THIN LIZZY Post for the Uninitiated Who Only Know "The Boys are Back in Town"

Thin Lizzy were not a heavy metal band, so please don't tune out if you hate heavy metal.  They were simply a rock band; a dynamic rock band with a unique singular sound instantly recognizable the way Led Zeppelin or Queen were dynamic and unique and instantly recognizable.  They were virtuosos. They were never some sludgy, sinister, smash-mouth band like Black Sabbath (not that there's anything wrong, of course, with being a sludgy, sinister, smash-mouth band like Black Sabbath!).
Thin Lizzy's fourth studio record, 1974s Nightlife
Infused with Celtic imagery and an underdog's sensibilities, Thin Lizzy composed melodic hard rock tunes filled with warmth and humour, with clever elegant hooks.  Phil Lynott, lead singer and bassist, had a great sense of humour, and it showed in their songs and lyrics.

Thin Lizzy were huge in their homeland Ireland, as well as the UK and most of the countries on the Continent, but they never quite made it huge humongous huge in the States.  And not making it huge humongous huge in the States, in the 1970s, meant the record company's inevitable withdrawal of sponsorship and promotional support.  The band was so close -- they were like this close, right on the cusp -- of breaking big time (humongous huge) in the States in 1976, just a couple months after their Jailbreak record came out and became their first there to crack Billboard's Top 40 album chart on the strength, mostly, of their first (and what would become) only U.S. hit single, "The Boys are Back in Town."  But on the eve of a U.S. tour to support Jailbreak -- their only record, also, to reach gold/platinum status across the pond -- Phil Lynott became gravely ill and the tour had to be scrapped; the tour that would've made them Stars in the States, sadly, never materialized.  Unable to strike while the iron was hot, Thin Lizzy's iron in the U.S.A. never glowed so molten orange again like it did during those brief glorious months in 1976.  Had they toured the U.S. in support of Jailbreak, they may have inspired a similar long lasting popularity here as Rush eventually did when they toured in support of their 1976 breakthrough record, 2112; instead, Thin Lizzy's career trajectory -- speaking commercially, certainly not creatively -- had hit its peak and thereafter began a slow decline not at all dissimilar to their contemporaries, U.F.Os., sales slide -- bands, both, that should've broke huge, stayed huge (humongous huge) for years and years and lasted, but unfortunately didn't.  Though at least their phenomenal musical legacy will remain forever. No doubt I'll still be rocking out to Thin Lizzy when I'm ninety-nine, blowing out the amplifiers in my hearing aids!

Here's an early Peel Sessions recording of an underplayed and under recognized Thin Lizzy classic, "She Knows".   "She Knows" was later refined a bit for their fourth studio record, 1974s Nightlife (pictured above), but I like the energy on this rawer version better.

Phil Lynott statue, Dublin, Ireland. (Would James Joyce have loved Thin Lizzy?)

What are your favorite Thin Lizzy records and songs?


Preliminary Impressions of One of the Children is Crying by Coleman Dowell

Yesterday I lucked out and found a copy of the debut novel by a writer I'd heard mentioned a time or two over the years, but otherwise had known nothing about: Coleman Dowell.  His first novel One of the Children is Crying was published in 1968 when he was already forty-two years old.  He'd been a songwriter and had some previous, notable success, here and there, on Broadway and in television.

Last night I read the first chapter of One of the Children is Crying and was impressed. Impressed enough, in fact, that I've made perhaps the dubious decision to blog about the book after having read only that -- its first chapter.  But I've read enough to know beyond any doubt, because it's so blatantly obvious to me, that Coleman Dowell wrote sensitively and brilliantly on potentially touchy subjects for his time such as homosexual relationships, alcoholism, child abuse and incest. I totally get the blurb comparisons to Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers, but do know that in Dowell's case, the comparisons are likely true and not just his publisher's wishful hype and hyperbole. Too bad the honest-to-God-true blurbs never resulted in many sales for Coleman Dowell's books.  But blame the blurbers and his publisher's marketeers for not being effusive enough in their praise, not Coleman Dowell. Blame, too, perhaps the "southern" or "southern gothic" labels that have seemed to shadow his largely unknown legacy in the limited criticism about him which has likely accomplished little more than limiting the scope of his potential and present readership rather than accurately defining the kind of writer he ever was in the first place. Because in my (now granted) limited reading of him, my first impression is that this super-talented craftsman / word-smith, Coleman Dowell, transcended his southern roots and the "southern gothic" even as One of the Children is Crying is wrought deep there and shoots out from its swampy soil.

The author Sumner Locke Elliott said of Dowell: "He is an artist.  He has an ability to project even horror with both beauty and tenderness."

One of the Children is Crying opens with a brother (Robin) receiving a call on Christmas from his sister (Erin) whom he's not spoken to in three years.  Abruptly, she relays him the bad news (though in this family I suspect it may in fact be good, no, great news), "Daddy is dead. Will you come home?"

Come home?  Robin'll need to board a train.  But, first, he'll need to get dressed.  First, he'll need to brood...

"Buttons and shoelaces took longest.  He found it endlessly interesting that the flooded brain of a drunk could philosophize, compose poetry and music, remember with terrible clarity, while its servants --fingers, feet-- had to be cajoled, with, at best, childish results.  He visualized alcohol as the Great Regressor; finally, if he is lucky, the alcoholic regresses to a place of fluids and silences; until then, there are buttons and shoelaces --but no neckties; he could not take on a necktie..."

One of the Children is Crying is going to be good. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, check out Coleman Dowell's page at New Directions.


The Ten Best Short Stories I Read in 2014

"The Inner Room"
by Robert Aickman,
from The Wine-Dark Sea.

Have you ever wanted to live in a doll house inside a remote gothic-like mansion in a forgotten English moor?  So have I!  Swear this story would've made a great Twilight Zone episode.

"Taxi Driver, Minus Robert DeNiro"
by Fernando Ampuero,
anthologized in the excellent The Vintage Book of Latin American Stories.
A very different take on what amounts to human-trafficking ... of drunks.

by Leonid Andreyev,
collected in Jorge Luis Borges' classic anthology The Book of Fantasy.
Set in Jerusalem just prior to and literally on the night Jesus Christ was crucified.  Poor man had a maddening toothache that nearly drove him to jump off his roof, to suicide, the very moment the three "malefactors" (Jesus & the two thieves) were being beaten and whipped, driven by the enraged mob up the same lane where he lived, carrying their crosses, toward the summit of Golgotha.  Weirdest thing.  The man's throbbing toothache, heretofore not even pacified by the then popular home remedy of "rat droppings", went away just like that, lickety split, the very hour Christ was crucified.

"The Shunammite"
by Ines Arredondo,
 in Underground River and Other Stories.

I'd rate this story as the best one I read this year.  Find a copy of Arredondo's book, or find an anthology that has it (there are many, because it's apparently one of the most anthologized stories ever published by a Mexican writer) & hopefully be as mesmerized by it -- as creeped out by it -- as I was.  A young woman's sense of family duty is exploited to the extreme by her supposedly "dying" uncle, who twists and then perverts her loyalty in a way unimaginable and shocking.

"The Church of No Reason"
by Andrea Barrett,
published in American Short Fiction, Spring 1991

"Night Talk in a Cabin"
by Nagai Kafū,
collected in American Stories.

by Janet Frame,
collected in the anthology Some Other Country: New Zealand's Best Short Stories.

by Steve Katz,
collected in 43 Fictions.
The funniest, most darkly twisted story I read this year. It was hysterical black comedy to the max, the way I like it. Imagine what a writer with a twisted, demented sensibility could do with this opening paragraph below and then multiply that imagination by at least ten or thirteen.

"My friend Sadie was a closet cannibal and that was why I introduced her to Herman in the first place.  At the time I thought it was best for people to get these propensities out in the open, at least on some level.  Express yourself.  Let it all hang out.  I thought Herman might do that for her because among all my friends he was the one who tended to be most willing, even driven, to sacrifice himself."

*originally collected in Stolen Stories, but I read it in what's like the equivalent of The Portable Steve Katz -- 43 Fictions.

"House of the Sleeping Beauties"
by Yasanari Kawabata,
in House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories.

by an online friend,
an unpublished story, though likely soon to be.

by Elizabeth McCracken,
in Thunderstruck & Other Stories.

In the beginning of the story, both parents are disconnected from their daughter's reality in ways I get: they're both shocked when Helen sneaks out for a nitrous oxide party and is brought home by the police.  Helen's mother, Laura, interrogates Helen with the who what where when & hows, but not the whys:  "Laura wanted to know everything.  No, that wasn't true.  She wanted to know nothing, she wanted from Helen only consolation…." Ignorance is bliss--I get that.  But rather than address the reality of their daughter sneaking out & using drugs; rather than ever analyzing why Helen is doing these things, they jump straight to how can we fix this problem right now, and the next morning they decide that fleeing to Paris is the answer.  And that I don't really get though I can still sort of imagine some parents being that screwy with their discipline.  And McCracken's narrator is so good at letting the parents rationalize their Paris decision, you almost believe, reading it, that it might work:

"The plan was to disrupt their lives, a jolt to Helen's system before school started again in the fall.  The city would be strange and beautiful, as Helen herself was strange and beautiful.  Perhaps they'd understand her there.  Perhaps the problem all this time was that her soul had been written in French."

But it doesn't work.  Helen behaves the same way in Paris right under her parent's noses --surprise surprise-- until one night she winds up in the ICU with serious head trauma.  Finally, when it's almost too late, the father, Wes, experiences a parental epiphany and tells his comatose daughter bedside that he wants to know everything, all her secrets, he wants to just plain 'ol know her for a change, and that she can tell him anything.  But not so with Laura.  She wishes her daughter had rather died than be kept alive on life support.  And even when Helen comes off life support, and is conscious but unable to talk or move very much unassisted; even though Helen is making progress in her recovery, albeit slowly, it's still not good enough (or maybe it's just Helen isn't a plain good enough daughter) for Laura.  Laura's lack of hope, faith, belief in her daughter, and how over the top it went -- wishing she had just died when she struck her head -- is what I wasn't able to imagine could exist in the mindset of a parent, being one myself ...

Such a thought provoking story, and I zeroed in, above, on merely one tangential aspect from it.


All I Want for Christmas are the Following Books

I want to see a copy of Atlantis or Morwyn; or, The Vengeance of God by John Cowper Powys under the Christmas tree tomorrow morning.  Or maybe by Christmas morning, 2015, which is probably when I'll be done editing and adding links and images to this post.  So do check back often.  All (literally) six or seven of you!

And/or ... Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen.
And/or ... Hunger and Love by Lionel Britton.
And/or ... Malign Fiesta by Wyndham Lewis.
And/or ... The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson
And/or ... The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox
And/or ... Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature by Warren Motte
And/or ... any books in that unknown, Proustian series of tomes by Dorothy Richardson
And/or ... more books in Henry Williamson's 15-novel sequence, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight
And/or ... Dan by Joanna Ruocco
And/or ... The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
And/or ... The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter
And/or ... A Brief History of Portable Literature by Enrique Vila-Matas
And/or ... The Fountains of Neptune by Rikki Ducornet
And/or ... Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann
And/or ... Hind's Kidnap by Joseph McElroy
And/or ... The Radiant Way by Margaret Drabble
And/or ... Lanark by Alaisdair Gray
And/or ... The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
And/or ... Alraune by Hanns Heinz Ewers
And/or ... The Priests of Psi by Frank Herbert
And/or ... Ice Never F by Gil Orlovitz
And/or ... The Opposing Shore by Julien Gracq
And/or ... The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton
And/or ... Hyperion by Friedrich Hölderlin
And/or ... Camera Obscura by Hildebrand
And/or ... Jam To-day: A Novel by Marjorie Firminger
And/or ... The Cubicle City by Janet Flanner
And/or ... The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara
And/or ... Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg
And/or ... Cataract by Mykhaylo Osadchy
And/or ... Creamy and Delicious by Steve Katz
And/or ... Metrophage by Richard Kadrey
And/or ... Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson
And/or ... The Silence by Jens Bjørneboe
And/or ... A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, 1974-1982 by Nicholas Rombes
And/or ... Books Burn Badly by Manuel Rivas
And/or ... Gethsemane Hall by David Annandale
And/or ... Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov
And/or ... The Warlock of Love by Marc Bolan
And/or ... The Nihilesthete by Richard Kalich
And/or ... The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland by Eliza Lynn Linton
And/or ... Blaugast: A Novel of Decline by Paul Leppin
And/or ... The Fellow Travellers by Sheila Hodgson
And/or ... Fog & Car by Eugene Lim
And/or ... The Face in the Abyss by A. Merritt
And/or ... The Secret City by Joseph J. Doke
And/or ... Nighmare Alley by William Lindsay Graham
And/or ... Centuria: 100 Ouroboric Novels by Giorgio Manganelli
And/or ... Murder by Danielle Collobert
And/or ... The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Peña
And/or ... Metropolis by Thea Von Harbou
And/or ... Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
And/or ... A Singular Aesthetic by Paul Outerbridge
And/or ... Your Sparkle Cavalcade of Death by Robert Shiarella
And/or ... Airships by Barry Hannah
And/or ... Pagan Lesbians by Vin Saxon
And/or ... Sardonicus and Other Stories by Ray Russell
And/or ... Nineteenth Century German Tales ed. by Angel Flores
And/or ... A Star's Progress by "Katherine Everard" (nom de plume of Gore Vidal)
And/or ... Space Cat on Mushrooms by Raven Madder
And/or ... The Bracelet and Other Stories by Gervee Baronte
And/or ... Sheeper by Irving Rosenthal
And/or ... Inner Tube by Hob Broun
And/or ... The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison
And/or ... Drugstore Cowboy by James Fogle

This is just a small arbitrary selection of what I want to see under the Christmas tree.  As Freddie Mercury once crooned, "I want it all and I want it now".  That's all.


Bare Bones Abstract on The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises is about how a protracted and tragically untreated case of sexual impotence ruined an otherwise rock solid relationship for a young U.S. expatriate named Jake Barnes. Sometime during those no doubt rollicking but overrated roaring twenties, Jake had himself the hots (he had it bad, man!) for a sweet society lass -- a Lady -- named Brett Ashley. Unfortunately, for both Lady Ashley and Mr. Barnes, the sun was about the only thing that rose during their doomed romance ... excluding the Eiffel Tower, of course. And run on sentences galore like the running of the bullshits.

Yada yada yada, Papa!


Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Once upon a time, the Cold War made the U.S.A. a nation of nuclear neurotics.  The probability of nuclear war was taken so seriously here that public schools drummed its terrifying possibility into our heads with such practiced, prolonged and one might say paranoid intensity that Armageddon might as well have already detonated deep inside our impressionable minds, enduring as we did, those what were supposed to be surprise but became oddly rote classroom disaster drills that gave everybody involved in the collective safety charade a short-lived sense of security even as they purported to "prepare" us for that inevitable blinding light and shockwave inferno that one day would incinerate us all into kiddie crisps.  The question wasn't if an ICBM would pulverize us, but when?

Deluxe Dark Harvest first edition of Swan Song, 1989

Swan Song, published and set during what turned out to be the Cold War's waning twilight of the mid-to-late 1980s, showcased the absolute worst possible scenario in the event of an all out nuclear blitz. Not just slow miserable death, but cruel physical deformities that were like outward manifestations of the bizarre metastasis overtaking so many hopeless and ravaged minds.

I've read the nearly 1000 page novel twice. I love it.  Kudos to Robert McCammon for taking what even around the time the Berlin Wall fell was already a tired post apocalyptic premise and breathing some beautifully foul life into the oversaturated genre. I like it better than Stephen King's The Stand by far.  Funny how it turned out for the survivors of the ensuing nuclear winters in the States that the likewise decimated Soviet Union had never been their worst enemy after all.


The Usual Mistakes by Erin Flanagan

Make no mistake, Erin Flanagan's first short story collection, The Usual Mistakes, is unusually great.

Easily one of my favorite book covers of all time.  I do love those beautiful tatts.  I love as well ... that "nostring". Love also her more subtle earring -- a nice nuanced touch. Thank you, Erin Flanagan (I do know that's not you on your debut book cover, but hey, I love you anyway) because you wrote a fabulous first book, in your stirring collection of short stories. I may actually scribble something more specifically about a few of them (if not all of them) very soon.... 


Absolute Truth on Bookstores

Below is an old Bookshelf Awareness quote of the day. It's so good and so apt and gospel true, I'm quoting it here today:

"I have never met a bookstore that I didn't love. And I've met a lot. I can't seem to help myself. It's a habit, an obsession, a life's work. Drop me anywhere and it's like a homing device starts blinking in my brain.... Every bookstore is different, just like the people who own them, and yet there are threads that tie them together. The books for one thing. All those covers. All those blurbs. The dim nooks and corners where shelves meet. The spines, lined up, row upon row, covers turned face out every so often, calling you to come a little closer. I always feel, if I could just stand quietly enough, I might actually hear the faint whispering of thousands of stories jostling together on the shelves, waiting to be chosen."

~ Author Kate Morton, speaking at the Australian Booksellers Association's annual conference (via the Australian).

Bruce Wagner's autograph (Memorial) after some brief comments on Memorial's brilliant book cover design

I love Memorial's book cover. Dust jacket designer, Jennifer Lew, made the right choices for the covers of Bruce Wagner's novel. By reversing the image taken from Katsushika Hokusai's classic painting, Fuji of the waves (1836) -- the same painting featured on some first printings of Yukio Mishima's classic The Sound of Waves, coincidentally -- and then by removing the painting's colors (save black and white) you don't immediately notice that iconic windblown foam of the wave at the top of the cover seeming to undergo its ancient, mystical metamorphosis.  That is until you turn the book over and see the white birds (are they doves? or could they even be ... bats? -- look closely, I'm not kidding!) that have been ever so subtly added to Hokusai's painting descending in the foreground toward the distant summit of the sacred, snowbound mountain.  The gold embossed rectangles kept the raised letters of the title, "by the author of...", and author name as well, from getting lost in the black lines of the swelling wave.   Add veteran book designer Karolina Harris's exquisite interior design of the book, and you've got a contemporary classic of book design in Bruce Wagner's sixth novel; a novel in which the author, too, took chances and ventured beyond the usual and sordid Hollywood strictures of his first five novels.

"Rick Jackson rules        for Robyn No 1--------
this dark memo,



(more autographs)


Amanda Knox and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

There were eerie similarities surrounding the circumstances of Amanda Knox's real life false imprisonment in Italy and what Heinrich Böll subjected his own histrionic heroine to in his controversial 1974 novel, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum.  Did you see Amanda Knox's terrible ordeal reflected in the polemical book that Böll published before Amanda Knox was even born, too?


Wanda Coleman's autograph (Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986)

Yesterday an online friend asked me what he thought the chances would've been of Wanda Coleman winning the Nobel Peace Prize had she still been alive to receive it.

pub. by Black Sparrow Press
My first thought was 'zero chance' -- and I say that as a fan of Coleman's in-your-face poetry.  I love her attitude (even when it was bad) though it pains me to think about what the circumstances that forged the genesis of that inimitable style and attitude -- that poetic rage of hers, feisty and furious -- were, considering it from my safe, masculine, lighter-skinned distance, inexperienced as I am in living personally with the daily consequences of racism and sexism and other pertinent unjust instances of shit.

My reply to my friend, after I'd considered Wanda Coleman and the Nobel Peace Prize:  "I love Wanda Coleman, and though the oppression she wrote of was universal, it's wasn't as clear cut, as black-and-white in a good vs. evil sense, I don't think, both from her perspective of what she experienced and what anyone might have seen looking in at her life, as what writers living under fascist regimes, say in China or Russia or Eastern Europe, endured; which is not to say I think it was necessarily any less or more egregious, but I do think a Nobel committee would deem it less, and thus not take her voice of outrage as seriously.  Why is she so angry, I could hear them think?  How bad could her suffering be; I mean doesn't she hail from the USA?  From the land of plenty!  The home of the free?"

"Mt. Sac." is a community college in Walnut, CA
From Heavy Daughter Blues, here's one of my favorite vignettes of hers that's neither a poem or a short story--it's just pure Wanda Coleman--riffing about a single incident in her life, seemingly innocuous at first blush, yet riddled, upon closer inspection, with more of the consequences of racism that she and millions like her here in the States, had to deal with (and still do) everyday:

APRIL 15th 1985

"It's been a wonderful trip and I'm feeling great! But fun costs and I've overspent on my trip to San Francisco and go to the bank to cash a check. There's an old white woman damn near eighty in front of me. She needs a deposit/withdrawal slip from the counter across the room, but hesitates to leave the long Monday A.M. line because she might lose her place. Rather than ask me to hold it for her, which I don't mind doing, she talks around me, as I'm not standing there, to a white woman in her sixties directly behind me. (I'm 6'2" in my brown leather boots and have the darkest skin in the place.) When the woman in her sixties reassures her, she leaves the line. When the line moves up I move up a step, leaving enough room for the eighty-year-old's return. Suddenly, the sixty-year-old addresses me boldly: "She wants her place back when she returns!"

'I heard. I got ears,' I say extremely rude and loud.

'You don't have to talk to me like that!' she says--half whine and half revulsion.

'Fuck off lady!' I say loud enough to silence her and the entire bank. Then I allow the eighty-year-old to re-enter the line ahead of me.

I'm satisfied my behavior will puzzle the sixty-year-old for time to come; wondering what she did to evoke such nastiness. Or perhaps she'll dismiss me as just another hostile young nigger wench. I'm not feeling so great any more.

Save me from bigoted old white bitches."


Alison Lurie's autograph (The Last Resort)

I like The Last Resort's book cover a lot. I haven't read the book, but I can still talk about the cover! It's bold design was by Michelle McMillan, whom I attempted Googling in order to locate more of her work but, lo, the world is apparently full of many Michelle McMillans, and I could not pinpoint the Michelle McMillan, cover designer, I was searching for, assuming she was even listed among the several entries and pages of Michelle McMillans available to click on.

Henry Holt and Company put out an odd sized hardcover first printing -- 5 3/4" x 7 1/2" -- though that seems to be the norm for the publishing house, founded in 1866, publishing differently, more artistically.  The Last Resort looks almost square.  Penguin Classics stand a quarter inch taller.   The idea of the overplayed "American Dream" dead ending off a decadent highway built literally atop the ocean (what hubris, these dead end Americans, who think they can drive on water, let alone walk on it!) just west of Key West was a fresh image-take on the American dream's demise.  From the back cover of The Last Resort:

"Streets and shops and restaurants were crowded with adults dressed like children at play, in colorful shorts, T-shirts, sneakers, and sandals.  Their garb was the outward sign that for these few days or weeks they were free to enjoy and indulge themselves, like kids on vacation.  They had no responsibilities or chores: they did not cook for themselves or make their own beds.  They stayed up late at night, and ate when they liked, preferring the childish foods disapproved of by parents and health experts: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sodas, chips, fries, pizza, and candy."

The quote echoes David Foster Wallace's observations regarding a nation whose ultimate collective dream it sure seems, whether they're working stiffs or retired CEOs, is to be "pampered" (think Pampers!), brought back to a state of Depends diapers (dependency!) or -- infantilized into some sickening infinite infancy, in other words -- that he collected as the title essay in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, about his week on board a luxury cruise liner, that, coincidentally, shipped out not far from the southern Florida setting of The Last Resort and also around the same time that Alison Lurie published her novel. Brilliant minds, perhaps.  I think perhaps, too, I need to actually read this novel of Alison Lurie's, The Last Resort, and not only because a beloved song by a California band also called "The Last Resort" (whose lyrics found the American Dream ending in Malibu and then Hawaii), happens to be one of my all time favorite songs regarding the American Dream's manifest metastasizing, but because the novel in its own right -- at the time the first novel Alison Lurie had published in ten years -- sounds like my perfect savory cup of social commentary.

(more autographs)


Some First Sentences are Meaner to Their Mamas than Other First Sentences

On the last song on side two of what I believe was The Smiths' finest album, The Queen is Dead (though long may she live!), Morrissey made the obvious, but still amusing, observations that "some girls are bigger than others" and "some girls' mothers are bigger than other girl's mothers".  Here is the song, if you like, for your listening (dis)pleasure: "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others".   I believe the same obvious (hopefully amusing?) observation can be made of first sentences in certain iconic novels. 

Consider what is arguably the corpulent mother of all first sentences, from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman ...

"I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing; - that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind; - and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost: ---Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly, ---I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world from that in which the reader is likely to see me."

... contrasted with what amounts to maybe the preeminent anorexic mother of modern first sentences -- and an anorexic mother, I might add, who is probably in possession of a sordid cocaine habit and possibly child pornography to boot -- "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles".  Indeed people are afraid to merge on freeways, Mr. Ellis.  No doubt they are afraid to merge on more that just freeways with so many more psychos (American grown or otherwise) out there today than there were almost thirty years ago when Less Than Zero was published.

Thankfully, not all first sentences are mothers or, for that matter, heterosexual mothers, like Tristam Shandy's in-the-sack example above.  Because some first sentences are homosexual men, a la Earthly Powers': "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me," thanks to Anthony Burgess' progressive ethos of inclusivity regarding all sexual orientations among first sentences.

 cover by Hadyn Symons
Some first sentences are bigger than other first sentences when it comes to flat out unsettling (or flat out crazy!), such as 1984s "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." Um.  Like.  WTF, Mr. Orwell?  Or that Franz Kafka first sentence in The Metamorphosis, where the stricken man awakes one day and discovers he's become a cockroach.  Some first sentences are more cuckoo than others!

cover by Loki-Luo
Worse, far worse, some first sentences are meaner to their mamas than other first sentences, no matter how big or diminutive they be.  "Mama died today."  Or so he says.  And yet this strange, The Stranger's Gregor Samsa, can't even remember (according to that awful, on the cusp of being matricidal, second sentence) whether his mama died today or the day before?  Is that any way for any narrator to be remembering their mama, Mr. Camus?!  My mama practically sacrificed her very life every day for me, and you made it so he can't even have the decency to remember the damn day she died?  

cover by Mina Bach
I'd planned on writing more about how some first sentences are bigger than other first sentences and so on, but I'm incensed now, Albert Camus mistreating that mama like that. When I began this post, I felt great, it was clearly the best of times, but now?  Now it's the worst of times!  Maybe I'll come back and finish up with more first sentences later, when I'm feeling better.  Or maybe, should somebody out there (is there anybody out there?) ever read this post about first sentences, they might leave a comment and mention some of their favorite first sentences too, no matter the sentence's size, sexual orientation, mama-meanness (or lack thereof). 


Rachel Resnick's autograph (Love Junkie: A Memoir)

There's a shocking and downright revolting scene of self-degradation in Gravity's Rainbow that almost made me gag the first time I read it -- the only time I will ever read it, it was so gross, thank you very much, Mr. Pynchon! -- that I never thought in a gazillion years I'd see another variation of it in serious literature again, until reading Rachel Resnick's riveting memoir, Love Junkie, chronicling the years of her harrowing sex addiction and self-destructive spiral into increasingly exploitative (if not abusive) relationships the like of which cost her so much psychologically and emotionally I'm frankly floored she came through the chaos with her shredded sanity and self-esteem intact enough to write so rationally and well about the ruinous experiences that might have driven anyone else to suicide.  Her lust for sex and acceptance almost killed her.  But she survived.  And I have her autograph and inscription to prove it!  See?

The inscription from the 2009 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is awesome, exciting to read, and probably the longest inscription I have in my collection, filling in nearly every nook (while avoiding writing over the title, byline and publisher name) of available space on the title page, and one of the lengthiest I've seen period.  I was going to transcribe the inscription for easier reading, as I generally do with the inscriptions gathered here, but Rachel Resnick's cursive handwriting is impeccable and needs no interpretive aid at all.  As for the details of that shocking Pynchonesque scene I mentioned at the outset?  Sorry, but as they say, a gentlefreeque doesn't read and tell.

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Meeting My Grandfather on Route 66, Vol. V (Kansas & Missouri)


Into Kansas at
1:05.  Baxter
Springs thru
"archway" of lake
Yalena, Kansas


Only six lines for Kansas.  Route 66 barely cut through the southeast corner of the state for a handful of miles, as it angled increasingly northeast toward Chicago and into Missouri.

Into Missouri

at 1:34.  Into
Joplin¹ at 1:45.  In
city, a young boy drove
up by car and
ask where we
were from.  Said
he was from
Redlands but
had been back
here about 6 mo.


Into Carthage
Leave U.S.
66 here for
first time
since leaving
California.  And
take 71 U.S.

as far
as Nevada
Came by camp
Clark Missouri
National Guards
south of Nevada
Leave U.S. 71
and take U.S. 54
out of Nevada, east


over terrible rough
detour and had
a flat tire.  Stopped
to fix it at 6:05
start on at
Happened to be in
shade to change
Car registers
29937 when
he² put on
new Riverside
tire.  Back on
54 at 7:12

Seems like Heaven
if it can just


last on pavement
Stop at Bolivar
Mo. at Bolivar
Camp at 7:20
Had drove 418 mi
miles today
To bed at 10.
{erased line}
Up at 4:10.
Start out at 5:00
just as the town
clock struck
real close to
where we
camped.  Fine
Thru B____ and Buffalo
then Lunas.


out of Dallas County
into Camden county
at 6:10
Thru Branch,
Mack's Creek,
Roach, Beautiful
scenery, timber
Niangua river
{two lines scratched out}
By Lako Cottage
camp.  Real nice
{"Pamdenton" or "Camdenton"}.
Pass another
nice tourist camp
by Lakeaway Cottage


Linn creek {word scratched out}
{three lines scratched out}

Over Bridge
at River Glade
{"Glainge"?} River
½ mi long.  Sure

Zebra --
crossed road

that goes to
Ozark Beach
Men working


Enter Miller Co
at 7:30. a.m
Leave Miller Co
and go into Camden
Co. again.  Then
Back into Miller

Co again and
stop at Dam
at 7:35.  Had drove
80 miles this
quite a sight
{can't make out words} hadn't
seen anything

like it.


{skipped line}
Aurora Springs
Into Eldon

at 8:12.  Stop
and eat at 
Cousin Julius
Roark's sandwich

shop.  See Cliff
Leisher, Cousin Willard
Roark, Clarence
Roy Currence.
Start on home
and stop at
Gertrude's cousin

Devil's Elbow Bridge, MO, today (photo: Greg Goodman)


Start on at
Home at
9:50.  Had drove
102 miles this
a.m.  Making
a total of

2,065 miles
from San Pedro
to Dad's.  Take
{three lines scratched out}
I paid the kids
$26 for my trip


1. Joplin, MO: birthplace of Langston Hughes
2. By "he" he meant his brother Stan. 
3. By "cross" he meant "across".
4. I'm assuming by "kids" he meant his companions -- his older siblings -- Stan and Gertrude. 

(more Route 66 posts)


Archaic Review Copy Paraphernalia; or, How Publishers Once Actually Routinely Marketed Even Unknown & Unproven Literary Talent (case in point: The Night Letter by Paul Spike)

Interesting find today.  Tucked into the front flyleaf of Paul Spike's first novel published under his real name, The Night Letter (Spike also authored Jabberwocky under one of his noms de guerre "Ralph Hoover"), was his promotional shot (replete with typewritten credits); an official postcard from G.P. Putnam's Sons for reviewers; and an 11"x17" tri-fold gushing letter of praise from a member of their marketing department (a publisher with an actual marketing department with a budget for new writers -- who knew?) mailed to every major and minor book reviewer in the U.S.A. and to several prominent others around the world.

These days, even established writers (some National Book Award winning writers), find themselves on their own when it comes to marketing their latest novels.  They must approach venues like Goodreads or LibraryThing and hope some amateur reader will "interview" them regarding their new book.  Or, if they're (un)lucky, in lieu of a real review in print or in an online "magazine", plenty of eager readers without any writing experience whatsoever, are nevertheless happy to post their "reviews" on Amazon.  What a marketing travesty!  Self promotion was unheard of for authors just thirty years ago; it was, after all -- and rightly so -- beneath them.  Yet for 99%-plus of writers publishing today, self promotion has become standard practice in the business, that is if they hope to receive any advertising or promotion for their book. 

Just thought these images would be cool to see how publishing -- and marketing for authors -- once existed in the not-so-distant past.  Almost surreal considering that publishers once spent real money on relatively unknown and unproven literary fiction talent and not just on their dumbed-down genre blockbuster shit.  Cool to see G.P. Putnam's Sons promoting Paul Spike once upon a time, back in 1979.

Copy of my first printing, 1979


Ofelia Dumas Lachtman's autograph (A Shell for Angela)

Better known for her ten young adult novels and numerous, award winning, bilingual picture books (in particular her Pepita series), Ofelia Dumas Lachtman published her first and so far only novel for adults, A Shell for Angela, in 1995, at an age (seventy-five) when most writers, I can only presume, might be contemplating retirement rather than taking a new challenge head-on and the manifold risks involved writing in a brand new realm like literary fiction. But  Lachtman, born July 9th, 1919, and who still resides in her native Los Angeles, seems to have managed just fine.  Mother of two, Lachtman worked as a stenographer during WWII.

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Mona Simpson's autograph, Off Keck Road

1st printing of Vintage Contemporaries ed., 2001

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Ajay Sahgal's autograph (Pool)

Ajay Sahgal dedicated his first and, so far, only novel, Pool (1994), to contemporary literature's longtime dastardly Prince of Nihilism and Narcissism (or, N&N), Bret Ellis.  Ellis' kindred twin of N&N, Jay McInerney (why yes, I do believe I'm name-dropping), whose longtime literary niche, like Ellis', has drifted for redundant decades in the shallows of N&N, wrote the middle blurb for the back cover of Pool, teasingly intimating that Ajay Sahgal was a "mad scientist" whose novel Pool was "a scary experiment" that someone just had to do.  I wish Ajay Sahgal hadn't done it, write Pool, though I'll admit I must agree with McInerney regarding his "scary" assertion about Pool, insofar as it was suggestive of Ajay Sahgal's flat prose that was so flat and, frankly, so foul, it scared me considering there once existed a publisher deluded and/or pompous enough to believe the novel was fit for publication.
I suppose I get that Pool was deemed cool enough to publish, especially back in the early Nineties when practically every piece of crap, no matter how painfully average, banal, or glossy and cool its artistic book cover -- not to mention how derivative it was -- got galleys galore sent out left and right like so many unsavory Dominos Pizzas, so why wouldn't this forgettable (pedestrian at best) supposed satire of The Biz, as seen through the N&N eyes (presumably reflected on the book cover) of one of Young Hollywood's hottest models and elite leading men, Emery Roberts, find a, say, little brown Atlantic house to call home too?  Scarier, and more absurd, was the helium hyperbole-of-Hindenburg-proportions printed about Pool on Pool's front flyleaf: "Think Day of the Locust for Generation X". Uh, don't you think the estate of Nathanael West could've sued over such asinine and ludicrous bombast as that?  I do.  How about instead, "Think Day of the Dumb Tweet for Millennials".  For this Pool, predictably, is not deep.

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A Child's Garden of Verses for the Revolution by William Eastlake

Yesterday, I finally bit on a first printing of poetry that'd been sitting on one of my local bookshop shelves for at least the last couple years, A Child's Garden of Verses for the Revolution (1970) by William Eastlake.  The book is prose poetry intermingled with narrative vignettes that are like a hybrid of short stories and social commentary blended in such a manner that they're practically rants. But lyrical, creative -- not shrill -- rants.  And though particular to their time, still resonates in our time today.  Here's an untitled sampling:

1st printing, Grove Press
"We will cut
The bad guys off
At the pass,
But this will not be
A revolution in which
We shoot off the congressmen's heads.
They must have their heads on tight
In order to look back and see the
Damage they have done.
Killed off our youth in Vietnam,
Our blacks in Chicago,
Spent all our money
To accomplish their great deeds.
They also spent forty billion,
Burned alive three astronauts
To bring back a couple of
Rocks from the moon,
While Death walked the ghetto
Rode the Indian reservation,
At the pass.
They must have their heads on tight
In order to look back and see the damage they have done."

William Eastlake (1917-1997) was a novelist, war correspondent, ranch hand, writer-in-residence, lecturer, cattle puncher, honorary doctorate recipient, short story writer and reviewer.  His work is well worth discovering for the first time, or rediscovering time and again.


Hannah Holborn's autograph (Fierce: Stories and a Novella)

Hannah Holborn wowed me the first time I read her fiction.  Her short story, "Without Strings," included in the superb 2008 anthology, Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs, edited by the novelist Suzanne Kamata, blew me away it hit so close to home.

It was so painfully raw and honest, I was convinced that Holborn had to have had her own child with special needs in order to have written such a story so real, so true.  In the story, Alice is sharing with her mother the devastating news of her baby daughter's diagnosis: Angelman's.  Parents of typical children without chromosomal abnormalities cannot imagine* how crushing it is upon hearing the news that their child has a severely debilitating developmental disorder, and yet Hannah Holborn, who is not the parent of a special needs child, not only imagined it but nailed it.  After Alice receives little sympathy from her look-on-the-"upside"-of-life-mother and her mother's latest beau (unless the latest beau's "boo-hoo" can be construed as signifying genuine sympathy), she walks home and broods:

"...my neighbors slept with confidence inside their heavily mortgaged homes knowing that their children would be icons of socially conscious fashion, win athletic awards, read before kindergarten, earn honors, be beautiful or handsome or both.  When grown they would graduate with multiple degrees and then move to the United States because the wages are higher. They would marry well and buy nicer homes than these. They would make their parents proud.

They would avoid my daughter like the plague."

Knocks the wind out of you, a passage like that.

When Fierce arrived late in 2008 (in Canada only; it was released in the States in 2009), Hannah, who had read my positive review of Love You to Pieces and later contacted me through a social media website devoted to bibliophiles to say thanks, she was kind enough -- and quite generous too -- to send me, all the way from Canada, an autographed copy of her first book of fiction.  I think it's safe to say I prize her signature and inscription more than others I've collected over the years.  And autographed copy or not, Fierce is a stellar collection of short stories and one novella that sensitive readers and reviewers will savor, as her stories have that knack of staying with you as only the most powerful and impacting fictions can and do.

*I can imagine only because I was the parent of a special needs child (Down syndrome) for fifteen-plus years (August 11, 1998 to December 27, 2013).

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