in colloquial Czech. His writing style was not formalistic and stilted. He wrote the way people talked and his stories are all warmly told and engaging.

So, put these tales in your pocket and pull them out whenever you'd like to lose yourself for a little while in the world of little mysteries created by Karel Capek." - Leonard Fleisig

War with the Newts - Karl Capek


Girolamo Cardano

The Book of My Life - Girolamo Cardano

NYRB

A bright star of the Italian Renaissance, Girolamo Cardano was an internationally-sought-after astrologer, physician, and natural philosopher, a creator of modern algebra, and the inventor of the universal joint. Condemned by the Inquisition to house arrest in his old age, Cardano wrote The Book of My Life, an unvarnished and often outrageous account of his character and conduct. Whether discussing his sex life or his diet, the plots of academic rivals or meetings with supernatural beings, or his deep sorrow when his beloved son was executed for murder, Cardano displays the same unbounded curiosity that made him a scientific pioneer. At once picaresque adventure and campus comedy, curriculum vitae, and last will, The Book of My Life is an extraordinary Renaissance self-portrait--a book to set beside Montaigne's Essays and Benvenuto Cellini's Autobiography.


David Carkeet

I Been There Before - David Carkeet


Thomas Carlyle

Sarto Resartus - Thomas Carlyle

Reviews:

"The greatest neglected book in cultural history, endlessly complex, subtle, always self-critical, ironic, mysterious, beautiful and powerful. Not a book to read through from beginning to end, but one to dip into, explore, examine from different angles. As in the book itself, the so-called Editor attempts to piece together the shards of the hero Teufelsdrockh's identity, so the reader needs to enter this book in-medias-res, striking into its magical maze of ideas. - A Customer


Leonora Carrington

The Hearing Trumpet - Leonora Carrington

Amazon:

"The Hearing Trumpet is deliciously funny and irreverent; Surrealist painter/author Leonora Carrington's apocalyptic tale is filled with gems such as "Darling, don't be philosophical, it doesn't suit you, it makes your nose red." Filtered through the eyes and ears of Marian Leatherby, a 92 year-old inmate of a Spanish old folk's home (run by the cultlike Well of Light Brotherhood), the tongue-in-cheek tone and hilarious chracters make this book a refreshing surprise. Every copy I've ever owned has been stolen! From the first paragraph, the reader will see that Marian Leatherby and her friends are NOT LOL's (Little Old Ladies), and Leonora Carrington is not your average author. (She's truly hilarious, for one!) Read this book for its wacky imagery (a trompe l'oeil "furnished" tower, a pair of murdering religious quacks, termite engineering, wigs, marijuana-stuffed needlepoint pillows, and a 92 year-old lady swarming down ten stories of rope, for starters), then hide your copy from your well-read friends...or buy them their own!" - maui


Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll

Amazon:

"Thomas Abbey leads an undistinguished, unsatisfying existence. He teaches English at a boy's prep school, but is chiefly known as the son of a glamorous 1940's film actor. He bitterly resents this constant association but feels unable to escape it. For his entire life he's lived in the shadow of his late father and their conflicted relationship. When he was a child, his greatest solace was found in the fanciful books of Marshall France, a reclusive writer who died at forty-four. One day, in an antiquarian bookshop, the doleful teacher meets an eccentric woman, Saxony Gardner, who is equally obsessed with France and together they travel to the writer's adopted hometown in Missouri to start work on a France biography. But almost nothing in the sleepy town of Galen is what it seems and slowly their idyllic existence turns into an inescapable nightmare.

Like Neil Gaiman , I am a huge fan of Jonathan Carroll, but of all his works, this novel has particular resonance for me. It suggests that our lives, our selves, even, to a great extent, our world, are largely products of our influence on them. That we are the authors of our own story; we collaborate with our histories to create ourselves and thus the past is as mutable as our relationship with it. The book is chock full of symbolism that deftly illustrates its twin themes of self-invention (e.g., Abbey is a collector of masks) and self-determination (e.g., his lover, Saxony, a maker of elaborate marionettes).

This is a vigorous, engaging read told in a naturalistic, matter-of-fact style that belies the tension and horror lurking just beneath the surface. The characters are well-fleshed out and human with relatable, believable motivations. And despite a shocking climax, at least the denouement allows Thomas Abbey to finally make peace with his past and even find ways to make use of it." - Blake Fraina


Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

Reviews:

"The beginning of Nights at the Circus is filled with descriptions that question the identities of the characters rather than offer clear descriptions of them. The characters transform themselves, but not in the typical way that fiction creates characters through an explained process of development; but rather, it is one of mutation. The character's presentation of themselves is an act of subterfuge. All the narrative voices that are encountered assert their position as authoritative and dominant in a way that seeks to undermine all the rest, but remains questionable. As Lorna Sage writes in her examination of narrative voices in Nights at the Circus, All of these voices are generously endowed with the kind of dubious plausibility that comes from the suspicion that they are making it up as they go along, just like the author, so that the reader is often treated to the uncanny feeling that he or she is being addressed from behind masks by characters who know they are on stage. It is in the hands of the questionable narrators that the author has placed us as an act of subversion to point out that, while the characters are fictional constructs, they are also entitled to a kind of creative freedom in the identity they choose to present to the reader. This is a technique that blurs the character's identities to create a space of historical disharmony. If the reader is to believe that the characters have an actual past, it is one that we will never feel entirely secure about. It is implied in this that the past is created out of a single personal perspective, one that is largely based on imagination, rather than a line of uncontestable facts. This narrative technique pushes the reader into the chair of an audience member. The spectacle that ensues frames a number of questions about the construction of identity. Is identity solid or fluid? Are the assumptions made about the character's identities formed from a personal perspective or that of an observer? Rather than offer answers to these questions, the narrative of the characters offer a sense of being that is constantly maintained within the present and not subject to a sense of inevitability based on history.

Biographical facts are distorted through a voyeuristic presence upon a character's identity. When Walser comes to interview Fevvers he is more ambitious about dismantling and destroying the identity that is presented to him than trying to understand it. This is a condition of his journalistic ambition, but it is also an act of misogyny to align Fevvers to his own image of what a woman (or a proper bird) should be. Considering her actions in the rest of the narrative, it appears that her ability to transform what people believe to be her identity is what saves her from the many attempts to destroy her sense of being (both physically and mentally). Her vibrant character and profession as a performer enables her to dodge any idea that she is only what the external perspective perceives her as. Through her ability to constantly maintain a performance, the reader and other characters that view her are forced to question their sense of her identity. Through this she is able to maintain an unstifled sense of identity because it is one based upon transformation and elusiveness. Walser deliberates on her motives of presenting herself in the way she does: he (Walser) was astonished to discover that it was the limitations of her act in themselves that made him briefly contemplate the unimaginable - that is, the absolute suspension of disbelief. For, in order to earn a living, might not a genuine bird-woman - in the implausible event that such a thing existed - have to pretend she was an artificial one? He smiled to himself at the paradox: in a secular age, an authentic miracle must purport to be a hoax, in order to gain credit in the world. The distinction between what is genuine and what is false is invalid if a perception of another is made with total acceptance. The reason why Fevvers encounters so many hardships is that people cannot suspend their disbelief. However, the question of whether she really is a bird-woman is suspended in favor of the idea that an unconditional perception of another is what should be made rather than asking a plethora of unanswerable questions about another's identity. If this is the standpoint the reader maintains while reading Fevvers' account of her life, then emotional involvement will take precedence over any logical objections. Any secure sense of being can only be made if there is a certain amount of faith. Fevvers' sense of her own identity is large enough to undo any grounding perception others may have of her and this is why she is able to fly.

The communities in Nights at the Circus are counterpoints to the closed, highly formed communities found in novels like To the Lighthouse and the stories of Katherine Mansfield. They allow identity to be individually created rather than socially arranged. The identities always remain in control and under the ownership of the characters themselves. This technique of writing resists any attempt to marginalise the character's position in their social environments because they create identities outside of a hierarchy scheme. Rather, the characters inhabit a fantasy zone composed of mobile symbols intended to poke fun at and undermine the ideas they represent. Nights at the Circus is never allowed to submit to any particular ideological scheme, but point to dreams which are the hinder side of thought's boundaries. It is a novel not intended to platform any particular ideology like feminism (a common belief of this novel), but champion a general philosophical outlook that can undermine conventional moralistic and limited systems of belief." - Eric Anderson

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman - Angela Carter

Reviews:

"This is one of Angela Carter's wildest and best novels, a verbal feast served up by the late writer's seemingly inexhaustible imagination. Erotic, picaresque, complex, surreal, and humorous only begin to describe the pleasures contained herein. The story revolves around Desiderio, who as a young man sets out to assassinate Dr. Hoffman, a genius waging war against an unnamed city by means of hallucinations or dreams produced with the "eroto-energy" of 50 copulating couples in his Wagnerian mountain castle. In his very Swiftian travels, Desiderio encounters a deserted seaside town, is arrested for a murder he didn't commit, and escapes with a bullet wound; is taken in by the river people with their strange, seductive ways who eventually try to sacrifice him; escapes again to sojourn with a traveling circus where he is raped by nine Moroccan acrobats who later fall off a cliff with the rest of the circus and a town of puritans (imagine that conflict); meets a megalomaniacal Count whose travels take him and Desiderio to Africa where the Count is boiled in a pot by a cannibal chieftain; spends time in a curious, religiously rigid culture of centaurs (Carter's most obvious homage to Swift). The novel is a satire of sexual mores, restrictions, fetishes, and hang-ups that only a writer as gutsy and opulently talented as Angela Carter could have attempted. As a work of art, it's all over the place, and you might not enjoy it unless you let it take you along for the ride. It makes a very suitable companion to her later, more disciplined novel, The Passion of New Eve." - Andrew Rasanen

Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories - Angela Carter

Reviews:

"In 'Notes From the Front Line', Carter said that she was not in the remythologizing business but in the demythologizing business. Anna Katsavos asked Angela Carter what she meant by that. Angela said, 'Well, I'm basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semireligious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.'

Simply stated, Angela Carter has taken icons and myths we were all raised with and given them back to us in a form we know and trust. In stories. Her stories are adult fairy tales; lush, penetrating, uninhibited and dark.

An introduction by Salman Rushdie sets the perfect tone for the reading ahead. It is the closest to gushing the man has ever come. He says, these stories are also a treasure , to savour and to hoard. They begin with her early works, from 1962-6. The Man Who Loved the Double Bass tells the story of a musician in madly love with his instrument. Could he live without her? In the section called Fireworks; Nine Profane Pieces from 1974, Carters work begins an ethereal exploration on of the psyche in achingly beautiful prose. Her ability to write fantastical tableaus is showcased. In The Executioners Daughter, an executioner is told to execute his only son. The setting, itself, becomes a character. In Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest, a brother and sister are nudged into exploring the a dark forest and its hidden fruit tree. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is next, featuring writings from 1979. These are fairy tales retold for adults and contains some of the most stunning and psychological erotic written. Black Venus contains writing from 1985 and American Ghosts and Old World Wonders, work from 1993. Uncollected Stories contains work from 1970-81, featuring The Scarlet House, about a woman trapped in a house by a master of Chaos.

These short stories are profane, wise, surreal, unrepentant and brilliant. The Tiger's Bride alone is worth the price of admission in to this magical world." - Jennifer Jordan


Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares

Amazon:

The Island of Doctor Moreau inspired this 1940 novella. Set on a mysterious island, The Invention of Morel is a story of suspense and exploration as well as an unlikely romance, where every detail is both crystal clear and deeply mysterious. Susan Jill Levine's revision of Ruth Simm's translation offers a new experience of an uncanny work of genius.


Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine

Castle to Castle - Louis-Ferdinand Celine

"I read somewhere that Michelangelo considered his artistic oeuvre--all the paintings and sculpture taken together--as one great work, each a sustained whole, and yet fragments of a grander, all-encompassing vision of life. The novels of Celine can be thought of in a similar way--as one large novel, one extended visionary statement, published in a series of volumes.

In *Castle to Castle,* Celine takes up the rant where he last left off, a doctor-refugee and Nazi collaborator on the run with the rest of the Vichy government as Germany implodes during the final lap of WW2. As usual, Celine rails against hypocrisy, betrayal, greed, opportunism, and inhumanity wherever he sees it and he sees it practically everywhere--and an astonishing good deal of it directed, undeservedly, at himself! Poor Ferdinand, everyone hates him, is out to get him, makes him eat worms--well, honestly, when all is said and done, don't we all feel like that, more or less?

A good part of *Castle to Castle,* more than is usually the case, is taken up with Celine's scathingly sarcastic diatribes against personal enemies, some more obscure than others, and even many of the less obscure requiring enough explanatory back-of-the-book editorial notes to become distracting. And, indeed, many of Celine's attacks are repetitious--they often seem to serve as a way to get him warmed up to begin the real subject of any given chapter, an angry theme upon which to build his endlessly vitriolic variations.

You've got to hand it to the French--they aren't afraid to air their dirty laundry, to give the devil his day in court--and to fully appreciate this one has only to realize that Celine really was an incarnation of the devil back in the day. Traitor, Nazi collaborator, racist, anti-Semite, imprisoned, and perilously close to execution, Celine was deservedly, or not, widely reviled and yet publishing books like *Castle to Castle* not all that long after the activities that earned him so much ill-will...books in which he wasn't apologizing or offering explanations for anything, but launching a fierce and unrelenting counterattack! Talk about turning the stick in the wound! Not only was Celine still squawking but he had the nerve to point the finger back at his accusers, calling them, the great heroes of the Resistance, the real traitors and thieves! I can't imagine the parallel occurring in America. Maybe the recent O.J. "fictional" murder confession comes close and not even that was a matter of high treason, of being on the wrong side of the greatest war between good and evil in human history. Well, it just goes to prove what an open-minded people the French are. They'll entertain any viewpoint to any argument so long as it's entertaining enough. And that's one thing you can count on with Celine, even in an "off" effort like *Castle to Castle*--he'll entertain the boots off you.

I'm not exactly sure where *Castle to Castle* falls in the chronology of Celine's exploits, not that it seems to make much difference. Even within his books, chronology is often as topsy-turvy as a city during a bombing. But *Castle to Castle* gives one the impression of a "transitional work"--rather like a car stuck between gears on an uphill grade, it never gets properly going while giving you the impression that it's just about to crest the summit and whatever comes afterwards will be quite a ride. Still, it's a text quite worth reading, especially by Celine fans, who can never quite get enough of the granddaddy of all ranters, this proto-blogger, this anti-literary terrorist.

Celine considered his work--and his unique style--to be the forerunner of the writing of the future (a lot of folks, including the preeminent critic Roland Barthes agreed), and in spite of the immense influence he's already had on a number of major literary figures since--many of those themselves now long dead--it may well be that Celine's real influence is only now being realized in the angry, solipsistic, blackly comic, counter-cultural, fragmented first-person ravings of today's cyber-literary scene. Bristling with indignation, sputtering and spitting with outrage and outrageous insults, barely able to finish a sentence because the next one's rushing out right behind it, Celine's fragments are a kind of mental shrapnel flying in all direction, a mosaic of madness of which we're all heirs, an outrage over the general condition of things so uncontainable it exploded all conventional expression and left it to some unimaginable future to pick up the pieces. Celine, like all forms of terrorism, is a literary question to which we still don't have an answer. *Castle to Castle* is that rare book as important--if not more important--for how it says, as it is for what it says." - Mark Nadja

Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine

Amazon:

"For the uninitiated, Journey to the End of the Night is a 450-page chronicle of anger, bitterness, hopelessness, despair, disillusionment, and resignation. It is one of the most pessimistic, negative books ever written. It addresses almost every base and negative aspect of the human experience: warfare, cowardice, lies, corruption, betrayal, slavery, manipulation, exploitation, perversion, persecution, cheating, greed, sickness, loneliness, madness, lust, gossip, abortion, disease, vengeance, and murder. In a book that explodes with adjectives, there is hardly a cheerful word to be found.

But don't let that stop you from reading it. It is also a weird and wonderfully written mix of prose, philosophy, rant, and slang. At times it is hilarious. It is also sad, moving, and deeply insightful. Celine's voice is unique, and his dark vision changed the face of twentieth century literature.

True to its title, the book is a metaphorical journey into the dark side of humanity. It doesn't really have a plot. In a nutshell, it follows Ferdinand Bardamu (who is telling the story), who joins the army on a whim, entering World War I. The fear and madness of his war experiences leave him shell-shocked. He spends the remainder of the war convalescing in a hospital, where he spends his time avoiding the front, laying nurses, and pulling himself together. After the war, he yearns to escape, so he travels to the French African colonies to run a trading post deep in the jungle. There, he contracts malaria and is sold into slavery by a Portuguese priest, only to be dumped in a quarantine facility in New York.

He eventually winds up in Detroit, where he works a dead-end factory job at Ford and falls in love with a prostitute. Restless, he leaves his love behind and returns to France. There he completes his medical studies, and begins a practice in a Paris slum. After enduring abject poverty for several years, he leaves his practice in disgust; eventually he winds up working in a private mental hospital in Paris.

Throughout the story, and at each major stop of his journey, Ferdinand encounters Robinson, a fellow traveler and nihilist. As the book progresses, Robinson lures the unwilling Ferdinand into a series of misadventures, taking him deeper and deeper "into the night."

I first read this book about 15 years go, in my mid-twenties. I had a stultifying corporate job, and I thought the next 40 years of my life were going to be nothing but empty and meaningless drudgery. In short, I thought my life was already over. So when I first read Journey, I was immediately hooked. It perfectly voiced all of the loathing and emptiness I was feeling. And sadly, it reinforced every dark, evil, vile thought I had about life and humanity. In retrospect, I realize it inspired and fueled my depression, which dogged me for another two and a half years.

I finally scraped up the courage to make some changes in my life, and my own "night" faded into daylight. And for the most part, the darkness has stayed away. So, 13 years later, it is with very different eyes that I finished reading Journey for the second time.

So how was it the second time around? How has this poisoned wine aged? It has aged beautifully. It is a tremendous book, and I still love it. Celine perfectly voices the world-weariness and despair that accompany hopelessness. And he captures the restless urge to escape when there is no meaning in your life. It wasn't as funny as I remembered, but it seemed more insightful, more devastating, and even more sweeping in it vast range of observations.

I also found it slowly pulling me back into my own dark place-but only momentarily. With a bit of effort I was able to keep things in check. But it's good to look back now and again, to remember where you came from and how you've grown. Celine's world is a sad, bitter, and lonely place. But it's a place we all visit from time to time. Sadly, some are trapped there, never ending their grim journey. Read this book and enter their world." - John M. Lemon

Guignol's Band - Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine

Amazon:

"It's almost impossible to break Celine's works down into the usual category of "books." Basically everything he wrote, his entire oevre, is one metabook. If you want to get sequential, start with Death on the Istallment Plan and work your way up from there. DOTIP deals in large part with "Ferdinand's" childhood and we are treated to descriptions of a surreal upbringing (an entire neighborhood enclosed in soot-encrusted glass, a mother and father depicted as slightly less than imebeciles). I would then suggest reading Journey to the End of the Night (primarily about WW1 and his trip to America), Guignol's Band, London Bridge (Guignol's Band II), Rigadoon, Castle to Castle and North. All have been well translated. Don't be put off by puffy readers who say that these texts can only be appreciated in French. This is one author who comes through loud and clear (probably just as biting and clever in Swahili) in translation. Celine deals in high comedy and his novels move at the pace of a Mack Sennet or Charlie Chaplin film. The energy is always frenetic and he seldom allows you any lulls. The descriptions in this book of "The Leicester Boarding House," lorded over by Cascade, Dr. Clodovitz, the wounded-in-the-ass Joconde, Boro - master of the keyboards, but most of all Titus Von Claben, will leave you howling if Celine strikes a responsive chord. If he doesn't, then you have a different sort of sensibility than mine and should probably avoid this author at all costs. There is nothing Keilloresque about Celine. He came up out of the Paris slums and witnessed some of the most horrific scenes the 20th century produced. That he came out of it all with a sense-of-the-ridiculous intact is a marvel in itself. He was on the wrong side of most issues his entire life. He made some stupid choices. But those who maintain that he wallowed in self-pity are way off the mark. He always points to himself as his own worst culprit. He never pretends to heroism. He is, like Chaplin, always the fall-guy, but is also, in the same light, a survivor. He gets up after his prat-falls, dusts himself off and heads on towards the next chapter." - Bruce Kendall

"Like his Bulgarian pianist-pimp boro, Celine enters the house of the gangster novel, hurls a grenade and flees, recording the pieces. This is an underworld novel Lautreamont might have written - indeed, the first third reads like an update of 'Maldoror', less narrative chapters than prose poems of war, urban fever and mental breakdown, imploding under the simultaneous tension of concentration and fragmentation. The opening sequence is thus very difficult to read, the air attack on a traffic-jammed bridge imaged in a verbal bombing, which, while undeniably brilliant and exciting is very exhausting.

if you are understandably tempted to give up, persevere - the novel 'settles' into a relatively conventional (and hilarious) plot, divided into three sequences dominated by three larger-than-life father figures who take the hero under their wing - a ganglord, a pawnbroker, a magician.

Despite a vibrant vision of London rarely experienced in literature, Celine constantly pushes material normally associated with generic materiality into the realm of magic, farce, fairy-tale, pantomime, the Guignol of the title - the novel's complex allusiveness includes Shakespeare and the Arabian Nights. This conflict, between realistic content and fantastic/theatrical form gives the novel its feeling of being on the brink of collapse; its eruptions into brawls (both narrative and verbal) looks forward to Pynchon's 'V'.

Be warned - although you wouldn't know it from the information on this edition, this is only the first part of a two-volume novel (the second is translated as London Bridge). I didn't know this when reading, which was obviously affected." - darrah o'donoghue

North - Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine


Blaise Cendrars

Moravagine - Blaise Cendrars

Amazon:

"As one commentator has said, this disturbing book, with its two anarchist lead characters, is Cendrars' view of the artistic process, viewed from the destructive perspective; to recall Michael Bakunin (1814-76), "The passion for destruction is also a constructive passion," a famous utterance which is like a watermark behind everything which occurs in _Moravagine_.

There is no fun or point in giving away the picaresque plot of this extraordinary work. I have no idea how this reads in the original french, but the english translation by Alan Brown (Penguin) is clear and compelling. Apart from the disease imagery, present from the first to the last, there are many luxuriant images and, on the whole, an intensity which retains power even when people today have read or seen so much about terrorists and murderers. As the narrator and Moravagine make their way across continents, the pace flags, notably in the Blue Indians section, but Cendrars' vision, and the slow, inexorable unwinding of the narrator's previous self-confidence and enormous conceits become more interesting than Moravagine's own nature. Anticipating postmodernist writers, Cendrars includes a snapshot (a fake one, to be sure) of himself as a minor character whose path crosses the two killers.

A convert to Cendrars, having just finished _Moravagine_, would best follow it with the Dan Yack books (_Dan Yack_; _Confessions of Dan Yack_), and then the uneven but exhilirating tetralogy comprising _The Astonished Man_, _Planus_, _Lice_ and _Sky_. If one can forget Nina Rootes' interference with Cendrars' own presentation of his material, then these hard to obtain books (most out of print) are well worth reading. An excellent critic on Cendrars (and more respectful translator) is Monique Chefdor.

Blaise Cendrars is a neglected Modernist who does not make a big enough blip on english radar, partly because he was not affiliated with any political group or -isms. He rarely receives extensive mention in anthologies or reviews of french letters written in english. His daughter, Miriam, has published a biography which is at present only in french. University libraries are the most reliable places to find a good selection of his works." - Jeff Bursey


Steven Chapman

The Troika - Steven Chapman

Infinity Plus:

Three travellers are crossing a desert under the intense glare of three suns. They don't know why they're crossing the desert and they don't know what they'll find on the other side. They've been crossing the desert for a long time, too: for centuries. They can't even escape by killing each other, although they try often enough.

Alex is a man who has always wanted to be a machine; when we first encounter him in the desert he is the guiding intelligence of a jeep (but things change in Chapman's strange fictional world, things never stay the same). Eva is an old Mexican woman, although she has been a fish-priestess and later a whore. Their daughter, Naomi, is a brontosaur who was once a military corpsicle.

If this is starting to sound weird, then that's because it is. And it gets weirder...

The story of their journey across the desert is interspersed with dream-sequence flashbacks, returning us to various transformed versions of the 20th Century. Some of these vignettes are rather dense in imagery and language, others are striking and powerful: there's a wonderful horror scene where a young man who'd been frightening his girlfriend by recounting incidents from a splatter movie is confronted by a far more immediate, personal horror; there's a brilliant sequence where Alex recalls the extreme methods he employed when he worked as a pest control robot.

The dreams and flashbacks are often meandering and full of contradictions and delusions. Their effect is subtle and the picture they build up is slow to form, yet nonetheless relentless.

In The Troika, we have three unreliable narrators in an unreliable world, each taking turns to tell us their unreliable histories.

And Chapman's great achievement with this novel is that not only does he deliver a strange and surreal melange of imagery, not only does he work at language and form, teasing and pulling about his sentences and scenes with playful artistry ... not only does he do all that: he does it without ever really losing touch with the kind of narrative momentum more familiar to thriller readers. Yes, some of the dream sequences threaten to tie you up in knots of illogic and, yes, sometimes the language is too tricksy and florid, but regardless, you just have to keep going, have to keep building up Chapman's mosaic in your head, have to get to the end.

It's the kind of book you read, and somewhere in the back of your mind a little voice says: He's not going to pull it off. He's not going to pull it off. He's not going to pull it off.

In novels like this ("novels like this" - what am I saying? There are no novels like this!)...

But anyway... in novels like this, there comes an inevitable point where some kind of underpinning logic has to emerge from the weirdness: too little explication and the reader is liable to feel let down, betrayed; too much and all that has gone before is liable to look just a little silly. Chapman gets it right, he delivers. Somehow he's managed to write a novel of the weird with the narrative drive of something far more conventional. Little wonder that it has been praised by John Shirley, Brian Stableford, Paul McAuley and others. Little wonder that it rapidly seems to be acquiring cult status.

If you spot it in a bookshop, buy it -- you won't find another novel like it in a long time. You'll recognise it by the stunning cover art by Alan M Clark. Or you could always order it from one of the addresses below, just to be sure." - Keith Brooke


G. K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday (1907) - G. K. Chesterton

Amazon:

"For a book that's only about a hundred pages long, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Chesterton's classic novella tackles anarchy, social order, God, peace, war, religion, human nature, and a few dozen other weight concepts. And somehow he manages to mash it all together into a delightful satire, full of tongue-in-cheek commentary that is still relevant today.

As the book opens, Gabriel Symes is debating with a soapbox anarchist. The two men impress each other enough that the anarchist introduces Symes to a seven-man council of anarchists, all named after days of the week. In short order, they elect Symes their newest member -- Thursday.

But they don't know that he's also been recruited by an anti-anarchy organization. And soon Symes finds out that he's not the only person on the council who is not what he seems. There are other spies and double-agents, working for the same cause. But who -- and what -- is the jovial, powerful Mr. Sunday, the head of the organization?

Hot air balloons, elaborate disguises, duels and police chases -- Chesterton certainly knew how to keep this novel interesting. Though written almost a century ago, "The Man Who Was Thursday" still feels very fresh. That's partly because of Chesterton's cheery writing... and partly because it's such an intelligent book.

He doesn't avoid some timeless topics that make some people squirm. Humanity (good and bad), anarchy, religion and its place in human nature, and creation versus destruction all get tackled here -- disguised as a comic police investigation. And unlike most satires, it isn't dated; the topics are reflections of humanity and religion, so they're as relevant now as they were in 1908.

But the story isn't pedantic or boring; Chesterton keeps things lively by having his characters act like real people, rather than mouthpieces. From Symes to the Colonel to the mysterious Sunday himself, they all have a sort of friendly, energetic quality. "We're all spies! Come and have a drink!" one of the characters announces cheerfully near the end.

And of course, once the madcap police investigations are finished, there's still a mystery. Who is Sunday? What are his goals? And for that matter, WHAT is Sunday -- genius, force of nature, villain or god? The answer is a bit of a surprise, and as a reflection of Chesterton's beliefs, it's a delicate, intelligent piece of work.

"The Man Who Was Thursday" is a wacky little satire that will both amuse and educate you. Not bad for a book often subtitled "A Nightmare."" - E. A. Solinas


John Collier

Fancies and Goodnights - John Collier

His Monkey Wife or Married to a Chimp - John Collier

Reviews:

Every other summer or so I reread "His Monkey Wife" by John Collier and urge others to do so, too. The stumbling block has been that the book has been out of print for years. I, of course, am far too wise in the ways of the world to lend anyone my own copy. ("Never lend books," advised Anatole France, "for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those that other people have lent me.") So, I am happy to report that Collier's work has just returned to print thanks to Paul Dry Books .

The novel is one of the great idiosyncratic comedies in English - a designation, incidentally, that is a literary category in my mind. To it belong other such noble curiosities as Stella Gibbons's "Cold Comfort Farm," Flann O'Brien's "At Swim Two Birds," G. V. Desani's "All About H. Hatter," J. R. Ackerley's "Hindoo Holiday," L. Rust Hill's "How to Retire at Forty-one," and - well, we'll leave the full list for another day [DAMN!!! Ed.]. Suffice it to say that what distinguishes the books in this category is not only that each is so idiosyncratic as to be sui generis, but also that the fulcrum of their comedy is cultural piety and the Western literary tradition. (It may be, alas, that in this day of enlightenment, the works can be enjoyed only by readers of "a certain age.")

"His Monkey Wife" is written in high-flown, often urgent, prose. It is a love story and concerns Mr. Fatigay, a schoolmaster, and his "petite, dark and vivacious" disciple, Emily: the toast of the British Museum Reading Room and a chimpanzee. As in most love stories there are moments of passionate jealousy, longing, and fierce romantic intrigue, all conveyed with such a fine and delicate sensibility that one should, perhaps, be ashamed of oneself for laughing. But then, as P. G. Wodehouse observed, comedy is "the kindly contemplation of the incongruous." - Katherine Powers


Francesco Colonna

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream (1499) - Francesco Colonna


Sean Connolly

A Great Place to Die - Sean Connolly


Robert Coover

Gerald's Party - Robert Coover

Reviews:

""Gerald's Party" depicts a single evening in the life of Gerry, a married man who has opened his home to a flood of strange friends, and describes the chaotic string of strange events which occur. The book is written in real time, its 300 pages comprising a single narrative, unbroken by chapters, from the party's beginning to its end. Gerry is the narrator, proceeding from event to event, unable to control anything, and hardly able to understand anything, including himself.

The book is experimental, but does have a plot, concerning a murder-mystery at Gerry's party of strange guests. The story is told in the tradition of surrealists, however, and not a straightforward narrative. Once the reader settles into understanding how the story works, it becomes a joyful romp through mad times.

The theme of the book is very simple: life is a major mess, and it just keeps going. People eat and drink, sleep and sex, live and die, digest and waste, kill and protect, mate monogamously and share polyamorally, control themselves and let themselves go, have children and have fun, grow up and act childish, dirty and clean, dress and undress, lie and speak true, think scientifically and think artistically, fantasize and live pragmatically, search for philosophical meaning and live hedonistically for today. And they never stop! Robert Coover pushes all the buttons in the psyche of the human animal, as if writing a reference manual for an extraterrestrial, telling it: "Here's humanity. Welcome to it!"

This book is experimental and surreal, but arguably more accessible than Beckett, and certainly more earthy and explicit. (This is so Coover can push all your buttons.) It uses an interesting form of dialog occasionally: two or three different conversations interweave their lines, making it a joyful challenge to follow along, and creating interesting intersections at times. There are two dozen characters, all with their own independent dynamic, and Coover mixes them with entertaining effect. Some are consistent, such as the wife, the son, the mother-in-law, and others, who exercise their own unique idiosyncracies steadily throughout the book, like pschological points of reference interweaving with the other characters.

This book is very well done. I cannot praise it highly enough. Coover deserves immense credit for pulling it all off. Once the reader understands the story is meant to be absurd, not literal, it becomes great fun, very vivid, and memorable. Coover is extremely imaginative, and "Gerald's Party" is a fantastic riot." - Hovig J. Heghinian

Pricksongs and Descants: Fictions - Robert Coover

The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Directors' Cut - Robert Coover

"Think of the infinite cycle of revenge initiated by Fellini's 8 and a half. Yes, the dream sequence! No, not the first one, the other later on when he is living in perfect harmony with all the 8 maybe 9 women of his dreams... Broadway still sings about it! Peter Greenway tried to re-movie it HIS way... Coover's way WAY outdoes them all proving that he is firmly transmodern, transcinematic, pantronic, pornoclastic, iconomorphic! Check the references. Go to imdb.com . Verify that Coover found Lucky Pierre in Herschell Gordon Lewis 1961 forgotten naive exploit of the same name which no one cared to see or comment on. Brought Pierre out of retirement to protagonize as only he could, the brunt of feminist deconstructive romp in this newly meta-Tarrantinized nitemare of romp and stomp, this de-Ramboesque purge so telling of the times.

It is Felini lionised! It is Mastroiani finally "Slavroinized"! It is the all-consumming, selfcom-summing, sum total of all male fears penned with the supreme mastery of the pen-is-my-pained-penis only Coover commands. This is a brilliant work, in more ways than anyone can find or fathom. A slap o mastery that one can only hope, has the infinity of sequels it deserves and engenders in the mind! If you have not read it yet and you are not reading it now, what the hell are you waiting for?" - Joao Leao


Julio Cortazar

Cronopios and Famas - Julio Cortazar

Reviews:

Saturated with the starkness of the pampas, Cronopios and Famas is at once a disturbing and exhilarating collection of short, short vignette-proclamations. Containing little to do with anything and yet much to do with everything, I'd call this a surrealist's fairy-fragments, a lazy Sunday afternoon sundae that at once calls to be slurped in a gulp and teases us into enjoying it languorously. - Subir Grewal

Divided onto four sections, Cronopios and Famas offers an enjoyable introduction to the mind of Julio Cortazar.

The first section is an Instruction Manual, offering precise and sometimes far-fetched instructions on a number of unlikely subjects -- "How to Comb the Hair", "How to Cry", "How to Wind a Watch" (instructions that come with their own preamble), and "How to Kill Ants in Rome". Not necessarily the most useful advice, but these are clever pieces, going off on small (and sometimes obscure) tangents as Cortázar sees fit. Varied and short, one would not mind more of these instructions. - Complete Review
...

""Cronopios and Famas," by Julio Cortazar, is one of those wonderful books that stands in a class by itself. It has been translated from Spanish into English by Paul Blackburn. The book is a collection of interconnected short pieces that often blur the distinctions between the short story and the essay; some of the pieces further share aspects of poetry and drama. Cortazar also incorporates elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and comedy into this work. Call "Cronopios and Famas" a novel, if you prefer; or simply label it "experimental literature." But whatever you call it, read it!

The book is divided into four main sections, each of which is further subdivided into several short pieces. The first section, "The Instruction Manual," contains such pieces as "Instructions on How to Cry" and "Instructions on How to Climb a Staircase." Cortazar invites us to look at everyday things and actions from a radically altered perspective; in the process, he seems to point towards an occult, or metaphysical, wisdom.

The second section, "Unusual Occupations," details the antics of a bizarre family (think TV's "Addams Family" as drawn by Dr. Seuss, with input from Franz Kafka). The third section, "Unstable Stuff," is the most varied and chaotic section of the book, and is rich in fantastic and absurd elements.

The final section of the book has the same title as the entire book: "Cronopios and Famas." In several short vignettes Cortazar draws a portrait of an alternate society populated by three different types (races? castes? species?) of beings: Cronopios, Famas, and Esperanzas. Cortazar describes the individuals of each group, and details many instances of social interactions between the groups. This final section of the book is reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," but more cryptic. Along the way we witness the invention of the "wild-artichoke clock" and get a glimpse of "GENITAL, the Cigarette with Sex."

"Cronopios and Famas" is not for the lazy reader. I must admit that after my first reading of the book, I didn't really like it that much. But the second time I read it, I said to myself, "This is brilliant! What was wrong with me the first time I read it?" I wonder what my reactions will be on my third and fourth readings. This book, rich in irony and remarkable images, is truly a remarkable achievement by one of the most innovative masters of 20th century literature." - Michael J. Mazza

Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar

Reviews:

"It has taken me years to sit down and finally make a serious commitment to read Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch/La Rayuela." I cannot think of a better companion to devote a few weeks to, maybe even a bit longer - hey, whatever it takes! It depends on your reading speed and the time you take to savor the poetry of the author's language. So, be willing to make a small personal investment in this very special novel, and the reward you reap will be a worthy one. Julio Cortazar will take you to places you have never been before in literature, and may never experience again. I read "Hopscotch" over this past summer, after a thirty year delay. I can be real stubborn about putting off what is good for me!! Cortazar's imagination is boundless, his prose rich and luminous, his wit and sophistication rare, the dialogue brilliant, the plot...I won't attempt to describe that with a few adjectives. Wander through the extraordinary labyrinthine plot on you own - the way is yours to discover. I promise, you won't get lost!

My introduction to "La Rayuela", (which means hopscotch, like the children's game), is a personal story. I will make it quick. About 30 years ago, while living in Latin America, a friend told me that I reminded him of a character in a novel. The character, La Maga - the book "La Rayuela/Hopscotch." With personal interests at stake and much curiosity, I bought a copy in Spanish, which I read with some fluency at the time. After experimenting with which way to approach the novel, and trying both ways, I gave up...and just read the parts about La Maga. I was too impatient at that point in my life, and needed to become a mellower person, to read slower, with more of a sense of play and participation. And Cortazar wants his readers to participate - to make reading his book an interactive experience, not a passive one. I was and still feel touched when I remember my friend's comments regarding La Maga. She is a magnificent character and Cortazer's prose, his language, (Spanish), is exquisite. So, I thought I'd give it another try, in English, perhaps with better results. None! I just wasn't ready, I guess. That happens to me with fiction sometimes. I have to be open to the experience. However, after all these years, I still thought of Horacio Oliveira and La Maga from time to time. And why not? They are truly unforgettable. As I wrote above, I did make time, at last. For an adventure of a lifetime, I recommend you do the same.

When Julio Cortazar published "La Rayuela" in 1966, he turned the conventional novel upside-down and the literary world on its ear with this experiment in writing fiction. He soon became an important influence on writers everywhere. "Hopscotch" is considered to be one of the best novels written in Spanish. This is an interactive novel where readers are invited to rearrange its sections and read them in different sequences. Read in a linear fashion, "Hopscotch" contains 700 pages, 155 chapters in three sections: "From the Other Side," and "From This Side" - the first two sections are sustained by relatively chronological narratives and so contrast greatly with the third section, "From Diverse Sides," (subtitled "Expendable Chapters"), which includes philosophical extrapolation, character study, allusions and quotations, and an entirely different version of the "ending."

The book has no table of contents, but rather a "Table of Instructions." There, we learn that two approved readings are possible: from Chapter 1 through 56 "in a normal fashion", or from Chapter 73 to Chapter 1 to... well, wherever the chapters lead you. The instructions are all in your book and are extremely clear. At the end of each chapter there is a numeric indicator to lead the reader to the next chapter. One never knows where one will be lead. Due to its meandering nature, "Hopscotch" has been called a "Proto-hypertext" novel. Cortázar probably had this work in mind when he stated, "If I had the technical means to print my own books, I think I would keep on producing collage-books."

What is most important, as a reviewer, is to give you, the prospective reader, an idea of the narrative and the characters...and to tell you why reading this novel was such an extraordinary experience for me. Horacio Oliveira, our protagonist and sometimes narrator, is an Argentinean expatriate, an intellectual and professed writer in 1950's bohemian Paris. He and his close friends, members of "the Club," do lots of partying, drinking, and intellectualizing, discussing art, literature, music and solving the world's problems. Oliveira lives with and loves La Maga, an exotic young woman, somewhat whimsical, at times almost ephemeral who leaves behind her, like the scent of a light perfume, a feeling of poignancy and inevitable loss. La Maga refuses to plan her encounters with Oliveira in advance, preferring instead to run into each other by chance. Then she and Oliveira celebrate the series of circumstances that reunite them - although he knows well the places she frequents and is capable of causing at least a few planned surprises. Eventually, he loses La Maga, who loses her child. With her absence, Oliveira realizes how empty and meaningless his life is and he returns to his native Buenos Aires. There he finds work first as a salesman, then a keeper of a circus cat, and an attendant in an insane asylum.

As Oliveira wends his way through France, Uruguay and Argentina looking for his lost love, "Hopscotch's" narrative takes on an emotionally intense stream of consciousness style, rich in metaphor. Back In Argentina, Oliveira shares his life with his bizarre double, Traveler, and Traveler's wife, Talita, whom Oliveira attempts to remake into a facsimile of La Maga. The game of hopscotch is only developed as a conceit late in the narrative. It is first used to describe Oliveira's confused love for La Maga as "that crazy hopscotch." The theme develops as a metaphor for reaching Heaven from Earth. "When practically no one has learned how to make the pebble climb into Heaven, childhood is over all of a sudden and you're into novels, into the anguish of the senseless divine trajectory, into the speculation about another Heaven that you have to learn to reach too." The variations on the children's game are described as "spiral hopscotch, rectangular hopscotch, fantasy hopscotch, not played very often." The allusions continue and include some beautiful passages.

"Hopscotch" is much more than a novel. Ultimately, it is best left for each reader to define what it is for himself/herself. Pablo Neruda in a famous quote said, "People who do not read Cortazar are doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease." I don't know whether I would go so far. Remember, I put off the experience for many years. But this is one novel that should be read during one's lifetime. It is brilliant and it is fun!" - Jana L. Perskie

Blow-Up: And Other Stories - Julio Cortazar

"In this book are collected some of the most well-known short stories of the great Latin American writer, Julio Cortazar. Cortazar was a great experimental writer (his most famous novel, "Hopscotch", was a pre-cursor to future hyper-text novels) who drew his inspiration from French Symbolism, Surrealism and the improvisational nature of Free Jazz.

Fellow Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges, once famously stated that there was no way of retelling the plot of a Cortazar story - he was absolutely right. The plot is minimal for many of the stories in this collection and in a sense, it is subsidiary. The `essence' of a Cortazar story is largely ineffable. Attempting to capture it in words leads one to fumble just the way that his characters do (see, for example, the short story "The Idol of the Cyclades" or "The Pursuer"). In Cortazar's fictions, reality and fantasy are separated by a permeable membrane and the proper way to read his writing is to experience it, to exercise to the fullest extent possible one's sense of empathy with the writing, in a sense, to merge with it. Indeed, this merging of the fantastic and real, of several viewpoints, is a recurring theme in this collection of short stories - it is most fully manifest in "Axolotl" wherein the young boy becomes obsessed with the axolotls to the point where he actually becomes one. However, the theme also recurs in "The Distances", "A Yellow Flower" and "The Continuity of Parks."

Many of the stories are a bit like the Taoist parable of Chuang Tzu who dreamed that he was a butterfly but upon waking was no longer sure whether he was a man who dreamt that he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. Cortazar's stories seem to exist in kind of quantum superposition states where both one and the other are simultaneously being realized -- this is literature at the Planck scale. Probably no other author has managed to capture, in writing, the feel of the uncanny as masterfully as Cortazar has. There is a sense of unease, half-hinted, that permeates through almost the entire collection. This barely expressible sense of a discordant note is especially evident in "The House Taken Over", "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris", "The Night Face Up" (a stand-out story which for me had some similarities to Borges' story, "The South"), "Bestiary", "Blow-up" (on which the Michelangelo Antonioni film was loosely based) and "Secret Weapons."

I suspect that I will be returning to many of these stories in the future as they seem to welcome repeated visits. Not all of the stories were of equal quality for me - some were less enjoyable than others. In discussing Cortazar as a novelist Borges once commented "He is trying so hard on every page to be original that it becomes a tiresome battle of wits, no?" To a certain extent, I felt the same way about some of the short stories in this collection, though quite possibly this is because I am not a sophisticated enough reader of post-modernist literature.

Overall however, reading the collection was an enjoyable experience which I recommend to other readers. Some of the stories are sure to persist in one's memory as beautifully strange, haunting experiences, inviting repeated visits." - Vladimir Miskovic


F. Marion Crawford

The Complete Wandering Ghosts - F. Marion Crawford

Reviews:

"At the beginning of the twentieth century, F. Marion Crawford was one of the most prolific, widely-read novelists of the English-speaking world--a sort of Sidney Sheldon of the Edwardian era. Now, his novels are banished to the musty shelves of old-fashioned romance and historical fiction, but his supernatural tales live on, most especially "The Upper Berth" and "The Screaming Skull."

Lee Weinstein has collected all eight of Crawford's supernatural stories, some of them gothic in the extreme, others oozing pathos. But this author was at his best when writing of the sea and its unforgiving dead. Many of his stories retain a place of honor in ghostly anthologies for their atmosphere of slowly-building horror. I am in agreement with Lee Weinstein when he says, "One can only regret that he did not write more of them."

"The Dead Smile"--A gothic tale of forbidden love and vengeance from beyond the tomb. We 21st century readers are a bit more used to dealing with the theme of incest, but when Crawford published this tale, it must have shocked many Victorian sensibilities. Incestuous hints abound. The evil, dying Sir Hugh Ockram, his son, and his son's fiancée all have the same hellish smile: "...She smiled--and the smile was like the shadow of death and the seal of damnation upon her pure, young face." The best scenes are in the vault below the castle, where the Lords of Ockram lie in burial shrouds, but not entombed.

"The Screaming Skull"--A doctor murders his wife by pouring molten lead in her ear. He dies mysteriously with his throat torn out. The old seaman who inherits the doctor's cottage also inherits a skull in a hat box. Something inside the skull rattles when he shakes it. When he tries to get rid of the skull, the screams begin.

"Man Overboard!"--This story was worth the price of the book for me, because I'd never seen it before, and it's a great ghost story. Just let the obscure nautical language flow past you, e.g. "I coiled down the mizzen-topsail downhaul myself, and was going aft to see how she headed up..." This is a story of identical twin brothers who both love the same woman. When they go to sea on the 'Boston Belle,' one brother is swept overboard during a storm and drowns--but somehow remains part of the crew. As is true in most supernatural stories featuring a wedding, the innocent bride meets a horrible fate.

"For the Blood is the Life"--I don't much care for vampire stories, but this one is wonderfully eerie. Two men are dining on the roof of an old tower-fortress on the Southern Italian coast. After moonrise, the guest sees a figure lying on a mound of earth near the tower and goes to investigate. When he returns, his host tells him the story of the grave-mound.

"The Upper Berth"--A business traveler who makes many Atlantic crossings secures a berth on the 'Kamchatka,' bound for Liverpool. He requests a room with a double bunk and is disappointed to learn that he will have a roommate in the upper berth. The first night of the voyage, his roommate runs screaming out of the small room and throws himself overboard. The business traveler learns that three other men who booked into room 105 have killed themselves in the same fashion, and he is determined to investigate.

"By the Waters of Paradise"--A gothic tale that has a happy ending for a change. A melancholy young man is raised by his superstitious Welsh nurse in an ancestral castle, surrounded by gardens and fountains. One night the old nurse sees "One--two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" Sure enough, his parents die, and the nurse tells her charge the story of the Woman of the Water. Will the new lord of Cairngorm be able to escape the curse?

"The Doll's Ghost"--An old man repairs a rich girl's doll and becomes so fond of it he can hardly bear to part with it. Finally, he instructs his young daughter to return the doll to its owner. The daughter doesn't return, but the doll does.

"The King's Messenger"--A man is seated between a lovely young girl and her beloved at a dinner party, and learns that his right-hand neighbor is the King's Messenger. After the girl disappears, he discovers what the man really does." - E. A. Lovitt


Stanley Crawford

Gascoyne - Stanley Crawford

Reviews:

"Stanley Crawford's 1966 novel "Gascoyne" is the sort of book that hooks you on the first page. Not only that, it grabs you and runs away with such momentum that, at least for the first 100 pages of the novel, you almost don't want to blink. The bizarre anti-hero of the book, Gascoyne, at first appears to be a private detective but then, maybe, a fiendish uber-capitalist bent on something like world domination. Not only that, Gascoyne seems to be not entirely human. He passes weeks at a time in his car, contrives to always go double the speed limit in a traffic-choked city, runs a huge company with only a handful of employees knowing him by sight, and manages to thrive on a diet of Ritz crackers, sardines, and chocolate bars.

The book is a dark, modern satire on the order of "Dr. Strangelove" or DeLillo's "White Noise." The doggedly-bleak, burlesque tone sometimes becomes wearying, but usually you'll go ahead and laugh at the jokes (whether you feel good about it or not) because Crawford allows you no choice in the matter. Take the following passage in which Gascoyne spies on a misbehaving wife, just recently widowed. Gascoyne climbs a ladder, looks in a window, and:

"First there's the Widow Roughah stretched out on the bed naked as all hell and second more or less on top of her is the hairy-chested fake giant tree sloth, and I think some people sure like to butter their bread funny. I always thought there was more than meets the eye in that woman and now I know what. But I really feel sorry for the poor b*stard inside the sloth suit which must smell like twenty-nine jockstraps in a pressure cooker. But maybe he likes that, you never know."

As wild a ride as "Gascoyne" is, there is something that brings it down in the end. Crawford's error comes in allowing his deep cynicism to infect his storytelling technique. It really seems that Crawford felt that things weren't worth tying together, even in a marginal way, and that he just stopped writing when he got bored with the character. So, when all is said and done, the book leaves enough loose ends cluttering up the landscape to make you feel not only irritated but a bit ripped off. If a little more care had been taken with the ending, the novel might have ranked with other counter-culture classics of the period, such as the novels of Rudolph Wurlitzer and Richard Brautigan." - A. C. Walter


Frederick Crews

The Pooh Perplex - Frederick Crews

Reviews:

"I ran across a reference to Postmodern Pooh about a week ago, and I decided to read Crews' first Pooh satire before reading the latest. What a gas! Crews takes the prevalent methods of literary criticism leading up to the 1960s and apes them with a deft touch. One of my favorite moments was when "C. J. L. Culpepper, D.Litt., Oxon.," after determining the Christic nature of Eeyore, declares that Christopher Robin is a stand-in for God the Father. He proves this simply: "Christopher Robin" is an anagram for "I HOPE CHRIST BORN. R." ("I take this to be a decree in the hortatory imperative, dispatched to the Heavenly Host, urging the speedy fulfillment of the Incarnation and signed 'R' for REX.")

Admittedly, the book does drag at times, but only rarely, and probably due to Crews' too perfect mimicry of the rather dry literary personae being roasted over the flames. Not many books make me laugh out loud on every page -- this is one of them." - Chris Tessone


Harry Crews

A Feast of Snakes - Harry Crews

Reviews:

"Only Harry Crews could write a novel filled with unlikable charcters who have no redeeming qualities and make it work. That Crews is an outstanding writer should be a given to those familiar with his work. That his writing is often angry and depressing should come as no surprise. But I never would have thought he had a book like "A Feast Of Snakes" in him. This is the written equivalent of a shotgun blast to the belly.

"A Feast Of Snakes" is more than an angry book; it boils over with rage. Joe Lon Mackey isn't just a Southern redneck stereotype, he is the embodiment of the frustration and desperation of America's rural poor. "Deliverance" reads like a fairy tale in comparison to this novel.

The tone of "A Feast Of Snakes" is vile and hateful. It feels like Crews' most personal work, perhaps written at a time when Crews was going through a living hell of his own. Like Joe Lon Mackey, Crews comes from a poor, rural area of Georgia. Unlike Joe Lon, Crews' skills afforded him the opportunity to break away from the endless cycle of violence, ignorance, hatred and self destruction that is Joe Lon's life. But Crews hasn't forgotten. As detestable as Joe Lon is, it is obvious that Crews has a certain respect for - or at least feels a kinship with - the character.

You will likely feel unsettled after reading this novel. You may feel angry. You will certainly feel something and you will feel it intensely. This book grabs you by the throat and bangs your head against the wall for seemingly no reason. But maybe there is a reason. Maybe someone finally realized that in order to properly convey the impotent fury of the Joe Lon's of the world, the story must be written with cold, hard, unflinching honesty. Love it or hate it, you simply can't deny the truth that Crews has the guts to tell with a defiant pride." - M. Langhoff


John Crowley

Little, Big - John Crowley

Amazon:

"You don't have to like science fiction or fantasy to love Little, Big. Anyone who appreciates beautifully crafted writing and books that touch the deepest part of soul should find what their looking for here. John Crowley is one of the most wonderful writers in existence and Little, Big is certainly his best effort to date. His wonderful (and wondrous) books do unfold without a lot of John Grisham action, so if that's your idea of great literature, Little, Big probably wouldn't be for you.

About half of this gorgeous story takes place in New York City, although Crowley never actually calls it that, he just writes, "the City," while the other half takes place at Edgewood (you will find as you read that none of the names in this book are chosen at random, each has a special significance that eventually becomes crystal clear). Edgewood is an unsurpassingly complicated house, built around the turn of the century, by an architect whose wife could see...faeries.

Although we never meet the faeries directly in this novel, their presence is felt through almost all of the book. They are the faeries of A Midsummer Night's Dream, embodying the qualities of mischievousness, whimsy, capriciousness and untrustworthiness. The faeries are also an odd mix of power and vulnerability, but their spirit is in decline. Much of what happens in Little, Big happens because the faeries must rejuvenate the old with the new. Far from being a simple tale of magic or fantasy, this a highly complex one; Little, Big is a mammoth work of more than 600 pages in length.

The story begins with Smoky Barnable, an ordinary man who marries into an extraordinary family (the architect's great-granddaughter). It is Smoky who introduces us to Edgewood and to the subtle, but fantastic presence that his wife's family seems to take for granted. Smoky has a difficult time adjusting and sometimes he feels as though he's the only sane person in an otherwise insane world. The other residents of Edgewood see it differently; they somehow realize that a grand scheme is being played out and that once it is, their lives, as well as the lives of the faeries, will take on a luminous new meaning.

As we near the end of the century, Smoky's son Auberon leaves Edgewood for the City. It is, however, not quite the magical city that Smoky knew. There is a depression, nothing runs quite like it should and a feeling of dread looms over all. Against this background of dread, Auberon meets and falls in love with Sylvie. It is her disappearance that provides the catalyst for the final act of the faeries' scheme.

Despite Little, Big's length, not a word in the book is wasted. Everything is essential, everything is perfect and everything is perfectly placed. There are digressions and detours, but they all have their purpose. And, even if they didn't, they are a joy to read, in and of themselves.

This is a book that unfolds slowly, like new Spring leaves or roses on a perfect summer's day, but slowly is just right for Little, Big. Crowley conveys so many emotions in this book: joy, sorrow, loss, lust but most of all, love. By the time you reach the end, you come to a slow but perfect understanding of why the faeries' rejuvenation is so crucial. This is a beautiful and beautifully-told tale and one that lingers...like a lover's kiss or the end of that perfect summer's day." - A Reader


Seamus Cullen

Astra and Flondrix - Seamus Cullen

Reviews:

"I'm sure that there's a world where in 100 years, students writing scholarly dissertations about fantasy novels will come across this book and address it as a fine example of subgenre. At that point, it may gain cult status, who knows?

I had to give this book one extra star for sheer creativity-- whether it was the farm-wife who was (*ahem*) extra-close to her sheep or whether it was the cruddy curse of the human king, Cullen clearly doesn't have a problem with his imagination.

The plot was tedious, nothing more than an excuse to feature the various anatomical ways that elves, dwarves, deer, sheep, humans, and chickens (this is not an exaggeration) can interact. Even the erotica had very little virtue except a clearly vivid imagination behind it.

Champions of the very strange may get something out of this." - frumiousb


DDD


Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves (2000) - Mark Z. Danielewski

Reviews:

"This postmodern, typographically chaotic novel is a monstrous book, both in page numbers and ambition. It is the literary equivalent of "The Ring." As we learn in the introduction, Johnny Truant, a tattoo parlor employee, has come into possession of a trunk full of bizarre scraps of paper once owned by an old blind man, Zampano, now dead. The papers comprise an exploration of a cult film called "The Navidson Record" and its sub-films, documentaries about an ever-expanding house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside and which consumes the lives of anyone who enters its dark hallways or watches the tapes. Johnny becomes himself obsessed with Zampano's papers and, in turn, with the Navidson house. He is haunted by the beast he smells and the descending madness he had no inclination to stop. The book itself is the melding of Zampano's papers, Johnny's footnote digressions into his own life and its troubles, and the debate among academics as they struggle to make sense of a film that probably never existed. The result is a dark, wild, often hilarious, sometimes excruciatingly boring foray into the meaning of home, family, love, and self.

The structure of the novel is innovative, with Johnny Truant's story unfolding in footnotes and in the appendices, while Zampano describes the film and the academics bicker over its meaning in the body. The most riveting narrative thread in this novel is of Navidson's and others' descents into the smooth walled, dark cavern of the mysterious hallway. The consequences on Navidson's marriage and on those he loves are devastating, and the reader is swept into both the horror and the need for hope. Johnny's story is less compelling, especially as the house fades into the background and his story takes over. The academic over-analysis is tons of fun - as long as you have the patience to get over the dryness to find the kernel it has been working toward. For example, early in the book, Danielewski (in the writings of Zampano) provides a lengthy academic discussion of the myth of Echo and its scientific and literary significance, only to derail it with a Johnny Truant footnote telling the reader that "Frankly I'd of rec'd a quick skip past the whole echo ramble were it not for those six lines . . ."

Even more bizarre than the telling of Truant's tale in footnotes is the typographical methods used to visually evoke the house in the Navidson Record. The words become their own labyrinth, with "hallways" of text enclosed in blue boxes; they sometimes inhabit corners only, or skip up and down the pages, one or two words at a time. When the characters don't know which way is up, the reader is twisting and turning the physical book to read upside down and sideways. You have to see the book to fully appreciate the visual hijinks Danielewski uses. It can take a long time to read certain sections, only to find that you can flip through several pages with just a glance at each.

Despite the suspenseful plot, HOUSE OF LEAVES is anything but a quick read. Its satisfaction is derived more from its individual parts than as a whole since it ends, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, not with a bang but a whimper. I recommend this for patient readers and for those who delight in experimental turns in fiction." - Debbie Lee Wesselmann

"Nor will you find your way out of Danielewski¿s House of Leaves, with its stories within stories, its devious subterranean measurements, its extra dimensions. Footnotes stumble through the text like wayward explorers: sometimes a little closer to home, sometimes completely lost-and losing the reader too. Additional text at the coda of the book serves only to provide some lovely epistolary entertainment that, alas, cannot, under questioning, justify its presence in the narrative. Nonetheless, the Blair Witch-meets-Kierkegaard main story of a family that moves into a house only to find that their house is bigger on the inside than the outside¿namely, an extra six feet of corridor, leading down into a potentially endless series of labyrinths¿is brilliant, meshed as it is with the idea that the photographer head of the family filmed the horrible happenings¿and these film fragments are distributed to folks who think it is a fictional horror movie. Apparently, the house, or the space where the house currently exists, has been around for a long time...

The fractured narrative, the narratives within narratives, the changing points of view, all create a believability that would have been lacking using a traditional narrative structure. Of small import but of great glee to the reader: Danielewski leavens his story with quotes about the film from famous artists, filmmakers, etc., but in such a way that the text absorbs them¿70 years from now, when no one knows who Dr. Joyce Brothers is, her quote will still resonate in this book. The first, joyous, utterly absorbing outburst from a writer who will, one day, write books that are not so much outbursts as beautifully intricate works of art, each element in its proper place.

Motor through the footnotes and the typography experiments as they are but juvenilia next to other such experiments by Alasdair Gray, et al. Instead, focus the meat of your attention on the meat of the text, that it and you may feast on each other in equally ravenous fashion. - Mark VanderMeer


Avram Davidson

The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy - Avram Davidson

Reviews:

"Long before the words "magical realism" ever cropped up in literary criticism, Avram Davidson was quietly creating a spectacular body of erudite, eloquent, evocative history-as-myth. The Dr. Eszterhazy stories, along with the Vergil novels and "Adventures in Unhistory", are the pinnacle of his accomplishment.

No one has ever had a better ear for dialect, a better sense of the self-importance of minor officials, a better notion of how Balkan politics play out in the back-alleys of minor capitals. And certainly no one has ever had such a perfect (and reverent) sense of the ridiculous, when it comes to the probable behavior of the Vicar-at-Large of the Unreconciled Zwinglians, or the demands of the Frores for an independent Bureau of Weights and Measures, or the universal value of a glass of shnopps, wudky, or St. Martin's." - A Customer

The Other Nineteenth Century - Avram Davidson

Reviews:

"In stories, magic books have the decency to advertise themselves. They come with disturbing skin bindings and huge forbidding clasps, and faded gilt lettering warning the reader not to open this one. Sadly, this is real life, and I have been captured by a magic book disguised as a perfectly ordinary hardback: Avram Davidson's The Other Nineteenth Century. It's grabbed me and sunk itself into my brain, and it's not even as if there were any spells. There are only short stories, but they are living stories. They act like simple, well written tales until the end, when every one of them leaps up to surprise and snatch the reader.

The first story, "O Brave Old World," shows a world nearly our own. The faces in it grow increasingly familiar, until by the end a history that never was seems inevitable and true. "The Singular Incident of the Dog on the Beach" features some familiar characters, on loan from another imagination. "Summon the Watch" tells of the heroism of two old ladies who are just unimportant enough to have lived unnoticed by history.

Avram Davidson plainly studied the history of the real nineteenth century, and there are several stories here seemingly designed to send readers themselves on research trips. "One Morning With Samuel, Dorothy and William" features the heartbreak of broken inspiration. "Traveler From an Antique Land" and "The Deed of the Deft-Footed Dragon" give a new view on two scandals of the day, one now largely forgotten and one famous. "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" might be described as an almost-war story, and captures carefully a moment on its way to changing history. These mysteries were closed, but the last turn of these tales opens them up again.

Another story inspired by true history, "Buchanan's Head," deals with a possibly evil piece of sculpture and more properly belongs in the category of Things That Should Not Be. It is joined there by the goddess Diana ("Great is Diana"), a monster of the Americas ("The Peninsula") and a being from either outer space or the demon dimensions ("What Strange Stars and Skies"). In their luggage they carry a demonically possessed camera ("The Montavarde Camera"), and a sort of television tuned to a frightening channel ("The Account of Mr. Ira Davidson"). These louder monsters are joined by the quietly cursed family of "Twenty Three." Davidson writes them all with the same sense of offended order and rationalized hysteria that made the great Victorian horror writers so wonderful.

Perhaps the oddest presentation of a story here is "Mickelrede; or the Slayer and the Staff." It's presented as an outline of a novel by Davidson, who thus posthumously collaborates with Michael Swanwick. It deals with alternate realities, arcane and obsolete technology, and the contestants in the human race who didn't quite reach the finish line. While the knowledge that such a lovely story wasn't completed is teeth-gnashingly frustrating, the outline form is compelling on its own. Like an artist's gesture drawing, it captures a spontaneity that would have been lost in a more complete form.

All this leaves out the more benign and unique oddities roaming these pages; the moderately unfortunate time traveler, strange cryptozoological discoveries, and tragically lost technological advances. There are immortal warriors, scheming witch doctors, and proud tax frauds. Each one tells their story eloquently, and with more shine than I can give them. And they all latch into the brain, leaving their own reality after their pages have stopped.

Even the Afterword following each story is interesting. If the stories are living creatures, then the afterwords are trail guides, indicating where they live and where more of them might be found. I intend to follow, and hope to be held captive by such good company more often." - Sarah Meador

The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998)

Avram Davidson died in 1993, 70 years old and too young. He was, as is so often said, one of the great originals. His writing was elegant and complex, always adapted to the voices of his narrators and characters, and always at some level humorous even when telling a dark story. He was one of those writers whose stories were consistently enjoyable for just wallowing in the prose, with its sprung rhythms and fine, out of the way, images. His stories also were enjoyable for wallowing in atmosphere, with their evocation of exotic place-times, whether it be late-50s New York City or early-70s Belize, turn-of-the-century Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania or far-future Barnum's Planet, and for their evocation of exotic world-views, and the packing and repacking of wondrous, seemingly inconsequential (though rarely truly so) background tidbits of history and unhistory. His best stories took these characteristics and harnessed them in the service of well-honed themes or (sometimes) clever plots.
...
Davidson was at the same time an instantly recognizable writer, with an eccentric and lovable prose style, and a writer of great range. He could do straight comedy, quirky horror, mystery, social criticism, pure fantasy, mainstream, and at least relatively hard SF. (OK, pretty squishy, but real SF for all that.) He's shown in all these phases in this anthology (and of course, many stories combine several of the above features). So read "Author, Author" for comedy, "Dagon" for eerie horror, "The Necessity of His Condition" for bitter social commentary, and "Now Let Us Sleep" for SF (and also bitter social commentary).
... Rich Horton

Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy (1991)


Robertson Davies

The Deptford Trilogy - Robertson Davies

Reviews:

"I had read some Robertson Davies in the past--Murther and Walking Spirits and The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks--and thought him a fine curmudgeon and a fine Canadian writer, but I had not given him much thought beyond this. I find this to my detriment now, for I remember friends who always had a copy of one or other of his novels about, and I faintly recall many recommendations in the past. So, what made me finally pick up one of these and read it? The recommendation, passed to me second-hand, by my favorite writer, Jonathan Carroll, given as one of his influences for conceiving novels with interlinking characters.

Fifth Business is a marvelous book, and while it doesn't have quite the same mystery or horror of Carroll, it does have an excellent style, and there is indeed a twist or two along the way to keep most any reader sated. Basically the autobiography of Dunstable Ramsay, born around the turn of the century in the small Canadian town of Deptford, Fifth Business details not only Ramsay's life, but also the life of his oldest friend, Percy "Boy" Staunton. What makes this novel so remarkable is how realistic the portrayal is, without bogging down in pages of mundane description. Over the course of the novel, one's understanding for Dunstable grows, both in positive and negative turns, and by the end, he is as an old friend of one's own.

Based on some of the cover blurbs, I had expected a little more magic realism, or at least an edge of the fantastic, to this book, and while it may be there, it is consistently down-played. Normally I am not one to go in for fiction without at least a feeling of the extraordinary, but Davies writing style kept me glued to the page, reading longer into the night than I would ordinarily wish during the work week. And I learned many things, including what the term hagiography refers to, and some feeling for Canada and their strange ties to Britain and the world.

But it is the aspect of Fifth Business itself where this book receives full credit for its recommendation. "Fifth Business" refers to, as related in the novel:

"You don't know what this is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna--always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.

So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex. And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot."

Dunstable is indeed Fifth Business, for he does know the secret of the hero's birth, and does come to the assistance of the heroine, and keeps a woman in her cell, and may even be the cause of Boy Staunton's murder. The trick is discovering who exactly is the hero, and the assistance only lasts for a short time, and being locked in a cell is not always advantageous, and who exactly did murder Boy Staunton? These and more questions are brought up in Fifth Business, some of which are answered.

The Manticore picks up almost where Fifth Business lets off, but quickly reverts to flashback to tell some of the same story from the point of view of Boy Staunton's son, David. David's recollection of some of the events as told by Ramsay are colored by his own life, including the fear introduced by his sister that David is not actually Boy's son, but Ramsay's. Whereas Ramsey was fifth business to Boy Staunton, David is a star in his own story, which is told by a journal that he writes to discuss with his psychotherapist.

It sounds dull, and at times it slows due to the conceit, but Davies has a way of interjecting interest right as you are about to put away the novel. Two-thirds into the novel and it breaks away from the psychotherapy, returns to the "present" of the trilogy, and reunites us with Ramsay and some of the other characters from Fifth Business. The problem with The Manticore is that it is the middle novel, without the refreshing newness of the opening and lacking the rush towards the climax of the concluding novel.

And what a rush World of Wonders is--once again, it covers some of the same ground of the two previous novels, filling in detail about magician Magnus Eisingrim (nee Paul Dempster of Deptford) that also provides additional insight into Ramsey and, in the end, Boy Staunton. Of the three novels, World of Wonders is closest to Carroll. Rather than tell the story from Magnus viewpoint, Davies switches back to Ramsay. However, the story Ramsay tells is of the biographical confessions of Magnus. This way Davies can tell the story from a new viewpoint while retaining the mysterious nature of Magnus (who is the closest to the unreliable narrator used by Carroll) to keep the secret of Boy Staunton's death until the closing minutes. Magnus' history isn't pretty, and the World of Wonders is as a carnival sideshow, full of flash but hiding a seedy underbelly. However, Magnus is not unhappy with his lot, looking back over his life, which is one of the aspects of the story that haunts Ramsay, who feels somewhat responsible (along with Staunton) for Paul Dempster's early life. The philosophical aspect of this is interesting--Davies implies that, while taking responsibility of one's actions is important, there is a statute of limitations on guilt.

The Deptford Trilogy is a strong suite of novels, cunningly wrought and well worth your time. I regret that I had waited this long to discover them." - Glen Engel Cox

The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks - Robertson Davies


S. F. X. Dean

Harry Dean at Prep - S. F. X. Dean


Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists - Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab - Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists - Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon - Gideon Defoe


Walter De La Mare

Desert Islands and Robinson Crusoe - Walter De La Mare


Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany


Lawrence Dennis

The Dynamics of War and Revolution - Lawrence Dennis

Reviews:

_The Dynamics of War and Revolution_ was written by American interventionist capitalist Lawrence Dennis in 1940 just before the involvement of the United States in World War II on the side of the Allies. In this book Lawrence Dennis predicts the coming war in which America was to be immersed and shows why fighting this war will ultimately be not in the best interests of the American people. World War II was sold to the American people on the grounds that it would "make the world safe from fascism" - in which the United States fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan - but as Lawrence Dennis shows by instituting an Industrial Mobilization Plan as well as the New Deal legislation, FDR in effect was able to bring about the fascist revolution here in America. Lawrence Dennis sees in fascism (and national socialism, of course) as well as in the communism of Stalin the revolution and the birth of socialism. According to Dennis, capitalism and democracy were brought about by revolution (the Industrial Revolution) and once this revolution has taken effect the subsequent socialist revolution (resulting in "dictatorship of the proletariat" as predicted by Karl Marx) is inevitable. Dennis argues that Hitler had been able to bring about the revolution in Germany by capturing the capitalists through anti-communism, the nationalists through anti-Versailles rhetoric, and the masses through the anti-Semitic delusion. (Indeed according to Karl Marx, anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.) Rather than preserving capitalism as the bourgeois in Germany had hoped, Hitler in fact had destroyed it and brought about socialism and thus the revolution. Dennis notes how the existence of usury through finance capitalism makes possible interventionist involvement overseas, by the Americans. By issuing fiat money the capitalists force industry to increase production and that this excess must be sent overseas. In times of peace, this is easy enough to do through foreign aid. However, eventually it becomes necessary to do so through war. This is indeed what the elite have intended. Dennis writes this book for the elite and not the masses, having naturally little faith in the mass man or in democracy itself. For the in-elite, the contents of this book are already known and are being used to bring the country into a war. But for the out-elite, this knowledge may prove valuable in their attempt to remain afloat during the subsequent revolution (brought about through the war). Dennis seems to have sympathy for socialism as opposed to liberalism (capitalism plus democracy), although his remarks are largely intended to be merely prophetic and factual without actually taking a side on the whole issue of morality. To Dennis, the current capitalist system fueled through finance capitalism is not in the best interests of the people of the United States and thus will be toppled. Dennis argues that a new "folk unity" among the American people will be made necessary through the subsequent war and the coming revolution in America.

Lawrence Dennis was an early writer who saw the development of socialism within America subsequent to the Second World War. At the time, his comments were greeted with much disapproval from the elite (including FDR and his minions) and he was subsequently tried for sedition. While Dennis wrote in the interests of America, he noted that while he personally was opposed to the coming war, he would do what was in his power to defend America after the war had started (either through propaganda writing or otherwise). This book is one that bypasses the usual Left/Right divide and takes a look at the capitalist situation from a third perspective. Republished by Noontide Press, this book promises to open some eyes to the immorality of the capitalist system which fuels revolution within the United States and across the world. In an era in which a war has been declared on "terror" these writings by Lawrence Dennis are all the more important today." - Prometheus "zosimos"


Maria Dermout

The Ten Thousand Things - Maria Dermout

NYRB

The Ten Thousand Things is a novel of shimmering strangeness--the story of Felicia, who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to the house and garden that were her birthplace, over which her powerful grandmother still presides. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present. First published in Holland in 1955, Maria Dermout's novel was immediately recognized as a magical work, like nothing else Dutch--or European--literature had seen before. The Ten Thousand Things is an entranced vision of a far-off place that is as convincingly real and intimate as it is exotic, a book that is at once a lament and an ecstatic ode to nature and life.


G. V. Desani

All About H. Hatter - G. V. Desani

Reviews:

'all about h. hatterr', by the indian author g.v. desani is a novel whose popularity is a bit like the rain in some parts of india - either there's not a drop to be seen or there's a monsoon. when the book first appeared in 1948, it was greeted with a flood of critical acclaim and rare enthusiasm by many distinguished literary critics, including the poet t.s. eliot. a few years later it sank into obscurity, dismissed by the previously enthusiastic west as "just a little savoury from the colonies" - going out of print in 1951 - only to emerge in the seventies as a 'modern classic', with a laudatory introduction by english author anthony burgess (author of 'the clockwork orange' and many other novels, as well as a scholar of james joyce), who called it 'capacious hold-all of a book'. it then again vanished (and went out of print) for another decade, mouldering in crates, until salman rushdie - fter receiving the booker prize for 'midnight's children' in 1981 - acknowledged desani as his literary predecessor and brought 'all about h. hatterr' back into the spotlight. sometime in the mid-eighties it predictably submerged once again and is presently out of print (even in india). but one can still find copies floating about (on the ebbing flood of its 80s popularity); recently, I quite easily located a nice hardback - the first Indian edition (from 1985!)

Bas! Enough of printery-shimentery! So, if you'll kindly allow me to adopt the lingo of H. Hatterr (more on this below) for the nonce, or, to put it most specific, for this paragraph - one might quite understandably be wondering at this moment in time: - Damme, who is this Desani bloke you're on about? And H. Hatterr, what's that feller's obsession with twices, vis a vis, his orthographical peculiarities? What the hell does he need two H's for, much less two T's, and two R's is sheer bloody extravagance. Well, now, I'll tell you all about...

... our friend H.H., who is a charming clever-naïve Anglo-Indian seeking [1] wisdom from the seven sages of India, [2] a bit of ready lucre and [3] the elusive charms of certain females, including a lion(ess)-tamer. Mr Hatterr's 'autobiographical' (as it is presented) recounts the various misfortunes and humiliations he undergoes on his quest for the aforementioned goals: wisdom, capital and carnal knowledge [interjection: I just realised that H.H.'s pursuits match nicely against those set down in the ancient Sanskrit 'Dharma Shastras' ("Law Codes"): the 'Manusmriti' (social philosophy), the 'Arthashastra' (wealth, material gain & kingship) and the well-known 'Kama Sutra' (love & pleasure) - sorry, back to the story...¦]. These punishments include being run out of the European club, getting tricked by dubious swamis, his wife leaving him, having an 'evil spirit' forcibly 'exorcised' and coming damn close to being devoured by a 'tame' beast. His only true friend is his 'Indian pal; Banerrji, who annoys H.H. by quoting to him from the Bible, Shakespeare and the Kama Sutra, and who inadvertently causes many of Hatterr's misfortunes. - Dooyoo
...


Denis Diderot

Jacques the Fatalist - Denis Diderot

Reviews:

"Two centuries or so before "modern" writers began writing experimental novels, Denis Diderot, the force behind the Encyclopaedia effort, wrote this strange and indeed very "modern" novel in which the author leads a conversation with the reader, asking him where he (or she, of course) would want to go and what to do with the characters and the story. Here we see the author in the very process of creation, exposing his doubts, exploring his options, and playing with the story.

There is really no plot as such. Jacques, a man who seems to believe everything that happens is already written "up on high", but who nonetheless keeps making decisions for himself, is riding through France with his unnamed master, a man who is skeptic of Jacques's determinism but who remains rather passive throughout the book. Fate and the creator-author will put repeatedly to test Jacques's theory, through a series of more or less fortunate accidents and situations, as well as by way of numerous asides in the form of subplots or stories.

The novel is totally disjointed and these asides and subplots blurb all over the place, always interrupted themselves by other happenings. The most interesting of them is the story of Madame de Pommeroy and her bitter but ultimately ineffectual revenge on her ex-lover.

Diderot confesses to having taken much from Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" and Cervantes's "Don Quixote". This last novel's influence seems obvious at two levels: Cervantes also talks to the reader, especially in Part Two, and also reflects abundantly on the creative process. Moreover, the tone and environment of the book is very similar to the Quixote: two people engaged in an endless philosophical conversations while roaming around the countryside and facing several adventures which serve to illustrate one or antoher point of view.

Diderot's humour is bawdy and practical and the book is fun to read. The exact philosophical point is not clearcut, but it will leave the reader wondering about Destiny, Fate, and Free Will." - Guillermo Maynez


Norman Dixon

On the Psychology of Military Incompetence - Norman Dixon

Reviews:

"As an active duty officer, I found this book to be not only highly entertaining but highly enlightening as well. Dixon could have ground an axe here, but he didn't. His writing is clear, concise, logical, eminently readable, and very accurate in a depiction of what actually goes on in the minds of some officers. While his emphasis is on character development, there is some discussion of unit character as well. A great book for those interested in why we think the way we do, and we can only hope someday, somewhere, someone will publish a second, updated version which includes organizational behavior which reinforces incompetence. His allusions to "The General" by C. Forester are quite appropriate. Definitely a book to be read by active duty as well as civilians." - A Customer


Jim Dodge

Fup - Jim Dodge

Reviews:

"We once read exerpts at a college Thanksgiving dinner and discovered that while most of us were soon gasping for breath from laughing so hard at that one part where..., our friends from Germany, Sweden, and Japan thought it was amusing, but didn't react at the same deep level. So although this is the book I give to all my new friends, I know it doesn't work for everyone. It also doesn't work for people who have never had dirt under their fingernails. For the rest of us, it's short and funny and deeply real.

It's a book about a duck. And a boar. And Tiny, who builds fences. And Grandaddy Jake Santee, with his Ol' Death Whisper whiskey.

It's a book about livin'." - Amy A. Hanson


Jose Donoso

The Obscene Bird of Night - Jose Donoso

Amazon:

"The mutations of characters, the non-linear style in which this story is told, the repetitions, shifts in perspective add to make this work a remarkable book. Without a doubt not only one of the finest magical realist works I've ever stumbled upon, but one of the finest novels I have ever read.

As the work has multiple foundations, one of the major ones about Humberto Penaloza, who as a child & adolescent was always told by his father that he must become something, it doesn't matter what, as long as Humberto doesn't go through the same social obscurity that he endures. Later on, he becomes the assistant to Jeronimo, a wealthy politician who is trying to lengthen the family tree. His wife, Ines de Azcoitia is unable to bear him children. Then through either an act of black magic, or Humberto's intimacy Jeronimo is given his child. The child, simply called Boy, is horribly deformed. Jeronimo decides to build the child it's own world, entirely secluded from anything outside of it and surrounded by other people with monstrosities. Humberto is put in charge, and becomes the abnormal one in this newly formed world where deformities is not the exception but the rule. Humberto's abnormality is his plain everyman look, social obscurity. He ends his days in a former catholic church, now peopled by elderly women, either nuns or former servants waiting to die.

This book works on so many different levels & they're always communicating to one another, effortlessly the past becomes the present, it is a hallucinatory poetic parade of the grotesque and the beautfiul, of the grotesque as the beautiful. It is also a commentary on domination in its many forms- husband & wife, father & son, the elderly & the young, master & servant. Sometimes the dominant position is usurped & the roles are reversed.

It's no wonder that both Carlos Fuentes & Luis Bunuel considered it to be a masterpiece." - Scott M. Eaton


Edward Dorn

Gunslinger - Edward Dorn

"The epic is conceivably the endpoint of the modernist implosion into premodern aesthetics and anti-formal/anti-perspectival tribal art. Whether that makes GUNSLINGER modern, postmodern, or premodern is anyone's guess, 5 of 8 dentists prefer "postmodern." The book smears semantics and Heidegger and cocaine into a psychedelic, post-industrial dreamscape. Ed Dorn studied an americanized version of "psychogeography" at the Black Mountain College with Charles Olson and Robert Creely which contributed to the development of his slow-acid-laced-western-sound poetry aesthetic: "I have no wish to continue my debate with men, my mare lathers with tedium, her hooves are dry. Look, they are covered with the alkali of the enormous space between here and formerly."(Gunglinger, Book 1). This should be read with some cigars and cactus and MM's cover of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show's "Get My Rocks Off" and Beck's parenthetical "Lazy Flies" ("The skin of a robot vibrates with pleasure, Matrons and gigolos Carouse in the parlor")." - Wesley Moore


Hal Dresner

The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books - Hal Dresner


Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn

Reviews:

"Lovers of language and readers looking for a unique experience, take note! Ella Minnow Pea is the fascinating story of an independent island nation off the coast of the U.S. (fictional, of course) named after their national hero, Nevin Nollop, originator of the renowned sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Known to all novice typists, this "pangram" contains all letters of the alphabet, with very few repeats.

Nollop has been exalted to saint status for his achievement, and when the monument to his memory--and his memorable pangram--begins to lose letters, town leaders interpret it as a sign from the afterworld that each lost letter must be successively eliminated from all oral and written communication. It is a challenge that is progressively difficult for residents to meet, and they must find creative ways to stay within the law or join the rebels who risk public punishment or even exile. Author Mark Dunn also accepts the challenge of eliminating each letter successively from his novel, which is written entirely as correspondence between two young women in their late teens and other island inhabitants.

Not only an intellectual exercise (although an amazingly successful one), Ella Minnow Pea is an engrossing story as well--both a biting condemnation of a government fanatically self-righteous in its enforcement of the increasingly impossible laws it has imposed, and a hilarious account of the residents' antics in the face of absurdity.

A quick but enthralling read, the book reaches an eminently satisfying conclusion that will leave readers shaking their heads in admiration and struggling to create their own pangrams." - Margie Bunting


Mary Dunn

Lady Addle Remembers: Being the Memoirs of Lady Addle of Eigg - Mary Dunn

Wikipedia:

"Lady Blanche Addle was a fictitious character created by the British author Mary Dunn (1900 -1958) First published in the 1930's Dunn's Lady Addle books amusingly parody and satire of the then British upper classes, and paricularly the works of Walburga, Lady Paget; Daisy, Princess of Pless and Adeline, Countess of Cardigan and Lancastre. It could also have mentioned Lady Sybil Grant.In her two books Mary Dunn traces the life Lady Blanche Addle nee Coot daughter of the 13th Earl of Coot from her Victorian childhood until World War II.

The books are written in the first person in the form of "memoirs". Lady Blanche details in gushing tones the daily and mundane details of her and her family's uneventful life in such a fashion that she believes they will be of great interest to future generations. written with a subtle humour of which Lady Addle is seemingly unaware. Lady Addle fancies herself a poetess and author whose literary works are of high merit when in fact they are banal, and she gives hilarious suggestions on cookery and entertaining as serious fact.

A second character detailed in the books is "Millicent, Duchess of Brisket", commonly known as "Mipsie." She is Lady Blanche's much married sister, a nymphomaniac, black marketeer, brothel keeper and gold digger, facts which Lady Blanche unwittingly details while concentrating only on the tragedies of Mipsie's life, and how misunderstood she is.

The books are illustrated by genuine Victorian photographs of members of the British upper class that have been hideously altered. For example, Lady Blanche's mother is heavy-browed and cross-eyed, yet the photograph is captioned "My beautiful Mother", Mipsie always shown with wild hair and protruding teeth is captioned "Mipsie at her loveliest"

Lady Blanche symbolises in a humorous way those females of the early 20th century, British aristocracy who subconsciously felt themselves more talented and intelligent than those of less exalted birth encouraged by a period when it was not uncommon for the pronouncements and literary efforts off upper class women to be eagerly consumed by an aspiring bourgeoisie."


EEE


Jean Echenoz

Piano (2005) - Jean Echenoz

Amazon:

"Goncourt-winner Echenoz offers a cheeky take on the dubious pleasures of the afterlife in this slim, sly novel, which tracks the adventures of a musician after he dies. Max Delmarc is a talented Paris concert pianist burdened by a terrible case of stage fright, unrequited love for a vanished woman named Rose and a weakness for the bottle. On the way home from a benefit concert, Delmarc is mugged and stabbed; he wakes in an afterlife "Orientation Center," part hospital, part hotel, part jail. In his weeklong stay, he gets plastic surgery to repair his stab wound; enjoys a romantic interlude with Doris Day, a nurse at the facility; and is then assigned to "the urban zone"â¿""I mean, to Paris, you understand," he's told. There's a brief side trip to South America, but soon Delmarc is back in the City of Lights, under orders not to contact anyone from his former life or play music. Delmarc quickly violates both rules by leaving his job as a hotel bartender to take a position as a lounge pianist in a more upscale hotel and by embarking on a search for Rose, whom he saw as the love of his life despite his inability to connect with her. Echenoz's satiric style makes the somewhat limited afterlife concept work, and he includes some surprisingly effective plot twists. The result is a quirky, slight novel that offers an original take on human potential and folly." - Publication Weekly


George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails - George Alec Effinger


Joyce Elbrecht & Lydia Fakundiny

The Restorationist Text One: A Collaborative Fiction by Jael B. Juba - Joyce Elbrecht & Lydia Fakundiny

Reviews:

"This witty, labyrinthine postmodernist kaleidoscope is, among other things, a complex murder mystery, a feminist discourse and a metafictional riff on the possibilities of language and imagination. Elizabeth Harding, a strong-willed, divorced professor from upstate New York, buys a run-down historic house on Florida's Gulf Coast, planning to renovate it over the summer of 1977. On the day she takes possession, she stumbles on the corpse of the previous tenant. An old Creole woman rumored to practice voodoo is a suspect; her grandmother was the original owner of the house now believed to be haunted. The plot thickens when the body of a private eye dressed in a KKK robe is discovered--impaled on the fence surrounding Harding's property. Retired philosophy professor Elbrecht and Cornell English professor Fakundiny have created a fictive authorial persona, "Jael B. Juba," who interjects comments on the unfolding action. With referents ranging from Freud to Foucault to Greek myth and Hamlet , the text, a dazzling riot of exfoliating prose, deconstructs eros, selves and archetypes as it probes such themes as the trivialization of desire in a consumerist culture and the loss of individuality within a group." - Publisher's Weekly


Mircea Eliade

Two Strange Tales (2001) - Mircea Eliade

Amazon:

"This book contains two extraordinarily vivid and dramatic stories. The first one, "Night at Serampore", describes an episode (probably containing some amount of autobiographical experience) involving some strange kind of time travel or "fall into the past" whereby one night while staying as a guest in an old rural indian mansion the main protagonist becomes in most misterious circumstances an involuntary witness to long past events. This extraordinary experience could seemingly be due, as the story tends to suggest, to the influence of advanced tantric meditators who presumably had been involved that same night in some kind of secret powerful yogic-tantric rituals in a nearby area...

The second story, "The Secret of Dr. Honigsberger" is based on a real character, an indologist scholar who dissappeared in somewhat mysterious circumstances quite a long time ago. Eliade takes this fact as a starting point for a most thrilling story narrating the experience of a student that is called by Dr. Honigsberger's widow in order to review and order the personal notes and papers left by her late husband in the hope of finding some clues regarding his dissapearance. The facts given by the story indicate that the dissapearance had taken place quite some time ago in the scholar's own house and in unexplainable circumstances. ...The rest is a masterful narration of a most exciting investigation dealing with occult yogic practices in a haunting environment... As to the real Dr. Honigsberger, there are some hints about this most curious event in a book containing a long interview to Eliade whose exact title in the english version I can't recall but that probably goes as "The Test of the Labyrinth",...or something close to this.

It is important to note that both stories contain serious and authoritative information and details concerning yogic practices. After all, we must keep in mind that Mircea Eliade was a top world authority in the History of Religions and a most knowledgeable expert in Indian Religion. Must be read by those who search for the mysterious and extraordinary,...and for good and well documented literature as well." - Marcos A. Gallardo


Stanley Ellin

The Specialty of the House - Stanley Ellin


Carol Emshwiller

Carmen Dog - Carol Emshwiller

Amazon:

"Something strange is going on as the psychiatrist explains to his new patient Pooch the dog that "the beast changes to a woman and the woman changes to a beast". Pooch the dog turned woman worries about the baby as the mother has become a snapping turtle while the father seems mystified about the changes, but not overly concerned. Things come to a head or perhaps a bite when the turtle-mother bites the baby and refuses to let go until Pooch takes a lit match to the neo-beast's neck. Since the father remains uninvolved, pooch decides to flee with the baby for the infant's sake.

However, pooch has to reconsider her decision when they arrive in New York City when the Central Park Wolverine gang threatens them and the scientists at the Academy of Motherhood want to test her and throw away the baby. Men do what they do best; ignore the goings-on as dogs make better companions than women.

Using personification to satirize relationships, especially gender stereotypes, Carol Emshwiller provides an amusing look at acceptable societal roles that stifle people. The story line is at its best when it skewers how humans behave and how we assume "beasts" behave. When it spins into mad scientists on the loose conspiracy, CARMAN DOG loses some of its acerbic bite as the bark becomes louder not keener. Still this is a deep swift satire that will have the audience laughing yet also thinking about its underlying warning that labeling and classifying negatively oversimplifies everyone." - Harriet Klausner


H. C. Engelbrecht

Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Armament Industry - H. C. Engelbrecht

online version

Anti-Imperialist's Reading List - Joseph Stromberg

War, Peace and the State - Joseph Stromberg

Manual for Apprentice Book Burners - James J. Martin


Percival Everett

God's Country - Percival Everett

Amazon:

"It is this reviewer's opinion that Percival Everett's God's Country is nothing short of a mini-masterpiece. Set in 1871 and narrated by a very unlucky cowpoke, Curt Marder, the book shows the good, bad, and ugly aspects of life in God's Country (the proverbial Wild West).

The story opens with marauders burning Curt's ranch, kidnapping his wife, Sadie, and committing the ultimate indiscretion of shooting his beloved dog. Curt, a spineless coward and ardent racist, does nothing to stop them and watches from a distance as his home is destroyed. He hires Bubba, the best tracker in the area (who happens to be African American), to lead him to the culprits (and subsequently Sadie) in exchange for half the ranch. It is in the journey to save Sadie that Curt constantly witnesses and benefits from Bubba's selfless acts of benevolence and humanity, but is blinded by racism, stupidity, and ignorance to realize the errors of his ways. Instead, he consistently lies, steals, and cheats, largely driven by greed and his own self-interests.

Mr. Everett is an excellent writer having pulled off such a spoofy odyssey. Through his words, the reader experiences the sights, sounds, and smells of hard living in hard times. It is a relatively short novel that is richly saturated with dark humor and unforgettable, wonderfully imagined characters with names like Wide Clyde McBride, Pickle Cheeseboro, and Taharry whose speech impediment causes him to preface every word with "ta," thus earning him his unusual name. The book even includes a "cameo" appearance of "Injun killin'" George Cluster and bank robbers reminiscent of the James/Younger Gang.

This book touched on so many issues (the "isms") on a number of levels. Through the misadventures of Curt and Bubba, the author covers the institutionalized racism and social injustices that Native, Asian, and African Americans endured. There are painful scenes of an Indian tribe massacre and a lynching of an innocent black boy. The sexism exhibited against women in the West was evidenced in the Jake and Loretta storylines, and the emerging socio-economic strata (classism) between western landowners was touched upon as well. However, for me, the most powerful messages were saved in the last few pages of the novel's surprise ending. Without revealing too much, I thought it was clever in the way that the author paralleled Bubba's "dream" to live freely without fear or judgment to MLK's desire to be judged by the content of one's character and not by skin color. Curt comments that Bubba's dream did not sound like much of a dream summed up the underlying arrogance and indifference toward his fellow man that resonated throughout the story.

This is the second book I have read by this author and I have not been disappointed yet. I am looking forward to picking up his other works as time permits." - Phyllis Rhodes


FFF


Philip Jose Farmer

Venus on the Half-Shell - Philip Jose Farmer

Reviews:

"The following is excerpted from Edger Chapman, The Magic Labyrinth of Philip Jose Farmer, (San Bernardino: Borgo Press, 1984) 64-65.

Farmer's most important parody and fictional author story is Venus On The Half-Shell (1975), published by Dell books under the byline "Kilgore Trout." Trout is Vonnegut's itinerant, impoverished science fiction author, a prophet despised and without honor in his own country. A strong admirer of Vonnegut, Farmer has also confessed to a deep identification with Trout (who was actually suggested by Theodore Sturgeon). The identification was strengthened by many things: Farmer's own years as a struggling science fiction author in the early and middle stages of his career; Farmer's experience as a misunderstood social critic; and Farmer's identification with pornography as an Essex House author, a fate that plagued Trout. Finally, not long after Farmer had returned to Peoria, he was accused in 1970 of having written a letter signed "Trout" in the Peoria Journal Star criticizing President Nixon's Vietnam policy-another ironic identification of Farmer and Trout. (The letter is believed to have actually been penned by a college student.)

At any rate, Farmer, when afflicted with a temporary writer's block, conceived the idea of writing one of Trout's nonexistent novels and publishing it under Trout's name. He obtained Vonnegut's permission and went to work. When Venus on the Half-Shell was published by Dell, with Farmer wearing a false beard and a Confederate hat as a disguise on the back cover, the book was a ninety-day wonder, until Farmer's authorship, which Farmer made little effort to conceal, became known. Although the novel brought Farmer some unaccustomed notoriety (and made Vonnegut regret giving his permission to the project), the revelation of Farmer's authorship created a tendency to dismiss the work as simply an amusing parody and literary hoax. An additional irony in this episode has been Vonnegut's claim in a recent interview with Charles Platt (recorded in a book published in 1980) that Farmer failed to avow his authorship of Venus for a long period, presumably in the hope that sales would be increased by association with Vonnegut's reputation. This allegation, however, is not borne out by fact: Farmer told numerous friends, colleagues, and fans of his authorship; in fact, he informed the present writer of it when Venus was appearing as a serial in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Vonnegut's reaction is perhaps not surprising, since Trout is his invention. But when Vonnegut professes to feel anxiety that Farmer's book may somehow have harmed his literary reputation, it is hard to take him seriously. Such concern might have been better devoted to the effect of Vonnegut's self-indulgent seventies novels, Breakfast of Champions and Slapstick.

Divorced from topicality and controversy, Venus On The Half-Shell can be read as a lively satirical anatomy, an absurdist novel that manages to parody Vonnegut while ridiculing human pretentiousness and our persistent search for metaphysical answers in an irrational universe. . .

As a satire, Venus On The Half-Shell has many excellent moments, but it contrasts sharply with Vonnegut's work. Whereas Vonnegut is Juvenalian or Swiftian in his tone, his work suggesting genuine misanthropy, Farmer is a genial Horatian satirist here. There seems to be more readiness to accept the limitations of human life in Farmer, more hopefulness about the human capacity to enjoy life, even if dreams and ideals are for the most part doomed to not to be realized completely." - A Customer

Lord Tyger - Philip Jose Farmer

Reviews:

"Now that Philip Jose Farmer's wild books from the late 1960's-mid 1970's that are being reprinted, the reintroduction of "Lord Tyger" to the world appears overdue. It is the best Farmer book of this period. The title character is a Tarzan-like individual who is raised by people he doesn't believe to be human, attains mastery of the jungle and its animal denizens, and torments the local tribe of primitives (the Wantso). The descriptions of LT's encounters with the Wantso and the chieftain of a rival tribe are entertaining and frequently hilarious. No SF writer has more fun with the science of anthropology than Farmer.

The entire novel is a fast read and packed with adventure. At his best, Farmer's adventures seem to contain as many ideas, plot turns and dramatic action sequences as entire series by more mediocre authors. I had the misfortune of trying to read two volumes of the "Decology" by "L Ron Hubbard" many years ago, and it's plain to me that average SF adventure writers do not have what Farmer had, especially around the time of "Lord Tyger."

Farmer is a dedicated fan of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and books like "Lord Tyger" make Farmer appear to be a more informed and (much) less restrained Burroughs. This is a pastiche of what I consider to be the best of the Tarzan books (I, VI and VII), which I recommend. The idea of the "noble savage" by Rousseau gets ill treatment here, especially if one's idea of "noble" is based on civilized ideals. In fact, the presence of Tyger's insane benefactor Boygur speaks to the rather sick consequences of trying to make monsters out of men.

"Lord Tyger," like all of Farmer's Tarzan-inspired fiction, is worth seeking out and buying. It is excellent, but clearly not for younger readers." - P. Kufahl

Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke - Philip Jose Farmer

Reviews:

"Far too long out of print, TARZAN ALIVE: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF LORD GREYSTOKE is a postmodern classic that will appeal to readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Philip José Farmer, as well as those interested in parascholarship, fictional biographies, and literature in general. This is the book that launched the concept of the Wold Newton family, the genetic lineage exposed to a radioactive meteorite in 1795, thus spawning a number of great detectives, scientists, explorers, and adventurers, some of whom border on the superhuman. Farmer's addendums, expanding this concept to include a multitude of literary characters (such as those from Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and Jack London's THE SEA WOLF, to name only a couple), alone make the cost of this book worth it.

This is truly the definitive edition of TARZAN ALIVE, and Bison Books has wisely added a number of extras that will make this edition worth owning even if one already has a Doubleday, Popular Library, or Playboy Paperbacks copy of the book. Collected here, but missing from the older versions of the book, are two gems: 1) "Extracts from the Memoirs of `Lord Greystoke' (previously only available in the hard to find anthology MOTHER WAS A LOVELY BEAST); and 2) "Tarzan Lives: An Exclusive Interview with the Eighth Duke of Greystoke" (in which Farmer himself interviews the Jungle Lord). Further, the Bison Books edition includes an insightful new foreword by Win Scott Eckert (editor of MYTHS FOR THE MODERN AGE: PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER'S WOLD NEWTON UNIVERSE), which places TARZAN ALIVE in the context of "Sherlockian biographical scholarship," showing how Farmer's book is truly exemplary (and also transcendent) in the field of fictional biography. This is followed by a new introduction by science fiction author Mike Resnick discussing Farmer's other Tarzan pastiches.

The book itself is a compelling read. Farmer treats the subject of his "biography" as a living person about whom Edgar Rice Burroughs chronicled in fictionalized form. This livens up what otherwise would be a dry summary of ERB's Tarzan series, as Farmer often interjects with persuasive comments, conjectures, and elaborations in the brilliant style that is unique to him. In TARZAN ALIVE, Farmer breaths new life into the legend of Tarzan, all out of a respectful love for the character which pours from every word on every page of this delightfully wonderful work." - Christopher Carey

Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life - Philip Jose Farmer


J. G. Farrell

The Siege of Krishnapur - J. G. Farrell

Amazon:

For those seeking greater insights into Britain's imperial ethos, I urge you to read THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR, by the late(and great)Anglo-Irish writer J.G. Farrell. It's about the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, when thousands of native Indian Army troops (know as Sepoys) rose up against their English masters. The bloody mutiny began in Meerut barracks in May of '57 and quickly spread along a 500-mile string of cities and villages in northern India. It was finally put down five months later. Marked by appalling atrocities on both sides, thousands of Indians and hundreds of Europeans were slaughtered. The proximal cause of the uprising was the introduction of rifle cartridges greased with animal fat, which was unacceptable on religious grounds to both Hindus and Muslims. The underlying (if at the time unarticulated) cause of course rested in dissatisfaction on the part of Indians, the inhabitants of an ancient and sophisticated civilization, over their subjugation by foreigners.

In the 18th century, the presence of the British in India, most of whom were men, was generally benign and not much noticed. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the behavior of the British toward Indians had become increasingly oppressive and arrogant, in large part due to the presence of English wives, who ghettoized the English communities and regarded all native Indians with fear and contempt. After the rebellion, such attitudes hardened and became pervasive; this in turn fed the resolve of Indians to expel the British from their country - which they did 92 years later. Although there is no record of it, at the time, a few thoughtful Englishmen must have recognized that the rebellion was an indelible sign of what would inevitably follow.

The centerpiece, if you will, of the Sepoy Rebellion was the four-month siege by the rebels of the Residency at Lucknow. The "residency" was in fact a large, walled compound which served as the British administrative center of an area consisting of thousand of square miles and millions of inhabitants. It was also the social center of the British community and the home of the "Collector", the region's chief administrative officer. THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR, first published in 1973 and winner of the Booker Prize that year, is a fictionalized account of the Lucknow siege - although most of the incidents related in the book actually occurred and most of the characters are based on real people.

THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR is, bar none, my favorite 20th century novel. It is a sublime book that has everything - elegant, crystalline writing, vividness, tight novelistic structure, tremendous scope and depth, action, excitement, moving, convincing sentiment, comedy and tragedy, uproarious savage satire and searing irony. Supporting these virtues is a serious philosophical discourse about the nature of human progress as it is reflected in the efforts of Westerners to "civilize" the rest of the world. For all of that, although KRISHNAPUR demands close attention, for the literate, it is a highly accessible, highly satisfying "read". I know that you'll enjoy it, and in reading it will, I believe, learn a bit more about the human condition.

Should you be inspired to learn more about the Sepoy Rebellion, I recommend Christopher Hibbert's THE GREAT MUTINY, Viking, l978. And for a trenchant, entertaining examination of day-to-day life during the Raj (from the British perspective), see PLAIN TALES FROM THE RAJ, edited by Charles Allen (Holt, Rinehart, l985)

Absurdly, J.G. Farrell died in a fishing accident in 1979. Among his other works are: TROUBLES (1970), set in Dublin in l919, THE SINGAPORE GRIP (1978), set in Singapore in the weeks immediately before the Japanese invasion of the city in 1940, and the unfinished THE HILL STATION, set in Simla in pre-independence days.

Troubles - J. G. Farrell


Raymond Federman

Double or Nothing - Raymond Federman

Reviews:

"Double or Nothing" is a concrete novel in which the words become physical materials on the page. Federman gives each of these pages a shape or structure, most often a diagram or picture. The words move, cluster, jostle, and collide in a tour de force full of puns, parodies, and imitations. Within these startling and playful structures Federman develops two characters and two narratives. These stories are simultaneous and not chronological. The first deals with the narrator and his effort to make the book itself; the second, the story the narrator intends to tell, presents a young man's arrival in America. The narrator obsesses over making his narrative to the point of not making it. All of his choices for the story are made and remade. He tallies his accounts and checks his provisions. His questioning and indecision force the reader into another radical sense of the novel. The young man, whose story is to be told, also emerges from his obsessions. Madly transfixing details-- noodles, toilet paper, toothpaste, a first subway ride, a sock full of dollars-- become milestones in a discovery of America. These details, combined with Federman's feel for the desperation of his characters, create a book that is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. The concrete play of its language, its use of found materials, give the viewer/reader a sense of constant and strange discovery. To turn these pages is to turn the corners of a world of words as full as any novel or literary discourse ever presented. "Double or Nothing" challenges the way we read fiction and the way we see words, and in the process, gives us back more of our own world and our real dilemmas than we are used to getting. "Invention of this quality ranks the book among the fictional masterpieces of our age..." - Richard Kostelanetz

"This is a terrific book, clever and rollicking and inventive and funny and haunting and all those good adjectives. But this edition is terribly disappointing; the text is set in a proportional font, which makes all the "concrete" games and shapes look cheesy. The pages (spoiler alert?) where the text is run together with no spaces between the words, for instance, are significantly easier to read in this edition, and a great deal is lost because of it. Try to hunt down a copy of the first (1971) edition if you can; this edition is a dim shadow of that one. (Hence the 4 stars -- really I'd give this edition much less but it is a five star book and a poor job of keeping it in print is better than none at all.)" - Chris Pluma


Jules Feiffer

Ackroyd: A Mystery of Identity - Jules Feiffer

Reviews:

"Whodunnit? Who's Who? And, more importantly, "who the hell am I?" He solved the case of the missing parakeets. Now if he could only figure out who he was... Jules Feiffer works his easy-going wit and biting social satire into his second novel "Ackroyd," which begins as a parody of the Raymond Chandler school of detective fiction, but ultimately asks the age-old question: Is identity merely a metaphysical conceit? A shamus who may or may not be a sham, Roger Ackroyd (named after the victim in Agatha Christie's most shocking novel) is hired to investigate a case of writer's block by sports writer Oscar Plante. Over the course of five years, in between the bonhomie of Elaine's and tangling with unconventional femmes fatales, Ackroyd's personality begins to merge with his client's as he acquires his ex-wife, his mistress and, eventually, his craft. In "Ackroyd," Feiffer uses the detective genre to further his investigations into human neuroses, and to re-imagine the artist as a young sleuth forced to cope with a corrupt world. Originally published in 1977." - jacket copy


Juan Filloy

Op Oloop - Juan Filloy


Stephen Fine

Molly Dear: The Autobiography of an Android - Stephen Fine


Charles G. Finney

The Circus of Dr. Lao - Charles G. Finney

Review - Ian Shoales

Review - David Maddox

A mysterious circus rolls into town by means of neither roads nor train. Its advertisement promises sights and wonders as yet unseen by mortal man. Its owner is a chameleonic Asian man of uncertain age and origin. Though at first unimpressed with its run-down appearance (heck, it doesn't even have an elephant!), the mundane citizens of Abalone, Arizona are soon to learn that the circus contains a bizarre collection of myths, oddities, fables and lore that will challenge the very nature of their lives and beliefs.

Charles G. Finney's 1935 classic The Circus of Dr. Lao is a difficult book to describe. Although he wrote a handful of books in his career, this is the only one with lasting power. It was made into a film in 1964 (under the name The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao) in which Tony Randall played all the strange denizens of the circus. But while the film took a straightforward approach with the message of enjoying the miracles of life all around us, the book is much more obtuse.
...

Review - Mike Simanoff

Review - Edward Hoagland


Amazon:

"Finney writes as though he had been possessed by the spirit of Ambrose Bierce, and to me, that's a GOOD thing. More of a short story than a novel (I last read it in the space of a single afternoon), "The Circus" shines light in many directions and is best appreciated after more than a single reading. Frankly, I'm astonished that it got published in the first place, and even more surprised that it here receives what amounts to a "Criterion Collection" sort of treatment, including reproductions of the illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff from the first edition.

The citizens of Abalone (plus a few visitors) are scathingly protrayed in amazingly understated passages. Presented with actual unicorns, satyrs, sea serpents, mermaids, and other "fabulous" creatures and miracles, hardly any of the townspeople can muster more than a yawn and a shrug. The ultimate spectacle, the sacrifice of a virgin to the giant bronze god of the rotten-to-the-core city of Woldercan, is absolutely a gem.

The use of several racial epithets does nothing to reflect on Finney - it doesn't take a super-astute reader to understand Finney is reflecting on his *characters*, yes, even in 1935.

As most reviewers have noted - this is NOT a children's book. And while the Tony Randall film of 1960 has some of its own charm (thank you, Barbara Eden!!), it is a kiddy-fied, watered-down version of this story. It was probably Finney's experience as a newspaperman that soured him on human nature - it must be an occpational hazard, since he shares that experience with the afore-mentioned Bierce as well as with another arch-cynic, Cyril Kornbluth of "Marching Morons" fame. The writing style varies (intentionally) from pulp to inspired to crisp and concise, sometimes all on a single page. Obviously not a book for everyone, but I find it refreshing, enlightening, and supremely entertaining." - Mark Shanks


Ronald Firbank

Five Novels - Ronald Firbank

"Ronald Firbank, whose forty-year lifespan (1886-1926) covers a particularly bountiful era of English prose artistry, is so eccentrically individual an author he almost seems to be a creature invented by Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. His five short novels, collected in this New Directions Paperback edition, are utterly unclassifiable; no genre suggests itself when they are being read. His prose, as fastidiously styled as a coiffured poodle, as twee as an afternoon tea, is bewilderingly florid even beyond the standards of his contemporaries. With the descriptive proclivities of an interior decorator, he paints with all the colors on the palette; an orchid is not just an orchid but a "rose-lipped" orchid with a "lilac beard." England had not seen lyrical flamboyance like this since Oscar Wilde a quarter century before, and would not see it again until the ascendance of Freddie Mercury a half century later.

But Firbank's writing is not just fancy window dressing. His stories may look like fairy tales because of the whimsical characters and settings, but his narrative technique fractures the linearity of the plots by focusing on external details. In "The Flower Beneath the Foot," for example, the subject of the conversation in the first few pages is not immediately apparent, but disclosure gradually occurs over the course of the following chapters: His Weariness the Prince Yousef's mother, the Queen of some mythical Arabesque realm called the Land of Dates, disapproves of her son's desire to marry the humble convent-dwelling Mademoiselle de Nazianzi instead of Princess Elsie of England. Not until the final paragraph does Firbank dispel the story's genteel facade to reveal a passionately beating, and broken, heart.

Firbank's characters are garish works of art, most of them either impossibly frivolous nobles of theatrically exaggerated primness or paupers with pride and dignity. As in "The Flower Beneath the Foot," a common theme is star-crossed love, a romance between two people of different social stations. This love can be interracial, as it is in "Valmouth," a British colony with a climate so salubrious that the inhabitants live well over a hundred years, as well as in another novel with an evidently Caribbean setting and a controversial title which I refrain from typing so as not to have to wrestle with the Amazon censorship filter. Infatuation can also be grotesque, as it is in "The Artificial Princess," whose heroine, reluctantly betrothed to a foreign Crown Prince, unwittingly encounters the Devil on the night of her debut.

Firbank, one of the first of many English Catholic writers to emerge in the twentieth century, is comfortable setting one of his novels in Spain. "Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli" is self-explanatory, as the good cardinal, who allows aristocratic dogs to be baptized as a favor to wealthy patrons and disguises himself in the street as laity of either gender, risks being defrocked by the Roman church for his perceived sacrileges.

This is humor, but of a less obvious sort; unlike P.G. Wodehouse, who made a handsome living with his comical portraits of the upper class, Firbank doesn't target a specific group of people or stratum of society, nor does he seem interested in such petty substantiality. His fiction, insulated in a world unscarred by war and populated by dainty animated dolls, is an idyllic extension of reality, somehow a reminder of the limitless expanse of literature where formulas lose their validity and time stands still. Toss aside all your preconceptions, because these novellas will surprise you." - A. J.


Tibor Fischer

The Thought Gang - Tibor Fischer

Reviews:

"Middle-aged layabout Eddie Coffin wakes up naked & groggy in an apartment full of child-pornography just as the police break in. If you ever find yourself in similar circumstances, Eddie advises "try to be good-humoured and polite" because "it makes the police fret about having got something wrong."

So begins this hilarious tale of a tenured philosopher at Cambridge who absconds with departmental funds to France, where he meets up with a deranged(?) one-armed robber named Hubert, a psychopath with "a gluttony for erudition." Soon the two of them are on an increasingly improbable crime-spree, rifling bank-vaults & schools of thought with equal aplomb.

As the loot mounts and the police circle ever closer, Eddie & Hubert decide to make one last, climactic heist, to put the capper on their caper career and to put their philosophical conclusions (which include contributions from the Ancient Greeks to Nietzche) to the ultimate practical test.

Tibor Fischer has created a side-splitting narrative that is as full of deep intelligence as it is full of belly-rending guffaws. This is a novel whose pace puts the average potboiler to shame and whose implications stretch the envelope for literary fiction. Eddie & Hubert are characters you will love to hate and vice-versa. If you have an appetite for Felony and Philosophy, then this book is a must-read, a re-read, and a keeper." - jjwylie


Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore - Penelope Fitzgerald

Amazon:

"Offshore possesses perfect, very odd pitch. In just over 130 pages of the wittiest and most melancholy prose, Penelope Fitzgerald limns the lives of "creatures neither of firm land nor water"--a group of barge-dwellers in London's Battersea Reach, circa 1961. One man, a marine artist whose commissions have dropped off since the war, is attempting to sell his decrepit craft before it sinks. Another, a dutiful businessman with a bored, mutinous wife, knows he should be landlocked but remains drawn to the muddy Thames. A third, Maurice, a male prostitute, doesn't even protest when a criminal acquaintance begins to use his barge as a depot for stolen goods: "The dangerous and the ridiculous were necessary to his life, otherwise tenderness would overwhelm him."

At the center of the novel--winner of the 1979 Booker Prize--are Nenna and her truant six- and 11-year-old daughters. The younger sibling "cared nothing for the future, and had, as a result, a great capacity for happiness." But the older girl is considerably less blithe. "Small and thin, with dark eyes which already showed an acceptance of the world's shortcomings," Fitzgerald writes, she "was not like her mother and even less like her father. The crucial moment when children realise that their parents are younger than they are had long since been passed by Martha."

Their father is farther afield. Unable to bear the prospect of living on the Grace, he's staying in Stoke Newington, part of London but a lost world to his wife and daughters. Meanwhile, Nenna spends her time going over incidents that seem to have led to her current situation, and the matter of some missing squash racquets becomes of increasing import. Though she is peaceful by nature, experience and poverty are wearing Nenna down. Her confidante Maurice, after a momentary spell of optimism, also returns to his life of little expectation and quiet acceptance: "Tenderly responsive to the self-deceptions of others, he was unfortunately too well able to understand his own."

Penelope Fitzgerald views her creations with deep but wry compassion. Having lived on a barge herself, she offers her expert spin on the dangers, graces, and whimsies of river life. Nenna, too, has become a savant, instantly recognizing on one occasion that the mud encasing the family cat is not from the Reach. This "sagacious brute" is almost as complex as his human counterparts, constantly forced to adjust her notions of vermin and authority. Though Stripey is capable of catching and killing very young rats, the older ones chase her. "The resulting uncertainty as to whether she was coming or going had made her, to some extent, mentally unstable."

As always, Fitzgerald is a master of the initially bizarre juxtaposition. Adjacent sentences often seem like delightful non sequiturs--until they flash together in an effortless evocation of character, era, and human absurdity. Nenna recalls, for instance, how the buds had dropped off the plant her husband rushed to the hospital when Martha was born. She "had never criticized the bloomless azalea. It was the other young mothers in the beds each side of her who had laughed at it. That had been 1951. Two of the new babies in the ward had been christened Festival." Tiny comical epiphanies such as these have caused the author to be dubbed a "British miniaturist." Yet the phrase utterly misses the risks Fitzgerald's novellas take, the discoveries they make, and the endless pleasures they provide." - Kerry Fried


Richard Flanagan

Gould's Book of Fish - Richard Flanagan

Amazon:

"In the reviews that are printed in the Grove Press Trade edition, I counted 22 renowned authors the critics cite with whom to compare Flanagan. The list is rather impressive and includes Joyce, Melville, Conrad, Rabelais, Borges, Hemingway, Marquez, Swift, Morrison, Pynchon, Sterne, Dante, Ovid, de Quincey, Heller, Dickens, Camus, Faulkner, Fielding, Smollet, Dostoevsky and, by inference, Peter Carey (the reference is to Carey's character, Ned Kelly in The True History of the Kelly Gang). Throw in a reference to Wuthering Heights (in terms of the book's lingering effect upon the reader's imagination) and you see the sort of playing field Flannagan is occupying. In terms of critical acclaim, the guy has arrived.

The praise is justified. Great novels introduce us to fully realized worlds, which burst forth from singular imaginations. This is just such a work. As T.S. Elliot noted, great literature also connotes, contains and reexpresses the great literature of the past. As you can infer from the number of references cited, this book acomplishes that.

Great works also contain great characters and William Buelow Gould, "sloe-souled, green-eyed, gap-toothed, shaggy-haired & grizzle-gutted" is as large and expressive a character as has been penned in recent literature. He's witty, expansive, loveable, colorful and as dimensional as they come. He's unforgettable, as are several of the other characters in the novel, most notably the penitentiary surgeon, Mr. Lempriere, in his passionate quest to become another Linnaeus, fellow convict Capois Death, who represents the life-force irrepressible. Towering over them all is the most surreal Commandant, once himself a convict, who through luck and subterfuge has assumed the identity of a British officer who perished in a shipwreck off the coast of Tasmania. He is rescued and taken back to the nearby penal colony, where he again lucks out when the old Commandant dies and there is no one else to replace him. He ultimately assumes absolute power and control over every guard, soldier and inmate in the colony and proceeds to engage all these unfortunate inhabitants in fullfilling his grandiose schemes. To accentuate his god-like stature, he has a gold mask fashioned for him, behind which his old identity disappears. His history and his fate, becomes inextricably linked with Gould's.

One word of warning, and it is the sort of warning that small children would be powerless to obey, but I know that I am writing to intelligent, mature readers here. Do not look at the final page of the book!! It will ruin the read for you, I assure you, and it is such a great read, you really don't want that to happen, do you? Remember the old adage about Curiosity and the fate of the cat!! Don't be led by your feline instincts!! Save the surprise for the right time! I know that I've just made that difficult for you, but it's just not worth it, I assure you! OK, now that that's settled, go get a copy of this treasure and prepare for a marvelous voyage." - Bruce Kendall


Gustavo Flaubert

Dictionary of Accepted Ideas - Gustavo Flaubert


Martyn J. Fogg

Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments - Martyn J. Fogg

Brian L. Davis on Amazon:

"While terraforming has been talked about for a long time in science fiction, it seems technical information about it is scarce. Martyn Fogg has compiled here the handbook of this diverse subject. Starting out by describing what terraforming is about (and what sort of grand engineering has been done to date), it then covers "engineering" Earth, Mars, Venus, and even the outer planets. How could you live "on" Jupiter? What would it take to make Io habitable? Spin up Venus? Shift the orbits of entire plants? It's here, and more. Rich in data, references, and calculations, it also covers both the planetary and biological aspects of the subject. Not for the math-phobic, but if you ever wondered "can you really do that?" about a science fiction terraforming idea, this will answer your question."

Terraforming Information Pages


Anatole France

Penguin Island - Anatole France


Max Frisch

I'm Not Stiller - Max Frisch

Reviews:

""I'm Not Stiller," by the Swiss writer Max Frisch exudes postwar high seriousness; it cannot wait to show off its many layers of meaning. First, "A Note to the Reader" informs us that we are being permitted to study "The strange history of Anatol Ludwig Stiller, sculptor, husband, lover . . . prisoner": the notebooks he wrote while in prison and his prosecutor's postscript. Then come several august lines from Kirkegaard on man's passion for freedom: the need to "choose oneself," rule out every possibility of becoming something else and, in that difficult choice, find happiness. Then comes the voice of Stiller himself: treacherous, evasive and compelling as an Edgar Allan Poe murderer or a Raymond Chandler detective.

He is a prisoner in Switzerland (a country "so clean one can hardly breathe for hygiene") and the Swiss officers who arrest him are convinced he is a certain Anatol Stiller, who disappeared six years ago, leaving behind a wife, a mistress, a moderately successful career and a few minor political scandals. But he insists he is Jim White, an American with a past that includes Mexican peasants, Texas cowboys, the docks and back alleys of Northern California, and three murders, as yet untraced.

Murders are committed, as it turns out, but as Stiller is brought face to face with the woman who says she is his wife and with the prosecutor who says Stiller has had an affair with his wife, it becomes clear that the murders in question are emotional, metaphorical and discreetly bourgeois. What binds Stiller and his strong-willed but long-suffering wife, Julika? A vacuum: the fact that they have never felt happy together or complete apart. What sets his dream of being another man in motion? A failure of nerve while fighting the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. And his homeland, economically secure, politically neutral Switzerland is "incapable of suffering in any way over a spiritual compromise," he says.

Mr. Frisch is not really a novelist of ideas; he's a dramatist of ideas. We live out our ideas through our daily lives, after all, and he grasps every nuance of those daily habits and compulsions. It is the tension between these details and the larger ambitions -- so grandly imagined, so absurdly lived out -- that makes the novel work." - fmeursault


Carlos Fuentes

Christopher Unborn - Carlos Fuentes

"This book was written on the eve of the 500th year anniversary marking the fateful encounter between the Spanish Euoropeans and the various indigenous groups of the Americas. Not so coincidently, the prolific, briliant writer Carlos Fuentes sets the circumstances to this novel to coincide with the event. The premise for the book is a contest being held in Mexico with a great prize offered for the first born child on the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival. The child is Christopher, the narrator of the novel who makes shrewd observations about the world he will be born into, all from the comfort of inside his mother. This allows Fuentes, the author, to rip into all of the ills of modern Mexico with his usually witty and sharp use of lanuage. A master at manipulation of common laguage, he changes the words to fit his vision. Several examples of how he changes words are Mexico City to Makesicko City, Kafkapulco, Quasimodo City, Samsaville, Huitzilopochtliburg or President Dangerous Dickson before the Watergate Waterloo, blockabulary for vocabulary,Califurnace, PornoCorno, Coca-Culo and Acapukelco(or did I make this last one up?). However this is nothing compared to the daggers Christopher throws at everything from the devastation of the earthquake and the aftermath, the PRI, Mexican history and all it's tragic consequences including the massacre at Tlateloco, the narco-polices ties to the narco traffickers themselves and in short, all is fair game for Fuentes via his narrator Christopher. His observations on popular culture include everything from Lennon to Lenin to Boy George. It is a scathing, passionate view of the world Chistopher will enter. Christopher contends his nine months inside his mother are when his life began and this comfort and fear of what is out there make the narration a brutal, wry, cynical commentary. The satirical view is enhanced by a cast of characters who all are part of the make up of a world Christopher will inherit. The action of the novel is a backdrop for a political campaign and all it's cast of characters both for and against.Some of the names of these politicos and associates are Deng Chopin, Hipi Toltec, Fagoaga, Matamoros Moreno, Robles Chacon and D.C Buckley just to name a few. Coming in at over five hundered pages it is no easy read but totally enjoyable. The literature flows beautifully, creating images as only Carlos Fuentes can. As one of the preeminent writers of our times, Fuentes unleashes a novel for the times that will be reflected upon years from now as a masterpiece marking the collision of worlds that occurred five hundred years ago. This is an excellent book for educators at the AP level in high school or college to use for a literature class or to supplement a history course. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Mexico and it's contemporary literature." - Enrique Torres


GGG


Patrick Gale

Facing the Tank - Patrick Gale

Amazon:

The British author of Kansas in August , The Aerodynamics of Pork and Ease (all published by age 25) has in this novel carried off yet another ridiculously crazy tour de force. The village of Barrowcester and its inhabitants are the launching point for the narrative's bizarre trajectory. An American professor known for his book about hell is now researching heaven in the Cathedral, where, coincidentally, the remains of the local saint are to be disinterred in order to repair a crumbling foundation wall. The bishop is having "Doubts," the landlady's daughter has been knocked up by a Cardinal, another villager is doing her best to summon the Devil, a previously homosexual dress designer with a positive AIDS test is marrying a black American doctor, a schoolboy thinks he has fathered a litter of puppies, and someone--or something--giant rats? a feral child?--is loose in the village. And that's not the half of it. The plot ricochets between the dozens of richly drawn characters, and one of the many reasons to devour this novel at one go is that it will make it easier to keep track. Some other reasons are that this book is a delightful read, albeit a strange one, and that if started at bedtime, pages will be turning inevitably into the wee small hours. If E. F. Benson, Iris Murdoch and Fay Weldon were to produce a story in some mad collusion, the result might be something like this.


Eduardo Galeano

Memory of Fire Trilogy:

1 - Genesis

2 - Faces and Masks

3 - Century of the Wind


John C. Gardner

Grendel (1971) - John C. Gardner

John Gardner Chronology

Grendel's Lair

Reviews:

"I'm amused by the angst of Gardner's critics. Many of them seem as misanthropic as Gardner's Grendel, and though many of the critics are respected colleagues, I find their review of Gardner's masterpiece to be skewed by their own prejudices, political leanings, or disbelief that any one would ever poke fun at a classical piece of literature. (Oh,what shameful disregard!)

Some have claimed that Grendel whines like a modern teenager. How do we know that wasn't Gardner's intent? As the artist, isn't it his prerogative to create his fictional landscape? And yes, the Dragon comes across like Timothy Leary on LSD but of course, that may exactly be the way Gardner wanted it to appear. One critique repines that Grendel's mother plays such a minor role in Grendel, and that unlike her revengeful and powerful character in Beowulf, she is reduced to a sleepy, unfit, and uncaring mother. So what! If Gardner portrayed her as a soccer mom whistling around Hrothgar's castle in a mini-van would that make you feel any better? Get over it! If he wanted, Gardner could have depicted Grendel's mother as a Dominatrix, outfitted in five inch stilettos and a Madonna cone bra, whipping the Danes senselessly, but appreciatively, in the dark dank corners of her cave.

What's important is this: Gardner is able to take a fairly dull minor literary character, breathe life into it, and make the character witty, funny, irreverent, and continually entertaining. The prose is clear and fluid like fountain water, and unlike the epic poem, the scenes flow quickly from paragraph to paragraph. For all its satire and macabre humor, the book is a quick and enjoyable read.

And yes, Grendel is a descendant of Cain, and the enemy of Christianity, but who amongst us hasn't seen an Unferth revealed in a Christian congregation? Like a lucid dissenting opinion, whereby the truth of an argument is clearly divulged, the hypocrisy of the Danes is exposed through the thoughts and utterances of Grendel, a creature supposedly incapable of even having a brain cell. His killing is cruel but how different are his murders from those of Hrothgar, his men, and the men of their enemies? Seems to me all the men did at the mead hall was eat, drink, and spray platitudes all through the air while plotting the destruction of those they feared and hated.

In Grendel's case, at least he thinks about what he does and questions it, mourns it, tries to seek a higher form of intelligence so he can understand it. The dim-witted men marching around the Hrothgar's castle do nothing of the sort. Regimented by the mores of their culture, they simply follow their senseless leader until a day comes forth where they all must bathe in their own blood.

As an aside, you would have thought, by the amount of leftists in this forum, that more than a handful or so of the reviewers would have drawn parallels to the Bush Administration. Certainly no liberal, even I can see Donald Rumsfeld cast as Hrothgar.

With regard to Gardner, there's no doubt he earned this masterpiece. This literary gem sits high on the bookrack at my home." - gary mack

"Grendel has a sarcastic and cynical mind, which serves to entertain both him and the reader. Through his expositions of situations, we see humor where others would simply see violence, and irony where others only fact. These others are the humans, the Danes, unwitting neighbors of Grendel, forced to stand night after night of slaughter. What is a traumatic and terrifying experience for them, is simply a game to Grendel, and the reader. Grendel bursts in on the Danes, ready to kill, and they squeak. They are funny in their fear, laughable in their drunken fighting. The reader is focused on Grendel's perception of the Danes. The deaths go by easily, because of the humor involved. It does not cross the reader's mind that these are people Grendle is killing. The humor allows the reader to sympathize with Grendel's position, that of the predator. The prey is not meaningful, only nutritious and entertaining. It is a macabre humor, which accentuates how no death is noble, it is simply death. By making the Danes un-heroic and un-ideal, cowards and drunkards, the author is presenting the reality through the humor.

In contrast to the drunken lurching of the others, Unferth comes toward Grendel with speeches and bravery. He is a puffed up as a peacock, proud and ready to die for his king, his people, his ideal. Grendel simply states, "He was one of those." Grendel sees Unferth with a clear and unbiased mind. He is ridiculous. His exaggerated heroism, his words, even his first move, to scuttle sideways like a crab from thirty feet away, is laughable. Grendle does with him what he does with no other Dane in the story, he talks.

Unferth offers Grendle death, and Grendle sends back taunts. The reason this scene is funny is because the taunts are sharply accurate. The self-sacrificing hero is shown to be a spotlight loving fool, serving only his own reputation. Grendel continues talking to Unferth, making the poor wretch angrier by the moment. At one point, he compares Unferth to a harvest virgin. Unferth attempts to begin his own speeches, but is always cut off by Grendel, who has another barb to throw at him. Finally, Unferth screams and charges, his voice breaking.

This scene, of escalating argument, presents a different type of humor. While the first was a slapstick, exaggerated and dark humor, the argument is more sarcastic, intelligent and cutting. It exposes the cruel reality of the hero; he serves only himself and his fame when helping others.

When Unferth charges him, Grendel does the unthinkable. He throws an apple at him. Unferth is astonished, and even loses his heroic vocabulary. He continues charging, and Grendel continues the barrage of apples. This scene is pure humiliation for Unferth, pure delight for Grendel, and entertaining for the reader. Grendel, murderer and monster, is hitting the hero with simple red apples. By doing this, he is breaking any type of significance the battle could ever have. The bards cannot sing of how the monster threw apples. It is symbolically important that Grendel throws apples. Unferth symbolizes a virgin, pure in ideal and purpose. The apple brought down the first virgin, Eve, as these apples bring him down. They represent the truth, the knowledge that Grendle is pelting him with. The hero ends up on the floor crying, and Grendel remarks to him "Such is life...such is dignity." This remark holds no pity, only scorn, and is funny in its viciousness.

Most of the humor in the novel is followed by some of the most chilling and melancholic pieces of prose. This contrast of the humoristic with the somber makes the despair Grendel feels a more striking emotion. Before being completely exposed to nihilism and solitude by the Dragon, Grendel is compared to a bunny rabbit because he was startled. The monster that terrified the Danes is terrified by the Dragon, who continues poking fun at him and his fear. The reader is presented with the impotent figure of Grendel, trying desperately to react in some way to the dragon's laughter, and not knowing how. He gets angry, which immediately makes the dragon deadly serious. What follows is the dragon stating in turn his truths about life and snide side remarks on humanity. The humor allows the reader to connect slightly with Grendel's feelings as they transition from the comedy to the drama, sometimes in a jarring fashion.

This same transition occurs in the interaction of Grendel and Unferth. The Dane is a broken man, both physically and mentally. He cries. He has a broken nose. The humor is lost as the reader begins to feel pity for him. Once we feel connected to the being suffering, the humor evaporates, leaving behind the message, ideals are false. The humor sets up the atmosphere and the elements of the message, but it is only in the alternate tone that the message is truly established.

Grendel's humor is the truth in some aspects and a farce in others. It contrasts sharply with the Dane's views but it is a valid view. At the same time, the humor in Grendel hides a deep despair and the root messages. Grendel makes fun of Unferth, but is more like Unferth that he could possibly guess. Unferth represents the hero brought down by the monster, and the shattering of his own beliefs. Grendel is a monster who has no beliefs, and is brought down by an unnamed hero. The dragon spares Grendel, while Unferth is by Grendel. Unferth is a cast out among the men, and Grendle is a cast out to all human society. Unferth seeks desperately to die in the fight, and regain some type of honor. Grendel seeks the fight for some type of recognition from the Danes. In a way, when Grendel makes fun of Unferth, he is hurting that part of himself he dislikes. He, through Unferth, is hitting at the pretensions." - A Reader

The Wreckage of Agathon - John Gardner

Reviews:

"This very modern novel of a down and out pre-Socratic philosopher, self-exiled from Athens to Sparta, has stayed vivid in my memory for 35 years and more. It combines razor sharp satire, low comedy, a philosphical playfulness that reminds you of Borges, and an aching, bittersweet recollection of a life firecely lived. I can't think of a more continuously entertaining book. What is amazing is that it also draws the reader into a deep and uncompromising confrontation with the most serious questions of loyalty and love." - Brian C. Holly


Alan Garner

Red Shift - Alan Garner

Reviews:

"I am amazed that Alan Garner's "Red Shift" is out of print, and also that I am the first reviewer of it on Amamzon.com

Garner's "Red Shift" is a culmination of his development as a novelist, starting with the fantasy adventure "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen", before he completely changed, and wrote his "Stone Book" quartet, stories of his ancestors, stonemason, blacksmith, and others. Increasingly, from "Weirdstone" to "Red Shift", Garner's use of fantasy moves from overt to inner. In his first books ancient forces, old gods and creatures, co-exist in our own modern world. Although Garner was not entirely original in writing such stories, it seems that his were the first that spawned many similar stories for children and adults. But the Merlin-like magician in "Weirdstone" develops into the psychological presence, a form of possession, in the modern characters of "The Owl Service" (the novel immediately before "Red Shift") who find themselves repeating the actions of love, lust, murder and revenge which are told in the Welsh myth of Llew Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebwyr in "The Mabingogion".

In "red Shift" the move from outer fantasy of "Weirdstone" to inner possession of modern characters in "Owl Service" becomes the shared consciousness, at moments of trancelike crisis for sets of characters living in three separate eras: post-Roman Britain, the English Civil War, and modern Manchester. An ancient Stone Age axe head is the focus of this possession-like shared consciousness.

Through "Red Shift" Garner tells three stories, each from a different time, but each set in the shared location, and each mirroring the pattern of relationships of the others. Through this book, a fourth relationship is demanded by Garner, namely the reader piecing together what is happening, and how each story connects with the others.

Few other writers attempt such complex, powerful narratives. Perhaps Robert Cormier, another difficult Young Adult writer, or William Mayne, come closest, with stories of similar narrative tangling, and emotional intensity: "I Am the Cheese" and "After the First Death" by Cormier, or "A Game of Dark" and "The Jersey Shore" by Mayne.

The experience of reading Garner, in "Red Shift", and later through the "Stone Quartet", is like that of reading poetry, or listening to music, where images, words, feelings and experiences resonate and connect, an event in one story chiming like an echo of another, forcing the reader to reconsider what has already been experenced in the light of new facets of similar actions. Neil Philip's study of Garner "A Fine Anger" is an excellent introduction to Garner's work, and his fascinating use of literary and mythic sources.

What is "Red Shift" about? Imagine a story of a boy and girl, on the edge of falling in love, each trapped in their own cage made of different family background, tormented by the differences between one another, and by their mutual betrayals. Meanwhile in post-Roman Britain, a lost patrol of Roman soldiers, surrounded by pagan tribes, decides to go tribal - descending into their own hearts of darkness, madness, rape and murder. And, at the same time, a simple-minded lad watches his adored girlfriend raped by soldiers in the English Civil War. Flashes of epileptic insight enable each of the central male characters to see through one another's eyes, hardly comprehending what is happening. The "red shift" itself is many things - a red petticoat, a bloody recourse to action, the hurtling apart of distant galazies, and the corresponding rushing apart of lonely people.

Very subtle. Undoubtedly difficult. But deeply rewarding!" - A Customer


Romain Gary

The Dance of Genghis Cohn - Romain Gary


Mary Gentle

Grunts - Mary Gentle

Reviews:

"Just as in every military campaign, in the Final Battle between the Dark and the Light, it's the ordinary soldiers who get the short end of the stick. On the Dark side, that means the orcs. Ashnak is a minion of the nameless necromancer, who in turn is lackey to the Dark Lord. When he and his orcs are sent on a secret mission in preparation for the Final Battle, he has no idea that it will turn his life and the lives of hundreds of orcs in an entirely new direction.

The nameless necromancer instructs Ashnak and Co. to act as a protective guard to Ned and Will Brandiman, two extremely nasty and murderous halfling thieves sent by the Dark Lord to steal special weapons from a dragon's hoard. But the dragon, Dagurashibanipal, has cursed the hoard with the following curse: What you steal, you shall become. Now, it just so happens that the dragon has accumulated some of its booty from other worlds... including ours. And what they steal from the dragon happens to be weaponry and uniforms courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. So the effect of the curse is to transform the orcs into MARINES, in all of their disciplined, well-trained glory. Or at least as disciplined and well-trained as bloodthirsty wild creatures can be...

Grunts is a satire, poking not so much at Tolkien as at his numerous formulaic imitators, and not so much at the United States Marines as at the body of blood-and-guts action films made in the '70's and '80's (think Rambo, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, etc.). It's also a parody of modern politics, and of alien invasion books/films (Starship Troopers REALLY takes a hit in Grunts). I won't encapsulate the entire plot -- there are too many nifty twists and I hate to put in too many spoilers -- but I will say that Mary Gentle is a delightfully twisted soul with a sharp eye for the ridiculous, and she pulls no punches here. ..." - Maria Nutick


Noel B. Gerson

Sad Swashbuckler: The Life of William Walker - Noel B. Gerson


Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

"The humor of this glorious funny book resides mainly in Gibbons' masterly control of prose style; if you have only seen the movie, you know less than half of what the author has to offer. Yes, she creates a wonderful gallery of extraordinary characters, and the story clips along nicely if rather predictably, but it is the author's language that really gets you laughing out loud. Written in 1932, the book is a parody of a certain kind of rural melodrama popular at the time, but of the authors mentioned by the Oxford Companion to English Literature as models only D. H. Lawrence is still read today. But no matter; there are strong echoes of Hardy and the Brontes as well, and anyway the language works just fine on its own. It ranges from gothic descriptions of a landscape primeval and stark, throbbing with the fecund sap of plant and beast, to gnomic sayings delivered in a rural dialect so thick as to be incomprehensible if one did not realize that half the words in it were probably made up by the author. And, as an added incentive, Gibbons has helpfully marked her most purple passages with two or three stars, "according to the method perfected by the late Herr Baedecker."

Flora Poste, twenty, fashionable, well educated, and recently orphaned, decides against working for a living so writes around to various distant relatives asking them to take her in. She decides to go to live with the Starkadders, some distant cousins whose alarming address is Cold Comfort Farm, Howling, Sussex. (This will seem less odd if you know English place-names, and throughout the book Gibbons' choice of names is both almost plausible and brilliantly absurd.) The farm is described in the first of the starred passages, beginning thus:

"Dawn crept over the Downs like a sinister white animal, followed by the snarling cries of a wind eating its way between the black boughs of the thorns. The wind was the furious voice of this sluggish animal light that was baring the dormers and mullions and scullions of Cold Comfort Farm. The farm was crouched on a bleak hill-side, whence its fields, fanged with flints, dropped steeply to the village of Howling a mile away . . . ".

The extended family she meets there, all with short biblical names of Old Testament force, is equally dour, and the living conditions are primitive to say the least. The household is presided over by the matriarch, Great Aunt Ada Doom, who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" as a child and has barely emerged from her room since, but terrifies the others into submission for fear of completing her descent into total insanity. But Flora determines to take the farm and the family in hand, beginning with the youngest, the nature spirit Elfine, and working up to the old woman. The manner in which she does so forms the plot of the rest of the book.

The gothic style which the author handles so well depends upon the ability to evoke impending doom, and Gibbons virtually redefines the verb "impend." So the first half of the novel at least is superb. However, as light and warmth are brought into Cold Comfort Farm, the doom begins to dissipate. In nineteenth-century terms, Gibbons' influence changes from Bronte to Jane Austen, whom she can certainly match in witty observation, though at the loss of the gothic elemental power. The plot, too, lacks suspense; everything that Flora undertakes to do works out with few surprises; the main parody element at the end is the neatness with which it all does work out, even including the resolution of Flora's own romantic needs. But in exchange, as others on this site have mentioned, Stella Gibbons achieves a transformation of a different kind: the forbidding cast of caricatures to whom we are first introduced has become a family of real people, whom Flora finds herself caring about quite a lot. And the reader too. Skill of this sort takes Stella Gibbons beyond the ranks of a mere parodist and reveals her as a true novelist. - Roger Brunyate


"Published in 1932, this novel is a hysterically funny, tongue in cheek parody of the heavy handed, gloomy novels of some early twentieth century English writers who had previously been so popular. Tremendously successful when first published, "Cold Comfort Farm" caused quite a stir in its time.

The novel starts out innocuosly enough, when well educated Flora Poste finds herself orphaned at the age of twenty. Discovering that her father was not the wealthy man she believed him to be, she is resigned to the fate of having to live on a hundred pounds a year. Opting to live with relatives, rather than earn her bread, she seeks out a most unlikely set of relations, the odd Starkadder family who live in Howling, Sussex.

Therein begins what is certainly one of the funniest novels ever written. When Flora arrives in Howling, she meets her odd relatives, who live in neglected, ramshackle "Cold Comfort Farm", where they still wash the dishes with twigs, and have cows named Graceless, Pointless, Feckless, and Aimless. Headed by a seventy nine year old matriarch, Flora's aunt, Ada Doom Starkadder, who has not been right in the head since she "saw something nasty happen in the woodshed" nearly seventy years ago, they are a motley and strange crew indeed. Confronted with their dismal and gloomy existence, Flora sets about trying to put things to right.

Peppered with eccentric, memorable characters, this book will take the reader on a journey not easily forgotten. It is one that is sure to make the reader revisit this novel yet again, like an old friend who is missed too soon." - Lawyeraau


Andre Gide

Lafcadio's Adventures - Andre Gide

Amazon:

"Gide, the novelist's novelist, tends to his wicked garden of amoral flowers in this multi-leveled satire. Defying the formulaic strictures of his day, Gide skewers the pomposity of the French and Italian gentry while soaring above them with gleeful snobbery. My parents forbade me to read Gide, and so of course I did, in secret, only to have "Lafcadio" snatched from my precocious twelve-year-old hands before I could finish the novel--but memories of Lafcadio lay buried for years until they ultimately emerged to flower anew in the mystery/ adventure: "Into the Deep--The Haven" . . . both a companion and handshake to Gide's examination of the motiveless crime." - V.E. Rosswell


Oliverio Girondo

Scarecrow & Other Anomalies (2002) - Oliverio Girondo

Reviews:

"A bilingual edition and first-time English translation of outrageous and hilarious phantasmagorias by the Argentine genius (or madman) that inspired the acclaimed film "The Dark Side of the Heart" (1994, directed by Eliseo Subiela).

"Scarecrow" is indescribable. It is so spectacularly original that even though alerted by advance notice, the reader will still be surprised by it more than anything else he or she might have ever read. Also included are "Invitation to Vomit," "It's all Drool," and "Lunarlude."

Consuming all of the most fantastic symbolist, futurist, cubist, surrealist, expressionist, anarchist, dadaist, existentialist, post-modernist and every other -ist compositions that can be had, Girondo's "Scarecrow" stands alone as a one-of-a-kind, bug-eyed creation." - Amazon blurb


Paul Glennon

The Dodecahedron: Or a Frame for Frames - Paul Glennon


Nikolai Gogol

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol - Nikolai Gogol (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, tr.)

Amazon:

"This collection brings together almost all of Gogol's notable short stories, from his first surviving piece, St. John's Eve, to his last and most acclaimed short piece, The Overcoat. The first seven stories come from Gogol's earlier period (1830-1835) during which he set his tales in the Ukraine, while the last six, written between 1835 and 1842, are all set in Petersburg.

Critics still disagree to some extent over the quality of Gogol's Ukrainian tales and the extent to which they reflect the artistic vision found in his later, most famous pieces. I would acknowledge that there aren't any absolute masterpieces among these stories, but the world he creates through the lot of them, with the constant presence of the supernatural (probably best seen in "The Night Before Christmas" and "Viy") and a charming provincial sense of humor (at its height in "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich"), is really quite memorable. Also, it's very interesting to see how the simple country folk of the Ukrainian tales evolve into the often equally naive clerks found in the Petersburg tales, and how the demons and ghosts of Gogol's earlier pieces anticipate the haunted portraits and phantoms of departed eternal titular councillors that would later win Gogol lasting fame.

It is, however, the Petersburg tales that are really the centerpiece of the collection. Though it would be a mistake (one that has tempted many a socially-minded critic over the years) to portray these stories as representing a profound sympathy on Gogol's part for plight of the little man, Gogol uses humble copying clerks, struggling artists, and their ilk to paint a wondrously alive picture of the bustling imperial capital. In each of the stories (among which I should mention "Nevsky Prospect" and "The Portrait," neither of which appears in anthologies nearly as often as it should), Gogol infuses the experiences of a seemingly undistinguished individual with something extraordinary, sometimes using the supernatural and other times exploring the protagonist's dreams or his madness. Though Gogol's contemporaries (like Pushkin and Lermontov) were producing a number of excellent works at the same time, those works tended to focus more heavily on the privileged few, and, innovative though they were in various ways, they were written somewhat more in the spirit of the works of foreign authors like Byron and Scott. In Gogol's Petersburg Tales we see Russian masterpieces written for almost the first time in a relatively non-Western European style about the masses who were not lucky enough to belong to the high nobility, and these works (though Gogol surely had no intention of things turning out this way) would go far to influence the social realism developed by later Russian authors.

Gogol's prose is known among Russians for its beautiful lyricism, which sometimes fails to come through in translation. This translation is (unsurprisingly, given how widely praised Pevear and Volokhonsky are) an exception to that; each of the four stories in the volume that I had previously read in other translations improved substantially under the influence of Pevear and Volokhonsky, and throughout the volume I often marvelled at the elegance of the narrative. The one complaint I might have about the collection is the omission of the historical romance Taras Bulba, which is probably the best known of Gogol's Ukrainian tales and is substantively different from any other story he wrote. However, since (at about 120 pages) it might better be described as a novella that a short story, and since the volume is already slightly Ukraine-heavy, it's understandable that Tara Bulba didn't make it in. Other than that issue, I can't think of a single weakness in the collection, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in Russian literature or in the development of the short story as an art form." - mikeu3


Witold Gombrowicz

"Witold Gombrowicz (pronounced VEE-told gom-BROH-veetch) was the author of novels, plays, an early collection of short stories, and autobiographical works (see Bibliography). He was born on August 4, 1904 in Maloszyci, Poland to Jan-Onufry and Antonina Marcela. The elder Gombrowicz was a wealthy lawyer, land-owner and chairman of an industrial association; his wife was the daughter of Ignacy Kotkowski, also a land-owner.

Witold was raised Catholic and studied with private tutors and at an aristocratic Catholic school in Warsaw. The son followed the father as far as law studies (he attended Warsaw University from 1922 to 1927 and graduated as master of law) but later admitted to having no interest: "I didn't go to the lectures. My valet, who was more distinguished than I, went instead." From 1927 to 1929 he studied philosophy and economics at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris. But he neglected his studies and, when his father cut off his allowance, Witold reluctantly began training to become a lawyer in Warsaw. Here he began frequenting literary cafes and writing short stories -- the first writings he did not destroy.

The collected stories were published as Memoirs of a Time of Immaturity (1933) and met with harsh criticism and faint praise that made Gombrowicz regret the title. Ferdydurke, in fact, seemed to deal with the author's sudden self-consciousness as a public entity; and while self-consciousness is often detrimental to a writer's craft Gombrowicz wielded it as a weapon to separate the outer layer of the persona from the nameless inner depth of the person. Susan Sontag has called Ferdydurke "one of the most important overlooked books of the 20th Century."

Gombrowicz's principal works were written in Argentina, to which fate transported him virtually the day before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, and where he remained for 24 years. His struggle with identity now assumed new ferocity as he was branded a Polish émigré writer; the story of these first years in exile is "documented" in the hilarious Trans-Atlantyk, written while filling a sinecure position at the Polish Bank in Buenos Aires.

After eight years in Argentina, Gombrowicz collaborated (in 1947) with a team of South American writers to translate Ferdydurke into Spanish, but the resulting work was ignored. In fact, apart from publications in the émigré review Kultura, issued by the Polish Literary Institute in Paris, Gombrowicz was virtually unknown until 1957 -- when the Communist regime in Poland briefly lifted its ban on his work (in place since the Nazi invasion of 1939) and Ferdydurke was reissued. It was interpreted as an insightful premonition of totalitarianism and became an overnight success. Other publications followed, as did stage performances of his plays -- which were compared to Beckett and Ionesco. A new ban in 1958 removed his work from Polish shelves, but not before they gained notice in the west.

Though his works have been translated into 30 languages, he remains largely unknown outside of Europe. A Ford Foundation grant in 1963 permitted Gombrowicz to leave Argentina at last to spend a year in Berlin. A return to unfriendly Poland was out of the question and after a brief visit to Paris his asthma drove him to the south of France, where he lived his few remaining years in Vence. He won the prestigious International Prize for Literature in 1967 for Cosmos (his novel Pornografia previously missed the prize in 1960 by one vote) and was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in 1968. The asthma reduced him to near speechlessness and also affected his heart. Though he survived the first heart attack, the second took his life at midnight on July 24, 1969.

Cosmos, considered Gombrowicz's best novel, is an absurdist mystery in which the instinctive human search for order and meaning becomes the "culprit," just as it had in Pornografia. Most of his writings, in fact, deal with the distorting power of Form over the human mind, the seductive allure of immaturity (formless yet imbued with the potential for form), and thus with the questions of identity and the possibility of relationship. His fiction hinges on moments in which the antithesis or incongruity of Form and reality becomes public and undeniable, and Gombrowicz is often as hilarious as he is revealing.

In his journals he was uncompromising in defrocking imposters and poseurs; every page of the Diaries contains some sparkling insight that transcends the cultural or historical particulars of which he wrote." - Alan Gullette

"Witold Gombrowicz is probably the most important twentieth-century novelist most Western readers have never heard of, which is to say that he is the kind of writer whose following consists largely of other writers, whose faith in Gombrowicz's under-recognized genius has led them to shower him with superlatives. Susan Sontag, in her introduction to the recent English translation of Ferdydurke, his ironic masterpiece, calls him brilliant. John Updike takes this praise one step further, noting that Gombrowicz is "one of the profoundest of late moderns." Milan Kundera ranks him among Joyce and Proust as one of the seminal figures in modern literature. His writings are beloved in France, where they have long been available in competent translations, and where Gombrowicz himself spent the last years of his life. And in his native Poland, Gombrowicz remains something of a cultural legend almost thirty-five years after his death; in a publishing market that frequently casts its best literature out of print, all Gombrowicz's books are easily available, as are any number of volumes about his life and work. The official website of Radom, a lackluster city in central Poland near the small town where Gombrowicz was born, proudly proclaims him alongside Jan Kochanowski (an excellent Renaissance poet) and director Andrzej Wajda as having lived there (or at least as having had some association with the area, which is important enough for the local cultural imagination). And the Polish Ministry of Culture has officially proclaimed 2004 "The Year of Gombrowicz," which will include a plethora of conferences and cultural events marking the one hundredth anniversary of the author's birth.

It's just the sort of thing that Gombrowicz - or a certain side of him - would abhor. From his very first book, a collection of short stories called Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity (1933; later entitled Bakakaj, and including the story "The Rat"), Gombrowicz raged against what he saw as the aristocratic conservatism of Polish culture, the formality of men bowing and kissing ladies' hands in greeting, the general insistence on how Poland's grand destiny had been sidetracked by a century of partition and occupation, and perhaps most of all the uncritical reverence for such cultural heroes as Copernicus (of questionable nationality), Mickiewicz (the national poet, actually born in Lithuania), and Chopin (half-Polish, who spent most of his life in France). Early in his three-volume Diary, itself an extraordinary record of an author at play, Gombrowicz asks, "What does Mrs. Smith have in common with Chopin?" Next to nothing, but that's not even the worst of it. What Gombrowicz found truly frustrating - even dangerous - is how his country's inferiority complex, its need to remind the world time and again how Polish culture is just as great - nay, greater - than that of the West, cripples the individual, forces him to memorize verses and dates and to behave in a manner befitting the great civilization that is Poland. Or at least this is the attitude represented in the preponderance of Gombrowicz's work, any treatment of which is obliged to bear the disclaimer that you can never fully trust an author so fond of irony and masks. Indeed, writing about Gombrowicz's attitude toward Polish culture is kind of like writing an obituary for someone who didn't believe in death.

That said, the individual's battle against the strictures of culture remained a lifelong obsession for Gombrowicz. In his early work in particular, this theme manifests itself as a battle between maturity - that is, the social expectation that the individual will behave according to a given code, a superego imposed from above - and "immaturity," the freedom to do as one will and, in general, not to give a damn. This is the central conflict in "The Rat": a retired judge captures a troublesome vagabond and does his best to rein in his "particularly massive nature," which offends the judge's sense of order and propriety. In "The Honorable Kraykowski's Dancer," the story that opens the same collection, the protagonist becomes so obsessed with the regal manners of an attorney and his wife that he does everything he can to subvert the lawyer's individuality, for example, by paying for his daily pastries in advance. "Imagine this," he addresses the reader conspiratorially. "A lawyer comes out of a public restroom, reaches for his fifteen cents, and learns that the bill has already been settled. How does he feel then?" And famously, in Ferdydurke (1937), a thirty-year-old man is enslaved by his old schoolmaster and thrown back into the classroom, where he finds it impossible to gain freedom without first enduring endless humiliations. In each of these instances, no one really needs to bother about the totalitarianism that will later occupy Poland and preoccupy so much of its literature. For Gombrowicz, culture itself, with its insistence on acceptable norms, is plenty totalitarian as it is, thank you very much.

Which brings us to the curious irony of the author’s fate. In 1939, following the publication of Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity, a play called Ivona, Princess of Burgundy, and Ferdydurke (plus, truth be told, a second novel, The Possessed, which appeared under a pseudonym and wasn’t acknowledged by its author for thirty years), Gombrowicz was invited to enjoy the maiden voyage of a cruise ship across the Atlantic. He set sail and arrived in Buenos Aires. Then the Nazis invaded Poland, followed by the Soviets, and that was that: Gombrowicz was in Argentina with no money and no Spanish. He remained there for over two decades, utterly impoverished, relying for his survival on a contingent of Polish expatriates who were, like most communities in emigration, more conservative than his critics back in Poland. This is the subject of his hilarious 1953 novel Trans-Atlantyk, which features a protagonist named Witold Gombrowicz and is written in a specialized narrative style of the old Polish nobility, a wholly appropriate medium for the stuffy circumstances in which the author found himself.

Yes, appropriate. In fact, Gombrowicz's prose has never been as absurd as journalistic reductions would have it, since it is always - both thematically and linguistically - a consistent, even systematic response to a set of cultural, philosophical, and psychological problems. "The Rat" provides an excellent case-in-point: it is the language of obsession and fetish, with its concatenated synonyms and spontaneous singing, its repetition and play. The writing is at once extremely poetic and anti-conventional, a stylistically "mature" prose expressing the lushness and buoyancy of immaturity. Gombrowicz's early critics attacked his lack of restraint, his sometimes childlike delight in language, his flirtation with excess and arbitrariness. (The collection's second title, Bakakaj, is itself arbitrarily chosen; Gombrowicz took the name from one of his streets in Buenos Aires, as he later explained, "the way we name dogs, simply in order to tell one from another.")

Gombrowicz's opponents took such games as an affront, an attack against all that was right and proper in Polish culture, as an assertion of the individual against his context, and perhaps a few of them still do. Just the other day in Kraków, I was enjoying a late dinner of beer and kielbasa when a Polish acquaintance (he actually grew up in Canada, but he's a hell of a lot more Polish than I'll ever be, as he kept reminding me) suggested that Czechs have no culture of their own. "Certainly they do," I insisted, and went on to praise their extraordinary literature, their rich heritage of music and language. "No," he said, "it's all Austro-Hungarian." I pointed out how the Austro-Hungarian Empire had occupied all of southern Poland, including Kraków, for well over a century, occasionally inciting the peasants to saw their Polish landlords in half. This, I suppose, is how a situation escalates. He started rattling off the standard roster of Polish cultural heroes, and that's when I began to channel Witold Gombrowicz. "What does Mrs. Smith have in common with Chopin?" I asked. My interlocutor bristled, became very solemn, and told me in no uncertain terms that making such remarks on the street would give me an opportunity to use my health insurance, which he hoped was comprehensive. And it is. And he's probably right" - Benjamin Paloff

Cosmos and Pornografia: Two Novels

Reviews:

"We have in Witold Gombrowicz a mind not unlike Kafka, though with more depth and originality. His Cosmos is potently real, as to have a life of its own. It is the most original book I have yet come across. With Pornographia, there is cleverness, wit, humour, and suspense. In it, two old men draw a fascination for a young boy and a young girl, whose apparent closeness implies possible seduction. They become obsessed by them, how they are, what they say, what they do. It tends to represent the VITALITY OF YOUTH as no other book does. The language is poetically sounder than Cosmos, and the scenery and discriptions are of a dark rural town admist Second World War Poland. As with Cosmos, the characters have mystical occurences of wonder, bewilderment, confusion, silence. The world becomes baffling, alive, and beyond reason. It hits you like a hammer. No other books have even come close to doing that to me (with the possible exceptions of Gurdjieff's or Dunne's thinking). In Cosmos, a series of happenings baffle a young man as he rents a boarding room with a friend. He notices the arrangement of objects, and the behaviours of persons without knowing why he is noticing them. He sees a bird, hung upon a wire, dangling from a tree. Then, he sees in the backyard a piece of wood likewise dangling from a tree. Other things follow, until his world is a confused existential dream. With Pornograpfia, there is less beautiful strangeness. It tends to represent the vitality of youth as no other book does. I feel that Mr. Gombrowicz was among the most starting and absorbing writers of this century, and, sadly, he is almost unknown. His work should vibrate you as an emotionally driven song. It has an uncanny mold of realism that other authors have not hit on, as for instance moments where the protagonist of both novels have fragmented thoughts (and sentence fragments!) rather than long sentencing, or when the dialogue of other characters are seen as droning on and not being listened to. I value this work as being among the greatest I own, and having a mysticism the likes of which I can not begin to appreciate. The books are difficult and brilliant. I could read them 50 times over.

Read his diaries, and perhaps Kafka's THE CASTLE to see their world of meaning beyond words." - Clandestine

The Syntax of Chaos: Semiotics and Silence in Witold Gombrowicz's Cosmos - Glen Scott Allen

Ferdyduke - Witold Gombrowicz

Reviews:

""Ferdydurke" by Witold Gombrowicz has finally been properly translated into English. Not that this is an event worth mentioning in general, but the point to be made is that the world of translation offers room for all kinds of mischief and sloppiness. Who would have thought that it were perfectly acceptable for publishers to allow translation from a second, and not native tongue? Imagine, for purposes of illustration, that a work of a classic British author translated into German not directly, but from Suahili, for this was the language the book was first translated into. Would you be satisfied with a product of this type? This was the fate of Gombrowicz, his native tongue was done away with, and the Anglo-Saxon world of bibliophiles had had no other choice but to read a lemon. Perhaps this is the revenge of the Heavens on the author himself, for never was there any other Polish author who had his native country in such a low regard as he did. In his "Trans-Atlantyk", Gombrowicz dared to ridicule everything a Pole holds dear, together with the whole idea of a nation as such. Were he to live today, he would embrace the idea of convergence and the global village of consumptionism, as opposed to Europe of Nations. That was one of the main reasons for Gombrowicz's emigration to Argentina, where he spent almost all of his literary career.

"Ferdydurke" is an early novel by this author, and it's never as crass as the aforementioned "Trans-Atlantyk". In fact, it constitutes part of a literary canon in Poland to this very day, and there is no educated Pole who hasn't read or at least heard of "Ferdydurke". Scenes from this book, gestures, and neologisms entered the mass vocabulary, and once you learn some of these expressions, you cannot unlearn them, for then there is no better way to express yourself, but to use the phrases coined by Gombrowicz. Whatever issues Poles have with this author, one thing is certain: we are grateful to him for augmenting our language. Gombrowicz created an archetype of a confused man, whose karma is to move back in time, back to school, with the mentality of an adult. I will even risk a claim that this fact alone lies at the very heart of science fiction - for how might that be possible, and what would happen if such occurence took place? How would that affect the object in queestion? Perhaps my perception of this problem is a bit skewed due to my occupational hazard of a scientist, but for me, "Ferdydurke" is a laboratory novel, where with a literary set of tools we analyze both the situation, and the object, in the vein of the medieval alchemist. This novel, hardly known in the English-speaking world, will be an exhilarating reading experience for you, provided that you will trust me and pick it up. The amusing analysis of the immature world the protagonist found himself in, mixed with elements from all literary forms, from plain mystery, via comedy, to sophisticated analysis of society, makes Ferdydurke an experimental novel of potential interest for all bibliophiles and lovers of the nonstandard." - Amazon

Translating Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdyduke - Danuta Borchardt


Edward Gorey

The Unstrung Harp - Edward Gorey

Reviews:

""Mr Earbrass belongs to the straying, rather than the sedentary, type of author. He is never to be found at his desk unless actually writing down a sentence. Before this happens he broods over it indefinately while picking up and putting down again small, loose objects...He frequently hums more in his mind than anywhere else, themes from the Poddington `Te Deum'."

Gorey is strange. Not weird strange. Just strange. His glib verbosity is a fantastic challenge. He takes the absurd and the stark into a play-acting of 1920s (I choose this era only because it is a feeling I get from his drawings) melodrama with a twist. I suppose his writing wouldn't have the same impact without his illustrations. His unblinking faces and penguin bodies are black comedy parodies of our over-rated catalogue of mannerisms and expressions. I laugh when I realize how serious Gorey is about taking his characters down a seriously mad path.

In the `Unstrung Harp', Mr Earbrass' boredom and inability to write are a bizarre focus. Gorey finds so much humor and psychology in our seemingly empty, drifting moments. Makes me realize that boredom really is a thing in itself to appreciate. Mr. Earbrass, after all, gets more from his "straying" than his actually writing, enjoying the "about to happen" rather than the "happening".

Start your collection. His books are tricky to come by, but even more difficult to part with." - JR31


Edmund Gosse

Father and Son - Edmund Gosse

Amazon:

Edmund Gosse's FATHER AND SON is legitimately considered one of the highpoints of Victorian autobiography. As has been noted by others, the book recounts the relationship between Edmund Gosse and his father, a member of the Christian sect generally known as Plymouth Brethren, but who was also a member of the Royal Society and one of the foremost marine biologists of his time. The narrative tends to break down into a number of definite segments: the author's birth until the death of his mother; life with his father until the time of the publishing of Darwin's THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES; the move of the Gosses to the coast of England; and young Gosse's schooling and gradual growth away from the religious teachings and expectations he had received from his parents.

A number of powerful impressions evolve over the course of the telling. First and foremost, one is left with an impression of how overwhelmingly Gosse's childhood was stripped of nearly all fun by his parents' puritanical and stern religion. Gosse's father is presented not as a cruel, vicious, and hypocritical. Instead, he is shown as a caring parent, a completely earnest practitioner of his religion, but fanatically concerned to eliminate all activities that do not lead to increased religious devotion and moral seriousness. Unfortunately, this resulted for Gosse in a childhood from which all possibility of play and fun and delight had been eliminated. Near the end of the book, I was left wondering if Gosse would have been inclined to leave Christianity if he had just had more fun as a kid.

The section of the book dealing with his father's reaction to Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES was for me the most interesting part of the book. His father's scientific standing was such that Darwin actually contacted him before the publication of his theories, and asked his response. Gosse notes that his father instantly understood that the scientific evidence clearly supported Darwin's theory. His reading of Genesis, however, indicated to him that the world was created in six days, which precluded the scenario articulated by Darwin. He therefore concluded that god created the earth in six days, but in so doing implanted fossils and geologic strata into the earth. In this way, his father was able to explain both the apparent evidence for eons long development of the earth and homo sapiens and yet retain his belief in the belief that Genesis taught a six day literal creation.

There are any of a number of reasons to read this work. It is a classic autobiography, an important source for one response to the reception of Darwin, and a magnificent evocation of puritanical religious life during the Victorian age. Most of all, it is a disturbing account of the distortive effect that intolerant and narrow-minded religious upbringing can have on an individual.


William Goyen

The House of Breath - William Goyen

Reviews:

"'The House Of Breath' reads like a sacred text, as they turn the pages the reader feels like they are blowing the dust from a casket of long hidden jewels.

Narrated by a man returning after a prolonged absence to his long abandoned family home in Charity (a small, river-bound Texas town) the book invokes the ghosts of the past to tell the tales of desire, loss & melancholy that make up the (largely secret) history of that family.

Weaving a dizzy spell over all is the richly evoked river delta landscape. Goyen uses the most mesmerizing, lush descriptive prose to magically and brilliantly conjour up a sense of time and place. The overall effect is like living through a waking dream. You choose to read slowly to soak up the atmosphere and prolong the poetic experience:

"(the river) was ornamented with big drowsy snapturtles sitting like figurines on rocks; had little jeweled perch in it and sliding cottenmouth water moccasins. It crawled, croaking with bullfrogs and ticking and sucking and clucking and shining..."

Comparable to Cormac McCarthy at his most lyrical, readers of Calvino, Banville, Flannery O'Connor & Faulkner amongst others, will swoon over this southern masterpiece." - T. Branney


Juan Goytisolo

Quarantine: A Novel - Juan Goytisolo

Amazon:

"Spanish experimental novelist Goytisolo (Landscapes After the Battle, 1987, etc.), the author of a two-volume memoir (Realms of Strife, 1990, and Forbidden Territory, 1988), explores the 40-day journey that souls, according to Islam, take from the moment of death to their final resting place and reflects on the creative writing process. For him, the journey is a quarantine of sorts, akin to the experience of a writer who must withdraw from the world so that his imagination can take flight. Indeed in Quarantine, Goytisolo's narrator is a writer in the process of composing a novel--in fact, the very novel we are reading. He is imagining his own death and journey as he meditates on the spiritual wandering of a woman friend who has recently died. The narrator, like the dead according to Islam, must account to Nakir and Munkar, the two angels who examine and, if necessary, punish the dead in their tombs. Meanwhile, it is the year of the Persian Gulf War, and all its wartime horrors become mingled with the torments of the underworld. At the end of the ``waiting'' period, the writer's novel is finished and his soul and the soul of his friend are released. ``Write, keep writing about me,'' she implores him. ``Only your interest and the interest of those who read you can continue to keep me alive!'' Quarantine is an intriguing multilayered novel, but one at times more powerful in concept than in execution. The writing itself is awash in a dreamlike quality that bestows on even the vivid descriptions of pain and torture a gauzy, and not always compelling, feel. Goytisolo's fans, however, should be pleased by this unique meditation on death and the creative process by a distinctly original voice." - Kirkus


Stefan Grabinski

The Dark Domain - Stefan Grabinski

Reviews:

Early in the last century, this shockingly underrated Polish writer saw the horror that haunted modernity. His ghosts and demons don't inhabit graveyard or ruins, but steam trains, electricity cables, and the rapidly growing cities. The antithesis of nostalgic fantasy. - China Mieville

"Great horror story writers have a unique imaginative inner vision that distinguishes them from other writers. Stories by Poe, Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and W. H. Hodgson could have come only from them. Stefan Grabinski is one of the great ones. His work reflects bizarre personal obsessions that recur throughout his tales: the metaphysical meaning of fire; trains as a symbol of the vast, implacable power that machines give man over his surroundings and also of man's relentless journey to who knows where; strange sexual phantoms that emerge from either unplumbed dimensions or from man's own twisted pshyche. These stories are gripping, haunting, and have the power to pull you into Grabinski's warped but somehow universal reality and to keep a part of you there long after you have turned the last page and read the last word. As with the other great horror story writers, Grabinski's inner demons make a connection with each of his reader's inner demons and create an indelible impression.

My favorite of the stories in the collection is "Fumes", but the others are all strangely great and compelling as well. Two other exquisite Grabinski tales are unfortunately not in this book. However, English translations of "The Dark Hamlet" can be found in "The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy", and "The White Wyrak" can be found in "100 Creepy Little Tales". I look forward to the day when all of Grabinski's horror shorts are available in English translation." - Gregg Zimmerman


Julien Gracq

The Opposing Shore

Reviews:

"Even in translation you can feel the lyrical intensity and beauty of this novel which creates an atmosphere of tension which no reader will forget easily: Aldo, a young nobleman, has had enough of the decadence of his native Vezzano, a fictitious republic modeled on Venice. He has himself posted to a navy base which was once built to defend Vezzano against Farghestan. The two powers are still officially at war, but nothing has actually happened for 300 years. Now, however, there is a growing tension, not just inside Aldo, who dreams of the unknown Farghestan. People in Vezzano seem to be tired of its eternal stability, they long for action...

Most of the novel's plot takes place near the old navy base, which is surrounded by a desert landscape which is described with mesmerizing intensity. Little incidents are building up towards an explosion which is only hinted at in the book. People waiting for something to happen in a more and more uncanny slience - that may remind the reader of the fact that the book was written before and during World War II. The decadence longing for action, danger and change, however, seems to me reminiscent of World War I. This is not a book of easy historical analogy. It is a unique work of art which stands completely on its own." - Manuel Haas


Gunter Grass

The Meeting at Telgte - Gunter Grass

Reviews:

"Or are you well informed about the history of the "Thirty Years War" in Germany? Do the following names mean anything at all to you: Jakob Boehme? Paul Fleming? Andreas Gryphius? Martin Opitz? and especially Paul Gerhardt? And then the really essential names: Heinrich Schuetz? Johann Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen? Those are just a few of the cast of historical personages that Guenter Grass assembles in his imagination in the village of Telgte in 1647, and if the names and places are utterly meaningless to you, you'll never get past the first chapter of this well-packed little book.

Still, there are reasons why you might want to try. It's a "quick read" if you have a running start, and drop-dead funny if you have any idea what the stakes are. It's also a vivid lesson in European political and religious history, a lesson that will pound the significance of the 17th Century for 20th Century Germany in your Anglophone head forevermore. And it's a pointed reprimand to the self-importance of writers and scholars of any era.

Here's the scene: Simon Dach, a professor of poetry at Koenigsberg, has invited all the most notable Protestant writers of war-torn Germany to gather and discuss the state of the German language and the vision of German intellectuals for a "new Germany" after the impending peace. The poets find themselves helplessly stranded until they are 'rescued' by the extravagant figure of Gelnhausen (Grimmelshausen), unbeknowst to them the most notorious free-booter in Germany. Gelnhausen is the pivotal character in this narrative, and his interface with the assorted literary bigwigs provides most of the humor. They regard him as a rogue and a buffoon, while he is eager to absorb what lessons he can from them. The 'punch line' is that, among all these preening, posing mediocrities, Gelnhausen will become the author of the greatest German novel of the epoch, the picaresque classic "Simplicius Simplicissimus." Quite frankly, if you've never read Simplicius, you'd be better off to start with that, and read Guenter Grass and Bertolt Brecht later. The problem, sad to say, is that Simplicius has never gotten much attention in the English world, and translations go out of print quickly. There's a simplified abridgement of the story available, titled "Adventures of a Simpleton," which I've also reviewed; it's adequate to prepare you for Telgte.

As a foil to the resourceful rascal Gelnhausen, Grass introduces the other greatest creative genius of baroque Germany - composer Heinrich Schuetz - into the Telgte 'parliament of fowls' as an uninvited guest. All the assembled 'intellectuals' are secretly uncomfortable with the austere composer, well aware that his opinion of their word-smithing is far from laudatory. Schuetz, in real history, lamented the failure of German writers to provide texts comparable to the Italian poets like Petrarch and Tasso. His own choices for texts to be set in music came chiefly from the Italians and from the German translation of the Bible. (If you are unfamiliar with Schuetz's music, this review will have supreme impact on your future life; you simply shouldn't spend another week without hearing it. Luckily for your wallet, Brilliant Classics has issued a three-box multi-CD edition of Schuetz's most sublime compositions, performed by Cappella Augustana.) Schuetz's grave presence dominates the assembly rather like that of Obi-Wan Kenobi dominated scenes in Star Wars. There is no historical probability than Schuetz and Grimmelshausen ever met, but in Grass's fantasy, Schuetz sees deep into the character of the brilliant rogue, and assigns him the task of writing rather than raiding.

Schuetz also confronts his musical mirror image, the pietist hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt, whose 'simple' strophic songs are still sung by Lutherans and Calvinists around the world. This confrontation is possibly the deepest and most ambiguous theme of the book, amounting to a question about the value of any art in the lives of ordinary people. You'll have to take The Meeting of Telgte on for yourself in order to learn what Grass concludes.

If indeed you decide to read this spectacular parable, here's what you need to do: read the "Afterword" by Leonard Forster first. Then, as you start the book, for the first three or four chapters, keep your finger in the "Dramatis Personae" at the back of the book, and look up each new character as he is introduced. Then, by the time Gelnhausen takes charge, you'll be having enough fun to keep reading despite any unfamiliarity with the flock of odd birds." - Giordano Bruno


Alasdair Gray

Lanark: A Life in Four Books - Alasdair Gray

How Lanark Grew - Alasdair Gray

Return to Unthank - William Boyd

Lanark 1982: An Unofficial Alasdair Gray Website:

"What can I say about Lanark that hasn't been said already? Anthony Burgess, in his list of the 99 greatest novels written in English since 1945, called it the "shattering work of fiction in the modern idiom" that Scotland needed, compared the book itself to James Joyce's Ulysses and proclaimed Alasdair Gray "the best Scottish novelist since Walter Scott". It is hard to understate its importance in the recent renaissance of writing in Scotland.

Worked upon, on and off, for 25 years (chapter 12, with very few differences to what was finally published, was runner-up in a short story competition organised by The Observer, an English newspaper, in 1958) Lanark was eventually published in 1981 by a small Edinburgh-based publisher called Canongate. A publisher to whom Gray has returned several times in his subsequent career. It was immediately seen as a great event in Scotland's literary life. The country's resurgence of literature as something to be proud of, can almost be dated from the moment this novel hit the bookshops. The New Yorker, in 1996, called Gray "the grand old man of the Scottish renaissance", and the editor of The Scottish Novel Since the Seventies says that the 1981 publication of Lanark "detonated a cultural time-bomb which had been ticking away patiently for years".

But enough of its reputation, what of the book itself?

First off, it's a BIG book. Big in ideas, big in reputation, big in ambition and big in weight. At close to 600 pages long, it's certainly the longest of Gray's works and it's not the easiest. Although, being his debut novel, Lanark was many people's introduction to Gray, it is not the one I recommend reading first. If you're the sort of person who isn't going to like Gray's writing, Lanark and 1982 Janine are the books that are most concentrated in their Grayishness. If you aren't sure you're going to like Gray, start with Poor Things or, the one I always lend people (I've lost several copies), the short story collection Unlikely Stories, Mostly.

But don't let this put you off Lanark. Like all mountains, you might need to prepare for the climb, but the view from the top takes your breath away.

Lanark defies description. Like Slaughterhouse Five it is both outlandish science-fiction and obvious autobiography, like The Third Policeman it makes use of lengthy footnotes that say absolutely nothing, it begins with book three, has a prologue halfway through, and it includes a long index of plagiarisms in the middle of a discussion between the author and his lead character. Like many difficult books it is probably better appreciated on subsequent readings, but it is likely to grab you from the off. Books 3 and 4 (which you read first and last) are about Lanark, a man who arrives by train in a strange town. Having no name, he takes one from a sepia-tinted tourist-photograph he saw on the compartment wall. The city has no daylight and the inhabitants do no work, living off subsistence-level grants from an unseen power. Many people suffer from oddly symbolic diseases. Lanark develops 'dragonhide', a physical manifestation of Wilhelm Reich's emotional armouring, which smothers his arm in thick heavy scales and claws where his fingers were, one of his friends develops 'mouths' the symptoms of which involves mouths opening like wounds over the body which then speak independently of the sufferer. Lanark commits suicide and comes round in 'The Institute'. The Institute is devoted to curing those it can, but uses the hopeless cases as fuel (dragonhide sufferers eventually 'go nova' if uncured, when their pent-up emotions cause their bodies to explode, which energy is harnessed to power generators) or as food (the glutinous 'softs' are turned into a processed blancmange-like substance which Lanark refuses to eat when he discovers its source). This is only part of the opening book. The novel later trips back to Glasgow just after the war, where we meet Thaw (who it would appear is Lanark in a previous incarnation) for books 2 and 3. I will stop the description here, because it cannot do the book justice.

In the USA, the novel was due to be published 6 months or so after the original UK issue, to use whatever promotion had been garnered. As it happened, management changes at Harpers and Row meant that they were issued at the same time, it was marketed as a straight science-fiction novel in the States and disappeared without trace. In the UK, it remained a cult classic, but began the career of 'Gray, the novelist' and meant that after just a few more books, Gray could live by doing what he wanted, and not what he had to. Along with Unlikely Stories, Mostly it is the only one of Gray's book never to have fallen out of print in the UK, and its status as 'cult classic' seems assured for a while yet. If only Danny Boyle could be pushed into directing the film version, staring Ewan McGregor as Lanark/Thaw, Gray could live a wealthy retirement."

The Book of Prefaces - Alasdair Gray

Amazon:

"After a decade and a bit of footling around with pleasant but whimsical novels and the occasional killer short story, Alasdair Gray has finally delivered his long-promised anthology of English-language prefaces. And what a treasure it is. Designed and presented with the author's characteristic loving care, it's a mighty selection of beginnings-of-books from Anglo-Saxon down to 1920 or so (more recent prefaces being excluded because of copyright laws.)

Besides the sheer wealth of Stuff To Read, there are dense, canny and wonderfully sure-footed essays on the progress-or-not of English culture'n'society courtesy of Mister Gray, plus marginal glosses by a variety of highly intelligent people and also Roger Scruton. Scruton (England's dimmest philosopher) provides the gloss on the preface to Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France", and offers up his customary brand of simple-minded conservatism, but it doesn't matter because Gray has already neatly undercut him several dozen pages earlier with his own reflections on the revolution.

A book to keep with you for the rest of your life and leave to someone in your will. There haven't been many such in the past 50 years. And while the errata slip isn't quite exhaustive (there are a few typos that it fails to credit), how can you resist it when it's written in rhyme?" - lexo-2

"For many years in catalogues of forthcoming publications Alsadair Gray's Anthology of Prefaces has been referred to. Some suspected a Gray type joke as the book failed to appear year on year. Was it a post modern joke? Gray after all was the man that had an erratum slip inserted in an earlier book reading "This erratum slip was inserted by mistake." The apparent joke was taken too far when one catalogue of second hand books published almost a decade ago suggested that the book had not appreciated in value and was worth roughly £20 second hand. This was not a bad sum for a non-existent text. Snippets of text appeared occasionally, and while the book remained unpublished it became apparent that Gray was beginnning to make serious progress on the work. It then became known that others were assisting Gray in his task of glossing the prefaces including crucially important Scottish writers such as Jim Kelman, Tom Leonard, Janice Galloway, and Alison Kennedy.

So now the book has arrived. The title has changed (now The Book of Prefaces, rather than an anthology). The price rather more than the suggested second hand value.

And it is well worth the wait. This will stand as a monument to Gray's achievements as an artist (of words and of pictures). His remit has been to produce a history of literature in English from the sixth century to the present day.

This is a book to revel in. Among prefaces to novels and poems (from the well known, such as Mary Shelley's genesis of Frankenstein to the less well known such as Trahern's poetry) there are prefaces (and prologues) to works of philosophy (e.g. Bentham and Franklin) and law (the introduction to Stair's Institutions, a crucially important work in the survival of Scots law as an independent legal system).

The book is beautifully illustrated, wonderfully designed, and contains a charming introduction by Gray detailing reasons for prefaces and for enjoying reading them (my favourite, enjoying watching authors in a huff).

This book will be an invaluable companion through life, and careful reading will have the desired effect of making an individual appear better read and more erudite than they really are.

Buy and enjoy this wonderful book." - scottish lawyer


Henry Green

Nothing - Henry Green

Linda Linguvic:

"The British writer Henry Green's literary skill went far beyond a comedy of manners, which this book appears to be on the surface. Dense with meaning, "Nothing" is a short literary gem, which forces the reader to read a million nuances into the witty and yet deeply dense conversations which make up the entirety of the book. The story is set in 1948 and follows John and Jane, now middle aged but still reminiscing about an affair they had many years before when they were still married. They both have new relationships, Liz and Richard, but still see each other frequently for meals or for tea. Their respective children, Mary and Philip, are now grown and want to marry. But of course there are complications.

The world that the author creates for the reader is a very British one. The dialogue is precise but filled with hidden meanings, as what is unsaid is often even more important than what is said. There's a wonderful symmetrical balance in each of the conversations as well as in the structure of the book. The characters speak for themselves, with very little description, and, through their words alone, the twists and turns of the story emerge, the sounds of their voices echoing on the pages. The question of what really happened and is happening is always just beyond our reach, and the even though the characters might be moved around like chess pieces at the author's whim, they never do change or gain insight into their behavior. Surprisingly, this is still an amazingly satisfying read, as if is the reader himself or herself who gets to experience their world and gain insight into the inevitability of the conclusion. This book is a delightful read and a real treat. I highly recommend it."


Michael Green

Squire Haggard's Journal - Michael Green

Eileen Berdon Galen:

"This little journal is fine and funny little parody of the eighteenth-century journals of Boswell, and Pepys (earlier) - and many less famous English diarists and chroniclers. It is introduced by its creator, Michael Green. In one elegant paragraph he tell us a lot about the diaries he used: "What struck me was their fascination with food (dinner was usually described in great detail and many of the dishes were rather strange by modern standards). Death and illness were also subject to close scrutiny. There seemed a compulsion to record sexual adventures in high-flown language which contrasted with the sordid realities [...] And there was an obsession with small sums of money." Green's protagonist, Amos Haggard (soon to be joined by his son) stays within these parameters as he takes the reader on a tour of his world (London, and then a comic tour of Europe). His diary entries are in turns droll, hysterically funny, gently repulsive (mostly the menu items), bawdy, and shot through with very funny political commentary on the hypocrisy (and criminality, sometimes) of the upper classes.

The journal begins on September 16, 1777 with a deadpan report of a man, Jas. Soaper, having been hung for stealing a nail. By the next day, we learn that "Jas. Soaper found to be innocent." Amos Haggard is a man who knows his own mind; if not closed, it is narrow. "I make it an infallible rule while travellg. abroad to see as little of the scenery as possible; thus the mind is not unsettled and disturbed by the wild excesses of Nature and barren deserts such as the Scottish Highlands." But he does travel; he goes to France, landing on "the loathsome land of Toads and Pederasts" and then to Paris, where for sport he insults the French, and finds that is impressed by the Bastille. He admires the variety of punishments there, is impressed by the prison's architecture, and makes a quick sketch - "with a view to erctg. a smaller copy in England."

Squire Haggard knows that December 25th is "the most sacred feast in the Christian Calendar," and observes annually by setting out early in the morning to evict his tenants who are in arrears. The day proceeds. He reports on his misdeeds and lack of nominal ethics with an insouciance that is constantly ridiculously funny.

There is a slyly woven plot that offers ample satirical commentary on the historic English preoccupations of class and money. There are imagined and real insults, bad food and dyspepsia, gossip and civil intrigue, poisonings, outrageous behavior, and (in a wholly successful parody of Plague diaries) the ever-present Death. In addition there is romance, bawdy fun, much too much drinking and, at evening's end - Squire Haggard's inevitable reluctance to settle the bill.

I laughed my way through this very entertaining little book."


Stephen Gregory

Cormorant - Stephen Gregory

Amazon:

"Initially, I intended to criticize "The Cormorant" by Stephan Gregory for failing to be as compelling as I had expected a book touted as "Award-winning" to be. However, as I began writing this review, my opinion began to take another shape. Gregory does a masterful job of creating the landscape and atmosphere of the Wales countryside and the cozy cottage where the narrator and his wife take residence after the death of his uncle Ian. It is quite easy for the reader to become enveloped in the world the author has created: to cozy up to the fire and watch the pre-Christmas snow falling outside the slowly-fogging windows, all the while sensing the sulking, angry presence of the ugly joke, the cormorant, trapped in a cage in the back yard. Based on atmosphere alone, "The Cormorant" is a book whose images and emotions will linger in your mind. The ending of the story, the portion of the book with which I was going to find fault, is still unraveling itself in my mind. At first, I felt that the ending didn't create the kind of emotional impact that I felt the author had intended. I now believe that my feelings had more to do with the fact that I stayed up late reading and got little sleep, rather than any failings on the author's part. I feel a bit like a shock victim coming out of it: the emotions are rising up in me as I think back on the story, and plotlines that I felt were left unresolved are weaving themselves together. The sheer fact that a novel can leave this kind of lingering impression should be enough to recommend it. White Wolf publishing, under their Borealis line, has published a number of great books in recent years by authors who are not well know in the United States. After reading several of the titles published in this line, I now browse through bookstores in search of the Borealis imprint. Some other titles in the line include "The Immaculate" by Mark Morris, "Resume with Monsters" by William Browning Spencer, and "Virgins and Martyrs" by Simon Maginn. Check them out!!!" - A Reader


Russell Griffin

Russell Griffin

"Sci-fi writer Russell M. Griffin, after a succession of poorly-marketed novels, each from a less successful publisher than the one before it, last week devoured his own foot in order to stay alive. Griffin was unavailable for comment, but our sources conjectured, "How else is the poor b*st*rd supposed to live? Not on the piece-of-sh*t advances these people pay!"

What brought Griffin to this end? Inquiring minds want to know.

The seeds are visible in his first novel, THE MAKESHIFT GOD (Dell, 1979). Obviously some sort of effete intellectual snob, Griffin packs an otherwise well-written and fast-paced space adventure with all sorts of literary references and dead languages.

It is in CENTURY'S END (Bantam 1981), however, that Griffin begins to blatantly show his true colors. Not only does he mock organized religion, flying saucers (!), and politicians, he has a whole sci-fi novel with no time machines, space ships, or aliens. What's the point?

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT (Timescape, 1982) isn't even set in the future, for cripe's sake, and not only are there no aliens and no spaceships, the origin of the story's Elephant Man is so disgusting we dare not print it in a family newsmagazine!

THE TIME SERVERS (Avon, 1985) starts off promisingly enough, set in an embassy on an alien planet, a situation we are told resembles the "Retief" stories by fellow sci-fi'er Keith Laumer. But in the end Griffin resorts to sly accusations about the Vietnam War, and we know no one wants to hear about Vietnam any more.

These reasons all seemed sufficient to explain Griffin's lack of popularity. Still, because inquiring minds like yours want to know, we contacted Prominent Literary Critic SUE DENIM and asked her opinion on Griffin's work.

"I think the guy's a genius, but for G*d's sake don't quote me. Obviously the guy has f*ck*d up big somewhere to get his stuff buried like this. I mean, he should be getting hardcover deals and high five-figure advances and every award in the field.

"Take CENTURY'S END. Please. Apparently nobody noticed that this was the first really visionary book about the coming millenium. It's going to be crazy, and Griffin is the only writer I know of (other than maybe Jim Blaylock or Phil Dick -- and Dick wasn't as funny) who is good enough at both humor and pathos to really bring the craziness of it to life. In the next 15 years we're going to see pale imitations of this book make the best seller list. You'll see.

"THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT is cripplingly funny, the characters are so vivid and so fully realized that you forget you met them in a book, Griffin seems a complete expert in every field he even touches on, and the moral issues he raises are always complex and important. The book is about the news media, but more about taking responsibility for your actions -- the Elephant Man being a living symbol of Consequences.

"You almost feel guilty about laughing at THE TIME SERVERS because it's so brutal, but when you find out who the Depazians really are, when the whole Vietnam parallel starts taking shape, you just want to laugh and cry and jump up and down all at the same time.

"But obviously I'm not supposed to talk about this, or somebody else would already have been singing Griffin's praises. He's that good. So forget I even said anything, okay? And if you print a word of this I'll sue your *ss off."

THE TIME SERVERS is still available in a lot of bookstores, but the rest of Griffin's books are of course out of print. Sci-fi, as we all know, is meant to be cheap, lightweight, and disposable -- rather like a butane lighter -- and is not meant to appeal to Prominent Literary Critics. Inquiring minds don't need them." - Bruce Sterling

The Timeservers

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The Century's End

The Makeshift God


Hans Von Grimmelshausen

The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus (1689) - Hans Von Grimmelshausen

Project Gutenberg Edition (in German)

The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War of the first half of the 17th century is often considered to be the first "world war" of the modern era in which all of the major European powers were engaged. The territories of the German states were fought over many times and naturally this led to considerable loss of life and destruction of property. The reasons for the war were the traditional reasons of great power rivarly complicated by the newer conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. Ultimately physical and economic exhaustion led to a stalemate and a negotiated end to the war.

A participant in the war was Johann Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen whose account of the war Simplicius Simplicissimus (1689) has become a classic of German literature. Although it is highly imaginative at times, it is solidly based on his own experiences as a soldier and contains moving eyewitness accounts of the destruction wrought by the war.


Vassily Grossman

Life and Fate - Vassily Grossman

Books to Seek Out - Jeff VanderMeer

Amazon:

"Vasily Grossman submitted his manuscript for Life and Fate in 1960 at the height of Khrushchev's post-Stalinist cultural thaw. Subsequent to a review of the manuscript Grossman was advised that the book was being arrested. The book could not be published for at least 200 years. All copies of the manuscript were rounded up and sent to party headquarters for safekeeping. The manuscript was arrested because it dared to imply that Hitlerism and Stalinism bore more similarities than differences. Grossman made this point obliquely by putting these words into the mouth of a despicable SS death camp commandant. Nevertheless this was too much for both Khrushchev and the apparatchiks at the National Union of Writers and the book was banned. Life and Fate was eventually published because a manuscript remained at large. The author Vladimir Voinovich helped smuggle a copy to Switzerland where it was published in 1980, 15 years after Grossman's death in 1965. The book was published in the USSR in 1989 to sensational results. Nevertheless, Grossman remains relatively obscure outside Russia and that is a great pity.

Grossman was born in 1905. Although Jewish by birth, Grossman was never particularly religious and his family supported the 1917 revolution. After receiving a degree in chemistry Grossman found work in the Donbass coal mines. Encouraged by Maxim Gorky, Grossman began writing short stories and plays. Grossman adopted Stalin's maxim that writers were engineers of human souls and his work was firmly rooted in the rather tedious school of socialist realism. Grossman's play "If You Believe the Pythagoreans" attacked the philosophical rants of intellectuals and argued that they were garbage not "worth a good worker's boot." For all intents and purposes, Grossman was a true believer. How and why did this change? Life and Fate begins to answer that question.

Grossman volunteered for the front after the German invasion in 1941 and worked as a reporter for Red Star, an army newspaper known for its forthright reports from the front lines. Grossman received national fame due to his reporting from the front lines. Grossman was the first reporter to write first hand accounts of German concentration camps and his experience there had a devastating impact on his world view. Grossman learned after the war that his mother, who he failed to move from Berdichev to Moscow after the invasion perished in Hitler's genocide. It was the death of his mother and the post war anti-Semitic campaigns of Stalin that may have led Grossman to challenge his own acceptance of Soviet orthodoxy and set him to work on Life and Fate and his other major work, Forever Flowing.

Life and Fate is a remarkable novel despite its occasional unremarkable prose that contains a trace of Grossman's earlier socialist realism style. The book's emotional core involves humanity's struggle for freedom in an unfree world. Josef Skvorecky put the central question of Life and Fate thusly: "Does man lose his innate yearning for freedom? The fate of both man and the totalitarian State depends on the answer to this question. If human nature does change, then the eternal and world wide triumph of the dictatorial state is assured; if his yearning for freedom remains constant, then the totalitarian state is doomed."

The scope of the story and the cast of characters are vast and in the tradition of both Tolstoy and Pasternak. This edition contains a list of characters and their geographic location during the story. The central characters include Viktor Shtrum, a scientist, and his extended family. Other central figures include Captain Grekov, the leader of a group of soldiers doing battle with the Nazi's in a bombed out apartment building in Stalingrad. Grekov is an iconoclast doing battle not only with the Nazis but the political commissars that spent more time concerned with political orthodoxy than fighting. Key scenes in the book also take place in a German concentration camp and a Russian labor camp.

Life and Fate is a wonderful book. Grossman's assertion towards the end of his work that we can be slaves by fate but not slaves by nature is an important concept to keep a hold of today." - Leonard Fleisig


George Grossmith

Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith

Mainland Press

George Grossmith began his literary career as a police court reporter for The Times, but he was a talented actor, singer and dancer and was soon performing a one-man show, delivering his own comic monologues and songs at the piano. In 1877 he was offered a part in the D'Oyly Carte production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Sorcerer and he remained with the company for 12 years, creating many of Gilbert and Sullivan's major comic roles.

In 1888, Grossmith began writing a series of humorous articles for Punch magazine, illustrated by his brother Weedon. These articles parodied the books of memoirs then being inflicted on the reading public by self-important windbags whom nobody had ever heard of. Unlike these memoirs, however, The Diary of a Nobody recounts no meetings with the leading figures of the day nor does it tell of the author's involvement in important events - just the everyday happenings in the life of an ordinary office clerk, living in a quiet suburb of London, recorded in meticulous detail. The Punch articles were a great success, and in 1892 a slightly expanded version appeared as a book, which is now regarded as one of the classics of humor.

Project Gutenberg Edition


Davis Grubb

Ancient Lights - Davis Grubb

Reviews:

"Pleasure. Humility. Incest. Small furry dogs. All of this and more in the once in a lifetime publication from the late Mr. Grubb. Davis, as I am sure he would prefer to be known, is second to none in this epic, mind altering, sexalicious, hedonistic, sensory freefall into the world of Sweely Leech. The world is plenty organized in Sweely's world, truly, truly organized. Too organized, in fact. The surly, reptilian, quagmire that is New York satellites itself to the feral green wilderness that Sweely calls home. Thickets of rose petals, lavendar and comfrey litter the garden of the Gallimaufry, beds are alive with the sharing of ten bodies worth of love, mysterious heirloom clocks time travel, and little people relatives abound in this sumptuous story of Love with a capital L. Sweely celebrates the way of the world, and the evils of complicated living. Equally embracing badness with goodness makes him a very dangerous fellow. TRUCAD is forced to ask itself,what happens if everyone figures out how to be self directed, and fully understand God? How can the behavior of the government be explained then? Machines for heads, hearts and minds make for an unhappy alliance of bad boys looking to do Sweely in. He ascends beyond the mechanism of government known as TRUCAD, openly toying with the stability the modern world hallucinates. Heck, forget toying, Sweeley delivers outright blasphemous good doing! Leaving in his wake a progeny of enlightened daughters, Fifi Leech, his super star, finds herself the center of an immense and thoroughly earthshattering, teeth rattling and jawdropping escapade. Inexplicable coincidence lays itself at her feet, posing Lindy, her younger sister, as the other character in this amazing drama, and guides them all from the safe haven of home, to the writhing pit of Blake's New York. A full fledged miracle of a book, it examines everything in the known world as being connected to this amazing, potent and ridiculous dance we are doing on this spinning ball, and encourages you to remember that "dey's all debbil's beurre." I remind you that you cannot live without reading this masterpiece. Truly the most original and exciting thing I have read in my life. Well, you understand what I mean." - Lisa Barber


Robert Grudin

Book: A Novel - Robert Grudin


Michael Guinzburg

The Plumber of Souls - Michael Guinzburg

Top of the World, Ma! - Michael Guinzburg


Brion Gysin

The Process - Brion Gysin

"Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven, It was my hint to speak, such was the process... -Shakespeare.

This quote (partial) above is by way of Gysin's introduction to THE PROCESS---like all Gysin's works, greatly underrated, unacknowledged, and ignored, perhaps because of their metaphysical Occult ("hidden and rejected knowledge") origins periously perched as they are on the edge of an exquisitely unique literary absurdity difficult to comprehend without submitting to detailed, in-depth investigation. In other words, he deceptively appears an only half-sincere, sarcastic author writing pulp aimed at comic entertainment alone, when in fact his works (entire) upon further investigation reveal profound esoteric depths much like a Franz Kafka or Philip K. Dick. For a long while I have hoped for what will really be a first time proper evaluation of his masterful works; I can think of no author more deserving of a much-needed critical biography, and probably many will soon be produced. Of the brilliant novel THE PROCESS: The protagonist is Gysin himself, who appears in different colored skin due to the fact Brion suffered from what he called: "bad packaging!" It takes a lifetime to cross the desert and a childhood to do so at its narrowest point, explains one of the many mystical charcaters inhabiting the novel, whose names, like the lady "MAYA" ( literally sanskrit for "illusion") oftentimes reveal their signifigance. Gysin knew the sahara well, spending a good deal of his life in it, centered around expatriate Tangiers, where he owned and operated a resturant well reputed called "The 1001 Nights". The house musicians were none other than THE MASTER MUSICIANS OF JAJOUKA, whom Brion discovered in the "land of the little people" tucked far into the hills, and whom WSB called a "2000year old rock-n-roll band!" The 1001 Nights closed down directly due, Gysin feels (with firm evidence/proof) of Black Magic of a typically North African cursive.

Celebrated in THE PROCESS in a masterful narrative sequence is the yearly Ritual celebration involving the Great God Pan in the form of a man placed inside the actual skin of a recently sacraficed goat, who chases the Moroccan women about in a rite dating back to antiquity recalling the bacchanalia and Dionysian Rites and all Pagan fertility rites, still practised yearly with great festivity in Morocco.

The novel is, as WSB said of his own work, and's wholly applicable also to Gysin's ( whose influence and sway over WSB is immense, as WSB enthusiastically acknowledges)one where: "EVERY LINE IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FACT AND EVERY LINE IS BULLS**T!" "WRITING IS SUCCESSFUL WHEN IT MAKES THINGS HAPPEN!"---According to both Brion Gysin and William Seward Burroughs, this is the The supreme definition of "successful writing" as well as of "Magick". THE PROCESS, Brion Gysin's novel published first in 1969 was long involved in the "great work" of "writing itself"; for according to Gysin it's: A NOVEL IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING AND READING ITSELF! To a miraculous degree this cannot be properly communicated except by reading the novel yourself, which most of its readers agree they have done so several times; WSBurroughs rightly states besides being an esoteric masterpiece it is also "first-class entertainment", and like all Gysin's completely original works is absolutely hilarious! Noone, and I mean noone writes like he does, nor paints---for he was an early practitioner of surrealist techniques developed by Max Ernst, and Gysin exhibited his works with the surrealists, but was kicked out by Breton at his first exhibition, no doubt due more to his eccentric personality than to his artistic stylizations...he would go on to establish his own unique painterly style consisting of calligraphical overlain symbols resembling magical sigils and Chinese characters placed in grids reminiscent of the likewise magical origins found in the "Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin The Mage" which so influenced other Artists and Mages like Crowley and Mathers and Pessoa. And Like his painting, Gysin's literary origins likewise have their genesis and inspiration in Occultism, so permeating Gysin's life as to be essential in any contemplation aimed at an understanding of his works and life. His experiments and investigations are now legendary, especially those taken place at the Beat Hotel in Paris circa 1960 with Burroughs, Norse, Corso, sommerville, and a host of others where Gysin Established a quite scientific system for all literary history to applaude as the "Cut-Up technique", coined by WSBurroughs.

Brion Gysin will show you how THE PROCESS works, in the very process of "MAKING IT HAPPEN"! Such a magical feat before your very eyes without recourse to simply deeming such astounding miracles an "illusion" will if nothing else boggle your mind a good long while, and make you question the very fabric of the absolutely magical universe we live in. For the literary thrill-seeker as much as the mystically-minded, for the occult practitioner as for the philosophical scholar, THE PROCESS is one that is already a classic, and Gysin's works I feel are destined to outlive many other more famous works of its time; their endurance is miraculous in itself and they are essentially timeless. Aleister Crowley was correct in delineating a classic as defined by its ability to adapt and survive, and is in a sense: "a living being". THE PROCESS shows how such phenonema operate, as well as how it can also be, as everything is, Manipulated---whether to the writer's or the occultist's advantage; and regardless whether such things are called "Black Magick" or "Literature" is besides the point. Gysin often makes his point with a joke at humanity's expense, and it should be borne in mind that he is a great misanthrope; and as for his reputed misongyny goes, he truly believed women were a biological mistake---the irony is that a good many of his closest friend were women!

Brion Gysin is an enigma representative of NO race, religion, color, or creed. He truly is one of the Originals of the human species!" - Anita Fix


HHH


Richard Hakluyt

The Principall Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation, Made by Sea or Over-land to the Remote and Farthest Distant Quarters of the Earth at any Time Within the Compasse of These 1600 Years" (12 volumes, 1903-1905) - Richard Hakluyt

Google Books:

1.


Patrick Hamilton

Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton

Reviews:

"Set on the eve of WWII, "Hangover Square" is the story of a seriously disturbed man, George Harvey Bone, who's fallen in with a bad crowd. Bone is a solitary gloomy man who lives in a hotel in Earl's Court, London. He has no family--except for an elderly aunt in Hunstanton. George doesn't work--instead he lives off of a modest nest egg and spends his days and nights hanging around a small-time actress, Netta, and her set of male admirers. George is obsessed with Netta, and although he originally impressed her with his ready ability to stand for rounds of drinks, now he's relegated to the status of lowly 'hanger-on.' He is one of "the class of men who desired her, who sought her favours, and to whom she intended to give no favours." He's tolerated--barely--for his money alone.

George is subject to 'moods.' When exposed to an unbearable level of emotional distress, his damaged personality copes by mental escape. He hears a "click" in his head, and then he 'wakes' up with another personality. Whereas George is normally quiet, gentle, and unassuming, his other secret self is cunning and violent. George is aware he 'blacks out' but has no memory of exactly what he does. Once he hears the 'click' he emerges into his other, fractured self, and he's momentarily confused until he finds his bearings: "it was as though he had dived into a swimming-bath and hit his head on the bottom, and was floating about, bewildered and inaudible to himself in hushed green depths."

Netta and her unpleasant friends constantly humiliate George, and in retaliation, during one of his moods, he plots her murder. Netta is blissfully unaware of this, and treats George abominably--using him to bolster her non-existent career. The novel tracks George's existence as he pathetically hopes for a crumb of attention from Netta and also records the episodes in which he flips from one personality to another. Patrick Hamilton's novel is atmospheric and tense as the story reveals George's boozy social world in the grimy smoke filled pubs of London. Netta is a fascinatingly bad yet strikingly beautiful character--a woman who is "sinisterly, devoid of all those qualities which her face and body externally proclaimed her to have--pensiveness, grace, warmth." "Hangover Square" is a gripping story of one man's descent into madness, and the act he deems necessary to gain escape from the unbearable torture of loving a woman who has no conscience. If you like the novels of Patrick Mcgrath, then you'll enjoy "Hangover Square" and its sad, lonely and ultimately complex protagonist.: - anomie

"Hamilton addresses the diminishing importance of the individual in the face of the modern superstate. This novel resembles in atmosphere the 'film noir' genre of the contemporary cinema. George Harvey Bone's pathetic career is 'sensationalised', made lurid and larger than life, so that he becomes like a figure in a melodrama. Hamilton uses language that focus the reader's view through those of Bone, self-obsessedly viewing his own actions, his "great golfers hands" on the golf club for example, as he tries to invest himself with some feeling of worth while sub-consciously plotting murder. Bone's schizophrenic world threatens to explode throughout the book , just as the dark clouds of war with Europe gather threateningly in the background. The tiny tragedy of Bone' s demise is deliberately made to read like pulp fiction, in a sense, and the report of his death, forced off the front page by the breaking out of war, is likewise reduced to a tabloid headline.

The whole setting of the book is artificial; "the agony of Netta beneath the electric light"; the great wave of laughter (the world's laughter) that breaks over Bone as he enters the lime-lit Brighton theatre, are part of the harsh artificiality of the world that Bone inhabits. His friends are cynical and talk enthusiastically of fascism.

I am reminded by this book of the world described in Henry Miller's early work (Tropic of Capricorn etc) and of George Orwell's 'Coming up for Air' in which, once again, events build against the mounting threat of World War II, and the protagonists (George 'Fatty' Bowling) sense of personal history, values and identity are buried by the onslaught of suburban sprawl and its attendant advertising, materialism and the dislocation of community.

Hamilton predicts the present day world of media obsession with personal agony, which trivialises all human anguish and tribulation, reducing human experience and suffering to a commodity to be consumed, rather than a shared touchstone of communication, understanding and empathy.

Hamilton's brilliance lies in the clever contrivance of allowing us to feel Bone's pathetic agony, and yet to see it transformed into a trite, turgid melodrama, which is interchangeable in the daily press with a major international war. This is the kind of attitude, towards the small business of being human, that was necessary to prepare the world for the introduction of concentration camps and mass political executions.

Imagine George Harvey Bone as a character in a Thomas Hardy novel: (Bone could be transformed into a country rube quite easily!) His unfortunate story would be imbued with a sense of sanctity and respect that Hamilton deliberately defiles and destroys before our very eyes, using exactly the same means in achieving this end as the media of his day, and as the media of the present day does in a way that both Hamilton and Orwell could forsee, perhaps, but surely never appreciate the oppressive monstrous extent to which it has come.

This is one of the last novels, it seems to me, written before the obsession with the selfish concerns of the individual (the first article of faith of capitalism) became the only concern of the writer. Hamilton's book clearly indicates the coming of this self obsession. From here on, solipsism rules OK?" - A Customer


Knut Hamsen

Mysteries - Knut Hamsen

Amazon:

"This is a sketchy book to recommend. I've recommended it to friends who say it is among their favorites, others who say they don't get it, didn't like it. Arguably there is no plot to the story, yet something beckons you to keep turning the pages. For me it's the kind of book that I can open to any page and I'm into it. Hamsun has a tricky wit, his characters are quirky and unpredictable, and I guess that's the appeal -- you keep reading just to find out what the characters are capable of.

What I think is amazing about this book is that it had no forerunner (or so they say). Hamsun just decided he was going to sit down and change the course of fiction, and he did it. Basically, he was tired of the predictable course of Victorian literature, the predictable style, predictable endings, and wanted to shake it up, and in the process efforts like Mysteries became the forerunner of the Modern age in literature. The string of modern novelists that count Hamsun as one of their prime influences is too long to list here, and Mysteries (along with Hunger) are the classic favorites.

I don't know if this is my favorite novel of all time (it's close) but Johann Nilsson Nagel is my favorite character. I doubt you'll find a more tragically passionate character. And if you are a self-taught writer this is a tremendous book to learn from." - vandal101


Divers Hands

The Resurrected Holmes: New Cases from the Notes of John H. Watson, M.D. - Divers Hands, ed.

Amazon reviewer grreg:

'Resurrected Holmes' is a somewhat convoluted idea well-executed. It is a collection of short Sherlock Holmes stories supposedly written by other well-known authors. In other words, the actual authors who wrote the stories had to write them in the style of the purported authors, who were supposedly endeavouring to write in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Watsonian voice.

Now, that may or may not take your fancy. What is needs to be said is that, by and large, the stories in this volume are of an excellent quality, so even if the literary conceit that is the book's starting point fails to please you, the stories themselves should.

For true Holmes completists, each story is one of the unchronicled stories referred to by Watson in his accounts of Holmes' investigations (with the exception of the final story, which reveals the truth behind 'The Adventure of the Second Stain').

In some cases (for example, 'The Adventure of the Boulevard Assassin' and 'The Madness of Colonel Warburton', ascribed to Jack Kerouac and Dashiell Hammett respectively) the voice of the putative author occassionally overwhelms the Holmesian nature and may be a substantial distraction for those reading this book purely as a Sherlock Holmes collection.

However, some of the stories are good enough to warrant the price of admission alone. I particularly enjoyed 'The Adventure of Ricoletti of the Club Foot (and his abominable wife)', notionally written by P.G. Wodehouse, in that it managed to be both a convincing Holes story while also being a comedy of manners that its putative author might well have appreciated.

Marvin Kaye knows his Sherlock Holmes, and this volume plainly displays his (and the contributing authors) deep-felt love and admiration for the Holmesian canon.


Max Harrison

The Essential Jazz Records, Volume I: Ragtime to Swing - Max Harrison, Charles Fox, Eric Thacker

Amazon:

"The first volume of the Essential Jazz Records (I'm not sure if the second volume ever appeared) is a very strong guide to early jazz on a number of accounts. Perhaps the most important reason for its succes is the fact that the three authors are sufficiently alike in their predilections for the book to be cohesive, but are sufficiently particular in their passions for their to be a wide net as they attempt to gather in "the essential jazz recordings." There are enough recordings here to support the title, and they are spread over a wide enough stylistic range (from African music, to field recordings of African American performers, to blues to the earliest jazz through swing to Charlie Parker's earliest recordings) so that no one will find any gaping holes. These three reviewers together probably present a better feel for the breadth and beauty of early jazz than any of the dozens of guides I have read. Anyone possessing all of these records would certainly feel satisfied they had captured the essence of early jazz. Another fine thing about this collection of reviews is the keen insights they offer into the recodings themselves. I have often found myself returning to recordings on my shelf and listening to them with new ears in response to something written in this book. I do not always share the views of these British jazz experts, but they do certainly inspire reevaluation. The fault that many will find with the book is that the particular recordings listed here are all long-since-disappeared LPs. Many of the major label recordings have reappeared in pretty much the same form on CD, but some have not. Nevertheless, almost all the music here is available somewhere. By using this book as a guide to the music one should be looking for, and another guide to help decide which reissue might have the best remastering, etc., the explorer of early jazz won't go wrong." - Eric Hines

The Essential Jazz Records, Volume II: Modernism to Postmodernism - Max Harrison, Charles Fox, Eric Thacker

Amazon:

"It has been 16 years since the publication of vol.1, 'Ratime to Swing' in 1984. At long last we can read the vol.2 . I obtained a copy in the Ginza, Tokyo. It cost me ..........! This was the case in Japan before the ............' in Japan.

During these 16 years the co-writer Charles fox regrettably deceased,to whom this volume is dedicated. The writing by three writers (the leader is Max Harrison) is as highbrow as in the previous one and they frequently mention classical music, which sometimes made me bored. However, rarely have I ever come across such high-grade criticism. The works equal to this brilliance of the two volumes are, arguably, Humphrey Lyttleton's 'The Best of Jazz' 2 vols. (the volume of modern jazz is unpublished), Gunther Schuller's 2 vols (the same as the former), Martin William's The Jazz Tradition, and the Japanese critic Masaaki Awamura's 'The History of Modern Jazz'(only in the Japanese language.

In the vol. 1, 250 records were analyzed and criticized, this time also 250 from Charlie Christian's Minton House Session to Peter Apfelbaum and the Hieroglyphic Ensemble's 'Sign of Life.' We can listen to our own records/CDs afresh from various new points of view and reexperience the process of jazz trend, if not development, from modern to postmodern age. I am sure the meaning/significance of our record collection will become manifold." - takenaka_ryuichi

"I also reviewed Volume One of the Essential Jazz Recordings for Amazon. The first volume impressed me for the breadth and fair-mindedness apparent in the 250 selections listed, but what really excited me was the passion and insightfulness of the individual reviews.

The authors faced an altogether more daunting task in selecting and reviewing the 250 discs included in volume two. The modernist and "postmodernist" (I don't really think there's a difference, but . . .) movements in jazz spawned a plethora of stylistic innovations, many of which demand some sort of representation here. And there are just many, many more jazz recording from the latter half of the century than there were in the first half.

So, where the selections and review essays in the first volume generally reflect the passion the authors felt for the music on the discs, the selections and reviews for the second volume generally seem to reflect a set of arbitrary standards the authors established to deal with the enormous amount of material potentially under consideration.

So, a lot of the inclusions seem to be here not because anyone thinks they are truly exciting recordings, but because they are though to best represent a particular stylist or stylistic movement or structural change in how jazz could be approached.

The thing I like most about the reviews in the first volume is the way it sent me back to the recordings it treats and gave me fresh ears to listen to them with. The thing I remember about the reviews in the second volume is Simon Nicholson's seeming obsession with song structure (A,B,B',A',C,A,A).

I am put in mind of William Youngren's review of Gunther Schuller's fine book Early Jazz. At the end of the day these sorts of books always come down to the subjective response of the author or authors to the experience of the music. Technicalia or any other stage props of purported fairness and objectivity tend to start getting in the way of that response pretty quickly if not used with care.

Schuller's work generally is a model for balancing the musical technicalia fine writing and good ears. While the second volume of The Essential Jazz Recordings is a quite useful book, it falls far short of the pleasures of the first volume, mostly because it fails to strike a good balance between these elements." - eric hines


M. John Harrison

Things That Never Happen - M. John Harrison


Jaroslav Hasek

The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War - Jaroslav Hasek

Top 10 Eastern European Novels - Tibor Fischer

What a novel. Hasek blew a lifetime's wit and wisdom in one splurge. Relentlessly funny and true; I read it every two years or so. But why did it have to be written by a Czech?

Amazon:

"I first read Hasek's masterpiece almost 30 years ago in a shorter and more Bowdlerized translation. The Cecil Parrot edition is, needless to say, far preferable (it even contains a wonderful introduction including a discussion of Czech profanity as compared to that in English) and I've read it again and again since it came out in 1974. Shelby Foote said somewhere that every year he reads Proust as a sort of literary vacation. About ever 2 or 3 years I reread Svejk to cleanse my literary palate and it's always as fresh and as enjoyable as it was the first time. The dialogue, the characters and the situations in Svejk are, stated simply, the funniest I've ever read. Many other books have many merits in this regard, but none has approached Hasek in the sustained hilarity over 500 pages or more. The secret policeman, Bretschneider, Chaplain Katz, Sergeant Major Vanek, Cadet Biegler, Balloun and Lt. Dub are all memorable characters in their own right, but when they interact the result surpasses anything I have ever read for comedy. The episode involving a character with writer's block during his drafting of a prayer to be recited while administering Mr. Kokoska's pharmaceutical powders for cow flatulence is a classic rivalling Aristophanes or Rabelais. [I realize that sentence is confusingly prolix, so please read the book; it will be worth your while.] The term "laugh out loud" is overused and abused these days, but The Good Soldier Svejk will have you disturbing family and friends with repeated guffawing any time you are reading it nearby. I can't give a text any higher recommendation." - Stephen M. Kerwick


Lafcadio Hearn

Hearn was born on the Greek island of Lefkas, on June 27, 1850, son of an Anglo-Irish surgeon major in the British army and a Greek mother. After his parents' divorce when he was six, he was brought up by a great-aunt in Dublin, Ireland. He lost the sight in his left eye at the age of 16, and soon after, his father died. A year later, due to his great-aunt's bankruptcy, he was forced to withdraw from school. At the age of nineteen he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where five years later he became a newspaper reporter. In 1877 Hearn went to New Orleans to write a series of articles, and remained there for ten years. Having achieved some success with his literary translations and other works, he was hired by Harper Publishing Co. He was in the West Indies on assignment from Harper from 1887-89, and wrote two novels on that period.

In 1889 he decided to go to Japan, and upon his arrival in Yokohama in the spring of 1890, was befriended by Basil Hall Chamberlain of Tokyo Imperial University, and officials at the Ministry of Education. At their encouragement, in the summer of 1890 he moved to Matsue, to teach English at Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School. There he got to know Governor Koteda Yasusada and Sentaro Nishida of Shimane, and later married Setsu Koizumi, the daughter of a local samurai family.

Hearn stayed fifteen months in Matsue, moving on to another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyushu, at the Fifth Higher Middle School, where he spent the next three years and completed his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). In October of 1894 he secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University, a post he held until 1903, and at Waseda University. On September 26, 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54.

Hearn's most famous work is a collection of lectures entitled Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904). His other books on Japan include Exotics and Retrospective (1898), In Ghostly Japan (1899), Shadowings (1900), A Japanese Miscellany (1901), and Kwaidan (1904)." - Lafcadio Hearn Site

Fantastics and Other Fancies

Amazon:

"The 19th-century writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) is now far better known in Japan than in the U.S., but he once had fame in America, chiefly for his 1887 collection Some Chinese Ghosts and 1904's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (the basis of the 1964 film Kwaidan). Fantastics and Other Fancies (1914) is a posthumous collection of 36 early works which, because of their brevity (the longest by far is 16 pages) and their lushly romantic style, might more accurately be described as prose poems. These often-supernatural short-shorts were written for New Orleans newspapers and rescued from obscurity by Hearn's friends and admirers; the majority are from the pages of the Daily Item, and six are from the Times-Democrat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of Hearn's short-shorts are dreams; in "The Idyl of a French Snuff-Box," the art on the box lid inspires a dream as fascinating and as sadly interrupted as Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," while "The One Pill-Box" presents the struggles of a man trapped in a fever dream. A few of Hearn's sketches are twice-told tales; "Aida" summarizes Verdi's opera with impressively rich brevity, while "The Devil's Carbuncle" retells a South American legend of greedy Spanish invaders and an accursed gem. Short-shorts like "Hereditary Memories," "When I Was a Flower," and "Metempsychosis" explore reincarnation. "The Fountain of Gold" is a fairy tale about a Spaniard who finds love and the fountain of youth, and still is not content. In "The Ghostly Kiss," a masterpiece of chilling horror, a man is mysteriously compelled to kiss a beautiful stranger at a vast theater and discovers he is in a quite different and far more dreadful place. "A River Reverie" was inspired by the New Orleans visit of a famous contemporary, Mark Twain. "Hiouen-Thsang," an example of the Orientalia for which Hearn would gain fame, follows a Buddhist's dangerous journey to distant India to revive the faith in his native China.

Melancholy, obsessed with the "twin-idea of Love and Death," and haunted by ghosts, classical gods, and beautiful, often dead or dying women, Hearn's "fantastics" and "fancies" are gothic in a sense far removed from black-leather-clad club-hoppers in vampire dentures, but it would not be surprising to learn these doom-laden, atmospheric pieces were an influence on New Orleans's modern-day queens of horror, Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite." - Cynthia Ward

Some Chinese Ghosts

PDF version at HorrorMasters


Eric Hebborn

Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger - Eric Hebborn


Heinrich Heine

Journey to Italy - Heinrich Heine

From the foreword by Christopher Johnson:

...
How, then, did Heine's little book manage to provoke at once such antipathy and acclaim? Availing himself of the barest of narratives, Heine - now gently, now not so gently, but always ingeniously - satirizes Prussian nationalism, the Catholic liturgy, English tourists, educated Jews, Tyrolean peasants, professors of jurisprudence, Shakespeare enthusiasts, the pretensions of the aristocracy, the genre of travel literature and, above all, Count August von Platen-Hallermunde and his literary, political and sexual leanings. Employing the Italian setting and such characters as Signora Letitia to skewer in a more oblique fashion the manners, mores and aspirations of the intellectual, largely Jewish, circles of Berlin society in which he moved, Heine, paradoxically, also uses his travel narrative as a springboard for some of his most refined and idealistic reflections on the nature of man and human society. Still, by unleashing this scatter-shot barrage of satire and political radicalism in the reactionary atmosphere of Friedrich II's Prussia and the other nearly universally as conservative German-speaing lands, Heine also irretrievably wounded his own reputation and chances for advancement. Indeed, soon after the publication of "Reise nach Italien" and the subsequent fourth and final volume of the "Reisebilder" in 1830, Heine emigrated to Paris where he was to spend the rest of his life in uneasy exile. The stirring call to arms which concludes "The City of Lucca" can be heard, therefore, not only as his cri de coeur at the advent of the soon to be co-opted July Revolution, but also, more somberly, as signaling both the end of Heine's youth - he was nearly thirty-three - and his last attempt to revolutionize German life and letters from within his native land.
...


Felisberto Hernandez

Lands of Memory - Felisberto Hernandez


Wolfgang Hildesheimer

Collected Stories of Wolfgang Hildesheimer - Wolfgang Hildesheimer

Reviews:

The 19 pieces in this collection are less conventional stories than jeux d'esprit, after-dinner performances, fanciful jests told in a mocking tone. In "The End of the World," the guests at a soiree given on her artificial island by the Marchesa Montetristo (nee Waterman from Little Gidding, Ohio) are too engrossed in a recital of rococo music performed by musicians dressed in period costumes to notice that the island is sinking. Music and talk of music is a recurrent strain, jokey, sometimes amusing and always sophisticated, as one would expect of the author of a highly regarded biography of Mozart. The playful tone is that of a literary intellectual and man of wide culture who has no stomach for philistines and charlatans. The targets of the satiric barbs are perhaps too obvious, and the humor is often rather broad in the Teutonic manner, but these pieces are nothing if not civilized. - Publisher's Weekly


William Hjortsberg

Falling Angel - William Hjortsberg

Odd Corners: The Slip-Stream World of William Hjortsberg - William Hjortsberg


Edward Hoagland

On Nature - Edward Hoagland


Russell Hoban

Pilgermann - Russell Hoban


James Hogg

The Private Memoirs & Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg

Canongate Classics

Written in 1824, James Hogg's masterpiece is a brilliant portrayal of the power of evil. Set in early eighteenth-century Scotland, the novel recounts the corruption of a boy of strict Calvinist upbringing by a mysterious stranger under whose influence he commits a series of murders. The reader, while recognising the stranger as the Devil, is prevented by the subtlety of the novel's structure from finally deciding whether, for all his vividness and wit, he is more than a figment of the imagination.

Page-by-Page Books Online Edition
NYRB Edition
The Literary Gothic on Hogg:
Scottish poet, novelist, and short-story writer, Hogg (known in his day as "the Ettrick Shepherd") is in some ways representative of the Romantic phenomenon of the "natural poet," a self-taught writer thought to represent a "naive" or uncorrupted human perspective. While indeed self-taught (Hogg was largely illiterate until he was in his early twenties), Hogg's literary achievements belie some of the stereotypes associated with him. While he at times deliberated cultivated the pose of the natural poet, Hogg's literary sensibilities were acute, and his acquaintance with Sir Walter Scott and involvement in some of Scott's projects helped further develop his talents. (Scott and Hogg would later have a falling out largely on the basis of a disagreement over the literary uses of supernaturalism.) Most famous today for Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Hogg also wrote a number of supernaturalist tales and poems, many of which appeared in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and which were collected (and poorly revised and edited) in The Shepherd's Calendar (1829).

James Hogg

Lord Emsworth's Annotated Whiffle: The Care of the Pig - James Hogg, ed.


E. T. A. Hoffman

The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr - E.T.A. Hoffman

Amazon reviewer Jeff Abell:

Hoffmann was one of the most influential writers of the early 19th cventury. A composer and critic as well as writer of often bizarre fiction, Hoffmann set the tone for much of Romantic literature (especially the combination of the bourgeois and the supernatural), and provided the plots for operas and ballets (including Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker). This novel, which intersperses the memoirs of a cat (appropriately named Murr) with the "random pieces of wastepaper" the cat shredded out of a biography of the composer Kreisler (Hoffmann's alter ego?). In the late 20th century, we came to take the idea of intercutting two unrelated narratives for granted as a Post-modern breakdown of narrative authority. Yet here is the same device, in 1820! Just when you're emotionally invested in one story, it abruptly shifts back to the other. Moreover, Murr's "cat's eye view" of human interaction turns the entire book into a sly critique of the declining aristocrats and rising bourgeois of Europe at the time. A brilliant, compelling, often hilarious read. You'll understand why Schumann, Brahms, and so many others thought of Hoffmann as their favorite writer.

Amazon reviewer Nina Hanan:

I learned about ETA Hoffman by reading some articles he had written on Mozart and Beethoven (the A in is name is for Amadeus, he idolized Mozart). Little did I know that he he was a brilliant and captivating writer of fiction as well. Although markedly less frightening than many of his short stories (such as the Sandman), this book is nevertheless exciting as well as thought provoking (Hoffman makes about 400 references to the literature and music of the his time and before). Additionally, it an example of literary bravado I have not seen elsewhere, namely, the writing of two books in one. In it, a bourgeois 'genius' of a tomcat (murr), creates a wonderful palimpset by writing on shreds of the biography of brooding romantic composer Johannes Kriesler. As such, interspersed betwee the cat's opinions are excepts of the rather odd story of Krieler and his friends, such as the magician Master Abraham. Each time either of the two stories begins building to a climax, Hoffman pulls the rug out from under you and changes narratives. The only fault I find with the book is that it is unfinished (Hoffman wanted to publish a third volume which would tie up loose ends), it even ends mid-sentence. Regardless, this is a wonderful book, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.


Bart Hopkin

Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments - Bart Hopkin


Ben Hopkins

GWUPYGRUBYNUDNYLAND - Ben Hopkins

"A terrible mountaindream I have had," said the King of Gwupygrubynudnyland, "all was wobblesome, and I wobbliest of all."

The 1820s, Central Europe. In the tiny, boring, pointless Kingdom of Gwupygrubynudnyland, nothing has happened for years.

But now Satan is coming to Gwupygrubynudnyland.

Soon the tiny nation will be the centre of the world. Soon the pocket-sized Kingdom will be the burning furnace at the heart of Industry, the motor of Progress and the counting house of Capitalism. In only three years, Satan's Gwupygrubynudnyland will propel the world into a whirlwind of chaos and change.

In a richly textured mix of lyricism, irony and vulgarity, Ben Hopkins' dark, comic satire speeds up the last two hundred years of European history into a hilarious, orgiastic and disturbing helter-skelter ride towards oblivion." - Amazon boilerplate of unknown origin


Bohumil Hrabal

I Served the King of England - Bohumil Hrabal

Too Loud a Solitude - Bohumil Hrabal

Amazon:

"Is this novel (really a novella, but one with the reach and stretch of a novel) a parable? Or a portrait of man whose reality, while banal and even oppressive, is transformed by his mind and the language of his conversations with himself into an intense, hallucinatory way of life? Perhaps it's both. Hant'a, the man in question, stands, like an archetypal being - half beast, half angel -- with his feet in the mud and his eyes on the stars. And sometimes his feet sink even lower, into excrement. There is a recurring excremental theme throughout the book - accidents with human waste have determined the sad course of his earliest love-affairs; he descends from the basement where he works into an even lower world, that of Prague's sewer system, where he reflects upon an unending war between two tribes of sewer rats, each of which wishes to dominate the world of human evacuations; and, like a man idling by a babbling stream in the countryside, he sometimes relaxes by attending to the gurgle of water carrying waste through the drain-pipes connected to the sinks and toilets of the building where he works.

Or is Hant'a one of Hrabal's several "village simpletons"? In this case he would be a simpleton with vast intellectual ambitions (to understand the world as the greatest philosophers have), ambitions that are possibly beyond his abilities and opportunities. Which, of course, does not stop his flowing commentaries on the life around him, expressed in language that is vivid and colloquial, and in which one story reels in another and memories are like dreams with their strange transformations and fluidity.

His own highly symbolic work (a job he lovingly holds for thirty-five years) deals with another line of waste. Hant'a operates an old machine which shreds, mulches and compacts waste paper, including pristine books which will never be read because the State has banned them or because his fellow men are uninterested in their contents. Within each bale of compacted writing, he places a book opened to a favorite passage as a token of this ritual sacrifice of human thought. And he decorates the exteriors of the baled wastepaper with salvaged Old Master's reproductions, which will give the world a glimpse of higher things, beautiful things, as the bales are hauled away by truck and train.

While he rescues individual copies of books (and literally builds a castle of them within his two-room flat, a castle which threatens to collapse and crush him), he knowingly but sadly obliterates whole villages of mice who dwell in the ramshackle wastepaper kingdom which is constantly being assembled and disassembled in his basement workshop. He also crushes vast air-forces of metallic flies who assault him as he processes blood-soaked wrapping paper from butchers' shops, noting their busy blood-lust even as the closing jaws of the steel press are about to end their world. It's hard, dirty work which raises a thirst. While he constantly downs pitchers full of beer at his labors and on his way to and from work, he also thirsts for knowledge as much as he thirsts for beer, pausing to ponder gemlike sentences from the books he has destroyed and rescued. As he nears his retirement age he plans to buy his old work-press and move it to the countryside, where he will continue to compact wastepaper into artfully contrived bales which will be exhibited to the public, educational waste. He and the machine have merged their identities.

The knowledge he has accrued by reading discarded books is of a peculiar kind; it is almost entirely philosophical, metaphysical, or mystical (he cites the following with admiration: Socrates, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Goethe, Novalis, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus ... and others). He hardly mentions the destruction of poetry or fiction. He gloats over the shredding of Nazi books but laments the loss of the gilt-stamped, leather-bound volumes of the Prussian State library. When he is working in a frenzy, refreshing himself constantly with beer and staring up at the sky through the hole above his head through which he is deluged with cascades of wastepaper, he has visions in which Jesus and Lao-Tze become his companions and engage in a sort of dialectical contest for the human soul and human possibilities as they are conceived during one's youth and then very differently during one's old age. And what about the gypsy girls who bring him wastepaper and then lounge about the basement, sharing his meals and beer and occasionally offering him sexual favors, which he politely declines because he is too busy with his machine or too preoccupied with his thoughts? Are they real? It's difficult to tell, for him as well as for us, the readers. They seem real enough, but a man who can summon up Jesus and Lao-Tze as companions can certainly summon up a gypsy or two. Everything about Hant'a's reality is intense and lurid, blending the everyday and the fantastic, from his dwelling through his workplace to his memories of his youthful life.

A most definite Reality intrudes in the form of a new generation of waste-compacting machines and waste workers - uniformed, efficient milk-drinkers (unlike his rather shabby self in need of a bath and smelling of beer and sweat) who never rescue a book or even open one to inspect its contents, because apparently they don't read; they have other leisure pursuits, more active and attractive pastimes; they are healthy socialist workers, hale and hearty in form and appetite but deficient in imagination and starved of intellectual nourishment. This new reality leads the demoralized Hant'a to a decision in which he escapes an intolerable situation through a ceremonial act that replicates and summarizes his whole life, an act which I will not describe here for fear of giving the reader something which he should discover on his own.

"Too Loud a Solitude" is autobiographical -- and self-exemplary -- to the extent that Hrabal's numerous years as a manual laborer (including a stint as a wastepaper compacter) were not a "waste" of his own aptitudes; here, as in other of his works, he has turned the dross of toil and everyday language into something quite valuable. The translation by Michael Henry Heim is excellent, conveying the language of a man who is in a constant state of rapture even as he sinks in despair. And, as a paper product, the book is very compact. Save it." - Robert T. OKEEFE


Clair Huffaker

Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian - Clair Huffaker


Barry Hughart

Bridge of Birds - Barry Hughart

Green Man Review - Matthew Scott Winslow

...
Number Ten Ox lives in a village in rural China where the peasants follow the cyclical agricultural calendar. Very little changes. One year, however, the village's money-hungry pawn brokers decide that they can make money by rigging the annual silk harvest. But they inadvertently end up poisoning the village children near unto death. Number Ten Ox is sent into the booming metropolis of medieval Peking to find someone who can cure the children. There he comes across Li Kao, the wisest man of China, who is possessor of "a slight flaw in his character." Master Li quickly figures out how the children were poisoned and how to cure them.

The antidote, however, lies in a root that is so rare there is only one known to be in existence, the Great Root of Power. Master Li sets off on the back of Number Ten Ox to find the Great Root of Power, and so their adventures begin. Before the book is completed, Master Li and Number Ten Ox will have restored celestial order, while granting peace to many anguished souls.

Along the way, though, Master Li and Number Ten Ox have a series of rollicking, bawdy, and witty adventures, as they encounter ghosts, giant spiders, and other demons. Their adventures transpire mostly because of the slight flaw in Master Li's character, which is that he is unscrupulous, willing to do anything (especially if it involves deception) to achieve his ends.
...

Amazon:

"Once upon a time, in post-war Britain, and author named Ernest Bramah started to write what became a slim handful of books set in an ancient, and mostly mythical, China. The hero of these books was Kai Lung, who is best described as a well meaning rascal. The stories tell of his (mis)adventures in love and the pursuit of sufficient cash. Bramah had a rare, polished style, full of irony and sly humor, which was the continual delight of his readers. In this reissue of the 1984 edition Barry Hughart ventured for the first time into a rarified world entirely reminiscent of Kai Lung's with equal aplomb and verve.

Instead of Kai Lung, our heroes are Yu Lu, commonly referred to as Number Ten Ox (to differentiate him from the eminent author of 'The Classic of Tea') and Li Kao, a great scholar with 'a slight flaw in his character.' Yu Lu plays the part of the brave, strong, and heroic youth. The perfect foil for Li Kao, who is sneaky, tricky and... Well, one of them has to be capable of quick thinking. Together they mount an impossible quest to save the lives of the children of Yu Lu's village. They have been treacherously poisoned by Ku poison, the only antidote for which is a 'Great Root of Power' (small drum roll).

Without hesitation our heroes head off into a completely mythical world, where they work schemes to steal the money they need to work the schemes that will yield up the magical ginseng. In doing so they must confront the incredibly gross Ancestress, who rules China from underneath, and the immensely greedy Duke of Ch'in. And bitter fate has arranged that the 'Great Root of Power' (yet another drum roll) has been cut into parts and spread about in fabulous treasuries, all guarded by awful monsters and inescapable traps.

Will they conquer the forces arrayed against them? Will they discover the real reason for everything that has happened to them? Will they find the heart of the 'Great Root of Power' (boom!) and save the children of Ku-fu? Of course, but how they do it will mystify and dazzle you. If Barry Hughart has borrowed a plot device from Ernest Bramah, he has made it uniquely his own. His language is slightly more modern, and he has traded some irony for sarcasm and slapstick, but the true magic, a fantasy world peopled by countless characters, each more gemlike than the last, set in a work that shines with equal magic. If you like well wrought, tongue in cheek fantasy, put 'Bridge of Birds' on the top of your reading list. And don't forget to look for the sequels." - Marc Ruby


Richard Hughes

A High Wind in Jamaica - Richard Hughes

Reviews:

"I'll never be able to say the MLA's list of the greatest novels of the 20th Century was a total waste, because it made me aware of this book's existence.

I'd never heard of "A High Wind in Jamaica," and had a hell of a time trying to find it---I ended up in the basement of a branch of my public library (I guess I shouldn't be endorsing the use of libraries on Amazon's site, but I can't afford to buy every book I want to read---sorry, Amazon). Once I started it, I couldn't put it down.

I'm always wishing I could find books like the ones it seems are only written for children. Kids get great books---full of adventure and fantasy and harrowing escapes, etc. It always sounds fun to go back and read books that enthralled me as a kid so I can recapture the same feelings that filled me then. But it never works. I can never get into kids' books in the same way, no matter how hard I try.

"A High Wind in Jamaica" is like a children's book written for adults. It's got all the right elements: tropical locations, a harrowing storm, pirates, murder. But the psychological element Richard Hughes gives to the story adds a dark, brutal dimension that children's books are often missing altogether or only skate briefly by.

This novel has a wonderful way of seeing events through the eyes of a child, and it functions as a sort of warning not to forget that children, though maybe possessing less life experience than adults, are capable of feeling the same emotions and, more importantly, have the potential to be just as brutal. In fact, Hughes suggests that children may actually be more brutal, since they have less of a knowledge base from which to understand and weigh consequences.

I don't want to make this book sound over burdened with rhetoric and psychobabble, however. It's a fast-paced, tense novel, with a menacing tone constantly present just under the surface. Hughes creates beautiful images of Jamaica in the book's early chapters, and paints a vivid picture of life at sea later on.

If I actually had any money, I would buy the rights to this book, because it would make a great movie." - brewster22


Rhys Hughes

The Smell of Telescopes - Rhys Hughes

Reviews:

"Welsh writer Rhys Hughes regards this as his favourite book, and with good reason. It is one of the funniest and most intelligent books from the lighter side of macabre writing I have ever seen. It clamours with a cast of pirates, floppy-wristed welsh bards, explorers and inventors, imps, squonks, moving public houses, M R Jamesian revenants, M R Jamesian punctuation, blueberry pies, trousers, noses, clocks, carrots . . . I cant list them all here, there isn't room. Like all the best books, this quirky and surreal collection is hard to classify, but it lies in that region where the macabre and eerie worlds of classic horror and fantasy become a basis for something else - for a dark and original sense of humour filled with unexpected cross-references, homages, satires and black comedy. What makes this collection remarkable is not just the delightfully murky and skewed tales themselves, but the complex and ingenious way they all lock together and interrelate. I was going to say 'tessellate' but if this is a tessellation then it is filled with impossible-sided polygons, non-Euclidean three-dimensional geometry, unexpurgated curves and cracks from which blueberry-scented steam emerges with a screaming hiss. But what is without doubt is that 'The Smell of Telescopes' is a magnificent book and a cornerstone of the rather oddly shaped corner of literature that it occupies. Since the first edition went out of print, the unavailability of this book has been a great crime of literature. And Eibonvale Press is, as always, dedicated to the righting of the world's more substantial wrongs." - Amazon description


Vicente Huidobro

Altazor - Vicente Huidobro

"Altazor is probably Vicente Huidobro's best poem. Who's Vicente Huidobro you ask? The least known of the top echelon of Latin American avant-garde (or "vanguardista" in Spanish) poets of the 20th century.

Impressive enough in Spanish, with its incredible wordplay and thought-provoking imagery, what's more impressive is Eliot Weinberger's translation. He's the only one who's ever published a translation of the entire thing (everyone else just translates excerpts); this is due to the incredible difficulty of translating some of the complicated linguistic games Huidobro plays with words, which Weinberger actually does a very good job of.

Four star worthy if you can only read the translation; easily five star worthy if you can read both the original and the translation." - Shattered Self


Leigh Hunt

The Rebellion of the Beasts: Or, the Ass Is Dead! Long Live the Ass - Leigh Hunt

Amazon:

"2004 saw the first publication of this gleefully savage satire in some 180 years, and I must say that the author of The Rebellion of the Beasts or, The Ass is Dead! Long Live the Ass!!! was brilliantly scathing in his allegorical attack on the English monarchy of his day. I found this book well-nigh hilarious in its obvious lampooning of political corruption and courtly behavior. It's not hard to see why the author, in 1825, published the work anonymously. The content of this book is just the sort of thing that could get you boiled in oil and/or separated from your head by a very much not-amused king. Strangely enough, however, the book seems to have come and gone rather quietly in its day, which explains why it has basically lain dormant for almost two centuries. Although the novel is attributed to Leigh Hunt, the identity of the author is by no means certain - I personally find compelling reasons to doubt the given attribution. It has obvious parallels with George Orwell's Animal Farm, but there is no evidence that Orwell ever perused this little gem of satirical genius.

In the story, the human narrator tells of how he snuck into the library at Cambridge as a prank and pilfered an old manuscript by Cornelius Agrippa, by which he learned how to brew a concoction that gave him the ability to converse with the animals. He acquires his amazing skill on the very eve of the animals' long-planned revolt against the vile, cruel human race. After a successful rebellion and the subjugation of man, the animals all come together to establish a government. The "Rights of Brutes" are quickly established as the first step to liberty and justice for all animals (except man, of course). Different factions soon emerge among the species, however. There were royalists, such as the royal horses, and ultra-royalists, such as the rats; natural predators who favored military despotism; moderate constitutionalists such as the sheep and goats; high democrats such as the raves and kites, and even terrorists such as the vultures and ravens. The strongest voice to arise from the debate, however, was that of the ass; this most power-hungry and deceitful of creatures quietly set about to gain power for himself via political intrigue, outright deception, general warmongering, and complicity with the equine wife of a leading royalist. Political enemies are identified and eliminated in alarming fashion, until such time as the ass centralizes all power in himself alone. As dictator, the ass determines all policy, proclaims the one and only state religion, and eliminates any individual or species he views as a threat.

This is where the story turns truly hilarious. Much time is devoted to a description of the ass's royal court. Courtiers show their respect for the ass by licking his tail, and the author describes the protocol of licking tail in gleefully great detail. We are also treated to a number of official titles for the donkey king, all of them along the lines of "his asinine majesty." The priestly class of elephants is also skewered. We learn how an amazing number of half-elephant offspring start turning up all over the place, an oddity given the fact that the elephant priests are so known for their chastity and faithfulness to their elephant wives (albeit rumors abound that certain priests disregard gender as much as species in these matters). We hear all about the Book of Morals, the authoritative religious work that is only valid when elephant feces have marred great portions of the actual writing. I could go on, but you get the idea. Alas, the great dictatorship of the ass is brought down by none other than the queen, whose infidelity marked a divide that ends in bloody revolution.

This is rapier-sharp allegorical castigation of the king and court of merry old England at the time of original publication, political and social satire told with the greatest of wit. The author ascends to new heights of satirical prowess. Even in our own time, it is by no means difficult to see what the author is actually saying in this allegorical description of the rebellion of the brutes. Comparisons with Orwell's Animal Farm will doubtless get The Rebellion of the Beasts more exposure than it might otherwise get, but this newly recovered novel is of great merit in and of itself. There is no shortage of power-hungry asses in the world today, and the allegorical traits described in this book apply very well to modern governments of all kinds. The price of freedom and liberty is eternal vigilance, and The Rebellion of the Beasts shows you the very personality traits and manners of political subterfuge to always be on the lookout for. Plus, lest we forget, it's a viciously funny read." - Daniel Jolley


Norman Hunter

Professor Branewtawm's Compendium - Norman Hunter

Reviews:

"I have the fondest memories of the stories - all to do with
science and invention, questions in a child's
mind, and equally preposterous answers,
with a spice of humour. Inventions that always
go wrong but everything turns out fine in the end.

I read this and all of Branestwam's
books in the Cathedral and John Connon
School Library, Bombay, India, and its
librarian Raman was kind enough in making
all the books available.

It started me out on my career in science and literature,
with a belief that doing science should be fun, and as Feynman
made clear in "Surely you are joking .."
Hunter's humour is Shaw for children, and science
is delightful like Feynman.

It is set in a a strictly British setting - with breaks
for tea and crumpets and perfect English etiquitte!
Just like Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll." - A Customer


Joris-Karl Huysmans

Against Nature - Joris-Karl Huysmans

Reviews:

"Duc Jean Floressas des Esseintes is a scion of a long line of inbreeding French nobility, his ill-ridden and mentally challenged constitution the product of such. Misanthropic and eccentric to the point of psychotherapy, his disillusion with the society he was reared in compels him to retreat into a world of artifice and fancy, a retreat that he believes would be the therapy and answer to his alarmingly ailing self.

"Against Nature" ( A Rebours ) is the fascinating and unique account of one of the most oddest figures in literature. In opulent and colorful prose, J.-K. Huysmans vividly paints scene by scene the unusual actvities of this paradigm of decadence. Moving to the country with a few faithful servants and adhering to the decadent ideal of "artifice over reality", des Esseintes fulfills his fantasies. Beverages would be categorized under a musical instrument as each particular drink would remind this effete aesthete of a specific one. His elderly housemaid would be made to dress as a nun so when he sees her ascending by his window he would feel as if he were in church. A turtle would be decorated with sparkling gems on it's shell, to the ocular delight of the dandy. Numerous flowers of exotic nature would be fetched from flower shops and offbeat places for it's novelty's sake. Printing places would be commissioned to design the favorite books of our hero in such a way that he believes would best "compliment" and "represent" them. London is recreated in an English stopover in Paris.

There is also a nearly bibliographical enumeration of the main character's favorite authors, painters, and their works. Naturally, theire all outsiders. Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Barbey d'Aurevilly get the nod over sacred cows like Hugo. The paintings of Gustave Moreau are venerated to the exclusion of almost everyone else.

Inevitably, the novelty of his privileged social experiment loses it's vitality. As days pass and our hero runs out of ideas to sustain his bleakening status, Des Esseintes is forced to concede the painful fact that the only way a man of his background and stature could tolerate his existence is by making the most in the world of the much despised "society". With this ending Huysmans makes through the mind of his protagonist a stinging and pointed critique on the vulgarity of the masses.

Greeted with mixed reception at the time of it's publication, "Against Nature" was a surprising success that baffled and on the other hand inspired contemporary critics and readers with it's bizarre leading character and unorthodox style. Definitely, few novels can compare to the way author and work are similar and inseparable to each other. Though long-winded at times, this is the definitive decadent novel by one of the most representative individuals of the genre." - Takipsilim


James Hynes

The Lecturer's Tale: A Novel - James Hynes

Amazon:

Splicing a demonic strain into the usual elements of academic comedy, Hynes's novel, following his acclaimed Publish or Perish, reads like David Lodge rewritten by Mikhail Bulgakov. After Nelson Humboldt (the lecturer in question) is dismissed from his lowly position as a composition teacher at a Midwestern university, he suffers an accident that severs his right index finger. When the finger is surgically reattached, Nelson discovers he can magically control a person's behavior by touching them with his mysteriously burning digit. His first act is to get reappointed to his post by the woman who fired him--Victoria Victorinix. This is only the warmup. Someone is sending scurrilous anonymous letters to members of the department, and the department chairperson, Anthony Pescacane, has fingered the poet-in-residence, Timothy Coogan, as the man. Nelson "persuades" Coogan to resign, thus opening up a tenure-track position. This job, Nelson decides, should go to his office mate, Vita Deonne, a skittish woman working on "Dorian Gray's Lesbian Phallus." Nelson's new seat on the hiring committee puts him in a key spot to broker the ideological fracture in the department, which pits Morton Weissman's Arnoldian humanism against Pescacane's contingent of cultural theorists, who include a woman who shows porn films to her class and a bizarre Serb with a costume fetish. As Nelson, like some usurping Prospero, begins strategically to instill fear into his colleagues by changing their reality, he attracts the attention of Pescacane's departmental paramour, the luscious Mirando DeLa Tour. Nelson's support for Vita fades as he makes a self-interested pact with Victoria. He also, unforgivably, uses his finger to control his wife, Bridget. In Hynes's ferocious parable, partial power corrupts absolutely. Author tour. (Jan.)Forecast: As Jane Smiley's spoof of academia, Moo, and David Lodge's novels have shown, satires of academic manners can reflect the foibles of society at large.


III


Ilya Ilf

The Twelve Chairs - Ilya Arnoldovich Ilf and Yevgenii Petrovich Katayev

Amazon:

"This is a farcical tale of three men in search of treasure buried in one of 12 identical armchairs. The story is very much a buddy tale of adventures and misadventures as the characters do almost anything to get their hands on the chairs in the Soviet Union of the 1920's. However, the story of the treasure hunt and the Marx Brothers like characters is really only the backdrop to a much deeper purpose, as The Twelve Chairs effectively describes the period of transition from czarist to Soviet rule. In between the tribulations of the heroes are many details of the food that was being served, student accomodations, railway and public construction projects, housing sooperatives and less than honest public servants. It is also very interesting to see how helpless the former upper class - the nobility - had become and how the Soviet Union, at least in its early days, could be exploited by the street smart like Ostap Bender. This is a very funny book that is also informative and is well worth reading. Inevitably, Bulgakov comes to mind as a complementary read; though he is somewhat more direct in his accusations of the regime." - Alessandro Bruno

"Through Bibliofind.com I did, indeed, find a copy of THE GOLDEN CALF, the sequel to THE TWELVE CHAIRS that two of the reader reviews mention (in an omnibus edition containing both novels, published by Random House under the title THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF OSTAP BENDER); however the reader who states that Ilf & Petrov met their fates as a result of their satirical bent crossing paths with the Stalin regime is incorrect, according to bios in THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES. In that source we are told that Ilya Arnoldovich Ilf (1897-1937) died of tuberculosis in Moscow, while Yevgenii Petrovich Katayev (1903-1942) was killed during World War II, when he was a correspondent at the front, during the defense of Sebastopol. Concerning the official Soviet attitude toward Ilf and Petrov, Bernard Guilbert Guerney (editor of "An Anthology of Russian Literature During the Soviet Period" under the Vintage Russian Library imprint) has said: "The most painstaking research shows no indication that these two satirists ever received so much as a slap on the wrist throughout their careers."" - David Spencer


G. Cabrera Infante

Holy Smoke - G. Cabrera Infante

"A self-professed cigar aficionado, Infante chronicles the history of his first love, tobacco, from its discovery by a skeptical Colombus to its eventual acceptance as a worldwide vice. For the Cuban born author, this book - previously published by Harper and Row - is "an autobiography written with smoke, cigar smoke but also cigarettes and pipes and even snuff." The term autobiography describes in part Infante's historical essay as it contains many personal anecdotes relating his lifelong love affair with the cigar. Along with his memoirs, Infante uses the myriad voices of history, literature, music, and especially film to tell the cigar's tale.

A true cinephile, Infante utilizes even the most obscure moments in cinematic history to explain the manners and customs of smoking. His attention to detail will make you want to view your favorite movies in a different light. Clint Eastwood, for instance, is revealed not only to have extremely poor taste in cigars but also to have exhibited bad smoking technique (his spaghetti westerns are a prime example). Marlene Dietrich maintained a permanent smoky aura about her with an ever-present lit cigarette; cigarettes were an extension of her persona, and as Infante quips, probably contributed to her emphysmatic screen presence in Shanghai Express.

Infante also reserves his humor for his political views. As an exile, he often channels his acerbity toward Castro, portraying him as an imposing cigar hog who leaves behind him a trail of barely smoked stogies. Rationalizing his disdain for Cuban cigars, Infante explains, "It would be as if a German Jew, in 1933, bought sauerkraut from Hitler."

Humorous and opinionated, Infante is one of the most inventive Spanish-language authors currently writing (incidentally, he wrote this in English, demonstrating a stunning eloquence and a wily Wildean wit that would put virtually any native English speaker to shame). Engaged in constant wordplay, his prose has a certain vaudevillian quality - sometimes bordering on clichà - reminiscent of Groucho Marx, who, by the way, makes an appearance here. - Kent D. Wolf

Infante's Inferno - G. Cabrera Infante

"The greatest living Cuban writer, and one of the most important in all Latin America, Cabrera Infante's "Infante's Inferno," the English version of "La Habana para un Infante Difunto" is a wise, brilliant, wonderful and hilarious musing of a young man's coming of age in pre-Revolutionary Havana. A rich, delicious work to be savored like a mojito or your mother's caramel custard (flan, assuming your mother knows how to make one). Although grounded in a very specific time and place, Cabrera Infante writes for the ages, a tropical Dickens, only funnier and scabrous. After all, there are few things more important in life than women and movies." - A Customer

Three Trapped Tigers - G. Cabrera Infante

"An inventive and animated account of night life in Havana before Castro`s regime, narrated by four friends who are trying to build their careers and end a day "not with a whimper but a bang".

Using puns, tongue twisters, palindromes and wisecracks, they retell their own adventures and comment on their friends`, and make jokes by constantly twisting out the meaning of each word or phrase they say. They engage in parodying episodes and quotations from world literature (English & American influences include Shakespeare, Sterne, Poe, Melville, Carrol, Hemingway, Faulkner, Eliot, Joyce, and many others) and scenes from popular films (the novel itself is an attempt to reconstruct a film "P.M.", by Cabrera`s brother, destroyed by Cuban censorship). They turn all these upside down, creating a hilariously funny novel whose language is always on the move and where every word has at least a double meaning.

Underlying their humour, however, is a bitter feeling of emptiness and deprivation, inability to understand others and be understood. Faced with a paradox that you cannot talk about serious things in a serious way without taking a risk of being funny, you come to realize that humor is our only weapon on "...an island of double or tripple entendres told by a drunk idiot signifying everything." - A Customer


William Henry Ireland

Vortigern: An Historical Play; With an Original Preface - William Henry Ireland

An infamous forgery of a Shakespeare play from 1832.


Robert Irwin

Exquisite Corpse - Robert Irwin

Amazon:

"Exquisite Corpse is a novel, a survey of World War II history, and a commentary on surrealist art, all in one; and due to author Robert Irwin's immense skill, it does a crackerjack job with all three. The story opens in 1930s England, where Caspar, an ardent devotee of surrealism, leads a happily bohemian life. He paints his mediocre pictures, meets with his fellow surrealists in the Serapion Brotherhood, and generally subscribes to the belief that the anarchy of surrealism will lead to liberation of the imagination. Then he meets Caroline, a woman so relentlessly ordinary that she is nothing short of exotic to Caspar. He falls instantly in love with her and for a time revels in her middle-class life: her job as a secretary, her passion for amateur theatricals, her shopping excursions into department stores. When Caroline disappears from Caspar's life, he is thrown into--dare we say it?--a surreal search for her that will take him to Nazi Germany, into a mental hospital, through the war years, and eventually into the concentration camps and out again.

Journeys such as Caspar's are often labeled picaresque, and indeed, if Don Quixote had been a surrealist, his adventures might have resembled these. What makes Exquisite Corpse so enjoyable is the confidence with which Irwin threads history and art criticism through this comic romp." - Anon

The Arabian Nightmare - Robert Irwin

Review - David Langford

...
The setting is Cairo in 1486, oozing with rich Oriental sleaze. Cairo is inner as well as mundane space, a labyrinth of streets and dreams in which the sort-of-hero, Balain of Norwich, flounders helplessly. Does he wake or sleep? Why does he repeatedly awake (or does he?) with his mouth full of blood? Is he suffering from the dreaded Arabian Nightmare, possibly spread by the sinister Father of Cats, ever-unsleeping researcher of the Alam al-Mithal, world of dreams? Don't ask:
There are some who hold that talking about it, even thinking about it, is enough to attract it and stimulate its attacks. For this reason we do not name it. But even this may not be enough. Therefore I advised that no one should read this book unless he is already aware of what it is, and let those who know, forget, if they can.
The Nightmare, according to certain sources, is an infinity of torment experienced in sleep. The sufferer, awakening, remembers nothing of this horror and goes all unaware to the next night's hell. However, sources may not be reliable. Late in the book, a severed head gives five contradictory explanations of one of the more enigmatically nasty scenes, saying: "There are always more causes than events in the Alam al-Mithal. This generates great pressure...."

Dreams within dreams, stories within stories: but the author has a nasty way of upsetting the ordered symmetry of Arabian Nights narration. His hierarchy of dreams isn't simple; it contains what Douglas Hofstadter calls Strange Loops. If Balian is suffering from the Arabian Nightmare which is never remembered, his remembered nightmares can't be this ultimate damnation -- unless of course he only dreams that he wakes. A storyteller, who as the narrator of the book seems a decently stable landmark, dies at a most perplexing moment ("I did not intend it to be the story of my death," he later complains). Laughing Dervishes confound the wise with Bertrand Russell's paradoxes, and courtesans indulge in Freudian dream interpretation. An appalling order of leper knights is deeply involved in the battle for the Alam al-Mithal, now pressing dangerously close to the real world. All is subject to change without notice.
...

The Arabian Nights: A Companion - Robert Irwin

Kirkus Reviews

Matching The Arabian Nights' scope and enchantment with erudition and wit, Irwin (The Arabian Nightmare, 1987) explores its elusive kingdom of stories, delving into the vast work's textual genesis, cultural history, and literary legacy. The most influential book in the Western canon that does not actually belong to it, The Arabian Nights never enjoyed the same literary status in the East, and its origins have been made only murkier by its reception in Europe. Irwin begins with the translators who popularized the Nights and, along the way, bowdlerized and warped it, or even inserted their own episodes. Most famously, Aladdin, who has no Arabic version predating his appearance in 18th-century France, may well have been the creation of translator Antoine Galland, not of Scheherazade. Irwin wryly glosses these early translations, which distortedly mirror the original Eastern exoticism with the reflections of their age's prejudices and their translators' personal eccentricities (notably the lexical, racial, and sexual obsessions of the Victorian adventurer Sir Richard Burton). The earlier Arabic compilations are no more reliable, however--Irwin devotes a separate chapter to forerunners (conjectural or lost) over several centuries, from India to Persia and Egypt. In a quixotic effort to amass 1,001 actual tales, these medieval compilers would incorporate local legends and real settings, sometimes approaching souk storytellers as sources. Throughout, Irwin's scholarly acumen illuminates these myriad worlds of the Nights, whether the cityscapes of the Mamelukes, the urban rogues' gallery of thieves and bazaar magicians, or the marvels of jinn and clockwork birds. The longest chapter is a selected roster of its literary heirs, from nursery fables and gothic novels through Proust, Joyce, and Borges, to contemporaries like Salman Rushdie and John Barth. An enchanting dragoman and chaperon for sleepless nights with Scheherazade.


JJJ


Holbrook Jackson

The Anatomy of Bibliomania - Holbrook Jackson

University of Illinois Press

An unmitigated delight for any bibliophile, Holbrook Jackson's musings on the joys of reading combine his irrepressible wit with the wisdom of famous readers from all corners of the world. These three volumes are a leisurely, luxuriant confabulation on "the usefulness, purpose, and pleasures that proceed from books."

In The Anatomy of Bibliomania, Jackson inspects the allure of books, their curative and restorative properties, and the passion for them that leads to bibliomania ("a genial mania, less harmful than the sanity of the sane"). His sparkling commentary addresses why we read, where we read (on journeys, at mealtimes, on the toilet--this has "a long but mostly unrecorded history"--in bed, and in prison), and what happens to us when we read. He touches on bindings, bookworms, libraries, and the sport of book hunting, as well as the behavior of borrowers, embezzlers, thieves, and collectors. Francis Bacon, Anatole France, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Leigh Hunt, Marcel Proust, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Shakespeare, and scores of other luminaries chime in on books and their love for them.
...

Green Man Review - Irene Jackson Henry


Darius James

Negrophobia: An Urban Parable - Darius James

Reviews:

"In one passage of Negrophobia, the rotting corpse of Malcolm X (referred to as "the rotting corpse of Malcolm X")does the "Time Warp" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and each occasion of "time warp" is replaced with "swine pork". This book is full of similar hilariously bloodthirsty satires. The humor is very offensive (to most races I can think of) and will have you either gasping in horror or rolling on the floor. The comedy value of this book is extraordinary, but there's much more to it as well: it is genuinely insightful, original and provoking when it comes to the philosophy and history of race relations in America." - A Customer


Randall Jarrell

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy - Randall Jarrell

Amazon:

Randall Jarrell's only novel features a Bryn Mawr-like women's college in which whispers and verbal shivs and sycophancy rule. "Half the campus was designed by Bottom the Weaver, half by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Benton had been endowed with one to begin with, and had smiled and sweated and spoken for the other." The institution's star-struck head is a Clintonesque young man particularly adept at raising money in Hollywood and who "wanted you to like him, he wanted everybody to like him--it was part of being a president; but talking all the time was too." Unfortunately, his new creative-writing hire only likes him the first time they meet. Thenceforth, she not only stirs things up but skewers them as well.

When the book was first published in 1954, most considered Gertrude Johnson to be a none-too-veiled portrait of Mary McCarthy. (The Partisan Review, for instance, failed to run a planned excerpt for fear of litigation.) "As a writer Gertrude had one fault more radical than all the rest: she did not know--or rather, did not believe--what it was like to be a human being. She was one, intermittently, but while she wasn't she did not remember what it had felt like to be one; and her worse self distrusted her better too thoroughly to give it much share, ever, in what she said or wrote." Pictures from an Institution is a superb series of poisonous portraits, set pieces, and endlessly quotable put-downs. One reads it less for plot than sharp satire, of which Jarrell is the master.


Alfred Jarry

The Ubu Plays - Alfred Jarry

Amazon:

"King Turd is a French play written by Alfred Jarry. At the time he wrote the play he was 15 years old. King Turd is a collection of three plays Ubu Roi, Ubu Enchaine, and Ubu Cuco. He wrote the play Ubu Roi to perform with marionettes for some cash in 1888. The play was first performed with live actors in 1896. Ubu Roi was the first to be written, it follows the story of Papa Turd and Mama Turd who try overthrowing the government to become the king and queen of Poland. Ubu Enchaine was written after Alfred Jarry some wrote other plays. It is the exact opposite of Ubu Roi following Papa Turd and Mama Turd as they try to become slaves. Ubu Cuco is a considerably headier story then the previous. The plot follows Papa Turd's encounters many gods, the higher class, and his conscience.

The story is usually considered a satire of Shakespeare. That is true, many of the characters are very similar to characters in plays by Shakespeare. But Ubu is also a satire of everything in late 19th century France. Things like money grabbing politicians and a stupid public are still around today. Therefore it is still relevant. Because Ubu Roi was written by a 15 year old it contains very simple language and is often nursery rhyme like. If you can read French it is better to read the book in French to catch all the word puns that Alfred Jarry wrote.

The character of Papa Turd is one of the most interesting characters I have ever met in a book. He was one of the first characters in a novel to use language that is still considered naughty over 100 years later. The character of Papa Turd can be seen through his master plan "start by grabbing all the money, then kill everybody and leave." King Turd is an extremely humorous book. It is highly recommended to someone who wants something more then Shakespeare and the Family Circus." - Colin Morgan

Exploits & Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician: A Neo-Scientific Novel - Alfred Jarry

Amazon:

"This is a very great book, but I could hardly recommend it. Would you enjoy it? I think it is skies above the Ubu books in its range of vision, and I certainly didn't see any baboons with gluteal musculature grafted to their cheeks starring as commentator in those more famous works . . . well, I don't know what to say this "sort of thing" is exactly . . . if you are unfamiliar with this man (a drinker in the line of Rabelais, except I would say he was much more sincerely dedicated, a scholar, a scientist, a metaphysical swine, a bicycler, an eccentric above the heavyweights of French nincompoops, a novelist, -- also he did decent woodcuts, too) and his work then I would recommend the Supermale as a better beginning. If that is indeed your brand of entertainment, than hoist this flag up on the mast of your soft and sticky palm that never picked an axe to chop a block or made a fist to fight for your principles nor did anything else in all your life except to pick up another foreign book we can all be grateful for to have been translated, and sail it gently down the seas of your eyes until you land where you were looking for . . . this is a traveler's book." - Bill Given


Ricky Jay

Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women - Ricky Jay

Amazon:

"A delightful book covering some of the most unique and entertaining acts presented over the years in Side Shows,Circuses,Stages,and famous Rooms in Europe and America.Although I remember going to Carnivals,Side Shows and the Circus since I was a kid in the late 40's and after.I also remember many great Magic and Illusion Shows over the years ,brought right into our home via Television.I always had a preference for the side act,oddities,daredevils,illusionists,etc., over the animal acts.Yes,I can still see the Monkey Woman,the King and Queen of the Midgets at home in their Castle in Montreal. Then there was the World's Smallest Horse,The Alligator Boy ,whose body was covered in scales,the man without arms who drew portraits with chalk using his feet, A Flea Circus where real fleas did all kinds of things,even pulling a tiny carriage, and on and on.

What surprised me most about this book is that many,even most of the people and acts covered were new to me.I guess this sort of stuff was more popular in the 18th,19th and early 20th Centuries and more so in Europe than America.I really haven't seen much in recent years. I guess Political Correctness and activist groups have had a major impact on these acts and people. The media is forever doing a story about mistreatment of animals in the Circus etc. Maybe the diversions this kind of entertainment gave us did us more good than realized.I know as kids we waited with anticipation for the Circus to come to town and particularly the Side Shows that accompanied them. I can tell you one thing,there was no need to drug up the kids on Ridlin,then,like you see today.

For my money,I would far prefer to watch an act like La Roche climbing the spiral tower while inside a sphere;than any Olympic event.To me ,shaving one hundredth of a second off some record I've seen hundreds of times is pure boredom.It seems that the most excitement is created with announcers debating calls by referees ,judges or as a last resort;who has failed a steroid test or broke some rule.

So, if you ever saw a good Side Show, saw some great feat of magic or illusion;this book will give you some wonderful memories of how entertaining this all was.It is jam packed with photographs and wonderful illustrations ;both in color and B&W. You may have to make a bit of an effort to find this book.It is out of print, but thanks to finding books on the Net now,It is available at a wide range of prices and some even signed by the author.It is a "must have" for anyone who loved this form of entertainment that may become a thing of the past.All we can hope for is a revival." - J. Guild


Jan Lars Jensen

Shiva 3000 (1999) - Jan Lars Jensen


Jerome K. Jerome


Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow - Jerome K. Jerome

Amazon:

"In English literature,humour is always a tame but sharp instrument to get at things which otherwise be poisons to be consumed by a body. over the depths of time,writers have forever employed the various designs of humour and subtle sarcasms to dart their disdain at the numerous worrying sides of the socirty. In "Pride and Prejudice" for instance,Jane Austen pokes at the gentry stratum in an overtone of hilarisity and witty ironies. a compatible mechanism is employed by Mark Twain in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and by Charles Dickens in "nicholas Nickleby" and co by Monsieur Jerome.

At the heart of Lerome Klapka Jerome's compilation of humorous essays titled "The Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow" rsides a vociferous thrill of fun and joviality that often gets moulded into criticism of the eternal absurdities of human nature. In fourteen intricate essays,the author of "Three Men in a Boat(To say nothing of the Dog!),itself a marvellous and classic novel,explores thevarious dimensions of life and provides a perfect reflection of life in his essays. indeed the quinessential theme of art is to mirror life in imaginary colours,to speak about life through the illusory characters. Jerome K. Jerome's essays are direct and invoke a conversational beat and as the reader jumps from one topic to another,he actually does so in terms of the myriad facets of society.

"On Being Idle" is a great way to start the journey. Excerpts from the author's personal life tingled by meanderings away from the theme takes the reader on a voyage that finds parallel ideas in other essays. The next offering "On Being in Love" is one daring foray into the realm of womanhood and the next,"On Being in the Blues" is deeply soaked in pathos and invokes lofty diction. It perceives agony and sorrow both through the personal and the general perspectives. "On Memory" is an exemplar of marvellous nostalgia as the author takes on a ride back into the dark corridors of time. In this,Jerome K. Jerome encaptures memories and yearns for those bittersweey bygone days. "Even the sadness that is past seems sweet",he writes and goes on to relive the past in words. the philosophical touch here is at its acme,a gradual uphill climb that had been gradually gathering force.

In "On Vanity and Vanities" and "On Furnished Apartments",the writer applies cunning euphemisms birdered on sly allegories,transmutating into pride and furniture respectively in each case to higher terms. "On Babies" is more like a disconcern from Jerome K. Jeome towards the fuss that people make over babies and is replete with an undertone of life's inevitable end---death. The other esays in the book---"On Being Hard Up","On Getting on in the World","On the Weather","On Cats and Dogs","On Being Shy","On Eating and Drinking" and "On Dres and Deportment"---all are sketches on common,explained yet undefined attributes of life. in them,as well as in others,the abilit to tell stories so refinely and in so unique a fashion keeps the reader engaged in his work and keeps on wondering how the writer moces astray from the chosen topic,explores the bigger landscape and then springs back to the original theme in a manner that is astonishing in a vast degree.

"The Idle Thoughts of an Idle fellow" is no doubt a great work of literature but on a number of occasions it does fall short of the level of humour and fun that Jerome K. Jerome had reached in "Three Men in a Boat" and "Three Men in a Bummel". Sometimes you're left irritated by the writer going off-track and sometimes the comedy becomes tpoo ordinary. but even so,the essays never go deep into social scars and restrain themselves on the fringes of emotions and sentimentality. the book's not dark,it's not dramatic and it's not tragic but it's a vivid display of the common and unconventional things in life in an uncommon and unconventional style." - Subhankar Mondal

Three Men in a Boat/Three Men on the Bummel - Jerome K. Jerome

Amazon:

"Imagine Bertie Wooster and two of his idiot friends out on a boat... with no Jeeves. That about describes "Three Men in a Boat : To Say Nothing of the Dog," Jerome K. Jerome's enchanting comic novel about three young men (to say nothing of the dog) who discover the "joys" of roughing it.

The three men are George, Harris and the narrator, who are all massive hypochiandriacs -- they find that they have symptoms of every disease in existance (except housemaid's knee). To prop up their failing health, they decide to take a cruise down the Thames in a rented boat, camping and enjoying nature's bounty.

Along with Monty -- an angelic-looking, devilish terrier -- the three friends set off down the river. But they find that not everything is as easy as they expected. They get lost in hedge mazes, end up going downstream without a paddle, encounter monstrous cats and vicious swans, have picnics navigate locks, offend German professors, and generally get into every kind of trouble they possibly can...

Even though it was published more than a century ago, "Three Men in a Boat" remains as freshly humorous as when it was first published. While editor/playwright/author Jerome K. Jerome wrote a lot of other books, this book remains his most famous. And once you've read it, you'll see why.

Jerome's real talent is in finding humor in everyday things, like trying to erect a tent in the woods, getting seasick, or questioning whether it's safe to drink river water. Written in Jerome's dry, goofy prose, these little occurrances become immensely funny. One of the funniest parts of the book is when the boys listen to a fishermen telling of his prowess, only to accidently knock down his record-breaking stuffed fish.... and discover it's made out of plaster. Oops.

But Jerome takes a break from the humor near the end, when the boys find a drowned woman floating in the river. And here he becomes solemn and quietly compassionate: "She had sinned - some of us do now and then - and her family and friends, naturally shocked and indignant, had closed their doors against her."

But back on the funny stuff. The capstone on all this humor is the "three men." These guys are basically pampered Victorian aristocrats, who have a romantic yearning for the great outdoors. You'll be laughing at them and with them, as they struggle through the basics of boating and camping.

Funny, wacky and creepily true to life, "Three Men in a Boat" is an enduring comic classic in the vein of PG Wodehouse. Not to mention the dog!" - E. A. Solinas


Adam Johnson

Parasites Like Us - Adam Johnson


B. S. Johnson

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry - B. S. Johnson

Amazon:

"BS Johnson is one of those experimental writers, controversial during their lives that subsequently vanishes from print. Johnson was a journalist, a socialist, and a fine novelist. Best known for The Unfortunates (his book in a box where every chapter is separately bound and the reader is invited to read them in any order he or she wishes), Christie Malry's Own Double Entry is perhaps his most accessible novel.

However, this "accessibility" is in the midst of a studiedly experimental text. This is a corruscating satire in which Johnson targets one of the symbols of capitalism, the double entry system. The very basis of accountancy, and the manipulation of finance, Johnson turns this building block on its head as his central character, Christie Malry, a young man with a future, decides that he will live his life accoridng to the principles of double entry.

Johnson's novel has acute observations on a variety of issues in British life that still merit comment. How working class people come to vote conservative, the manner in which people's worth is measured financially; and all of this is in the midst of an angry satire where Malry wreaks vengeance on the system. It is a bitter cycnical novel, with a dark wit.

There is love, sex, and death; and an unusual use for shaving foam. And all of this is presented in a slightly distant way, where Johnson continually turns to the reader and winks, letting you know this is a novel. Characters are aware of their place in fiction, and Johnson deconstructs the novel to let you see how it works.

This description may be off putting, but this is classy fiction. It is funny, and angry. I enjoyed this work, but preferred Johnson's The Unfortunates; which I feel has more depth, and more humanity.

If you enjoyed this you may like Graham Greene's Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party or Michael Dibdin's Dirty Tricks (a Thatcherite satire)." - scottish lawyer

House Mother Normal: A Geriatric Comedy - B. S. Johnson

Amazon:

"This book examines the events of one evening in an old people's home. It consists of nine first person narratives, the first eight belonging to the inmates and the ninth, and last, being that of the nurse or "House Mother". The innovative technique used by Johnson is to make each line in each section correspond to the same moment in time. Each section is prefaced with a list of the various infirmities and deficiencies suffered by that person (including a CQ count, used to assess senile dementia, which is the number of correct questions answered out of 10 such as who is the prime minister, what day is it etc), giving us an idea of how that individual's perceptions of events might be affected. Another typographical device used is that interior monologue is shown in roman type, speech in italics and absence of thought or speech by white space.

The technical device used may sound contrived, but it works marvellously to create a vivid three-dimensional effect. Johnson gives us an insight into the geriatric mind with humour, compassion and empathy. The accounts are by turns, both funny and tragic. A couple of the inmates who are at the extremes of senility are portrayed with great feeling and the use of white space and other typographical techniques augments the writing wonderfully in these sections. The final section, that of the House Mother's, is the only disappointment of the book. Her ostensible "normality" forcing us to reassess the apparent "abnormality" of the inmates' perceptions. However, her revelations seem insignificant compared to the human suffering we have already experienced.

Overall, this is one of those rare examples of a perfect fusion of form and content, and another wonderful piece of work from a great, but neglected writer." - jules joseph


David E. H. Jones

The Inventions of Daedelus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes - David E. H. Jones

The Further Inventions of Daedelus - David E. H. Jones


Terry Jones

Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book - Terry Jones and Brian Froud

Amazon:

"I bought this book because I thought the premise was delightful. It sounded fun, wacky, creative, whimsical, and clever. That's why I'm giving it 2 stars.

What the book description fails to tell you is this is NOT a book for children. Nor for anyone who likes to keep their minds out of the gutter.

The drawings illustrate promiscuous nudity and sexual activity, including active body parts better left private. The text covers, at the very least, sexual advances and activities of clergy on victims, as well as obvious psychological problems of the characters in the book. That paragraph was as far as I read before I threw the book in the trash can.

I bought this book for my son's 11th birthday. You can imagine my surprise when my daughter found the pages wrapped in sealed, plain brown paper in the back. I'm just really glad I looked through it before giving it to him.

If there is a place on this page giving information as to the promiscuous content of the book, it is not noticeable enough for parents to see it, and I recommend a change in the advertising of the book and, I can only guess, the entire series." - Anne W


Robert F. Jones

Blood Sport: A Journey Up the Hassayampa - Robert F. Jones

The Diamond Bogo: An African Idyll - Robert F. Jones


KKK


Ismail Kadare

Palace of Dreams - Ismail Kadare

Amazon:

"Dreams flow into Istanbul from all corners of the Ottoman Empire to be sorted, interpreted, stored, or acted upon by an enormous bureaucracy of faceless figures. Wheels operate within wheels: nobody really knows what is going on except a few puppet-masters at the top. The innocent scion of a high, powerful family begins work in the Tabir Sarrail, that cavernous palace of endless blank corridors which, like Dr. Who's Tardis, is much bigger inside than out. Sinister goings on, always just out of sight, almost out of earshot. Mark-Alem learns as he goes. His meteoric rise may have ominous significance. Maybe not. He has to make sense out of the senseless. He has to give meaning to the meaningless. Interpretation is everything, but a wrong twist could lead to fatal disaster. Are his fellow workers in on some dark secrets that he has failed to decipher? Or are they just as they seem, friendly and struggling? The world of power dazzles and depresses simultaneously.

When is Ismail Kadare going to get the Nobel Prize? I have asked this before. THE PALACE OF DREAMS is yet another masterpiece by this Albanian author. It has links to "The Three-Arched Bridge", another of his great novels. While the tenor of THE PALACE OF DREAMS is entirely different from the latter work, they do the share the enviable quality of operating on several levels, which to my mind, always indicates the highest craftsmanship. The present volume resembles Kafka more than a little, perhaps also is reminiscent of Sartre's play "No Exit". At one level it is such a nightmarish fantasy, a bad dream played out in a couple hundred pages. At a second level, Kadare succeeded in writing a magnificent replica of the workings of secret security agencies within the administration of Communist era nations like Albania. Part terror, part nightmare, he sets his story in the 19th century Ottoman empire to avoid personal repercussions (the book was banned in Albania anyway). "Anyone who ruled over the dark zones of men's lives wielded enormous power." Dream Palace or Sigurimi, the Albanian security agency? It does not matter. By linking the protagonist to the Quprili family, a genuine Albanian-born dynasty of Ottoman officials and administrators, and to the recital of Albanian folk epics, Kadare ties the dream palace to actual history in a very clever way. The voice of the people must eventually be heard--it is only a question of when. This is a most clever book and Kadare fans should not miss it. If you haven't started reading him yet, you could well begin here." - Robert S. Newman


Nikos Kazantzakis

The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel - Nikos Kazantzakis

Wikipedia

Odyssey, poem of Greek writer, poet and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis, the largest of his works.

Kazantzakis himself considered it to be his most important work. He started working on it in 1924, after he returned to Crete from Germany. Before finally publishing it in 1938 he had drafted seven different versions.

The "Odyssey" is divided in 24 rhapsodies (see rhapsody), as Homer's Odyssey, and consists of 33333 17-syllable verses.

Kazantzakis' Odyssey begins when Odysseus (Ulysses) returns to Ithaca and decides to delve into new adventures, as he very soon becomes unsatisfied with his quiet family life. First he travels to Sparta, where he abducts Helen, the wife of the king of Sparta Menelaus, whose abduction by Paris had led to the Trojan war. He goes to Crete, where a conspiracy dethrones the king. There he abandons Helen and continues to Egypt, where again a workers uprising takes place. He leads an asthetic's life for a short period and then he leaves again for another place where he founds his own city, called Utopia. The city gets destroyed by a cosmogonic earthquake, however, it passes to a state of "complete freedom". Odysseus meets Managis (an incarnation of Buddha), Kapetan Enas (English: Captain One), alias Don Quixote and a fisherman, alias Christ. At the end he sails to the South Pole where he dies and becomes immaterial.

The "Odyssey" represents Kazantzakis' ideology and metaphysical concerns, as well as the main traits of his character: his heroic pessimism, his antirationalism, his loneliness and - finally - his nihilism. The central pattern is the denial, the demolition of a goal with a new denial, the struggle, not to reach a goal, but for the sake of the struggle itself, freedom as the denial of the idea of freedom, the glorification of the void.

The "Odyssey" has not been received enthusiastically by the public. The size of the work, the difficult language and the unlikeable character of this modern Odysseus (an immoral and lonely desperado) have been the main reasons. Despite all this, the "Odyssey" is a fascinating poetic creation. Kazantzakis managed to infuse it with all his experience and knowledge acquired through his reflections and his astheticism.


Robert Kelly

The Scorpions - Robert Kelly

Reviews:

"Even thirty years after its first publication,the world is not ready for Robert Kelly's Scorpions, but of course that's the whole point. In his first novel, Kelly, one of our most accomplished poets, knocks his hero, his readers, and the whole novel form out of their respective boxes and sends them all somewhere that they've never been before, creating, like any truth revealed in the midst of accepted falsehood and delusion, outrage, groping bewilderment, and fear. No one is ever ready for that.

Kelly is concerned with what's new, with what else the world has to offer, and is troubled by those who turn back upon themselves for security, denying the new and unknown, the exciting, for the safety of the old, the thing done before. Kelly's protagonist is a successful New York psychiatrist, a man whose chosen profession returns explorers of the unknown to accepted patterns of human normality. The doctor is himself a lover of patterns, beyond the demands of his practice. His private life is encased in rituals, his every action is scheduled and accompanied by appropriate incantations, the nature of ritual being, of course, the maintenance of patterns, the status quo, or a return to some previous safe condition of human experience. In The Scorpions ritual shuts out the new, confines rather than expands, and thereby leaves those who depend upon it vulnerable when the ritual goes unobserved, either by reality or by the dependent.

Kelly sees to it that the doctor's patterned existence is disturbed -- he sends him on a quest for the Scorpions, a mysterious cult whose members are visible to humans only under ultraviolet light. In the course of the drive south in his lavishly equipped Rolls Royce, a rolling fortress of enclosure, the doctor encounters a number of unexplainable and unconnected circumstances, his ritual pattern cannot compensate for the strangeness of events, breaks down, and we watch him transformed from a mildly obnoxious paranoid into a savage maniac. His whole way of life, the turning of reality into concept, categorizing it, and capturing it under his own terms, fails him when he is faced with something entirely new, something that will simply not fit his predetermined patterns.

The novel places the same difficult demands upon its readers as it does the doctor, and for the same reasons. Our conceptualization of the novel as a literary form has become as patterned, structured, and ritualized as the doctor's concept of life. We read a novel by means of predetermined critical standards -- we look for symbols, for meaningful repetition of forms, continuity, a unity of action toward a single goal, something to grasp and hold in order to jump in. Kelly challenges us by rejecting these devices -- they've all been used before and to repeat them would be to deny the new and bow before pattern, to bring us ultimately no farther than we were when we began. Progress, newness, denotes linear movement, not circular movement. What we are asked to grasp in order to hold The Scorpions is the very fact that the literary devices which we expect to find in a novel, the devices of circular and intertwined movement, are simply not there. The doctor's movement is ever forward, arranged only in time, and the answer to events in one fascinating chapter will not be revealed in the next fascinating chapter, or ever, because there never is an answer to life's real events. In The Scorpions and in the world at large, things exist whether rationality can organize them or not.

The nature of this novel defies the possibility of an "ending" as we ordinarily know it. The artistically contrived ending in the fiction to which we are accustomed calls all the previous action to a single spot and turns upon it in a triumph of resolution. But The Scorpions, for all its mythical quality, is concerned with what is rather than with what we would have, and Kelly's novel concludes in an artistic master stroke that we've never seen before, except in a premonitory moment earlier in the story. It is the Holy Grail and the pot of gold that are myths, the quests for them that are real. In The Scorpions the things we find in search of the treasure are the treasure, beautifully crafted by one of the masters of our language." - Bruce Richman


Charles Kerby-Miller

The Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus - Charles Kerby-Miller, ed.

Blurb:

This eighteenth-century satire is the product of a distinguished club that included such literary luminaries as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, Thomas Parnell, and Robert Harley. Together they set out to lampoon bad taste in learning and the arts by publishing the errors and pretensions of the fictional Martinus Scriblerus. With the death of Queen Anne the group disbanded, leaving Pope to finish the project thirty years later. This long-neglected masterpiece is accompanied by a thorough preface that sets the Scriblerus club in its historical context and extensive notes that clarify the many allusions and discuss the themes of each chapter. Still amusing, the book is also an invaluable source of information on Augustan taste in such areas as education, music, philosophy, and science.


From a Commentary on Pope's "The Riddle of the World":

18th-century British literary club whose founding members were the brilliant Tory wits Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, Thomas Parnell, and John Arbuthnot. Its purpose was to ridicule pretentious erudition and scholarly jargon through the person of a fictitious literary hack, Martinus Scriblerus (Martin suggesting Swift, Scriblerus meaning a writer). The collaboration of the five writers on the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus began as early as 1713 and led to frequent, spirited meetings when they were all in London. When they were separated, they pursued their project through correspondence. The zest, energy, and time that these five highly individualistic talents put into their joint enterprise may be gauged by Pope's statement in a letter to Swift, "The top of my own ambition is to contribute to that great work [the Memoirs], and I shall translate Homer by the by."

Of the five, only Pope and Swift lived to see the publication of the Memoirs (1741), although miscellaneous minor pieces written in collaboration or individually had appeared earlier under the Scriblerus name. Although Pope is credited with originating the character of Scriblerus, most of the ideas were Arbuthnot's, and he was the most industrious of the collaborators. The stimulation the members derived from each other had far-reaching effects. Gay's The Beggar's Opera grew out of a suggestion made by Swift to the Scriblerus Club, and the imprint of Scriblerus on Swift's Gulliver's Travels, especially Book III, describing the voyage to Laputa, is unmistakable. Other prominent Tories--such as Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, and Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke--were members of the club, but there is no evidence that they contributed to the writing.


Gerald Kersh

Fowlers End - Gerald Kersh

UK Amazon:

"For some reason I had associated Gerald Kersh with horror stories, when in fact he was best known as a London low-life writer. And London low-life is what this is all about, based around a horrible cinema, its customers and the denizens of one of the sleaziest bits of London ever. The Royle Family would be considered effete and lardy da in Fowlers End. Sam Yudenow, who owns the cinema, is one of the funniest characters I've ever read, seen or heard. I literally did hurt with laughter. How could books like Lucky Jim do so well when books as good as this were published around the same time ? Moorcock seems to think it's because they aren't about or for the 'right' (i.e. middle class) readership and don't fit into the academic cannon. It's a fair opinion but I think it's more likely that Kersh is just the kind of writer I like -- a writer with an odd angle of approach. Writers like Iain Sinclair, M. John Harrison and Moorcock himself (which is why I bought this originally and why I bought The Low Life in the same series). Individual sensibilities and quirky eyes. Kersh wrote a lot. Night and the City is good, but not as good as Fowlers End. More please, publishers!"

Night and the City - Gerald Kersh

David Loftus:

"Kersh's best-known and most-respected novel, published in 1946, is a Dickensian "slice o' life" look at London's underworld. Harry Fabian is a fast-talking con artist and kept man (read: pimp) who claims to have been a successful songwriter in America and tries to put together funding for all-in wrestling matches. We meet his girl, Zoe, and several comely dancer/prostitutes (Vi and Helen) as well as the criminal financiers and tough guys of postwar England. Not everyone is unsympathetic -- Adam, a nightclub waiter and manager who yearns to do sculpture and gets involved with Helen, has a certain ethic and moral grandeur -- but pretty much everyone gets crushed by the milieu. This novel inspired at least two namesake movies: a 1950 Jules Dassin noir starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney, and a much weaker 1990 remake with Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange."

UK Amazon:

"This has that subtle English quality, that mixture of fascination, tolerance and genuine social conscience which marks the 'low-life' writer of the 30s and 40s in both the UK and US. But the UK brand is a bit grittier, bit less shocked by real life and there's a liking for these margin-dwellers which informs even the sleaziest characters. Addictive stuff. That Kersh could write comedy better thn anyone is evident from Fowlers End. I'd like to see some of his wonderful horror stories reprinted, too." - A Reader

"Kersh dramatically contrasts the grasping, ruthless pimp, Harry Fabian with the altruistic artist, Adam. Their women, Zoe the prostitute and Helen, the idealist who,at first, seem worlds apart end up sharing the same greedy lust for money at any price. A cynical, superbly wriiten book with tension in every line that will have you gasping as you recognise its truthfulness. Kersh wrote many novels set during the 30's, 40's and 50's. Read this one and you will be wanting more." - W. A. F. Hurst

Men Without Bones - Gerald Kersh

Kersh Tribute Site - Harlan Ellison


Danil Kharms

Incidences - Danil Kharms

Amazon:

"Gaunt vignettes, stories, scenarios, plays, and any other scrap of writing, however small, by a Soviet writer who was killed by the Stalinist regime. Cornwell's brief introduction heralds the Russian pseudonymously known as Daniil Kharms, a member in the 1920s of the left-wing literary avant-garde group OBERIU, which embraced absurd, existential, and experimental writing. As Stalinist intolerance rose, Kharms was declared subversive and allowed to publish only books for children; later he was denied publication altogether. He continued writing, enduring periods of persecution, poverty, and starvation before his 1942 death in a prison hospital. His body of work is scant and all the pieces short: Most are no more than a page or two; ``The Old Woman,'' his masterpiece, runs on for 29. Kharms takes as his subject matter everyday events, depicting them with absurd twists that lend political resonance. Carpenters, writers, families, and historical characters (Pushkin, Gogol, Michelangelo) survive the bizarre and often violent monkey wrenches thrown their way. More often than not, these ``incidences'' are fables that capture a national climate characterized by violence, alienation, deprivation, and disorder--the physical and mental realities, perhaps, of the author as well. The pieces' brevity often makes the book's pace bumpy and unsatisfying; these bare bones could use a little meat. The author's success in expressing himself within a wide range of genres and styles, however, is a triumph of observation and control, although the dramatic work ``Yelizaveta Bam'' demonstrates that this changeability can be as much of a chore for the general reader as it is a feast for the stylistic scholar. Nonfiction here is dull; Kharms's bluntness leaves no room for inference, and his letters, theories, and autobiographical sketches lack the bleak but compelling details of daily Russian life found in his creative writing. An anorexic though not anemic collection that can be fully appreciated only with knowledge of the author's biography." - Anon


C. Daly King

The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant - C. Daly King

Amazon:

Part of Crippen and Landru's Lost Classic Series, this collection of detective stories resurrects a neglected but tremendously influential talent. According to Edward Hoch's intriguing introduction, C. Daly King (1885-1963) was, with G. K. Chesterton and Carter Dickson, one of the masters of the "locked room" mystery. King's stories were heralded by Ellery Queen as "the most imaginative detective stories of our times." Published primarily in the 1930s, they star gentleman detective Trevis Tarrant and his manservant, who doubles as a Japanese spy. Readers who love the puzzle mysteries of the 30s, especially those with an Edgar Allan Poe sense of claustrophobia, should flock to these 12 stories crowded with locked rooms and hairy situations--including a locked chamber within New York's Metropolitan Museum; a house that is haunted, though new; and a Hollywood star who disappears from a locked suite in a house ringed round with detectives. - Connie Fletcher (Booklist)


Ludvig Holberg

The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground - Ludvig Holberg

Google Books


R. M. Koster

The Dissertation - R. M. Koster


William Kotzwinkle

The Fan Man - William Kotzwinkle

Amazon:

"There has been a lot of counterculture literature since the rise of the Beat Generation in the 50s. Much of it fails to measure up to the standard of Kerouac, Ginsberg or Burroughs. There are some writers who have managed to rise up to the occasion with classic or near classic works. Terry Southern would be one that comes to mind. Another writer who has produced some fine works is William Kotzwinkle. Before, "E.T. The Extra-terrestial", Kotzwinkle was noted for producing counterculture literature. One of his most famous works is the 1974 novel "The Fan Man".

This novel chronicles the sleazy misadventures of the self absorbed hippie Horse Badorties. He is typical low life East Village for that time period, man. He knows the score and will always find the door for a quick out. He avoids things like rent and pays for commodities with rubber checks. Surely this is a time piece cause many of his ideals wouldn't fly in today's climate.

The title is derived from his continued attempts to be a salesman of small battery powered fans. He consistently uses them and tries to sell them in any store or business he enters into. It is all part of his grand scheme. He even envisions utilizing the fans in his Love Concert that will be presented at St Nancy's Church. (I am wondering if this is meant to be the famous St. Mark's Church in the East Village which conducted poetry readings for decades.)

Kotzwinkle endeavors to capture the thought process and speech pattern of an East Village post hippie lowbrow. In this, he is very successful. The narrative moves along in a hazy stream of consciousness. Horse Badorties is a slob who is no stranger to the herbal pleasures of Mother Nature. The novel begins with Horse waking up in his filthy pad. Kotzwinkle is very descriptive in detailing the encrusted, greasy condition of this pad. It would probably not be too appealing to squeamish stomachs. I found myself thinking, "Man, and I thought I was a slob." Horse Badorties is not only from another era, he seems to be from another universe.

Badorties is full of big ideas and cons. He doesn't pay the rent and destroys the pad with his junk and filth. He is trying to conduct a love concert which will feature a chorus of 15 year old girls, most of whom, he tries to bed down. He has music sheets which he claims is church music from hundreds of years ago. Suspension of disbelief is required to take seriously anything Horse Badorties says.

The narrative is written in the first person, and we get a lot of "mans" sprinkled throughout the text, man. Like, man, after awhile, it can get pretty unnerving, man. In this respect, it is similar to a novel like Huck Finn where Twain attempts to capture the slang and accents of 19th Century Missouri. Kotzwinkle is very successful in this endeavor. He manages to tap into that vein of consciousness from Badorties viewpoint. This can be frustrating to the reader. If you consider how annoying it can be to listen to a person who overuses the word man in their speech, man, well, it can be just as annoying reading this text. Some readers would probably get lost in trying to follow the narrative. You almost have to try to put yourself in Badorties shoes. That is not a pleasant proposition. Kotzwinkle is very successful in capturing this stream of consciousness.

My impression is that this book is meant more as an adieu to the hippie era and the summer of love mentality that the 60s rock exuded. This is really about the crash, man. This is when people began to drop out without tuning in or turning on. In reading the book, I get the sense that I am listening to the voice of a man whose time has passed. He is left to wallow, in his own words, in putrified wretchedness. There must have been quite a few real life people like Badorties populating the East Village during those years. Perhaps there still are a few dinosaurs and relics there today. All in all, this is a very amusing, entertaining and irreverent book, one that will certainly make you laugh. Yes, it's a fun book. Pick up a copy! Along with this novel I'd also like to recommend another East Village novel called The Losers' Club (Complete Restored Edition) by Richard Perez." - Stan Willis

Doctor Rat - William Kotzwinkle

"William Kotzwinkle's novel Dr. Rat combines a cautionary dash of Orwell's Animal Farm with the rancid horror of Sinclair's The Jungle to tell a savagely critical tale of humanity's mistreatment of the other animals sharing our world. Dr. Rat goes for the throat with appalling accuracy, clawing at the emotional core we try to protect with logic and reason. This novel forces us to look at the cruelly underside of animal experimentation, slaughtering houses and hunting. Told with a savage humor that does nothing to cushion the blow of confronting our own barbarism, Dr. Rat stands out as a masterpiece of recognition and rage.

The title character is a laboratory rat long mad from running the maze. "Death is freedom," he shouts again and again. But while Dr. Rat gaily recites the gratuitous atrocities performed on his fellows by the Learned Professor and his graduate assistants -- "Nobody knows exactly what he's doing, or why. It is sufficient that each month we mention cancer and a new kind of plastic." -- the revolution brewing inside the lab mirrors a great gathering of every sort of animal in the outside world. The story flashes to the mind of a different creature for a chapter, either one suffering at the hand of man or one beginning the trek to the mustering, then flips back to Dr. Rat's lone stand against the rebelling research subjects.

Dr. Rat ignites emotions that most of us are less than comfortable experiencing; all the more reason to read this book and to open your eyes.

Even though this book is fiction, there is a lot of truth to it. This is a book I think everyone should read just so they know what happens in animal testing laboratories. Whether you're not aware or would rather turn away from the issue, animal testing is a cruel science experiment gone wrong." - A, Vegan


Eric Kraft

Little Follies: The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences and Observations of Peter Leroy (So Far) - Eric Kraft

Amazon:

Nine charming novellas of an all-American boy, all but one of which appeared individually in paperback in the early 1980's, here offered as a hardcover ``serial novel.'' Kraft (Reservations Recommended, 1990; Herb 'n' Lorna, 1988) is a veteran comic writer with an occasional dark touch. Here, he recaptures childhood for all of us, as a time of exploration, flights of the imagination, and sexual confusion. He also captures the small-town atmosphere of 1950's Long Island, with its innocence and easy living and yet also with its repression. In ``Do Clams Bite?'' Peter Leroy is staying in his father's old room when he discovers photographs of a naked woman whom he slowly comes to realize is May, a friend of his father's still but not his wife; May has never married. To twist the knife, Kraft has May tuck Peter into bed and caress him gently. It's a funny story, full of clamlore, but there's also an underlying terror rather like that in John Knowles. Then there's the man in ``My Mother Takes a Tumble'' who, masquerading as a woman, writes to lonely men--with hilarious results. Most of the pieces are about sexual initiation in one way or another: in ``Life on the Bolotomy,'' otherwise a kind of parodic salute to Mark Twain with its boy's river odyssey, May makes love to Peter's older friend; and in ``The Girl with the White Fur Muff,'' Peter is introduced to female anatomy, if not quite to sex. But the mood is gentle and comic, innocent at heart, in the end far more reminiscent of Booth Tarkington than of John Knowles. Peter stays a child, and in ``The Young Tars''--a sendup of Boy Scouts and 4-H and all those other clubs for youth--he's a boy rather like Penrod or the Tom Sawyer who can talk you into painting his fence. Nine novellas do not quite a novel make, but these are delightful and satisfying stories from a sure stylist, sweet without ever being sentimental.


Laszlo Krasznahorkai

The Melancholy of Resistance - Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Imagine a noir story with words to amuse an etymologist; sentences the length of paragraphs; paragraphs the length of very long chapters and a three-hundred page book with just a few chapters. Further, set this dark novel in Eastern Europe with the threat of the symbolic huge neighbor to the east looking over everything. And, there is a whale.

Next, add in a dozen or so characters (with hundreds of extras) who are stereotypes of stereotypes. Put these into a setting that shows us a few city blocks of a seemingly larger city. Let them play roles that will properly show off their stereotypical natures and the rest is, as is said, "history". Not to mention the whale.

Symbolism is rampant. The sun is ashamed to show itself. Even nice people aren't necessarily nice, should one show up. We follow people doing what people do. They just normally don't do so with such large consequences. Including the whale.

This is a difficult book to read and I would not recommend it to anyone as an introduction to either post-modern or Eastern European literature., but there are many, many humorous moments in this heavy story to lighten things, if only for a moment. I don't remember if the whale had any funny lines." - Dick Johnson


Karl Kraus

Half-Truths and One-And-A-Half Truths: Selected Aphorisms - Karl Kraus

Karl Kraus Page - Stephan Natschläger

Literary Encyclopedia

Master of Horror - D. J. Enright

Hypocrisy or Merely Contradiction?: The Brief Look at the Life and Work of Karl Kraus - Jessica Van Campen


Alfred Kubin

The Other Side - Alfred Kubin

Best Overlooked Fantastical Fiction

Amazon:

"One senses that this indulgent and dazzling exercise in ferocious derangement and, arguably, allegory, must read less awkwardly in the original German. You will not read this for its literary style, which is clumsy at times, but for its pure, rarefied, winningly repulsive air of pre-War Euro-decadence, for its uncanny presentiments of the coming horrors of the 20th century, and for its profligate richness of bizarre imagery. The book is fuel for dreams of the weirdest kind. This is appropriate, because in it Kubin seeks to portray a "Dream Realm" -- very far from the one Morpheus rules over in The Sandman -- created at the whim of a ludicrously wealthy and myserious aristocrat. This Dream Realm, aka the city of Pearl, is situated in Asia, but represents, among other things, a vision of pre-industrial Europe stagnating, suppurating, and sinking into its indolent self -- but at least avoiding the horrors of modernization and liberalism! With a wink, then (the book is quite funny in a scabrous way), Kubin deals with such issues as race, the media, psychoanalysis, religion (gnosticism in particular), death, and sexuality. He does so inconclusively, but with unflagging inventiveness, and a real eye for the startling mental picture and the horrific detail." - matthew martens


Milan Kundera

The Joke - Milan Kundera

Amazon:

""Optimism is the opium of the people A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity. Long live Trotsky!" This is the joke, sent on a postcard for all the nosy official world to see, made by Ludvik Jahn when he was a promising student and a leader of the University's Communist youth group. Its flippancy is a product of his desire to amuse himself by discomfiting Marketa, a serious and gullible young woman on whom he has set his romantic and erotic sights; the postcard is part of his strategy as a would-be lover. The powers that be do not see the humor in his joke, but rather a fatal character flaw with treacherous implications. (Perhaps they were more insightful than they knew - their response recalls Nietzsche's observation that a "joke is an epitaph on the death of a feeling", in this case an emotional commitment to an ideal that can never be a joking matter to its adherents.) This results in a judgment which brings him so low that it takes him years to recover from its aftermath: expulsion from the university and the Party, forced service in an army "work battalion" in the mines, followed by three additional years as a civilian miner - which adds up to half a dozen years of self-doubt and psychological isolation, its pain made more acute by a consciousness of his lost privileges and debased social status. He comes to see his sentencing by a gathering of fellow students as emblematic of humanity's failings as a whole -- people in groups act as a compliant and sometimes violent herd out of envy, fear, or an unfounded moral superiority based on misunderstandings of their own personal myths or the myths of a society that is deceiving itself; and, needless to say, many of the upholders of public morality are merely careerists and opportunists. In any event humans are untrustworthy in situations that demand honest thought and fair judgment, implying to Ludvik that he would have raised his own hand to condemn another man had the tables been turned. While Ludvik eventually recovers a decent position in society and a kind of toughened mental equilibrium, he struggles with his misanthropy and a desire for retribution (but he retains his ironical sense of humor, which takes a dark, absurdist twist that matches the events in his life).

In its structure "The Joke" is a polyphonic song of lament, recited by people about events from their shared pasts -- the national, collective past of the undiscriminating enthusiasm of youthful ideologues for the new Communist state of 1948; and the particular pasts of Ludvik, two of his old friends (Jaroslav and Kostka), the wife (Helena) of his youthful persecutor (Zemanek), and a strange, damaged woman from his period of societal punishment (Lucie). In the "musicological chapter" we hear Jaroslav's observations about the nature of Moravian folk music, accompanied by bars of musical notation. These illustrate an ancient mode of singing, in which each voice "personalizes" a song by singing in odd keys and awkward, shifting rhythms, as do the voices of lament in "The Joke" (the reader who knows little or nothing of the technical side of music and its notation still gets an interesting historical survey of a millennium's worth of folk-music and its relationship to both older and newer styles of music). Each voice tells part of the story of interlocking lives. The forlorn Lucie is the one person who is not a subject and remains an object throughout, so two versions of her story are told by Ludvik and by Kostka as part of their own stories. Each voice has a different purchase on reality and is driven by a different myth of the self and of things larger than the self, constructs by which individuals justify their actions. In Ludvik's and Helena's cases this exterior justification is their early allegiance to the ideals of socialism, in Jaroslav's his idolization of folk-art as a panacea for all of the woes of modern life, and in Kostka's a commitment to a highly personal Christian God. In each case there are moments when the individual despairs and believes that his "cause" may be nothing but a delusion or a means of avoiding personal responsibility for his own life.

Based on a chance encounter, Ludvik targets Helena in order to revenge himself against her husband, considering her sexual conquest and the cynical manipulation of her emotions to be an exquisite (and, in its details, sadistic) "joke" which will finally satisfy his cravings for revenge. But he sadly discovers that he wounds the wrong person and that even his real target, Zemanek, is no longer the man he once was; now the joke is on Ludvik, and it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. The "polyphonic" fragments of three voices accelerate their tempo in the last chapter, and there is a harmonic resolution of sorts - Ludvik "returns home", as it were, and reconciles with the friend of his youth, Jaroslav, whom he has hitherto identified with the stupidity and smugness of small home-town virtues which he fled long ago. (One of the many ironies in the book is that it was Ludvik who convinced the resistant Jaroslav to become an ardent Communist, and Jaroslav does so because the new State is a sponsor of all the folk arts. A parallel irony is that Kostka, the pious Christian, approves of the Party's expulsion of Ludvik, because he understands the Party as a faith, and no faith can tolerate corrosive skepticism.) In the end it is not clear how or if any of the damaged characters will move forward in their lives; much of the damage has been self-inflicted and based on illusions, which only makes it worse.

There are elements of an authorial self-portrait here, as one might expect from a first novel. To begin with the obvious, Ludvik is Kundera's age and has passed through the same national history and a similar personal history (as a student Kundera was expelled from the Party in 1950 for six years; readmitted, he was expelled again in 1970). Furthermore, Ludvik's and Jaroslav's characters contain something of Kundera's own early musical training. More autobiographically telling are the oblique references to Kundera's long poem celebrating Julius Fucik, a work which fit well with the regime's peculiar and intense cult of Fucik as an exemplary national hero of the resistance against the Germans during the Protectorate and a model for Communist youth, who are to be elevated and instructed by Fucik's "Reportage: Notes from the Gallows". On this note (poetry and Kundera's evaluation of it), the highlighted term "the lyrical age", a recurring idea in his work, makes its appearance. This phrase, which Kundera uses critically and almost with contempt or perhaps contempt mixed with regret, is meant to stand for each man's period of immaturity, in which he assumes postures and attitudes to impress the world, while all the time he is in a state of inner confusion and uncertainty about how to behave as an adult. The lyrical age is the age of imposture and narcissism. And the term has a double meaning, referring not only to individual psychology, but to the psychology of an era, specifically the years following the Communist take-over of the state in 1948. This was the lyrical age of Czechoslovakian Communism, which happened to coincide with the last vicious burst of Stalinism; it should be remembered that the participants in the Stalinist drama were motivated as much by a "collective joy" associated with the "construction of socialism and the new man and the new woman" as they were by fear of political trials and the penal system. In Kundera's case this was a period when he wrote lyrical poetry imbued with these political attitudes, especially his poem idealizing Fucik. Kundera obviously rues this phase of his own youth and, now a master of prose, gives us an unflattering alternative reading of Fucik's life. In this sense "The Joke" is an attempt to redress the excesses and impostures of Kundera's own youth.

(If the reader wishes to explore what Kundera means by "the lyrical age" -- and he means a great deal by it; it is something like a ramifying leitmotif in his work -- he can find more details in the author's own words in Kundera's "The Art of the Novel" and in an interview published in Antonin J. Liehm's "The Politics of Culture". The idea is also examined by Peter Steiner in his book "The Deserts of Bohemia". In his essay on the Slansky show-trial Steiner also supplies information that, for non-Czech readers, illuminates the pathetic character Alexej in "The Joke", who could well be based on Ludvik Frejka's son. Frejka was a former high-ranking economics official who was condemned to death for espionage and sabotage in this parody of a trial in 1952. And Frejka's son Tomas vilified him in the pages of the Party paper, "Rude Pravo" -- like Alexej, who bears a burden of socialist shame over his deposed father and writes a public letter denouncing him.)

Although it contains satirical elements (its portraits of Zemanek and Helena, its depiction of authority figures in the army), it would be a mistake to call "The Joke" a work of satire. Kundera considers his novels to be primarily what might be called "existential meditations". Much of the meditation is on people in a situation which is characterized by the inevitability of extreme politics as a background condition which permeates everything, including all human relations. This particular situation appears almost inescapable to Czechs (and Slovaks), especially to Czech writers during the period from 1938 to 1990. The dates of the book's composition and publication (1967) are very important in assessing Kundera's relationship with other writers and intellectuals who participated in the Prague Spring (1968) and were hammered down in various ways after the failure of the movement to establish "socialism with a human face." Kundera, like Ludvik, was still arguing for the maintenance of a reformed Communist state which would rationally carry out social and economic programs while allowing individuals civil liberties - this proved to be a pipe-dream. His recognition of the unviability of this idea is indicated by his self-exile to France in 1975. Another disturbing meditation, central to Kundera's way of thinking, is on the fluidity and "lightness" of the self, represented here by the masked alterations of identity that take place in the Moravian ritual "Ride of the Kings". The dissolving self is a subject fit for its own essay; and a subject notably treated by Karel Capek in his trilogy "Three Novels".

Now to the most important matter, the literary qualities of the work. Kundera is a thoroughly professional writer with literary goals and standards that he has set for himself (again, these are explicitly stated in "The Art of the Novel"). Since he has chosen to tell his story - or construct his existential meditation -- through the minds and words of four different characters, how well has he established the individuality of their voices? It can be said that three of the voices - Helen's, Jaroslav's and Kostka's - have something in common. Each of these characters is arguing with himself or herself within a system of ideas that is almost axiomatic, and they take their arguments to a logical extreme. At the same time they are questioning their relationship with their most cherished idea in order to evaluate the worthiness of their own lives (i.e., "Have I chosen to live a certain way correctly, or even wisely?"). Helen's choice is for the Party and its notion of society, even to the extent that her first love and marriage were based on their acceptability within this framework. Jaroslav's is for folk-art, based on a belief that it will save him (and others) by reconnecting them with a long and diffuse group identity (the village; the nation; the culture). Kostka's commitment is to God, apprehended through a highly personalized form of Christianity. Each believes he or she will be saved by his adherence to the chosen ideal. Ludvik, however, has fallen from grace, and, with that, from certainty; he no longer believes in belief, in the notion that such broader commitments are necessary or desirable, because they are a reservoir of self-deceit and self-justification rather than ideas which can withstand rigorous criticism. And so his voice stands out from each of the others, although it can be pointed out that he too becomes obsessive in the pursuit of revenge - his "myth" is purely personal, and it has been thoroughly formed and deformed by politics.

On a final note, the present reviewer's reading is based on the Faber and Faber edition of 2000, which is the only English edition that is "fully authorized and approved" by Kundera. In this edition's "Afterword" Kundera explains both the sources of the work's translation (Michael Henry Heim, other translators, and one key editor are involved) and the reasons why he felt the earlier four translations were unworthy or absolutely misleading. Don't skip the Afterword, since it is a miniature essay on the art of translation itself (and, in an oddly ironical way, a commentary on the "bad joke" which Kundera feels the English-language publishing industry has played on him, especially with this work). While in comparison to numerous other good novels this book merits five stars, I give it four because there are other novels by Kundera which I esteem more highly." - Robert T. OKEEFFE


Andrey Kurkov

Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov

Reviews:

"Ukrainian author Kurkov's slim novel combines modern political and social commentary with traditional Russian absurdist satire in a story about a writer whose pen is literally mightier than the sword. Set in contemporary Kiev, the tale revolves around Viktor, a friendless and familyless 40ish writer who lives alone in a dreary apartment with Misha, an emperor penguin. Apparently Viktor grew lonely after his girlfriend left him, and got Misha a week later when the zoo could no longer afford to keep him. The penguin lives in his apartment, with occasionally cold baths drawn for him to topple into, and plenty of frozen fish to munch on. This is presented so matter-of-factly that, like the best absurdism, it seems entirely reasonable.

Viktor's life consists of sitting in his apartment struggling on short stories, until one day he is offered a job writing obituaries of public figures for a newspaper. These are not to be written upon the subject's death, but are for the paper to have on file and ready to go when the person dies (this is common practice in the news world). The work is steady and the pay quite generous, as long as Viktor is sure to include veiled innuendoes and subtle moral commentary on the person, as directed by the editor. This is all well and fine, until Viktor's subjects start suddenly meeting their end with alarming regularity... Meanwhile, a mysterious mafioso shows up at Viktor's apartment and leaves his little girl and a huge wad of cash with Viktor for safekeeping.

Kurkov appears to be satirizing the society that has risen from the ashes of the USSR, a society where corruption and organized crime have hijacked the "democratic free market" that replaced communism. For example, one of the funnier little threads has the penguin becoming a "celebrity" mourner at mafia funerals. However, Viktor is too detached to be a truly compelling protagonist. He takes care of Misha, but rarely displays any affection for him-nor any of the other characters who come to rely on him. The book is a darkly amusing tale, but with such a cipher at the center, it's hard to really connect with it. Still, for a glimpse at post-Soviet life and sensibilities and a taste of Gogolesque humor, it's not bad." - A. Ross


LLL


Paul LaFarge

The Artist of the Missing - Paul LaFarge

"While The Artist of the Missing will not be for all tastes, no-one could honestly deny that Paul LaFarge has real skill with the English language -- marvelous skill, for the book is full of marvels.

If you like surrealism and fantasy, if you are seeking dreamworlds to explore, then you will love this book. Every page holds a surprise, a lilt or a tilt in an unseen direction, or at least an unexpected turn of phrase. It's all done with an old world sensibility, and in the end it leaves the reader feeling like he or she has sat through a performance by a master of legerdemain, someone who glories in the art of pulling beautiful handkerchiefs out of thin air and then turning them into butterflies or rabbits or flames.

For a first novel, this is magnificent accomplishment. My only reservation is a minor one, for by the end I was enchanted and enthralled. But the techniques felt familiar, for though the landscape here is unique, the path to it is one that has been crossed by many great writers, from the Grimm brothers to Italo Calvino to Stephen Millhauser. LaFarge does it just about as well as anyone, and there's nothing wrong with doing well things which have been done before (realistic novelists build their careers on it), but I have a nagging suspicion that LaFarge is good enough to do even more, to stake out territory which is completely and undeniably unique to him, and I expect that with his future works he will.

Until then, The Artist of the Missing will do just fine, for it is a book to treasure and adore." - Matthew Cheney


R. A. Lafferty

Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970) - R. A. Lafferty

R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page

Reviews:

"R. A. Lafferty, "the cranky old man from Tulsa," has written some fine novels: OKLA HANNALI, THE DEVIL IS DEAD, FOURTH MANSIONS, and others equally good. However, his weird (but wise) view of the world is at its best in his short fiction. NINE HUNDRED GRANDMOTHERS is his best single collection, one of the true landmark collections of modern fiction. It's amazing that such a wonderful collection hasn't had more influence, but then again it's hard to imagine anyone else writing anything even remotely like a Lafferty story except as a pastiche or tribute. He's that different.

The stories here include many of his best: the title story, "Ginny Wrapped in the Sun," "Slow Tuesday Night," "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne," "Narrow Valley," "Hog-Belly Honey," "The Hole on the Corner," "Name of the Snake," and others. The only excuse for not buying this is that you're waiting for the collected Lafferty!" - Alex D. Groce

The Devil is Dead - R. A. Lafferty

Reviews:

"To fully appreciate this literally wonderful book, one must realize that it is only one part of a sprawling saga, the "Argo Mythos", revolving around that legendary ship and those who have sailed on it. Within that saga lies the "Devil Is Dead" trilogy, of which this book (confusingly, of the same name) is but the middle part, its predecessor being "Archipelago" and its successor being "More Than Melchisedech" (which, to further complicate score-keeping, was published in three volumes, named "Tales of Chicago", "Tales of Midnight", and "Argo"). Also part of the Argo Mythos is the novel "Dotty", and--arguably--the "Coscuin" tetralogy (of which the final two books are yet unpublished, though the manuscripts exist).

Finnegan, the chief protagonist, is adapted from the character Finn McCool of Irish legend, and parts of the saga derive from that legendarium; he also, however, partakes to some extent of the nature of Jason, the hero we normally associate with the Argo. Further--though one can read the saga without needing to know this--Lafferty has adopted the Argo itself as symbolic of the Roman Catholic Church, of which Lafferty was--to put it mildly--an ardent adherent.

This novel, the saga, the entirety of Lafferty's work: it is all literary genius of a high order, something the casual reader may miss owing to Lafferty's very down-to-earth writing style, which in many ways is almost conversational in tone. But then, the definition of a professional is someone who makes it all look easy." - M. Lynn Walker

Not to Mention Camels: A Wild Trip Through Time and Space - R. A. Lafferty

"I heard of Lafferty in a roundabout way during the past two years and decided to see if I could find any excerpts of his on-line. One book, FOURTH MANSIONS, had an incredible opening was insanely beautiful and unique, and was like nothing I ever read. I felt I had to read something of his soon, but for some reason I left the other book and went with this book instead (I admit I was intrigued by the title). Subsequently NOT TO MENTION CAMELS is the first book of RA Lafferty I ever read, and it was unique in a very good way, but I just don't think it is the best book of his to start with. The story (which is at times violent, gory and completely iNsAnE) is like nothing you'll find on any other shelf anywhere: it involved a man named Pilgrim (or variations of that name) who is a world-jumper. He has developed the ability to cheat death by allowing his consciousness to pass to different variations of Earth into different variations of himself, thus making him able to live multiple lives at a time. (All of these planets and minds are inter-connected like webs of a spider, by the way) Whenever Pilgrim's consciousness arrives on a new planet he goes about to set up a cult for himself in order to make himself a god and to spread himself out across all of time and space in the minds of millions of followers. But will such an audacious plan work?

As story go, it's a pretty complex and amazing as well as haunting and unforgettable. But I can't help but feel that the story ultimately goes nowhere. I wasn't disappointed, bored and I would consider the book `satisfying' (that vague term so many reviewers like to use), but I just can't help but feel that the book was written with no clear purpose in mind and builds up to nothing in particular, except a dour ending that would have been more powerful if the main character was easier to sympathise with (indeed, I sympathise more with his friend, the 'umbrella seller', who must be his friend against his will). Also the prose lacked some of the crazy energy that other excerpts of his prose (as well as some short-stories that are freely available on-line) had, and I'll admit it was that factor that attracted me initially to Lafferty (the short story SLOW TUESDAY NIGHT is an incredibly fun and unique read, by the way).

They say the best place to start with Lafferty is with his short story collections. Having liked what I read here I'm certain that I'll explore his short-story collection LAFFERTY IN ORBIT next, probably. Taking an educated guess (and not having read it myself) it seems that's the best place for you to start." - Bigsleepj


John Lanchester

Debt to Pleasure (1996) - John Lanchester

Top 10 Funny Books - John O'Farrell

Imagine a cross between Niles Crane and Hannibal Lecter and you're only beginning to get close to the inspired central character of this bizarre debut. The prejudices of the psycho-gourmet hero made me laugh out loud; he has an intolerance and grudge for every sphere of life, even preferring the Plantagenets to the vulgar Welsh Tudors.


Amazon:

"Do you know that word "barbecue" originates from Haitian "barbacado" that refers to a rack-frame system leaving off the ground a bed? Do you know that tomatoes, if imminently picked and allowed to ripe during transport, will turn plasticky and insipid? Do you know that the thickness requirement in preserving the juice in barbecued meat is an inch to 3 inches? Have you ever wondered why starch (such as rice) and fruits, and not a glass of iced water, serve to subdue the spiciness of curry?

John Lanchester's The Debt of Pleasure not only deftly answers all the above questions but also, in impeccable and painfully beguiling prose, embraces his readers into the world of Tarquin Winot. Strictly speaking, the book, which is nothing more than a scrumptious culinary reflection in thoughtful menus arranged by the seasons, cannot be deemed as a work of fiction if Winot is a real chef. From his menus, which embody different cultures, capture a man's psychology and thus his impulse to order, and witness the come-and-go of dining trends; Winot related the story of his life to the preparations of food.

The writing is as insatiating and titillating as the menus. Winot retreated to southern France and reminisced, papered his thoughts on the subject of food that evoked his childhood, his parents, his brother Barthomelow the artist, the beloved maidservant Mary-Theresa, and the home cook Mitthaug. Aroma of a particular dish could graciously tug his memory and coalesce the disparate locations of Winot's upbringing. Woven into his painfully and haughtily opinionated meditations on food was disheartening anecdotes of his family. His brother struggled as an artist who, like other artists in history, never felt adequately attended to for his work and died a tragic death of fungus poisoning. His parents, in a multiplying series of mishaps that primarily involved leaving all the kitchen gas taps on and a full-scale leak from the gas boiler, died in an explosion triggered by turning on a light switch.

The lighter side of the book tells of Winot's aspiration to becoming a chef. He attributed such biographical significance to a chance visit to his brother's boarding school in England. The food served was a nightmarish demonstration of culinary banality and a stark confirmation of Captain Ford's quote in 1846 "The salad is the glory of every French dinner and the disgrace of most in England." A more humorous side would be Winot's rash denunciation of sweet-and-sour dishes (lupsup, meaning garbage) that dominated the English dining. As a native of Hong Kong, the notion truly hit home as any violent combination such as the sweet-and-sour taste is immediately deemed as inauthentic.

Read it as a novel "masquerading" as a cookbook, as a memoir, as food critics, as secretive cooking knacks, as word of caution (such as the roasting of apple seeds will release toxins), as an indispensable companion to your conventional cookbook, an eccentric philosophical soliloquy of the culinary art. I vouch that anyone who reads this book will find the recipes zestfully flirting with the tastebuds and liberating the senses. Exquisitely written." - Matthew M. Yau


Myrick E. Land

Fine Art of Literary Mayhem: A Lively Account of Famous Writers and Their Feuds (1983) - Myrick E. Land

Ethel the Blog:

The feuds covered in the chapters of this revised edition of a book originally published in 1963 include Sam Johnson vs. everyone (especially Lord Chesterfield), Alexander Pope vs. Colley Cibber, Fedor Doestoevski vs. Ivan Turgenev, William Makepeace Thackery vs. Charles Dickens, H. G. Wells vs. Henry James, D. H. Lawrence vs. everyone, Horace Walpole vs. Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway vs. everyone, Bernard DeVoto vs. Sinclair Lewis, and Norman Mailer vs. everyone.

One might expect those who make their livings writing to be good at hurling invective in print, and one wouldn't be disappointed. The introductory chapter offers many a fine example of critical daggers slipped into the backs of more than a few famous authors (although none which led to the historically memorable feuds detailed in the later chapters). For instance, a review of Dreiser's An American Tragedy offered:

The commonplaces of the story is not alleviated in the slightest degree by any glimmer of imaginative insight on the part of the novelist.
Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was ingloriously greeted with:
What has never been alive cannot very well go on living, so this is a book of the season only.
Even so timeless a classic as Milton's Paradise Lost was kneed in the groin via Edmund Waller's
If its length be not considered a merit, it hath no other.
Other literary critics haven't been as kindly subtle, with Shelley's Prometheus Unbound being taken into an alley and administered the following beating:
It is of little else but absolute raving, and were we not assured to the contrary, we would take it for granted that the author was a lunatic - as his principles are ludicrously wicked, and his poetry a melange of nonsense ... the stupid trash of a delirious dreamer ... maniacal raving.
Max Beerbohm felt compelled to attack Kipling in print, even penning a parody of Kipling containing the following:
"Wot am I? A bloomin' cypher. Wot's the sarjint? E's got the Inspector over 'im. Over and above the Inspector there's the Sooperintendent. Over above 'im's the old red-tape-masticatin' Yard. Over above that there's the 'Ome Sec. Wot's 'e? A cypher, like me. Why?" Judlip looked up at the stars. "Over above 'im's We Dunno Wot..."


Tommaso Landolfi

Words in Commotion and Other Stories - Tommaso Landolfi

Amazon:

"Little known in this country when he died in 1979, Landolfi is scarcely better recognized today, a situation this collection of 24 stories, with an introduction by Italo Calvino, is intended to remedy. Landolfi did not aspire to amuse or entertain in the usual sense; he preferred to confound and mystify. Even in his relatively conventional stories he scarcely bothered to inquire into motive or seek resolution. In "Uxoricide," for example, a wife-murderer sets out to kill the shrew for reasons that do not seem quite sufficient, so that the act itself appears brutal and sadistic. In "A Woman's Breast," a man lusts after that part of a stranger until he attains it, is thereupon sickened by the sight and discovers odd morbidities within himself. Landolfi's overriding interestslanguage and its literary possibilities, metaphysics, literary criticismnecessarily limit his audience. He saw the writer as one who spits words (see the title story), and he set himself against the critics who accused him of being "utterly indecipherable and mysterious." That is, however, a challenge hurled at the reader." - Anon

Gogol's Wife and Other Stories - Tommaso Landolfi

Amazon reviewer Salvatore Romano:

A strange, intelligent author today little known even here in Italy, Tommaso Landolfi wrote several wonderfully weird and surrealistic stories, oscillating among irony, nightmare and fear. Believe me: a great writer, and not a "great italian" writer, but a great one, period. If you love Calvino and Cortazar and, in general, the fantastic literature, you'll miss something if you don't know Landolfi.


Joe Lansdale

High Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. Lansdale - Joe Lansdale

Reviews:

""Champion Mojo storyteller" Joe Lansdale has slowly, over the span of twenty years, made quite a name for himself without ever really becoming a bestselling author. He has recently reached the current peak of his steadily increasing level of fame due to two events: winning the Edgar Allan Poe award for his novel, The Bottoms, and the recent release of the film Bubba Ho-Tep, based on a short story he wrote about an ancient mummy confronted by a seventy-year-old Elvis and J.F.K. He's certainly an acquired taste, but one that was an easy acquisition for me when I read his omnibus novel The Drive-In, about one summer evening when an alien comet buzzes a Texas drive-in theater and causes all sorts of havoc too disgusting to relate here. It was horror mixed with humor, and I loved it. So, I immediately set out to find more about this genre-mixing writer (my favorite kind). I read the first novel of his Hap and Leonard series, Savage Season, and it was good, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

Short stories are always a good way to experiment with a new writer. Luckily, that's how Lansdale started out making his living. There are several short story collections available of his early work but, the way he puts it in the introduction to High Cotton--and in reference to the southern-fried title--"this is the best cotton I've grown in the short form." When an author thinks the book you're holding contains his best stuff, that's the one you ought to try.

Each story has a short introduction written by Lansdale, explaining its inspiration, history, or lack thereof. I always find it fascinating for an author to write about their works; another favorite of mine, F. Paul Wilson, follows the same tack in his collection, The Barrens and Others.

High Cotton is certainly not bound to be a mainstream success, but for people who like the sort of gruesomely funny tales with a southern mentality that Joe Lansdale comes up with, it will be just your cup of sweet tea. It contains many stories that are as disturbing as they are funny: the basic premise is horrifying, but Lansdale manages to find the humor underneath it which, in turn, often enhances the horror of the situation. The one I think epitomizes this best is "The Drive-In Date" (also published in play format in The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume Two), which concerns a couple of "good ole boys" and their rather unconventional date at the drive-in. The usual amount of laughter, food, and sex is contained within, with one important difference. This one still gives me the creeps -- while making me laugh. Stories like this require that you reexamine your own comfort threshold.

"The Pit" starts off the collection. This combination of dogfighting, boxing, and crazy backwoods snake handlers is one that he feels deserves more attention, and it certainly packs a punch. You'll think twice about making that wrong turn onto a back road when you finish with this one. Following "The Pit" is a simple little story that shows Lansdale's sentimental side. In "Not from Detroit," a man fights Death so that neither he nor his wife has to be alone. This story is so surprisingly sweet, that it is the first I've read of his that almost made me cry. But things return to normal, Lansdalewise, in "Booty and the Beast," which includes fire ants, a plastic syrup bear, and a "[pubic] hair from the Virgin Mary."

Sometimes, the humor is the main aspect of the story, as in "Godzilla's Twelve-Step Program," which follows our hero, Godzilla, as he goes through the daily grind of fighting his addiction to burning down buildings with his fiery breath. Even his job as an ingot melter doesn't seem to do the trick. What could have been a one-joke premise leading to a punchline is fleshed out by the author's imagination into a character study.

As you can see, Lansdale has many talents, but he is at his absolute best when he follows the exploits of a bunch of useless good-for-nothings who get themselves into a heap of trouble just by being stupid. This occurs first (and funniest) in High Cotton in the form of "Steppin' Out, Summer, '68" as Buddy, Wilson, and Jake go out in pursuit of a little horizontal recreation and--through a seeming innocuous, if increasingly ignorant, series of events--one of them ends up in the mouth of an alligator. It is one of the author's personal favorites, and any story that can make me laugh out loud in public instantly becomes one of mine.

Ending the collection is the story that Lansdale calls his "signature story" and the first one to really get him noticed (winning the Bram Stoker award in the process), "The Night They Missed the Horror Show." After skipping the night's showing of Night of the Living Dead (after discovering that a black man is the hero), Leonard and Farto do a couple of stupid--if generally harmless--things in the name of fighting boredom. But when they run into the wrong people, these events spiral into a night of pure terror. Lansdale is in particularly good form here, making the characters sympathetic by having their "punishment" be far above and beyond anything that would have suited their "crimes" of ignorance. It is really an ideal closer for High Cotton.

But all the stories in here are worth reading and Golden Gryphon Press has done a wonderful job packaging the collection. The cover illustration by J.K. Potter is very effective at getting across the contents--even though it appears that Potter himself didn't get past the first page of the first story. High Cotton is bound to become the definitive collection of Joe R. Lansdale's short fiction by itself, and it makes an excellent companion piece to the more recent Bumper Crop, which includes some of his and his fans' personal favorites, if not his most memorable work. Together, Lansdale ("hisownself") calls these two "the definitive volumes of my short work." As a fellow reviewer once said about Lansdale's work, "Read it and vomit. It's brilliant."" - Craig Clarke

Dead in the West (1986) - Joe E. Lansdale

Reviews:

"For some strange reason Joe Lansdale often carried the tag of horror writer for many years which is peculiar since out of the 20 or so books of his, only "The Drive-In" and "Dead in the West" are horror novels. Many of his novels are either westerns, hard-boiled mysteries or strange combinations of both. Dead in the West is another unique crossover as only Lansdale can do, a short novel that seamlessly combines the western and horror genres to mold a "zombie western". Let it be said that Dead in the West is one of the best and most unique contributions ever to the horror genre.

Reverend Jeb Mercer is a man of god who has lost much of his faith due to the many unfortunate circumstances that have shaped his life. Every once in a while Jeb still communicates with the lord and this time He has sent Jeb to the East Texas town of Mud Creek on a mission, a mission about what Jeb is uncertain but he boards his mule, packs his guns and heads over to the sleepy desert town. Jeb will soon find out that the town has been cursed by an Indian shaman and that is why everyone in Mud Creek is turning into slow shuffling zombies. Can the Reverend, a man of god who has lost his faith, save the town from the dark pits of hell that await?

The ideas are great and truly original but it is Lansdale's writing that make this novel so exceptional. He has a way with words and with humour that just jump at you and make you stare at the page in disbelief. The dialogue is some of the funniest ever and all the words seem to flow seamlessly on the pages. This is one of those novels that is very hard to put down unfinished. On the surface, the plot seems like one of a pulpy dime novel but it has such a tight structure and sense of atmosphere that it becomes so much more. This book has more treasures in 120 pages than most books of 400 pages could ever think of having.

Most of the novel would be classified as a western until that is the invasion of zombies in the last 30 pages or so that turn it into a bloody, gory and extremely graphic zombie gut-muncher. This is one of those gems that should never go out of print and should obtain classic status but because of how unconventional it is will forever remain an obscure cult anomaly. If you are a fan of Joe or horror in general what are you waiting for? Hunt this book down, then settle into your favourite chair with a bowl of chili on the side and let Joe take you on for the ride of your life." - Matthew King


Aaron B. Larson

Weird Western Adventures of Haakon Jones - Aaron B. Larson


Stanislaw Lem

The Cyberiad - Stanislaw Lem

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub - Stanislaw Lem


Paul Leppin

Others' Paradise - Paul Leppin

Amazon:

"Prague before World War I must have been the cradle of twentieth-century existential paranoia. There Kafka's--and Leppin's--imaginations burgeoned. "The Doors of Life," the longest story in this finally translated 1921 collection, concerns Veronika, living with six other women in an old house in Prague's Jewish quarter. She has borne and lost a child, and the father as well as her father were incarnations of the same man, as is the neighbor she eventually has an affair with, only to be thrown over and returned to the sequestered old house. "Doors of Life," indeed! The story's figurative doors give access from captivity to exploitation and recapture. Passion is a delusion, trapping in despair everyone who yields to it. Don't yield, and you are stifled by passionless bourgeois conformity, like the shoemaker of "Others' Paradise," who knows the world only as a succession of feet. Leppin (1878-1945), a civil servant revulsed by bourgeois life who reactively plunged into decadence, reads like the missing link between Baudelaire and the scalding satirical artist George Grosz." - Ray Olson


Jonathan Lethem

The Vintage Book of Amnesia: An Anthology (2000) - Jonathan Lethem, ed.


Jeremy Leven

Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S. (1983) - Jeremy Leven


Leonard C. Lewin

Report from Iron Mountain - Leonard C. Lewin

Reviews:

"_Report From Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace_ first appeared in 1967 published by The Dial Press and claimed to be a government report compiled by leading scholars who met at Iron Mountain in New York on the possibility and desirability of peace following the Cold War. This edition is published by the Free Press in 1996 and makes the claim that the report itself was a hoax (a spoof on think tank jargon) and was written by Leonard C. Lewin. However, whether or not the report is actually a hoax is difficult to determine, as disinformation is a speciality of the government agencies which release such reports. It should be noted though that even if the report itself is a hoax, that it nevertheless represents the kind of thinking that is typical of the elites. Unfortunately, in the Introduction to this book, written by Victor Navasky, we are treated to the usual establishment apologetics with much fustian about "paranoid ultraright conspiracy theorists", "militiamen", and "right wing libertarian weirdos". Such commentary is all-too-typical and should be simply ignored by anyone who has a working brain and dares to think outside the box. The report itself composes the majority of this book, followed by an afterword by the "author" and some appendices on the "Iron Mountain Affair". It is alleged that when L.B.J. discovered that this report had been "leaked" that he "hit the roof". And, this represents the typical reaction of government officials to those who dare to challenge their reigning hegemony.

The report claims for itself to have been received by Leonard C. Lewin from one "John Doe", who leaked the report to him after it was compiled by 15 leading scholars who met in secret. (Later, Lewin would claim that the entire thing was a hoax and that he wrote the report himself. Whether or not this is accurate is of course difficult to determine.) The report claims that it represents a sort of "peace games" study similar to the "war games" played by the Rand Corporation. The report claims to be a study examining the central issue of the transformation of American society from one in which there is a constant readiness to make war to one in which peace would be sustainable. However, the findings of this report are such that a lasting peace is neither desirable nor sustainable that is most disturbing. Following the Cold War (under constant threat of turning "hot"), the United States entered a period in which disarmament became an option. The author(s) first consider various scenarios under which disarmament may occur, including effects of disarmament on the economy (potentially highly negative). The author(s) next consider war and peace as social systems. Following this, they turn to a discussion of the functions of war. The first function of war is economic, in the sense that the author(s) claim that rather than being a "drain" or producing "waste", war actually vitalizes the economy and provides protection against depressions. The second function of war is political, in the sense that the author(s) claim that the elimination of war would lead to the elimination of the nation-state and that war provides a safeguard against class conflict. The third function of war is sociological, in the sense that the author(s) claim that war gives rise to social cohesion and serves as a means of controlling social dissidence and destructive antisocial tendencies. The fourth function of war is ecological, in the sense that the author(s) claim that war serves as an evolutionary device for maintaining an ecological balance between human population and the supplies available for its survival. The fifth function of war is cultural and scientific, in the sense that the author(s) claim that creative arts and scientific and technological progress are made possible by war. Finally, the author(s) include a section entitled "Other", where they consider war as a general social release, war as a generational stabilizer, war as an ideological clarifier, and war as the basis for inter-national understanding. The author(s) then consider substitutes for the functions of war. These include economic (social-welfare expenditures, the problem of unemployment, health, education, housing, etc.), political (mentioning the possibility of uniting experiences, "alternate enemies" such as space aliens, and the flying saucer phenomenon), sociological (Peace Corps and Job Corps, but also more bizarre phenomena such as human sacrifice among primitive cultures, blood games, and inquisitions), ecological (birth control and eugenics), and cultural and scientific (creative arts, science, and space-related research). The author(s) conclude that each of these substitutes is fraught with difficulties and thus it will be necessary to continue maintenance of government control over war and peace.

This report is infamous for what it has to say about the possibilities of peace. It would seem that the author(s) (noted high government officials and scholars of repute) believe that a lasting peace is neither possible nor desirable. For those who doubt this on the other hand, it would appear that such officials cynically manipulate the public so as to consolidate their own power within the military-industrial complex. If war is indeed a sort of "make-work" project similar to the Great Pyramids of ancient Eygpt, then it remains to be seen whether or not a lasting peace cannot be achieved. This book is highly recommended for those who seriously consider the possibilities of war and peace. Despite the fact that it is alleged to be a hoax, it nevertheless has much to say to us about the thinking and direction in which the global elites intend to take us." - Prometheus


Roy Lewis

Evolution Man, Or How I Ate My Father - Roy Lewis

Amazon:

Humorous fantasy first published in Britain in 1960; rediscovered, it became a bestseller in Italy; this is the first US edition. Human evolution as a kind of domestic situation comedy? Well, Lewis's yarn--an autobiographical narrative by an ape-man named Ernest--recounts the efforts of Father, the leader and inventive genius, to evolve his tribe into the dominant species--preferably before the end of the Pleistocene. Weary of being terrorized by fierce carnivores with big teeth, Father obtains fire from a nearby volcano and transforms the lives of the tribe. Soon they're driving bears out of all the best caves, inventing cooking, and taking a break from endless flint-chipping. Then Father, with his eye on social evolution, forces his sons to steal wives from a neighboring tribe. Meanwhile, Uncle Vanya stubbornly refuses to leave the trees and condemns the whole enterprise; Uncle Ian returns from his travels in China, only to fall off an unfortunately unevolved horse and break his neck; and Ernest and his brothers finally lose patience when Father gives away the secret of making fire--they wanted a monopoly. So when Father invents the bow and arrow, thus threatening the jobs of traditional spear hunters, the brothers decide it's time to get rid of Father. Broadly amusing, though it's impossible to predict how well this comedy will travel.


Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

The Waste Books - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Amazon:

"Lichtenberg truly observes and thinks, forgive my cliched phrase, with a child's wonder. Thinking and Observing are, for him, downright entertainment not, as for most of us, labour-work. Even such strict critics as Schopenhauer and Nietszche have to off-cap to this unusual man.

Readers who have German can consult the 4-vol. "Schriften und Briefe" edited by Wolfgang Promies (with 2 useful vol.s of "Kommentar"; Hanser Verlag, 1967).

There seems to me a drawback (a strange one) of this translation: Mr. Hollingdale sometimes omits some part of an aphorism without obvious reasons. Just take the first aphorism as an example: the translation reads:'the great artifice of regarding small deviations from the truch as being the truth itself is at the same time the foundation of wit...'; while the original is 'Der grosse Kunstgriff, kleine Abweichungen von der Wahrheit fur die Wahrheit selbst zu halten, worauf die ganze Differentialrechnung gebaut ist, ist auch zugleich der Grund unserer witzigen Gedanken...'; why the phrase 'worauf die ganze Differentialrechnung gebaut ist' is not translated? It is quite inexplicable to me. And there are instances where only one sentence is rendered when the aphorism comprises two or three, again, with no obvious reasons.

All the same, this edition is a valuable one, supplementing the "Lichtenberg Reader" translated, edited and introduced by Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield.

I guess any lover of Lichtenberg would oft murmur to him/herself: 'May this wonderful man be better know!' Amen." - Tang Kai Cheong


Lillian R. Lieber

The Education of T. C. Mits: What Modern Mathematics Means to You - Lillian R. Lieber

Reviews:

"Originally published in 1944, The Education of T. C. Mits: What Modern Mathematics Means to You is a unique, plain-terms introduction to the amazing world of mathematics, written for readers of all backgrounds. In higher mathematics, sometimes the most fundamental of precepts can be challenged: two times two is not always four; the sum of the angles in a triangle does not always equal 180 degrees, and two parallel lines can be drawn through the same point! The free-verse poetry format does not interfere with the straightforward message, sample problems, and mathematical explanations in the least. Simple black-and-white line drawings illustrate this amazing exploration of mathematical mysteries for "T. C. Mits", or "The Common Man in the Street". A joy to read, especially recommended for public library collections to stimulate human interest in math and science. Highly recommended. "There is one very essential difference / between the behavior of T. C. and / that of a scientist. / T. C. is apt to think that / if he is good at hunches sometimes, / he may rely on them always. / But the fact is that / EACH INDIVIDUAL HUNCH MUST BE / CHECKED AND DOUBLE-CHECKED!"" - Midwest Book Review


A. J. Liebling

The Press - A. J. Liebling


Thomas Ligotti

The Nightmare Factory - Thomas Ligotti

Amazon:

"Eerie. That's the first word that pops to mind when thinking of Ligotti's style of writing. Like a word association test; Ligotti . . . Eerie. Ligotti has a unique style of writing. Quite rare when so many writers are trying to write "like" someone else. King, Campbell, Straub, Barker, the list of the imitated goes on. It must be admitted, however; when one reads Ligotti, one can see the pastiche of different styles. The influence of Lovecraft is particularly poignant. Indeed, "The Last Feast of Harlequin," is dedicated to Lovecraft. What one has to realize is that this is not imitation but mastery. Ligotti is not trying to write "like" someone else . . . He can write better. After reading Ligotti, one might think that he studied under Lovecraft, mastered that style, then moved onto another until he had mastered all styles he felt he needed. It is similar to how artists study under recognized masters then create their own works after finishing their apprenticeship. Ligotti is an artist unto himself, but one can tell the "styles" under which he is versed; just as one can tell the "styles" under which Remembrandt was versed.

Ligotti has a way of "bending" reality as, quite aptly, in a nightmare. More akin to Kafka, these are psychological skews in perception. But sometimes (and the scary part is that we never know whether or not the story we are reading falls into this particular "sometime") the horror is more than psychological, it is Lovecraftian. The first story in the collection, "The Frolic," is a good example of this. [STOP reading here if you do not want to know what happened in the story.] Is the prisonner simply an insane murderer or is he a being from a different plane of reality, a demon dimension bordering ours? Either way you look at the story, psychological (the killer is a psychopath) or supernatural (the killer is a demon from another dimension) you are hit with horror. The only difference is the difference between being hit with a 50 foot tidal wave or a 150 foot tidal wave. [RECOMMENCE reading now.]

Ligotti is not a complex writer; he is a sophisticated writer. A complex writer presents many parts, all of which may not go together. A sophisticated writer presents many parts, ALL of which serve an important purpose, like a well played chess match (or the engine block of a 65 Mustang). Ligotti has been indicted with being too ambiguous, too vague, in his writing. But the beauty of Ligotti's writing is that it is open to multiple interpretations. This is the reason for the confusion. His writing is not ambiguous, it is multifaceted. It is highly sophisticated with amazing prose, and I only hope that, unlike his Providence predecessor, Ligotti will not have to wait until after his death to receive the recognition he deserves as a truly original, truly eerie, voice in horror literature."


Jose Lezama Lima

Paradiso - Jose Lezama Lima

"I would argue that Paradiso is the best novel of the 20th century. I don't believe this because of the plot; as a matter of fact, I don't really think there is much of a plot here. I say it because of factors that have to do with the author, the time in which he wrote this, and how those elements combined to make this incredible piece of literature.

A little bit of history: by the time Lezama Lima wrote this novel, he was already a well-known writer in Cuba. He and some friends had started a literary magazine, and actually, he was best known for his poetry. When Castro's revolution came to be in 1959, it marked the end of Cuba's literary life. Writers like Lezama Lima could keep writing so long as they wrote nothing controversial, nothing too "out there," nothing that could even hint a thought of anything that could be deemed "counter-revolutionary." And soon after Lezama Lima wrote Paradiso.

Now a little bit about the novel. Consider it, really, a long, endless conversation with many, many asides. It is complex if only because there are so many run-on sentences, so many thoughts and descriptions and details, that it's easy to lose track and just find yourself thinking, period. And I think that's what he was going for. The book covers just about everything: politics, ethics, philosophy, homosexuality, love, religion, etc. I thought when I read it that basically Lezama Lima just wanted to express his thoughts and opinions on everything (I later learned I was pretty correct about that, but more on that in a minute). What this brilliant man had to say is well-worth reading, even today.

But now, let's go back to the time and place when this was written. A few years after Castro came into power, and after he had declared his Communist intentions. With the publication of this novel, Lezama Lima's fate was sealed. As a homosexual man living in a country with a severely homophobic dictator, life had already been getting more and more difficult for him. But when Paradiso came out, he was officially declared "non-person" by the regime. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I will explain that being declared "non-person" essentially means just that: you cease to exist in the eyes of the government. You are erased from the history books, from the record books, you lose your job, people who visit you or have anything to do with you risk losing their government freebies and suffering reprisals. Lezama Lima was no longer a national literary treasure, and the man who up until that moment was considered one of the most respected writers in Latin America, was reduced to nothing.

I had the honor of meeting his younger sister a short while ago. She was sharing the contents of private letters between her and her brother from the years after the publication of Paradiso to those before his death. They revealed so much about Lezama Lima as a person, how he saw life, how he regarded his family (all of whom were in exile and whom he missed terribly). They reveal his gentleness, the tenderness he felt about nature, his family, his memories. And they also reveal the hell that his life had become: the loneliness, the constant vigilance, the pain he felt over what had become of his country.

Being privy to such an experience really only affirmed my thoughts about this novel. He must have known what lay in store for him, and yet it didn't stop him. He still wrote it. When the government demanded that he denounce his own book, the one he considered his masterpiece, his message to the world, in essence, he refused. It simply fills me with awe. For that alone the book is worth reading." - Tere


Edward Limonov

Memoirs of a Russian Punk - Edward Limonov

Top 10 Eastern European Novels - Tibor Fischer

Mad, bad and dangerous to know (he once attacked novelist Paul Bailey and machine-gunned Sarajevo), Eddie-Baby relives his days as a gangmember in the provincial city of Kharkov in the 50s.

Amazon:

It's 1958 in the factory city of Kharkov. Krushchev is in power, the communist economy seems firmly entrenched and Eddie-baby, the streetwise hero of the author's two previous semi-autobiographical novels ( His Butler's Story ; It's Me, Eddie ) is on a collision course with the law. At age 15 Eddie is already a borderline alcoholic--gathering nightly with the rest of the neighborhood at grocery store #7 to drink fortified wine--and a thief. His skin-tight clothes, his arrogance and misplaced use of his gifts--Eddie-baby is a poet after the fashion of Rimbaud--have caused his disillusioned parents to cut off his pocket money. In this absorbing novel, Limonov expertly captures the horrifying boredom of working-class Soviet urban life, and uses just the right hip, offhand tone to describe Eddie's adventures in the demi-world of teenage gangs and small-time hoods. The graphic street violence which punctuates the narrative seems almost shockingly mundane as Eddie, attempting to steal a few rubles to take out his girlfriend, participates in gang rape and murder. Limonov leaves us with hope that Eddie, blessed with intelligence and a cocky assurance will, unlike his friends, eventually make a successful life for himself.


David Lindsay

A Voyage to Arcturus - David Lindsay

Amazon:

""A Voyage to Arcturus" was David Lindsay's first and perhaps best novel ("The Haunted Woman" though more a novella than a novel is also very good). By the standards of science fiction "Arcturus" is extremely old. It was first published in the 1920s when Lindsay was late middle aged. Lindsay was a contemporary of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, yet he could write in a very modern (timeless) style. The novel's age makes proper appreciation somewhat problematic. The story starts out slow with the setting in a English gentleman's house with the characters attending a sceance. The wring style for this first part of the book is typical of turn-of-the-century novels and gives no hint of what the reader is about to experience. When the plot moves to Scotland and the characters prepare to leave Earth, the reader gets a hint that something magical is about to happen. However once the plot gets to the planet Tormance the story undergoes metamorphosis from dull shades of gray to brilliant colors. The reader immediately sees that Lindsay had a genius for writing speculative fiction. However this genius is difficult for a modern reader to fully appreciate because Lindsay had no real science ficition tradition to draw from (he was creating all of his SF concepts from scratch). Though the novel is entertaining to read as a simple adventure story, it has incredible depth. The planet Tormance is a world where God and Anti-God (like the Gnostic tradition) are competing for control of the planet. Both beings go by different names and are symbolized by different aspects of the planet. For example, Arcturus is portrayed as being a binary star with a large orange star symbolizing the god Shaping and smaller blue star symbolizing the god Surtur. Each star has three primary colors but share one color. The influence of the two gods is subtly color coded throughout the novel. The principle character is named Maskul (Man/Skull). He was approached by the character Krag at the English gentleman's sceance and given the opportunity to travel to Tormance with the understanding that he could never return to Earth. Krag's relationship between the different gods of Tormance becomes clear as the story progresses. After arriving on Tormance, Maskul begins a journey of discovery as he travels across the planet. The two gods try to influence Maskul through various means. Maskul's journey is not unlike a detective story. He is basicly trying to unravel to truth about Tormance. However this is no easy matter because one of the two gods (the anti-god) is evil incarnate. This god is so wicked that he has made virture appear to be evil, truth to be lies and himself seem the genuine god while the true god is a pretender. All of this is done in a story where almost every object has two or three different forms of symoblism (some true and some false). One can read "Arcturus" as a simple story but the story is so rich that it's better to keep notes because there is so much going on. "A Voyage to Arcturus" is a remarkable story: It's a novel that almost no one has read. However it is almost unique and anyone who does read it will be permanently affected by it. David Lindsay made almost no money on this novel. When first published, "Arcturus" was panned in book reviews and latter remaindered (people in the 1920s were not ready for it). However this book has never been out-of-print and will always have a loyal following." - Gary A. Allen, Jr.


Leo Lionni

Parallel Botany - Leo Lionnni

Reviews:

Leo Lionni created a baffling, even maddening, encyclopedic compendium that describes, illustrates, arrays, and summarizes a host of imaginary plants---his parallel botany. Besides the detailed descriptions of these odd plants, Mr. Lionni, who is best known for his various children's books, rendered numerous illustrations of the various parallel plants. But he doesn't stop here: 23 figures and photographs of various scientists, researchers, explorers and parallel plants together paired with another 32 plates or charcoal or pencil drawings fortify the seeming reality of the world of parallel botany. (Keep in mind that a number of these plants are not visible.) The end notes to the chapters add more authenticity, and I assume, that many of the publications cited are real. The only component lacking is an index.

There are layers and layers of complexity to this spoof, for Mr. Lionni draws the reader into more than the facts and lore of his creations by also intertwining issues about philosophy, language, and the scientific method. He presents multiple points of view bantered by experts in this subject matter, and this debate enlivens the discussion. He firmly roots the research by drawing upon imaginary but real-sounding folk tales and legends, made more real by invoking actual historical figures. Hence, imaginary notes from Magellan's historian or the Greek philosopher Heraclitus are dissected and scrutinized for clues and encounters with various specimens from the realm of parallel plants. Such luminaries as the Swiss biologist Max Spinder or the Greek botanist Professor Spyros Rodokanankis, and many more, espouse their various theories and findings, often disagreeing about their findings and the implications of their research.

His methods remind one of both Borges and Lovecraft, two masters at creating real-sounding imaginary worlds supported by tier upon tier of crafted scholarship and science.

This book is unique and arguably the last, and the only, word on the subject of parallel botany. Some consider it hilarious, others a mere spoof, but certainly it is more than that, for Mr. Lionni expended considerable effort and time to document this imaginary segment of the plant kingdom. The fact that a major publisher issued the book in hardback suggests someone thought highly of this idea.

I take away a sense of astonishment at the amount of detail invoked to underscore the verisimilitude of the premise, and see this book as a wry jab at the reductionistic tendencies of a scientific method that seems at times to value cataloging over understanding our world.

(I also once had a vision many years ago that may have come from whatever source Mr. Lionni tapped for Parallel Botany, a vision of an asylum that housed crazed and dangerous plants that I rendered in an oil painting a friend of mine smuggled into the art gallery in the Saturn Bar down in New Orleans.)" - loce_the_wizard


Peter Van Rensselaer Livingston

How to Cook a Rogue Elephant - Peter Van Rensselaer Livingston


Anthony Loyd

My War Gone By, I Miss It So - Anthony Loyd

Amazon:

My War Gone By, I Miss It So is a fiercely compelling and beautifully written personal account of the Bosnian war. The book alternates between Anthony Loyd's experiences in Bosnia and personal reflections of his time in the British army, his parents' divorce, his estrangement from his father, and his heroin addiction. Loyd describes the war at eye level: detailing the way bodies look after they've been shot or blown up, looking through the sights of a Muslim gun trained on a Serb soldier, traveling with a French mercenary, and fleeing from advancing Serbs during battle. The book is filled with firefights and mutilated corpses and is not for the squeamish. Bosnia was "a playground where the worst and most fantastic excesses of the human mind were acted out." For Loyd, the high of battle substituted for the high of heroin and vice versa: "I had come to Bosnia partially as an adventure. But after a while I got into the infinite death trip. I was not unhappy. Quite the opposite. I was delighted with most of what the war had offered me: chicks, kicks, cash and chaos; teenage punk dreams turned real and wreathed in gunsmoke."

Loyd's big break as a war correspondent came when another British journalist was wounded. He had arrived in Bosnia a war junkie, just trying to figure out what was going on and sell a few pictures to newspapers on the side. "Journalism in itself had never really interested me, I saw it only as a passport to war." He did not cover the war like most other journalists--he went right into battles. Loyd dismisses what other journalists did in Bosnia: staying at the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, driving out to the UN headquarters in an armored car, and then returning to the relative safety of their hotel "to file their heartfelt vitriol with scarcely a hair out of place." Loyd, who did everything but carry a gun against the Serbs, scoffs at the idea of journalistic objectivity. "What good did reporting ever do in Bosnia anyway?" he sneers. In fact, he seems almost embarrassed not to be fighting himself. "I felt I was a pornographer, a voyeur come to watch." Lucky for the rest of us he did go to Bosnia.


Leopoldo Lugones

Strange Forces (1906) - Leopoldo Lugones

Amazon:

"I decided to take a chance on Leopoldo Lugones' "Strange Forces" when the title popped up in Amazon's list of recommended books for me. It was advertised as a 1906 collection of short science fiction/horror pieces from an Argentine writer that I will admit I had never heard of. I was hoping to be "surprised by joy" (C.S. Lewis' term) as I had been a few years ago when I took a chance on Stefan Grabinski's collection of short horror masterpieces "The Dark Domain".

I was not disappointed. The twelve stories in "Strange Forces", skillfully translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert, are a unique mixture of science fiction and horror tales that I found to be highly individual and imaginative, especially considering their early vintage. They are not so much precursers of the "magic realism" school that began to emerge in South American literature 20 years after these stories were written, as they are short gems of rather grim speculative fantasy in the vein of H.G. Wells, Erckman-Chatrian, Briusov, Marcel Schwob, or Gustav Meyrinck's short stories. They were equivalent to these works in merit as well, which is saying something.

Two of the stories, "The Firestorm" and "The Pillar of Salt" are apocolyptic fantasies presenting first hand accounts of scenes from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Both are thought provoking and atmospheric. "The Miracle of Saint Wilfred" is a fantasy of the first crusade, and "The Horses of Abdera" recounts a full revolt of a herd of pampered horses against Thracian townsfolk in the time of ancient Greece. Five of the stories are pure science fiction, telling of brilliant scientists and their strange discoveries and/or inventions which, in the thematic tradition of "Frankenstein", usually prove fatal to their discoverers. One such machine transforms music to corresponding colors, while my favorite of this group, "The Omega Force", tells of a device which amplifies sound into a deadly force that can deconstruct matter (note to scientists - include an aiming device when inventing weapons of incredible destructive power!). The scientist protagonists of this group of stories uniformly describe the theories behind their machines and the actual workings of them in mystical/scientific terms which in itself is fascinating.

"Yzur" is a heartbreaking little tale of a man obsessed with teaching his pet ape to speak and the theory he develops about apes and language which is stunningly confirmed at the story's conclusion. "Origins of the Flood" is the most imaginative piece in the collection. Predating by decades the speculative mega-fantasies of Olaf Stapledon about the origins and history of man and the universe, this story recounts the progression of life on earth before the great flood introduced water to the planet. The creative splendor of these strange, intelligent life forms and the global catastrophe that caused their extinction provides for an intense imaginative experience condensed into 7 short pages.

Lugones was brilliant, articulate, and highly educated. These stories can be read as specimens of early prototype "science fiction by gas light", as entertaining wonder tales, or as the unique expression of a creative artist clothing universal truths in the habiliments of speculative fantasy. The stories succeed on all of these levels." - Gregg Zimmerman


Steven Lukes

The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat: A Comedy of Ideas - Steven Lukes

Amazon:

Lukes, a professor of sociology, pays ample homage to the Enlightenment, modeling this light and lovely satire on Candide. Not many pages into the book, its hero, Professor Nicholas Caritat, a prominent scholar of the Enlightenment, is given the nickname Dr. Pangloss. Having been arrested by the military junta of Militaria on the grounds that his work foments ``optimism,'' Caritat has just been sprung from jail by members of the Visible Hand, a guerrilla group. The Hand gives him a mission: he must find ``grounds for Optimism'' and ``the best possible world.'' Caritat visits a string of countries--not to be found in our atlases--that are founded on (and warped by) various political philosophies. A citizen of Utilitaria informs him that ``a high suicide rate, provided the suicides are appropriately distributed, can make a real contribution to the overall sum of happiness.'' Wherever he goes, the good Professor trips all over the cherished beliefs of the citizenry, landing himself, and those around him, in hot water. In Communitaria, where political correctness has been carried to an absurd logical conclusion, Caritat finds himself facing charges of sexual harassment in front of the country's ``Body of Gender.'' In the laissez-faire paradise of Libertaria, it isn't long before Caritat finds himself on the street with the homeless. Lukes is more than generous with the breadcrumbs of political philosophy, but the tale never becomes dull or bookish. He writes with great humor and confidence as the insouciant Caritat is buffeted from one false Utopia to the next. Toward the end, Caritat gets the point and expresses his distrust of Utopias in a moving letter to his children, part of which reads: ``Another thing I have noticed is that everyone I have met so far seems to have stopped learning. They seem as if trapped in their language and their world and quite closed to one another's.'' Though not the best of all possible philosophical satires, Lukes's imaginative intellect and playful tone make this one as good as we are likely to see for quite a while.


Richard Lupoff

Sacred Locomotive Flies - Richard Lupoff

SF Recollections by Richard Lupoff

Lupoff Bibliography at Fantastic Fiction

Ten Overlooked Odd Speculative Fiction Classics - Scott Cupp

Sacred Locomotive Flies is novel so controversial it seems hard to believe that no one remembers it. The redneck South conquers the universe and imposes a tough philosophy.

The Absolutely Weird Bookshelf

Humorous book, which includes some of Lupoff's hilarious parodies of the styles of noted sci fi writers.

Richard Lupoff at Shorter Length - Claude Lalumiere


MMM


Todd McEwen

Fisher's Hornpipe - Todd McEwen

McX: A Romance of the Dour - Todd McEwen


James McCourt

Mawrdew Czgowchwz - James McCourt

Reviews:

"This book is not for everyone. The prose style is dense, there are far too many characters, and the novel requires at least a passing knowledge of opera. However, the cattyness of the observations, the rhythmns of the sentences and their unexpected twists and turns, make for delightful reading.

A sample of the prose is the best introduction:

"While His Scarlet Eminence and Msgr. Finneagle sat playing their esoteric version of Monopoly, the custom-crafted board for which could be seen to represent the several circles of Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, as well as the ground plan for the entire Vatican, both the above-ground palaces' apartments, closets, and chapels, and those labyrinthine catacomb reaches where Darkest Rumor is said on good authority to repose in thrilling reptile fashion. His Scarlet Eminence snickered in pixyish glee, having caught his opponent in the square of the seventh circle of hell (with four hotels). Monsignor trembled (livid), bankrupt of plenary indulgence."

Should you find this amusing and well-written, you'll love this book. If not, you'd best pass." - Ken Schellenberg


George MacDonald

The Complete Fairy Tales - George MacDonald

Phantastes - George MacDonald


Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas - Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Amazon:

""The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas" is a landmark of 19th century Brazilian fiction. The original Portuguese version by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis has been rendered into an engaging English by translator Gregory Rabassa.

The book's hero, Bras Cubas, is a sort of lovable loser who narrates his own life from beyond the grave. The book is divided up into 160 short chapters, some less than a page long. As the story unfolds we meet a colorful cast of characters: Bras Cubas himself, his beloved Virgilia, the slave Prudencio, the strange philosopher Quincas Borba, and many more.

Throughout the novel, Machado de Assis (through his fictional narrator) continually plays games with the conventions of fiction and autobiography. Whether he is instructing the reader to insert Chapter CXXX "between the first and second sentences of Chapter CXXIX" or critiquing his own writing style, Cubas/Machado de Assis is full of surprises that make this novel a literary house of mirrors.

And throughout the novel the reader encounters passages of poetic depth and psychological insight. Despite being more than 100 years old, this book has an amazingly modern feel to it. This is a major work in the great tradition of South American fiction." - Michael J. Mazza


Arthur Machen

Arthur Machen Gallery

Machen Biography and Bibliography

Great God Pan - Arthur Machen

Gutenberg Edition

Encyclopedia of the Self Online Version

"Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" (1894) delves into Machen's favorite subject: the supposed existence of a spiritual realm that is imperceptible to the human eye. A realm -- in the mind of Machen -- populated by golden-haired fairies haunting Welsh meadows, sex-crazed demons of ancient mysticism, furry red-eyed changelings that drag children underground with ropes, and phantom Roman legions glimpsed on foggy British moors. Clearly, Machen was a dreamer-sentimentalist, but with a very, very creepy sexual side. His Orthodox Anglo-Catholic upbringing imbued his mind with a love/hate fascination of aberrant sexuality; in particular, its spiritual ramifications. It was this fascination that lead to his writing "The Great God Pan."

Machen's "The Great God Pan" is based upon the concept of spiritual demons that seduce their victims. This age-old story shares some of its esoteric origins in the Old Testament. Prior to textual expurgations by Christian Councils, the Old Testament once referenced the existence of incubi (male) or succubi (female) which preyed on sexual debutantes. Their queen was Lilith -- the Night Hag -- the first wife of Adam in Hebrew and Akkadian folklore. Lilith was a nymphomaniac whom Yahweh made from dung, prior to the creation of Eve. Lilith's inability to obey Adam led to her banishment and replacement by Eve. Later, Lilith mated with beasts and had offspring. Although in Hellenistic myth Pan was the foster brother of Zeus, some of Joseph Campbell's monomyth theorists claim that Pan was one of Lilith's children.

The Pan deity present in Machen's horror story borrows from the aforementioned lore and also from the contemporary exorcism of his day. In the 19th century, exorcists believed that a demon could invade a weak soul and, if a child was conceived in lust by that soul, be born into the resulting child. Another variant was that a person in a hypnotic or drowsy state of mind could glimpse the spirit realm and have unwanted "encounters" there. Machen expounded upon this latter variant of exorcism in "The Great God Pan" by having Dr. Raymond create an experiment that allows others to glimpse that spirit world and creates tragic, yet kinky results.

In "The Great God Pan," the experiment performed upon a seventeen-year old female, Mary, results in her seeing the "real world [...] beyond the veil" and, in doing so, she is raped by Pan. Mary goes insane, but bears a child nine months later from that unholy union. Years later, Helen Vaughan, the offspring of Pan and Mary, shocks London society by engaging in bizarre sexuality and destroying lives as the result of her taint by Pan. Machen foreshadows these events with the Latin adage: "Et diabolus incarnatus est. Et homo factus est." The English translation is: "And a devil was made incarnate. And a human being was produced."

Overall, I enjoyed Machen's "The Great God Pan." To me, Machen's tale is similar to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) minus the clear-cut, black-and-white demarcation between good and evil. I also think "The Great God Pan" would be an excellent story to have your girlfriend read if the topic of marriage and children has just come up..." - flask

The Three Imposters - Arthur Machen

"Horror master Arthur Machen's crowning achievement, a still shocking compendium of interwoven short horror tales. In late 19th century London, a scientist and an unpublished writer join forces as amateur detectives in an attempt to solve a minor but puzzling mystery which ultimately leads to the discovery of a truly diabolical conspiracy. In the course of their investigations, the two men find themselves repeatedly surrendering their attention to a series of seemingly outlandish tales spun by an assortment of eccentric story tellers. The stories, which all deal with imposture of some kind, are only tangentially related to each other, yet offer the somewhat bumbling sleuths important clues to the mystery at hand. Machen builds suspense slowly and methodically, masterfully leading the reader on to a completely unexpected, gruesome climax. Comical, tragic, sophisticated, violent, horrific, and even downright disgusting, THE THREE IMPOSTORS is a classic horror novel of sly deception and wit.

The 1995 Everyman paperback is the only critical edition of this remarkably rich book released to date, offering a scholarly introduction (by editor David Trotter) that carefully details Machen's main influences (chiefly Robert Louis Stevenson) and themes (imposture of various kinds, also derived from Stevenson). A short text summary nicely encapsulates the narrative's various twists and turns. Finally, a section entitled "Machen and His Critics" provides a welcome offering of mostly contemporaneous critical responses to this remarkable book; while many of these reviews were laudatory, quite a few passionately outraged quotes reveal just how shocking THE THREE IMPOSTORS must truly have been in its time." - cameron-vale


Charles MacKay

The Lost Beauties of the English Language: An Appeal to Authors, Poets, Clergymen, and Public Speakers - Charles MacKay


David Madsen

The Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf - David Madsen

Phil Baker of the Sunday Times:

Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf opens with a stomach-turning description of the state of Pope Leo's backside. The narrator is a hunchbacked dwarf and it is his job to read aloud from St Augustine whil salves and unguents are applied to the Papal posterior. Born of humble stock, and at one time the inmate of a freak show, the dwarf now moves in the highest circles of holy skulduggery and buggery. Madsen's book is essentially a romp, although an unusually erudite one, and his scatalogical and bloody look at the Renaissance is grotesque, fruity and filthy. A glittering toad of a novel.

Confessions of a Flesh-Eater - David Madsen

Chris Savage in the Independent of London:

Set in the present, the tale has all the grim foreboding of a genuine Gothic work. Its tone and emphasis owe much to James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, except that the touch is lighter. Fans of body horror will find more visceral lusciousness here than in most synthetic US nasties.One of Crispe's talents is the ability to call up synaesthesia: the mixture of sense impressions. I liked the comparison of beef to brass in music and to"the sexual potency of young men before it had been squandered." Orlando Crispe's gusto for copulating with carcasses retrieved from his restaurant's cold store, then serving them, is only rivalled by his heartfelt loathing for female flesh itself. Women are more fondly regarded by the chef as marinades for his masterpieces.

First paragraph:

I did not kill Trogville. No matter what they say, I did not kill him. I introduced a mild narcotic into his glass of whiskey; I subsequently stripped him naked, laid him face down on the parquet floor and inserted a courgette into his creamy, quivering anus; but when I quitted his apartment in the Via di Orsoline, he was still very much alive. That was at approximately nine o'clock. At a quarter to midnight he was discovered sprawled out like a stringless puppet, his chest yawning bloodily open, his heart torn out and placed neatly in the palm of his left hand. Now they are saying that I did it. I despised Trogville, I hated and feared him, but I did not kill him.


Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West - Gregory Maguire

Amazon reviewer:

I must start this review by saying that it is certainly not a book you can take lightly. It takes some serious effort to stick with it, particularly once you get about half way through and the more light-hearted experiences of Elphaba, the wicked witch, at Shiz fade into her darker, secretive experiences at the Emerald City. After two failed attempts to tackle to book, fascinated by the subject matter both times, I finally got through it, inspired to read it because of the Broadway musical based on the book that I found myself mesmerized by (go see it, despite how different it is).

The book is a richly textured account of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, here given an actual name, Elphaba, as she moves from student at Shiz University, an outcast and roommate to G(a)linda, to secretive activist in the Emerald City, to maunt (nun), to Auntie Witch, later to become The Wicked Witch of the West.

Throughout, the detailed religion, culture, and government of Oz supplement the narrative beautifully, adding depth to what could have been simply an unfounded story of what could happen to some flatly portrayed green girl from Oz. This story really makes you care for the witch and understand that even the most evil of people could simply be the victims of chance.

I thought the book began and ended very strongly, but the narrative sagged a bit in the middle, particularly as Elphaba becomes a nun and travels rather boringly across the desert to the Winkie stronghold of Kiamo Ko. The story stays rather low-key for a while, but picks up when some more familiar characters, such as Nessarose, Elphaba's sister, Elphaba's father, Frexspar, and Glinda, reenter the novel. From this point out, the novel receives its well-deserved finale, in which it goes out with a bold glory rarely seen in novels.

Of course, no life is without its dull moments, and even these are not completely flat. The prose is witty and never becomes to boorish. What really mesmerized me was fitting together the story in this novel into the context of the original Oz book and movie of the same (revised) name.

I would reccomend this to someone who has quite a bit of undistracted time. It's important not to take very long breaks in reading this novel, as the details become more important toward the end, when the witch begins looking back upon her life. The novel should be a very interesting read for anyone familiar with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum or the movie from MGM. Its richly detailed characters and interesting plot choices make for a wonderful read that you're surely not soon to forget. Tough it out through the middle so you can finish this great book.


Curzio Malaparte

Kaputt - Curzio Malaparte

Reviews:

"Malaparte's Kaputt is a true heir to Voltaire's "Candide" and Scholvsky's "Sentimental Journey." All three works employ estrangement, emotional distance, irony, grotesque imagery and pointedly compromised narrators in order to engulf the reader in the horror of human evildoing.

In this, they are the opposite of Romantic fiction, which seeks to elevate the reader to the position of Hero, by identifying him/her with the values and actions of the "heroic" protagonist.

(A Schlovskian aside: Joseph Heller cribs most of the novelist style of "Catch 22" from these authors - and creates a whole new cloth.)

Romantic fiction makes good airport reading because the reader is set squarely against the villain. We are Frodo, not Sauron.

It's all very comforting and ultimately self-congratulatory. The Readers applauds the Protagonist's heroics which he/she imagines to be his/her own moral supremacy. ("If I was in Frodo's place, I'd act just like him" says the dear reader to himself.)

"Kaputt" is the opposite of this.

As the reader/protagonist, we are forced to comfront the inaction that was Europe's (and America's) in the face of the Nazi horrors. We are forced to associate with mass-murderers. We are forced to endure the shameless apologies about "German culture" and "minor flaws" which lead to genocide.

This is all very hard for a reader to endure.

We would rather hang out with Tom Hanks and Private Ryan.

But Malaparte's work serves a purpose - beyond what the author might have imagined:

As Schlovsky famously wrote in "Sentimental Journey", and I paraphrase, "If this [description of amputating a leg] disgusts you, then don't make war."" - A. Y. Kay

As is stated in the Hofstadter's Afterword, in my edition, Malaparte's writing is "....haunted by the desire to have been Proust." For anyone who has read Proust, this is clear from the title of the first chapter of the work, "Du Cote de Guuermantes". But of course, Malaparte is no Proust. No writer in all of literature is. Further, the setting of the opus is not the dinner tables of the aristocracy or of the haute bourgeoisie, but battlefronts in Eastern Europe and the dinner tables of ruthless men at war-Nevertheless, Malaparte does manage to capture some of the Proustian effect in his camera-eye, vivid, detailed snapshots of this environment.

But-caveat lector-this environment is so loathsome, bestial and vile-as wars tend to be-that one is in danger in becoming, by absorbing one's self in this book, in losing any hope in or affection for humanity. From horseheads rising from the surface from the frozen over Lake Laguda (perhaps the most lasting image, because so beautiful and horrific at once), to the officer who keeps a jar of human eyeballs of the partisans he is fighting on his desk to, well, any number of ghastly scenes, it is impossible for the reader to come away from Malaparte's take on the war, unaffected (excepting, of course, "readers" who dismiss the book out of hand and leave it deliberately on the airplane as one reviewer admits to doing).-But, perhaps, this reviewer's reaction is understandable. None of us relish looking on the dark, bestial side of men and women who might well be ourselves, given different circumstances of time and place.

But what significantly marks this book apart from all other war writings is the unwillingness to overtly take sides. It sometimes seems that one is reading an account of an extraterrestrial who has visited Europe to give an account of human behaviour. You won't find any Neo-Nazi glorification here, but neither will you find any of the late Stephen Ambrose's "Greatest Generation" American triumphalism. This is what truly makes the work great and a must have for every literate human unafraid of the tableaux that war presents: This, seemingly at least, disinterested depiction of the behaviour of men at their worst-The only writer Malaparte resembles, really, is not Proust, but the German writer Ernst Junger, whose journals, alas, have not yet been translated into English.

Well, prospective reader, there's the gauntlet-pick it up, if you dare." - Daniel Myers


Michael Malone

Handling Sin - Michael Malone

Amazon:

"On the Ides of March, our hero, Raleigh Whittier Hayes (forgetful husband, baffled father, prosperous insurance agent and leading citizen of Thermopylae, North Carolina), learns that his father has discharged himself from the hospital, taken all his money out of the bank and, with a young black female mental patient, vanished in a yellow Cadillac convertible. Left behind is a mysterious list of seven outrageous tasks that Raleigh must perform in order to rescue his father and his inheritance.

And so Raleigh and fat Mingo Sheffield (his irrepressibly loyal friend) set off on an uproarious contemporary treasure hunt through a landscape of unforgettable characters, falling into adventures worthy of Tom Jones and Huck Finn. A moving parable of human love and redemption, Handling Sin is Michael Malone's comic masterpiece"


Nick Mamatus

Move Under Ground - Nick Mamatus


George Mangels

Frank's World: The Odyssey of a Fleshy Lump - George Mangels

Reviews:

"Loud, rude, funny, horrifying--and a great novel. From childhood on, Frank is pure evil, an instiller of fear, a destroyer of dreams and souls. His scatological assault begins on his parents, moves to his teachers, and finally encompasses the larger world. The closest he comes to love is watching television as a child, "sucking up images and bathing in the warm pink radioactive glow" ; his hero is Mr. Ed, the TV horse. Later, he finds solace in the films of Walt Disney, though he ruthlessly deconstructs them. Frank's point of view is twisted and frightening, yet the reader comes to know him well enough to understand that at least some of what he says and thinks is terribly right. In a sense, Frank is trying to figure out the big why of life, and he reminds one of a TV-watching, 1990s version of Flannery O'Connor's Misfit, from the short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Mangels has created a narrative tour de force, Pynchon-esque but with a harder edge. Highly recommended." - Brian McCombie


Alberto Manguel

Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature - Alberto Manguel

Reviews:

Alberto Manguel - anthologist extraordinaire - put together this definitive collection of fabulist fiction almost twenty years ago, and it's yet to be surpassed. It covers an immense range of themes and an eclectic international mix of writers. Moreover, it's one of the few anthologies in which almost every story appeals. What appeals less, however, is Manguel's immensely irritating habit of revealing key elements of most of the stories in his pithy introductions. Such editorial spoiling is always annoying, but it's especially frustrating when applied to 'fantastic' fiction because so much of its effect depends on mystery, surprise endings, and the wonderful disorientation of not knowing precisely what is going on. Here, story after story is derailed by Manguel telling us up front that it's a 'time travel story' or a 'ghost story', or how it ends, or that it achieves its effect in a particular way. My recommendation is that you read the introductions only after you've read each story - and do read them, because apart from spoilers, they quite often reveal savvy observations, unusual connections, and interesting biographical notes. Dates of composition for each story (where known) would have been a helpful addition. You can in some cases deduce these from the copyright acknowledgements at the front of the book, but not always. Manguel's preface to the volume is illuminating: it strikes just the right balance between personal memoir, academic apparatus and useful information. - Steven Reynolds

Black Water 2: More Tales of the Fantastic - Alberto Manguel

Reviews:

"I stumbled upon Alberto Manguel's first anthology of fantastic literature, BLACKWATER (sadly, out of print now), when a friend gave me her well-worn copy. Five years later, the book was almost in shreds, and I was searching for another that was as eclectic, as multi-cultural, and (most importantly) as unsettling. My search ended only when Manguel published a sequel to his brilliant first anthology. Stories here range from the magical to the sublime, from the horrific to the subtly creepy. And they're from all over the world. Buy it, turn down the lights, and prepare to be mesmerized. (And join me in a hearty cry for the publishers to bring back the original BLACKWATER, as well!)" - A Customer


Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places - Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi

SF Site Review - Steven H. Silver

Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi's The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a tribute to the collective human imagination in more ways than one. This 755-page book contains more than 1200 imaginary places ranging from Homer's Aiaia to J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Many of the locations included come from much more obscure sources (Tommaso Porcacchi's Le isole piu' famose del mondo); however, the more famous are also well represented (J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Shire").

Manguel lays out some of the criteria for inclusion in a brief introduction. Locations must be wholly imaginary, rather than merely versions of real places. The Wessex featured in the novels of Thomas Hardy may not be real, but it is firmly based on the world in which Hardy lived, as opposed to the Llygeryb of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood.
...
One of the incredible things about The Dictionary of Imaginary Places are the places which are not included. The "overlooked" fantastic lands include many of the places in which modern fantasy is set. Although the reader will find several references to Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" or Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park," the reader will look in vain for descriptions of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" or John Myers Myers's "Commonwealth." However, many of these places are already very familiar to readers of science fiction and fantasy and may not need entries in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
...

Dictionary Supplement
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places was originally published in 1980, with substantial updates in 1987 and 2000. There are over 1200 entries in the book, ranging from Middle-Earth to Narnia, Oz to Earthsea, Hogwarts to Neverwhere. Despite the wondrous variety available, I was disappointed to see so many locales left out, so much uncharted territory. So I have taken it upon myself to fill in the gaps, and invite you to do the same.


Joseph Moncure March

The Wild Party (1994) - Joseph Moncure March

Amazon:

"The wild party is a brilliant poem that pre-empts the beats' sense of rhythm and love for the low-down and dirty elements of modern life. Even though it was written six decades ago, it is fantastically modern. With a pulsuating, driving style that includes violence, humour and excitement, The Wild Party grips the reader from beginning to end. Spielgelman's illustrations, although nice and evocative, do not match the pure intensity of the writing. Well done to Spielgelman for finding this 'lost classic' and re-publishing it (although on the spine his name gets top billing which seem a little self-centred seeing as the books power lies entirely in the words, not the pictures. Indeed the writing is so bitingly vivid that the pictures are unneeded). I have read this book over a hundred times and it never fails to quicken my pulse and ressurect my love for poetry." - jblakeson


David Marcus

The Age of Wire and String - Ben Marcus

"In Ben Marcus' recent article in Harpers was a cynical, albeit realistic view on the publishing world. He said, basically: most people are stupid and read stupid books. Of course, the rhetoric was veiled. His claim was that the public wasn't interested in new concepts and forms of literature, that they only wanted the linear character driven mini-sagas of social realist novel. He went on to deride Jonathan Franzen's Corrections. It is not surprising (if anything, it is only fitting) that Marcus appoints himself the spokesperson of `avante garde' fiction, for his work is truly experimental.

In `The Age of Wire and String', Marcus weaves together utterly strange, almost indecipherable, `stories.' These `stories' act more like definitions and explanations, as if describing an alternate world. This world mainly consist of such quotidian things like: wind, air, fathers, boys, lawns, houses, cars, etc., but it is the way he describes each entity that is eerie and somehow sad. For example, instead of describing kids playing in the lawn and going back inside, he talks of them being `vessels for sod' distributing their `product' towards emptiness. Looking through Marcus' eyes is like watching a National Geographic piece about some foreign animal species, a subject we are still trying to understand. Only in Marcus' world, humans are the strange species.

Likely counterparts are Pynchon, Kafka, Calvino, Borges, D.F. Wallace, and Barthelme-but here is perhaps how Marcus stands out: his ability to juxtapose concepts together to bridge new meanings is unparalleled. His logic is absurd yet somehow so obvious, like his world has been around, is all around us, only nobody bothered to look. Examples: he sees shadows as the residue of cells, or snoring as densely packed language. The books is hilarious at times and also very stark. Reading it, I felt as if the world suddenly ended, and aliens were taking notes about this world.

Ben Marcus' uniquely original writing (along with his publishing world rants) might make him seem like a snob, but when you're that smart, how could you not be?" - Jimmy Chen


Walter De La Mare

The Three Royal Monkeys - Walter De La Mare

"This is the most profound book that I read as a child -- the only one that could be compared in its greatness to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. In its imaginative, symbolic, and numinous depth it is one of the most unusual, striking books I have ever read. Through the nature of its story, its characters, its language, and the encounters that the characters have with multiple layers of human experience, it is an imaginative feat on the part of the author, Walter de la Mare (1873-1956). Originally published in 1910 as The Three Mulla-Mulgars, The Three Royal Monkeys is in effect an Odyssey for children, telling the story of how three monkey brothers undertake a long and arduous voyage encompassing multiple adventures and encounters with diverse, deep, and mysterious aspects of life in order to arrive at a paradise-like land from which their late father originated. The richness, vividness, and numinousness of the story is conveyed not only by its content but by its partially invented language. That is, the English is liberally sprinkled with names and words in the language that the monkeys themselves speak, so that it conveys the sense of being inside of a mysterious, far-away, magical, animal world that is at the same time human in its resonance: as a child I had the sense of being transported to a place where I intuited things and experiences that were way beyond my years. In a way this book would be beloved of Jungians because of the way it captures "archetypal" experience. I was fortunate to have had an uncle and aunt who always gave me and other members of my family special, unusual presents, and I consider myself so lucky that they gave me this book when I was eight years old, although I don't remember if I read it then or somewhat later. It is sad that it is currently out of print. I hope that other children will be similarly blessed by having this book given to them or made accessible through the library." - Jeremy J. Shapiro

Reader's Club review - Richard Adams

Bibliomania Biography

Walter de la Mare was born in 1873 and brought up in an affluent family in Kent. He attended St Paul's School in London. His mother was related to the famous Victorian poet Robert Browning. At the age of sixteen, he left St Paul's to take up a career in accountancy with the Anglo-American Oil Company. During the years he spent in the service of that company (1880-1908), he began to write and continued to do so prolifically throughout his life. He is well known for his poetry, but also wrote prose fiction and non-fiction. Many of his works were written for children.

His first publication outside contributions to magazines, Songs of Childhood (1902), was published under the name Walter Ramal to little acclaim. It was only under his real name and in 1912 with The Listeners that he found success. However, in 1908, de la Mare was awarded a government pension of £100 per year and so took up writing full time at Taplow in Buckinghamshire.

His distinctive prose works include the prose romance Henry Brocken (1904) where his hero encounters writers from the past, and the ghostly story The Return (1910). Successful children's stories include The Three Mulla Mulgars (1910, later re-titled The Three Royal Monkeys). Memoirs of a Midget (1921) is also relatively famous. De la Mare was also responsible for a very large number of popular short stories and a number of anthologies including the well regarded Come Hither (1923). He is remembered as a versatile and technically skilled writer whose use of the fantastic and imaginative transformed the ordinary and entertained readers of all ages.


F. T. Marinetti

The Untameables (1922) - F. T. Marinetti (Jeremy Parzen, trans.)

Amazon:

"Marinetti, founder of the Italian futurists, first published this novel in 1922. Parzen's new translation offers modern readers a taste of Marinetti's unorthodox writing. The Untamables has an imaginative, fantastic, freakishly surreal plot, centering on a group of criminals and miscreants called the "Untamables," who are chained together and kept prisoner at the bottom of a pit on a desert island. The island is ruled by the "Paper People," a race of cone-shaped people who wear hats made of books. As the story goes on, the prisoners and their guards become infused with brotherly love and go to the aid of the long-suffering factory workers at the island paper mill. This novel is a great example of futurist style and theory put into practice, and it will appeal to those who favor more absurdist literature. However, Marinetti's penchant for "free-word" composition and the endlessly odd plot machinations may prove distracting for some readers." - Kathleen Hughes


David Markson

Springer's Progress - David Markson

"An amazing book. As Lucien Springer lurks anent the maidens' sh**teries, so should we all. Totally unlike anything written before it, by a Lowry/Gaddis/Joyce scholar. Rewards rereadings, giving pleasure on every page. And did I mention that it's a love story? Markson will have you playing 'spot the literary reference' even as he has guessing at the inhabitants of the Lion's Head (?) Bar...and readers can't help but want to meet a Jessica for their own ramblings.

A book that deserves to be read. Repeatedly. And did I mention that it's laugh-out-loud funny?" - A Customer

Wittgenstein's Mistress - David Markson

"Wittgenstein's Mistress" is a complex novel of simple sentences in short paragraphs describing thoughts that are all over the maps of history, the arts and the world itself. Presumably, the novel's structure is inspired by Wittgenstein's "Tractatus," a series of short propositions, sub-propositions, sub-sub etc. presented in a logical sequence culminating in the final proposition, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." Similarly, the narrator of "Wittgenstein's Mistress," a one-time artist who has come to believe she is completely alone in the world, presents a series of short descriptions of whatever pops into her head as she's typing. Places, people, works of art, episodes of history give rise to anecdotes, apocrypha and tid-bits about other places, people, etc -often inaccurate but always illuminating both our world and hers.

The narrator forms this jumble of information into innumerable weirdly wonderful, laugh-out-loud syntheses. For example, a story that Rembrandt's students painted on his studio's floor images of gold coins, which Rembrandt would stoop to pick up no matter how often the trick was repeated, leads to the recollection that Rembrandt eventually had to declare financial bankruptcy. The narrator then combines these two anecdotes with the fact that Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam as a contemporary of the philosopher Spinoza to produce an imagined conversation between the two famous men in a corner shop. " 'Oh, hi, Rembrandt. How's the bankruptcy?' 'Fine, Spinoza. How's the excommunication?' "

Sprinkled among these fractured observations are obscure hints as to how and why the narrator has reached the point of what can only be madness. As the insights into her personal history increase in the final pages of the book, a repetitious list of seemingly haphazard commentaries on largely external matters becomes ever more personal. By the time it concludes with its four beautifully poetic lines, the book has created a deep, disquieting pathos made all the more poignant by the narrator's immersion in a world that is a kind of embodiment of Wittgenstein's final proposition.

Like the narrators of "Flaubert's Parrot" (by Julian Barnes) and "Waterland" (by Graham Swift), the narrator of "Wittgenstein's Mistress" takes refuge in a world of facts--in her case cultural scattershot versus the meticulous biographical fact of "Flaubert's Parrot" and local historical fact of "Waterland"--to avoid confronting a terrible personal tragedy. That this novel addresses such a theme with even more originality and craft than those two excellent books makes this a truly magnificent piece of literature." - Amazon


Arthur Marx

Son of Groucho - Arthur Marx


Harry Mathews

The Human Country: New and Collected Stories - Hary Mathews

Reviews:

"Acclaimed poet, novelist and essayist Mathews's idiosyncratic short fictions make up a literary labyrinth that takes readers off the beaten path. Mathews, the only American member of Oulipo, a French avant-garde literary movement that included Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec and Jacques Roubaud, takes advantage of the freedom of the short form to completely abandon such conventions as plot and linear narrative. When he does pick a theme or a concept, he often produces works of startling beauty, particularly in "Their Words, for You," an extended series revolving around a man's interlude with his lover. A wicked sense of humor informs "Broadcast," about a man who hears a radio program that reveals how everything in life can be contained in a single sock, only to have his ruminations about finding and preserving the broadcast reveal his status as a mental patient. The collection is divided into three sections, starting with Mathews's early works (which should be of special interest to fans), then moving on to a series of "stories to be read aloud." The book concludes with "Calibrations of Latitude," which features a strange, historically based story of the murky journey of Sir Joseph Pernican. Despite a few instances of reach exceeding grasp, Mathews's narrative voice remains intriguingly personal and audacious throughout, and readers who love innovative short fiction will find themselves challenged by the author's conceits and his offbeat conceptual approach." - Publisher's Weekly


Charles Maturin

Melmoth the Wanderer - Charles Maturin

Amazon:

"Written by a man who assumed his brother's debts and apparently went out of his mind trying to write himself out from under this monetary burden; a man who wore a wafer pasted to the center of his forehead while writing, and who fancied the ballroom and dancing just as much (or maybe more) than the pulpet;--Melmoth the Wanderer is simply the oddest and most delicious concoction of mad prose this side of Abiezzar Cope. The story is a vertiginously creaky assemblage of vignettes that spiral in and out of each other in a bewildering--and sometimes belabored--manner. We often wish we could rip out 50 or so pages of purple prose here and there and throw them into the mouths of the nearest BLACK DOGS from Hades, but we must restrain ourselves enough to follow Melmoth (the chuckling friend--or should we say fiend?--of John Dee and Edward Kelly it turns out)--to his ultimate damnation. Scattered throughout the text are poppies of arcane lore--the very kind of volume that Poe would have had in his hands when the Raven came tapping at his chamber door! Not only did Poe love this book, but so did Doestoyevsky, Balzac, Lautreamont, Oscar Wilde, Scott, and hoards of other literary greats! Hey--add your name to the list!" - M. Hori "Jesse Glass"

"Maturin's "Melmoth the Wanderer" is a brilliantly constructed work of gothic fiction. One hundred years after Jonathan Swift, Maturin takes up his Irish predecessor's gift for harsh, even malevolent satire against any and all offenders - organized religion, government, lovers, warriors - even making broad, devastating comments on humanity in general. Maturin and his characters are quick to point out that this is not 'Radcliffe-romance' gothic, in the direct style of works like "The Mysteries of Udolpho". They are right. Rather than the seemingly landscape-obsessed, rationalistic Radcliffe, Maturin takes his direct gothic influences from the claustrophobic psychological terrors of Godwin's "Caleb Williams," Lewis' "The Monk," and M.W. Shelley's "Frankenstein."

Unlike "The Monk," however, Maturin's novel does not rely heavily on Lewis' supernatural machinery (ghosts, demons, bleeding nuns, etc.). Instead, he offers several apparently unconnected stories that concentrate on families in desperate straits and individuals in extreme crises, pushing the limits of man's inhumanity to man. The connecting element, the wild card with the wild eyes, that pops up just when the characters most/least need him, is Melmoth the Wanderer.

"Melmoth" also draws heavily from Cervantes' "Don Quixote," which provides a great point of comparison for the main character. Where Don Quixote was a wandering knight, pledged to help the helpless, Melmoth is a wandering agent of evil, whose mission is to prey on the helpless. Melmoth has 150 years to tempt the indigent and desperate into selling their souls for wealth, power, or simple relief, and trading places with him.

Again looking backward to "Quixote" and forward to Stoker's "Dracula," "Melmoth" is also heavily concerned with it's own construction as a text. The various stories are pieced together by eyewitnesses, interviewers, and ancient manuscripts, often at several removes from their originals. There is even one gentleman in the novel who is collecting material to write a book about Melmoth the Wanderer.

This is not a book for everyone. Maturin often provides almost excessively long preludes before any action occurs in his nested narratives. The traumas he inflicts on Melmoth's targets can drive you to the point of insanity yourself. However, if you are a admirer of the psychological thriller without all the show of your standard gothic-terror text, "Melmoth the Wanderer" is sure to keep you busy for days, if not weeks." - Melvin Pena


David W. Maurer

The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man - David W. Maurer

Review - Yves Barbero

Review - Cory Doctorow

Review - Steve Fidel

Review - Steve McQuiddy


Herman Melville

The Confidence Man - Herman Melville

Amazon:

"Why read a book from 1857 which flopped so badly as commercial literature that Melville stopped writing and ended his career as a customs official? Because this book masterfully explores the entire nature of trust, confidence and cons. Though the setting is a riverboat on the Mississippi River just before the U.S. exploded into Civil War, its insights cross cultural boundaries.

This is not an easy book to read for several reasons. First, it is undoubtedly one of the first "post-modern" novels which breaks from traditional narrative storytelling. ( Another example: Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground.) The Confidence-Man is a collection of 45 conversations between various people on the riverboat--beggars, absurdly dressed frontiersmen, sickly misers, shysters, patent medicine hucksters, veterans (of the Mexican-American War) and the "hero" in the latter part of the book, the Cosmopolitan.

In typical Melville fashion, you also get asides--directly to the reader, in several cases, as if Melville felt the need to address issues of fiction outside the actual form of his novel. The lack of structure, action and conclusion make this a post-modern type book, but if you read each conversation as a separate story, then it starts to make more sense.

For what ties the book together is not a story but a theme: the nature of trust and confidence. In a very sly way, Melville shows how a variety of cons are worked, as the absolutely distrustful are slowly but surely convinced to do exactly what they vowed not to do: buy the "herbal" patent medicine, buy shares in a bogus stock venture, or donate cash to a suspect "charity."

In other chapters, it seems like the con artist is either stopped in his tracks or is conned himself. Since the book is mostly conversations, we are left to our own conclusions; there is no authorial voice wrapping up each chapter with a neatly stated ending. This elliptical structure conveys the ambiguous nature of trust; we don't want to be taken, but confidence is also necessary for any business to be transacted. To trust no one is to be entirely isolated.

Melville also raises the question: is it always a bad thing to be conned? The sickly man seems to be improved by his purchase of the worthless herbal remedy, and the donor conned out of his cash for the bogus charity also seems to feel better about himself and life. The ornery frontiersman who's been conned by lazy helpers softens up enough to trust the smooth-talking employment agency owner. Is that a terrible thing, to trust despite a history of being burned?

The ambuiguous nature of the bonds of trust is also explored. We think the Cosmopolitan is a con-man, but when he convinces a fellow passenger to part with a heavy sum, he returns it, just to prove a point. Is that a continuance of the con, or is he actually trustworthy?

The book is also an exploration of a peculiarly American task: sorting out who to trust in a multicultural non-traditional society of highly diverse and highly mobile citizens. In a traditional society, things operate in rote ways; young people follow in their parents' traditional roles, money is made and lent according to unchanging standards, and faith/tradition guides transactions such as marriage and business along well-worn pathways.

But in America, none of this structure is available. Even in Melville's day, America was a polyglot culture on the move; you had to decide who to trust based on their dress, manner and speech/pitch. The con, of course, works on precisely this necessity to rely on one's senses and rationality rather than a traditional network of trusted people and methods. So the con man dresses well and has a good story, and an answer for every doubt.

The second reason why Melville is hard to read is his long, leisurely, clause upon clause sentences. But the book is also peppered with his sly humor, which sneaks up on you... well, just like a good con." - Charles Hugh Smith

Top 10 Controversial Books - Al Kennedy

A rarely appreciated masterpiece by a writer pushing the boundaries of his craft. It's also subtly and very deeply alarming in its examination of personality, compromise and evil.


George Meredith

The Shaving of Shagpat: An Arabian Entertainment - George Meredith


Judith Merrill

England Swings SF - Judith Merrill, ed.

This sucker hasn't been in print since the last time hell froze over. I was given a copy back when I was too young and way too naive to even begin to appreciate it. I've been looking for another copy since around 1989, and finaly found one in 2002. It was unusual and it's currently not unlike hen's teeth.


Robert Merton

On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript: The Post-Italianate Edition - Robert Merton

University of Chicago Press Edition

On the Shoulders of Giants (which shall hereafter be referred to as OTSOG) is the quintessential study of the nature of academicism. It is thinly disguised as a dissertation into the origin (and originality) of Newton's famous aphorism 'If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.' However, once the reader finds himself confronted by what might or might not be an attack on Richard Burton (the one that wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy), suspicions grow, and in short order one begins to understand that a leg or two is being pulled.

Of course, it does not end there. Displaying the kind of dazzling scholarship that most academics can only aspire to, Merton zigzags across the intellectual horizon on a quest for the lighter side of truth. In doing so, he exposes many of the pretensions of scholarly work, plagiarism and specious logic. Leaving no stone unturned, we are as likely to find ourselves in pursuit of Tristram Shandy as we are to be wandering through the transept of Chartres Cathedral. All in a mad search to uncover who really used OTSOG first.

It needs to be said that Merton is, on his own, an extremely respected sociologist, one who often has used the scientific and academic world as the focus of his remarkable eye. OTSOG sets out to make points by mimicking its subjects rather than lecturing about them. Whimsical and witty, it still touches on serious issues while exposing a great deal of fascinating minutia. Certainly it is a one of a kind work that enjoys a large cult following among those who are reluctant to take themselves seriously. Look out for Umberto Eco's foreword and Merton's riposte-face as well. - Amazon Review

The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity - Robert K. Merton and Elinor G. Barber

Princeton University Press

From the names of cruise lines and bookstores to an Australian ranch and a nudist camp outside of Atlanta, the word serendipity--that happy blend of wisdom and luck by which something is discovered not quite by accident--is today ubiquitous. This book traces the word's eventful history from its 1754 coinage into the twentieth century--chronicling along the way much of what we now call the natural and social sciences.

The book charts where the term went, with whom it resided, and how it fared. We cross oceans and academic specialties and meet those people, both famous and now obscure, who have used and abused serendipity. We encounter a linguistic sage, walk down the illustrious halls of the Harvard Medical School, attend the (serendipitous) birth of penicillin, and meet someone who "manages serendipity" for the U.S. Navy.

The story of serendipity is fascinating; that of The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity, equally so. Written in the 1950s by already-eminent sociologist Robert Merton and Elinor Barber, the book--though occasionally and most tantalizingly cited--was intentionally never published. This is all the more curious because it so remarkably anticipated subsequent battles over research and funding--many of which centered on the role of serendipity in science. Finally, shortly after his ninety-first birthday, following Barber's death and preceding his own by but a little, Merton agreed to expand and publish this major work. ...


Henri Michaux

A Barbarian in Asia - Henri Michaux

"For the weird surrealist poet cum travelogue writer, Henri Michaux, as "barbarian" from culture capital of surrealism and Tahitian fantasy, Paris, travel (here using the travelogue as poetic ethnographic genre) enacted and mimed a form of self abnegation, a way of abandoning habits and smug values; with the culturally coded "I" fleeing from its past into a perpetual present which is always outside itself, always other (beholding, praying to, invoking the other). Asian peoples were for this poet traveller of altered states, "the last resistants" to western monotony; everywhere in A Barbarian In Asia Michaux exults in excess, difference, makes poetic propaganda "for an endless variety of civilizations" by which to counter the idea of only one (monologue). His 'orientalism' is made explicit, ironic, and exaggerated enough to become what I would call, tonally, "mock orientalism," such as claiming that political domination is hard "even for an Asiatic."

Particular national or local cultures comprise for Michaux a hybrid personality "of a thousand different elements"; each culture in Asia provides a kind of sensuous style and confronts the barbaric outsider as a landscape not of humanistic sameness but of utter estrangement and a halting of predictable codes. Going beyond Marxist analysis and Christian pieties, Michaux contends that a miner's strike should be supplemented, and is, by "a miner's civilization."

Michaux journeys into cultural co existence: "To avoid war construct peace." That is, to avoid the monologue of imperialism, both political and cultural, construct estranging dialogues and multiple styles, interrogations of oriental and occidental, so called civilized and so called barbaric. Rather than a conversion experience into the commodity form there should be a conversion through voicing otherness, outsidedness." - Rob Wilson


Martin Millar

The Good Fairies of New York - Martin Millar

"I heard of Martin Millar from Neil Gaiman's blog. Neil Gaiman praised Martin Millar's wisdom, wit and solid writing in "The Good Fairies of New York" -- and mentioned it a few more times. I loved the premise of punk rock fairies and wanted to check it out, but couldn't afford it.

Finally, when (August 23, 2003, in the blog) Neil's assistant Lorraine was cited as claiming that Millar's as-of-yet unpublished book "Lonely Werewolf Girl" might be the best book ever written, and then (Novemeber 2003, at Sequential Tart) Neil namechecked him again, I made it my mission in life (I'm a writer, bookseller and rare book scout) to track down a damaged copy. They wanted $54 for a scrunched copy of the Collected with a bite out of the back cover and the title page torn out. (I paid $38 plus $4 shipping, but -- at this point, rabid -- I really needed it.)

I've only read "The Good Fairies of New York" and have two entire Millar novels to go. It's ingenious. He ambles between traditional fairy motifs and the Gods of Punk Rawk. Deftly and cheerfully, he spins the stories of characters that mainstream bestsellers tend to skip. Millar's favorite writer, according to his website, is Jane Austen. It shows. Whimsically and precisely, with a fun plot that turns corners on a dime, all sorts of delicious mayhem ensue. If you've ever wanted Johnny Thunders of The New York Dolls to come back from heaven to find his lost guitar, or if you've ever wondered why reels can be so tricky on the fiddle, or if you've tired of some of the more traditional types of fantasies, the book's for you.

If you're as poor as I am, get Kelly Link's "Stranger Things Happen" or Matt Ruff's "Set This House in Order" or Jonathan Carroll's "White Apples." They're all in print in paperback. But if you've read those (and Gaiman and Kiernan and Mieville and the others pushing things forward), then treat yourself to "The Good Fairies of New York." It's wrong that it's out of print and so expensive, but it's oh so worth it." - A Customer

My Favourite Cult SF Novels - Jon C. Grimwood

Two punk fairies hit East Fourth Street via a Cornish rave in a field full of magic mushrooms after being thrown out of Scotland for doing something obscene with a clan banner. Quite why MM isn't one of the UK's best-known novelists, God knows (maybe).


Christopher Miller

Sudden Noises from Inanimate Objects: A Novel in Liner Notes - Christopher Miller


Steven Millhauser

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright - Steven Millhauser

From Copacetic Comics:

Whether the point of this novel is to show us the adult that lies latent in the child or to reveal to us the child that the adult never manages to quite fully outgrow is a question that is difficult if not fruitless to answer. What is certain, however, is that the novel Edwin Mullhouse is brilliantly conceived. It is also shockingly well written, replete with uncannily accurate descriptions of childhood perceptions that can at times be overwhelmingly sympathetic. It is at turns funny, sad, insightful, and even profound; but above all else, it is deeply creepy: It reveals-- almost imperceptibly at first, but then slowly, incrementally, the inertia builds, like a snowball rolling down the hill of your neighborhood cemetery-- the dark, lurking, unconscious desires that shadow what we might otherwise simply take to be our bright, waking, thoughtful acts.

Originally published in 1972 by a then twenty-nine year old Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse is not the sort of novel that you would expect to be produced at that time by someone of that age. It is a novel out of synch with its time, but also ahead of it as well. It prefigures, albeit in a unique-- and most likely inimitable-- fashion, much of post-modernism's obsession with positing the inseparability of act and artifact, and capturing creativity in mid stride. And by exposing a connection between adult obsessions and nostalgic recollections of childhood behaviors it provided and continues to provide a bounty of insight into contemporary adult psychology. ...


Spike Milligan

Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall - Spike Milligan

Top 10 Books by Comedians - William Cook

The first and finest volume of Milligan's second world war memoirs, from enlistment in the British army in 1940 to his arrival in Africa in 1943. Intensely atmospheric, surprisingly poignant - but above all, heroically irreverent and absurd. "At Victoria Station [they] gave me a travel warrant, a white feather and a picture of Hitler marked 'this is your enemy'. I searched every compartment, but he wasn't on the train."


Magnus Mills

The Restraint of Beasts - Magnus Mills

Reviews:

"The Restraint of Beasts is simply not a simple novel, though it gives that deceptive appearance.

Magnus Mills writes in simple English. Hemingway would applaud his stark and plain style. Yet, there are things going on just beneath the surface that will grasp your imagination and have this simple story haunting your mind for days after you read the last page.

It is a simple story: the newly appointed foreman of a fence-building crew is sent from Scotland with his two-man crew to do a job in the north of England. The foreman, the unnamed narrator of the tale, soon makes it apparent he has reservations about his assignment and, in particular, his crew who are as skilled in avoiding work as they are in doing it. Things go awry even before they leave Scotland when a customer is accidentally killed. Rather than reporting the incident or taking other actions we would assume "normal," they bury the man and move on. A similar incident occurs soon after their arrival in England.

There are reminders here of Kafka and Becket and humor of a decidedly dark turn between turns of repetitious drudgery and pub-crawling that is the lot of these hapless laborers. Mills crams some memorable characters into the short 214 pages of this novel, including a father who builds a stockade to keep his son away, the obsessive owner of the fence-building company and the equally obsessed Hall brothers. I believe I'll be wanting more of Mills' tales." - John R. Lindermuth


Octave Mirbeau

The Torture Garden - Octave Mirbeau

Amazon:

"Earlier, I said somewhere about some book that reading it was like getting a hefty punch in the face. I was wrong. Now THIS book feels that way. Compared to it, all your "shocking" novels fade. In fact, it seems almost as if the likes of Ballard, Palahniuk, and similar hacks were all aping this book when they were writing their "nihilistic novels." 102 years after it was written, it's still unreservedly terrifying - I can only imagine the utter frenzy it must have caused upon its release!

Anyways, this is the story of a young Frenchman who engages in shady political intrigue, capping off each day with some booze and whores. Your typical debaucher, in short. Then, circumstances require him to go abroad, and he meets Clara, a beautiful-on-the-outside, hideous-on-the-inside young lady who invites him to China. He takes her up, and finds out that his debauches and misdeeds were small fry compared to the utter horrors he sees there. The sexual deviancy is just the beginning - an average day leads him to follow Clara into The Torture Garden, a place that combines beauty and death, growing all sorts of exotic, lovely flowers in the soil that's nourished with the broken bodies of the executed. Of course, the descriptions of the tortures themselves are ghastly enough, but the casual attitude that Clara takes towards death and torture is the true horror here - she admires it, she finds it beautiful, she equates it to love and passion, she actually finds sexual pleasure in it (the book's end has her in the throes of an immense orgasm).

But the book is not just another piece of deliberately shocking trash, as the "works" of the aforementioned imitators tend to be. It is redeemed by the fact that, ghastly as Mirbeau's observations are, any sane reader will be forced to admit their truth. This starts in the prologue, where a lively discussion about the role of murder in society takes place - the reader knows that murder is horrible, as do the people discussing it, but many of their observations will ring painfully true. The book frequently forces the reader to confront himself in this way.

Again, I can only imagine the reception this book had in 1899. First, Mirbeau was an atheist; second, an anarchist; third, Clara is bisexual; fourth, she has hideous fetishes; fifth, sixth, etc. Nigh every page is festering with corruption and decadence - the protagonist's, and the book's, redeeming quality is that this corruption is recognized as such. The protagonist yearns to get out of the hell-hole he's in, but he is too weak; he loves Clara's beauty, but hates the abominable sore of her soul. He hates the torture and the false beauty and the executioner who takes such pride in his awful work, but he recognizes that Europe is simply a more veiled, more "civilized" version of the same - thus China and the garden function as allegories, and the book gains a new meaning as a denunciation of all the unthinkable human brutality of modern civilization. "In this intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers."

It's hard to say whether I recommend this book or not. It's quite the page-turner, certainly, but it takes rather strong nerves to finish (and then it's unlikely you'll ever re-read it). You'll have to decide for yourself. But I WOULD recommend it over the likes of Crash/Fight Club/etc. - as long as you're aiming to read a book that's violently distasteful, at least read the one that possesses some artistic merit." - Angry Mofo


Joseph Mitchell

Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories - Joseph Mitchell

The Mystery of Joseph Mitchell - Dermot McEvoy

"Joseph Mitchell is one of the great literary mysteries of the 20th century. In the 1920s and '30s he was an awesome feature writer for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York World-Telegram before becoming a staff writer at the New Yorker. And although he went to his New Yorker offices every day until his death in 1996, he never published a word after 1965. Yet today, in a new century, his New York of the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression and World War II is catching everyone's attention with the June republication of McSorley's Wonderful Saloon and My Ears Are Bent in Pantheon hardcovers. Mitchell arrived in New York City from his native North Carolina on October 25, 1929¿the day after the stock market crashed¿and his writing contains much of the world-weariness that New Yorkers felt during the Depression. In My Ears Are Bent (his newspaper pieces, first published in book form in 1938) and McSorley's Wonderful Saloon (New Yorker essays, originally published in 1943) there are glimpses of a New York that strangely parallels the New York of today: blunt pictures of the homeless during the Depression and how they survived on the mean streets; portraits of troubled souls in search of either love or the stiff drink that stubbornly eludes them; and media hucksters¿not much different from the spinmeisters of 2001¿who shamelessly showcased and exploited their own trial of the century, the notorious Lindbergh kidnapping case.

Mitchell's renaissance began in 1992 with the publication of Up in the Old Hotel. This volume, now available in trade paperback from Vintage, contains McSorley's Wonderful Saloon and the first 33 pages from Joe Gould's Secret, among other works. Joe Gould's Secret, the biography of a legendary Greenwich Village bohemian eccentric, was the first to find its ways into an independent edition. "In all Random House contracts," said Dan Frank, editorial director of Pantheon, "there is a clause allowing for the possibility of a Modern Library edition. And when Susan Di Sesa, who was the publicity director at Pantheon at the time of the publication of Up in the Old Hotel became a marketing director at Modern Library, she jumped at the chance to put Joe Gould's Secret into the series in 1996. The Vintage paperback of Joe Gould's Secret was published in anticipation of Stanley Tucci's film, and then jacketed as a movie tie-in edition." When Frank was reminded that both McSorley's Wonderful Saloon and the abridged Joe Gould's Secret can be found in Up in the Old Hotel, he admitted to Pantheon and Vintage's little secret but added: "Yes, the individual titles are included in Up in the Old Hotel, but we are convinced that as readers discover Mitchell's work, they will be eager to have hardcover editions of his work in their library¿and the hardcover of Up in the Old Hotel is no longer available.

"I always wanted the chance to bring back My Ears Are Bent," Frank continued, "which has not been available for over half a century. McSorley's was originally published during war time, so the quality of the book, the quality of the paper, was second rate. As this has been described by many as one of the best books written about New York City, I thought it appropriate that there finally be a stand-alone hardcover edition. In addition, I thought, by reissuing these two particular works of Mitchell's, one could see the remarkable transformation/progression that occurs with his writing between the 1938 and 1943¿all of sudden one of New York City's great reporters of the 1930s reveals himself to be a writer of the first rank."

The material in My Ears Are Bent is very Runyonesque in content, perhaps because it is by a street reporter whose occupational diseases include, according to Mitchell, "indigestion, alcoholism, cynicism." It is filled with every kind of eccentric, from nudists and politicians to George Bernard Shaw. And he pulls no punches, describing former President Herbert Hoover as having "the face of a fat baby troubled by gas pains," and nailing an effervescent stripper thus: "Except for her G-string, a pair of blue shoes, the rouge on her lovely cheeks and the fillings in her teeth, she was naked as the day she was born."

McSorley's Wonderful Saloon is more philosophical in tone than the rather cynical My Ears Are Bent, as it looks at a city and its inhabitants on the brink of World War II. Although it sounds as though the whole volume is dedicated to McSorley's Old Ale House on East 7th Street in New York City¿famous for banning women until 1971¿there is only one chapter on the esteemed establishment. It is obvious that Mitchell had a place in his heart for rogues and oddballs, for there are profiles on such varying events of everyday life as black preachers, the Mohawk Indians of Brooklyn, the Ku Klux Klan and gypsies, along with the sad deaths of saloons. There is also plenty written on one of Mitchell's favorite subjects¿the pleasures of food, be it meat, fish or fowl. Everywhere in Mitchell's prose there is the cadence of the city, and this mad, staccato rhythm comes from the voice of the people. "The best talk is artless," Mitchell says in My Ears Are Bent, "the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels."

Pantheon celebrated the publication of the two books with a party at McSorley's Old Ale House, where Calvin Trillin, who wrote the new foreword to McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, and actor Eli Wallach read the chapter that lionizes McSorley's in the volume, "The Old House at Home." "It was wall-to-wall Joe Mitchell fans and it was great," said Sophie Cottrell, director of publicity for Pantheon. "The back room was so packed, you could not move. The crowd was spilling out into the main part of the bar and it was a really nice evening."

One of great mysteries about Joe Mitchell is why he never published anything in his last three decades. "I can't seem to get anything finished anymore," Mitchell told Newsweek in 1992. "The hideous state the world is in just defeats the kind of writing I used to do." PW asked those in the know about Mitchell's lack of productivity, but there was a strange quiet about the whole scenario, as if a family secret was being violated. Joe Gould had his secret; apparently Joe Mitchell had his, too."


Biography and Bibliography
Amazon:

"One day, it would have to have been the very early 70's, we were in the car with my grandfather, driving through the Bowery, and he pointed out the window at one of the derelicts and casually mentioned : I went to school with him. School, in this case, was Harvard Law School, back when that still meant something. He said that the guy had fallen on hard times and had refused repeated offers of help, so we drove on and he went along his merry, though entirely demented, way. Had this occurred just a few years earlier, that bum might well have been Joe Gould, whom Joseph Mitchell immortalized in the pages of The New Yorker.

Up in the Old Hotel is a collection of Mitchell's otherwise hard to find essays, in which he lovingly describes haunts like the Fulton Fish Market and McSorley's, one of the last bars in America to admit women, and profiles various fisherfolk and colorful denizens of New York City's nether regions, most famously, Joe Gould, the bohemian character with whom he is inevitably and eternally linked. Mitchell first wrote about Gould in 1942, in a piece called, Professor Sea Gull. Mitchell's great skill as a writer was to let his subjects seemingly speak for themselves, but to in fact render their words in compulsively readable fashion. This works particularly effectively with Joe Gould who was a fountain of words anyway. The story relates how Gould, a Harvard grad, subsists on practically no money (one of his tricks is to make a soup out of the ketchup in restaurants), his propensity for making a spectacle of himself as he starts flapping his arms and declaiming poetry in the "language" of sea gulls, and his life's work, the nine million word Oral History of Our Time. Within the pages of hundreds of composition books, of the kind we used to use in school, Gould claimed to be writing a history of the world in the form of the conversations of ordinary people as he heard them speaking every day ""What people say is history." It was this idea that beguiled Mitchell and his readers, made Gould into a minor celebrity, and ultimately formed a tragicomic link to Mitchell's own career.

You see, Mitchell gradually came to suspect that Gould's magnum opus did not really exist. When, upon Gould's death, Mitchell went in search of the Oral History and could find only a few garbled fragments, he decided, with some qualms, to expose the hoax that he had such played a central role in propagating. The result was the elegaiac Joe Gould's Secret which was written in 1964 and proved to be the last piece Joseph Mitchell ever published. For the next thirty years he showed up at The New Yorker every day, went into his office and seemed to work, but never produced a word. He became legendary for his "writer's block," a staple figure in the many novels featuring a New Yorker like magazine, such as Bright Lights, Big City. Rumor had it that he was emulating his hero James Joyce and writing a Ulysses-type novel set in the New York he knew so well. But like Joe Gould, his masterwork does not appear to have been committed to paper.

There are many fine essays in the book, but you really should, at least, read these two Joe Gould profiles. They stand as masterpieces of the journalist's art on their own, but when Mitchell's subsequent problems are taken into account and the eerie parallels become clear, these stories become transcendent and genuinely haunting." - Orrin C. Judd


Libuse Monikova

The Facade - Libuse Monikova


Michael Moorcock

The Cornelius Chronicles - Michael Moorcock

The Dancers at the End of Time - Michael Moorcock


Christopher Moore

Practical Demonkeeping (1995) - Christopher Moore


J. B. Morton

Cram Me With Eels!: The Best of Beachcomber's Unpublished Humour - J. B. Morton

Rhys Hughes:

"John Clute recommended this author to me as a humorist to equal the likes of Maurice Richardson. I'm glad I didn't discover Morton before now, because I fear his influence would otherwise have been too complete over me. Cram Me with Eels! is one of the funniest and cleverest books I've had the pleasure of sampling. Morton's wit is multi-layered, his invention staggering, his ironies both subtle and savage. Apparently he was a major inspiration to Spike Milligan. Constant hilarity can be wearisome, of course, but the beauty of this volume is that it is ideal for dipping into and the chapters can be read in any order."


Nicholas Mosley

Hopeful Monsters - Nicholas Mosley

Amazon:

"In 1991, Nicholas Mosley resigned from the judging panel for England's prestigious Booker Prize when none of his choices made the shortlist. Writing about the affair in The Times of London, Mosley related that all of his choices were rejected because they were 'novels of ideas, or novels in which characters were subservient to ideas.' He went on to opine, in a statement that seems to apply as much to his Whitbread Prize-winning novel 'Hopeful Monsters' as to his view of his Booker choices: 'My point was that humans were beings who did have ideas, who were often influenced by ideas, to whom ideas were important. If they were not, then there was some lack in being human.'

'Hopeful Monsters' is a novel where character development is subservient to ideas, where narrative action takes place against big historical events. While it ostensibly tells the story of a life-long romantic relationship between Max Ackerman, an English physicist, and Eleanor Anders, a German-Jewish anthropologist, the romance is as much a vehicle for the promulgation and exploration of ideas as it is a tale of a man and a woman in the twentieth century.

'Hopeful Monsters' begins at the end of World War I. Max is ten years old and lives outside Cambridge, England. His father is a biologist who specializes in genetic inheritance and his mother is a woman of seeming artistic interests who had been 'brought up on the fringes of what was even then known as the Bloomsbury Group.' His parents have had long ties to the Cambridge University community. Eleanor, too, lives in an intellectual milieu, one in which ideas predominate. Eleanor lives in Berlin, where her mother is a Marxist and follower of Rosa Luxemburg and her father is a lecturer in philosophy. From such beginnings, novels of ideas are made!

From this starting point, 'Hopeful Monsters' narrates the story of Max and Eleanor through the rise of Nazism in Germany, the post-Lenin rise to power of Joseph Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, and the development of the Atomic Bomb. It does this while, all the time, interweaving Darwinism (and its Lamarckian heresy), Marxism, quantum physics and the uncertainty principle, Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian archetypes, and even suggestions of Jewish mysticism. It is a story that runs from 1918 until the 1970s and continually challenges the reader to think about the ideas, the opinions, the intellectual sensibilities and feelings of Max, Eleanor and the books other characters. It is a magnificent and challenging novel of ideas, a novel that deservedly won the Whitbread Prize in 1990.

If 'Hopeful Monsters' has any shortcomings, it is that ideas and historical events predominate at the expense of character development. It also suffers, at times, from a somewhat turgid prose style. In particular, Mosley is fond of introducing statements by Eleanor and Max with the clauses 'I said' and 'You said'. It is a construction that helps the reader follow long spoken exchanges, but gets a bit tedious. Mosley also tends to write sentences as statements with a question mark at the end. This, too, can be annoying, suggesting a rising inflection by the speaker that can hardly be the intent. These are, however, relatively minor failings in a novel which is majestic in the breadth and depth of its intellectual suggestiveness, a really big modern novel that deserves to be more widely read." - botatoe


Horacio Castellanos Moya

Senselessness - Horacio Moya

"Reading Senselessness is like being sucked into a literary whirlwind-- it pulls you in immediately and intensely, and it never lets go. It is above all else a great read. Fortunately it is short, or you might starve, it is that compelling. And it is very, very funny, though be warned: its humor is always ironic and on-the-edge.

Imagine Lenny Bruce writing a Graham Greene novel where the narrator is Lenny Bruce imagined by Graham Greene. Imagine a situation where style itself is politically volatile and editing akin to the erasing of memory and people, literally "rewriting" history (not in the "as if" vein of Saramago, as a counter-argument to the idea of history, but as the accepted standard version at the heart of politics and power.)

And finally, consider: the narrator-editor is a loquacious, paranoid, horny, and non-pc yet politically fastidious and sensitive observer. Worried that he himself has become entangled in the violent politics surrounding the book he is editing and possibly about to become the next victim, he is also moved by the stories he edits-- testimonies of indigenous witnesses to atrocities who are not "native" speakers of the language (Spanish) in which they give testimonies, testimonies already professionally "cleaned up" by sociologists and oral historians. So in some ways, the book's problem is to "restore" the truth and speak the unspoken, perhaps the unspeakable, indeed locate a reliable author/authority.

Senselessness is a serious piece of post-modern literature that offers the fun and thrills of a roller coaster ride-- total loss of gravity in the hands of a master of panic." - R. Reese


H. H. Munro (Saki)

The Complete Saki - H. H. Munro

Biography - Julian Burnside

HECTOR HUGH MUNRO, who wrote under the name SAKI was born on 18 December 1870, at Akyab, Burma. His father was an officer in the Burma police. Saki was sent to live with two maiden aunts in Devon at the age of two. Although these aunts were probably well-intentioned, they brought him up in a regime of strictness and severity. This left an indelible mark on his character, and is immortalized in a number of his short stories, especially Sredni Vashtar and The Lumber Room.

Munro was educated at Exmouth and at Bedford grammar school. He joined the Burma police but soon turned to journalism. He wrote political satires for the Westminster Gazette, was foreign correspondent for the Morning Post in the Balkans, Russia, and Paris. He moved to London in 1908.

He wrote four series of short stories: Reginald in 1904, Reginald in Russia in 1910, The Chronicles of Clovis in 1912, and Beasts and Super-Beasts 1914. His stories frequently reflect the manners and attitudes of Edwardian society, from the standpoint of the sardonic insider. They are beautifully polished, epigrammatic pieces of writing. The stories often involve a vein of cruelty, and often resolve on a surprise twist in the last sentence.

Saki died in the trenches of France in 1916.

Biography - John Rennie

Amazon:

"Saki (H.H. Munro, 1870-1916) is unique. His mise-en-scène is the world of P.G. Wodehouse, with its Edwardian country houses and formidable noblewomen. On the other hand, his septic view of human nature is closer to that of Ambrose Bierce, or Juvenal.

His protagonists - not really heroes - are typically youthful scapegraces, idlers, and dandies. Self-absorbed and perverse, they may come to bad ends, like Comus Bassington. Despite, or perhaps because, of their character defects, they make gorgeous epigrammatic observations, worldly beyond their years, on human nature: "You needn't tell me that a man who doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wine has got a soul, or a stomach either. He's simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed." "People may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die." "Waldo is the sort of person who would be immensely improved by death."

Saki is politically incorrect. Like W.S. Gilbert, he lampooned suffragettes; this has led some to call him "misogynistic." His Jewish characters are not always portrayed in a flattering light; this has led some to call him "anti-Semitic." Earnest folk full of impractical good intentions for the uplift of humanity got the fullest dose of his venom. In "The Toys of Peace," children brought up by insufferably and sanctimoniously progressive parents who refuse to give them "warlike" playthings nonetheless improvise violent and destructive games. In "Filboid Studge" he describes a "health food" fad that succeeds wildly on the assumption that if it tastes disgusting, it must be good for you. Saki would have revelled in the gruesome irony of a recent news account about an "animal rights" protestor mauled at Yellowstone by a grizzly. He was no friend to the puritan, the do-gooder, and the reformer; critics accordingly tag him "reactionary."

Bizarre scenarios abound. Pet hyænas, werewolf boys, riotous young women mistaken for newly-hired governesses, exploding babies, and other violent plots and twisted themes are related in spare narrative, often with absurdity at the end. Evelyn Waugh followed Saki's lead in such novels as "Black Mischief" and "A Handful of Dust." But if these Waugh novels might be described as resembling minor Mozart symphonies, Saki's tales are more like Scarlatti sonatas: short, dense with information, virtuosic, and perfect things of their kind. The taste for them is perhaps an acquired one, but it is easy to acquire." - Michael S. Swisher


Robert Musil

The Man Without Qualities - Robert Musil

Reviews:

"Musil's book is one of the twentieth century's two masterworks-- the other being Proust's "A La Recherche." Musil and Proust are the Modernist embodiment of Adorno's dictum that the conceptually challenging artwork must also necessarily be aesthetically radical.

Musil's novel, written from at once the center (Europe) and the margins (post-World War One Austria) of the early Twentieth century, is the story of Ulrich, a brilliant young mathematician who observes Austrian high society on the eve of the First World War. Under the pretext of planning a huge anniversary party for the King, society gathers in one Diotima's salon. Musil's narrator here has good fun looking at the ideologies and social pretensions of the upper classes. Austra becomes "Kakania," and the idealistic Diotima a parody of Socrates' interlocutor in The Symposium.

Parallel to this social story is Ulrich's "inner transformation." As Ulrich becomes more and more cynical about, and detached from, the increasingly bizarre social world, he begins to undergo a transformation of mind, and to this end, moves at the end of Volume I into retreat from the world to pursue a "mystical union" of mind with his twin sister.

Musil's book-- like Proust's, and like Richardson's "Clarissa"-- takes on all themes. From social decay, inner transformation, the meaning of science and art, political satire, the dangers of technology, love, spiritual questions (here refreshingly and presciently free from being couched in Big Religions' terms) and plain old human longing, Musil deals with them all. And, like Proust and Richardson, Musil's story is ultimately a dialectic: the twin poles of social and individual transformation would, ideally, wind closer together until they fuse into one. In Proust's book this fusion is implied (it is the blending of author and narrator after the story's end) while in Richardson the synthesis is functional, but dead (Clarissa's coffin). Musil never finished his novel, perhaps fittingly-- WWI would destroy all remaining dreams of fusing European political idealism and the humanist spiritualism of the early 20th century, similar to how, seventy years later, Krzysztof Kieslowski's pan-Eurpoean vision of his "La Double Vie de Veronique" would look surreal and syrupy, destroyed by images from the Bosnian war in the mid-'90s.

Musil's writing is strangely effective even in translation. The narrator's sly sense of humour comes across pretty decently here, and the translator manages to make the book at times out-loud laughing funny.

This is essential reading. The reader who wants Big Ideas-- in the line of Proust, Richardson, Pynchon, Melville and Murakami-- will enjoy this work." - Chris Stolz


Alvaro Mutis

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll - Alvaro Mutis

Reviews:

Maqroll the Gaviero (the Lookout) is one of the most alluring and memorable characters in the fiction of the last twenty-five years. His extravagant and hopeless undertakings, his brushes with the law and scrapes with death, and his enduring friendships and unlooked-for love affairs make him a Don Quixote for our day, driven from one place to another by a restless and irregular quest for the absolute. Álvaro Mutis's seven dazzling chronicles of the adventures and misadventures of Maqroll have won him numerous honors and a passionately devoted readership throughout the world. Here for the first time in English all these wonderful stories appear in a single volume in Edith Grossman's prize-winning translation. - NYRB

"Yes, I agree with the other reviewers who have asseverated that this is a great book. But they don't seem to want to spell out why exactly it is a great novel, or, rather, series of picaresque adventures. - Perhaps they're simply tired due to the 700 page literary trek. - But, come now, a great novel because of tramp steamers and the sea? While the sea is certainly the element in which Maqroll feels most at home, there are, literally, hundreds of novels about the sea and the love of it (In particular, there's one author who's made himself into a multi-millionaire by churning out these books like a sausage-machine).

No, what makes this book great is the underlying fatalism of the work sweepingly on display in Maqroll and the several other characters, and in the finely wrought passages on what this life offers us, picaresque vagabond or not. Many comparisons have been made to Don Quixote. - But not in the right way - Maqroll is Don Quixote's Twentieth Century doppelganger, or spectral double: Spectral, as is the case with many doppelgangers in fiction, in that he is the Knight's opposite. Where Don Quixote is chaste, Maqroll is licentious, where Don Quixote is naïve, Maqroll is instinctively wise to the ways of the fallen world etc. etc. --- In literary terms, Don Quixote is a Romantic. Maqroll is Tragic.

I wonder, reading the other reviews, if the other readers may have just possibly skimmed over the philosophical passages that glower at one on every other page or so. It is these passages, these lyrical, defiant, essentially dark reflections that make this much more than any mere sea novel or rollicking picaresque.

For Example, for starters:

"...it's not worry I feel but weariness as I watch the approach of one more episode in the old, tired story of the men who try to beat life, the smart ones who think they know it all and die with a look of surprise on their faces: at the final moment they always see the truth - they never really understood anything, never held anything in their hands. An old story, old and boring." P.24

And again:

"He thought that the real tragedy of aging lay in the fact that the eternal boy still lives inside us, unaware of the passage of time. A boy whose secrets had been revealed with notable clarity when Maqroll withdrew to Aracuriare Canyon, and who claimed the prerogative of not aging, since he carried that portion of broken dreams, stubborn hopes, and mad, illusory enterprises in which time not only does not count but is, in fact, inconceivable. One day the body sends a warning and, for a moment, we awake to the evidence of our own deterioration: someone has been living our life, consuming our strength. But we immediately return to the phantom of our spotless youth, and continue to do so until the final, inevitable awakening." P.261

And again, and again, and again...

Yes, there are mad illusory enterprises throughout the book- And jolly fun they are to read - But, like a requiem continually droning in the background, we are given, in Maqroll's reflections, that he is aware exactly how mad and illusory these enterprises are.

Fatalistic literature has never been popular, in America especially, which was founded on principles contrary to it, and where the recurrent mantra is, "You can be anything you want to be." This book shows, time and again, that you can't. It's no wonder Maqroll is enamoured of, among others, the Ancient Greeks.

Summing up, this is a great book because Mutis does the seemingly impossible here, giving us the pleasurable, lilting melodies of the sea yarn and adventure story, all the while beating the steady drumbeat of mortal doom." - Daniel Myers


Gustavas Myers

History of the Great American Fortunes - Gustavas Myers

online version

Bio


John Myers Myers

Silverlock - John Myers Myers

Commonwealth of Letters

Silverlock is an epic fantasy romp in which a dreary young cynic named A. Clarence Shandon is shipwrecked on the shores of the living land of all human imagination, where every character of myth and fiction great enough to be remembered for generations -- is.

Guided by all the world's bards rolled up in one rowdy little archetype named Golias, Shandon (quickly nicknamed "Silverlock") journeys through encounters from Robin Hood to Faust, with romance and battle, grief and a lot of bawdy songs liberally mixed in, and his spirit is brought to life.

The story is thickly woven with mythic, literary and historical reference -- so many that, no matter how well-read you are, you'll end up being turned on to something new.

It is also liberally sprinkled with original poems and songs, from a gentle sweet lament for a missing lover to a boisterous drinking song from the Babylonian gods. Many of these have been put to music and shared widely among fantasy fans. I can't print them all here. You're going to have to read the book. Really. You have to.
...

Green Man Review - Eric Eller


NNN


Vladimir Nabakov

Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabakov

Electronic Labyrinth

Vladimir Nabokov's 1962 novel, Pale Fire, is widely considered a forerunner of postmodernism and a prime example of the literature of exhaustion. The novel has four distinct sections. The first is a "Forward" by a man who calls himself Charles Kinbote. Kinbote, who claims to be a scholar from the country of Zembla, relates how he befriended the American poet John Shade. Following Shade's untimely death, Kinbote was entrusted with the manuscript of the poet's last major work, a long autobiographical poem called "Pale Fire." Despite the many reservations of others concerning his authority to do so, Kinbote has edited the work for publication. The second section is the poem itself, divided into four cantos. It is followed by the third, and longest section, Kinbote's own idiosyncratic commentary and line by line glosses. The fourth section is an index in which Kinbote provides brief capsule descriptions of the major people and places of the text and its accompanying commentary.

The novel, however, is something more than a satiric look at the solipsistic excesses of academic exegesis. Kinbote's commentary gradually transforms the heterogenous elements of the text into a labyrinth of dazzling complexity. Kinbote's status as a reliable narrator is subverted early in the book; by the end of the Forward, we suspect him to be something of an opportunist who has made off with Shade's manuscript before the grieving widow can gather her wits. His commentary supports this suspicion. Shade's poem seems to be a fairly straightforward bit of personal reminiscence, as unmarked by worldly concerns as it is by any hint of literary talent. Bending every word of Shade's poem to ludicrous extremes, however, Kinbote proceeds to unfold the story of the overthrow of the last King of Zembla, Charles II. The story of Shade's composition of the poem is made parallel to the story of the approach of an assassin named Gradus who is coming to America to slay the exiled King.
...


Thomas Nash

The author of Falstaff, Merlin and The Memoirs of Lord Byron takes on WS himself, producing a lively, bawdy gallimaufry of anecdotes, facts and fictions that inevitably will be compared to Anthony Burgess's Nothing Like the Sun. The conceit is that "Robert Reynolds alias Pickleherring," a comic actor now an octogenarian, met Shakespeare when the playwright was 32 and Pickleherring 13. Now Pickleherring lives in a London attic, above a whorehouse that itself is above a bakery, and sets out to tell the "country history" of WS. He tucks in all the anecdotes that make gossips and scholars swoon, for example the possibility that Queen Elizabeth I was Shakespeare's mother, that the Vicar of Stratford, not a humble butcher and tanner, was Shakespeare's father. Pickleherring casts his own hand heavily over the proceedings, as any lifelong actor is wont to do; the young Pickleherring played women's roles in Shakespeare's plays at the Globe and had a friendly flirtation with WS. A recurring theme is his unscholarly explanations of Shakespeare's artAfor instance, comparing the playwright's use of flower imagery to John Milton's. Milton's flowers always scanned, the actor relates; he picked his bouquets by syllable. Shakespeare's flowers, by contrast, always had personality and resonance. In addition to the Dark Lady, the Earl of Southampton and other Shakespearean tropes, Pickleherring/Nye refers to the fathers/sons themes and the surfeit of forgiving wives and daughters in the later plays. Surely the more a reader already knows about Shakespeare and about Elizabethan life from the dunghills up, the more pleasure Nye's account will produce, braided as it is from whimsy, compassion and research. But even readers limited to having read Julius Caesar in ninth grade will find this novel gladdening.

Merlin (1979)

Amazon UK:

"In this book Merlin relates his own life story, and it is extremely funny. The book starts with his account of his own conception, his mother, a naive virgin, is impregnated by a devil disguised as a priest. The intention is that Merlin should become the Antichrist, but it all goes horribly wrong when he is baptised with holy water as soon as he is born, making him unsuitable for Antichristhood. And so the book continues, incredibly bawdy, scatalogical and very funny as we learn what Merlin thinks of King Arthur (not much), and hear about some goings-on among the Knights of the Round Table that are not mentioned in Tennyson. This book does not quite have the depth and richness of Nye's earlier novel 'Falstaff', but it is still extremely funny. Serious Arthurian scholars may find it upsetting, unless they have a sense of humour." - Louise O'Connor

Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Amazon:

"Flann O'Brien is one of the half-dozen or so greatest comic writers in the English language of this or any other century, the equal of such geniuses of comedy as Sterne, Joyce, Beckett, Waugh, and Firbank. His mastery of comedic prose, its nuances, tropes, and subversions, is of such high degree that the merest gesture of his stylistic hand can turn a sentence or phrase from its course as sober conveyor of information to sabotager and ridiculer of that same information. Done the right way (and O'Brien invariably does it the right way), such writing can virtually collapse referential material and transform it into brilliant constellations of devastating hilarity. Little can stand before comedy of such purity, comedy so intensely focused and authorative that it rises above ideology, factionalism, religion, and the bloated niceties of propaganda and "right thinking." Inventors, or if you please, marshals of such anarchic laughter are dangerous people indeed, informed, as they are, by love, hatred, and, above all, perhaps, a salutary shame for the human species and its ridiculous pettinesses and pretensions.

I think that O'Brien was fearful of or apprehensive about these extraordinary comic gifts, even as he permitted them to flourish, and flourish most notably, in his two greatest books, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. It's impossible to know or even to guess at whether this fear was caused by the classically Irish, macabre nature of the works themselves (both novels are cruel at their core, and many of their most deliciously risible scenes, conversations, and set pieces are rooted in pain, anguish, ignominy, humiliation, and death); or whether his very being as a comic artist was one he could not or would not change, lest such change damage his lavishly inventive psychology. Put simply, if, perhaps, reductively: Did he fear his books or did he fear the talent that created them? Whatever the case, he, arguably, attempted to protect himself, to shield himself from his own work, at once to own and disown it. At Swim-Two-Birds brusquely avoids its eerie logical conclusion--the assault upon and possible erasure of its primary creator, the writer himself--and The Third Policeman was, remarkably, repressed by its author during his lifetime (behind the preposterous, trumped-up story of the supposed loss of the supposed single copy of the manuscript), appearing soon after he was safely dead. The Dalkey Archive, a "re-vision" of The Third Policeman, and published during O'Brien's lifetime, has, not facetiously, in my view, a dedication to "my Guardian Angel, impressing upon him that I'm only fooling and warning him to see to it that there is no misunderstanding when I go home." I see this novel as a non-sinister apologia for the unearthly terrors of The Third Policeman, as well as a barrier between the latter and O'Brien; and the charge to his Guardian Angel has to do with the suppressed text, for which The Dalkey Archive was but a surrogate. ... - Gilbert Sorrentino

The Best of Myles - Flann O'Brien

Reviews:

"Flann O'Brian is absolutely one of the greatest practitioners of language. This collection of his work, "The Best Of Myles", is some of the finest writing I have ever had the pleasure to read. Gaelic, English, French, German, and Latin, are 5 languages he writes fluently. He is the personification of all that is famous of Irish Wit. There appear to be few topics he did not comment upon or release a withering appraisal with pinpoint precision.

Mr. O'Brian wrote for a daily newspaper until his death in 1966. The volume and quality of the written material he produced is amazing. This 400-page book is one of five that are available and that I intend to read. There is virtually nothing about his personal history in this volume, so hopefully there is a biography in print documenting the time he spent learning and practicing his craft. The only downside to this book is that some is in Gaelic with no translation, and there are many articles that will seem to exist in isolation if the reader does not have some knowledge of Irish History. Even if these commentaries were removed, the balance of the work would still be a remarkable literary performance.

Some of the best pieces were his comments on the affectation in so many facets of daily life. And his specific attacks on, "bores", and all the pretensions of the world of modern art, and those who would pretend to posses knowledge of which they are bereft. He creates institutes and foundations and companies dedicated to servicing frauds and exposing the truth. Much is for pure fun, but like all humor contains truth. He offers the services of a company that will come to the home of any illiterate with a library, and his people will either rummage through your books for a pittance, or for a more substantial sum, will dog-ear pages, write brilliant marginalia, and leave tickets and programs to various cultural events as though they were misplaced bookmarks. And for those who have the funds, books will receive forged inscriptions from their authors, and letters of thanks to the book's owner for their help with a particularly difficult passage.

This book came at the end of 2001 for me. I hate lists of the best of the year; however nothing I have read this year surpasses this book, absolutely nothing! - Francis J. McInerney

Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn - Flann O'Brien

Reviews:

"Cruiskeen Lawn was the title of the long-running column in the Irish Times (1940-1966) written by Myles na gCopaleen. Wildly innovative, funny, biting humor, wit and wordplay characterize the column. There are three collections: The Best of Myles, Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn, and The Hair of the Dogma that give a taste of Dublin's daily bread. In addition to writing as Myles, the author, whose real name was Brian O'Nolan, wrote five novels, all available under the name Flann O'Brien. If you want a laugh, try any one of them. If you've only dipped into the font with the Best of Myles, you'll be doubly blessed by Further Cuttings." - Keith Donohue

The Third Policeman - Flann O'Brien

Reviews:

"Brian O'Nolan, born in Strabane in 1911, wrote under a number of pen-names - although Flann O'Brien is probably the best known. He studied at University College Dublin and spent nearly twenty years working in the Irish Civil Service. He also spent thirty years writing a column - The Cruiskeen Lawn - for the Irish Times under the name Myles na gCopaleen. His first novel, "At Swim-Two-Birds", was published in 1939 and - although "The Third Policeman" was the second novel he wrote - it wasn't published until after his death.

The name of the book's hero is never revealed, although we do learn a little of his past. His father worked as a farmer, while his mother ran a pub - both, unfortunately, died while our hero was still young. He was subsequently sent to a boarding school and, although the pub and farm were now technically his, a certain John Divney was employed to run both while he finished his education. It's while he's at school our hero first stumbles across the work of a scientist called De Selby. Although De Selby appears to have been an utter crackpot, our hero falls under his spell and decides to gather a collection of De Selby's works, and those of his more noted commentators. His search, at one point, sees him breaking his left leg so badly, it has to be replaced by a wooden leg.

Eventually, he returns to the ancestral home, where - for the first time - he meets Divney. Where De Selby is a crackpot, Divney is clearly a thief and a rogue of the highest order - he is, however, kept on to help on around the farm. At the same time, our hero decides to dedicate himself to writing the definitive `De Selby Index'. Once finished, he knows he has completed a work of great importance. However, he also knows he'll have to publish it himself - something he just doesn't have the money for. The ever-scheming Divney has a cunning plan, however : unfortunately, it involves the duo murdering a rich and aged neighbour called Mathers.

The attack goes relatively well for the pair : Mathers dies, the cashbox is removed from the corpse - which, in turn, is carefully buried - and nobody gets caught. Unfortunately, Divney sneaks off and hides the cashbox and waits three years before revealing where he's hidden it : under the floorboards of a certain room in Mather's house. It's our hero who's dispatched to collect it - however, the second he touches it, things change dramatically. The box disappears, our hero realises he has forgotten his name, he starts having conversations with his soul (which he christens Joe)...and he discovers Mathers sitting in a chair watching him. During the ensuing conversation with his murder victim, he hears of a nearby police barracks, staffed by Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen. (There is also a mysterious third policeman by the name of Fox who apparently hasn't been seen in twenty-five years. As it turns out, however, he is still on the beat). What our forgetful hero hears about Pluck and MacCruiskeen, however, inspires him to visit the pair - in the hope they'll be able to find his cashbox for him. Naturally, things don't quite go according to plan...

There are a number of words that spring to mind when trying to describe "The Third Policeman"...bizarre and surreal would be prominent, so it may not be to everyone's tastes. There's also quite a few footnotes, relating to the work of De Selby, some of which are a little too detailed - you could probably skip them without losing any of the enjoyment of the story. Nevertheless, it's a book I would definitely recommend." - cluricaune

At Swim-Two-Birds - Flann O'Brien

Reviews:

"Published in 1939, the same year that James Joyce published Finnegan's Wake, this novel was lauded in its day by Joyce himself, Samuel Beckett, and Graham Greene. A wild concoction involving a completely disjointed narrative, multiple points of view, farce, satire, and parody, this "novel" offers any student of Irish literature unlimited subject matter--and equally unlimited laughs. In this unique experiment with point of view, author Brian O'Nolan has used a pseudonym, Flann O'Brien, to tell the story of the novelist/student N, who tells his own story at the same time that he is writing a book about an invented novelist (Trellis), who is himself developing another story, while Tracy, still another author, tells a cowboy story and appears in the previous narratives.

Believing that characters should be born fully adult, one of the writers tries to keep them all together--in this case, at the Red Swan Hotel--so that he can keep track of them and keep them sober while he plans the narrative and writes and rewrites the beginning and ending of the novel. But even when the primary writer stops writing to go out with his friends, the characters of the other (invented) fictional writers continue to live on in the narrative and comment on writing. Before long, the reader is treated to essays on the nature of books vs. plays, polemics about the evils of drink, parodies of folk tales and ballads, a breathless wild west tale starring an Irish cowboy, the legends of Ireland, catalogues of sins, tales of magic and the supernatural, almanacs of folk wisdom and the cures for physical ills, and even the account of a trial--and that's just for starters.

Totally unique, O'Brien's creation defies the conventions, both of its day and of the present, and even the most jaded reader will be astonished at the unexpected twists the narrative takes. Steeped in the traditions of the Irish story-teller, O'Brien keeps those traditions alive by creating multiple narrators to tell multiple stories simultaneously, while also skewering the very traditions of which he--and they--are a part." - Mary Whipple


David Ohle

Motorman - David Ohle

"Somewhere between Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and Cormac McCarthy's darker roads is situated the powerfully bizarre and intriguing Motorman, written by David Ohle. It's not a new work, but it has generated a consistent buzz in terms of the ever popular dystopia-themed literature. It's a short offering that provides only glimpses into an utterly improbable world that's actually quite fathomable when framed from a sense of despairing fabulism. It's concerns the flight of a character named Moldenke away from a series of meaningless activities in Texaco City to a safe-haven away from the omniscience of one ever-present Mr. Bunce. More than his flight though, Motorman is about a vision of a future, or perhaps a dream, in which our conception of time, survival and humanity is greatly accelerated and/or extended. With the appearance of multiple suns and moons (invented or otherwise) along rapidly moving calendars, it is either a cosmic time-shift or mild concussion upon which the reader must decipher and refocus. That, along with the buzzing and fluttering of one's numerous implanted hearts, especially upon an ubiquitous onrush of mindless jellyheads. Ohle doesn't provide many answers, but he does depict fragments of a life under continual decay amid continual surveillance. Ohle writes his chapters briefly, often corresponding between characters as if in the middle of a war, though eerily the setting is oddly quiet throughout. As such, Motorman is a hazy, prescient and disturbing work that bridges our dreams to a fantastic reality." - gonzobrarian

The Age of Sinatra - David Ohle

The Pisstown Chaos - David Ohle

"But it, but don't expect Motorman to happen again, take fresh eyes to this book. Standing alone, The Pisstown Chaos follows the efforts of the Balls family to reunite through some absurd bureaucratic relocation programs. At times a metaphor and spoof of contemporary America, it also delves into it's entirely own reality with a sort of future nostalgia. Ohle really gets gritty with well described anal swabbing, forced mating of half-dead humans, mining for tooth-gold, deteriorating bodies, and intentionally faulty parachutes. At times brilliant, Ohle delicately disgusts through elegantly composed language. It is striking at times how accepting all of the characters are of their situation. Like a slightly more self reflective Moldenke, the Balls family has a lot to work out. Buy this one, read it, be sure to read motorman, give both to your grandmother for the holidays." - Erica Christina Lemieux


Yuri Olesha

Envy - Yuri Olesha

Amazon:

"I had difficulty reading the first few pages simply because I didn't catch on that the first person narrator--who is derisively observing his roommate's bathroom routine--is to some degree emotionally destabilized by his own hard life as well as misplaced perceptions. I usually prefer lyrically-written work with sentences that flow beautifully, however, while reading Olesha's Envy, I realize just how much the novels I prefer are the way they are because the writer lives in an environment that enables some hope. As harsh as the environment is, Olesha's novel is peppered throughout with charming phrases which disarm the critical reader: Valya was "lighter than a shadow. The lightest of shadows--the shadow of falling snow--might have envied her" (54).

The novel's Introduction, by Ken Kalfus, is informative. Envy was published in 1927 when some form of satirical protest against the Soviet government was still possible; Lenin had died in 1925 and Stalin had ousted Trotsky, and it wasn't much longer--in about 1934--that it was no longer possible for a writer or journalist to speak and write freely. Olesha's work was suppressed and not re-printed until after Stalin's death in 1956. At only 152 pages, this novel is ideal for high school students wanting something more than routine American literature; honors students can definitely handle comparing the fictional treatment of social conditions. Also college freshman in Comparative Literature or fiction writing can study how a writer's environment conditions the craft of fiction.

To go into more detail, if the world of Envy feels claustrophobic, there are good reasons: Yuri Olesha's narrator, or main character, is responding to a society in which the rich and poor are increasingly polarized. People in control seem to dominate the powerless, and those in control are absolutely stupid and boring people. The conditions Olesha wrote about also indicate that most people have diminishing expectations for the future, and to want change seems futile because change is impossible. (Sorry if this situation sounds familiar in 2006.) To create a novel out of this sort of human dilemma, conditions which were escalating in 1920's Russia, the author had to position himself somewhere between the two poles of rich and poor, of government official and social outcast. To do so, Olesha created the character Nikolai Kavalerov, a sort of slacker or lay-about whose vague or shapeless revolt against his conditions engages the reader's attention. The novelist's craft must give the characters energy so that the plot moves forward to some resolution; to do that, Olesha gives Kavalerov a kind of offensive honesty, a raw self-expression. One-third of the way through the novel, Kavalerov writes a cathartic letter to Comrade Babichev declaring, "Actually, I have just one feeling: hatred. . . . And like all officials, you're a petty tyrant." To understand this eruption as refreshing or humorous, one must read carefully. Read and find out if Kavalerov actually delivers the letter." - T. M. Teale


Lance Olsen

Burnt: A Novel - Lance Olsen

"The author of the Philip K. Dick Award finalist Tonguing the Zeitgeist, Olsen blends elements of chaos theory, deconstruction and more into a humorous novel that is part environmental dystopia, part academic farce. Murphy Porter is a tenured professor in the English department of Central Kentucky University. Increasingly cynical about academe, he is starting to find out that there's more truth in the tabloids that he and his wife, Tanya, read compulsively than in his own work on, say, "Bakhtinian Polyphonic Narratology in Gay Bikers from Hell." The government really is planning to send up space stations to house the lucky few in the event of nuclear winter; there may be ETs (someone's talking to Porter's inner consciousness); people are suffering from EI, environmental illness; and animals are mutating?particularly local squirrels, which have become violently aggressive and immune to everything except a blast from a .22. His faith in his institution is further dimmed by the heavy-handed pressure exerted to pass the football team's barely sentient star quarterback. In good po-mo fashion, there's plenty of musing about reality and appearances sandwiched between grocery lists of brand names; of T-shirt and bumper-sticker slogans; of statistics proving what fools we are for destroying the Earth. Olsen treads a fine line, occasionally threatening to become unbearably cool, but he doesn't. Tempered by the tender love between Murphy and Tanya, by a subtly frightening vision of ecological degradation and most of all by true wit, he's instead offered a funny cautionary tale." - Publisher's Weekly


Oliver Onions

Widdershins - Oliver Onions

PDF version at HorrorMasters

Amazon:

"I originally picked up this hard-to-find book after reading of it in Newman & Jones' excellent overview volume, "Horror: The 100 Best Books." "Widdershins" is a collection of Oliver Onions' short stories, and was first published in 1911. Onions was supposedly a meticulous writer, writing and rewriting and rerewriting, changing words repeatedly until he felt that things were just right. And his attention to detail does indeed show. All the stories in this volume are impeccably written, with wonderful attention to detail, sensuous mood, and finely modulated suspense. None of the tales in this book are what I would call especially scary, especially by modern standards of violence and shock and grue, but all are fascinating and eminently readable. The main feature of all eight creepy little tales in this collection is that the supernatural element in each of them can be otherwise explained; that is, the ghosts or other strange happenings that we read of can be seen as being merely mental aberrations of the protaganist.

The collection starts off with a bang with "The Beckoning Fair One," one of the most oft-anthologized horror tales. This ghost story has been called one of the best in the English language by such luminaries as Algernon Blackwood and H. P. Lovecraft, and who am I to argue with them? The tale is certainly the best in the "Widdershins" collection, and concerns an author who moves into a deserted house and starts to become influenced by its ghostly female occupant? Or...is it just in his mind? In "Phantas," one of the survivors of an 18th century sinking galleon sees a vision of a 20th century ship as his own boat slips beneath the waves. Or...does he really? "Rooum" is the tale of an old engineer who complains of a phantom that constantly races up behind him and then THROUGH him, taking a bit more of himself with each passage. Is this really happening...or is the old guy just going barmy? In "Benlian," a sculptor decides to really put ALL OF HIMSELF into his last great project...soul and all. Does he really, or is the old bloke just slightly off his chump? "The Accident" involves no ghosts at all; just two men, enemies from their youth, who meet in a restaurant for dinner 40 years later. It's a tale of cosmic fate and what might have been. In "The Lost Thyrsus," we're back to the spooky region, and a convalescent woman who, after reading Keats' "Endymion," is visited by a horde of Grecian bacchanals. Does she really...or is it all in her sick mind? "Hic Jacet," a longish tale, tells of a hack writer who attempts to pen the biography of his recently deceased artist friend, and the major problems he has with this task. Is the deceased artist really haunting him...or is it, again, all in his mind? Finally, in "The Cigarette Case," two Englishmen on a walking tour in Provence encounter two strange women. Or do they really? When reading "Widdershins," the reader must answer all these questions for him/herself. I prefer to tend toward the more ghostly explanations myself, but that's just me.

I should perhaps warn potential readers of this volume that "Widdershins" is NOT an easy read. I can't imagine anyone of average intelligence going into this book without the aid of an UNabridged dictionary, an atlas, an encyclopedia and the use of the Internet as research tools. There are lots of 100-year-old British slang words and expressions, and even I--a copy editor with what I feel to be an above-average vocabulary--was thrown many times. Still, for those willing to take the time and effort to read this book with the care and attention it deserves--the same care and attention, I might add, that Oliver Onions obviously invested in his writing of this volume--"Widdershins" will repay their efforts." - s. ferber


P. D. Ouspensky

Strange Life of Ivan Osokin (1988) - P. D. Ouspensky

Amazon:

"Over the years, I've recommended this book to my friends at least twenty times, and I have for sure recommended it to every psychologist, or anyone in any sort of therapy, that I have known. I read it when I was in college, doing the usual recreational drugs, and reading widely. This book amazed and dumbfounded me, probably more than any other book. The author possesses what seemed to me to be a rare quality (conceited and/or foolish as I am), and that is, he knows more about human nature, and the way the world works, than I do, and he can write about it.

The form of the book is a novel; the protagonist is beset by difficulties that he feels somehow responsible for, but, that he cannot understand. Like all of us? As the story unfolds, we see that this novel is unlike any other, as it examines the protagonist's role in the minutest details of events, and shows how these events contribute to the inevitablity of what seem on the surface to be chance or uncontollable outcomes.

One lesson I drew from the book is to try to 'look deeply' at things. There is the reality that our concious mind registers and that changes moment to moment, and there are currents of meaning that are constant and don't change, but that are not recognized for what they are and are not acknowledged by our concious mind. However, our unconcious mind is fully aware of these currents, and their reality is more substantial than the concious reality. Does that make any sense? Probably not. Be assured that 'Osokin' is an interesting tale, not pyschobabble like my attempted explication.

Ouspensky was a follower of Gurjeiff, and there are still Gurjeiff groups that meet to discuss his thoughts. My last boss at a tech firm was a leader of such a group! I found out from him that Gurjeiff-ans think that the movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray is in the spirit of "Osokin". I agree. The setups are the same, a day, or a life, to live over, however, what follows is entirely different." - Will Flannery


PPP


Michael Page

Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were: Creatures, Places, and People (1998) - Michael Page


Frank Parkin

Krippendorf's Tribe - Frank Parkin

"This book is one of the best I have read this year. If you can find it, I would highly recommend it.

As for the story, it centers around James Krippendorf. He is a professor who has squandered all of his grant money and is forced to invent the Shelmikedmu tribe. This is where all similarities between the book and movie end. In the book, James receives a lucrative offer from Exotica, an "anthropological" journal which is tantamount to a magazine filled with the nude pictures one would see in National Geographic.

Krippendorf, to get some photos of Shelmikedmu females, seduces and photographs a number of women whom he becomes familiar with, including a babysitter and one of his son's classmates' mother. Throughout the entire book, while he is carrying out these schemes, his unruly children are creating a maelstrom of destruction around the house. Eventually, the children turn wild and start to live in a treehouse and adopt the Shelmikedmu's "customs". This leads to some interesting and hilarious complications.

The best part of this book by far is Krippendorf. The way he acts is reminiscent of Ignatius Reilly in "A Confederacy of Dunces" in that he sees nothing wrong with his behavior and nonchalantly accepts his childrens' overly unruly behavior. For example, when one of his sons shoots the neighbors' dog with a BB gun, instead of being mad, Krippendorf simply promises him a new gun if his son keeps quiet about it.

This book is definitely not for kids, due to its adult subject matter. Like a previous reviewer, I also find it curious that Disney would make a movie out of it." - ahmadku


E. O. Parrott

The Dogsbody Papers: Or 1066 and All This - E. O. Parrott

Amazon:

This delightful history of the apocryphal Dogsbody family begins with the discovery of the wheel by Ugg Dugg Budd in 15,000 B.C. and goes on to chronicle the doings of various branches, like the Somakunos in Greece, the Corcano in Italy and the Hundekorper in Germany. Along the way are parodies of Homer, Aristophanes, Chaucer, Pepys, Boswell, Longfellow, Dickens, Gilbert and Sullivan, even Ogden Nash. In addition to the spoofs, Parrott ( How to Become Ridiculously Well-Read in One Evening ) includes think-pieces on Marlowe as the author of Shakespeare's plays and the assassination of Lincoln as audience-participation theater. Delicious puns abound. The British contributors have done their jobs brilliantly and, while the collection may be caviar for the general, foot soldiers with the background to appreciate it will find the book a comedic classic.


ELliot Paul

The Mysterious Mickey Finn - Elliot Paul

Review - Arnold Goldman

Perhaps because Paul initially regarded mystery-writing as not requiring the same demands as the novel proper, he could release playful elements in his prose and his imagination previously held in abeyance in his fiction. Like his later "whodunits," The Mysterious Mickey Finn is less a straightforward example of the genre than, in Philip Eppard’s words, "almost... a burlesque" of it, more a comic fiction which appropriates the whodunit as an object of fun and a springboard.
...


Milorad Pavic

Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel in 100,000 Words - Milorad Pavic

Amazon:

"Are you ready for this ? Do you want a novel with a plot, tangible characters, and the usual narrative style ? OK, forget this book. You are flying over an unknown land, maybe New Guinea, below all is steep mountain and impenetrable jungle. It's a land sparsely inhabited by utterly different people. You fly through some clouds, get lost. Now how will you navigate ? It's all so beautiful, but where are you going? You look down and in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, "you know something's happenin', but you don't know what it is.." Yes, you are definitely reading DICTIONARY OF THE KHAZARS, a beautiful, strange book, redolant with poetry, myth, fantasy, legend, a murder case, dreams, scraps of history, and a political allegory about former Yugoslavia. Pavic has a 17th century fresco painter who is also the Devil say, "Why shouldn't someone create a dictionary of words that make up one book and let the reader himself assemble the words into a whole ?" Pavic has come close to that. The words dazzle. In what other book can you find an egg that holds one day of life, a Thursday or Friday ? Where else do you read about a man with ears so pointed that he could slice a piece of bread with them, about parrot poems, eleven-fingered lute players, or inheritance according to the color of one's beard ? When I read that "it was so quiet in the inn that the hair of the dreamer could be heard splitting somewhere in the dark" I knew that I could not give this novel less than four stars.

The Khazars were a Turkic people living on the Ukrainian steppes and between the Black and Caspian Seas. They disappeared close to a thousand years ago, but not before their khan converted to Judaism, leading Arthur Koestler to write "The Thirteenth Tribe", in which he claimed Russian and East European Jews were all descendants of the Khazars. The conversion was effected by means of a debate between three scholars invited by the khan, a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew. With this nugget of history, Pavic creates a fantasy, divided into three books, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, in which characters, institutions, books, and events are treated as in some fabulous encyclopedia. Slowly, with some concentration, being constantly diverted by dreams, weird tales, and witty asides, you see the connections appearing. The number three (as in the 3 religions) is repeated three times---three characters who were the original debaters, three characters who converged around a battle and manuscript in 1689, and again in Istanbul in 1982. You don't have to read this all in order---you can start anywhere---but my advice definitely is to finish.

Surrealistic in the extreme, DICTIONARY OF THE KHAZARS is like a Dali painting or maybe a Fellini movie. If you like those, you will find the novel attractive. It would help to know something about Yugoslavia between 1945 and 1991. Though this political factor is there, mainly alluding, in ironic observations, to the situation of the Serbs, it is far from omnipresent. This is a first novel about life by a highly original poet. It may be confusing sometimes, but it is never dull. A moth may see a white wall as the whole sky. Or maybe not. But you can certainly find the whole human condition in this novel. Try it, you may be glad you did." - Robert S. Newman


Thomas Love Peacock

Nightmare Abbey & Crotchet Castle - Thomas Love Peacock


Victor Pelevin

Buddha's Little Finger - Victor Pelevin

Kirill Pankratov at Amazon:

"This is a book of, and about, confusion. Mental ward patients, imagining themselves as famous civil war characters, rugged Bolshevik generals as Zen philosophers. Artsy high-society conversations, dialogues of drunken mobster, and fantasies involving the corniest Hollywood flicks with Arnold Schwarzenegger scrambled together in a weird tasting salad of a fiction book.

The author most probably is no stranger to confusion himself. Pelevin grew up in the northern Moscow suburb of Dolgoprudny - on the surface just as drab and faceless as many others. It is unique, however, in one respect: it is a home of PhysTech, the best college in natural science and technology, Russian equivalent of MIT (and my alma mater). It has also certain parallels to Yale or Columbia, where pleasant campuses are situated right in the middle of gritty inner city poverty, and where Ivy League preppies walk the leafy alleys between hallowed auditoria to write term projects and papers on, among other things, diversity and multiculturalism; after dark a SafeRide shuttle drives them around town, shielding privileged students from a little bit too real multicultural world outside, warts and all.

Dolgoprudny during late Soviet era was also a rough neighborhood. Not just working-class, it also had a large percentage of "limita" - poor migrants from faraway provinces working unattractive jobs for Moscow residence permit. Street roughs didn't mesh easily with whiz kids - future rocket scientists. They were quite right to hate PhysTech geeks: their prettiest girls liked to hang out at campus discotheques and had a habit of losing virginity in our bedbug-ridden dorm rooms. Occasionally students were attacked on poorly lit streets around campus or on pathway to commuter rail station to Moscow. We didn't have campus police and a SafeRide. The best way to protect ourselves was to quickly, at a notice of an attack, to gather available manpower at the nearest dorm and run to the streets to chase these hoodlums. Pelevin mentioned in one interview that he participated in these skirmishes - on the side of street roughs. He wasn't one of the "limita" kids though. Instead, he was of relatively comfortable soviet middle class background and was later a student in another Moscow college, albeit not as prestigious as PhysTech. More confusion.

PhysTech campus, with rows of grim rectangular buildings, wasn't a pretty place. Yet it was one of the freest spots one could find in Soviet Union. Authorities kept us at much longer leash than the state censorship would normally allow. As long as these geeks had shown promise to design better missiles and lasers, they could be spared crude forms of Soviet indoctrination. Inside these nondescript buildings there was an astonishing variety of creative life. Rock concerts, zany student theatrical performances, brilliantly made wall-sized newspapers (sometimes three-dimensional constructs), and funniest April Fools pranks surpassed everything I've seen later at the best American campuses. Interestingly, creativity extended to the other side of the Dolgoprudny social divide. Aside from best-selling Pelevin, the town also produced one of the best rock bands of the late 80's-early 90's - "Duna", composed of those street roughs we always tried to avoid on the way to train station.

Confusion of this book certainly doesn't end with readers, in particular of the English translation. Many mistook it for a scathing parody of the early Soviet propaganda hero - Red Army commander Chapaev. It is not, although appears natural for western readers who assume that Soviet pop culture was mostly propaganda (which was itself a Cold War-era propaganda idiocy of the western side). In Russia mocking Soviet-era heroes and indoctrination was already passé in 1991; by 1995 it was simply irrelevant. This Soviet classic (a book and a movie) was long before superceded by a hilarious serious of jokes about Chapaev and his sidekicks Pet'ka and Anka. I hardly remember the movie (I've probably seen it once at age of 10 or so) but I still remember dozens of jokes. Huge popularity of these jokes can be illustrated by a one of their own kind: somebody dies and enters the Great Beyond (since he was a well-known person, its a kind of VIP section). A guide who explains how things are working there shows him around. "Basically, everybody is relatively OK, having a quiet comfortable life. There is one catch though - every time somebody tells a joke about you back on Earth, you roll over. See, for example, over there, there is Khrushchev, just flipped again, over there - Nixon..." "Gee, why it is so chilly here?" - shivers the new arrival - "those two fans are spinning like mad!" "Oh, those aren't fans", explains the guide, "they are Chapaev and Pet'ka!"

The constant theme of these jokes was the folksy oafishness of the whole pack - drunken debauchers and bunglers Chapaev and Pet'ka and their vaguely sluttish companion Anka "the machine-gunner". Pelevin's quirky high-society image of Chapaev and Anka in "Buddha's little finger" is a parody on these innumerable jokes, not the "official propaganda" of the Soviet times.

Is the book itself worth it? It's hard to write a long story around a few jokes, albeit good ones, even more so around parodies on these jokes. This is probably as good as it could get, but still not quite satisfying. It is quintessential Pelevin, but somehow not his best. One can find some funny dialogues, scathing satire and delightful absurdities. Don't look for depth, or exquisite subtlety, however - it's not there. Some readers would find it sincerely enjoyable; others would feel the presence of that all-destroying Buddha's little finger - pointed at the hours spent in reading this book."


Derek Pell

Assassination Rhapsody - Derek Pell

Reviews:

"A pataphysical interpretation of the Warren Report on the assassination of JFK, which Pell argues should stand as a hallmark of postmodernist fiction. We can testify that, in the annals of conspiracy theory, no one has ever seen anything like Pell's document. A poetic expose of curtain rods, bullet design, and grassy knolls, with a journey through Oswald's secret diary." - Amazon product description


Daniel Pennac

The Fairy Gunmother - Daniel Pennac

Reviews:

"Life is too serious to be spent reading crime fiction. And most crime writers are too in awe of themselves to write a good story, rather rendering technical reports readable and twisting shaky plots as if they were helter-skelter designers. I have made exceptions in the past, for the likes of Chandler and Hammett, who could use language with skill. I've even made allowances for James Ellroy, but I think I might just have been revisiting the Stephen King phase of my youth there.

Time for another exception to the rule. The Fairy Gunmother, by Daniel Pennac. No summation of its plot would do it justice. Suffice to say it's set in Paris (originally written in French, translated into English) its got old people, drugs, guns, good guys and bad guys and some very very very likeable characters. Just find it and read it and bathe in the beauty of the writing. It's got all the characteristics you'd want of an old friend, plus a plot twist or two that might genuinely surprise you (now how often does that happen?)." - A Customer


Georges Perec

A Void - Georges Perec

Reviews:

Whatever happened to the French novel? There was the immediate postwar era, when once could read Camus, Sartre's post-"Nausea" novels, the rise of Jean Genet. But in the fifties and sixties, the "nouveau roman" developed, which in the hands of Robbe-Gillet, Sarraute and Butor, sought to deconstruct the possibilities of fictions, and which in the hands of such writers as Robbe-Gillet, Sarraute, and Butor. The result was very complex and subtle and elaborate, with much on the ontological significance of the novel. But it was not the sort of fiction that people liked to read, and it left most English speaking critics very cold. The late Georges Perec was connected to this sort of school, and at least one intelligent English critic has thought that Perec wrote some of the most boring novels of the twentieth century. This book, however, is manifestly not one of them. Indeed it's a remarkable hoot, at times quite funny, and throughout consistently ingenious and clever. What Perec has written is a lipogram, a book which follows a special grammatical rule. In this case there are no "e"s in the entire work. Writing such a book is incredibly difficult, and translating it into another language would appear to be impossible. Fortunately this is not the case, as Gilbert Adair has demonstrably shown. There has been at least one lipogram in English that includes no e, and the unimaginative writer, when he wished to have his characters talk, only used "said." Adair, rather helpfully, prefers to use the present tense. Certain words in French, such as "juif", "mort" and "Amour" have to be replaced with unusual English equivalents.

The result is an incredibly strange novel. At times the sentences are full of proper nouns that exist for no purpose than their e-less nature. At other times the necessary twists and turns are odd and unusual, and the result feels like you are reading a book of palindromes. (Another Perec specialty, and he wrote the longest ever, 5,000 words long). But more often there are brilliant flights of baroque fancy, such as the dinner Augustus Clifford prepares for his unfortunate guests on p. 115. The plot starts with France in chaos, and an insomniac critic Anton Vowl, who goes missing. His friends find strange notes and letters. They find his lipogramatic versions of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," Shelley's "Ozymandias," and Vowl's version of the most famous soliliquoy in English ("Living or not Living: that is what I ask). But gradually a plot begins to develop, in a way worthy of "A Manuscript found in Saragossa."

Can Vowl's friends find out who or what is behind the strange deaths and disappearances? Who stabbed an Arab solicitor who smoked a cigar in a zoo, and then absconded with his corpse? What is the secret of the strange ruby-like zahir that brings death to those who mention it? What secret does a carp named Jonah carry within himself? Why does Clifford's son, Douglas Haig, die a horrible death while dressed as the murdered father in Mozart's "Don Giovanni?" Why is one of the chapters missing? There is an especially vicious Albanian brigand who who we learn, long after his death, has been particularly humiliated, along with the lust of his life. But there are important moral lessons as well. The novel agrees with Jefferson and Danton that primogeniture is a really, really bad idea. Also, there are certain perversions that one should never undertake, especially when your brother is trying to dynamite you. And why is the French title of the work the same as the certificates the Vichy regime gave to those inquiring about those deported to Auchwitz, one of those being Perec's mother? There are strange secret baths, the most incredible revelations, the oddest connections between the characters are revealed, and wealthy Ottomans who are turned into peanut butter sundaes. There is deliberate anachronism and the solution is not entirely coherent. But be aware that the villian is not among the characters who in the course of the novel attempt or succeed at murder and manslaughter. As a novel, "A Void" is not at the height of Calvino and Garcia Marquez, who provide love, compassion and hope to their magical games. But this is a better novel than "Pale Fire" and comparable to Borges and Pavic, a Faberge Egg novel in which something nasty ticks." - pnotley

Life: A User's Manual - Georges Perec

Reviews:

"1982 was a bad year for intelligent life, just months apart the world lost its most important musician, Glenn Gould, and one of its most intelligent writers, Georges Perec. Fortunately, both men did bequest mankind with some significant food for intellectual and spiritual nourishment. Strikingly both men's best works, Perec' "La Vie Mode d'Emploi" and Gould's second recording of the Goldberg Variations, have some clear similarities. In both cases there is an almost obsessive attention for a work's main structure, a rigid set of rules on dealing with the individual chapters/variations, great expression of artistic freedom and most importantly a deeply felt and compassionate humanity.

Similarities between this book and the Goldberg Variations are, of course, not so striking at all, when keeping in mind that Perec' masterpiece is dedicated to Oulipo's founding father Raymond Queneau. After being deeply moved by a performance of Bach's Art of the Fugue, Queneau came up with a new approach to literature with a strong emphasis on structure and the "language material". While Queneau's own "Style Exercises" may be the best known Oulipo work, Perec' Users Manual, digs infinitely deeper.

Like all masterworks, the basic idea of the User's Manual is simple. Divide an imaginary apartment building into a two-dimensional 10x10 grid. Use a chess' knight's jump to move from space to space without visiting one spot twice and use a variety of other rules governing the various elements within the rooms and let the imagination run "wild".

Perec' uses the jigsaw puzzle as leitmotiv of this book. In a beautiful introduction, that contains one of the clearest and most insightful texts on gestalt, we the readers get the instruction to regard each of the 100 chapters as parts of a puzzle that only gain true meaning after full assembly. Next we crisscross the building, get detailed descriptions of each of the room's interiors and the history of current and/or former occupants. While the knight's jump approach necessarily leads to fractionation of the individual story lines - many of the inhabitants occupy more than a single space- Perec has gone out his way to keep the readers on track by providing various indices and tables of content.

Using a variety of genres that were exemplified by writers varying from Poe to Proust, from Borges to Joyce, from Verne to Foucault, Perec furnishes the individual novels that constitute this book. Central is the story of the eccentric millionaire Bartlebooth and his quest to fill his life with the production of 750 750-piece jig saw aquarelles of port cities, the solving of the puzzles and their final resolution. Interspersed are the other novels that range from comedy to mystery. Yet, where the genius comes in is in the way both the structure and the contents come together in formulating Perec' own philosophy of life. Books are always ranked on the quality of their first line, yet this one scores high on my list of best final chapters. Indeed one of the great books of the 20th century.

Based on the author's high and my increasingly limited command of the French language, I decided to read the original French version supplemented by Bellos' translation. This translation is very precise and provides the English reader with an exact transcript. Yet, the original text is definitely richer. To me the original is far more musical and whimsical and lacks Bellos' more clinical approach. The title gives a good example. User's Manual is indeed a correct translation of Mode d'Emploi. Yet, it lacks the secondary (?) meaning o "life, a way to use it". Strikingly, the head to head comparison revealed the glaring omission of a whole paragraph of the final chapter in the translation. Let's hope that this error can be fixed in future editions." - B. Johnson

53 Days - Georges Perec

Reviews:

"Perec's literary output was as varied as anyone's, comprising everything from encyclopedic novels to comic couplets, but he was consistent in one way--the quality of his writing was always excellent. Each of his works revelled in the myriad delights of language, whatever its subject. In this novel, published posthumously in an unfinished form, he uses the generic elements of the mystery novel, confounding and fulfilling them at the same time. A writer disappears from a fictional French African colony, and an unwilling acquaintance is drafted to study the vanished man's final manuscript for clues. The usual dangerous woman makes an appearance, and there are plenty of veiled warnings that the search should be dropped, but at each turn the narrator, well-versed in fictive custom, recognizes the conventions and turns them on their heads. The chapters abound with references to other works, classics and potboilers alike, and the plot in fact begins to hinge on them. Perec scholars or fans will additionally note a host of allusions to his own oeuvre and coded biographical details. Mystery aficionados will be disappointed that "53 Days" was never completed, but its editors have included the outlines and notes that wrap the story up; anyone with an interest in the writing process should find that these appendices more than make up for what's missing." - A Customer

S. J. Perelman

Most of the Most of S. J. Perelman - S. J. Perelman


Arturo Perez-Reverte

The Club Dumas: A Novel - Arturo Perez-Reverte

Amazon:

"Lucas Corso deals in rare and antique books or to put in more aptly he is what amounts to a book mercenary. He operates in the shadows matching up books to collectors and collectors to books. He is the person a collector calls when they have a hole in their collection and need to find that certain book to fill that hole. He will find their book, one way or another, and the collector can expect to pay handsomely for the new addition to their collection. His high status among collectors is exactly what gets him into trouble in this wonderful story of intrigue, romance, mystery and skullduggery in the world of book collecting.

It all starts when his friend, book dealer Flavio La Ponte comes into possession of a handwritten manuscript of one chapter of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers." La Ponte turns to his friend Corso to authenticate his recent acquisition at about the same time that one of Corso's client's calls on him to authenticate a book that he has recently purchased. For some unknown reason this client doesn't think that his book is the real thing and sends Corso off to prove or disprove the books authenticity. This book, "The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows" was supposedly taken straight from a book written by the Devil himself and the author was burned at the stake for printing such a book. There are only three copies known to exist and Corso must examine the other two to make a determination about his client's copy. He immediately sets off on his dual missions and unexplainable events dog him from the start. Before it is all over he has almost been killed on several occasions and everywhere he goes he seems to leave a trail of dead bodies.

Without going into anymore detail and spoiling the book I can tell you that at times this reads like a Dumas novel and even features some characters from the "Musketeers." Along with the swashbuckling Dumas like adventure though there is also a much darker thread running through the story and even if you have watched the movie based on this book part of the ending will come as a complete surprise. There are in fact several major differences between the movie and the book and as is usually the case the book is much better than the movie. Amazingly the author even manages to work a little Sherlock Holmes into this story.

As a great fan of Dumas I would naturally love this book and being a lover of books in general added to my enjoyment of this superb story. I am quite sure however that anyone would enjoy this book almost as much as I did even if you don't drool as the author describes the great book collections that become part of this tale. As I read of poor old Victor Fargas who's heart broke each time he had to sell a book in order to survive my heart almost broke, which is evidence of both my love for books and this author's writing ability. It has been a while since I have read any Dumas but I think that I will soon return to that old master for another dose of his storytelling ability. A master in whose footsteps this author is ably following." - Dennis Phillips


Leo Perutz

The Master of the Day of Judgment (1921) - Leo Perutz

Amazon:

"1909. Strange suicide plague in Vienna. Why do all these people kill themselves, while they have no reason at all to do so? Wouldn't be something - or somebody - else? Warning to impossible crime fans: one of the so-called "suicides" is a locked room.

While he - remarkably - uses Golden Age school's apparatus, Perutz gives here a book that is wholly sui generis. It could be a mystery. It could be weird. It could be both. Mystery fans will be delighted by intricate plotting, virtuoso use of multiple solutions and a totally unexpected ending. They'll also be delighted, along with others, by magistral recreation of a vanished world, quirky atmosphere and characters, and a reflection on time, art and reality. Yet in the end, the book's real nature remains a mystery. There's only one thing to know: it's a masterpiece." - Xavier Lechard


Fernando Pessoa

The Book of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa

Reviews:

"*The Book of Disquiet* is one of those great books that isn't for the great majority of people. Basically a collection of fragments written over the good part of a lifetime and attributed to one of Pessoa's literary alter-egos Bernardo Soares, *Disquiet* was assembled and translated by editor Richard Zenith from a legendary trunkful of unpublished texts discovered after Pessoa's death.

These semi-autobiographical reflections are dominated by an all-pervading world-weariness and negation of ordinary life--a book of disgust, as it were--saved from out and out nihilism only by a sort of idealistic solipsism--a perverse counter-celebration of dream, inertia, solitude, impotence, and failure. From this unlikely recipe, Pessoa manages to distill a formula for taking a morbidly decadent pleasure from a total rejection of the bleak facts of human existence just this side of suicide!

The short texts that make up *The Book of Disquiet* range from philosophical speculations to surrealistic prose poems, from misanthropic diatribes worthy of Dostoyevsky's "underground man," to daily diary entries that reflect on a wide-range of everyday subjects. The result is an exhaustive if uneven and often repetitive text, although through no fault of Pessoa's inasmuch as putting together a finished book from these fragments was a project that eluded him in his shortened life. As an editor, what Zenith has done here--for better and for worse--is give us a text almost scholarly in its completeness. As such, there is a great deal of redundancy in this edition of *Disquiet.* It's hard to imagine that Pessoa wouldn't have cut and shaped a finished version differently. The fact that he didn't, however, is not only a consequence of his short life, but of his own documented indecision of just how to proceed with the task.

And yet, as Zenith convincingly points out in his introduction, the very "messiness" of *Disquiet* is part of its charm; it's unfinished and indeterminate nature is a perfect realization of Pessoa's message--a reflection in prose form of the man and his beliefs. While many readers--and occasionally I was one of them--might wish for an abridged and "cleaned-up" version of *Disquiet* it's ultimately hard to complain about what, in the end, is nothing more egregious than too much of a good thing.

Certainly one of the more unique texts in world literature, *The Book of Disquiet* is a daring assertion of the meaninglessness of life and an unorthodox response to despair through a radical withdrawal from life into an interior realm of the literary imagination." - Mark Nadja


Tom Phillips

A Mumument: A Treated Victorian Novel - Tom Phillips

Reviews:

"I own multiple copies and give them away to worthy friends. Visually, artistically, and intellectually stunning, this masterpiece is unique in the world of art/literature. The author/artist Tom Phillips began this work in the 1960s, and first published it in book form in the 1980s. He called the result of his decades of effort The Humument and it is a completely illustrated version of W. H. Mallock's 19th Century novel A Human Document. Each page is a well conceived and compelling work of art. On each page the author leaves only a few of the original words revealed. These surviving phrases tell, in prose and poetry, the pathetic love story of Bill Toge. Symbiotically linked to the art itself, the preserved text, and its tale of Toge, reveal a story Phillips found submerged within the original text, a story which Mallock neither wrote nor intended. Phillips calls his work `mining for meaning'. Everyone who has received this book from me has had great difficulty putting it down until they had read/absorbed/experienced/lived/studied it from cover to cover. If there is such a thing as a priceless book, The Humument would be a good candidate for the category." - William Heavenor


Ricardo Piglia

The Absent City - Ricardo Piglia

Reviews:

"This mysterious, Calvino-like tale by the author of Artificial Respiration (1994) and Assumed Name (1995) mixes the art of the narrative with the paranoia of Argentina's former police-state politics. Its protagonist is an Argentinean journalist of English descent named Junior, who, after a series of strange telephone calls a la Deep Throat, is on the trail of the elusive Elena. The catch is that Elena is actually a machine programmed with the mind of a woman (named Elena). The machine's original purpose was to automatically translate literature, but from the very beginning it began giving new versions of the classic tales. Now it is producing its own, politically incorrect tales that are being disseminated through the underground, and the police are eager to shut it down. Piglia takes the reader on a dense narrative path that is often confusing but never boring as story after story weaves in and out of this political thriller." - Frank Caso, Booklist


Virgilio Pinera

Rene's Flesh - Virgilio Pinera

Reviews:

""Rene's Flesh," the novel by 20th century Cuban author Virgilio Pinera, is a disturbing, yet delicious, postmodern novel. The book has been translated into a highly readable English by Mark Schafer. In "Rene's Flesh," Pinera tells the story of Rene, a beautiful youth who is heir to his family's messianic political obsessions. The story is full of homoerotic and sadomasochistic images.

A good portion of "Rene's Flesh" deals with the main character's experiences at a nightmarish boarding school. The novel includes weird parodies of both Christian iconography and political movements. Grotesque characters have such names as "Ball of Flesh" and "The Skeleton." An unsettling air of paranoia pervades the book.

Although Pinera is a truly original talent, "Rene's Flesh" is reminiscent of the work of some other significant writers. Pinera's portayal of horrific cultic rites is comparable to the work of both J.K. Huysmans and H.P. Lovecraft. His cutting satiric skill calls to mind Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man."

Those who are fascinated by Pinera's brilliant fiction should check out "Before Night Falls," the moving memoir by exiled Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. In that book, Arenas recalls his own relationship with Pinera. Together, Arenas and Pinera represent two of the giants of 20th century Cuban literature, and "Rene's Flesh" is a dark masterpiece." - Michael J. Mazza


John Pinkerton

A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World; Many of Which Are Now First Translated into English. Digested on a New Plan. - John Pinkerton

Google Books:

Vol. 2 (1808, 833)

Vol. 3

Vol. 4 (1809, 722 pp.)

Vol. 5

Vol. 6 (1809, 913 pp.)

Vol. 7

Vol. 8

Vol. 10

Vol. 11

Vol. 12

Vol. 13

Vol. 14

Vol. 16

Vol. 17


Albert Sanchez Pinol

Cold Skin - Albert Pinol

"In recounting the plot of this marvelous, disturbing novel to my pre-adolescent niece, my sister-in-law from the other room chimed in, saying: "This sounds like the movie 'The Killer Shrews.'" She came in a few minutes later as I was finishing up the story and told us that "The Killer Shrews," a B-movie from the 50s she'd seen on TV as a young girl, had caused her countless nightmares. Like COLD SKIN, the movie was set on an island at the end of the world, and similarly, the island was overrun by malevolent creatures: shrews made huge by exposure to atomic radiation in the movie, reptilian creatures in this novel.

This is one way to read COLD SKIN, as a sci-fi horror story or a fantasy adventure with plenty of action, unexpected reversals, gory battles with perverse outcomes, and male main characters who though dangerously at odds with each other, struggle to make common cause to prevail against alien invaders. This, in fact, is how I told the story to my niece, and it makes for a ripping good yarn. In her words: "This would make a great movie; I can see it all in my mind."

But, equally, COLD SKIN can also be read as a psychological thriller, as an investigation of the human species under stress and the altered mental states generated as an attempt to control an unpredictable and ostensibly savage environment. In this reading author Pinol succeeds as well: trapped in incredible circumstances, the unfolding psychodrama between the two "scientists" on the unnamed Antarctic island is credible, acutely rendered and often surprising.

Also possible is an ontological reading. There is a crucial moment in COLD SKIN when the narrator comes to question his response to and understanding of the creatures who inhabit the island and the surrounding waters, creatures that seem upon reflection not to be mere beasts but to have qualities that he recognizes in himself, e.g., a sense of play, of wonder, and even an understanding of jealousy. In other words, he sees they are more than reptilian brained. He recognizes their "otherness" is no more "other" than the man, Gruner, with whom he shares the island and their last refuge, the lighthouse. The impossibility of truly knowing and entering into another being's consciousness is a recurring problem for all the protagonists.

Further, it can be read as an allegory of the age of exploration when Western conquistadors and settlers armed with Western technologies, conquered and subjugated the worlds they found, classifying the peoples they encountered as savages to justify taking their land and destroying their ways of life.

On the literary side, Frazer's "The Golden Bough" is mentioned in two significant scenes. One of the more famous passages this late-nineteenth century examination of myth and fable seems particularly relevant to COLD SKIN: "The danger, however, is not less real because it is imaginary; imagination acts upon man as really does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid." (Chapter 21, Tabooed Things). There is a sacrifice in COLD SKIN as per Frazer's system of world myth, as well as an appearance of the ancient cycle of death, fertility and rebirth. In this novel, however, the cycle is more reminiscent of Nieztsche's idea of the Eternal Rerturn where the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur endlessly and infathomably, in the exact same self-similar form. There are also stylistic and thematic allusions to Poe, to Kafka, to H.P. Lovecraft and others

Altogether, COLD SKIN is a stimulating, provocative and unusual work of a fiction that knits together the devices of the gothic, myth and the fable in a headlong adventure story that Mr. Pinol has cunningly crafted to be both compulsively readable and intellectually stimulating." - Panopticonman

Pandora in the Congo - Albert Pinol

"As a boy, some of my favorite reading was Edgar Rice Burroughs. While my preferred fiction by the author was the John Carter of Mars series, I also thrilled to his Tarzan yarns and his stories of Pellucidar, the secret world at the center of the earth. I also enjoyed H. Rider Haggard. Now in our contemporary era, Albert Sanchez Pinol has taken the literary staple of tales about white men lost in a savage wilderness beyond the reach of civilization and turned the whole genre on its head.

Ostensibly the story of an underground civilization inadvertently discovered by two aristocratic brothers while exploiting the mineral riches of the Congo, Pinol uses this fairly creaky literary device to play several jokes on the reader, similar to the manner of the Argentine writer Jose Luis Borges. The author's choice of plot allows him to evoke a number of literary tropes. In addition to being a a twisted version of a Victorian adventure story, at times the novel reads like straight historical fiction, while in other instances it becomes the oddest sort of domestic comedy (the scenes set in the decidedly strange boarding house where the protagonist lives). At other points it evokes Conrad's Heart of Darkness (the Congo was deliberately chosen as the scene of most of the novel's action for this reason, in my opinion), and also functions as a courtroom drama. What is really outstanding is how Pinol manages to pull all these strands together and still acheives a coherent, dramatically gratifying narrative.

I don't want to go too much into the novel's plot because I don't like to create spoilers, but I will say in conclusion that the author deserves kudos for not only doing a terrific job of research (his evocation of London just before and during WWI is remarkable for its detail and verisimilitude), but more importantly for having the lively imagination to envision such an original and entertaining novel.

This is a book that can be appreciated both by fans of literary metafiction and those who just enjoy a rattling good adventure story." - Mark Mellon


Robert Plunket

My Search for Warren Harding - Robert Plunket

"This is one of the funniest books I've ever read. It is a blend of slapstick, gallows humor, and literary wit, the likes we haven't seen since Nabokov's Pale Fire, which this book nods to often, with its incorporation of recipes (cold squash soup, sour cream coffee cake), a hysterical acknowledgments page (where the character complains about the Foundation that has provided his grant money but "disassociated" itself from his project) and footnotes.

The plot concerns a desperate historian who moves into the poolhouse of Warren Harding's still-alive ex-mistress in Southern California in hopes of nabbing her trove of love letters. He then gets involved with the woman's daughter, an obese woman who falls immediately in love with him, and pure mayhem ensues, including a disastrous excursion on a yacht that involves the coast guard and a giant canvas diaper. No description can do this hilarious scene justice.

Plunket's comic voice, his riffs on the characters he meets ("I knew right away I wasn't going to like the play. No plot, no jokes, and God knows, no stars. Just eight ugly girls whining about rejection. Well, I'll say this for them--they looked like experts on the subject.") are laugh-out-loud funny, and very un-P.C.

Jonathan Yardley listed this book as one of the top five comic novels in America, and he's right.

There is no book like it." - Michael Leone


Guiseppe Pontiggia

The Invisible Player - Guiseppe Pontiggia


Joyce Porter

Dover: The Collected Short Stories - Joyce Porter

Reviews:

"Joyce Porter kept alive the flame of the comic crime novel in a time that was inimical to mere entertainment, even in a popular literary form. Not for her the pseudorealism of the mean streets, or the hard slog of the police procedural. Her books occupy a territory somewhere between satire and farce, and this gives thema flavour quite unique in the history of crime writing." - Robert Barnard


Charles Portis

Masters of Atlantis - Charles Portis

Reviews:

"Arkansas author Charles Portis has sometimes been compared to Thomas Pynchon. On the surface, the comparison seems bizarre; Pynchon is known for his elaborate literary fantasias, and Portis is best known for the rip-roaring Western _True Grit_. Yet in _Masters of Atlantis_, a tale of secret societies, coded knowledge, and the strangely obsessed men who control access to both, Portis ventures confidently into Pynchonesque postmodernism, and walks away with nothing less than a great American novel.

As you might expect, there's plenty of Portis's deadpan wit, as well as the usual fellowship of outcasts, misfits and odd ducks (most of them belonging to an obscure pseudo-scientific cult called Gnomonism). But beneath this funny business is the desperate quest for a definitive interpretive system, one through which these marginalized characters can finally make sense of the arbitrary, incomprehensible world around them.

You'll have to judge the outcome for yourselves, because for my part, I'm not quite sure. I can say that the final revelation of Gnomonism, with all its ambiguity, is also unexpectedly poignant and satisfying." - Timothy Hulsey


Jan Potocki

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa - Jan Potocki

Amazon:

"Some previous editions of Jan Potocki's great saga have been severely edited, or else divided over several volumes. One great strength of the present version is its completeness. And while it reads satisfactorily, no version has yet surpassed Elizabeth Abbott's pioneering English translation from the early 60s. Published in two volumes (The Saragossa Manuscript & The New Decameron), Abbott's is the only version that captures the humor of the original -- and let it be said, this is a hilarious novel, full of educated wit and irony (though you wouldn't guess it after reading the somber editions that have come out lately). On one hand, it courts Enlightenment ideas as they meld into what we know as science; on the other, it skewers superstition and religion. Elizabeth Abbott's version may only be available in used or antiquarian book stores, but it's really the only way to enjoy the book as it was intended to be read. Newer fans of this wonderful decameron will discover additional pleasures, and will drawn into the tale all over again. You also may want to rent or purchase the DVD of the great film version. Director Wojeich Has, noted for his meticulous adaptations, captures all the droll humor and twists in narrative in a way that makes the film a cult classic." - A Reader

"A quick note: Although Jan Potocki was Polish, he wrote The Saragossa Manuscript in French under the title "Manuscrit trouve' a' Saragosse." I still treasure a beloved and battered copy that bears a 1958 copyright. The translator of that edition, Elisabeth Abbott, did an outstanding job in rendering Potocki's tale into English. The story certainly captivated me at the time -- an 8th grader and a stranger to well-written literary fiction. I believe The Saraossa Manuscript is a landmark in this genre, but especially so considering that it was penned in 1804. The ink on the United States constitution was scarcely dry when Potocki put forth his novel and its ideas.

The Saragossa Manuscript stands out in its treatment of the supernatural. Today, if it were a movie, it might earn an "R" rating in its open treatment of sex. Potocki's novel predates works by beloved American authors such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorn, and Edgar Allen Poe. Recalling the public burning of Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" in the 1890's, one wonders what would have been the outcry had this novel have resurfaced in Victorian times.

To the modern reader, the tone of The Saraossa Manuscript might be reminiscent of the Japanese film "Ugetsu" (The Tales of Moonlight and Rain) by director Kenji Mizoguchi. Its motif is reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola's movie, "Dracula," where demons do not necessarily present themselves as horrid apparitions, but rather they corrupt their victims though sweet intoxicating seduction. Tanith Lee's novels depicting Azhrarn, Prince of Demons (from Tales of the Flat Earth series) come to mind. This brand of evil puts all mortals to the test, for evil masks itself and becomes beguiling. One needs only to look at 20th century history to see this pitfall all the way from Jim Jones to Adolph Hitler.

Potocki's novel is remarkable and certainly worth a visit by the student of literature and the genre fan." - Kate Lawrence

"Imagine a book written by Edgar Allen Poe, translated by Edward Fitzgerald, filtered through the consciousness of Jorge Luis Borges, and you would have some inkling of what makes this extraordinary book so special. It is to literature what surrealism is to painting. Potocki, who on the strength of this book alone qualifies as Poland's greatest literary figure, prefigures the postmodern movement with his sleight-of-hand and multi-multi-layered text. A Freudian could spend years investigating the recesses and depths of Potocki's subconscious.

The framing device is a young nobleman's romantic wanderings through a section of Spain that could exist only in the mind of someone who was none too selective about his/her diet, or the kind of herbs they decided to ingest. A grotesque and lurid air suffuses this imaginative tale. The plot, if it could be called such a thing, unfolds like a chinese puzzle, one unreliable narrative nested within another. ...It wends its way into your thoughts like an ear-boring worm. It is the sort of work that Danielewski attempted, rather feebly by comparison, in his novel, House of Leaves. Potocki combines the supernatural with the erotic in a way that is unique in literature. Open the pages of this book and prepare to be disturbed and unsettled at times, but be prepared also to engage in a long, strange, diverting trip.

By the way there is a CD of a movie version of Manuscript which was made in Europe in the 60s. Apparently it has been shown periodically in San Francisco art houses, and was appreciated by Jerry Garcia, among others. If the movie even approximates the book, I could understand why." - Bruce Kendall


J. F. Powers

Morte D'Urban - J. F. Powers

Amazon:

""Morte D'Urban" belongs to a long list of unfairly neglected works of the last century. As the Amazon review notes, perhaps anonymity is inevitable for a book whose cast is comprised 75% of Catholic priests and brethren. The book's jacket describes "Morte D'Urban" as a comic masterpiece, which I feel does some disservice to both the reader and the book. The book *is* funny, yes. But it's funny in a very dry and very subtle (for the most part) and ... very Midwestern way. Though Powers does, on occasion, paint his characters with too broad a stroke, they are by no means caricatures. Urban is a wonderfully complex title character--simultaneously worldly and devout, well-meaning but sometimes weak, humble yet proud. And the events of the book, though they occasionally have a slapstick feel (I won't, like the book's Introduction, spoil anything for the reader), the plot is really a series of well-crafted scenes building up to the final epilogue. Poor Father Urban. One cannot help but rue his fate, even as one can see it coming down the pike.

I couldn't help but compare this book to the numerous others I've read which (supposedly) take as their theme religious hypocrisy--particularly Sinclair Lewis's "Elmer Gantry." This book is infinitely better than any I've read so far. Powers humanizes his characters--he reveals their many flaws without condemning them; he does not stack his deck against religion, but shows how difficult it is to be truly devout in a world such as ours (and this book was written in the 1950s!). Check it out and let's keep this book in print!" - Steve


Frederic Prokosch

The Seven Who Fled (1937) - Frederic Prokosch

Amazon:

"Frederic Prokosch is the author I would most wish to save from what Gore Vidal has called "time's winged wastebasket." Born in 1908, his career extended from the early 1930's to the 1980's. He combines an extraordinary talent for description and a lush romantic prose style that never crosses the line into being purple with a modern -- nearly existential -- sensibility. One might think the two would conflict, but remarkably they don't. Prokosch invests scenes of near-total bleakness with stunning beauty, and describes scenes of the most intense beauty with a sometimes disturbing detachment. His gift for language surpasses any American of his era except Fitzgerald (and they are neck and neck), but the quality of his thought is clearer. Fitzgerald learned his style from Keats, but Prokosch seems by temperament much more capable of the negative capability Keats extolled. The influence of Prokosch, who was perhaps more widely read in Europe than in the U.S. (his home country), can be found in magical realism (Garcia-Marquez, Bowles) and in the current generation of European authors (Rushdie, Kundera, etc.).

_The Seven Who Fled_ is Prokosch's second novel, a follow-up to _The Asiatics_, whose debut had brought him considerable critical praise. Both novels are set in Asia, a continent Prokosch knew at that time only from maps and National Geographic surveys. Whereas _The Asiatics_ follows one young American from Trebizond (on the Black Sea) to Indochina, _The Seven Who Fled_ follows (naturally) seven characters with different backgrounds who start out together but are scattered by political upheaval and try to escape from central Asia. Following seven characters allows Prokosch to more fully explore the human condition -- the different ways people react to the unfamiliar and to danger, the different fates that result either from their decisions or simple bad luck -- than he could with one, though of course he sacrifices some dramatic unity in the process.

The seven characters are of different nationalities, genders, belief systems, etc. But rather than -- as with many books of that era and ours -- the characters becoming representative types, a thinly disguised way for the author to generalize about their respective categories, what comes through is a broader sense of the inadequacy of any one narrow viewpoint. We may like or dislike certain of the characters, but they hold our interest because of their common humanity -- and, at times, their inhumanity.

I have no desire to spoil the outcome of the novel for any who can find it, since it is currently out of print. But I would hold up certain scenes for comparison with any written in the 20th century. For example, one of the characters freezes to death, and the chapter which his progress slows and stops and his mind drifts to the home he will never see again is masterly, indeed quite superior to any similar scene written by Jack London.

Prokosch would turn to the far east again in his fiction -- _The Dark Dancer_, set in medieval India, is quite good -- but these first two novels are arguably his best until _The Missolonghi Manuscript_, a faux-memoir of Byron's last days in Greece. Perhaps it is the stoic aspects of eastern philosophy and religion that drew him, for the sensibility in his novels is very nearly Buddhist in its overall detachment while remaining Romantic in its particulars. Whatever it was, the world he has imagined will likely strike you so powerfully that you will choose to return more than once." - necessary_angel_1

Nine Elusive Books - Jeff VanderMeer


Bill Pronzini

Gun in Cheek: A Study of "Alternative" Crime Fiction (1987) - Bill Pronzini

Reviews:

"Absolutely hilarious. Pronzini's look at the worst in crime and detective fiction turns over some real gems of second (or third, or fourth)-rate 'literature.' The author deserves a vote of thanks for daring to enter into this dark world, and sincere congratulations for making it back out alive. I read this book quite a few summers ago and return to it frequently. For sheer entertainment, it's really tough to beat." - Andrew S. Rogers


Malcolm Pryce

Aberystwyth Mon Amour - Malcolm Pryce

Reviews:

"While in one of my frequent trips to England, I chanced upon this series of books set in Aberystwyth, my family's ancestral home; hence a read was irresistable.

There are four of them published to date (more please), and you should read them in order as the characters recur in each book and are introduced sequentially. Although the characterization is best in the later books as Pryce gets going.

Simply put, they are zany. Pryce not only weaves fantasy into Wales (but remember that Arthurian tales emanate from nearby), but throws in Wittgensteinian metaphysics. As an aside, Druids control the Aberystwyth mafia. I certainly have no idea if his geography is accurate (see other reviews on this page), and I know that I did not recognize all the allusions, but he a much more profound writer than would be suggested. He provokes some pretty good questions about how we perceive one another and the extent to which fraternal love and ordinary (perhaps extraordinary love) happen day-to-day.

As other reviewers have noted, you have to read awhile before you catch on. A Hasidic-murdered Santa Claus working for the Mossad mixed with a Welsh invasion of Argentina are hard to follow, but the stories do weave together if you are patient. While you are waiting for the mystery to unravel, you are well entertained by the Dr. Who-like silliness described in Aberystwyth.

Even the movie title book titles are a little abstract. Are they gimics or do they allude to the content? Even after reading all four I am still not sure.

In a literary world drab with overwraught themes, these books stand far apart for entertainment value, provocative thought, and tortuous plot evolution." - G. Stephen Decherney


William Prynne

Histrio-Mastix - William Prynne

"The foolish and short-sighted policy of the first two Stewarts was not likely to diminish, in any way, this bitter feeling against the unholy amusement which they favoured and protected. Instead, it raised up a fresh engine of reform before which both court and stage, eventually, went down. In 1625, the year of Charles's accession, an anonymous puritan opened a new, and, in the light of subsequent events, an ominous line of attack. It was hopeless to ask the crown to cleanse the Augean stables, and the city had long since given up the task in despair; he, therefore, addressed himself to parliament, round which the hopes of all reformers were beginning to cluster. His petition, calling itself A Short Treatise against Stage-Playes, is a brief and exceedingly businesslike enumeration of the chief arguments against the drama. In these twenty-eight pages may be found the whole gist of Histriomastix; indeed, the tract reads so much like a first draft of its unwidely successor that the suspicion is forced upon us that it was either written by Prynne himself, who as we know, began to collect his materials in 1624, or taken by him from another writer to be made the basis of his book.

When we of the twentieth century hold in our hands the cube of printed matter known as Histriomastix, and turn over its eleven hundred pages, in which marginal notes and references to authorities, for the most part, long since forgotten, often take up more room than the text itself, we find it very difficult to realise just what the book meant in its own day. To us, it seems half pathetic and half ridiculous, a gigantic monument of misplaced energy and zeal, a pyramid left gaunt and useless on the sands of time. To a great extent, the work was the outcome of a peculiar personality. Prynne was a fanatic of that indomitable and most intolerant kind - the moral enthusiast. Apparently with very little of the milk of human kindness in his composition, he burned with an internal flame of righteous conviction, and this alone could have sustained him, not merely in his sufferings, but, also, in those untiring labours which his pen produced, over and above the immense Histriomastix. Yet, at the same time, he was thoroughly representative, his idiosyncrasies being extreme developments of, rather than departures from, the normal characteristics of his fellow reformers. If it be ever possible for one man to sum up a movement in his own person, Prynne summed up puritanism. And, since his book epitomises, likewise, the whole puritan attack upon the stage, a consideration of author and book together form a suitable close to the present study. ..." - The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907-21). Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

"The work of TWilliam Prynne, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, for which Archbishop Laud cut off his ears, written against the immoral tendency of the stage-plays of his age, since it must be considered as representing the opinion of a large, and that the more sober and reflecting, portion of his countrymen, shows that the English dramatic literature of Prynne's age was by many considered as immoral as the French novel and dramatic literature of the present day (not without reason) have been lately represented as being in the Quarterly Review. Prynne's work to which we allude is the " Histrio-Mastix; the Players' Scourge, or Actors' Tragedie;" wherein he attempts to show " by divers arguments, and by the authority of sundry texts of Scripture; of the whole primitive Church; of 55 synods and councils; of 71 Fathers and Christian writers before the year of our Lord 1200; of above 150 foreign and domestic Protestant and Popish authors since; of 40 Heathen philosophers, &c.; and of our own English statutes, magistrates, universities, writers, preachers; that popular stage-plays are sinful, lewd, ungodly spectacles, and most pernicious corruptions." We shall confine our extracts to the English authorities. ..." - William MacFarlane & James Robinson,The Book of Table-Talk, Vol. 2 (1836)


James Purdy

Malcolm - James Purdy



"Purdy's novel "Malcolm" is a humorous journey about a young boy found by an astrologer on a park bench. The story is written mainly through Malcolm's interaction with the characters he meets through the astrologer (Mr. Cox). But enough plot summery, from the opening paragraphs one sees Purdy's gift for a sort of heightened clarity that he writes with, which, when pulled together with the dialog between the rather inept and hilarious characters offers a unique experience.

The novel is written in a more naturalist tone (think a modern Dickens) but don't let that fool you, Purdy is a gifted writer, with an amazing imagination, and excellent sense of irony. the reason i say it is not for all of you is that if you are looking for "ground-breaking" or "experimental" literature, or if you find you get bored when not being assaulted by an author you shouldn't buy it. If you have heard of or enjoy writers like Thomas Berger or Walker Percy then James Purdy might just be up your alley.

Bottom Line: This book will appeal mostly to those with an established enjoyment of early American Post-Modernist writing." - Rusty Shakleford


QQQ


Raymond Queneau

Exercises in Style - Raymond Queneau

Amazon:

"In the 1930s, Raymond Queneau attended a performance of Bach's "The Art of Fugue." Queneau was struck by the fact that Bach's piece, though simple in theme, gave rise to an infinite number of musical variations. This perception became the basis for "Exercises in Style", a literary experiment which stunningly challenges the notion of realism.

Queneau was a polymath, with interests and accomplishments as a novelist, poet, linguist and mathematician. Briefly a member of Andre Breton's Surrealist group, Queneau subsequently joined the "College of Pataphysics" in 1950. Pataphysics was the science of imagainary solutions, a science which originated with the poet and playwrite Alfred Jarry. The Pataphysicians were a tongue-in-cheek group of French intellectuals who didn't take themselves too seriously. At the same time, Queneau was exploring the Pataphysical, however, he was also serving as Director of the prestigious "Encyclopedie de la Pleiade", thus combining the whimsical with the serious. A decade later, Queneau was a founder of "OuLiPo" (an acronym for "Ouvroir de Litterature Poetentielle" or "Workshop for Potential Literature"). In contrast to the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, which gave free reign to chance and the unmediated workings of the unconscious, OuLiPo emphasized the systematic and deliberate generation of texts.

"Exercises in Style" is based upon an uninteresting and simple story, a story without any plot, a story that in itself is pointless and boring. Queneau tells this story ninety-nine times, each time using a different variation in the telling. Barbara Wright, the translator of the English edition, notes in her introduction that the variations fall into roughly seven categories. These categories include different types of speech, different types of written prose, different poetic styles, and different grammatical and rhetorical forms. Another category are variations which are told in the form of character sketches through language (e.g., reactionary, biased, abusive, etc.). Queneau, in this fashion, demonstrates the fluidity of language, the variability in the ways that language can describe reality. As one critic succinctly and correctly stated, "Exercises in Style" demonstrates "the impossibility of realism in any unitary sense."

Queneau wanted "Exercises in Style" translated into English and, unike most literary texts, this particular text loses little in translation. While Barbara Wright's translation is outstanding, she also rightly notes that "the story as such doesn't matter, [nor] does the particular language [in which] it is written." What matters, and what "Exercises in Style" brilliantly illustrates, is that a simple story can be expressed in an infinite variety of literary and linguistic styles, that the transformation of reality into language is susceptible of manifold permutations. This is the genius of Queneau's text, a genius which makes this book a minor classic of modern literature." - botatoe


Horacio Quiroga

The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories - Horacio Quiroga

Amazon:

"Belatedly acknowledged as a masterful storyteller, Horacio Quiroga lived a life not a whit less tragical and colorful than those of his characters. From the beginning, his life was punctuated by tragedy and death, culminating in his suicide (he took cyanide). When still a teenager, he accidentally shot his best friend while showing him how to clean a gun. As an adult, he settled in the Misiones jungle, where he built a house with his own hands and tried to wring a living out of a farm. The life of hardship he endured there is masterfully reflected in some of his short stories, as are his lifelong obsessions, death and frustrated love. Quiroga was an admirer of Poe, and some of his early stories try to emulate the writer from Baltimore, but eventually he developed his own style, which is, I believe, even more accomplished than Poe's. In Quiroga's case, as has happened with many other writers, the life has obscured the works. Whenever he is mentioned, most people will tell you "ah, yes, poor guy - everybody in his family killed themselves". But his short stories, with the exception of a few very famous ones that are taught in high school, are not so widely read. As you will find when reading this collection, he has an unique way of creating oppressive scenarios, charged with fear, tension, and the unseen presence of evil, which eventually leads to unexpected and fearsome climaxes. Yes, he is macabre, and yes, there is a very nasty streak running through some of these stories - but he is also a highly intelligent, resourceful and accomplished writer, and one you shouldn't miss for the world." - A Reader


RRR


Rabelais

Gargantua and Pantagruel - Rabelais

Reviews:

Some of the other reviews summarize the plot and discuss Rabelais' style; my review is directed to people trying to decide which edition to buy. The Everyman's Library edition, which I just received, uses a late seventeenth-century English translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Pierre Le Motteux, not the recent Burton Raffel translation. (One might be led to assume that it reprints Raffel, given that the "Search Inside" feature on the Everyman's edition leads you to his translation in a Norton paperback edition.) One should approach the Urquhart/Le Motteux translation with some caution. Terence Cave points out in his (excellent) introduction to the edition that the translation is "extremely free" and expands the first three books by 50%, but at the same time he calls the translation "an extraordinary feat . . . a literary work in its own right." My sense after reading the first book is that he's right--the language has a lively and strange effect--but this is probably not the ideal introduction to Rabelais. There are no editor's notes. Moreover, the snippets of Latin, Greek, and other languages which riddle the text are left untranslated. Perhaps the phrase "charitatis nos faciemus bonum cherubin; ego occidit unum porcum, et ego habet bonum vino" gives you no problems, but if it does, I would recommend a different translation, like Donald Frame's, which Cave specifically recommends in the bibliographical note in his introduction.

I don't want to make this review too long, but it might be useful to see brief excerpts from the Urquhart/Le Motteux, Donald Frame, and Burton Raffel translations for you to judge for yourself which one you would enjoy spending time with. (I don't have the Cohen translation published by Penguin). Here's the description of Gargantua's conception at the opening of Book 1, chapter 3, as rendered by Urquhart/Le Motteux (remember, late seventeenth-century English):

"GRANDGOUSIER was a good fellow in his time, and notable jester; he loved to drink neat, as much as any man that then was in the world, and would willingly eate salt meat: to this intent he was ordinarily well furnished with gammons of Bacon, both of Westphalia, Mayence and Bayone; with store of dried Neats tongues, plenty of Links, Chitterlings and Puddings in their season; together with salt Beef and mustard, a good deale of hard rows of powdered mullet called Botargos, great provision of Sauciges, not of Bolonia (for he feared the Lombard boccone) but of Bigorre, Longaulnauy, Brene, and Rouargue. In the vigor of his age he married Gargamelle, daughter to the King of the Parpaillons, a jolly pug, and well mouthed wench. These two did often times do the two backed beast together, joyfully rubbing & frotting their Bacon 'gainst one another, insofarre, that at last she became great with childe of a faire sonne, and went with him unto the eleventh month . . ."

Donald Frame's version, in up-to-date English:

"GRANDGOUSIER was a great joker in his time, loving to drink hearty as well as any man who was then in the world, and fond of eating salty. To this end, he ordinarily had on hand a good supply of Mainz and Bayonne hams, plenty of smoked ox tongues, an abundance of salted mullets, a provision of sausages (not those of Bologna, for he feared Lombard mouthfuls), but of Bigorre, of Longaulnay, of La Brenne, and of La Rouergue. In his prime, he married Gargamelle, daughter of the king of the Parpaillons, a good looking wench, and these two together often played the two-backed beast, so that she became pregnant with a handsome son and carried him until the eleventh month."

Here is the passage as it stands in the original 1534 edition of Gargantua (following the original orthography):

"Grandgouzier estoit bon raillard en son temps, aymant a boyre net autant que home qui pour lors feust on monde, & mangeoyt volentiers salé. A ceste fin avoit ordinairement bonne munition de jambons de Magence et de Baionne, force langues de beuf fumees, abondance de andouilles en la saison et beuf salé a la moustarde. Renfort de boutargues, provision de saulcisses, non de Bouloigne (car il craignoit ly bouconé de Lombard) mais de bigorre, de Lonquaulnay, de la Brene, & de Rouargue. En son eage virile espousa Gargamelle fille du roy des Parpaillos, belle gouge & de bonne troigne et faisoient eulx deux souvent ensemble la beste a deux douz, joyesement se frotans leur lard, tant qu'elle engroissa dun beau filz, & le porta jusques a lunziesme mois."

Notice that that the ribald detail "joyesement se frotans leur lard," rendered by Urquhart/Le Motteux as "joyfully rubbing & frotting their Bacon 'gainst one another," is altogether missing in Frame's version. Perhaps Frame's version is too genteel in omitting this passage. It's not only a delightful example of what Bakhtin described as the "lower bodily stratum" in Rabelais, but it links Grangousier's culinary preferences that open the passage with the conception of Gargantua (who will turn out to be quite a glutton himself). With this in mind, consider Burton Raffel's translation:

"In his time, Grandgousier was a fine tippler and a good friend, as fond of draining his glass as any man walking the earth, cheerfully tossing down salted tidbits to keep up his thirst. Which is why he usually kept a good supply of Mainz and Bayonne hams, plenty of smoked beef tongues, lots of whatever chitterlings were in season and beef pickled in mustard, reinforced by a special cavier from Provence, a good stock of sausages, not the ones from Bologna (because he was afraid of the poisons Italians often use for seasoning), but those from Bigorre and Longaulnay (near Saint-Malo), from Brenne and Rouergue. When he became a man, he married Gargamelle, daughter of the King of the Butterflies, a fine, serviceable female--with a good-looking face, too. And they whacked away at making the beast with two backs, happily whipping their lard together, so successfully that she conceived a handsome boy and carried him for eleven months."

Notice that in addition to preserving the bawdy language, Raffel resolves the name of Gargamelle's father, the king of the "Parpaillons," to "Butterflies." (In modern French, "papillons.")

Hopefully these examples give you a sense of which translation you would most enjoy. I like the Urquhart/Le Motteux version but would have preferred editor's notes to explain unfamiliar terms and translations of at least the Latin and Greek citations. I think Frame or Raffel would likely be preferable for first-time readers of Rabelais." - A Reader

"Some years ago I read a quote by Rabelais -- something about whether a chimera bombinating in a vacuum could devour second intentions -- and I sensed that his humor might appeal to me. "Gargantua and Pantagruel," his literary landmark and the source of that quote, is a virtual encyclopedia of Renaissance satire that contrives a heroic epic as a backdrop for a comprehensive commentary of medieval and classical history and mythology.

The story, which concerns the adventures of the giant Gargantua, his son Pantagruel, and Pantagruel's friend Panurge, is completely silly; just scan the chapter titles in the table of contents for an indication. Silly, but not stupid: Rabelais is a serious scholar who has written a book that is not intended to be taken seriously. An epicure with an insatiable appetite for learning and a fascination with bodily functions, he believes that wine, scatology, and the pursuit of knowledge are inseparable. The book is all codpieces, urination, defecation, and flatulence at the service of satirizing the pedantry in the medical, legal, ecclesiastical, and academic professions as they existed in the sixteenth century. It should be noted that Rabelais's satire is generally playful and cheerful rather than bitter and mean-spirited, so the book's tone is always light even if its content is very erudite.

The plot, such as it is, is episodic rather than unified. Gargantua defends his country, Utopia, from invasion by King Picrochole of Lerne, in a war started by an argument between Utopian shepherds and Lernean cake-bakers; Pantagruel and Panurge then defend Utopia from invasion by Anarch, King of the Dipsodes; Panurge conducts inquiries among a variety of experts on whether or not he should get married, which leads to several discussions about cuckoldry, impotence, and cuckoldry as a consequence of impotence; and Pantagruel and Panurge, along with their monkish friend Friar John and several cohorts, embark on a sea voyage to consult the oracle of the Temple of the Bottle, visiting many strange islands and encountering many bizarre creatures along the way. As mentioned, it is of course all nonsense, but it is a definite precursor to the more farcical works of Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Lewis Carroll, and James Joyce, and for that reason it has significant value as a ribald curiosity." - A.J.

Penn State Electronic Classics Series PDF Version - Urguhart translation

Reading About the World

So famous is the wildly obscene humor of Gargantua and Pantagruel that its author's name has given rise to an adjective--"Rabelaisian"--to describe just such humor. Rabelais was a monk and a physician, but in his writings he celebrated his real loves: scholarship and drinking, with the latter often serving as a symbol of the former. As a beneficiary of the age of the printing press, he was intoxicated by the sudden availability of all manner of books. As much as any of the Renaissance Humanists, it is Rabelais who articulates their view that a new age has dawned. If his portrait of the Middle Ages as a time of ignorance and superstition is grossly exaggerated (and it is), it nevertheless helps to convey the excitement of the Humanists during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This passage, a letter from father to son advising him on his education, is written in the elaborate, balanced style of formal prose in the period, quite unlike the tumbling, bawdy narrative that surrounds it. Read aloud, with appropriate pauses at the punctuation marks, it conveys a grand rhythmic majesty.


Tom Reamy

Blind Voices (2003) - Tom Reamy

Amazon:

"When Haverstock's Traveling Curious and Wonder Show rolls into the small town of Hawley, Kansas the townspeople begin to stir. The magic and allure of seeing Tiny Tim, a mermaid, medusa, a Cyclops, a snake woman, and most of all, the Angel Boy, brings them all out to see the show. Are these unnatural creatures real or is it sleight of hand? Exactly how do they do that?

When Evelyn Bradley, a small town girl, runs into the show's strange but alluring Angel Boy, things begin to seem out of kilter and not quite real. There is both more and less than meets the eye with the odd collection of creatures surrounding the show. And strange things begin happening around town during the show's stay. As Evelyn delves into the mystery of the Angel Boy, things begin to get stranger and more dangerous, not just for Evelyn, but the whole town.

In Blind Voices, Reamy has written a novel that reminds me a lot of some of Ray Bradbury's best works like The Illustrated Man. The attraction of the traveling circus and freak show and the magic, wonder, and latent fear that surrounds them comes to life in this novel. Reamy does and excellent job of setting the novel in rural Kansas in 1920's, which you learn from the language and plot without it being mentioned. The story unfolds at a pace that leaves you wondering where he's going next until you find out the secrets behind the secrets. And once the story takes off, its becomes both a seat of your pants thriller and a tender love story at the same time. This is an excellent work of fiction." - C. Baker


Maurice Richardson

Exploits of Engelbrecht (1950) - Maurice Richardson

Savoy Books edition

Reviews:

"This rare and exceedingly dotty little volume is subtitled "The Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club". Maurice Richardson, a British journalist, had read one too many newspaper columns about sport. In reaction he created Engelbrecht: "a dwarf, of course, like nearly all surrealist boxers who do most of their fighting with clocks."

Fifteen sporting episodes explore suitably weird pastimes. The great Witch Shoot at Nightmare Abbey would be all too politically incorrect nowadays. A surrealist golf match around the world ("Par is reckoned at 818181") is enlivened by a most dubious hole-in-one. In the angling championship whose greatest prize is the giant pike that ate the Bishop of Ely in 1448, little Engelbrecht distinguishes himself brilliantly as the bait.

One particularly crazed cricket-match features a literal demon bowler (kept in a well-stoked furnace between overs), against whom Salvador Dali bats, unsuccessfully, with a chest of drawers. Earth's soccer game against Mars has a vast panhistorical team--"Some unlikely characters have scored, even Heliogabalus, Bishop Berkley and Aubrey Beardsley"--and the winning coup involves planting Engelbrecht as a hidden influence inside the ball. Surreal chess on a huge, literal battlefield echoes World War II; eventually a pawn promotes to Atom Bomb, and despite the enemy's immediate resignation insists on detonating. Remember Dark Star?

Engelbrecht's finest hour is his prolonged boxing bout against a ten-foot Grandfather Clock which deals viciously unsporting blows with its hands, weights, pendulum, and other dread accessories. After taking a fearful battering for nine rounds, our resourceful dwarf leaps into the clock's case and deftly halts the mechanism: "The crowd goes wild and the sun turns black and all over the place clocks stop and time stands still." Treasurable lunacy, to be taken in small doses." - David Langford


Julian Rios

Larva: Midsummer Night's Babel - Julian Rios

Reviews:

"As a subtitle, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy would have done just as well. Ostensibly about the shenanigans of Don Juan with fairy tale figures and boot-wearing fetishists, Rios's tale is actually about words--using puns and palindromes, portmanteau and nonce words--in a flow that ignores the boundaries of language and, at times, taste, at which points it turns sophomoric. A masturbating friar is a "semenarist;" a search in the night is "seekwalking" as Rios, prolific Spanish novelist and essayist, blends and mashes words in an synergic mix of sound and meaning. Facing each page of text are notes--a scholarly device subverted in order to continue the word play. Some notes refer readers to the final section of the book, the 71 Pillow Notes which, taken together, form the tale of the misadventures of two young women (Babelle and Milalias) in London. Kudos to the translators and caveats to readers: this is fare for serious readers (with serious time) who do not take themselves too seriously." - Publisher's Weekly (via Amazon)


Angelo Maria Ripellino

Magic Prague (1993) - Angelo Maria Ripellino

Books to Seek Out - Jeff VanderMeer

Amazon:

"The late Mr. Ripellino has amassed a tribute to Prague like no other. It breathes. Anyone that has ever visited the "Golden City of a 100 spires" must have had an inkling deep in their soul of what the author has magnificently put down in words. The "Old Crone [Prague] has claws", as Kafka put it, a