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Unusual, Neglected and/or Lost Literature

Minor update during Aug. 2014. A bit of new material that's of course not marked in any way as the newer stuff.

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

50 Essential Postmodern Mysteries
61 Essential Postmodern Reads
20 Best Books in Translation You've Never Read
Writers No One Reads
F&SF Curiosities
100 Best Comic Novels - Michael Dirda
10 Most Influential SF and Fantasty Anthologies
Unjustly Neglected Works of Science Fiction
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"
Funniest Works of Fiction 1
Funniest Works of Fiction 2

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
100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels - Nick Rennison & Stephen E. Andrews
100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels - Stephen E. Andrews & Nick Rennison
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 - Damien Broderick & Paul di Filippo
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction - John Clute
100 Must-Read Crime Novels - Nick Rennison
100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century - Jim Huang
Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers - Jim Huang
Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels - John Connolly & Declan Burke
1001 Midnights: The Aficionado's Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction - Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller
Reference and Research Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction - Richard Bleiler
The Supernatural Index: A Listing of Fantasy, Supernatural, Occult, Weird, and Horror Anthologies - Mike Ashley & William G. Cantento
Queer Books (1928) - Edmund Lester Pearson
The A to Z of Fantasy Literature - Brian Stableford
Time Machines: The Story of the Science Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950 - Mike Ashley
Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970 - Mike Ashley
Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980 - Mike Ashley
Sequels: An Annotated Guide to Novels in Series - Janet G. Husband & Jonathan F. Husband

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. J. Abrams

S. - J. J. Abrams

"S. is one of the best books I¿ve read. Period. But I believe I feel differently than the average reviewer because I made the conscious decision that I was going to ¿believe¿ before I started reading. You see, you can only enjoy this book if you go in accepting that you are not its first owner and that what you are reading was not intended for your eyes. The ability to become an active participant instead of a passive reader, I would imagine, is the difference between loving this book and hating it. I fall so far onto the ¿love¿ side of the spectrum that I simply cannot wait to read it again.

S. is really a story about 6 principal characters:

¿ S. ¿ The main character in the novel "Ship of Theseus" who is suffering from amnesia. The novel follows S. as he desperately tries to figure out who he is and what his significance is to both the Ship of Theseus and the various ports at which it docks.

¿ V.M. Straka ¿ an enigmatic author of the novel Ship of Theseus, the book which serves as stage to this mystery.

¿ The Translator (FXC) ¿ a historian of Straka¿s works who not only translates his novels into a variety of different languages but also pens commentary in the form of footnotes throughout Ship of Theseus.

¿ Eric ¿ an exhausted theorist who believes the mystery of ¿Who is V.M. Straka¿ can be solved via subtext clues cleverly embedded throughout Ship of Theseus

¿ Jen ¿ a student who stumbles upon Eric¿s copy of Ship of Theseus and who¿s penchant for researching the obscure and who's fresh perspective on the tale helps reveal that the initial question of ¿Who is V.M. Straka¿ is only the tip of a very, VERY large iceberg.

¿ YOU ¿ You are the 3rd handler of this book. Jen and Eric have taken extensive notes in the margins and left dozens of pieces of ephemera tucked into the pages that serve as clues. You will use these clues to not only help solve the mystery of V.M. Straka, but also explore the mystery of why it is that you now have this book in your possession.

By reading S., you essentially become a character. In the same way that Eric and Jen attempt to solve a mystery about FXC and VM Straka, you must solve the mystery of Eric and Jen. Eric and Jen will often express frustrations over how they are not privy to the conversations and events that took place outside the pages of Ship of Theseus. This is not dissimilar to frustrations you, as the reader, will experience when Jen and Eric engage in meetings and ongoings outside of the book¿s margins. It¿s a brilliantly complex and maddeningly open-ended plot hurdle that you will regularly encounter throughout S.

The quantity of information that is thrown at you all at once is alarmingly difficult to comprehend. This is, of course, intentional. You may reach a page that has a postcard tucked into the binding, has 2 footnotes from FXC, has 11 margin notes from Eric and Jen (in 4 different ink colors), and, obviously, the continued Ship of Theseus novel. There is no good way to digest all of this, you simply have to read through it and absorb it as best you can before moving on. As you progress through the book, you pick up tricks for understanding when a note was written, who wrote it, and what the meaning is. Unfortunately, you¿ll gain this perspective just in time to realize that ¿ at some point ¿ you¿ll have to start the book all over again. However, while this is undeniably frustrating, it lends authenticity to the overarching plot of S., pulls you deeper into the story, and makes you feel like you really are solving a mystery. In this way, Eric and Jen become very real and you¿ll feel like you can help them in the same way they are trying to help V.M. Straka.

S. is so much more than a book. It¿s an experience. I continue to obsess over every detail, every clue, and every word contained in these pages. But, what¿s funny about S., is that I wouldn¿t recommend this book to most of my friends and family. Simply put, I just don¿t think many people will ¿get it.¿ I don¿t know how many people have the tolerance for ambiguity in the same way I do. I don¿t know if other people will appreciate the complexity, the depth, or the details like I do. If The Da Vinci Code was the pizza of the literary world, then S. is the sushi. Most people probably won¿t like it, but it will be passionately loved for by a few.

I could go on about this book for days. I would write more, but I have to go Google how to read a ¿rail-fence¿ cipher so I can continue solving this mystery :)" - H. Parker Smith III


J. R. Ackerley

Hindoo Holiday: An Indian Journal - J. R. Ackerley

"A journal of Ackerley's stay in the Indian province of Chhatarpur during the 1920s, "Hindoo Holiday" records and mocks the muddled morality and intellectual immaturity of both slothful Indian rulers and equally pampered British colonialists. After Ackerley returned from India, he spent several years touching up his diary for publication; he changed the names, toned down the sexual content, and removed passages that might be considered libelous. This recently published version is the first unexpurgated American edition, with all the cuts restored.

Ackerley's intent was to be mischievous and outrageous and comic; and his book became both a critical hit and, to everyone's surprise, his most commercially successful work. The book is at its best in its humorous depictions of the Maharajah, his private secretary Babaji Rao, and the contingent of valets, including the endearingly sweet Sharma and Narayan. For the most part, Ackerley's portraits are nonjudgmental and fond; he reserves his venom for the British guests and, to a lesser extent, for his sycophantic tutor, Abdul, and clumsy servant-child, Habib.

Throughout "Hindoo Holiday" there is a disconcerting, even creepy, undercurrent that revolves around the sexual despotism of the Maharajah, whose predatory advances are directed towards the "Gods"--his name for the boys in his employ. "Boys" is Ackerley's term; at least one is identified as being twenty and several are married, so it's possibly more accurate to call most of them young men. But, whatever their age, these youngsters are compelled to have sexual relations with the Maharajah--and with his wife while he's watching. Complicating this issue is the subtly hinted possibility that the ruler is suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis. (The paternity of the palace's heirs is a great mystery, as well.) Only a few of the youths seem able to withstand his advances, and Ackerley often must come to the defense of Narayan, one of the "Gods" who refuses to comply.

Ackerley reports these incidents with disquieting aplomb. His own role in these matters is rather innocent; according to biographer Peter Parker, he limited his affections to kissing and holding hands: "If he had sexual relations whilst in India, he left no record of the fact." (And Ackerley was not known for being shy about such matters in either his journals or correspondence.) Nevertheless, intentionally or not, the goings-on in the palace are emblematic of the corruption, indolence, and decadence of the British Raj.

Most modern readers, then, will find much of the tone and material and humor in "Hindoo Holiday" a bit dated. Yet Ackerley's memoir is still an accurate portrait of the time--and there are moments of brilliant hilarity." - D. Cloyce Smith

My Dog Tulip - J. R. Ackerley

"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

"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

"This story was written in 1970 in Mexico by Ecuadorian Malta. It is written in authentic `magical-realism' style a la `100 Years of Solitude'. It is based in a fictional Latin-American town Santoronton, on the banks of a river and small island `Bahumba'; it's not clear when or which country this really is, though Zinc roofs suggest it is at least mid-1900s.

Santoronton is ostensively a normal rural town well populated by the usual suspects of such places: Colonel Candelerion (crocodile) the villainous rapist/murderer leader, witch doctor Bulu-Bulu (monkey) with daughter Dominga, Catholic Father Candido (with personal live wooden Jesus), families including the Quindales with daughters Chepa (a ghost) and Clotilde (bat), Dr Juvenico, secondary baddy bandit Chalena (toad). The town however has the story but also the magic to overlap events and personal animal similes (as indicated in brackets). The `real' animals appear to participate in the story.

The basic arc of the story is that the Colonel lusts after Chepa, he murders the family and rapes both daughters: Chepa (marries quickly but dies soon after) comes back to haunt him, what can he do?. The town is the centre of devil (`X-tail') activity with Chalena, who sold his soul?, controlling the water supply and ends up owning the town and people. The town rely on their religion Candido loses his church in a fire and the burned Crucifix comes alive; another Father comes to build a concrete church and falls in with the baddies. Candelerion is Candido's godson (if not son?). Clotide starts to entice men and castrate them, what can doctor Juvenico do to help her? Dominga needs a man to protect her from the tin-tins.

You might have been looking for another `100 Years' style of book - this is that book. The story is engaging and enthralling; add in the author's clear magical style which works very well because it's always there but not in an overpowering way - one can simply read the story as magical or preferably (form my point of view) clever analogy that expands events i.e. does the Colonel really turn into a crocodile and kill people so easily? .

Assuming you're into Latin American books you will not regret finding and reading this book." - H. Tee


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:

"Robert Aickman was a writer of what he called 'strange stories', but of the eight stories in this collection 'The Fetch' is the only piece resembling a traditional ghost story. Aickman's work contains acute psychological insight; he is master of a unique and very modern form of horror where the protagonist often doesn't know what he or she has done to bring about disaster. This is seen at its starkest in 'The Inner Room' (the first story I read by Aickman and still my favourite - a truly haunting piece which will stay with me for as long as I live), and in the title story, where protagonist Grigg allows "the last living rock" be killed...but doesn't actually know what he did to let it happen.

The twentieth century was a time of disorientations, when Europeans were walking "on overgrown paths" as Knut Hamsun famously put it. So how is one supposed to act in such situations? There is something, a hidden room, to which we don't have access...

Aickman reveals subtle and ambiguous sympathies for fascism and Nazism in this book - admittedly far more ambiguous than those of Hamsun. In the final story of this volume, 'Into the Woods', a Polish officer asserts there was "darkness on both sides" in what Aickman describes elsewhere ('The Inner Room') as "the late, misguided war". And in 'Never Visit Venice' Aickman mentions an inscription left "by the previous regime" (i.e. Mussolini's) to the effect that a minute as a lion is preferable to a lifetime as an ass. This has been left up, not just for difficulty of access but also apparently for deeper reasons.

In 'Your Tiny Hand is Frozen', the central character Edmund St. Jude is a member of an old, aristocratic family, and an authority on obscure 18th century poets. St. Jude (named for the patron saint of lost causes?) struggles to fit in with his contemporary surroundings. This mirrors Aickman's own deep suspicion of modernity. In another story, a character observes that "the Greeks used to decorate their houses with flowers and sing songs. Now they buy tinsel from shops and listen to radios."

'Never Visit Venice' demonstrates Aickman's antipathy to the modern world at its starkest. Mass tourism has made the world into "a single place, not worth leaving home to see." The protagonist Henry Fern has something inside him which makes him different, something indefinable which he would like to be rid of, yet at the same time which he is sure is the best thing about him. This undefinable something acts as a barrier between Fern and other people, and holds him back in his career. He feels work and relationships are largely a charade, and one girlfriend accuses him of being "too soulful". He dreams of a woman with whom he attains understanding and affinity. But that woman turns out to be...Death.

"The city fathers are all dead. Everyone in Venice is dead. It is a dead city. Perhaps it died when 'Tristan und Isolde' was composed here." Aickman feels cut off from the feminine, something which emerges more explicitly in a story of his not included in this collection, 'Ringing the Changes' (which itself is something of a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth').

Aickman is not without humour, though, as shown in the grotesque and hilarious 'Growing Boys'. The boys' repulsive father, a hypocritical, Guardian-reading leftist called Phineas Morke, is seen by his own wife as resembling "an immensely long anchovy, always with the same expression at the end of it."

'Into the Woods' delves into more esoteric regions. This tale of insomniacs (read: initiates) whose knowledge makes them feared by the general populace is an allegory about finding the true Self, which very few ever do. The forest, or Self, has "no beginning or ending", similar to Jung's description of the Self as a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. This Self cannot be quantified, but contrary to the claims of certain totalitarian empiricists, it most definitely exists...and no one knew this better than Robert Aickman, one of the finest supernatural writers of the twentieth century.: - A Customer


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


Cesar Aira

Shantytown (2013) - Cesar Aira

"The setting is Buenos Aires in the 1990's. The protagonist is Maxi, a large, muscular young man, who is good-natured but rather simple-minded. Maxi spends his mornings at the gym and in the afternoons and evenings he helps, more or less as a Good Samaritan, trash-pickers load their carts and haul them back to Shantytown, where the destitute of Buenos Aires live in shacks along narrow streets brightly lit with pirated electricity.

That set-up is somewhat unusual. What César Aira does with it is more so, as the plot becomes increasingly surreal. Maxi's daily excursions into Shantytown with the trash-pickers attract the notice of a corrupt policeman, who begins to tail him. Others join the plot: Maxi's younger sister and her equally fatuous girlfriend, a Bolivian girl who works as a maid and lives in Shantytown, a mysterious Indian known as "the Pastor" who seemingly has connections to illegal drug trafficking and a fundamentalist evangelical sect, and a crusading celebrity judge with a cadre of elite police officers under her command and a gaggle of television camera crews and chatty news girls who follow in her wake. The novella culminates in an apocalyptic deluge in the midst of Shantytown.

I am a little ambivalent about César Aira, yet I keep reading him. This is the fifth novella of his that I have read in translation. (He has written well over fifty, most of which have not been translated into English.) Every one that I have read is nominally set in Aira's native Argentina, but elements of the fantastic elbow aside most indicia of realism. I normally am not a fan of fantasy. But Aira handles it so well, in such wholly unexpected ways and with a rather droll delivery, that I keep coming back for more.

Aira's narrative meanders, taking all sorts of twists and turns. The cumulative effect can be disorienting, as Aira playfully acknowledges near this tale's end, when one of the characters "turned her head with a look of shock and horror, as if to say 'This is too much! If there's one more twist in the plot . . .' And perhaps her dismay was justifiable. As a beekeeper may be killed by just one more sting because of all the toxins that have accumulated in his system * * * there may be a limit to the quandaries that a mind can accommodate."

As with the other Aira works I have read, the question arose upon closing the book: What was that all about? With SHANTYTOWN, at least, I have a possible answer: it is an anti-drug morality tale. But that might be me exercising my preference for meaning in literary works and imposing it where the author was simply writing a story -- in this case, an occasionally violent but nonetheless intriguing one with a series of surprises. It is like a trip to the funhouse." - R. M. Peterson


Chingiz Aitmatov

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years - Chingiz Aitmatov

"Set mostly in a small railroad crossing in Kazakhstan's Sarozak desert sometime in the latter part of the 20th-century, this novel tells the story of Burrunyi Yedigei's effort to bury his coworker and friend in the ancient cemetery used by the few people of the area. In doing so, Aitmatov mounts a subversive critique of the Soviet system that crushes traditions and unfairly persecutes people. The story is told through Yedigei, a long-suffering worker who recounts episodes from his life along with a old tales drawn from Central Asian folklore. A running subplot involves a nearby cosmodrome (presumably Baikonur), and a joint Soviet-American space station which makes contact with a utopian alien race. This seems to be an attempt to link the lives of insignificant workers with earth-shattering events, or is perhaps an allegory about the Iron Curtain vis a vis the West. Or more likely, Aitmatov is attempting to tell a story in the past (folktales), present (the burial plot), and future (space). Whatever the intent, the space material feels very awkward and anyone coming to the book for science-fiction will be disappointed.

The real core and strength of the story is the insight into the hard lives of the Kazakh rail workers and the way in which Aitmatov uses the genre trappings of Soviet Realist literature to mount a rather subversive critique of life in the USSR. We learn of the post-WWII hardship that took Yedigei and his wife Ukubala to the rail crossing, and of their daily struggle to survive there. There are plenty of other threads, most importantly the arrival of a politically suspect family looking for a place to start over, their friendship with Yedigei, the desire the wife arouses in him (echoing one of the folktales), and finally the Orwellian tragedy that takes them away. Here, Aitmatov is directly criticizing the Stalinist purges in which his own father was executed in the 1930s (the book first appeared in 1980, so he does so from a position of relative safety). There is also a running thread about Yedigei's fierce camel, a barely domesticated proud and fierce beast which is a metaphor for the Central Asian people subjugated under Soviet rule.

The death of Yedigei's friend Kazangap is the inciting event that allows for everything else to be told, as Yedigei organizes the community for the wake and burial, to be done in the traditional way. However, tradition is not what it used to be, and Kazangap's son and relations are less than enthusiastic about the whole matter, long having fled for the modern world of the city. Moreover, the traditional funeral train of camels is augmented by a truck and tractor to assist in the grave-digging. Indeed, the clash of the modern Soviet world with the traditional Kazakh extends even to burial grounds, as the procession is denied access to the old Ana-Beiit cemetery. This relates directly to what is perhaps the novel's primary theme: cultural memory. One of the folk tales recounts how Mongol conquerors tied bands around the heads of captured enemies and allowed them to shrink, turning the wearer into a mindless slave without a memory. This crops up in the space subplot, when two cosmonauts who glimpse the utopian future are doomed to have their minds wiped. All of which relates to the Soviet attempt to eliminate cultural memory in Central Asia (embodied here in the denial of access to the traditional cemetery). This is without a doubt a book of great importance to those interested in Soviet or Central Asian literature, but others will probably not find it that compelling." - A. Ross


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

The Shape of Further Things - Brian Aldiss

"This is non-fiction from Aldiss, not really on any particular subject, or arranged with any goal in mind, but a conversation between himself and the reader, importuned by a January 1969 night's conversation between himself and Christopher Evans. If I may not be too bold, it's much the same as what I imagine First Impressions to be, although Aldiss has me soundly beat in terms of far-ranging intellectual discourse. We all have to start somewhere, though.

Although in some ways this book is trapped in the time at which it was written, it also overcomes such by realizing that it would be. The title, of course, refers back to H.G. Wells' Shape of Things to Come (or, at least I think that's right). Aldiss tries to live up to that earlier volume by playing the prophet as well. And, like most prophecies when looked back on with hindsight, it's interesting to note the things that didn't come to pass more than what he's gotten right. This is also a biographical and historical document as it relates the rise of SF in Britain, as well as describing some of the inner workings of the New Wave. Thanks to Paul di Filippo for sending this book to me (a perfect way to make sure I read your recommendation!)." - Glen Engel Cox

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


Alphonse Allais

Captain Cap: His Adventures, His Ideas, His Drinks (1902) - Alphonse Allais

"A mammoth madcap trade paperback edition -- the complete and unabridged translation of the original 1902 French classic by Alphonse Allais. 370 pages, including eight uncollected "Captain Cap" stories, plus a "Cappendix" of rare historical pictures.

The book is illustrated throughout with witty drawings by Doug Skinner, in addition to his extensive notes on the translation and lively introduction.

ALPHONSE ALLAIS (1854-1905) was a peerless French humorist, celebrated posthumously by the Surrealists for his elegant style and disturbing imagination. In addition to composing absurdist texts for newspapers such as LE CHAT NOIR and LE JOURNAL, he experimented with holorhymes, invented conceptual art, and created the earliest known example of a silent musical composition: FUNERAL MARCH FOR THE OBSEQUIES OF A DEAF MAN (1884). Truly ahead of his time (as well as ours), Allais is needed now more than ever. His mischievous work remains fresh, funny, and always surprising." - Black Scat Books


C. J. L. Almqvist

The Queen's Tiara - C. J. L. Almqvist

...
"I know of nothing quite like this strange, imaginative book, with its melding of historical fact and dramatic fiction, romantic fantasy and hard-edged reality, thriller-like political intrigue and aerial amatory caprices. Its gender-bending main character and the attendant inability of those around her/him to accommodate the mere notion of his/her existence are as canny and original as the tapestry of inventive, nearly baroque conceits Almqvist constantly unfurls, from copper plates depicting inquisitional tortures (used to frighten the imprisoned Tintomara) to an elaborate subterfuge involving a robotic mannequin. Yet far from seeming cultish or marginal in its fantasy elements, The Queen's Tiara comes across as a classic indeed: a compelling historical novel that pre-figures Freudian psychology and blends Sadean cruelties with the most ethereal romanticism, an oddly moving invocation of the mysteries of human psychological and political processes, and a daringly imaginative caracole around the incestuous intertwining of reality and fiction. It's also, on top of all that, an enormously entertaining story." - Seraillon


Kingsley Amis

Russian Hide-and-Seek (1980) - Kingsley Amis

"The scene is England 50 years after its conquest by the Soviets. The plot is to turn the occupying government upside down.

A handsome and highly sexed young Russian cavalry officer, Alexander Petrovsky, joins the plot and learns to his regret that politics and playmates don't mix."


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
...


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."
...


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


Donald Antrim

The Hundred Brothers: A Novel - Donald Antrim

"The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim is nothing like I have ever read before, and neither would you have if you ever get the chance to read this book. This book is strange - it is not even weird strange and it takes time to get your teeth into this one, however once you do, it will be very difficult to get yourself away from it, till you have finished it. What is the book about? Well, here goes:

The story is about one hundred brothers (literally, minus one though) who come together for dinner one night. The objective is to possibly find the urn which contains their fathers' ashes. One of the brothers is our narrator. He quickly descends from trustworthy and seemingly normal to crazy. But why and what happens to him, is something you have to read and find out for yourself, or else that would be a spoiler and I would not want to do that to you.

The Hundred Brothers quite literally speaking is a stream of consciousness - while a lot is happening, nothing really does happen. Donald Antrim has touched on almost every masculine behavior and thought pattern that there is to cater to for the reader - from pornography to homosexual references to sports to hunting to bullying - all the male archetypes (almost) are mentioned and that's what to me made the writing fascinating.

A lot of times "The Brothers Karamazov" flashed before my eyes while I was reading the book and why not? They both are about brothers and a crazy family. There is the gradual crescendo of horror from humour and every brother, including the narrator has glaring faults in which we also recognize our own. The setting, obeying the Aristotelian unities of time and place, seems to grow and evolve in a nightmarish fashion. The love and hatred between the brothers is searing.

Antrim has a way of establishing a rational and simple universe, and then subtly and ironically, disseminating it bit by bit, gradually to show us what lies beneath the surface. His writing is twisted to the point that the reader does not want to move on and yet is compelled to do so. His allegories are mischievous and mysterious at the same time.

There are no chapters in the book - it goes on, the premise is huge, magnanimous almost - making the reader wonder, how did he ever get this idea? What propelled him? And then there are the dynamics between the brothers - the way the writer intended it to be portrayed. I do not want to classify the book or the writing to any form. It is best left untouched, however make note of one thing: Read this book and read it one sitting. Let it play with your head. Let it take you on a very strange rollercoaster and by the end of it, you would be wondering why it ever ended. It is that good." - Vivek Tejuja


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


Philip Atkins

A Dodo at Oxford: The Unreliable Account of a Student and His Pet Dodo - Philip Atkins & Michael Johnson

Mercurius Politicus blog review

"In 2008 a diary was discovered amongst some books donated to a charity bookshop in Oxford. It was a most remarkable book, supposedly written over three hundred years ago by a student, describing his life and unusual pet, a dodo.

Everyone knows the dodo, a comic and ungainly bird, the sad symbol of extinction. But what was a living dodo really like? The author of the diary was a student of science and he recorded his pet's every move, as well as the reactions of his friends and acquaintances. He had some idea of the bird's rarity, but not that his pet might have been the last dodo to have walked upon the earth.

Doubts have been cast over the authenticity of the diary, so every page has been photographed and reprinted to enable readers to judge for themselves. As the publisher cannot guarantee that it is genuine, they have reluctantly placed the diary within the 'Historical Fiction' book subject category, until more information is known.

The editors, Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson, have included notes on the diary entries, on such topics as astrology, book production, doll's houses, and gout. Many items were found stuffed between the diary pages, including a bookmark, cigarette cards, and a 1973 fishmonger's receipt, and these are all illustrated.

As well as providing a portrait of the famous bird and glimpses of seventeenth-century Oxford, this is the history of a book: how it was printed, made, unmade, torn, stained, scribbled over, and forgotten. Now by strange good fortune both book and bird have come back to us, large as life." - Oxgarth Press


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


Frank Baker

Miss Hargreaves - Frank Baker

"Summary: Norman Huntley and his friend Henry are visiting an old church and while speaking to the keeper, on a lark, they invent an eighty-plus old woman, Miss Hargreaves, giving her quite an eccentric character, a cockatoo, and a bath she takes with her everywhere. Still having a good laugh they write a letter to this fictional character at the hotel where they've got her staying on her travels. The lark takes a downward spiral when they receive a reply back and shortly afterwards Miss Hargreaves arrives in the village complete with cockatoo and bath. She latches onto Norman like a dear, long lost friend and Norman's once sedate life as choir member, organist and bookstore helper turns upside down with the havoc created by the imaginary but very real Miss Hargreaves.

Comments: This book is simply put, a pure delight! Though written in 1940, the story is set sometime prior WWII and with an offhand remark about WWI we can surmise the story takes place in the 1920s or early 30s. The wonderful British village life filled with a variety of characters is a joyful story. Miss Hargreaves is a most eccentric character and her appearance turns the conventions of the town topsy-turvy. She descends upon Norman and completely takes over his life with her devotion. Creating episode after episode within the village and church community Baker's novel starts off as a hilarious farce. But when Norman can't take it anymore, close to losing his girlfriend, he tells Miss Hargreaves he's done with her and she can do as she like. This causes Miss H. to disappear for some weeks and Norman realizes that he's become a bit fond of the old girl. When Hargreaves returns she's not the woman she was before, she snubs Norman, puts on airs and her former escapades are completely forgotten as she becomes the new centre of the village's society.

Norman and Miss Hargreaves's relationship is a wonderful story. I often felt it compared to that of a parent and a child, with Norman taking the parental role since he 'created' Miss Hargreaves. Miss H. starts off as the doting child thinking Norman is the centre of her universe then after an argument she turns into the defiant teenager who ignores Norman and does what she wants. At this point Norman realizes the feelings he has for Miss H. are genuine and he loves her as a parent; he tries to make her see reason and is forever turned away, banging his head against a wall, and yet he keeps returning for more as his love is coupled with responsibility. While the story is filled with whimsy, there are also to be found great moments of pathos and the ending will tug at your heart strings.

Both Norman and Miss Hargreaves are astounding characters. While they appear to be at odds for the majority of the book, there are profound moments that they share together sometimes through speech and other times simply through a shared look. They are very compelling characters not soon to be forgotten. The secondary characters are also full of life from Norman's little sister Jim, who taunts him frequently, to the church's righteous Dean, who is a bit too full of himself, to Norman's scatterbrained bookstore owner father, to Henry, the one who helped Norman create Miss Hargreaves yet can't quite believe it isn't all some trick.

A delightful book, highly recommended to fans of British cozies. The author wrote fifteen novels and I certainly wouldn't mind trying another." - Nicola Mansfield


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.


Jesse Ball

The Way Through Doors (2009) - Jesse Ball

"Jesse Ball's second novel with Vintage may confuse and frustrate some. I daresay this is of no import to Mr. Ball, though I could be mistaken. Indeed, there is a care for both the characters and the reader in this book, accompanied by an understanding that not all may find the book as engaging or enjoyable as others.

I'll spare you a recounting of events and names found within in favor of attempting to convey the experience of reading The Way Through Doors. As with his previous book, this one makes reality seem blurry. In fact, it is handily placed out of reach as if to say, "you need not be concerned with this, dear reader. Please join me for the experiences and playfulness I hope to share with you." In this sense reading any work by Ball requires a sort of trust and submission to the story. Obviously, only through the reader's agency to engage the text in the first place does the book take on life, but one's expectations should be checked upon opening the book; any preconceptions should be vanquished. Why such hyperbole? Because the thread of this book may not even end up being a thread! It may end up a web, and if the reader struggles or resists it may entrap and cause discomfort. If the reader relaxes into it, the web serves nicely as a hammock of sorts, though dozing off is strictly prohibited; one must pay full attention to the swirls of characters and events moving throughout the web. Some of these swirls are more brightly-colored than others, though any number of these will make an imprint on your psyche and linger as pleasant images in the mind's eye.

There is a playful nature to Ball's writing, though you may find it manifesting as glee in one example, and shortly after it may emerge very dire and obfuscated, like reveling in the macabre. Others have noted his work does not follow many conventions of the novel. There have been writers who discarded these conventions in disgust and furrowed their brows to create a sort of reaction to the novel. Not so Jesse Ball: in this regard he comes off as playing with the conventions, folding and re-folding them into forms--whether paper airplane, origami crane or something never before seen--which please him." - W. Edwards


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


Barrington Bayley

Knights of the Limits - Barrington Bayley

"This is Bayley at the peak of his powers, barkingly brilliant. The thought experiments he weaves into a mosaic of energetic stories works its way to you like Borges on speed, a strange hybrid of Rudy Rucker, Italo Calvino and A. E. van Vogt - yet the core of it remains inescapably Bayley's own brand of strange sf. It's more like speculative cosmology, except Freeman Dyson would never have come up with ideas like Bayley's:

Like; what if the universe was completely filled with rock? And each of us is living in a little bubble in the rock. In other words, the basic premise of the story is impossible because the universe is not full of rock. But he's like, "what if it was?" And he goes on to describe attempts at space travel in this universe, the problems that arise, and ends the whole shebang with an orgasmic zen buzz to your frontal lobes. Wow. And then there more, each story going off on wild tangents into space and time and the lack thereof. If you think you're up for the ride, go for it. But be warned - this is NOT extrapolative hard sf, this is utterly original speculative stuff that will mess with your notions of reality and boggle the mind." - albemuth

The Zen Gun (1983) - Barrington Bayley

"An entertaining and absorbing romp through space aboard a battle class pleasure ship in search of the ultimate weapon. While developing a new space drive, humans have accidentally torn a hole in space, annoying nearby aliens, and inadvertently releasing strange creatures who mold matter indisciminately. As a human-primate chimera and his samurai escort quest for the power of the zen gun, intelligent animals threaten to take control of the empire. Even though the moon is falling from the sky, and the robots are on strike, there is always time for a brief physics lesson or two. Barrington J. Bayley is not only a great storyteller, he is also a master of the English language." - diane@scifikid.com


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

Concrete - Thomas Bernhard

"Thomas Bernhard's "Concrete" is a concentrated, excessive and disturbing stream-of-consciousness monologue by Rudolf, a reclusive, wealthy Viennese music critic who lives alone in a large country house. Rudolf suffers from sarcoidosis, a disease not described in the narrative, which is characterized by inflammation of the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, and other tissues. Physically miserable and obsessively fearful of death, he also is a man paralyzed by his misanthropic, conflicted, exhaustingly relentless thoughts. Trapped in his own mind, Rudolf is a literary creation directly descended from Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Beckett.

Rudolf has been working for ten years on a biography of Mendelssohn, yet has failed to write even the first line of his work. "I had been planning it for ten years and had repeatedly failed to bring it to fruition, but now had resolved to begin writing it on the twenty-seventh of January at precisely four o'clock in the morning, after the departure of my sister." It is an intention to begin writing that recurs again and again throughout Rudolf's narrative, an intention to begin writing at a specific time in a specific location after the completion of specific preparatory tasks. And in each instance, Rudolf fails to begin, a sign of procrastination bred by obsession or of extreme writer's block or of extreme mental imbalance.

When Rudolf's sister leaves the house, he still cannot begin to write. Despite her departure, her aura remains: "Although she had gone, I still felt the presence of my sister in every part of the house. It would be impossible to imagine a person more hostile to anything intellectual than my sister. The very thought of her robs me of my capacity for any intellectual activity, and she has always stifled at birth any intellectual projects I have had . . . There's no defense against a person like my sister, who is at once so strong and so anti-intellectual; she comes and annihilates whatever has taken shape in one's mind as a result of exerting, indeed of over-exerting one's memory for months on end, whatever it is, even the most trifling sketch on the most trifling subject."

This theme, Rudolf's hatred for his older, worldly sister, runs throughout his narrative, the sister becoming one among many reasons (or excuses) for Rudolf's intellectual paralysis, his inability to write, even his inability to function in day-to-day life.

But it is not merely his sister that Rudolf despises. He also despises Vienna, the city where he once lived (and where his sister continues to live). "Vienna has become a proletarian city through and through, for which no decent person can have anything but scorn and contempt."

A complete recluse, his mental world bordering on solipsistic isolation, Rudolf no longer has any interest in social life of any kind. "To think that I once not only loved parties," he reflects, "but actually gave them and was capable of enjoying them!" Now he sees no reason or need for the company of others, for the people Rudolf spent years trying to "put right" but who only regarded him as a "fool" for his efforts. As Rudolf thinks, in a long, discursive interior response to his sister's claim that his desolate, morgue-like house, "is crying out for society":

"There comes a time when we actually think about these people, and then suddenly we hate them, and so we get rid of them, or they get rid of us; because we see them so clearly all at once, we have to withdraw from their company or they from ours. For years I believed that I couldn't be alone, that I needed all these people, but in fact I don't: I've got on perfectly well without them."

Rudolf is isolated in his own mind, a man who cannot accept the imperfections of others and of the world, but also cannot accept his own imperfections. And it is perhaps this, more than anything else, which explains his inability to get along in the world, his inability even to write the first sentence of his Mendelssohn biography. "Once, twenty-five years ago, I managed to complete something on Webern in Vienna, but as soon as I completed it I burned it, because it hadn't turned out properly." As Rudolf says, near the end of his short, but exhausting, narrative:

"I've actually been observing myself for years, if not for decades; my life now consists of self-observation and self-contemplation, which naturally leads to self-condemnation, self-rejection and self-mockery. For years I have lived in this state of self-condemnation, self-abnegation and self-mockery, in which ultimately I always have to take refuge in order to save myself."

"Concrete" leaves the reader exhausted from Rudolf's excessive and relentless narrative, giving truth to the remarkable power of Bernhard's literary imagination and narrative voice. It is a stunning literary achievement, perhaps the best work of one of Austria's greatest twentieth century authors." - A Customer

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


Petrus Borel

Champavert: Immoral Tales - Petrus Borel

"At the time the fiery romantic literary artist Petrus Borel penned this collection of seven short stories he was a lycanthrope, that is, a human on the outside, a wolf on the inside. And as a man-wolf he was an extreme outsider to society and culture, to convention and rules, to comfort and routine, an outsider telling his tales as he viewed humans and human society through his wolfish eyes. And what he saw wasn't pretty: any beauty and purity life offers up is defiled by twisted, debased bipeds who thrive on vanity, greed, bigotry, lecherousness and pure evil. Is it any wonder what we encounter in these pages are `Immoral Tales', tales where Borel's characters act in ways miles removed from any sense of decency and a standard of right and wrong? And is it any wonder the reading public who encountered his tales of depravity and brutality triumphing from the first word of the first sentence to the last word of the last sentence despised his writing?

So what was man-wolf Petrus Borel's message? How did he compare to other 18th and 19th century authors writing as social outsiders? Did he see our retreat from society and human interactions leading us to spiritual inwardness as did the Danish existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard; to aesthetic freedom and ascetic renunciation as did German pessimistic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer; to a state of nature and goodness prior to society as did French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau? No, not at all. For Petrus Borel, society and human life is so poisoned, so diseased, so contaminated to its very core, there is only one way out: oblivion.

With this worldview of the man-wolf Petrus Borel, we turn to a few of the tales:

Monsieur De L'Argentiere, the Prosecutor
Two aristocratic men speak as friends as they partake of a meal together. We read, "They were leaning voraciously over the table, like two wolves disputing a carcass, but their dull interlocutions, muffled by the sonority of the hall, were like the grunting of pigs. One of them was less than a wolf; he was a Public Prosecutor. The other was more than a pig; he was a Perfect." As we follow the story we see just what friendship means here. The Pubic Prosecutor acts with such trickery, such lecherousness, such sheer evil, that friendship, innocence and love are trampled, while all along employing reason and logic in his role as Public Prosecutor. Friendship was one of the keys to a good life in the ancient Greek and Roman world, championed by such great philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero and Seneca. Petrus Borel shows us what friendship has been reduced to in 19th century Paris.

Don Andrea Vesalius, The Anatomist
A howling, frenzied mob stands at the gate of a palace, objecting to the wedding of a young girl to an old doctor who they see as nothing less than a torturer, a necromancer and a murderer. A handsome capped cavalier, the young girl's lover, leads the crowd in their attack on the palace. The attack brings on the king's mounted guard. The crowd is dispersed, the cavalier wounded. Since, as it turns out, the old doctor is too elderly and impotent to have relations with his young wife and bride, over the next four years she has separate rendezvous with three other lovers, including the capped cavalier, lovers who vanish when she awakes the following morning. And what happened to these three lovers? In the course of discovering the truth, we follow the doctor as he leads his young wife to his laboratory. We, along with his young wife, encounter the grittiest of scenes. The author writes, "The workbenches were laden with partly-dissected cadavers; there were shred of flesh and amputated limbs underfoot, and muscles and cartilage were crushed by the professor's sandals. A skeleton was hanging on the door, which, when it was agitated, rattled like those wooden candles that candle-makers hang up as their sign, when they are stirred by the wind." We find out just how far the old doctor will go to become a world-famous anatomist.

Champavert, The Lycanthrope
This tale begins with a letter written by Champavert, wherein we read, "I've often reminded you of that night, when, after having wandered for a long time in the forest, appreciating all things at their price, distilling, analyzing and dissecting life, passions, society, laws, the past and the future, breaking the deceptive optical glass and the artificial lamp illuminating it, we were sickened with disgust before so many lies and miseries." Oblivion, according to wolf Champavert is the only way out, but fortunately for lovers of great literature, on the way to oblivion Petrus Borel wrote these tales with richly poetic language and powerful emotions, tales that are (as stated boldly on the book's back cover) one of the greatest collections ever published. We are also fortunate Brian Stableford tackled the challenge to translate this collection into English and provided a 9 page introduction." - Glenn Russell


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


Jane Bowles

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles

"This is a curious book: irritating, frustrating, but, once properly into reading it, oddly interesting, and then, finally - a feeling of release once finished. It follows the fortunes of two characters, the serious ladies of the title, who are acquaintances rather than deep friends .(though, to be honest, there seem to be no real relationships of meaning and emotional intimacy anywhere in the book)

At the start, the 2 acquaintances encounter each other at a cocktail party, on the eve of one of them frequently addressed by the other as 'little Mrs Copperfield' departing for a journey to Panama with her husband, whilst the second, Miss Christina Goering, is about to decamp from her rich abode, for no particular reason in order to rent a seedy dwelling out of the fashionable milieu, with 2 or 3 hangers on. The married lady is a lesbian,and is drawn to prostitutes; the unmarried one, without any particular interest, it seems, in sex, nevertheless drifts into meaningless encounters with men, and gets mistaken for a prostitute. They go their separate ways, and we follow each story. Each woman is rich, drinks heavily, is febrile, curiously rootless, weak-willed, selfish, inconsiderate, and exhausted (not to mention exhausting to the reader!). They meet up at the end in another meaningless encounter with each other. The world of the book is suffused with ennui - and yet there are enough sharply drawn moments, or moments when people come awake, briefly, before settling down back into torpor, to keep a thread of interest alive.

Like Carson McCullers, Bowles' characters are freakish, on the margins - but the lack of any real engagement, any real relationship, the utter pointlessness of the characters and their encounters becomes too much in the end. It isn't even the strong sense of life-as-meaningless-existential-unease (which at least involves a strong emotion) of existentialist writers, this is too unrelieved in its not even deeply felt pointlessness to really grip.

It seems curiously valid that the afterword, by Truman Capote, who knew the writer, should start

"It must be seven or eight years since I last saw that modern legend named Jane Bowles, nor have I heard from her, at least not directly". He proceeds to write more aboput himself and about other writers they both knew, and Tangiers, where Bowles was living at the time Capote provided this afterword to a collection of her published writings, than he does about Bowles herself. So everything about the book hangs heavy with dislocation, disconnection and a sense that it's all, really, futile. In a tired, rather than an angst filled sort of way. And yet there are these odd moments of humour, in dialogue of inappropriate formality:

On the encounter between Miss Goering and the wife of one of her hangers on:

"You're a harlot" said his wife to Miss Goering. Miss Goering was gravely shocked by this remark, and very much to her own amazement, for she had always thought that such things meant nothing to her.

"I am afraid you are entirely on the wrong track" said Miss Goering, "and I believe that some day we shall be great friends"

The scene and the sentence construction irresistibly reminded me of Gwendolyn and Cicely's tea-party in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wit is there to be found, but I found myself too easily sinking into the torpor of the Serious Ladies world to become enchanted, engaged, angry, or any other strong, dynamic response." - Lady Fancifull


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


Caryl Brahms & S. J. Simon

Don't, Mr. Disraeli! - Caryl Brahms & S. J. Simon

"If one wonders why this review is for the 1987 reprint edition of a book published in 1940 (and which was reprinted in Penguin paperbacks in 1949, at a time when they were orange with a penguin but no cover art), it's simply because if you did want to get this book off Amazon, the 1987 edition can be had for a few bucks. Never mind that I found the Penguin edition in a used book store in the dollar bin; you may not have that kind of luck.

If you did, however, you'd have stumbled onto a treasure trove of forgotten literature from the 'forties, from a unique pre-TV time when books were king (and queen). You'd notice it's the second in a series of eleven novels by the writing team of Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon, respectively female and male, each of which appear, at the offing, to be historical fiction. But the two are satirists, and hysterical fiction is more like it. The authors (and reviewers of the day) would probably call this light fiction, but the appeal is yet to litterateurs (well-read readers) and history buffs, since they alone will get the numerous historical and literary references and borrowings. It almost makes you glad you had a liberal arts education. Or, of course, took history online.

With eleven books, you can pick and choose which period you want to mingle in, in this case the Victorian era. But 'mingle' is the word, as the authors warn that "this is not a novel set in the Victorian age: it is a novel set in its literature". They call it a kaleidoscope, in which any event from 1800-1900 "may come into focus, bearing no relation to the date at which it occurred". A certain sort of reader will greatly enjoy this series, even with little knowledge of the actual history. I laughed my way, for instance, through Malcolm Muggeridge's The Thirties in Great Britain The Thirties, while having only the sketchiest knowledge of that history in the UK. Bits of the style are reminiscent of Chesterton and P.G. Wodehouse, to name two other light humorists, but I can't say whether Wodehouse was the influence, as he was on so many other authors, or the other way 'round. And that might be another audience for this series." - Gord Wilson


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


Ignácio de Loyola Brandão

Zero (2003) - Ignácio de Loyola Brandão

"Brandao's (in)famous book "Zero" follows the vertiginous life of Jose Goncalves, a young Brazilian man. The book's structure is complex, using panels, fragments, and diagrams to express and reflect the chaos of Jose's inner and outer world. Brandao is harrowing in his view of Brazilian government and the infiltration of American consumer culture. But the genius of the book lies in its philosophical implications - where the idea of Being is not presupposed or given as an insipid substratum to the human condition; rather, the concept of multiplicity or difference in identity - moving towards what French philosopher Deleuze would coin as the "aleatory point," the zero in infinity or vice versa - is one of the books central implications. This book transcends the genre of postmodern fiction in its ability to constantly break the rules of linear narrative while, at the same time, cultivate a deeper literary and ontological coherency. At once a scathing critique of society and a burning phenomenology of one mans' experience, Zero is a journey that goes nowhere and thus... arrives at many places." - Owen Ware


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


Craig Brown

The Marsh Marlowe Letters - Craig Brown

"Sir Harvey Marlowe, publisher, engages in a sprighytly correspondence with his old schoolmaster (retired) Gerald Marsh. From his home in Shuffling, Marsh waxes lyrical on the subject of household manners (¿I blow my nose with an handkerchief. Et toi?¿) and the pleasures of reading books backwards. Meanwhile, Sir Harvey, darting from meal to meal with gifted young writers, sends his old friend the hottest news from the literary front. But despite their passion for literature (¿I imagine you already know that steak is an anagram for Keats?¿), 1983 proves a testing year for their friendship. At the same time as Marsh is completing Pass the Fruitcake, Iris, his 1,000¿page study of music hall gaffes, Sir Harvey is becoming strangely attracted to his wife. A wickedly funny send¿up of literary pretension."


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


John Pairman Brown

The Displaced Person's Almanac (1962) - John Pairman Brown

""If the leaves are really falling, it won't do to try and scotchtape them back on the branches." Less gently and more exactly this odd little book catches us in our ridiculousness. As students, busi-ness-men, teachers, clergy, Americans, but especially as a member of that curious race, man, we begin to feel uneasy as we read. The hopes to which many of us clutch like ice-cream-happy children are carefully and accurately laughed out of existence. John Pairman Brown forces his readers to recognize the deadly faults in the world and in themselves, to realize the human need to do what is "right," and to accomplish this "right," whatever it may be. And it must be done now, for all tomorrows are too late.

"What phonies we are! And we only type these words because we trust our readers not to believe them." If cynicism isn't your flavor this month, the book is still worth reading for its humor and surprises. The author ranges through large areas of history and literature to support his arguments and his jeers. And despite the caustic tone of the book the author acknowledges his love in these introductory words. "Anyhow when you come down to it, about all you got here is a bunch of mash notes to a pugnosed and freckled globe hardly out of pigtails."" - Mary Jane Skatoff


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


David R. Bunch

Moderan (1971) - David R. Bunch

"This book was created from a compilation of his "Moderan" stories and his "Little Brother, Little Sister" stories which were originally published in the Sci Fi mags of the 50's and 60's such as "Amazing" and "Fantastic".Also some new works were created for this oeuvre. Being a compilation of short stories, the truly picky reader might say it does not track well as a whole. While I disagree, it might be due to the fact his editor rushed Bunch when he proofed the gallies. They wanted to get the book out on the market as quickly as possible.The true Bunch fan will appreciate each chapter for the little jewels they truly are! Bunch always hoped he could correct some of the minor mistakes in a second edition. As he is now deceased this probably will not happen. We can always hope, as his "literary heir" would certainly be amenable. Moderan never got the build up and publicity it should have because it was brought out the first and only time in paperback. A 2nd Edition in hardback would garner a whole new generation of fans for Bunch!

On the whole the book hangs together well. It is divided into three basic sections. These are cohesive in themselves. Bunch is not an easy read. You have to work at Bunch...his style, use of language,and content. This will be a book you read more than once. Each time you read it you will notice something different. Bunch makes you think!!!!

He was a very under appreciated writer in his time. He was a contempory of Bradbury, Asminov, and Ellison when they were publishing in the little mags. He was the only writer to have two stories in the same issue of "Dangerous Visions". He also wrote occasionally as Daryle Groupe. Bunch was not without humor.

Bunch is just now beginning to be appreciated as one of the greats that he truly was, because so much of what he was writing about fifty years ago has or is coming to pass. Plus he is just an exceptionally good read!!

If you enjoy "Moderan" this author also wrote "BUNCH" . It is a collection of his later diverse and some darker short stories. He also wrote "The Heartacher and the Warehouseman". This is a collection of Bunch's poetry over the years. It is a fabulous collection of early poems and poems he wrote for this book. It showcases his evolution as a writer and poet. It is difficult to find this book but well worth the trouble.It had only one printing in 2000 which was the year this great great light went out!(May 29,2000)

He is no doubt beaming star frowns down at us for the current "bad bad" situation we allow in the world! Bunch was nothing if not political and of his times, even as he wrote about the future he envisioned if we did not change course. This is why so many editors and publishers didn't know what to make of Bunch's writing. It was not the Science Fiction of "Martians and Monsters" as he liked to say. The other greats such as Ellison, Bradbury, Asminov, and many others however, recognized his talent and that he was one of their own." - hneybunchspk


Katharine Burdekin

Swastika Night (1937) - Katharine Burdekin

""Swastika Night" was published in 1937, although the fact that "Murray Constantine" was a pseudonym for Katharine Burdekin was not revealed until the early 1980s (Burdekin died in 1963). The chief interest in this dystopian novel was that Burdekin was telling the story of a feudal Europe that existed seven centuries into a world in which Hitler and the Nazi achieved total victory. The novel begins with a "knight" entering "the Holy Hitler chapel," where the faithful all sing the praise of "God the Thunderer" and: "His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, the Only Man. Who was, not begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded!" With such a beginning it is hard not to look at "Swastika Night" as a nightmarish version of the Germany and England that would result from a Nazi victory. Given the time in which she was writing, two years before Hitler's forces invaded Poland and officially began the Second World War, it is equally obvious that Burdekin is simultaneously an indictment of Hitler's political and militaristic policies and a warning of the logical consequences of the Nazi ideology.

Burdekin depicts a world that has been divided into the Nazi Empire (Europe and Africa) and the equally militaristic Japanese Empire (Asia, Australia, and the Americas), a demarcation that raises some interesting issues all by itself. Obviously in the Nazi Empire Hitler is venerated as a god and all books and documents from the past have been destroyed so that the Nazi version of history is all that remains (the similarity is more to the efforts of the ancient Egytpian pharoahs than Orwell's idea of the continuous revision of the public record). With all of the Jews having been exterminated at the start of the Nazi era, it is now Christians who are the reviled object of Nazi persecution, as well as those who are "Not Blood." Burdekin's protagonist is an Englishman named Alfred (suggesting parallels to England's legendary king Alfred the Great), who rejects the violence, brutality, and militarism of Nazi ideology because it results not in boys rather than men.

However, the fact that Hitler lost World War II does not mean that "Swastika Night" does not speak to contemporary readers in an important way. After all, we have not been progressing towards the dystopian vision of George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is still the mos widely read dystopian novel around. Burdekin's novel also explores the connection between gender and political power. Part of Hitler's deification is because he was never contaminated by contact with women, and In contrast to the "cult of masculinity," Burdekin depicts a "Reduction of Women" in which all women are kept ignorant and apathetic, their own function being for purposes of breeding. She clearly say the male apotheosis of women as mothers as being the first step on the slippery slope to the degradation of women to mere breeding animals. Despite the obvious comparisons to "Nineteen Eighty-Four," it is the contrast between the womanless world of "Swastika Night" and the woman-centered utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" (or even Virginia Woolf's "Three Guinesas," published in 1938) that most students of utopian literature are going to want to pursue.

Once World War II began "Swastika Night" became a historical footnote, especially since its pacifism would have been considered an impractical response to Hitler once war was declared. But today the feminist arguments regarding hypertrophied masculinity and the correlating reduction of women that are as much a part of the work as the condemnation of Nazi ideology makes it well worth consideration by contemporary readers." - Lawrance M. Bernabo


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


Ron Butlin

Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK - Ron Butlin, ed.

"This is an anthology. So you do not need to follow the pages and you can skip twenty pages forward then twenty-five backward and then thirty-seven forward again. You can just use the table of contents and read the poems that contain one particular word in their titles, or those of names you know or think you recognize. You like or you don't like this or that and if a poem is not pleasant you wan zap over it. Sipping is the rule in such reading and such a genre: sip here and sip there and try to get the divine sap on which you can sup and even if you really like it you can have your last supper of the day and then go digest it in your be-dreamed mind during the night. I must say the little monkey who is constantly sitting on my left shoulder, the heart shoulder mind you, is constantly telling me what to feel, what to think, what to do, and I must admit he was really active while I was reading this book. I must admit he told me a couple of times I was an assh*** to read such stuff while the world was needing so much action. Since he is my little monkey I have the right to tell him what I told him, that action is fine and dandy but action without feelings and inspiration is like a day without sunshine, and since the sun will collapse only in four hundred billion years, or so, I told him I wanted as much sunshine in my action as I could get for free.

That should make you understand at what a loss I am in front of this book. I did not lose my mind or my virginity. I lost something else that is quite different. I lost the tight feeling of things, mental or material, I generally have. It loosened my grounding in my intellectual firm lands and it sent me aloof and aghast in a sea of formless and soundless ghosts I had managed to keep at a distance for long enough to have nearly forgotten their existence. In no time, in a few pages, I was haunted by shape-shifters, body-shifters, body-thieves and soul-catchers that had decided I was a derelict thinker on legs and that I had to get off my legs to start thinking more freely. And it got me off my legs indeed.

It took me beyond genetics and the ranting and raving of H.G. Wells and his Morlocks and Eloi and his idea that the human species was going to evolved into two different antagonistic species setting the bourgeois capitalistic world upside down ass over teakettle, ass over head or head over heels. In the same way we are beyond the white supremacist scientific world H.G. Wells advocated in his film "Things to come." That was only the first step of modern apocalyptic science-fiction and that was a long time before Ron L. Hubbard and his shift of science fiction from machines to human beings. Ron Hubbard has always had the tendency to believe he was the great changer of the world. H.G. Wells was a catastrophic science-fiction writer for sure but he was quite in phase with Jules Verne who was a lot less catastrophic or apocalyptic. But both men were centered on man, human psychology, human potential future and inhuman potential dangers.

But we are beyond these writers and these at times dystopian utopias.

We have also stepped a long way beyond the easy explanations of evil as being the result of social organization, be it capitalism or market economy or whatever the fad of today, yesterday and tomorrow will bring back from the 19th century or even the 18th century if we consider Rousseau. We are beyond the vision that evil is an integral part of the human individual because we know today that this human individual is phylogenetically and psychogenetically produced and thus that what may be seen inside is necessarily the result of at least some influences from outside elements like education. It is obvious that this science fiction has understood that our education system is cultivating evil in every single one of our children for them to be normal adults, hence ready to fight our wars and fight against aliens and foreigners to the death, to the finish, to the bloody gladiator-like gritty fatal, lethal, deadly rape. And I say rape because rape is part of the education we provide our children with. This science fiction is beyond that and considers what this will produce in one or two generations. Tastily sickening, but sickeningly salvational. Thanks God we are saved, though God . . . And the wheel of Sarah Westcott's "O" is that wheel of salvation so often referred to and described in the Old Testament. But being a turning wheel the human being has become a machine or the macine has become a human being or both at once.

15 I then noticed that on the ground beside each of the four living creatures was a wheel,16 shining like chrysolite. Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it, 17 so that they could move in any direction without turning.18 The rims of the wheels were large and had eyes all the way around them.[k] 19-21 The creatures controlled when and where the wheels moved--the wheels went wherever the four creatures went and stopped whenever they stopped. Even when the creatures flew in the air, the wheels were beside them." (Ezekiel, 1:15-21)

We are definitely beyond Hubbard but Hubbard is one of the mind-bogglers that have left a deep voyeuristic furrow in our consciousness.

"Then he went down alone in the dark vault.
When he was sitting on his chair in the shade,
And that was on his forehead closed underground
The eye was in the grave and looked at Cain."
(Victor Hugo, The Legend of the Centuries, "Consciousness," 1859)

This unconscious scientologist eye in our own consciousness is like Big Brother made anew and afar and totalitarian as if this Big Brother was not a spying eye in a TV screen but a self-denouncing confessing urge in our own head impressed there by manipulating and pressurizing in the name of the engrams we have to bring out and reveal to the clear people who govern our healing.

This collection of poems is vastly beyond Extraterrestrials and other cosmic beings though when they are envisaged as such the colonial spirit comes back but such Extraterrestrials are passé today and the future cosmic beings are our descendants. Descendants you say? Hence in Darwin's line? Not really as we are going to see. The descent is beyond pure genes. The chromosomes are eternal but mutate constantly and at any stage the descending survivors continue those they left behind extinct

". . . Those who won were left
The standing stones, the seed, the memories
Of people before the people they
Left dead."
(Ken MacLeod, "Succession")

This collection seems to have integrated the post-Singularity thinking of people like Ray Kurzweil. In fact it is seriously exploring what would happen if Kurzweil's dream and desire were to become real. If all our "minds" meaning brains were to be invaded by all kinds or nanobots able to communicate together we would no longer be independent beings since our nanobots would be in constant communication with all the nanobots of the world and we would be each one of us one little transistor on and in a giant motherboard. Then the computing concept of master-slave would become a reality, a reality in our flesh, in our brains. Big Brother would really be Super-Big All-powerful Almighty Super-Brother this time. No confession necessary; No clears necessary; Just a giant cosmic computer to serve as the server of all these nanobots and we would be nothing but the flesh-dressed dendrites of this giant cosmic server. This collection of poems is seriously considering what may happen beyond this point. And this time the eye of consciousness in Cain tomb has become the constant leash, lashes and dashboard that command us from morning to morning and through the whole day and night. The Extraterrestrials then are the electric pulses, the digital commands and the viruses that come from the central cosmic server into every single one of our integrated circuit via our motherboards.

"All the fearless orphans you incubate
In the heat of the humming motherboard.
Our guillotining legs and slicing through
Your interactive future towards you:
We are coming, we are coming for you."
(Brian Mvcabe, "They Are Coming")

Speaking of dystopia, I am afraid, in fact frightened s***less, Ray Kurzweil is probably the best and most dangerous peddler of such a man-made apocalypse, of such a satanic nightmare straight out of the worst prophetic moments of the Old Testament, of the Torah even. The Leviticus transformed into an integrated nano-circuit multiplied in millions of varied types and modules and controlling our own material and mental life. Speaking of fundamentalism, I am amazed that such an MIT thinker may produce something that is billions of times more potent than the most stringent version of Islamic shari'ah law since then no individual at all would be able to have any individual initiative at all in anyway possible. I wonder what this other MIT mad scientist, Noam Chomsky who stated the innateness of universal grammar, think of this pushing his black box into becoming the black server of the cosmos.

When I have said that, and my little monkey helped me a lot yesterday while I was climbing a few hundred yards in the mountain in the sunshine (he is like me, he is not afraid of the sunshine since I retrieved him on his way back from South-East Asia some years ago), I could maybe enter the anthology and look at each poem in great detail. I could write hundred of pages, and each poem deserves such a full treatment. But that would be out of proportion here. So I am going to do what all monkey do: jump around from one tree to the next and scavenge what I can get here and there, a few blossoms, a few fruit, or a flea from the back of some fellow monkey, and share them with you.

Chris McCabe in his "The White Star Hotel" gives us the most complete version of the post-Kurzweilian apocalyptic dystopia. The "you" he is speaking of opposed to his "we" is clearly that master that controls us all via our nanobots.

"You are the conscience
You are the blueprint
You are the mind
You are the stars
You are the mass
You are the zeitgeist
You are the mute
You are the script"

What is left then to "us"? Not much after the great technical revolution:

"We devised our first strategies for waiting men to be born by machines."

But now that has happened "we" can go back to the closet of obsolete objects, and machines are bearing and delivering the new generation of what exactly?

"I knew the Fall was coming that night I woke, cardiac throated:
The gulls went lit by modern lights.
Our hearts were splattered with poverty.
We could smell smoke in the library.
Our newspapers turned to papier mache.
White ferries taxied us homewards.
Panic made kiosks of our possessions."

The reference to the Fall is of course a reference to Adam and Eve and the Fall from the Garden of Eden after eating the apple (ah! ah! a fig, man, or boy or whatever) when Eve played the fruit and Adam tried to play the writhing snake of a penile reptile child-maker. But after this second contact with the Tree of knowledge, the human species was out of the picture:

"All our new babies looking up with eyes of glazed chrisms. . .
The Fall happened in a vacuum. . .
The fact to remember about the Fall
Is that we were prepared for the atomic.
What happened was not atomic. . ."

Is there any hope in all that? Boy, man or whatever you prefer, girl or b***h even if that's your sex, gender or taste, not much if we keep the dystopian tone in that tale. But The author is a genius who discovers that we are governed in such a perspective by a Priest, in this case let's say Kurzweil or some other Hubbard, or a Steve Andreas, a Pete Bissonette, a Jamie Smart resolving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in you on a public stage for everyone to see the miracle, initiating you to fast reading or whatever personality change you may dream of, or even some American Monk jumping quanta in his old age, and what (certainly not who) Chris McCabe calls the Shadow which is this bodiless, fleshless, mindless entity deprived of any humanity and that controls all things without being in any way material, hence being entirely virtual. And the end of the poem following my last quotation is:

"And we could have pulled through somehow
We could have pulled through
Until we knew
The Priest was spending nights with the Shadow."

You cannot stop the hormonal impulses, even of a priest. He has to spend his night with something, if he can't spend them with someone, and you can imagine Kurzweil cajoling his Singularity, or Burt Goldman caressing his quanta, between the silk sheets of his/their night, gamboling and prancing in-between the Shadow legs or rather under the Shadow's spear (the Roman soldier), spike (for crucifixion or a hypodermic injection), carpenter's nail (also for crucifixion), or whatever a shadow can have as for a Jack-out-of-the-box-hammer.

And yet the poem is not finished. There is third section that pushes the theme even further and describes what happened when we got off the white ferries on our last trip across the cosmic ocean. I should quote the whole page but I can't. It is too powerful, too cruel. I feel like raped in my deepest and most intimate being and beliefs by this page and I kind of feel I have to thank the author for his foresight The author is raping us with a pneumatic drill of his own boring a Chunnel through our brains. So let me give you the second half of this page, only:

"The future pulling the souls from our bodies
Like the flesh of razorclams sucked from their shells
We knew
As we looked back for the final time
-- our emptiness fluted by the wind of the beach --
-- our first memories expiring into the blue -
-- a cot, a curtain, a rail of stars -
We knew by the lights in the mouths of our lovers
That everything had changed forever."

If we are dumb enough suckers to believe this priest or these priests of the singularity or whatever it is they peddle telling us the stars - if it is the stars - will eat our souls like we eat oysters, discard our bodies as useless casings, and we will have been transformed into fodder for the cosmos. A beautiful ending in a way but somewhere it must leave you un-satiated as for the sexual pleasure this intercourse should have brought you. You have become a virtual and totally enslaved mucroprocessor in the motherboard of the singularity's cosmos.

And that is Saint Kurzweil's gospel beaming his rays of supernatural virtual light onto the world in the name of MIT, the last laboratory of mad scientists incorporated in Massachusetts no longer bridging anything, but for sure being the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) camshaft or connecting rods of some devilish cosmic engine.

And to conclude this ranting raving of a critique I will quote Steve Sneyd's "Morning in June" that materializes the virtual predator that the cosmos had turned into in the previous poem:

"No one sees what is done
The planet's jaws gnash once
And swallow the whole scene."

I have to apologizes to all the authors I have not quoted but I think the readers of this critique should be titillated enough where they have an itch, I hope not too high between their knees, to get to the volume and read some more pages. It is worth even more than a very short while and in a way it is sickeningly funny (strange not ah! Ah!) and instructive. Particularly Sue Guiney's "What Can Be Taught" in which she explains all that apocalyptic fantasy is only possible because the teachers of our dear schools and universities are implementing the first of the ten most unpredictable questions Harvard Business School asks in the interviews to select their MBA students:

"Explain to me something you're working on as if I were an eight-year-old?"

turning themselves into grown-up children and thus locking up the children in their childish identity and personality.

And then we are surprised if the grown-ups that come out of these children are big children who can fall for the first priest available and speaking in the name of the unnamed first shadow imaginable. All that because we did not listen to what the children had to say and we did not care for it, we did not take care of it and answer their questions. The education system of this planet produces the apocalyptic vision at first and later the reality that will bring our civilization down like a secular temple built with newspaper scraps and fragments (page 27, the well numbered, 3x9, 999, the beast, Edwin Morgan's "a piece of newspaper caught in the traffic", and page 67, a prime number of its own 6+7=13, Edwin Morgan again and "a paper . . . caiught on some swirling freeway")." - Jacques Coulardeau


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


Roland Camberton

Scamp - Roland Camberton

"Scamp is another of those classic London novels from the 1950s that evokes Julian Maclaren-Ross, Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins, Samuel Selvon and so on. It makes a brilliant companion piece to Adrift in Soho by Colin Wilson.

The back streets of Soho and the West End are brought vividly to life and, whilst the plot is slightly inconsequential, that doesn't make the book any less enjoyable. Every page provides an opportunity to experience late 1940s bohemian London and, as I think we can all agree, that is a wonderful thing.

Julian Maclaren-Ross makes a few appearances as "Angus Sternforth Simms", who is usually to be found in The Corney Arms (a thinly disguised version of his home-from-home The Wheatsheaf pub). Indeed the sections of Scamp that take place in The Corney Arms could have come straight out of Paul Willetts's biography of Julian Maclaren-Ross "Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia".

Interestingly, and despite his appearance (or perhaps because of), Julian Maclaren-Ross was particularly scathing about this book in his review of it for Times Literary Supplement on 10 November 1950...

"The book is written from the standpoint of the "bum": that bearded and corduroyed figure who may be seen crouching over a half of bitter in the corner of a Bloomsbury "pub"; it is ostensibly concerned with the rise and fall of a short-lived literary review, but Mr. Camberton, who appears to be devoid of any narrative gift, makes this an excuse for dragging in disconnectedly and to little apparent purpose a series of thinly disguised local or literary celebrities."

Despite Julian Maclaren-Ross's negativity, the book won the 1951 Somerset Maugham Award (given to authors under the age of 35) and I can quite see why. The book's great strength is its evocation of late 1940's London and in particular the areas of Bloomsbury, Soho, Kings Cross, Fitzrovia, Fleet Street, and the multifarious and compelling bohemian characters that populate this world.

The book was out of print for many years until publishers Five Leaves, through their New London Editions imprint, republished it in 2010 (they've also republished two books by Alexander Baron which I have on my shelf and will be reading soon). I love books like this and am delighted that more of these titles are getting reprinted. There's a beauty and a purity in the shabby streets and seedy cafes and the lives lived on the margins. Not only that, but as the story went on the more quietly profound it became as Camberton muses on maturity and the loss of youth, and how being poor and bohemian loses its allure after a time.

Sadly Roland Camberton only wrote one other book before giving up writing, Rain On The Pavements, and that has also been republished by Five Leaves. Whilst about halfway through this book, and filled with enthusiasm for Roland Camberton, I got hold of a copy of Rain On The Pavements yesterday which I will read sometime soon. It's such a shame that there's only two books to read, still we should savour these two novels and be grateful to Five Leaves for bringing them back into print. Both novels have been reprinted complete with their original cover art by John Minton which are both beautiful artworks and really compliment the contents and enhance the reading experience." - nigeyb


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

The Absolute at Large - Karl Capek

"First, buy the paperback instead of the photoprinted hardcover. Easier to read and much cheaper.

Science fiction is at its best when well constructed with futuristic visions based on predicted fact and a novel point of view (no pun intended). "The Absolute at Large" was first published in the 1920's (remember Czech author Karel Capek was born in 1890), but uses remarkable futuristic telling that presages atomic fusion while commenting on the ethics and spread of power and mass production that Karel Capek saw in the technological and political revolutions occurring around him. In addition, he raises theistic-antitheistic arguments that are still going on today. And, lest I forget, he also includes comments on communism, national socialism, and free market capitalism.

But the real kicker is that this book is funny. The novel is written with a tongue-in-cheek style that will often have you laughing out loud. It's only when you finish the book that you realize just how much philosophy was covered while you were having so much reading fun. Humorous science fiction wrapped in a thoughtful core - just the right thing for the thinking reader." - L. M. Crane

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


Alejo Carpentier

The Lost Steps (1953) - Alejo Carpentier

"Probably the most remarkable literary event of the 20th century was the explosion--no other word will suffice--of Latin American literary creativity, fully comparable to a similar explosion in the US in the 19th century. And one of the most remarkable creators of this explosion is Alejo Carpentier. Reasonable people may differ regarding who is the greatest Latin American novelist, but surely Carpentier must be ranked among them, and "The Lost Steps" is his most widely read work.

The plot of "The Lost Steps" can be summarized very simply. The narrator, a naturalized American citizen living in New York City, once had youthful ambitions to become a composer. However, he now finds himself earning a living doing musical hack work, e.g., jingles for TV commercials. He is married and also has a mistress. When the novel opens, he has not had any work commissioned in a while and is starting to feel desperate. A friend who is a museum curator offers him the opportunity to go to an unnamed South American country to find a rare musical instrument. The narrator cynically sees this as an opportunity to have an expenses-paid trip with his mistress, but as the trip progresses he feels his dormant musical creativity being revived. He eventually finds the instrument he is looking for. He also meets a primitive, illiterate, mixed-race young woman by whom he is initially repulsed but with whom he eventually falls in love and cohabits with. His mistress leaves him and goes back home. He ends up living with his mistress in a small, inaccessible village deep in the jungle; the only other inhabitants are a native tribe and a few merchants of European descent. He believes that he has now found true happiness, away from the corruption and decadence of modern civilization. He forgets all about his obligations to the museum that sponsored his trip and vows never to go back.

One day his idyllic bliss is shattered when a helicopter lands and he learns that his "disappearance" has become front page news in the US. His wife and his museum sponsors have sent a search party to look for him. He realizes that he has no choice but to go back, although he desperately wants to stay. He promises his native lover that he will be back as soon as he can. When he gets back home, he discovers that he has become a celebrity, at least for a while, but he is miserably unhappy. His pregnant wife files for divorce, and the newspaper that sponsored his rescue now regards him as a traitor and deceiver and portrays him in the most negative light possible. His sources of income dwindle. He is reunited with his mistress but is repulsed by her and wants desperately to return to the village.Nearly a year passes before he is able to attempt to get back to the remote village. Getting there involves a water passage, and he finds to his horror that the rains that have fallen in recent months have caused the water level to rise to the point that the river covers the steps that were his marker for the jungle path to the village. He has no way to return to the village! Shortly thereafter he learns from someone who occasionally visits the village that his primitive lover has married someone else in the village. He is devastated. He suddenly realizes that he was never accepted by the people of the village or by his lover, that he was always regarded as an outsider who was only there temporarily and would never stay. Reluctantly, he decides to return to New York, realizing that he has no other choice.

This simple synopsis does not to justice to the richness of this novel. Even in translation, the richness of Carpentier's prose comes through: his fluency with words, his mastery of sentence structure, his mastery of metaphor and allegory. This is a novel of immense erudition, replete with literary and musical references. One of the novels messages, I think, is to enjoy and savor the peak experiences of life when you can, because they won't last and they won't come back again. Another message is that perfect happiness is unattainable and that most humans need to be content with what they are able to attain. In short, this is a work of incomparable richness that I can recommend unreservedly." - William J. Fickling


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


Mircea Cartarescu

Blinding - Mircea Cartarescu

"It¿s hard to know where to begin with Mircea C¿rt¿rescu brilliant memoir, Blinding. I don¿t really think calling it a memoir is really accurate as more often than not it reads like anything but a memoir. Before I bought the book I saw one of the captions from Kirkus review that compares the book to a Dali dreamscape; now after having finished the book that description rings true. The book bombards the reader with so many fantastic descriptions and dream images that I felt like I was being assaulted by Mircea C¿rt¿rescu¿s subconscious. Make no mistake, this is a serious, and incredibly talented writer that we in the U.S have been deprived of until now. With that said this book won¿t appeal to everyone. If you are looking for any kind of straightforward narrative you should steer clear of this. There are points where he attempts to tell us bits and pieces, really just fragments of what we imagine were Mircea¿s so called real world. There are descriptions of his mother and father and how they met and a really long beautiful piece about his mother and her sister leaving their village and coming to the city to work and their adventures they had there until the war. There is also quite a lot about him being sick as a child and being hospitalized and the effect that may have had on him. But more often than not these fragments from his ordinary life quickly crumble and turn into surreal dreamscapes where giant organic butterflies give birth to gods who give birth to worlds and time and space where this talented Romanian writer sits marveling over it all. There are at least two other volumes to this wonderful memoir-or anti-memoir and I will be eagerly waiting for their U.S release! " - Stephen M. Fragale


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.


Jacques Cazotte

The Devil in Love (late 1700s) - Jacques Cazotte

"The narrator of this tale of demonic seduction is a twenty-five-year-old Spanish soldier named Alvaro Maravillas who is a captain in the king's guard in Naples. He admits that his chief occupations, when he can afford them, are gambling and womanizing. One evening after he and his fellow officers had been sitting and drinking, an old Dutch soldier confides in Alvaro that he is a practitioner of the occult arts and has been able to summon an infernal spirit to be his personal servant. Of course Alvaro wants to try it himself.

In the ruins of an ancient temple, standing inside an inscribed pentagram, Alvaro repeats the incantation he has been taught to summon Beelzebub. A horrible and threatening visage appears, but Alvaro stands his ground and commands the demon to submit to him and prepare a feast for his companions, complete with a servant in livery. All is done as Alvaro has ordered, but the servant, a youth of striking beauty, looks at Alvaro in the most unsettling way. After the dinner the servant refuses to be dismissed or even leave Alvaro's side, and insists on becoming his page.

It isn't long before Alvaro confirms his suspicions that his page is actually a woman. He calls her Biondetta. She claims to by a sylph, an air-spirit, who fell in love with Alvaro and seized the opportunity to take human form to become his lover. She sets out patiently to seduce Alvaro who is naturally wary of such a being. Is she really a spirit become mortal as she claims to be? Or is she Beelzebub himself in disguise? Can Alvaro trust anything his senses tell him, or is everything he sees and feels just a grand illusion?

Cazotte's writing is remarkably fluid and concise for its time, more reminiscent of Poe than other 18th century authors. His handling of the apparent gender shifting of Biondetta--"she" in one guise, "he" in another--is subtle and eerie, as are the growing erotic tension and the uncertainty over Biondetta's true nature. The weakest part of the story, however, is its ending, which is abrupt and unsatisfying. According to Brian Stableford's introduction, Cazotte has originally planned (and perhaps wrote) a work twice as long, and the ending was rewritten because early readers rejected the author's first version. The Devil in Love is a captivating story that, with a better ending, would have become a classic." - Steven Davis


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


Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow - Robert W. Chambers

"This series of stories is an early science-fiction/horror work first published in 1895. It was recommended by Stephen King in his history of horror, "Danse Macabre." Despite its early date, the series is certainly science fiction: the first story projects the setting to 1920, and reviews the "history" till then, getting it all wrong, of course, but interestingly so. The second story posits the invention of a way to create sculpture instantly from life forms, much as photography had usurped realistic painting in that day, and reminds one of the 3-D printers just showing up now.

"The King in Yellow" is also certainly horror fiction. The first stories are framed by account of a morally appalling play of that name, which drives everyone mad who reads it. The play has widely been banned and criticized from pulpits and boards of review everywhere. The key to this book is that 1895 was the date of Oscar Wilde's trial for perversion, and "the King in Yellow" is surely a reference to Wilde's play "Salome," which was also widely banned and criticized for its moral decadence. The principals in these stories all know each other and are all artists or writers, like Wilde and his friends. A gravely deformed man, apparently deformed by the exigiencies of law, is a mad character in the lead story named Wilde, and he has a cat that alternately attacks him and lounges on his lap purring: the reference is presumably to Wilde's unstable lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, who was responsible for most of Wilde's problems and his eventual imprisonment and death not long after release. (See the excellent modern biography of this remarkable character, "Bosie" by Douglas Murray.)

"The King in Yellow" therefore fits in with a then-literary fashion of revulsion toward the Wilde fin-de-siecle decadence, especially after Wilde's trial, when even his famous illustrator of "Salome," Aubrey Beardsley, cut him dead in Paris when Beardsley happened to walk past a café where Wilde was sitting. (See the brilliant and definitive modern biography "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde" by Neil McKenna.) "The Green Carnation" was another such work, published anonymously and variously attributed to men who had travelled with Bosie, at least, and had heard libelous stories of misbehavior with young boys.

"The Green Carnation" doesn't stand on its own: it's a roman à clef and you need to know the key. "The King in Yellow" does stand on its own, however, being a creepy series of horror stories with surprisingly modern notes of science fiction. After the framed stories, there is a charming if traditional story involving falcons, and then some psychological thrillers not related to the eponymous series." - Phebe


Graham Chapman

A Liar's Autobiography: Volume VI - Graham Chapman


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


George S. Chappell

Throught the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera - George S. Chappell

"Gary Trudeau conducting a tour of Ronald Reagan's brain. J. G. Ballard flensing a drowned giant. Isaac Asimov orchestrating a fantastic bloodstream voyage. James Morrow towing the corpse of Jehovah.

What do all these expeditions--through cellular landscapes entered via shrinking or across enlarged physiognamies encountered as geography--have in common? Surely Jonathan Swift's accounts of Gulliver's Lilliputian and Brobdingnangian exploits figure somewhere in the literary morphic fields of these works. But a closer ancestor, one more likely to have been encountered by authors of a certain age, is George Chappell's Through the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera, a profanely comic and bodily disrespectful tour through the helpless interior of an anonymous citizen.

Presented as the first-person scientific account of an unnamed explorer and his three companions, Through the Alimentary Canal is a continuously hilarious, linguistically inventive parody of two genres: the safari memoir and the layperson's medical compendium. After circumnavigating the exterior of their victim (not omitting the naughty bits), the explorers, without any technological fuss, simply slip through the "Oral Cavern" and before you can say "down the gullet" are riding their portable boat toward their ultimate destination of "Colon-sur-mer," through a surreal jungle environment populated by various tribes such as the savage Haemoglobins, and rich with such wildlife as heeby-geebies and gastroids. The visitors fish for phagocytes, carve their initials on the spine, and are entertained in the Peritoneum by the Great Omentum, a local rajah. Along the way, Chappell satirizes academia, Prohibition, religion, national pride, and our quirky mortal machinery.

Chappell (1877-1946) belonged to that great generation of humorists that included Benchley, Thurber, Perelman and Leacock, and wrote a number of lesser books under the persona of Dr. Traprock. But this slim imaginative masterpiece surely deserves resuscitation." - Paul Di Filippo


Jerome Charyn

Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution - Jerome Charyn

"If Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain had collaborated on a novel about the American Revolution, there's a very good chance they would have concocted something much like "Johnny One-Eye."

This intoxicating and comic look at the Revolutionary War centers on the picaresque adventures of the eponymous Johnny One-Eye (aka John Stocking) a half-blind double agent whose loyalty seems to change with the winds of war.

Charyn's novel creates a bawdy, dream-like world in which George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton and various British and French military leaders cavort like phantoms who are simultaneously recognizable and utterly foreign.

Most of the action takes place in New York, where Washington and his small, poorly trained and inadequately equipped army initially await the inevitable arrival of a massive British force under the command of the brothers Howe - one an admiral, the other a general. New York remains the principal setting even after the British capture the city.

Manhattan is awash in spies and whores, with the latter plying their trade in a neighborhood of brothels called Holy Ground, so named because of its proximity to St. Paul's Chapel. Charyn explains, in an author's note, that Manhattan really had a red-light district by that name during the 18th century.

The most famous bordello in Holy Ground is the Queen's Yard, where owner Gertrude Jennings hovers over her brood of prostitutes, who are known, appropriately enough for the setting, as Gertrude's Nuns.

The star of Gertrude's enterprise, and the love of Johnny's life, is Clara, a blond, green-eyed "octoroon."

Johnny narrates this tale of his "unremarkable life" in an appealingly disjointed style. His fanciful depiction of the American Revolution is bemusing, preposterous and yet, somehow, credible. Despite the comic overtones, Washington emerges as a principled and courageous leader, albeit one with a conflicted attitude toward slavery.

Adding to the novel's charm is Charyn's fondness for wondrous words, such as "homunculus" and "raspcallions." Prince Paul, the leader of Manhattan's impoverished black neighborhood and a secondary character, is described as "palavering" with other folks. A knave is not a knave in "Johnny One-Eye," but a "varlet."

If the magic that Charyn creates were the norm in historical fiction, perhaps more readers would develop a taste for the genre. In the hands of someone as talented as Charyn, the past is a bizarre world of surreal splendor." - Paul Carrier


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


Luis Chitarroni

The No Variations: Diary of an Unfinished Novel - Luis Chitarroni

"A dizzying look at the backrooms of literature, with petty squabbles, long-nurtured grudges, envied or undeserved prizes, failing publishers, and self-important critics, The No Variations is a serious game, or perhaps a frivolous tragedy." - boilerplate blurb


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

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1971) - Robert Coover

"The basic story of Coover's book is quite simple. Henry Waugh creates an intricate single-player baseball game that's played with dice. He plays entire seasons with his eight-team league; he keeps detailed statistics for every player and every game; he creates backstories and personalities for his players; he develops an administrative body for his league and imagines political debates among the players; and he acts as an official historian of the league, writing volumes of stories about the game and its players. When something shocking and unexpected occurs within the game, Henry gradually loses the ability to distinguish between reality and imagined events within the game. In the end, he is more or less consumed by his game.

As the synopsis above no doubt suggests, this story begs to be read as an allegory. One might read it as an allegory of God's relation to His creation. Henry, like God, is a creator who appears to have complete control over his creation, and yet, like God, his creation comes to take on a life of its own. When terrible things occur, he desperately wants to step in and set things right, but he also wants the game to retain its integrity. So Henry is like God in that he remains outside his creation even though it seems he could sometimes intervene to set things right. (Indeed, some of the game's players are said to have some sense of a higher power controlling their destiny.) One might also read Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of man's attempt to make sense of his world through art, religion, science, philosophy, etc. All that's really going on is the random event of rolling the dice, as, in some sense, all that's really going on in the universe is certain random physical events. And yet Henry imagines an entire alternate reality to make sense of the random events of his game. His player backgrounds and psychologies, his historical interpretations of the game, his imaginings of crowds and stadiums--all of this is intended to give the random throws of the dice some meaning, some significance to him. (This reading is also suggested by our one look at Henry at work in his job as an accountant. Rather than merely crunch the numbers, he reads a story of the operation of a business off his accounting books. He makes sense of the numbers by seeing them as evidence of something beyond themselves.) Finally, one might interpret Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of the artist's relation to his works.

These allegorical readings notwithstanding, it's also possible to read this book as a simple and moving story of one isolated man who gradually loses touch with reality. While Henry seems a decent enough chap, he has no family, only one friend (and not an especially close one), no real love interest, and no interests outside of his game. From what we learn in the novel, it seems his entire life consists in (occasionally) going to work at his mind-numbing job, stopping at the local bar to drown his sorrows, and sitting at his kitchen table playing his game. Since Henry's life is thoroughly dull and uneventful from the outside, the book focuses on what's going on in his mind. The focus of the book is his isolation and his attempts to create something important and lasting and to be a part of something larger than himself. The opportunity to create something important is what the game appears to provide him, and so it's not all that surprising that he ends up losing himself in his game.

This, of course, suggests that Henry can be understood as an example of the way in which alienated individuals can get lost in solitary pursuits that are made available to them by modern life. Because he lacks an community of people with which to identify, Henry ends up getting lost in his game in much the same way that others can get lost in books, television, the internet, etc. All of these things appear to provide their user with a connection to a world beyond himself, and yet total immersion in them brings you no closer to other people than you'd be without them.

I'd give this book 4.5 stars if I could; that seems a more accurate assessment. The reader should note that this isn't really a baseball book. It's more about the trappings of baseball--the statistics, the history, the players, the rites--than it is about the game itself. So this isn't a book for someone looking for a presentation of dramatic athletic feats; instead, it's a book for the baseball fan whose appreciation of the game is intellectual rather than visceral." - ctdreye

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

"Published in 1969, this collection of short stories could only have appeared in America at the end of a decade as turbulent as the sixties. The influence of that decade and all the stress it forced upon a comfortable America emerging from a comfortable 1950's- the assassination of JFK, the war in Vietnam, the rise and influence of psychedelic drugs, an emerging sexual freedom, riots in our cities- while not explicitly present in this collection of witty and masterful pieces, presides over every word and story. The anxiety and sense of danger that the sixties imposed upon the United States oozes from page one all the way through to the unsettling finish.

The book starts off with the familiar- fairy tales- only they read nothing like the ones we were raised on. Then we're off to a deserted island where two lone females encounter strange men and magic fireplace pokers. Or do they? Nothing happens to them and yet everything happens to them. In another story, a babysitter gets raped, molested, accidentally drowns the baby, and falls asleep watching television- all at the same time.

In every story, at every chance he gets, author Robert Coover challenges what we, the reader, think we know about what is going on and then presents a completely different scenario. It is clever, the word play is rapid and at times dizzying, and while it may feel at times that Coover is simply a magician pulling the wool over our eyes (an accusation he addresses in the final story, about a magician who attempts to pull the wool over the audience's eyes), his writing is so confident that he essentially gets away with whatever literary trick he attempts to pull.

Biblical stories are reinterpreted. The Jesus story from the viewpoint of Joseph, the Noah story from the viewpoint of some unlucky neighbors. Lepers, sadistic stationmasters, men who fear elevators, the topics are unique and varied. One that stands out, that seems to speak to Coover's view of America and what it is becoming, concerns a man hit by a truck while crossing the street on a green light. While lying underneath the truck dying, the theater of the absurd takes place around him while people blame the pedestrian, laugh at a woman claiming to be the dying man's lover, yell at a helpless police officer, and encourage the futile antics of an incompetent doctor. Absurd yet underneath it all, deeply unsettling.

Violent, sexual, crude- these are not nice stories. But if you want to read an author at his fearless best, grab this book now and savor some of the best writing modern America has produced." - PuroShaggy

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


Raymond Cousse

Death Sty: A Pig's Tale - Raymond Cousse

"Death Sty: A Pig's Tale is an amazing, original, thought-provoking piece of fiction. I feel compelled to first say what this book is not: it is not an expose of the shocking cruelty taking place in slaughterhouses, nor is it a vehicle in which the author tries to convince you to become a vegetarian. This is basically a pig's story of his life and its grand purpose. This is no ordinary pig, however; he is a philosopher, political theorist, and sociologist blessed with amazing insight. Our unnamed narrator describes his current life inside a small enclosure at a slaughterhouse, referring back to his days of youth and continually looking forward to the day when his ultimate goal will be achieved. That ultimate goal is nothing less than his slaughter; he glories in the thought of his posthumous legacy as food for humankind. He devotes himself to forming the best hocks, ham, blood sausage, etc. He explains the course of his life, even providing a statistical chart showing his estimates of how much he weighed at each step of weaning, fasting, braking, etc. He knows full well what will happen to him when he reaches the butcher's domain, almost delighting in the communication of each step of the final process. Although he is alone throughout the course of his tale, he describes pig society, quotes famed pig thinkers, and laments those pigs who foolishly wish to make a mockery of their lives by resisting their glorious destinies. While he views the butcher as a god of sorts, he does have much to say about swineherds. He can barely tolerate these base men who see fit to come tramping nastily into his home any time they want and insist on putting his water bucket in the middle of his enclosure, where it naturally restricts his predilection for diagonal movement, rather than beside his trough. It is these same swineherds who have perpetuated so many lies about pigkind, he declares, while they are really the nasty beings who themselves, rather than hogs, live in sty-like squalor.

He expresses thoughts of rebelling against the swineherd, often in subtle ways, but he has no use for mass porcine action against man. This pig is basically a political thinker whose complex views often ring with religious overtones--after all, paradise for the pig is found at the hands of the butcher. He disdains those pigs too shallow to understand their true purpose. Most interestingly, he decries the thought of being taken out of his enclosure and being allowed outside--he would resist this by all means at his disposal, even though he has fond memories of a short time in the meadows as a young piglet. The thought of his brethren escaping the slaughterhouse is an affront to his sensibilities. Such an act betrays the very heritage of pigkind.

Clearly, this is political and social satire at a high level. One reading is not sufficient to truly understand everything the author is trying to communicate. The religious connotations immersed in the story are quite subtle and in no way offensive, but it is the pig's thoughts on politics and pig society that make this book so thought-provoking. I would say this is essentially a work of natural philosophy clothed in the guise of brilliant satire. Its originality, subtlety, and universality afford this short novel an honored position in my library of literary treasures." - Daniel Jolley


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

Travel Notes: From Here to There - Stanley Crawford

"Fiction. Originally published in 1967, TRAVEL NOTES is a hallucinogenic dream journey thru the incomparable mind that subsequently brought us Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine, then dropped off the grid to become a garlic farmer in New Mexico. TRAVEL NOTES could indeed read like Stanley Crawford's private travelogue, yet no real-world places or people are explicitly mentioned. Instead we're taken on a rompish tromp thru wild and often absurd landscapes¿in a bus that gets dismantled & reassembled to get around a broken-down car, in a biplane that only flies in the mind of the naked pilot, or on the back of a white elephant named Unable with untranslatable obscenities tattooed to his underbelly¿the traveller ever self-aware of the nagging fragility of routine customs, ever on the verge of having the magic carpet pulled out from beneath your feet if you stop to think. This mind-jarring comedy of errors shares campy common ground with Brautigan in its carefree wackiness, with Robbe-Grillet in its disciplined lunacy and obsessive- compulsive attention to detail, with Márquez in its magical realism (though Crawford, in exile on Crete, was at the time unaware of One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in the same year) and with a healthy dose of subversive angst thrown in for good measure. By the end, TRAVEL NOTES becomes a boot-strapping map to your own brain, projecting psychotherapeutic color on the otherwise gray matter of real-world events."

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


Louis De Bernieres

The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts - Louis De Bernieres

Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord - Louis De Bernieres

The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman - Louis De Bernieres


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


Tom DeHaven

Freaks' Amour (1986) - Tom DeHaven

"Freaks Amour is a bizarre, frightening look into the future after a nuclear "accident." You will meet one of the most memorable cast of characters ever dreamed up, all of whom are freaks due to their parents' exposure to radiation from an accidental nuclear blast in (where else?) New Jersey.

Because their incredible appearance (graphically described by the author) causes them to be ostracized by non-freaks, they must resort to performing in live sex shows to earn a decent living.

A nicely-done and highly entertaining metaphorical tale of the underclass, the details and strange characters of this book will stay with you for a long time. I read this book when I was 12 and have been trying to locate a copy for the past 26 years." - A Customer


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
...


Peter Dickinson

Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures - Peter Dickinson


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


Terry Dowling

Rynosseros - Terry Dowling

Blue Tyson - Terry Dowling

Twilight Beach - Terry Dowling


Hal Dresner

The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books - Hal Dresner


Andy Duncan

Beluthahatchie and Other Stories - Andy Duncan

Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories - Andy Duncan


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."


Lord Dunsany

The Collected Jorkens - Lord Dunsany

"Fantastic tall-tales with low-key humor told by Jorkens at the Billiards Club. The old man's remembrances of unusual adventures at the edge of the world in the 1920s and 1930s are quite amusing. They include a story about a mermaid, adventures in Africa, and trees that are alive. Jorkens recounts his adventures for club members in return for a whiskey, and the club members are never quite sure how truthful he's being. This first collection by Nightshade of three volumes includes tales originally published as The Travel Tales of Joseph Jorkens (1931) and Jorkens Remembers Africa (1934).

I love the atmosphere of these stories. Dunsany knew how to grab readers at the start:

The talk had veered round to runes and curses and witches, one bleak December evening where a few of us sat warm in easy chairs round the cheery fire of the Billiards Club. "Do you believe in witches?" one of us said to Jorkens. "It isn't what I believe in that matters so much" said Jorkens, "only what I've seen."

How can you not read further after a beginning like this? Dunsany knew how to tell good stories. I quite enjoyed this collection of stories. If you like old ghost stories or Sherlock Holmes, you may enjoy Jorkens." - W. Elliott


EEE


Jason Earls

Red Zen: A Novel of Extreme and Bizarre Adventure In Which a Mystical Book on Buddhism Changes the Hero's Life (2007) - Jason Earls

If(Sid_Vicious == TRUE && Alan Turing == TRUE) { ERROR_Cyberpunk(); } (2007) - Jason Rogers & Jason Earls

0.1361015212836455566789110512013615... (2006) - Jason Rogers & Jason Earls


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

"George Alec Effinger wrote three books about Marid Audran, a private investigator living in the Budayeen, the red light district of an unnamed Arab country in the 23rd century (but in actuality modeled on the French quarter in New Orleans, where Effinger lived). When Gravity Fails is the first of the three books, which introduce us to Marid, who was raised in Algeria by his mother, an Algerian prostitute, and who never knew his French father. Considered a barbarian north african by the Arabs in his city, Marid lives on the fringes among the drug dealers and users, and the strippers, protitutes, sex changes and outcasts that live just outside the law, working as a private detective when he can find a client. Marid prides himself on being unwired, that is, unlike most residents of the Budayeen, Marid has not adapted his brain to accept personality modules, or Moddies, or add-ons, better known as Daddies. Nor does Marid work or live under the largesse or protection of Friedlander Bey, better known as Papa, who controls most the business, legitimate or otherwise, in the Budayeen.

When a client is killed in front of Marid's eyes and Marid's acquaintances start dying horrible deaths, Marid is drawn into an uneasy alliance with both the police, whom he does not trust, and Papa, to whom he does not want to be beholden.

Effinger has created a world that is unlike most science fiction books, keeping the actual science light, and letting us believe that this is how the Arab world might be in the 23rd century, with not much changed except a bit of technology. Effinger offers both an interesting who and why-dunnit, while examining the issues of faith and identity. Is Marid, a heavy drug and alcohol user who lives by his own code and is committed neither to Allah nor any other human, the faithful one, or is it Papa, who kills and extorts in the name of business but who faithfully prays 5 times a day? What is it like to be an outsider, and how do you find yourself?

This book is sadly out of print, but easily available used on the internet. Still compelling after all this time and well worth tracking down. - J. Fuchs


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


Venedikt Erofeev

Moscow to the End of the Line - Venedikt Erofeev

"Moskva-Petushki, which is translated in English as Moscow to the End of the Line, is Venedikt Erofeev's greatest work, one drunken man's (Venichka's) journey on the Moskovskaia-Gor'skovskaia train line to visit his lover and child in the Petushki. En route, Venichka talks with other travelers in dialogue and he also speaks in monologue about various themes such as drinking, Russian literature and philosophy and the sad, poetic soul of the Russian peasant. As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly dark, disoriented, hallucinogenic and surrealistic, in proportion to the narrator's alcohol intake.

Moscow to the End of the Line was written in 1970. During this time, Erofeev, himself, was traveling around the Soviet Union working as a telephone cable layer. Erofeev's friends have said the author made the story up in order to entertain his fellow workers as they traveled, and that many of these fellow workers were later incorporated as characters in the book.

The text of the novel began to be circulated in samizdat within the Soviet Union and then it was smuggled to the West where it was eventually translated into English. The official Russian language publication took place in Paris in 1977. With glasnost, Moscow to the End of the Line was able to be circulated freely within Russia, but, rather than stick to the original form, the novel was abridged in the government pamphlet Sobriety and Culture, ostensibly as a campaign against alcoholism. Finally, in 1995, it was officially published, together with all the formerly edited obscenities and without censorship.

Although he is an alcoholic, Venichka never comes across to the reader as despicable. Venichka is not a man who drinks because he wants to drink; he drinks to escape a reality that has gone beyond miserable and veered off into the absurd. He is not a stupid or pitiable character, but rather one who has no outlet for his considerable intelligence. That Venichka is very educated is obvious; he makes intelligent and well-read references to both literature and religion. However, in the restrictive Soviet Union of his time, there was no outlet for this kind of intelligent creativity; Venichka is forced to channel his creative instincts into bizarre drink recipes and visions of sphinxes, angels and devils.

Although many will see Moscow to the End of the Line as satire, it really is not. Instead, it is Erofeev's anguished and heartfelt cry, a cry that demanded change. Venichka is not a hopeless character, however, the situation in which he is living is a hopeless one.

A semi-autobiographical work, Moscow to the End of the Line was never meant as a denunciation of alcoholism but rather an explanation of why alcohol was so tragically necessary in the day-to-day life of citizens living under Soviet rule.

Moscow to the End of the Line is a highly entertaining book and it is a book that is very important in understanding the Russia of both yesterday and today as well. This book is really a classic of world literature and it is a shame that more people do not read Moscow to the End of the Line rather than relying on the standard "bestseller." This book deserves to be more widely read and appreciated." - A Customer


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


Adams Farr

The Fangs of Suet Pudding - Adams Farr

"The Fangs of Suet Pudding may be the most unusual book you read this year. It was written during WWII by "Adams Farr" who may or may not be the narrator of the tale, a teenage girl. Through her eyes we see what it was like to live in France when the Germans were marching through at the beginning of the war. But Loreley is no ordinary girl and the adventures she encounters when she allows a thief in the night to share her bedroom are not like any other war story you've ever heard. Although she has nothing in common with Lisbeth Salander, the super-girl from Stieg Larsson's popular thrillers of 2011, she has as much gumption and charming wiles as Lisbeth. And she can tell a story better than almost anyone writing today. Your library of oddities will not be complete until you have a brand-new edition of this very obscure and hard-to-find book in it. Chris Mikul introduces it and Gavin L. O'Keefe provides the cover art. It's a book you won't forget for a long time." - boilerplate


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

The Twofold Vibration - Raymond Federman

"The Twofold Vibration is a book that has yet to find an audience. It situates itself somewhere between a few different genres; between fact and fiction, history and futuricity, autobiograpy and science ficiton, pastiche and kitsch. Most importantly, i t situates itself inbetween the Holocaust and a departure from the planet which is a hybrid of science fiction and biblical messianism. The focus of the novel, the "old man" is investigated by two narrators (Namredef and Moinous: translated as Federman spelled backwards and "my mind" respectively) and one writer who makes an assemblage out of their information/ficitonal information (and perhaps misinformation) about the old man. The major task of these three is to find out why the old man is being deported to another planet. But with all the information we get about him we still don't get an answer. What we do get is a rich collage that includes both a missed encounter and a quasi-real encounter with the Nazis, as well as a narrative about how the old man returns to the camps later in his life (albeit accidentally). The accidentlal return to the camps begins when he meets a Jane Fonda type of woman of the 60s, a woman who is a film star slash political activist. The narrative itself is entirely borrowed from film which brings out its kitcshiness and a scence of non-reality. His involvement with this woman leads to taking risk after risk, and eventually gets him onto a plane for Europe where they go to gamble have sex etc. At some point, we are not sure, this "story" ends and another begins, this time with the two narrators. In this new plot line, in which we learn about the friendship and travels of these three, ther is another mad flight from caisno to casino. Eventually this leads them into Germany. One of the highlights of the journey is a Wagner opera out of which the old man attempts to make some obesrvations about the German people and Nazis, this proves futile. At some point, after this opera, he disspaears from his friends for a reason that is seemingly arbitrary: He had to "think" so he left. In the meantime they don't know if he is dead. After he departs from them, he accidentally meets other people whom bring out how, in the aftermath of the holocast (in a an age of media and mass efficiency) fiction and reality overlap. He meets a Jewish film producer from Holloywood who wants to make a film about the Holocast (though he never went through it) and his non-Jewish Grilfriend who is more a reflex than a person. She exerts a mechanical pity and has a likewise mechincal form of sex with the old man. At some point he leaves the couple and this branches off into another story of how he loses all his money and ends up in Paris, where they meet up with him again. At this point, the narrative takes a turn toward sci-fi and the detective novel. The narrators and the writer realize that the old man will depart very soon, therefore they make it their task to find out what he did wrong to get deported, and then perhaps they could make things right and save him. I won't tell what ends up happening in the end of the book, that is left to the reader to discern. But for now, I can say that the end of the book inter-weaves a messianic plot with epistmeological and exigetical questions concerning the meaning of existence and the search for meaning in general (and its diversions). Its a cross between Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, eastern messianism, a sci-fi nightmare, and a Beckett Play where a plot is interrupted by a form of existential absurdity. The greatness of this ending has less to do with how it brings all of these genres together into a configuration, but in how it invents a discourse after the Holocaust that is concerned not just with the past, but with a future that is not just situated in a realistic manner, but in a fictional manner. It is for this reason that Federman should be reconsidered by Holocast critics like Hartman and Felman whom have taken such an interest in testimony that they have (unfortunatley) discounted work such as Federman's as promoting a form of "amnesia" (Hartman) and diversion that goes nowhere in contrast to Video testimony (at Yale for Hartman, Felman, and Langer) that has something to give to the next generation (what Langer calls "collected memory" a la James Young vs- "collective memory", that is public memory which, for Hartman, vulgarizes the Holocaust.) Hartman argues that Federman's work, like Video Testimony, challenges the notion of "false memory" ("collective memory") but falls short of testimony becase this is all it does. This bias does an injustice to Federman's work. Anyone who takes time to read this book will realize the injustice that has been done. At one point in this book, Federman (the first person narrator) writes that the Holocaust has become a concern for everyone, it is not just an event that Jews and Germans need to work through. This implies that this book should be read as a work of the imagination, the historical imagination. Federman shows us that the historical imagination can and should deal with the Holocast in way that figures out how it will travel into the future by way of a world where fact and fiction overlap, a world where Hollywood producers make films on the Holocast and where the old man is about to be deported for something no one knows about, a deportation that is like the deportation to Aushwitz (and not like it), a deportation that is at the same time thoroughly fictional and at the same time quite real. This book should be read in the sence that it meditates on a departure/deportation that hasn't yet happened, just as another great book of Federman's To Whom it May Concern is about an arrival that hasn't happened but is in the process of happening." - menachem feuer

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


Jean Ferry

The Conductor and Other Tales (1950) - Jean Ferry

"First published in French in 1950 in a limited edition of 100 copies, then republished in 1953 (and enthusiastically praised by André Breton), The Conductor and Other Tales is Jean Ferry¿s only published book of fiction. It is a collection of short prose narratives that offer a blend of pataphysical humor and surreal nightmare: secret societies so secret that one cannot know if one is a member or not, music-hall acts that walk a tightrope from humor to horror, childhood memories of a man never born, and correspondence from countries that are more states of mind than geographical locales. Lying somewhere between Kafka¿s parables and the prose poems of Henri Michaux, Ferry¿s tales read like pages from the journal of a stranger in a familiar land. Though extracts have appeared regularly in Surrealist anthologies over the decades, The Conductor has never been fully translated into English until now. This edition includes four stories not included in the original French edition and is illustrated throughout with collages by Claude Ballaré.

Jean Ferry (1906¿1974) made his living as a screenwriter for such filmmakers as Luis Buñuel and Louis Malle, cowriting such classics as Henri-Georges Clouzot¿s Le Quai des orfèvres and script-doctoring Marcel Carné¿s Les Enfants du paradis. He was the first serious scholar and exegete of the work of Raymond Roussel (on whom he published three books) and a member of the Collège de ¿Pataphysique." - Wakefield Press


Michael Fessier

Clovis - Michael Fessier


Juan Filloy

Op Oloop - Juan Filloy


Timothy Findley

Not Wanted on the Voyage - Timothy Findley


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.
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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

Unholy City - Charles Finney

"City is a parody of the fantastic adventure novel of the Edgar Rice Burroughs school -- but it's more than just parody, and plenty weird besides. Finney's stuff is very unusual, but oddly satisfying. Finney is also the author of "The Circus of Doctor Lao."

The Unholy City: one of the most remarkable novels of fantastic adventure ever written. The nightmare City of Heilar-Wey, with its ghoulish pleasures, its zany riots, and a giant tiger ravening in its streets, is not a nice place to visit - but it's a delight to read about! - from the cover.

This book actually holds 2 short novels: The Unholy City (an update of a 1937 novel) and The Magician out of Manchuria: an exotic saga of the travels of the Magician, a lost Queen of remarkable talents, and their very odd companions, in search of a far land where magic may still live-a story of perils, pratfalls, and pure enchantment." - A Customer

The Ghosts of Manacle - Charles Finney

"The stories (and one novella) are set in and around Finney's invented township of Manacle, Arizona.

Finney covers such topics as a local manifestation of the "Black Dog" motif familiar in England's folklore; the bizarre offspring of a Gila Monster and a shrike; a curse on good-deed-doers; and a quest for buried treasure, wherein just about every character is related, and very few don;t want to kill each other.

Finney's craft is such that the possible preciousness of his style is outweighed by his creativity and good humor. These are fun stories to be read with one eyebrow cocked, for they were doubtless written tongue-in-cheek.

The cover blurb of the 1964 paperback is "The damndest book you ever read." I might not go THAT far, but it's a fun read, and comes from a guy whose creative net stretches across the Arizona horizon." - Mark Alfred


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


Walton Ford

Pancha Tantra - Walton Ford

"This collection of Ford's large-scale paintings covers most of his work from the past 20 years. It is amazing how consistent his vision has remained over this period, owing not to artistic stagnancy, but instead to a passionate vision that is both unique and powerful. The comparison made by one reviewer is that Walton Ford's large-scale watercolors resemble a meeting of J.J. Audubon and Hieronymus Bosch, and I would say it's very apt. In the world of modern contemporary art Ford is something of a pleasant anomaly, making art that is accessible and thought-provoking, incorporating elements from the masters of the Renaissance, the Baroque period, the Surrealists and, of course, Audubon, to make something that still feels very original. Thankfully, Taschen has released a book that is worthy of the art it depicts; It a huge tome, weighing in around 3.5 kg, 350 pages long, about 12" wide by 16" tall, and is printed on a thick, semi-glossy paper stock. 'Pancha Tantra' is the perfect showcase for one of the world's best living artists, at a price that is shockingly affordable... I've paid literally three times as much for books of this quality.

Compared with his last monograph, the well-designed but slim 'Tigers of Wrath, Horses of Instruction' -- which is only about 80 pages long and features much smaller reproductions, making details hard to examine -- 'Pancha Tantra' feels like a treasure trove of art, every page revealing another incredible, stunning work. As the paintings are presented in chronological order, the reader becomes a kind of naturalist, following the evolutionary development of Ford's vision, as various birds and mammals take on complex metaphorical significance. The European Starling becomes his favorite ornithological avatar, taking on it's tiny wings the weight of English colonialism in the 18th and 19th century. It reappears again and again, in oriental and African locales it doesn't belong, singing in a Rhino's ear, harassing an elephant already in a frenzied state of must, and blown up to fantastic dimensions, fed ridiculous amounts by dozens of other species, all indentured to it's oppressive bulk, dedicated entirely to further fattening a bloated empire.

His newer works move away from predominantly depicting birds, just as Audubon moved on to his less famous 'Quadrupeds of North America' after completing the 'Birds of America'. His scope becomes wider, taking in the entire history of humanity's relationship with the animal kingdom. They have been our nightmares, hunting us in the darkness before we discovered the Promethean qualities of flint, and mastered both fire and spear-point. They've also been our gods -- the Egyptian pantheon in particular, with the cat-headed Bast, jackal-headed Anubis, and falcon-headed Horus perhaps being indicative of our earliest deities, as are the totem-gods of the Native American peoples. And then they became a living resource around which our lives revolved, depending on cattle as the Masai tribe still does, or as the Huns and Mongols and the other Steppe nomads once relied on the horse (worshiping a primitive horse-god, making alcoholic beverages from fermented horse-milk, hunting and conquering on horseback, going so far as to drink their mounts' blood and urine when water was unavailable; and when they died, eating them, using their skins for warmth and finding purpose for every part of their anatomy). Dogs and cats have been loved as family members for thousands of years, even as their wild cousins, wolves and tigers, have been cursed as mankillers and pests that slaughter livestock, hunted to near extinction.

There are few artists who are so clear-eyed in their vision, and whose talent and intrinsic value is so evident. His ambitious course is charted in great detail, but besides a brief introduction, critical essays are omitted, are perhaps unnecessary. What is included is a fascinating appendix which provides annotations by the artist on various paintings, as well as some of the many texts that Ford uses as starting points, providing factual, historical and mythical foundations to build upon. 'Pancha Tantra' is essential and endlessly rewarding; I don't know how many times I've gone back to it, and will continue to go back to it. Among the hundreds of art-books in my collection, this is certainly my favorite." - Corey Lidster


John Fortune & John Wells

A Melon for Ecstasy (1971) - John Fortune & John Wells

"Even hardcore readers will scratch their heads in wonderment at the sheer audacity of "A Melon for Ecstasy." It is like nothing else floating around out there. Sure, there are plenty of offbeat black comedy books waiting to be found, but this book takes the cake. Written in the 1970's by two Brits, John Fortune and John Wells, "A Melon for Ecstasy" deals with a very special man and his love for the wilderness. While many of us love the countryside and all of its intimate charms, it is a safe bet to say that none of us take our affinity for nature as far as Humphrey Mackevoy, the main character of the book.

You see, dear old Humphrey has a different outlook on nature than most people. Humphrey loves trees, literally. It is the type of love that involves a drill and splinters in a very private area of the human anatomy. Climbing trees is not enough for good old Hump; he lives up to his name by making nightly excursions into the neighborhood or a nearby forest and getting to know oaks, maples, elms, and assorted other classifications of the old wood on a first name basis. Of course, whenever Humphrey rises to the occasion, he must watch carefully for his neighbors. One would not want to be caught with one's pants down when the local constabulary strolls by. Humphrey's biggest problem is not his proclivity for tree lovin'; it is the fact that the people in town are noticing his little hobby because Humphrey leaves evidence of his amorous adventures.

Fortune and Wells tell the story of Humphrey entirely through newspaper clippings, letters, and other sorts of two-way communications. This clinical detachment serves to bring out a lot of the humor in the situation. We not only see Humphrey's thoughts through his diary entries, but also the reaction of neighbors and townspeople to the rapidly increasing number of tree holes. Humphrey's activities sets off a whole chain of events, bringing in the local bird watching society, a conflict between two powerful members of the community, an oversexed teenager, and Humphrey's mother (one of the oddest birds to appear in the literary canon).

Initially, the police are dumbfounded over these seemingly random appearing holes. One inspector posits the theory that it must be an orangutan drilling the holes. The local bird watching society believes a rare woodpecker is responsible (and in a way, it is). When the town clerk begins to spray the local trees to keep the woodpecker away, he touches off a war with the entire town, especially with Alderman Strangeways. In a series of escalating confrontations, Humphrey's main squeeze is chopped down and the local beverage ends up with a rather unwelcome embellishment. Humphrey ends up going on a rampage and is caught in a compromising position. His subsequent arrest, trial, and conviction round out the book. The book does have a happy ending, although it is as strange as the rest of the story.

It is a tad difficult to read any type of deep meaning into "A Melon for Ecstasy." At times, the book is so dark as to defy description. When Humphrey spends pages of his diary discussing every type of tree and his desires for them, J.G. Ballard's "Crash" swiftly comes to mind. If "Crash" attempted to reveal a future psychology, one where men and machine became united, "A Melon for Ecstasy" outlines a primitive psychology, where man and nature seek union. Then again, maybe that is just reading too much into the whole thing. It is classified as humor and there are certainly enough chuckles in the book to merit that moniker.

"A Melon for Ecstasy" is funny, although compared to heavyweight British humorists like Jerome K. Jerome, Fortune and Wells cannot compare. Rose Hopkins, the teenager with nothing but indecent thoughts on her mind, is always worth a chortle, as is the running battle between Smart and Strangeways. Especially noteworthy is the prison chaplain who attempts to reach his less educated flock by reworking the gospel narratives into a western novel (involving Sheriff Jesus and his posse) and a science fiction novel (an even more outlandish tale beginning with "Space Hostess Mary").

You need to be in the right mood for this slim book. Even if you do not pick up much of the humor, the book is still worth reading because it is so darn weird. Be sure and pass it along to friends; not only will they think the book is strange; they will look at you in a different light, and that can only be to the good." - Jeffrey Leach


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


Angel Ganivet

The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya (1895) - Angel Ganivet

...
"The pachyderm in question in Ángel Ganivet¿s hugely entertaining and disquieting 1897 novel, The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya (La conquista del reino de Maya, por el último conquistador español, Pío Cid), is a hippopotamus. More precisely, it¿s a sacred hippopotamus allegedly capable of flight, and astride it rides the intrepid Spanish entrepreneur Pío Cid into the hidden heart of Africa to be welcomed as a divinity by the tribe named in the title. If the name Maya and the story (minus its pachyderm and African setting) sound familiar, it¿s because Ganivet¿s picaresque novel is also a lancing, Swiftian satire of Spain¿s colonial enterprises, with allusions to the conquest of Mesoamerica (the ghost of Hernán Cortés even makes an appearance) as well as a broader view of colonialist exploits, given that Ganivet began the novel while assigned to the Spanish consulate in Antwerp as Belgium was conducting its genocidal conquest of the Congo. The Sanskrit meaning of ¿Maya¿ as ¿illusion¿ holds perhaps greater significance (as a student, the polylingual Ganivet wrote a thesis on Sanskrit), since the illusions of Europeans¿ aspirations regarding those they colonized form the novel¿s center of gravity.

Given the protagonist¿s name and his self-identification as ¿the most original of knights errant,¿ The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya also consciously addresses itself to its great predecessors in Spanish literature, most evidently The Poem of the Cid and Cervantes¿ Don Quixote, situating itself firmly in the tradition of the chivalric and picaresque. But in its mixture of acidic irony; absurd, surrealistic elements; and presciently modern themes, Ganivet¿s novel looks towards the future of literature. The ¿magical realism¿ of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez begins to look a bit threadworn after plunging into Ganivet¿s world of hippopotami-borne chevaliers, oracles who interpret parrot songs, velocipede-peddling pygmies and a spiritual mythos in which worlds are stacked one upon the other like a layer cake, the terrestrial tier awaiting a rapture when a race of half-human/half-monkey slaves will descend to liberate humankind from toil." - Seraillon
...


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


Leon Genonceaux

The Tutu: Morals of the Fin de Siecle (1891) - Leon Genonceaux

"The nineteenth-century French writer and publisher Léon Genonceaux (1856¿?) is as much of an enigma as those two legendary enfants terribles whom he was the first to publish: Arthur Rimbaud and the Comte de Lautréamont. After he had done so, a conviction for publishing indecent literature followed, and Genonceaux fled to London, returning to Paris around 1900 and then disappearing forever around 1905, leaving behind a wild, stupefying masterpiece called The Tutu. The Tutu is one of those mythical beasts¿a great lost book; a book that, if it had been published when it was written (in 1891), would have been one of the defining works of late nineteenth-century French literature. In fact it was published, but was never distributed to bookstores, and today only six copies of the original edition survive. Willfully scatological, erotic and gleefully Nietzschean in its dismemberment of fin-de-siecle morality, The Tutu is at once a sort of ultimate Decadent delirium and also a proto-modernist novel in the vein of Ulysses. Its existence was first posited in 1966 by a famous literary hoaxer, and until a handful of copies turned up some years later, in the early 1990s, it was presumed to be a fabrication. This is the first English translation." - artbook


Mary Gentle

Grunts - Mary Gentle

"Opinions on this book seem to fall into two camps. The first are those who "get it", and have probably reccomended this book to everyone they thought was at all interested in a related genre. The second is the camp of those who don't get it, and who mercilessly rip every fabric of the work to shreds for its every tiny defect.

I'm in the first camp, and I hope you'll join me. At the very least, heed my opinion on the second camp- too many people try to take this book seriously. A quote on the cover says it all, "moves at a good clip and delivers plenty of gags". And that's what this book is all about- a nice quick story with lots of gags.

And they're great gags at that. Sure, the story isn't particularly solid. And there's nothing in the book that'll have people pulling out comparisons to Tolkein-esque visuals or Salvatore-esque characterizations... but that's sort of the point. Think of this book as the "Three Stooges" of the Fantasy genre, and you're on the right track.

I particularly reccomend this book to anyone who's ever played Dungoens and Dragons, known someone who played it, or laughed at someone who was playing it. So many elements here seem to be ripped right from late-night, caffiene-enhanced, power-gaming D&D scenarios that I'm surprised the Roleplaying community hasn't adopted this work.

Grab this book if you're a Fantasy fan who wants a truly lighter take on the genre- complete with lots of cursing, sex, and gore just for flair. Grab it if you're a D&D fanatic who's taken part in one too many sour campaigns. But mostly, just grab it. It's a great twist on the genre, it's a terribly fun read, and at least a few of the gags are going to be worth the price of admission alone." - Michigoon

"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


Angélica Gorodischer

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was - Angélica Gorodischer

"If Italo Calvino,Ursula Leguin (the translator), and Fritz Leiber collaborated on a collection, you might get something like Kalpa Imperial, a set of eleven stories dipping in and out of the grand and lengthy history of the Empire. This is not a narrative fantasy--the stories, though some may refer to others, mostly stand on their own, and they can skip entire ages of the Empire's life. Nor is it "fantasy" as often meant in today's publishing world. There is little actual magic, few quests, no single epic story, and the world building is more quietly delightful than immensely detailed.

The stories are all told by a storyteller (also an important character in one of the later stories) who often interjects his own comments on the tale, on tale-telling, on history, or even on the thick-headedness of those listening. The storyteller's voice and the oral history feel of the book are two of the better aspects of the work.

Style is another. The language is simply delightful, poetic in places, simple in others, spare in others. It's always hard to tell with a translation, of course, but one has the feel that Le Guin and Gorodischer could have been separated at birth since there is an ease and naturalness to the language that often is lacking in translated works.

The stories themselves, as mentioned, work independently while also conveying the cyclical rise and fall of the Empire and its wide variety of emperors and empresses. The stories cover all sorts--good and bad and a mixture of both (and even better, bad who did good and good who did bad), old and young, male and female, lusty and prudish, wise and foolish. They're all here, sitting on their throne deservedly or not.

Many of the tales deal with power, acquisition of, use and sometimes abuse of, loss of. Some work nicely as fables or moral tales, some as allegory, some as political/social commentary.

It's hard to fault any particular story, but read in a single sitting, they do tend to blur a bit toward the end, feel a bit too similar. And the book starts to lose its sense of delight. My guess is that this is as much a factor of reading style as writing style, and that if one read the book over a longer period of time, dipping in to taste a few stories then putting it down, it would go down much better.

It's an unusual work, not as strange as Calvino, but it has a nice echo of Invisible Cities to it. It's not as magical as Le Guin's better known work, but it has a similar style and voice to her quieter, more anthropological works, such as Orsinian Tales. And if the Empire isn't stalked by demons and sorcerers as in Leiber, it has the same feel of heavy history to it. And the writing, as mentioned, is first rate. Recommended, but with the advise not to rush through it. Maybe read it concurrently with something else so the stories have time to linger then fade just a little." - B. Capossere


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.


Jeremias Gotthelf

The Black Spider - Jeremias Gotthelf

"The shades of night were falling fast,
The rain was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed
An Alpine village pastor.

Sorry, I couldn't resist! This opening quatrain of AE Housman's marvelous parody of Longfellow's "Excelsior" popped to my mind unbidden at one point in Jeremias Gotthelf's 1842 novella, when the Alpine pastor (or rather priest) is indeed on his way through the Swiss village to save the villagers from the Devil, ravaging the community in the form of a black spider. Though Gotthelf (real name Albert Bitzius) was himself a pastor, and deadly serious in his vision of the battle between Good and Evil. Really, there are only two reactions to such high-mindedness: to laugh and to admire. I did both, and my admiration is considerable.

As I said recently about the Peirine Press, I would also pick up almost anything published by New York Review Books if it looked intriguing, and here the 18th-century cover of a woman's face split to show the skull beneath, complete with colonizing spider, both attracted and repelled me. The clincher was the translator's name: Susan Bernofsky, who has done such wonderful work with Jenny Erpenbeck, not to mention Robert Walser, Hermann Hesse, and Franz Kafka. But her skills are not confined to modernist authors. How perfectly she captures the pastoral perfectionism of the opening section, the verbal equivalent of German Nazarene painting: "From the forest's gilded edge the blackbird trilled its aubade while the amorous quail intoned monotonous Minnelieder from amid the flowers sparkling in the dew-bespangled grass, and high above the dark firs, lusty crows danced nuptial roundelays or else cawed tender lullabies above the thorny little beds of their unfledged chicks."* It doesn't go on quite so lushly, but Gotthelf takes his time building up this perfect picture of a village baptism in the Emmenthal as a vision of what life can be like when "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world," as Robert Browning put it. It is quite a lovely picture, actually, like some of the happier passages in Dickens. Sentimental, yes, but absolutely necessary as a prelude to showing its opposite.

In the midst of the baptismal feast, an old grandfather tells a story dating back to the Middle Ages, when the castle on the hill above them was inhabited by a debauched order of knights whose feudal master, Hans von Stoffen, forces the villagers into a task that they can complete only by striking a bargain with the Green Huntsman, a.k.a. Satan. This is a baptismal tale too, for all the Devil wants in return is an unbaptized child. What follows is a horror story that might almost come from Gotthelf's contemporary, Edgar Allan Poe, except that Poe was never so explicitly moralizing. I found myself reading with fascination, and with gratitude to Bernofsky and NYRB for unearthing this period gem. You can almost measure the strength of a religious belief by the quality of the cautionary tales warning against its opposite, and this one's a doozy.

But then a strange thing began to happen, irreligious renegade that I have become. Instead of reading as Pastor Bitzius intended, with the fantastic tale set against an Eternal Truth, I began asking whether BOTH stories were not equally fantastic? Is there anything to choose between the story of a black spider growing on a woman's cheek where the Devil has kissed her, and the rituals of mystic names, sacred symbols, and holy water? So far from authenticating truth, does not this macabre tale show it up also as fantasy? Small wonder that I started giggling in church like a schoolboy! But I am very glad to know this novella nonetheless, whether as an historical document or simply as a colorfully tall tale." - Roger Brunyate


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."


Malcolm Green

Black Letters Unleashed: 300 Years of Writing in German - Malcolm Green, ed.

A Journey Round My Skull - A list of the table of contents.

"Hard to imagine what the guys in his book were drinking or smoking, let alone the guy who chose all this stuff (and presumably waded thought miles of weird and obscure stuff to find it all:congratulations!). German letters are generally put on the dull, stodgy shelf (even if "serious" writers like Thomas Mann have their crazy moments - see Felix Krull), but suddenly a whole kaleidoscope of brilliant madness opens up here in this book. And I mean brilliant, and I mean mad. Fantastic! Forget all those books about mid-west teachers and tawdry relationships and stuff, this collection of short stories and excerpts opens up new worlds on every page. Black Letters is not a mere attempt to save the name of German writing, which it does with aces, but a phenomenal anthology of writing by any count. Beg, borrow, steal, the thing has it seems been out of print for ages, but sometimes you can find a copy at a reasonable price. Why hasn't the publisher reprinted? The very fact it is unavailable must say there is an audience for this stuff. It should be in every school and corner library." - Spacebo


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.


Barry Hannah

Captain Maximus - Barry Hannah

"These were the very first Barry Hannah stories that I read--short, startlingly energetic bursts of comic misdirection that made me rummage round and pull on my big black boots in a species of ebulient triumph that I bet I'm not the only one out there who's ever experienced the likes of. I remember literally bouncing diagonally round my little apartment in kinks and frisks of laughter. It must have been somewhere in there roundabout the middle 1990s--a decade despite the well-publicised notoriety et cetera and ad bleeding nauseam that turned out to be for the discerning and retiring outer borough type a bit of a bleeding riot in more ways than one. My own story abbreviated and reduced gives the following: a fourteen-year stint in Astoria, Queens, beginning upon my arrival here on these shores in 1990, and lasting until I fled to the suburbs in 2004, where to this day day I mooch about on weekends doing the vacuum cleaning and pretending to garden but I still work on weekdays so nowadays with the economic climate and the outsourcing and what have you that means at least three hours total commuting time per day which turns out pleasantly enough to also mean many good books just gobbled up in no time. Astoria is a fine place to have had a hut in I must say, suited me in any case right down to my Frye boots, which I bought in the summer of 1988 in Flushing--I was here just for the summer that year, reconnoitering you might say, very bleeding hot it was I remember, that particular season. I worked in a fencing company based in Jamaica, Queens. Paradise Fence on Hillside Avenue. Six days a week too and in the 80s I used to wear these tiny little round tortoise-shell-like glasses with wire wraparound bits for the ears, belonged to some powdered old biddy from way the hell back in the Big Smoke, and everybody thought I was sort of slow and harmless on account of such alarming magnification tightly enclosed in what were really just ridiculously small plastic circles. Had me head shaved too that summer, on account of the heat, which added some to my image as some sort of loony on leave. During one sweltering domestic job in Rego Park a woman came outside and gave the crew lemonade--she found out where I was from and asked how long I'd been in New York. "Nearly three months now," I said. "You're English isn't bad for just three months," she said. "Thanks very much," I replied. "I really like it here. I think I'm going to come back someday and maybe stay a little longer." And I did. Three apartments I shacked up in between 1990 and 2004, the first lasting a little over eight months coz the utterly repulsive and money-grubbing super slash landlord there was this pasty-faced Romanian peasant who hated me from the get-go and tried to gouge me right, left and center until I snapped and told this cash-crazed tinker that he could stuff the security deposit right up his Bucharest coz I'm keeping this month's rent and oh yeah I'm moving to the next building too and you smell a lot like boiled cabbage and your wife, if indeed that is what the rump-fed ronyon is, wears combat boots, has a moustache and also smells a lot like boiled cabbage. And I did move right next door and the super in this building was a felly from Montenegro named Drasko and this dude with his little fambly were just the exact opposite of the ghastly and grasping Romanians: just honest-to-God good people. So happy indeed was I with me new digs that I painted a giant red rectangle on the wall of the bedroom and covered it perfectly with this huge gilt picture frame I'd found thrown out on the footpath and for some reason I associate this with Barry Hannah coz it was that same day I went still slightly splotched in red enamel paint to the book sale across the street in our local library. It was there in fact that I first clapped eyes on the little paperback that could, Captain Maximus. These dopey librarians, up to their unshaved eyebrows in that limitless stupidity of theirs, were selling off in a slack-jawed fundraiser this priceless comic gem for a dollar to just anyone who happened by. "Don't you even know," I asked, "who this dude is? And what this formidable book of short stories actually represents?" "Who and what would that be, dear?" said some tweedy and tiny bun-headed old biddy in huge spectacles and the posture of one still active in curling circles. Moreover, this wretched little woman bore a startling resemblance to Helen Thomas so I turned tail and bolted back to my hut lickety-split with me Maximus under me oxter. These stories cooked up a dense and all-encompassing fogbank of fanschmabulous fiction that it was absolutely a macaroon-inflected delight to get temporarily lost in. Still packs a punch all these years later coz now that the poor old Mississippian has just checked out for good I re-read Captain Maximus and the hard, clean lines are all still there, singled up and bold as bleeding brass. In Astoria all those years as I say I lived mostly on just one single street, 31st Street--no fooling, the same exact street that Rory Gallagher sings about in that song Alcohol on his Live Irish Tour. This whole double album is as live as live gets, recorded in 1974 from shows in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, with Rory repeatedly tearing up the joint, Rod D'Eath rock solid on drums--excellent name for a drummer I always thought--the great Strother Martin on keyboards sweetly swatting them electric ivories and last but not least, the ace of bass, Mister Gerry McEvoy. Otto in the Simpsons will one day when they finally get some good writers back on the show allude to some musical hairball who can play bass lines like McEvoy. There was a feature story in yesterday's Daily News about New York City in the 1990s, the crime and general berserkery they had thought they'd wiped out came back for a nostalgic little look see in this decade apparently, all the while I was there in Queens as a matter of fact. No one ever bothered me though, not one little bit and once when I went arse over teakettle after a shopping expedition in the snow at least two people rushed out to help me to my feet and one even ran after and re-captured my escaped oranges! I could see the entire New York City skyline from the rooftop of my building--I often sat up there through balmy summer nights smoking cheroots on the fire escape and re-reading good books. Much the most of Captain Maximus was re-read on or around that fire escape--sometimes I had to stand up after a particularly good sentence or paragraph and stomp round basically bagonghi with wonder and laughter. I seem to very distinctly remember doing this not infrequently. I think it was the opening story that made me stagger about helplessly the first time too, Getting Ready--what a larf Hannah is here telling of the travails of the fisherman Roger Laird. When this dude is firing on all four cylinders sparks start to fly. Read I Am Shaking to Death if you don't believe me and if you still don't believe me after you've read it then read Even Greenland and if you don't like that either well chop my got-danged suey, I doubt I can help you. I reckon to date I've read quite a lot of this Southerner's novels and stories--am halfway through a re-read of The Tennis Handsome at the minute, an odd and dementedly funny novel which I actually got to read some of while listening to Eric Clapton singing that great Cream song Anyone For Tennis? on the Wurlitzer in this juke joint I know. This comic gem from 1983 is so blame funny you won't even notice you're peeing in your pants half the time. Ray (1980) is a slap-happy little slice of cheese Danish too, don't miss that novella either on any account--whatever you might happen to hear about editor Gordon Lish's role in the publication--and the stories in Airships (1978) and High Lonesome (1996) just could not have been written by anyone other than the inimitable Mister Hannah. Even his first novel, Geronimo Rex (1972), is a rambunctious and grotesquely funny coming-of-age story. Rest in peace, dude." - Noddy Box


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


J. G. Heck

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Art and Architecture: Pictorial Archive of Art and Architecture v. 1

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Military Science, Geography and History v. 2

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science (Dover Pictorial Archive v. 3


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.
...


A. P. Herbert

The Topsy Omnibus - A. P. Herbert

"The charms of Topsy can only be described by quoting a typical passage in her inimitable style. I just open a page at random from Topsy MP (NB: _italics_)

"Well my dear _meanwhile_ the Rowland was being _rather_ a burden because the _whole_ time he talked of nothing but the _internal_ organs of his unalluring car and wondering _what_ was rattling and _why_, when of course the _entire_ machine was one _tautologous_ rattle because he will keep seeing if he can get sixty out of her on a bad road..."

There. That does a much better job than I ever could of explaining exactly who Topsy is... but I'll try anyways. Briefly, she was a character that A.P. Herbert featured in a Punch column during the 1920's up until, well, I'm not exactly sure when, but she's thoroughly a Modern Girl in the flapper mode. The Topsy books are written in first person in the form of letters to Topsy's friend Trix, and they detail an endless round of dinners, dances, and society hi-jinks, all in Topsy's stream-of-consciousness style, with the sentences running together and one idea overtaking another. What I find most remarkable is that the cadences of a certain type of English speech are rendered perfectly with the use of italics.

Topsy gets inside your head! I found myself writing and speaking like her for days, and truth to tell I still lapse into Topsy speak when I'm feeling a little giddy. What she does with the English language is rather a marvel, I think. Her malapropisms fall thick and fast, yet Topsy is no fool. She's a shrewd observer of society and human foibles, and Herbert consistently employs her as a humorous commentator on contemporary times.

For the life of me I can't figure out why these books have never been reprinted. They certainly deserve to be. I found it extremely difficult to come by the three Topsy books that (so far as I can tell) contain all of Topsy's adventures. I highly recommend Topsy to fans of humorous literature, anglophiles, those with an interest in the 1920's, and oh, just about anyone with a sense of humor, really." - Kay A. Douglas


Felisberto Hernandez

Piano Stories - Felisberto Hernandez

"The oddness of Felisberto Hernandez, the man, may perhaps eclipse the essential weirdness of his fictions. There is somewhat of a mystery surrounding him: he was a pianist who used to work accompanying silent movies. He traveled extensively, performing concerts. He took up writing somewhat later in life, remained more or less anonymous up to his death. Today, he is hardly known outside of Latin American literature and yet has inspired the so-called `magical realism' literary movement, made popular in the works of the Nobel-prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Piano Stories, so named by the publishers because nearly every single story incorporates a piano, is the first collection of Felisberto's work translated into English. It is meant to serve as a representative exhibition of the writer's career. It features fifteen pieces, two of them being short novellas (`The Stray Horse' and `The Daisy Dolls') and some others no more than a page and a half long. The introduction is penned by Italo Calvino - another major writer who was apparently influenced by Hernandez.

The adjectives befitting the overall `feel' of the Piano Stories would be: elegant, absurd, surreal and otherworldly. There are repeated motifs of the nature of memory, as explored in the story `Just Before Falling Asleep' and `The Green Heart', and more extensively in `The Stray Horse' where the narrator is aware of an impending attempt to distort a series of childhood memories, for if a person were capable of changing his memories, as one changes stage settings, would that not result in a different person inhabiting the present? In `The Flooded House' a widow has decided that water has the inherent quality required for nurturing memory: "water is the place to grow memories, because it transforms everything reflected in it and it's receptive to thought." (Hernandez, P.246)

In these short stories, inanimate objects acquire a life of their own when viewed in certain light - furniture is able to reveal secrets about a person and in the eerie novella, `The Daisy Dolls', a man has an affair with a life-like replica doll of his wife.

Eccentric characters abound: in `The Balcony' the reader makes the acquaintance of an agoraphobic who believes that individual parts of her house have a soul. In `The Usher' the narrator, having grown accustomed to dark surroundings, acquires a persistent glow in his eyes.

Many of the stories proceed as hypnagogic trances, surreal romps through exotic surroundings. The writing style is average on the whole: a few genuine lyrical waves are balanced out by a number of slumps now and then, owing perhaps to the work's translation from Spanish. There are instances when the reader feels as if Hernandez does not quite know how to express clearly the ideas he has or to fully develop a consistent flow, as in `The Two Stories' or the unbearable `The Woman Who Looked Like Me'.

This collection of stylish pieces is enjoyable for its atmospheric engagement but in the end, looking behind the screen, the reader may come out empty-handed." - Amazon Customer

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


Michael Innes

Appleby's End - Michael Innes

"Detective Inspector John Appleby loses his heart to Judith Raven in "Appleby's End" (1945) after floating down an icy river on top of a carriage with her, then spending part of the night burrowed together in a haystack. She beguiles him with gothic tales that were written by her Victorian great-uncle, Ranulph--tales that are now seemingly coming true. Marble cows and pigs are being substituted for unsuspecting livestock. Her brother Luke received a personalized tombstone in the mail, with his date of death carved on it. Spot, the horse is found hitched up to the carriage, facing backward. These all seem like minor pranks. Then Judith and John stumble across a dead body buried neck-deep in the snow on their way home from the haystack.

Judith, herself a sculptor lives in Long Dream Manor, along with a parcel of eccentric relatives and retainers. This is certainly the perfect set of in-laws for Detective Inspector Appleby, who is sometimes referred to by his colleagues as 'that wayward Appleby.' In fact at one point in this mystery, we find him wistfully thinking, "Would it not be pleasant to retire from the elucidating of crime and give oneself to the creating of unashamed fantasies--in which champion milkers might turn to marble at one's whim..."

This is the first of the Appleby mysteries in which the reader is introduced to the Ur-folk. It never fails to astonish me how much information a good author can pack into the monosyllabic expression, 'Ur.' This conversational art reaches its zenith in "Night of Errors" (1948) which is inhabited by a butler by the name of Swindle, whose utterances consist mainly of the croaked "Urrr" sound and displeasing snuffles through his nose.

I have to read the Innes novels at least twice before I really understand the plot and the subtleties of conversation, but his mysteries are certainly worth rereading. If you are a fan of the British Golden Age of Mystery, I can almost guarantee that Michael Innes (J.I.M. Stewart) will insinuate himself somewhere near the top of your list of favorite authors." - E. A. Lovitt


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.


Panait Istrati

Kyra Kyralina - Panait Istrati

...
But even were Kyra Kyralina scratched into dirt with a stick, one would be hard pressed not to recognize in it storytelling of the highest order. One reads Kyra Kyralina in large gulps. Its narratives ¿nest¿ within a framing device such as one finds in story cycles such as The Arabian Nights or the Decameron, beginning guilelessly and timorously with the young Adrien¿s first leave-taking from home, then plunging one into tales of high drama and exoticism combined with a gripping realism. Adrien serves as the conduit for these tales, gathering them from the singular characters he encounters. In Kyra Kyralina, the story idles along until it meets one of these figures, Stavro, whom Adrien and a companion have joined on a trip to a nearby country fair where they¿ll try to profit by selling watered down citric acid as lemonade. Stavro, confronted by the two boys after displaying some amorous intentions in a hayloft one night, offers as explanation the story of his life, a history riveting in its brutality, joy, independence of spirit, and instinct for survival. Stories in Kyra Kyralina possess this kind of power: a capacity for bewitching and transforming the moment; in this instance the boys¿ sense of insult regarding Stavro¿s advances is quickly dissipated by the spell his tale creates. - Seraillon
...


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


K. W. Jeter

The Glass Hammer (1987) - K. W. Jeter

"Jeter was not the first to write a Cyberpunk novel (Shockwave Rider was arguably first) but his Dr. Adder helped define what Cyberpunk is. Also the man who invented the term 'Steampunk' Jeter's visions are influential, if obscure to many.

The Glass Hammer is my favorite of his books and showcases his gifts as a writer, if also emphasizing what some find disturbing. Easily switching between writing styles and points of view, Jeter takes his time to slowly reveal a world that may be worse than post-apocalyptic full of people who have no idea how grim and bleak their lives are in the grip of forces beyond their awareness, let alone grasp. The focus of the book, Shuyler, is trying to get by and live as he comes to realize that he may be the most helpless of them all.

A tough read, but a rewarding book." - R. Stump


Michel Jeury

Chronolysis - Michel Jeury

"Chronolysis is one of the most important French SF novels of the 1970s. It deals with time and its manipulation through the use of chronolytic drugs. Its protagonists are psychronauts, helpless explorers of a confusing, multidimensional universe, facing threats from alternate realities, such as Harry Krupp Hitler 1st, Emperor of the Undetermined, or the mysterious Phords from the future world of Garichankar. They search for secret paradises, hidden within the folds of space and time, away from their bleak realities, such as the tropical realm of Oblivion-by-Ruaba. This volume also includes a foreword by Theodore Sturgeon, a biography and illustrated bibliography of Jeury and a never-before-published short story translated by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier. "Just how Jeury conveys the feeling that he knows what he is doing, that he is in charge, that you the reader are in the place in which he intends you to be, cannot be analyzed. A very small number of writers have this ability: Joseph Heller can do it; so can Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick." - Theodore Sturgeon.


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

Well Done God!: Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson - B. S. Johnson

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


Idwal Jones

High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean Adventures (1945) - Idwal Jones

"The high bonnet of Idwal Jones's book, published in 1945 and now reprinted by the Modern Library Food series, is the chef's toque, a symbol of his stature, of cooking itself. Achieving the high bonnet is the good fortune of the novel's Jean-Marie Gallois, a young confisseur (candy maker) from Provence who has earned an apprenticeship at Paris's famed Faisen d'Or restaurant. But Jean-Marie's ascension to glory is not the novel's central concern; revealing a world entirely devoted to food--getting it, eating it, and discussing it--is. In prose as sensually provocative as the dishes his characters enjoy, Jones acquaints readers with a world dedicated to pursuing pleasure at the table and the craft that makes it, in its culinary dimension at least, most possible. The joy and art of High Bonnet is that its readers instantly ally themselves with the characters--with their mania for dining high, low, and outrageous (on the perfect Potage Crécy and prehistoric muskox, for example). It's an exciting feat.

Early in the book, we meet the Baroness, who eats "with eyes half drooped, like a pigeon's in flight, allowing [a] croustade to splinter under her excellent teeth." Jones's splendid creation is also responsible for sending Jean-Marie to his apprenticeship, and thus to our encountering a Vietnamese anarchist; Guido, the roguish Italian kitchen expediter; a dwarf rôtissuer; an alcoholic waiter; a saffron-stashing sauce master, and many more extraordinary characters. Meals are enjoyed and stories are told, like that of a man "ruined by a dish," the creator of a legendary curry recipe who falls disastrously from great heights when he can no longer obtain the dish's "secret" ingredient. A philosophy is also put before us: "Never expect a perfect dinner to come from a clean kitchen," says a character; "as well as expect one from a laboratory." In our own age of mass cooking, it's particularly alluring to follow the adventures of Jean-Marie and company. High Bonnet is a window on a lost world and human activity that today cries for the book's vital passion." - Arthur Boehm


Langdon Jones

The Eye of the Lens (1980) - Langdon Jones

"This is a first rate collection of sf from Langdon Jones, former literary editor of New Worlds, composer, and a very unjustly-neglected writer.

The stories range from fairly conventional ("The Great Clock") to the frankly experimental ("The Eye of the Lens"). The prose is elegant, forceful, and unfailingly eloquent. Many of the stories employ non-linear narrative techniques, but the work is always under control, and even at its most puzzling makes compelling reading.

Two stories stand out for me: "Symphony No. 6 in C Minor 'The Tragic' by Ludwig van Beethoven II" is a comic story about a less-than-great-composer who suffered from being named after the REAL Beethoven. It is slyly humorous, and if you have ever read about the lives of composers during the Romantic Period, or simply read a lot of old liner-notes on Classical recordings, it'll have you laughing.

"The Garden of Delights" is a masterful story which combines Eros, Thanatos, and Time Travel into a poignant combination that will cause you to ponder the implications for some time after. In my estimation, it stands with stories of the period from Harrison, Ballard, and Aldiss as among the best short work to come out of the New Wave.

Although the book is not large, I definitely thought it delivered the goods, and I believe it's worth your time.

There is also an interesting introduction by the author." - L. Stearns Newburg


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.


Harry Keeler

The Box from Japan (1932) - Harry Keeler

"If I'm not mistaken this is the longest single-volume mystery ever published in the US... 73 chapters and 407 double-column pages in this edition. Written in 1932 it takes place in 1942 Chicago, where Carr Halsey, a newspaper sports columnist, and his sidekick, reporter Artemus Baxter, tackle a many-faceted mystery which ultimately boils down to who killed a chemist named Proctor, and why, and what happened to a seemingly completely vanished stock shareholder that two rival interests are hotly searching for. As in most Keeler novels there is virtually no action, except for a gunbattle at the country estate of a spy, and a wild taxi ride at high speed through crowded Chicago streets to reach the missing shareholder before a rival representative does.

The reader will find many strange things about the richly detailed future that is the real subject of the novel. For one thing, much more than a decade seems to have passed since 1932... perhaps Keeler originally intended the novel to be set in 1952 or 1962 and he or his publisher got cold feet at such a long time jump.

How can you not like a novel with plot that turns on a Mexican economy based on sugar produced by genetically engineered cacti? A system for theatrical projection of live overseas 3D color TV broadcasts? A method of making a powerful explosive from sugar. A Japanese emperor whose plan to neutralize the British fleet and conquer Australia would probably have worked despite the new Nicaraguan Canal. A communication method involving a tight plasma beam set up high in the atmosphere between transmitter and receiver. A man trying to conceal his role as a traitor during the Russo-Japanese war; and a secret society devoted to hunting him down! An unbreakable code based on a Mexican High School physics textbook. A method for temporarily increasing the strength of steel by more than a factor of 2. And much, much, much more.

Keeler was a trained engineer and the "future" techology about which the characters lecture one another in often overwhelming detail is not always preposterous. There is also a great deal of social and political satire. As usual in a Keeler novel, the "mystery" of who killed the chemist and why is "solved" only on the last page, when essential background information that was never available to the reader during the course of the story has been suddenly trotted out.

If you love the works of Harry Stephen Keeler, this is a novel not to be missed... written before his literary efforts deteriorated into complete unreadability, but still full of the total craziness that is essentially Keeler." - Rory Coker


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

Satantango - Laszlo Krasznahorkai

"Krasznahorkai's 1985 debut novel, which seems to have recently risen to the surface again, can stand comparison with some of the best of European literature.

Set for the most part on the last desolate remnants of a failed collective farm, after a locust-plagued summer, it's a hellish vision of impoverished lives that have lost their centre, drifted to a standstill and are now shrouded in little but mud and hopelessness and fuelled by little other than palinka liquor and cigarettes.

The novel focuses on ten or so characters still living - or rather, existing - on the farm, and two men, Irimiás and Petrina, who have previously left and are thought by the villagers to be dead. At the book's beginning, `not long before the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil', the villagers seem finally to have come into money via a sale of livestock and are planning to use it to escape. Yet their prevaricating and squabbling and mutual distrust means they get nowhere. When introduced, Irimiás, a self-styled messianic figure in pointed yellow shoes, houndstooth coat and red tie ( based on a malevolent pig castrator the author knew), and Petrina, his jug-eared factotum, are seen to be employed by the state police as informants and involved in an unexplained `project'. These two shadowy men (`I know everything about you,' says the police captain, `...but...I am none the wiser for that') then make their way back to the village where their arrival is met with a mixture of fear and celebration. Needless to say, Irimiás's long-winded promises of rejuvenation, peace and plenty are not quite what they seem.

Written entirely without paragraph breaks and in sentences that are often a page long, `Satantango' might seem like a forbidding read. But the narrative is reasonably easy to follow- this is no `Finnegan's Wake' - and the night-black humour, depth of characterization, the vividness and emotion with which Krasznahorkai brings his wretched, rain-drenched, wind-blasted world to life makes this as compelling a novel as you could wish for. Undoubtedly, it mimics many of Samuel Beckett's themes of failure, paralysis and the vain hope for change, and the villagers - the crippled Futaki (`with his endless, depressing talk of flaking plaster'), the Doctor - an obese, drink-addled obsessive recorder of estate life - the pious Mrs Halics, slatternly, big-breasted Mrs Schmidt who dreams of stockings and hats, the half-witted, cat torturing child Little Esti, and the blind, accordion-playing giant Kerekes, could be characters from `Endgame' or `Waiting for Godot': these are people with nothing to lose but what's left of their souls. As Beckett's works do, `Satantango' often feels ageless, and we are surprised by the appearance of cars and telephones.

The prose is perhaps verbose in places, but more often works with visionary, cosmic power to express a profound truth or feeling: `The entire end-of-October night was beating with a single pulse, its own strange rhythm sounding through trees and rain and mud in a manner beyond words or vision: a vision present in the low light, in the slow passage of darkness, in the blurred shadows, in the working of tired muscles; in the silence, in its human subjects, in the undulating surface of the metaled road; in the hair moving to a different beat than do the dissolving fibres of the body; growth and decay on their divergent paths; all these thousands of echoing rhythms, this confusing clatter of night noises, all parts of an apparently common stream, that is the attempt to forget despair...' It's like the flip, ordure-splattered side of F Scott Fitzgerald.

With the big-name English literary novelists still seemingly stuck in a corduroyed rut of well-bred people fiddling about in big houses over problems that aren't worth a fart (reading the blurb for new books by Zadie Smith, H. Jacobson and the increasingly smug Ian McEwan made me want to take heroin - `supper at Julian's is one of the great pleasures' said McEwan recently in an interview) and American writers becoming as conservative and pragmatic as their politicians, `Satantango' - made into an eight hour film by the only man who could do it justice, Bela Tarr - reads like a work tuned into the concerns of the many billions of people who aren't architects or novelists or academics or spies or hitmen and, as the recession hits its fifth year, our politicians remain helpless, the Eurozone teeters and the weather turns feral, a work that is increasingly relevant to our times." - annwiddecombe

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

Seiobo There Below - László Krasznahorkai

"As a (broadly speaking) postmodernist "novel," 'Seiobo There Below' can be disorienting in a few places, but it's never opaque for mere effect. I first read "Ze'ami Is Leaving" from Music & Literature Issue 2. (The first few paragraphs of this particular story, the penultimate one in 'Seiobo,' are disorienting, but I "got" it after a few reads.) Krasznahorkai often disparages technology, faith in empirical observation, and the inexorable march of technological "progress." He criticizes capitalism and the influence of Western consumerism. However, he's also critical of the former Soviet Union's effect on the former Eastern Bloc nations, especially his native Hungary.

This is not a true novel in that characters do not overlap from chapter to chapter. Actually, there aren't chapters in the traditional sense. I'm inclined to think of 'Seiobo' as a collection of short stories with similar themes.

While there is more than one theme in the stories that make up 'Seiobo,' a main one is the difficulty of creating art: We witness the diurnal trials of a Noh mask-maker; a Renaissance painter struggles with what appears to be manic depression while creating a panel for an altar - especially fascinating to read because all of his materials are organic (e.g., he directs a carpenter to get the panel from a specific tree, his pigments are ground by his assistants); a landscape painter feels the urge to push the boundaries of his painting even while suffering crushing personal losses, all while trying to appear composed in the glare of the public eye.

For Krasznahorkai, not only is the making of art all too often a painful process, the characters in these stories find that going to see art is disappointing, bewildering, and at times even dangerous.

There are exceptions: One story deals with an unnamed visitor - likely Krasznahorkai himself channeling Thomas Bernhard - of Alhambra in Spain. I had not heard of Alhambra before reading this story; I've since read about this amazing palace/fortress. As a Westerner, most of the news I hear about Islam is negative, so it's refreshing to read about an age, however distant in time, in which Islam produced dazzling art and architecture. Another story deals with an "art retreat" in Eastern Europe and its mysterious visitor. This might be the best of the stories; I found it to be the most uplifting. Krasznahorkai can take you from the depths of wretchedness to high strangeness in just a few pages.

I'm not sure what to make of the book's final story, but I will say that if you're a fan of Krasznahorkai's writing in the project he worked on a few years ago with a German painter (whose name escapes me at the moment), you'll likely enjoy its visceral punch. It's the black bookend of a book that begins with white along a Japanese river.

When we read 'Seiobo There Below,' we're reading Ottilie Mulzet's translation. Because I don't know Hungarian, I'm unable to tell how "true" her translation is to the Hungarian 'Seiobo,' but I can say that this is masterful writing. I enjoy reading these stories; it's just that the questions they raise can be unsettling and depressing, with in my opinion too gloomy an outlook, that I've decided to give it four instead of five stars.

I would advise potential readers of 'Seiobo There Below' to avoid on-line reviews of the book - most of them have no spoiler warnings - until you've read it yourself. Look for interviews featuring Ottilie Mulzet, who has terrific insights into 'Seiobo.' And don't shy away from the paperbound version of this book over the convenience of the e-versions - for about $10 it's beautifully printed and bound, although regrettably there isn't a color tip-in section showing some of the art discussed within. You may, or may not, want to see some of the art from 'Seiobo There Below' in person. You'll have to decide." - W.Wilson


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


Jan Kresadlo

Seraillon Blog Post

Gravelarks (2000) - Jan Kresadlo

"First of all, I confess to being biased - as the late Author's eldest son :) So, don't take my word for it... In 1987 Josef Skvorecky wrote: ..."I consider [this book] to be one of the most original, shocking, truthful and artistically very interesting works of contemporary Czech fiction. It is profound, ironic, witty and - what is rare in today's writing - it betrays a learned author, who, in spite of the width and depth of his knowledge, has remained an acute observer of real life and real people. It is not often that one finds, in fiction of any nation, a portrayal of the Stalinist fifties that has been executed with so much freshness, incisiveness, charming cynicism, accuracy... it is also devoid of any sentimental seriousness and it makes excellent reading even for those who are not interested in the political background against which the macabre story is played out. I think that an English-language publication of this novel would be regarded by those who know what literature is all about as a discovery." More information about the author and polymath Jan Kresadlo in English and Czech here [...]" - Vaclav Pinkava


Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Autobiography of a Corpse - Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

""The Autobiography of a Corpse" is concerned with seams, cracks, and gaps. Krzhizhanovsky's characters perceive the gulfs between 'I' and 'not-I', between 'here' and 'there'; they see the cracks in reality, cracks which (pace Leonard Cohen) let the darkness in. This is a world in which nothingness is tangible.

Many of the stories in this collection combine philosophy with fantastic scenarios to create an often difficult but invigorating read. These scenarios include a handful of runaway fingers, a man whose life's mission is to bite his own elbow, a world literally fuelled by spite, the fate of Judas's thirty pieces of silver, and a 'pitiable pupil manikin' which resides in a lover's eye. A deep pessimism underlies the black humour, lush description, and prose scattered with neologisms.

Most of Krzhizhanovsky's writings were not published during his lifetime, largely due to the Soviet system he lived under. Life under this regime informs these stories: Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950) may write of the surreal and fantastical, but at times reality was not much different. The final piece 'Postmark: Moscow' consists of a series of letters written to a friend in the provinces. In them the writer describes his wanderings in Moscow's tangled streets and reflects on the city's past and new communist present. These letters are filled with that philologically-inspired philosophy which suffuses the book's other stories.

This NYRB edition contains an introduction by Adam Thirlwell and notes which elucidate the many historical, philosophical, and literary allusions." - Eleanor


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


Henry Kuttner

Robots Have No Tails (2009) - Henry Kuttner
The Proud Robot - Henry Kuttner

"I first encountered Galloway Gallegher decades ago when I was a teenager, and fell in love with the stories. What an odd hero - his scientific genius manifests itself through his subconscious, and the only thing that releases his subconscious is stupendous amounts of alcohol, all kinds of alcohol (though beer is his drink of choice). Like the previous reviewer, I don't agree with the charges that the five stories contained in this book glamorized alcohol consumption. Gallegher definitely pays a price for his drinking, in terms of hangovers, memory loss, and trying to deal with the complicated situations caused by his alter-ego subconscious, which has an eccentric, off-the-wall sense of humor. If you're looking for the stories and can't find a copy of "Robots Have No Tails", try "The Proud Robot", which was released in paperback a number of years ago. They both contain the same stories. Also, look for the books under the names Lewis Padgett and Henry Kuttner -- they were the same person." - G.Jordan


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


Giacomo Leopardi

Zibaldone (2013) - Giacomo Leopardi

"¿In the history of Italian literature, arguably only Dante occupies a more exalted position than Giacomo Leopardi . . . Both Leopardi¿s verse . . . and his works of prose . . . enjoy an unassailable reputation for lyrical beauty, philosophical depth, immense erudition, and indefatigable originality. The Italian language has known no more brilliant master of both its native extravagances and its native subtleties . . . In short, he was a literary giant, and was for the most part recognized as such in his own time. His most gigantic achievement, however, may have been the work we have come to know as the Zibaldone¿the ¿gallimaufry,¿ ¿hodge-podge,¿ or ¿miscellany¿¿his heterogeneous, sprawling, positively oceanic journal intime . . . Had this work never become known to the public, Leopardi would still be revered as a genius, but the sheer magnitude of his genius would scarcely be suspected. He poured everything into its pages: philosophy, philology and general linguistics, historical studies, cultural observations, critiques of the arts, political ruminations, personal confessions, and much more. It is a vast compendium of impromptu treatises, ringing aphorisms, hoarded curiosities, subtle observations, oracular pronouncements, and flights of invention. It is wholly absorbing and unflaggingly brilliant . . . It is a magnificent achievement, rich and varied and well worth both its large price and the strain it will put upon one¿s bookshelves and wrists. The seven translators and two editors who produced this English edition have accomplished something heroic and precious, and they deserve the gratitude of the Anglophone literary world . . . Zibaldone is written in a voice that, again and again, bears the inflections of someone whose life consisted to a great degree in the tension between, on the one hand, physical and cultural constraints and, on the other, boundless imaginative and theoretical creativity. It is an almost titanically exuberant treasury of astonishing insights and mental adventures; it is also in many ways one of the bleakest books ever written. Leopardi¿s vision of reality was, before all else, unremittingly atheistic¿which is to say, it was a vision purged not only of faith, but of every one of those lingering vestiges of faith with which shallower, less reflective atheists console and seduce themselves, and shield their minds against the logical conclusions their unbelief entails . . . His repudiation of every soothing idealism¿moral, social, historical, what have you¿was uncompromising and, in a quietly constant way, ferocious . . . Leopardi¿s literary genius, philosophical agility, colossal erudition, and immense fertility of imagination make his eyes somehow as much entertaining as provoking . . . Frankly, the bleakness of Leopardi¿s vision is so free of any pathetic self-deception that at times it seems positively sublime. In the end, he concluded, we possess no real knowledge of anything, because we ourselves are nothing, arising from and returning to nothingness, with nothing to hope for . . . The Zibaldone is a great surging ocean of brilliant insights . . . The book is, unquestionably, a work of magnificent genius.¿ - David Bentley Hart


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

"Old cynic that I am (what new can be said about sin?) this is better than I dared hope - philosophical laff-fest (I would say metaphysical but I don't want to fluster the dovecote) that leaves peers Elkin(S), Friedman(BJ), Charyn(J) (The Tar Baby, anyone? omigod, he's still writing!) in the starting blocks. Though I note that Dalkey Archive are reissuing the former; hmm. Anyway, try this:

'The *unavoidable* evil of lust..leads, as night follows day, to the *understandable* evil of infidelity, and consequently to the *unfortunate* evil of divorce, a commonplace reaction to the *necessary* evil of marriage...So it is, I hear tell, that the Great Magnet of Necessary Evil draws into its field all other indicretions which become charged with necessity. Very neat, I think.' And didn't he set it up well?

Leven gets in digs at that noxious film Cuckoo's Nest and the preposterous Woody Allen, but mostly he has you and me in his sights with our preposterous pretensions. Who said satire was dead? Oh, I did actually. But there's so much in this book - think CS Lewis batting for the opposition. My British 1984 Panther edition's retro sci-fi cover with slippery Allen Jones-style female strikes deliciously the wrong note - or does it? In a world such as that outlined above, can sex ever be gratuitous - or is it ever anything else? Perhaps the act can be trivialised, the urge never. 'There in no passion so serious as lust' (Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy) Though I have to say the actual sex SCENES here depicted are as gratuitous as they come (no pun intended) and written in cartoonish car manual-ese; 'Lupa's v clamped onto K's organ, causing him the greatest pain man has so far acquired the physiology to suffer' probably marks the book's, if not our hapless antihero's, nadir, but by p380 (like sex itself) you'll likely be past caring." - Simon Barrett


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

"The first thing you need to understand about A.J.Liebling is this: If youre in the mood for a simple, straight-up story with a beginning, middle, and end you will not appreciate A.J.Liebling. If youre wanting, say, to know what time it is, Liebling will tell you how to make a watch in every detail. He's obsessive in an entertaining way if you have the time for it. And you will learn a lot. And, at times, you will swear the book will never end. But the man could write!

In this book Liebling talks about the newspaper industry, publishers, and the shenanigans publishers-newspapers pull to further their ends. Most of the stories were written in the 40s-50s and compiled in the 60s, but are as true today as they were then. Newspapers ignore the obvious and important, make-up much of what they do report, and lines of advertising sold & circulation is always the bottom-line. News is the last thing any publisher wants to pay for, so they economize by making it up or hire experts to make it up (that is, the expert is here NOT where the news is happening, and provides an opinion of events they know nothing about). Experts dont require expense accounts and costly travel. Liebling cites several events where the press was totally in the fog but had plenty to say; Stalin's death and his replacement are the best example of this phenomenon. And you get a sense of what sort of bums our government leaders are, or were. Liebling spills the beans on some of these people." - James B. Johnson


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


Jack Loudan

O Rare Amanda: Life of Amanda McKittrick Ros (1969) - Jack Loudan

"How to describe Amanda McKitttrick Ros? In her time (1860-1939) she was hailed as the "world's worst writer," celebrated by luminaries such as Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain and C.S. Lewis. In both London and Cambridge, her devotees formed 'Amanda Ros Clubs,' which gathered to read her works aloud. There were contests held at these gatherings to see who could read from her work the longest without breaking into laughter. Her many admirers sent her letters in hopes to receive a reply in her characteristic tortured, circumlocuitous style.

A few samples will give only a slight idea of the effect of her prose and poetry. Here is a passage from her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh:

"Leave me now deceptive demon of deluded mockery: lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper: strike the lyre of living deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt..."

And here is one from her second novel, Helen Huddleson:

"Ah dear Helen, I feel heart sick of this frivolous frittery fraternity of fragiles flitting round and about Earth's huge plane wearing their mourning livery of religion as a cloud of design tainted with the milk of mockery...

Clearly, she had a great love of alliteration. Amanda also disdained using one word when two or more might be employed: eyes were 'piercing orbs,' tears were 'Nature's dewdrops,' and a hand was a 'bony extremity.' Few things were 'white' in her books when they could be called 'snowy' instead.

Then again, and in completely contrast to this high-flown language, there was an earthy, almost Rabelasian vigor to her work, as demonstrated by her poem entitled "Visiting Westminster Abbey":

"Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you."

She was the queen of the dangling participle:

"Endeavoring to get away, he held her still closer to him..."

"Still insisting on going home, he turned a deaf ear to her appeal..."

Amanda was also an imaginative and splenetic inventor of terms of calumny and opprobrium. Her two favored targets were critics (for obvious reasons) and lawyers (she was very litigious but seldom won a case). A few choice terms for critics included "Bastard Donkey-headed mites," "Drunken Ignorant Dross," "Poisonous Apes," "Talent wipers of wormy order," and "Auctioneering Agents of Satan." Amanda, when riled, was formidable.

However, as this slim biography makes clear, there was much more to Amanda than a seemingly endless capacity for bad prose. She was an eccentric of epic proportions. Although before marrying a stationmaster in the small town of Larne, Ireland, she had been a simple schoolmistress, her ambition knew no bounds. She was given to driving through the streets of Larne in a phaeton driven by a groom in livery. Occasionally, she'd conclude her drive by hoisting a banner with slogans taunting her critics or the latest object of a lawsuit. She seriously considered whether it would be worth her while to send her work off to the Nobel committee responsible for awarding prizes in literature.

Never, it seems, did she ever truly understand that her writing (and she herself) was a source of amusement, and she insisted to the end that her works were read 'by the all the crowned heads of Europe, except the Emperor of Austria and the Czar of Russia.' She lived in her own hothouse world peopled with fictional members of the aristocracy and villainous villains. It never seemed to occur to her that this absorption in a fictional world was the least bit odd. When Jack Loudan, the author of this biography, visited her, she favored him by serving tea and reading aloud from her second novel. He relates:

"I asked her why she had called the principal male character in the book Lord Raspberry. Her hand stopped as she was about to put the cup to her lips. There was a puzzled expression on her face as she looked at me. 'What else would I call him?' she asked. I understood then her complete inability to realise why people found her books amusing instead of the serious works she intended them to be."

Completely lacking in humor herself, she nevertheless was able to reduce others (and here I include myself) to paroxysms of helpless laughter. In fact, Loudan proposes that Amanda's work serves as a very useful litmus test of whether or not a person has a sense of humor:

"Amanda is the most perfect instrument for measuring the sense of humor. Alert and quick-witted people accept her at once: those whom she leaves entirely unmoved are invariably dull and unimaginative. She is for people who do not always expect reason, who are ready to enter her world without disputation and to accept her magnificent incongruities."

At times Amanda confounds the reader. Her lexicon, for example, is highly personal and she uses words such as "socialist" and "mushroom" in an idiosyncratic and associative manner that foreshadows James Joyce's stream-of-conscious narrative. Then, too, there are passages that leave one muttering, 'whaaaa...?' such as the following:

"He was tempted to invest in the polluted stocks of magnified extension, and when their banks seemed swollen with rotten gear, gathered too often from the winds of wilful wrong, how the misty dust blinded his sight and drove him through the field of fashion and feeble effeminacy, which he once never meant to tread, landing him on the slippery rock of smutty touch, to wander into the hidden cavities of ancient fame, there to remain and blinded son of injustice and unparalleled wrong!"

Indeed, as one commentator wrote of the opening sentence of one of her novels, "I first read this sentence nearly three years ago. Since then, I have read it once a week in an increasingly desperate search for meaning. But I still don't understand it."

One might wonder what separates Amanda's overripe prose from that of authors noted for similar excesses, such as H. Rider Haggard, Abraham Merritt, or Ronald Firbank. The answer, I think, is that these writers, while florid, never engage in the precipitous dips from elevated tone to the quotidian or mundane. They are, in a word, consistent. A great deal of Amanda's charm lies in her juxtaposition of high-flown rhetoric and the commonplace.

Alas, Amanda McKittrick Ros left only a handful of completed novels (three), a few broadsheets, and two volumes of poetry - Poems of Puncture and Fumes of Formation. Ironically, her books are now highly prized collector's items. A quick search of Bookfinder.com turned up very few of her books, but a glance revealed that what is on the market now fetches sums that would have made Amanda proud. Copies of her first novel sell for upwards of $500, while one bookseller wants over $1000 for a very limited edition of her collected letters, Bayonets of Bastard Sheen. I had a brief hope, after reading this book, of perhaps collecting a little Amanda McKittrick Ros myself, but these figures are simply too daunting. I contented myself instead by ordering a book published in 1988, Thine in Storm and Calm: An Amanda McKittrick Ros Reader.

Publishers, if any of you are reading this, please bring back Amanda!" - Kay A. Douglas


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.


E. V. Lucas & G. Morrow

What a Life!: An Autobiography of E.V.L. and G.M. - E. V. Lucas and G. Morrow

I can't imagine why this book is so very little known when lesser books are famous and considered British comic classics. I learned of it only because a few pages were reproduced in the catalogue for an exhibition devoted to Bataille's journal 'Documents'; Queneau, I then found, had written an essay about it, and I've the impression that it's received more attention from French thinkers than from the English-speaking public. If you do happen to pride yourself upon being a John Bull type--or a Joe Six-Pack--who considers 'French intellectual' a contemptuous term, stick that in your pipe and smoke it. (Mine's a Gauloise, thanks.)

Lucas and Morrow used images from a department-store catalogue to illustrate a cod autobiography. Whilst the book could be read in five or ten minutes, it wants far longer than that to be looked at because, while there's a certain charm and some humour in the words, the appeal of the book lies largely in the illustrations in juxtaposition with the text. The catalogue pictures are used without regard to scale or style: On one page might be a line drawing of an archery target and at the top of the next a fashion plate next to a densely cross-hatched piece of furniture. Flat-irons are used to illustrate swans, a brooch stands in for a bird in flight, and one of the body parts strewn about by a train wreck is a box shaped like a heart. Rum bottles rest on a table that could never support their weight and figures who, given the relative scale, would be giants or midgets pop up often. The story itself seems to be inspired by the pictures, not vice versa--after all, who could resist mentioning a horse with a swollen neck simply in order to display a strikingly inept drawing of a horse with what seems to be the grandaddy of all goitres?

Off-hand, I can't think of another British book whose overall feel is as surrealistic as this one's. Certainly I can't think any such book as old as this one. A little treasure." - monica


Leopoldo Lugones

Seraillon Blog

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

The Compleat Ova Hamlet - Richard Lupoff

"Since the late 60s author Richard A. Lupoff has been writing parodies of famous SF authors like Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft under the name, Ova Hamlet. In 1979 a collection of seven of the stories was published as THE OVA HAMLET PAPERS. It was lavishly illustrated by Trina Robbins and introduced by Philip Klass. Now, Lupoff and Ramble House are proud to present the first complete collection of Ova Hamlet parodies, fourteen in all, with seven more brand new illustrations by Trina Robbins. Authors who are parodied include Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Mickey Spillane, Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, Norman Spinrad, Robert E. Howard, Barry Malzberg, L. Ron Hubbard, John Norman and Fritz Leiber. It's a 256-page book that will take you back to the days when SF was really fun and Ramble House is extremely proud to be publishing it." - Ramble House

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


Sophie Lyons

Queen of the Underworld - Sophie Lyons

"This is an excellently rendered edition of Sophie Lyons episodic autobiography, detailing her entrance into and rise through the criminal underworld of North America in the early 20th century. Complete with illustrations, diagrams of various heists, and a new introduction placing her into a questionable, but endearing counter-cultural context, it is fascinating. No language has been changed, but the distorted OCRs and plaintext renderings of the work have been carefully corrected and polished.

Lyons seems to have touched all the major criminals of the time, from her husband Ned Lyons to Adam Worth (under a pseudonym here), who famously executed one of the most scandalous art heists in history when he and his gang lifted the titillating portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire.

If you are a fan of true crime, pulp, the Victorian underclass, or illegalism this will be a very enjoyable book." - Guy Plenty


MMM


Joseph McElroy

A Smuggler's Bible - Joseph McElroy

"There are many authors who deserve a larger readership (one thinks of William Gaddis, John Hawkes, Harry Crews), but none more so than Joseph McElroy. A Smuggler's Bible fell on deaf ears when it was published in 1966, and because of this is often compared to The Recognitions and Under the Volcano. And the comparisons are valid, to a point: For while Gaddis's and Lowry's novels *have* received a deserved amount of, well, recognition (though it's never enough), McElroy's first novel hasn't. This goes for his entire opus of seven novels, all vastly intelligent, structurally and metaphorically brilliant, and, yes, challenging (and equally rewarding). If, as a reader, you feel you should be treated with respect and not have the novelist lead you by the hand and play you for an idiot, then I highly recommend this and McElroy's other novels. There are few voices as unique as his. Few novelists as concerned with what makes us what we are. And fewer are as capable.

To summarize A Smuggler's Bible is a difficult task, but, essentially, an easy one (have I contradicted myself?). David Brooke, on the verge of a breakdown, is attempting to assemble, from eight very different manuscripts, his identity, his place in his friends' lives, as seen through their eyes. And in a variety of styles (the influences are strongly Nabokovian & Joycean), with each single manuscript having more material than many respected novels, the story unfolds, and we too begin piecing together what makes David Brooke David Brooke.

McElroy shows a command of characterization, setting, voice, and metaphor that many a lesser novelist has been praised for. I highly recommend this novel, which demands multiple readings, along with McElroy's Lookout Cartridge (currently out of print and perhaps the single most neglected work of the '70's).

Joseph McElroy's works far, far better than this hastily composed "review." Please read him." - omnipot


Todd McEwen

Fisher's Hornpipe - Todd McEwen

McX: A Romance of the Dour - Todd McEwen

"Again and again the voice of Todd McEwen excels at making the slight seem grand, the simple seem quiet comlicated, and the desire for Guiness unrivaled. If you like complete sentences and get aggravated. When. People don't write like you. Were taught. Stay away. If you like eloquence and humor beneath the guise of seriousness dive in. If you recognize yourself it may hurt, beware. This is not a book for the stout lads who run with the beautiful women and drink frilly drinks while worrying how to get laid. This is a wonderful twisted look at a loner. Satire, not sarcasm. McX belong's with the company of Beckett's Murphy." - Charlton


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