"Escapement" by J. G. Ballard

I'm seeing, sensing, absorbing the preternatural prescience and all-too-real surrealism of J.G. Ballard.  In one of his first published short stories, for instance, his gem "Escapement" (1956), a man watching the tele with his wife experiences a bizarre hiccup in time's immutable ticktock, during which he discovers himself reliving the same fifteen minute span from 9:00-9:15 P.M. over and over again.  As if time were trapped on a cassette tape that never stopped playing.

The television show our increasingly incredulous man is watching keeps repeating itself, but his wife doesn't even notice!  In fact, while her husband can't get past 9:15, it's almost 10:00 P.M. for her. Our man tries switching channels to escape.  Same result: Rewind.  He calls a quiz show to tell them he knows the question they're going to ask in order to try and convince somebody — anybody — that something very strange is going on with the clocks, that they're stuck in this maddening and impossible fifteen minute rerun, but no one believes him, and before he can convince someone, 9:15 P.M. arrives and he's automatically boomeranged back to 9:00 P.M. And then ...

The recursive time loop our now frantic man has found himself ensnared in starts speeding up: 9:03-9:12 ... 9:07-9:09 ... until its thirty second recursive timeloops, ten second timeloops, five seconds, four, three, two, and then

Here's a brilliant radio drama of "Escapement," dramatized by James R. Wallen in 1988 for the CBCs then long-running program The Vanishing Point.

Also, an excellent, modernized, short film adaptation of "Escapement" by Anthony Willis, from Antimatter Films, 2014.

And one last thing:  Escapement, for ten instruments by Oliver Thurley, a score written for the LS-Two ensemble, University of Leeds.

To say that J. G. Ballard inspires other creative artists might be the understatement of the millennium — and the last millennium, too.


Appreciating Gray Foy's Cover Art for Lilith by J. R. Salamanca

Within the infinitude of available Lilith literature and art, seldom does J. R. Salamanca's(1922-2013) name or contribution to it — his novel Lilith  reap more than a footnote or brief mention in its evolving lore.  Rarer, still, is proper recognition afforded the artist, Gray Foy (1922-2012), responsible for Lilith's awesome jacket painting.

My copy, first edition, 1961

Gray Foy's artwork, in fact, is the sole reason I spotted Lilith's spine on the second-hand shelf — so artful and inviting it was, suggestive of something gothic and possibly serpentine — bait as novel and irresistible as the apple was for Eve to this hooked bibliophile.

*  J. R. Salamanca doesn't even garner a mention in Contemporary Novelists, 3rd edition (1982), the then go-to database of English language writers, edited by James Vinson and D. L. Kirkpatrick. People are more apt to remember the 1964 adaptation of Salamanca's Lilith, starring a host of Hollywood up-and-comers — Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg, Peter Fonda, Gene Hackman — than recall, as so often happens with even modestly successful adaptations, that a moving and far more memorable novel was there first. 


The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman

Found The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman last month at the Bookman in Orange.   The dust jacket design caught my eye.  Though the cover designer's signature got torn off at the bottom right corner as you can see below, a friend was able to quickly identify it as one of the covers from the impressive portfolio of Arthur Hawkins, Jr., one of the finest cover artists, come to find out, of the 1930s and 1940s.  Simply had to have The Hucksters, solely because of its book cover, even though I knew next to nothing about it.  I'm afraid I did judge this book by its cover — and bought it.  The intriguing biography of the author on the back cover helped sell the book for me, too:
"Until his first book, SHORE LEAVE, was published, Frederic Wakeman belonged to that large army of professional writers who never see their names in print.  They are the reporters, the writers of advertising and of radio scripts.  In New York you see them leave their advertising agency offices on Park or Madison Avenue—and after a hard day, these anonymous but not inarticulate word-weighers will confess, nostalgically, that someday "I'll quit and write a book".  They never quit and few of them ever have, or take the time to write a book.  Except for the war, in all probability Wakeman would have conformed to the pattern of the New York advertising man, stringing together words for ads and radio shows.  He joined the Navy, was in for a year, spending a brief stint on Pacific duty and wound up in a naval hospital.  SHORE LEAVE was the natural result of a writer with time on his hands plying his trade ... He is thirty-five years old, with a wife and two children." 
Book covers have always sold books, and, more often than not, a great cover in my experience has indeed been indicative of a great book, no matter what Grandma used to say, offering a book cover as an object lesson about people, warning us grandkids not to judge them by appearances, because like these pages, "like these deckle-edged pages here, see," she said, and, fanning open the pages of the book she held, added, "feel these pages, you feel that there, how uneven they are? Some people are like that too — deckled, or inconsistent, like you're never quite sure for certain, if what they say is how they gonna do.  Are they strong of character? are they tough? well how are you gonna know until you open them up?  See how this book's spine is weak when I open it, how some of the pages — the 'leaves' is what they called them in the store — see how they're about to come loose and fall?  Well, shoot, how you gonna know if a person is damaged goods or not, that their spine is all broken up like this, like this book here, see, or that they're spineless to begin with, the way my first husband was, your Grampa Paul, if all you are is looking at, is their outward beauty, their appearance alone?"

I wish I knew if my imagined grandmother that I never knew ever sold a first edition of The Huckster by Frederic Wakeman, like the one above that I bought at the Bookman.  Plenty of readers bought it when it was published in 1946, just after the War, though the novel has become somewhat obscure today.  My copy is still sturdy of spine, has deckled edges, an interesting biography of the author:  A former "ad man," perhaps a huckster himself; that is, an expert exploiter of surface appeal, an inveterate salesman, an innovator of the campaign blitz.  Hucksters struck New York with billboards rather than bombs, launching jargon and jingle rockets into the air upon unsuspecting shoppers, essentially turning profitable tricks with these easily molded, proletariat minds.  But I'm likely exaggerating the evils of ad men, aren't I?  Or am I?  Keep in mind the brilliant cover artist's, Arthur Hawkins, Jr's., opinion of them, and note the sharp architectural angles he used, his choice of colors so suggestive of the era's non-democratic regimes, and his not-so-subtle use of the subliminal, perhaps parodying the Freudian lengths advertisers went to.


The Apes of God: Time to Re-Read this Beastly Book in 2017!

In this absurd sociopolitical climate we live and breathe in everyday here in the States, choking from the befouled air so malodorous with corruption that we must don our imported WWI gas masks in order to salvage and breathe whatever decaying virtues, untouched by Trump's toxicity, we might have left to inhale.  Oh this fetid defilement where we've been bait-and-switched the stench of carrion flowers for the promised roses.  Who are the apes of god today?  Where, oh where, is a writer hated by everyone like Wyndham Lewis when we need him right now? 

My copy, 4th pr. (1997), Black Sparrow Press
Perhaps you don't know Wyndham Lewis' writing? Know that he was a sharp-angled Enemy of the Establishment in Politics and especially the Arts. His august, adversarial gaze alone, melted the grease for the dilettantes he sautéed every day for breakfast and hors d'oeuvres.  His intense countenance was the austere art of Excoriation Incarnate.  The Bloomsbury Group, for instance, experienced many lovely and fruitful blossoms for a time ... until Wyndham Lewis (who'd collected himself a few ezra pounds over the years) made them all wilt.

'Between 1926 and 1930, Wyndham Lewis pub-lished eight books* ... The Apes of God formed an appro-priate and controversial climax to the series ... Though much praised at the time of publication ... these books are now excluded from the canon of writings that critics of modern literature have established as important or "major".

'This exclusion is, I think, mistaken, but as Frederic Jameson has pointed out in his book on Lewis, Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, The Modernist as Fascist ... its consequences can be seen as fortunate. For the text's of Lewis' great contemporaries have lost much of their revolutionary freshness by being canonized and assimilated to the institutional world of academic discourse. By contrast, when we read Wyndham Lewis, we "come upon a modernism still extant and breathing, an archaic survival, like the antediluvian creatures of Conan Doyle's Lost World hidden away within a forgotten fold of the earth's surface". In reading Lewis, we can, says Jameson, "once more sense that freshness and virulence of modernizing stylization less and less accessible in the faded texts of his contemporaries." 
Paul Edwards, 1981, from afterword to the Black Sparrow Press edition of The Apes of God. 
Won't anyone, beyond yours truly, consider reading a book by (or about) Wyndham Lewis, in 2017?

 "Between 1926 & 1930 Wyndham Lewis published eight books"
  1. The Art of Being Ruled (essays, 1926) 
  2. The Wild Body: A Soldier of Humour and Other Stories (1927)
  3. The Lion and the Fox: The Role of the Hero in the Plays of Shakespeare (essays, 1927)
  4. Time and Western Man (philosophy, 1927)
  5. The Childermass (novel, 1928)
  6. Paleface: The Philosophy of the "Melting Pot" (essays, 1929)
  7. Satire and Fiction: Preceded by the History of a Rejected Review (literary criticism, 1929) 
  8. The Apes of God (novel, 1930).



The Suspect by L. R. Wright

Finished L.R. Wright's first mystery novel The Suspect (her fourth published novel) and I've had the unrelenting suspicion since finishing it that it is a perfect book.  At first I wouldn't give it ten out of ten stars, I thought to myself that maybe I'd give it nine, or 9.5, only because I'm not completely convinced that the forensics Wright depicted in the novel were as thoroughly fleshed out and considered as they would have been in so-called real life.  But, maybe, in 1984, in a backwoods town on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, reachable only by ferry boat, the crime was investigated as thoroughly as it could have been back then.  Maybe Wright got it exactly right.  In real life, would there have been enough evidence to convict the suspect, an eighty-year-old, cantankerous widower, George Wilcox?  Maybe not.  Maybe that's why Karl Alberg, the divorced detective on the case, could never nail him.  Maybe L. R. Wright thought up the perfect scenario for the perfect, spontaneous, unpremeditated murder, that not even Sherlock Holmes could have solved.

Whether this perfect murder is 100% plausible or not, The Suspect, like I stated at the outset, if not a perfect novel, is a perfect read.  But, damn, if this mystery, set amidst so much sunshine and blue sparkling ocean, among seaside cottages, with their tended gardens extending almost to the tide, is not a brooding, downright gloomy, read. Understand that the fog will snuff out the sunshine by the end.

"This part of British Columbia gets more hours of sunshine every year than most places in Canada—five hundred more hours, on the average, than Vancouver.  Because its winters are also very mild, things grow here that will not grow anywhere else in the country—apricot and fig trees, even palm trees, it is said." 

So much understated loss in this novel, only hinted at, a glimpse of it here, or there — a sunbeam exposing secret griefs, resentment, and rage — page upon melancholic but unputdownable page. Wright never overstates a clue — not once, but leaves it up to you, one of her rare readers these days, to scrunch up your eyes and forehead, to deduce and decide.  How? Why? When?

What amazed me most about the novel, is how well Wright indeed made perfectly plausible this complex dynamic between, Karl Alberg, the transplant detective, claiming as bona fide friend, the murderer, George Wilcox, the very man whom Alberg knew beyond all doubt had committed the crime.  But with limited manpower and investigative resources, he just couldn't find enough evidence or establish corroboration between any two eyewitnesses, to pin it on him, to make the arrest.  What an unexpected, emotionally powerful read, especially watching evolve an implausible-but-not-impossible friendship between adversaries develop like that, watching their friendship poignantly and unexpectedly bloom. A friendship only fully realized months after one of the men has died.

"The tempo of life on the Sunshine Coast is markedly slower than that of Vancouver, and its people, for the most part strung out along the shoreline, have a more direct and personal interest in the sea.

The coastal forests are tall and thick with undergrowth, but they come gently down to the water and are sometimes met there by wide, curving beaches.  The land cleared for gardens is fertile, and the things growing there tempt wild creatures from the woods.  In the sea there are salmon, and oysters, and clams; there are also otters; and thousands of gulls, and cormorants.  There are Indian legends, and tales of smugglers, and the stories of the pioneers.

The resident police force is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with detachments in Gibsons and Sechelt.  There are traffic accidents to deal with, and occasional vandalism, and petty theft, and some drunkenness now and then.

There is very seldom a murder."

Yes, George Wilcox has just murdered his eighty-five year old neighbor, Carlyle, when we meet him on the first page.  Carlyle was apparently an "old acquaintance" (certainly not a friend), though by the end of the novel we'll discover the man Wilcox murdered was much more than an acquaintance, even if he wasn't exactly a friend.  L. R. Wright gives away the who-did-it? right off the bat, providing the reader with more intimate knowledge of the crime's grisly details than afforded any character in the novel's except for the elderly perp.  And what a disturbing way to meet someone, even a fictitious character, our "suspect" of the novel's title.  In two previous (non-mystery) novels I've read that opened as violently — and I'm just talking about violence against animals here (i.e., Ron Loewinsohn's Magnetic Field(s) and Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke), I've found it difficult to continue reading.  But that was not the case with The Suspect, because unlike these novels, and for reasons I do not yet completely comprehend, I cared about this very believable, complicated man, the suspect, the murderer, the old man riddled by guilt and one too many demons.

Chalk it up, as well, to Wright's extraordinary penchant for creating a conflicted and torn character with the same double-minded authenticity on the page. The Suspect transcends the mystery genre.  Call it a mystery if you must, but also call it literature.  No real surprise that Wright's first three novels were literary fiction.

L. R. Wright beat both Ruth Rendell and Paul Auster, among others, for the 1986 Edgar Award.  Wright, to this day, remains the only Canadian author to have won the Edgar.  Had The Suspect been nominated for The Booker Prize that year, as it should have been, I suspect it would have won at least one more award.  Before L.R. Wright, 61, died on February 25, 2001, she got the last word in on her long battle against breast cancer: “She died, and the cancer died with her. It was a draw.”


Tara Henley on Emily Witt's Future Sex

Fifteen years ago, I was a young music critic spending time in New York, discovering that a number of men in the industry wanted to have sex with me.  I figured this out because they said things like "I want to have sex with you". . . .

~ Tara Henley, from the opening lines of her review of Future Sex by Emily Witt, which I read this morning in the print edition of LARB.

Wouldn't that zinger quote above make for an awesome opening salvo of lines for a novel?

Tara Henley (in case you did not click on the link I provided with her name above, shame on you!) is also the producer of the radio documentary 39, which she's described as being "about staring down 40, and being single and childless and baffled by my life."  And she's not alone in her experience, because there are now more single than married women alive in the United States right now for the first time in history.

Emily Witt, beyond having recently published her first book Future Sex (as if that were not impressive enough), is also one of those astute writers who has found plausible parallels in the writings of Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar* — a remarkable feat of, um, witt, never before realized.

* in n+1, "Didion, Collins, Plath".


William T. Vollmann ephemera from his publisher for the The Rifles

The Rifles was the ninth book William T. Vollmann published when it came out in 1994; an impressive literary output for the then thirty-four year old, who even this early on in his career was clearly more ambitious and driven to write than probably all of his contemporaries combined.  The Rifles was Vollmann's sixth novel; the third he'd so far published in his Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes series, though (not to confuse anyone) The Rifles was, in fact, identified as Volume Six on the front cover of the U.S. first edition.  He was merely publishing this installment of his seven novel series (as he has done for most of the novels so far published in the series) out of sequence.  In pulling The Rifles off the shelf the other day and opening the book, out fell some pre-publication promotional sheets from Vollmann's publisher that I'd completely forgotten about, and found them interesting to reread.  Thought I'd share them; why not?  One simply cannot be too arcane when it comes to sharing the arcana of William Tanner Vollmann!

Uncommon pic of W.T.V.
My U.S. 1st Printing


A. M. Homes' autograph (Jack)

I love A. M. Homes.

I love her for her novels, yes.  Try reading The End of Alice someday (unless you're chickenshit) and you'll never be the same.  I do not condone, but can understand, why The End of Alice, a virtual hi-def cracked mirror of victimization and depravity — was occasionally banned.  It was banned because it was too damn honest, too damn real.  Positive traits that made it too damn dangerous for some book stores to sell.  The books of A. M. Homes are never safe, and that is another reason why I love her.  Her stories are like razor blades.  I remember having to explain to my clueless ex-shrink one session why my hands were bleeding:  "I've been reading The Safety of Objects by A. M. Homes!"

I love A. M. Homes for her autographs, too.  So far, I have acquired two.  The first A. M. Homes autograph I ever found was several years ago, at a thrift shop, in a first edition of her second short story collection, 2002's Things You Should Know, posted on here.

Note the winsome blurb from a then not widely known (or widely read) up-and-coming literary star himself, David Foster Wallace! Assuming A. M. Homes had anything to do with her debut novel being compared to The Catcher In The Rye on the back cover of the 1990 Vintage Con- temporaries edition (pictured at left), then I love her even more; love her for for her stealth and poetic justice!  The reader may recall that a humorless J. D. Salinger had threatened to sue Homes in 1981 when she was just a nineteen year old college student nobody — a gifted and driven nineteen year old college student nobody, I must amend — with a play about to premiere.  Her play Call-in Hours was set to feature two characters named Holden Caulfield and J. D. Salinger. Under threat of having the play's production stopped promptly by Salinger's legal henchmen, Homes had no choice but to rename the characters.  But, J.D. couldn't do jack about Jack declaring on its back cover that it was "the most convincing, funny, and insightful novel about  adolescence since THE CATCHER IN THE RYE," could he?

Because it was.

more autographs


I Left My Grandfather's House by Denton Welch

Over the weekend, I finished I Left My Grandfather's House by Denton Welch. I spent two weeks with this slender book's eighty-seven pages, reading from a handsome edition published by Enitharmon Press, which is about the same amount of time it took Welch to ramble from his grandfather's house in Henfield of western Sussex County, a village about thirty miles south of London, to the county of Devonshire, 200 meandering miles away.  (And, yes, in the 1940s, when Welch wrote this sensitive, exquisite remembrance of his 1933 summer trek afoot and afield over the southern countryside of England, in which he roughly paralleled a course a short distance from the coastline of the English Channel, he indeed referred to the distances he travelled as "miles").

Welch's walk would nearly be the mileage if not the pastoral equivalent of tramping from Boston to The Bronx.  En route, he crossed the River Adur on a ferry, into the village of Steyning.  He visited Jane Austen's house.  He explored numerous castle and cathedral ruins.  He loitered in a cemetery. He left hostels in haste, after sundown, due to one owner's baffling rudeness or because of the greed of another who insisted, without explicitly saying so, that their cooking — their "extraordinary" supper — was not an optional cost of service. He bathed in a hostel that featured for its "bath" a brisk stream that literally ran through the hostel's interior, and required, if one did not wish to be washed away by its cleansing current (and thus duly exposed to astonished onlookers at the nearby bridge downstream), that you held on tight to the rope affixed to the rafters.  Denton Welch barely held on, but hold on, he did — the story of his short life.  At another hostel, Welch learned from its owner something of the practical value of cruelty and emotional detachment.  A mother cat was watching her kittens toy with a mouse.
It "was not yet dead and a thrill of horror ran through me as I saw it squirm under the paw of one of the little fluffy kittens.  They did not bite it or even let their claws out to it; they just stared at it with their large blue eyes and patted it every now and then playfully as they would a ball of wool. . .
'Won't you kill it, or take it away?' I asked the woman urgently.
'Good Lord, no,' she smiled, 'they're learning to be good mousers.  How do you think she can teach them if we interfere?'"
Stonehenge, however, was humdrum to him.  He was neither impressed by mysteries or by priests.  A couple he met at a hostel toward the end of his journey thought he looked to be about the age of sixteen and yet carried himself as if he were a decade older.  Which perhaps explains much of his expressed loneliness, gloominess, and melancholy, in the pages of his remarkable memoir, being the young but wise old soul he was.  Though perhaps it explains something else as well:  Perhaps had I lost the use of my legs at the age of twenty, as Denton Welch had (because senseless circumstances saw fit to have him hit, almost killed, permanently disabled, partially paralyzed for life, by a motor car) and in this context of suffering and grief was remembering how it was when I was a spry young lad of eighteen and could still walk thirty-five miles across the moors and hillocks of southern England in a single day, perhaps I'd know, as Denton Welch no doubt grimly did (and so decided not to mention it in I Left My Grandfather's House), that the sadness so intrinsic to his poignant recollection surely required no further explanation.


Rick Harsch's autograph (Arjun & the Good Snake...)

Being that Rick Harsch's Arjun & the Good Snake: Being an Ophidiological Account of Six Weeks in India without Alcohol . . .*

. . . bears the lengthiest, most cryptic, most interesting inscription I have, I'm puzzled that I had not posted it sooner, and so correct my oversight now.

And since the image of the inscription above isn't entirely clear, I've quoted it below.  Occasional words or letters I couldn't make out I've underscored instead.

"Dear Brent / DM / eF / HEF / under-

I am younger than my crippled 
writing hand is.

Thanks for buying the book,
of course, but also for your enthusiasm
in general, which led me to and
stuck me to LT.***

Please enjoy this quirky,
Slovene __ i_ V___, the strangely
located yet perfectly placed
dedication The tr___ 'ofi_____'
Etc.  And, judge me multifuriously

Uživaj, Rick"

* "Ophidiological" ... Scientific study of snakes.

** "DM" ... Dick Misanthropic.
       "eF" ... Enrique Freeque.
   "HEF" ... Henri_Etta_Freeque.

*** "LT" ... LibraryThing

Arjun & the Good Snake... (2011) is a scarce title — available only in hardcover from Slovenian publisher Amalietti & Amalietti, and now possibly out of print — from the author of The Driftless Trilogy.  The Driftless Zone (or Driftless Area) is a paleozoic plateau cut threw by several river valleys in southwestern Wisconsin, and serves as the primary setting for Rick Harsch's trio of under recognized novels. Published by Steerforth Press, the novels included The Driftless Zone; or, a Novel Concerning the Selective Outmigration from Small Cities (1997); Billy Verite (1998); and The Sleep of Aborigines (2002).  These novels are worthy of revival.  I can envision NYRB reissuing them in a first ever omnibus, can't you?  

Excerpts from Rick Harsch's more recent novels, including The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman and The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, can be read at his website.


The Adept by Michael McClure

I was initially drawn to The Adept by its psychedelic dust jacket.  Even after a friend pointed out that each "e" of the title on the cover looked like a Pac-Man — albeit striped Pac-Mans — I didn't care. I didn't care even though I was strictly a Galaga kid back when Pac-Man was all the rage.  I had to have it; that cover called to me; I was transfixed by its meditative, out of body experience, in the cover art and design.  Thankfully, Lorne Bair Rare Books, self-described "specialists in the history, art and literature of American social movements" (Woodstock's generation, for instance) was there for me when I was jonesing hard for it and needed this amazing fix fast.

Copy of my first edition, 1971
The Adept was Michael McClure's second novel, published by Delacorte Press forty-five years ago, and so far, it has been his last. After safariing deep underneath its alluring surface cover, I polished the novel off last night.

Sure wish McClure had written another novel (or would write one more soon).  Pure pleasure finding myself unself-consciously submerged by the reading, swirling deep into the vortex of Michael McClure's immense imagination — a subversive, unpredictable, and visionary realm at once spiritual and corporeal.  Michael McClure has long been an Artist attuned to whatever it is out there that stalks and breathes beyond our senses, and in The Adept he takes us there.

The Adept is "anti-narrated," you could say, by an expert antihero; by a metafictional-minded — "Listen, my Dear Reader, my Fine Punk Asshole, my Lovely Hypocrite, and you shall hear what it is to be a full-grown adult male animal with hair down to the ass and a fine set of muscles." — cocaine addled mystic, this drug dealing New Yorker, Nicholas, with his kooky predilection for impromptu longueurs galore on things like leonine symbolism one second or Botticelli's illustrations for The Inferno the next.  The novel compels its "Dear Reader ... Lovely Hypocrites" along with Nicholas' digressive commentary (is it maybe Michael McClure's social commentary disguised?) because, yes, it blends like this linguistic smoothie out of erudite esoterica and streetwise jive.  The Adept is serious funny brains.  McClure's colloquial commingling of down and dirty earthiness and high art prefigured David Foster Wallace's own super-smarts-meets-low-arts sensibility of style.

"More Niccolo Macchiavelli than St. Nick," Nicholas' worldview counters the counterculture of his time.  In 1971, when we meet him — we "Fine Punk Assholes" — whatever happy hippie idealism he may have once had has long escaped this enigmatic cynic for good—
"I despise the radical and social Left which would poison me and put me in a prison of Society—leaving me no pleasures but those of happy work, and marriage, and perhaps finally automation so that there would be nothing for me to do but watch state-owned television and pursue crafts and cultural events until the utopia breaks up in sheer boredom of existence."
I said I was enamored by the The Adept's dust jacket at the outset.  I'll say now I was mind blown by the book, and leave it at that, except for this beautiful bit of prose—
"A rose is not only beautiful when new but it is also beautiful when wilted. The Japanese know this. There is more thought in a wilted rose than in a new rose. The new rose, lucent flower meat, gleams and gives off light like a psychedelic drug being whirled in a centrifuge in a dark room. No, not like that. The new rose is new flesh.  It stares back at you.  It is shocked to be removed from the garden, but newborn to be unitary, disparate, and free."


Steve Erickson's autograph & inscription to Frances Kroll Ring (The Sea Came In At Midnight)

While traveling up the coast this past week, we had a chance to veer half-an-hour inland over to the bucolic but always art amenable town of Ojai, home to the "greatest outdoor bookstore" in the U.S.A., Bart's Books. Granted, that they are the "greatest" is their own self description, but I believe them!  I believe also they may in fact be the greatest bookstore, indoor or outdoor, in the United States, period.  The last time I visited, two summers ago, I turned left at the front cashier stand (beneath which are shelved about two hundred $1 books), and explored their vast contemporary literature section as the sun beat down upon me.  This time, I turned right at the cashier stand, into what looked to be the room of an old house.  And this house had a roof.  Can't let the acidifying effects of sunlight beat down on so many leather bound tomes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  A narrow hall — the First Editions section — began opposite the roofed room, and continued round a corner.

While perusing the First Editions section of Bart's Books, I happened upon several signed and inscribed books by Steve Erickson. Every book of Erickson's (there were five there) were inscribed to "Frances". Curious.  Soon, the owner of Bart's Books serendipitously materialized, holding a large mug of coffee, and asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, if I needed any help.  At the moment he asked I was holding a signed and inscribed first printing of The Sea Came In At Midnight. I opened the book to its half-title page and inquired, "Is the 'Frances' here," and pointed at the inscription, "the same 'Frances' that's also inscribed in all the other Erickson books you've got on the shelf?"

"Yep," he said.  "Frances Ring."

"Frances Kroll Ring?" I'd heard of her somewhere. "Wasn't she, like the editor, or the, for ...  um ..."

"Scott Fitzgerald, that's right. She was his secretary and typist the last year-and-a-half or so of his life, when he was writing The Last Tycoon."

"Really? Wow! How'd you get all of them?" I motioned toward the balance of Erickson's books — three novels* and one nonfiction book** — on the shelf.

"Her estate sale.  There was a lot more valuable stuff there too," he said, "but her family decided to keep it."

"Including books?"

"Yep," he replied.

I reiterated: "Wow!"

Later in our conversation, the owner and I (sure wish I had gotten the name of this most congenial, knowledgable fellow) discussed how absurdly undervalued Steve Erickson's work was, both among collectors of contemporary first editions, and a literary establishment that has largely, for the last three decades (sure, there have been many and varied exceptions, primarily sounding forth their lauds from west of the Colorado River, but still) shown indifference when not dishing him outright disrespect that would've ruined writers of lesser vision than he.  However, on the silver lining flip side of Steve Erickson's relative — and again: absurd, undeserved — lower value among collectors in the market, at least lower when you compare what his stuff sells for next to what his contemporaries' stuff sells for, allowed me, a regular 'ol working class freak, to buy one of his signed first editions that he inscribed to Frances Kroll Ring, The Sea Came In At Midnight.  So what if it didn't break my bank, to me the book and its inscription are priceless, because it's living literary history right there forever on the half-title page.

1st edition/1st printing, 1999 "...time is moving..."
Who was Frances Kroll Ring (May 17, 1916 - June 18, 2015) after her twenty months of working for Scott Fitzgerald ended at the end of 1940 with his death?  Many wonderful things.  But for my purposes here, after her husband died, she took a job in 1972 as editor of Westways, the magazine for the Auto Club of Southern California that, at the time, published actual literature of all things, a far cultural cry from the Reader's Digest disposable dreck it has metastasized into today.  About five years*** after Frances Kroll Ring became Westways' editor, Steve Erickson was hired by the magazine.  He would co-author a monthly column that covered the local Los Angeles punk rock concert scene.  Frances Kroll Ring became a champion for Erickson and other emerging writers on the West Coast of the day, and when the sad day came in the early 1980s that Frances Kroll Ring was unceremoniously fired as editor of Westways by the corporate bozo bigwigs, legend has it that Steve Erickson, loyal to his boss, quit his steady gig at the magazine on the spot in protest.  Frances Kroll Ring and Steve Erickson remained friends thereafter, as the inscriptions he wrote to her in the first editions of his books I had the good fortune to read at Bart's Books attest to, and as you can clearly see by Erickson's endearing inscription to her above in my copy of The Sea Came In At Midnight.

    *  The three novels I left on the shelf for someluckyone else to find were Days Between Stations (1985), Tours of the Black Clock (1989), and Arc d'X (1993).
  **   The book of nonfiction was American Nomad (1997).
***  My research never revealed the exact dates.

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The Island of the Dead by Lya Luft

Only the shadows
the secrets
of closed houses,
only the forbidden wind
and the moon that shines
on the roof
~ Pablo Neruda

Camilo, who has just committed suicide within the last twenty-four hours prior to The Island of the Dead's abrupt but artful opening — and it was a strange suicide involving an unbroken mare at that — lies exposed in the living room of his grandmother's home for his wake when we meet him:
"He had the face of an adolescent, delicate, almost the face of a woman.  But dusted lightly with gold, its youth lost and replaced by that solemn mask of wax, ice, and new knowledge . . . In the casket between his parents, in the light, Camilo's face showed surprise, astonishment, as it had since the moment of death. He hid behind this mask in order to die better, undisturbed, and to learn the gesture, the face, the voice, the role he was to play in his new existence. 
The wake was his opening night."
In life, Camilo was the fraternal twin of Carolina, son and daughter of their respective, separated parents, Renata and Martin, and the grandchildren of the family's matriarch known only as "Mother". Camilo and Carolina shared a secret obsession that consumed them (and it directly led to Camilo's death): They longed to be identical twins, sister and brother, boy and girl.  "They practiced being identical with the same tenacity with which she" [their mother] "had prepared herself for her piano in days gone by.  And they acquired, one from the other, the same posture, the same manner of turning their heads, of holding a book, of walking."

The twins' father, Martin, wanted nothing of what he deemed his children's despicable identical desires.  He resorted to even physically separating them, with force, so that one would live on his farm and the other in Mother's house.  He particularly loathed how effeminate his son Camilo was becoming, looking more, sounding more, what little he spoke, and even dressing more and more like his silly sister — the disgrace! Martin tried "curing" Camilo, "manning him up," if you will, with hard and filthy farm labor. After all, he reasoned, "A boy who is always with his sister will turn into a queer." Little could we know when Martin reasoned so about his son, of his own secret hypocrisy in the delicate matter, considering how close — certainly much too close for Mother's comfort (Love had been forbidden, because for Mother, for relatives and friends, the two were siblings")  — he once, well, more than once, actually; many more times than merely "once" if Mother and Martin's remembrance is right, had been with his full-figured stepsister as a teen. "A girl with black hair and sensual mouth, a beautiful mouth.  A beautiful woman full of the juices of life. . ."

With so much distasteful family history to conceal, it's easy to see why Mother ran her nuclear household the way she did, closed to all except family.  The title of Lya Luft's novella is translated literally as "The Closed Room" (O Cuarto Fechado).  So many enclosures within enclosures. Closed house. Closed room. Closed lives. The effect is suffocating, claustrophobic. If ever a book could make its readers struggle to breathe just by its sheer reading (and this is not a criticism or complaint, far from it!) The Island of the Dead is it.  Not only is the un-oxygenated air as stale as it is emotionally stultifying to those who live there, there's that inexplicable, overripe, fetid odor wafting out of the closed room whenever Mother exits or enters.  What is the source of this  secret reek, this shadow rot. Why does Mother insist that the door to the closed room remain always locked?  What are the noises (or are they voices), "Ela, ela," sometimes whispered up there?  Why has Mother devoted herself to the room religiously, every day, devout as a nun, for thirty years? Ela, I should add, is understood best in the context of the original Portuguese, which the translators took pains to acknowledge in their preface, describing how the double implications of ela's meaning would have been obvious to Luft's Brazilian readers, but lost in translation.  Ela in Portuguese became "Ella" in English.  To say anymore might spoil the future reader's own discovery. . . .

I do not know if Lya Luft was cognizant of, if not as outright inspired by, Pablo Neruda's excerpted poem above when she crafted her own "closed house" The Island of the Dead in 1984, as we obviously know she was by Arnold Böcklin's painting of the same name; the sepulchral painting that Renata has hung on the living room wall, not far from Camilo in his coffin, in her mesmerizing novella.  A novella haunted more by the living than the dead.  Interesting, too, how a real painting from real life (Arnold Böcklin was, after all, a real person) is transfigured inside fiction into impermanence through another work of art.  This evocative painting of Böcklin's (Isle of the Dead, 1880), is also pictured on the striking black-and-white cover of the University of Georgia Press' 1986 edition of the novella that I read, translated by Carmen Chaves McClendon and Betty Jean Craige.  So inspired was Sergei Rachmaninov by this black-and-white version of Böcklin's painting that, in 1909, he paid it the highest homage and wrote his own symphonic poem to it, The Isle of the Dead.

Pablo Neruda's famous aphorism quoted at the outset reads like a perfect abstract of Lya Luft's novella.  The eerie similarity of themes and imagery, in fact, and of the understated moods and atmospherics between the two, are uncanny.  Böcklin's painting, moreover, hung innocently enough on the wall of the so-called living room of Mother's house, elicited in Renata her own abiding obsession, prompted by Camilo's death, and oddly energized by the ensuing listlessness of her loss, devastation, and grief.  Renata is a shattered person.  She broods.  She ruminates.  Why did she abandon her early passion for the piano, her fledgling career as a gifted concert pianist, to marry a man she never loved? "I betrayed myself when I abandoned music to be unhappy in love." What can Renata envision, I wonder, regarding her son (assuming she envisions anything anymore), when she daily meditates upon Böcklin's desolate phantasmal painting?  Is that herself there in the boat she sees, standing at the prow, delivering her son unto death as she likewise once did, into life, a lifetime ago?

Even shadows intently scrutinized by mourning mothers reveal no answers.  Nor the moon.
"If he could speak the dead boy would say: 'At the bottom of the well I found united Life and Death, masculine and feminine, the I and the Other, devouring each other like the serpent that swallows his own tail.  From darkness and insanity Death leaped out, opening her arms wide — prostitute, damsel, promise, damnation.  Drunk with mystery, she called me, and I had to know: Whose bosom awaits me?  What silence?  What new language?'"

Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin, 1880

Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air. 
~ Pablo Neruda



Avalon.  The very name evokes ancient mysteries, for its legends that some dare call "history" have long harbored mystical and mythological meanings.  Arthur.  Excalibur.  Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King.  Avalon, in italics, is the name of one of my favorite rock records ever, and I cannot emphasize enough (though this time proper grammar dictates no italics) that Avalon is also one of my favorite destinations ever.  I wouldn't doubt that Bryan Ferry or Phil Manzanera fancies it as well.

Avalon, the town, is a small seaside enclave twenty-six miles from the mainland of California on Santa Catalina Island. Protected by a bay on the leeward side of the island, the town, which has elements of the best of San Francisco (steep narrow streets bedecked with Victorians), of Main Street USA (old school, independent, Mom-and-Pops, some selling malteds), and of the French Riviera I can only presume (lavish yet elegant Mediterranean-style estates hanging off terraced soapstone cliffs with blazing balcony views of sunlight glinting off the tinted windows of yachts moored in the humble half-moon of a harbor below; of sailboats and skiffs upon the white-capped cobalt blue of the Pacific shimmering its golden glaze in an elongated triangle to the horizon), is a sheltered cove I'm tempted to call Paradise because it rarely gets too hot or cold or crowded.  Maybe Midas — and not only King Arthur, but possibly Roxy Music, too — lived here once upon a time.  The homeless sure don't — they probably can't afford the ferry ride over. Approximately 3,800 suntanned souls live in Avalon year round.  With few automobiles about, there is not even one traffic light. People mostly get around the 2.9 square miles of the city on golf carts. The collective sound of golf carts in the village (say one were noticing their hypnotic, fifteen-miles-per-hour-maximum, collective sound from the second story window of a small white room in the historic Hermosa Hotel; a sound that, surprisingly, I did not find at all abrasive) sounds like a single intent lawnmower going by, going by, going by always, always, going by, as if it were committed to cutting the grass upon some invisible and infinite island lawn.

When in Avalon ...  And so we took a tour of the town in one such buzzing golf cart.  Drove steep one-lane roads that wound above town, where beautiful "blue dick" flowers flourished beside the punishing paddles of prickly pear cacti (ouch!); and where, finally, up in these sunburnt hills high above Avalon, the subtle, intermingled, intermittent scents of open air eateries, fish, admixture of sunscreen and sweat, tidal surge and salty air, are pungently purged by the funky aromas of chaparral.  Stopped the golf cart abruptly and took a whiff of this weird windblown bloom.  Kids called me crazy for sniffing the air like some white rabbit. Drove on, but stopped again soon, this time at the entrance to a gated road on Mt. Ada that led higher up a steep ridge to the Wrigley's famous manor overlooking everything they once owned . . . .

I closed my eyes there for a second at the overlook under the Wrigley mansion and saw, in black-and-white, in stills that mysteriously floated by, this astonishing image of a baseball diamond and outfield on an island in my mind.  Wrigley built it, and the Cubs came.  The team arrived every winter before The War for spring training . . . .

l., Chicago Cubs Signed Baseball 1931; r., Cubs Third Baseman Stan Hack's Baseball Glove (Catalina Island Museum)


Quick trip report on a day hike in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Our original plan on Saturday June 25th — my buddy's, my two kids' plan and mine — had been to hike up the five-plus miles of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to The Bridge to Nowhere in the San Gabriel Mountains, but nearby wildfires had made access to the trailhead doubtful, and even had access been available, the smoky haze and residual poor air quality, combined with the excessive, oppressive heat that weekend, made a lower elevation hike at the time less and less appealing, anyway, so we weren't too disappointed in opting for plan B.

Plan B was a mountain range to our east, an "island of pine forests in the sky" as our iconic and beloved regional hiking guide author and mountain historian, John W. Robinson, has called it, that was not yet affected by wildfires this summer — the San Jacintos.  The San Jacinto Mountains rise abruptly, dramatically, out of the hellishly arid deserts of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs.  We were on the road Saturday morning at 6:30 and arrived at the lower terminal of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway by 7:35. Being summer (and a Saturday), the terminal was already packed. Upon entering the terminal, signs announced "All Campgrounds Full". And even though we bought our tickets twenty minutes before the first tram was scheduled to depart up the mountain at 8:00, we had to wait for the second tram at 8:15.  Not a big deal.  We weren't in a rush.  Gave us time to apply our sunscreen thoroughly and to observe an interesting, culturally diverse, and motley mix of outdoors adventurers, some very young, and some not. About half of those waiting to board the first tram up appeared to be backpackers with bedrolls, walking sticks, and lug-soled hiking boots.  The other half, of which our modest group comprised, carried smaller day packs and wore tennis shoes.

Our longtime family friend — my buddy, Mardi (credit him with the photography in this post) — noticed the fallen tree (pictured at right) with what looks like "etching" of some sort.  This shot was taken just off the trail that wanders through sparsely forested, boulder rimmed sandy flats, that would make great dry campsites, toward Hidden Lake Divide.  I'm not positive as to what could've caused the interesting patterns in the tree beneath its bark (I'm certainly no naturalist or pine tree expert, after all) but might this be the result of the bark beetle infestations that have plagued our national forests for the last several decades of historic drought throughout the western United States?

That's Cornell Peak (9,750', pictured at left) jutting up beyond a surprisingly green and relatively lush Round Valley — green and lush even despite our ongoing drought. Directly below Cornell Peak, a bit to the left and at the bottom edge of the photograph, in the shadows of tall pines, is the back of my ten-year-old son's head.

We didn't make it much farther beyond Round Valley this day.  The trail beyond Round Valley, on its way to Wellman's Divide — the last major trail junction prior to attempting an "assault" from the east on the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (10,833') — becomes about three times as steep as the previous 2.7 miles of gently ascending grade that got us the 800 feet of elevation gain to Round Valley in the first place, via the lesser traveled trail from Hidden Lake Divide.  None of us, except my nineteen-year-old daughter, who could probably day hike Kilimanjaro or Denali in her sleep as much stamina and energetic youthful fervor as she has, felt like working that hard uphill, so we found a scenic rest stop near a switchback ensconced by giant granite boulders, one of which had a pine tree growing out from one of its cracks, and called it a day.  Two of us, the old, out of shape huffers-and-puffers, Mardi and me, rested our sweaty heads on our daypacks and took an early afternoon nap. While we napped, my daughter read several chapters of The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, and my son sought to capture him a long-tailed lizard or two.

So what if we didn't make it to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (our goal when we set out?), we'd all been there before. Most photographs don't do justice to the view from the summit, though I think this shot I found online comes pretty darn close.

The environmentalist extraordinaire, John Muir, has been quoted widely as saying "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!"  Now, granted, the obviously overexcited, arguably hyperbolic, Mr. Muir, didn't have the opportunity to travel exactly everywhere across the earth, but he did travel everywhere throughout the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite, so I think when you consider the majesty of the glorious views afforded by those spectacular places, the stunning and rare grandeur of the view atop the summit of Mt. San Jacinto is put into an appropriately comparable and well deserved perspective.  

John Muir's famous quote about Mt. San Jacinto originated in
K.P. Frederick's Legends and History of the San Jacinto Mountains,
published ninety years ago in 1926.


John O'Brien's autograph (Leaving Las Vegas)

I was leaving L.A. yesterday, but the 110 and 10 were being absurdly difficult—they had different ideas:  You're not going anywhere, Pal.

Tired of traveling slower than a sloth, I got off on Maple and headed north toward downtown. Find a place to eat. Have a beer. Watch some baseball. Wait. Coronado's was the perfect place: authentic tacos, chile rellenos, and an open view directly across the street to ... no way ... The Last Bookstore!

What better way to beat L.A. traffic than checking out the whimsically designed book sculptures; perusing the eccentric shelves and former bank vaults housing obscure horrors of grim books; or simply strolling into the arched grottos—through the labyrinths made literally out of books—of The Last Bookstore.

Inside the Rare Books Room, Leaving Las Vegas caught my eye behind the glass.

Sydney Zekley, as engaging, enthusiastic and helpful a curator of rare books I've ever met, was delightful to talk to. She schooled me on the fine art of identifying first editions. As I left The Last Bookstore, I found it amusing how frustrated I'd been trying to leave L.A. two hours ago, and yet how happy I was now leaving downtown with Leaving Las Vegas instead. My drive home was a breeze.

Signed first editions of John O'Brien's first novel are scarce. I was lucky to find it.

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Orange County Noir autographs (edited by Gary Phillips)

Orange County Noir is one of the eighty-two short story anthologies of noir fiction that have so far been published by Akashic Books—an independent press devoted to championing mostly urban, culturally diverse, outsider writers who've been ignored or marginalized by the masters of the universe in publishing, and who therefore have understandably zero interest in being published by them anyway; by this conveyor belt of bad and soulless book crowds—industrious peddlers of ubiquitous bestsellers.  Edited by Gary Phillips, Orange County Noir explores in depth the ugly (often opioid addicted) backside of the county's infamous Orange Curtain, beautifully.  

"The day had started out with me shitting blood" is indeed an ugly but beautifully rendered first sentence, courtesy of Rob Roberge's harrowing story "Diverters".  "Diverters" follows a desperate resident of Tustin, CA, undergoing opioid withdrawal while looking to score.  He'll steal whatever he can get: Vicodin, Valium, Oxycontin, anything.  "I heard morphine and said yes and committed my last five hundred bucks from a poker win a few nights before. " His distaste for what he considered useless "fentanyl lollipops" couldn't help but remind me of Prince's tragic demise.

Akashic Books publishes books that are unforgettable.  Tour the entire world, for example, in their Noir Series of anthologies: from Beirut to Belfast; Cape Cod to Copenhagen; Haiti to Helsinki; Kingston to Manila; Mumbai to Moscow; New Orleans to Portland, Oregon; Singapore to Stockholm; Tehran to Tel Aviv. . . . Each anthology has been curated by an editor intimately acquainted with the authors and their noir stories in her or his local literary scene.

In time for the 2016 Olympics, Rio Noir will be published this Tuesday, June 7th. That's timely planning and smart marketing, I'd say.  And no, I do not work for Akashic Books. I am not affiliated with them in any way.

Contributing authors to Orange County Noir who were kind enough to sign my copy included: (in no particular order) —

Barbara Demarco-Barrett,
Patricia McFall,
Mary Castillo,
Nathan Walpow,
Gordon McAlpine,
Dan Duling.

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Guest Post: Play It As It Lays reviewed by Joseph Brinson

You know, I began a try at this review writing about Iago in Othello and the nature of evil.

And about ennui and apathy.

And that the answer is: nothing.

And how I felt deep empathy for Maria.

And then I deleted it all.

This is my review: This novel depressed the fuck out of me.

That, and giving it four stars, should sum it up.

Design by Olympia Le-Tan

Joseph Brinson (a.k.a., "Quixada"), a poet and a longtime online pal, made me fucking howl when I first read his deadpanned piece on Play It As It Lays years and years ago.  Yes, it is brief — yet is playfully, skillfully thorough. His homage still slays me today.


Reading Ulysses One Page a Day: Pages 26-30

006 ... In which I continue reading Ulysses one page per day, and quote both my favorite sentence and favorite word from each day's reading. Each post chronicles five days.

Day 26; pg 26

Stephen’s embarrassed hand moved over the shells heaped in the cold stone mortar: whelks and money cowries and leopard shells: and this, whorled as an emir’s turban, and this, the scallop of saint James.

f.w. = thong


Day 27; pg 27

Do you know that the orange lodges agitated for repeal of the union twenty years before O’Connell did or before the prelates of your communion denounced him as a demagogue?

Iago makes an appearance on pg 27.  Iago also appeared on the first page of Joan Didion's sizzling second novel Play It As It Lays. I wonder where else that ego-tripping imp Iago has appeared in contemporary literature?  Put but money in thy purse, Dear!  Money is power!!

f.w. = filibegs


Day 28; pg 28

But prompt ventilation of this allimportant question ... Where Cranly led me to get rich quick, hunting his winners among the mudsplashed brakes, amid the bawls of bookies on their pitches and reek of the canteen, over the motley slush.

The above sentence almost got beat out by Lal the ral the ra and Lal the ral the raddy but it just wasn't meant to be.

f.w. = thimbleriggers

Day 29; pg 29

The pluterperfect imperturbability of the department of agriculture.

Probably the pricelessest alliteration and word play I've read allday.  This following second place sentence — Jousts, slush and uproar of battles, the frozen deathspew of the slain, a shout of spearspikes baited with men’s bloodied guts — reminded me of many a fine time dining al fresco, sans utensils, at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire festival. And, btw, "Renaissance," for you Stateside-improperly-pronouncing-imbeciles, is pronounced "Renee-ssance," not "Wren-uh-ssance," Mowrons.

f.w. = pluterperfect

I feel pluterperfectly drunk on Joyce right abouts now!


Day 30; pg 30

—History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

After reading that sentence, how can I not ask myself am I reading Ulysses or am I reading Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet?  Take out the "Stephen said" and I wouldn't have been able to tell you which book that quote came from had you given me a choice between the two.  In fact I'd of probably picked Pessoa's.  Foreboding aphorisms abound. Pg 30 also reminded me of something that I'd completely forgotten about regarding Ulysses: that being either its anti-semitism or, rather, its portrayals of anti-semitism.  Mr. Deasy, for instance, is a blatant bigot:

Mark my words ... England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation’s decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation’s vital strength. I have seen it coming these years. As sure as we are standing here the jew merchants are already at their work of destruction....

...They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.

f.w. = maladroit


Reading Ulysses index


Reading Ulysses One Page a Day: Pages 21-25

005 ... In which I read James Joyce's Ulysses one page per day, one day at a time, and chronicle my reading by quoting my favorite sentence and favorite word ("f.w.") from each page. Each post chronicles five days of reading.

Day 21; pg 21

For them too history was a tale like any other too often heard, their land a pawnshop.

Another "all"-one-word-sentence occurs on this pg.  A general's spear is prominent.  As is Pyrrhus, pier.  Lots of letter "p" wordplay.

f.w. = gorescarred.


Day 22; pg 22

Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds..

f.w. = Genevieve

I was recently discussing the topics of Time and Ghosts with friends, just the day before, in fact, that I read this page. Check out how pg 22 opens below —

Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death. They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.
—Tell us a story, sir.
—O, do, sir. A ghoststory.

Is it possible Joyce remembered our future conversations before they happened, and so recorded some of our present biography in his past fiction?  Are you metempsychotic enough to believe it?

Day 23; pg 23

His thick hair and scraggy neck gave witness of unreadiness and through his misty glasses weak eyes looked up pleading.

f.w. = riddling.  Pg 23 is a page riddled with riddles.  Stephen telling a riddle that's not a riddle but a prank for schoolboys; riddles of the Church—pranks for parishioners?  The Holy Catholic Church is wholly a riddle at times.  Fun pg.

Here's an arbitrary, random aside for Joyce fans; especially for aficionados of Finnegans Wake:  Arno Schmidt ~ on Finnegans Wake.

I also mention Arno Schmidt because his long untranslated novel Zettels Traum (1970) is scheduled for a September release this year from Dalkey Archive, translated as "Bottom's Dream".  Like Finnegans Wake, a novel that Zettel's Traum has been compared to, it's been accused of being unreadable, too long, and untranslatable.  And get this—it's twice as long as Finnegans Wake at 1,496 pages!  It will become one of the lengthiest novels ever published in English.  You can already preorder a Dalkey Archive hardcover edition (in one volume) for $53.57!

Who was Arno Schmidt and what is Zettels Traum?

Watch Zettels Traum yourself!


Day 24; pg 24

Gone too from the world, Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement, flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend.

More parody of sacred Scripture.  Another appearance, also (a variation I believe), of He proves by algebra that Shakespeare’s ghost is Hamlet’s grandfather.  Hamlet plays a role here in Ulysses and also in Infinite Jest; what other famous works (or not so famous works) of modernisticshit does Hamlet appear?

f.w. = askance


Day 25; pg 25

Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants, willing to be dethroned.

As far as sentences about secrets go, that one is spectacular.

f.w. = laggard


Reading Ulysses index