12.07.2014

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!

11.09.2014

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.

11.08.2014

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.... 

10.25.2014

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,

Bruce 

Wag
__________"


(more autographs)

10.12.2014

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?

10.11.2014

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."


10.04.2014

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)

9.27.2014

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). 






9.21.2014

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




There's a shocking and downright disgusting 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.


more autographs

9.07.2014

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




(25)


Into Kansas at
1:05.  Baxter
Springs thru
"archway" of lake
trees!
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.


WANTED FOR MURDER: BONNIE & CLYDE, Joplin, MO, 1933
(26)

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

Highway
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

(27)

over terrible rough
detour and had
a flat tire.  Stopped
to fix it at 6:05
start on at
6:28
Happened to be in
shade to change
wheels.
Car registers
29937 when
he² put on
new Riverside
tire.  Back on
54 at 7:12

Seems like Heaven
if it can just

(28)

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
morning.
Thru B____ and Buffalo
then Lunas.



(29)

out of Dallas County
into Camden county
at 6:10
Thru Branch,
Mack's Creek,
Roach, Beautiful
scenery, timber
     cross³
Niangua river
{two lines scratched out}
By Lako Cottage
auto
camp.  Real nice
looking
{"Pamdenton" or "Camdenton"}.
Pass another
nice tourist camp
by Lakeaway Cottage
Camp.



(30)

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

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

Zebra --
crossed road

that goes to
Ozark Beach
Men working
roads

(31)

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
a.m.
quite a sight
{can't make out words} hadn't
seen anything

like it.

(32)

{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
Irene's.


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

(33)

Start on at
9:25.
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
home.

_______________


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)

9.06.2014

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



8.30.2014

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.



more autographs

Mona Simpson's autograph, Off Keck Road







1st printing of Vintage Contemporaries ed., 2001


more autographs

8.24.2014

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.

more autographs

8.10.2014

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.
Look!
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.

8.03.2014

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).

more autographs

8.01.2014

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's autograph (Routines)



Nothing's routine about

Poet,
Painter
(see below),
Publisher
(ever heard a Howl?),

Indie bookstore owner,

Dramatist
(see The Center for Death
or read it in Routines
before you die sometime),
Patron saint of poets dead & alive,
Idea Dude,
Writer,

Lawrence Ferlinghetti --

Nothing's routine, that is, except
maybe this post about him; or,
this post that's not really about him at all, but his autograph.  Black felt ink that bled through the next two pages, on New Directions paper.




See, I have it.  And you probably don't!  Ha.  Look at that long slender "f" of ferlinghe#i.  Like a strand of escaped spaghetti!

But maybe you have one of his paintings?

Lucky you.


Lyric Escape by Lawrence Ferlinghetti




7.30.2014

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford



Once upon a time, straight out of college, I almost took a job in funeral sales. I'm glad I steered clear of that lucrative career path.  The money would've been great, but not at the expense of all that absurd psychological manipulation and sales shenanigans I'd of had to have conned the bereaved with, every day, 9-5.

"Wouldn't your loved one have wanted to be buried in this gold embossed coffin?  I understand he was a man of modest means, and made great personal sacrifices for you and your family, doesn't he now deserve the best now for his eternal rest?"

What shysters, just a small step removed from their sleazy, used car salespeople, next of kin. I wouldn't be caught dead working in the funeral industry, preying upon people's raw emotional weakness in their greatest -- and gravest -- time of need.  What a disgusting, self-serving industry the funeral business became in the twentieth century in the U.S.A., and remains so, even now, despite occasional promises of reform that have arisen in reaction to persistent whistle blowers like Jessica Mitford, whose American Way of Death elicited a similar (though smaller scaled) legislative response that The Jungle did for the meat packing industry.

Jessica Mitford wrote a wonderful, smart, and snarky exposé on the closed culture and shady sales tactics of these embalming-crazed bastards -- or "memorial counselors" -- as their business cards allege they are today, who don't bat an eye inside their posh offices insisting that embalming is "required by law" when in fact no such laws requiring the dead have to be embalmed exist on the books or have ever existed.  This lie has been so ingrained in U.S. culture, as Mitford observes, that these memorial counselors don't even ask the bereaved if they want "the deceased" to be embalmed; they just assume you do unless you say you don't.  And if you don't want embalming, but rather, refrigeration, the average memorial counselor will proclaim, because of health reasons, that "the law requires it."  But the law doesn't -- and never has -- required it.  It's a lie.

But as Mitford pointed out, if you're not an attorney or legal expert, and in your vulnerable condition (you may still be in shock), having just lost a loved one, you're probably not going to argue with them that it isn't the law, but will take their good word for it; because, after all, they're the experts right?, they're the authorities on the matter, and you automatically accept their authority unconsciously.  They're dressed in their Sunday best and their speech even sounds, the way they talk, if they're smooth at it, sympathetic.  Like they care about you.  Certainly they wouldn't dream of taking advantage of you at a horrible time like this!  

But they do.  They have.  And will continue to do so.  They've been screwing all of us over, in fact, for almost one hundred years: first our great-grandparents, then our grandparents, then our parents, and now us, doing so when we're at our lowest, screwing us over with flowery lies.  How many poor people that the funeral industry has purported to serve have only been made poorer by exorbitant, debt-inducing price tags for services that are often unnecessary to begin with, such as embalming or air-tight coffins?  Bless Jessica Mitford for exposing the industry's collective ruthlessness and unprofessional practices throughout the last thirty-plus years of her life.

7.27.2014

Ana Menéndez's autograph (Loving Che)



2-12-04
To Lina,

     With all my best
wishes   Happy Birthday
and many more.

Ana Menendez



I found this signed and inscribed first printing of Loving Che, the first novel by Ana Menéndez, at a local Goodwill last weekend.  It was half-off; I paid one dollar for it, even though it's worth at least twenty-five times that. 

Ana Menéndez
I don't know why people get rid of, or donate, signed and inscribed first printings of first novels in almost brand new condition by talented writers like Ana Menéndez.  But I'm glad they do.  What they so carelessly toss, I carefully treasure.



Doris Lessing's autograph (The Grass is Singing)






Another serendipitous thrift store find: A signed copy of Doris Lessing's first novel, The Grass is Singing.  Adding to the serendipity and unlikelihood of the find (I do love that word, "serendipity," one of my all time favorite words, in fact) is finding out this Paladin edition of The Grass is Singing (the book cover is pictured below) is a UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada edition that was never for sale in the United States.

On the dedication page, the next page after the title page, in the top right corner, in beautiful cursive script (though the pencil lead has faded over the years), the previous owner -- perhaps the original owner? -- left their own mark for posterity:

"P D Beach
Aug. 1993
Edinburgh".
illustration by Ruth Rivers

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Joseph Brodsky's autograph (To Urania)



Joseph Brodsky by Alexey Kurbatov


Inscription & signature from my copy of To Urania (1988)

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Keep at it



For
David





From

Joseph Brodsky
3 . III. 1990

Milwaukee.



7.19.2014

Joseph McElroy's autograph (Ship Rock: A Place)




I suppose I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the bookseller I bought my limited edition, signed copy of Ship Rock: A Place, from -- an online book seller based in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- did not understand the true value of the slim volume by Joseph McElroy that he'd listed for sale.  Understandable.  Suppose you were a book seller without an appreciation for, or knowledge of, the so-called-critic/academic-labeled "postmodern movement" in U.S. literature of the 1960s-90s, why wouldn't you think automatically to yourself at first glance that this diminutive book, if it can be rightly called a "book" at less than fifty pages, was not in fact just a local guide about the real place, Ship Rock, a mere 160 miles as the crow flies from Albuquerque.  After all, the book, Ship Rock, even has "A Place" in its title, right? so why wouldn't you think it anything more than some touristy spiel regarding that mysterious rock outcrop in New Mexico's northwest corner that, for like the last forty years or so, the overseers of the reservation up there whose property rights include every rugged inch of it, Ship Rock, have seen fit, in their wisdom and because of its historic sacredness in their religion and native culture, to ban access to it to everyone forever, most notably daredevil climbers but also including other kooky looky-loos such as yours truly, who, if they were just a kooky looky-loo like me, were perhaps first inspired to take the journey to Ship Rock by Joseph McElroy's Ship Rock: A Place itself, and so went and made that long-day's drive from southern California to that remote corner of New Mexico in order to see Ship Rock themselves?

Add to the fact that this hard cover edition of Ship Rock: A Place, came as issued without a dust jacket or isbn, and was published by ...  William B. Ewert? ... whom you'd probably never heard of before, and was published, moreover, in a limited run of only "226 copies printed letterpress from Caledonia type on Mohawk Superfine text"... why wouldn't you think it was, sure enough, just another vanity press publication, certainly valueless, a locals-only-commentary about an eccentric example of New Mexican geography that no one outside the Four Corners region would ever give a hoot about?  I get it.  How could you, online book seller based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, possibly guess that the little book you had in your possession was the earliest published excerpt -- and arguably the most obscure (though there are others*) -- from Women and Men, the classic postmodern novel that was then, at Ship Rock: A Place's date of publication (1980) in your hands?  Little did you know that Women and Men's spine, when it rests on its side in the supine position (how could you have ever imagined this?) sits as thick as Ship Rock is high! (no hyper-hyperbole intended), and that after almost thirty years since its original (complete) publication in 1987 -- Women and Men's publication, that is -- during which it has become the priciest, scarcest, most sought after gargantuan novel of the postmodern era in U.S. history, commanding sums deep into three digits ($100 and up) -- and that for a copy that hasn't even been signed by the author!?  Of course you didn't know this, beloved online bookseller based in Albuquerque, New Mexico; otherwise, you would've had to have been mad to sell me that signed excerpt, subtitled "From Women and Men: A Novel In Progress by Joseph McElroy" for the humble sum of $9.49 including shipping, right!?

~~~~~

*  Another early excerpt from Women and Men that I've either lucked into over the years or been fated into obtaining, perhaps, is ... a copy of Conjunctions: 6 (1984) ...

It's not nearly as unique as Ship Rock: A Place (but it's still nice to have, if for anything else than examining what McElroy later cut or revised and kept), though it comprises a twenty-eight page chunk from Women and Men opening the issue.  In the prefatory NOTE, "J.M." explains:  "The following sections of Women and Men come from a long chapter entitled "The Hermit-Inventor of New York, the Anasazi Healer, and the Unknown Aborter."  These are unlike any of the chapters of Women and Men elsewhere published in being far from self-contained.  But they are unlike those other sections also in their style, which, in its memorial juxtapositions and sweep of feeling, is even more of the style of the book."

I've not yet acquired the many more chapters of Women and Men "elsewhere published" in journals prior to the book's publication, but I've had fun hunting for them in Very Good+ to Like New condition, scouring indie brick-and-mortars around town.

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7.13.2014

Reyna Grande's autograph (Across a Hundred Mountains)



Reyna Grande (by Ibarionex Perello)














Having grown up and lived within ninety minutes of the Mexico-California border for most of my life, I'm drawn innately, it seems, to movies, novels, or true life accounts involving border/immigration issues in what are typically sad, harrowing, and sometimes tragic, stories of survival and rescue.  Reyna Grande has one such harrowing (though ultimately hopeful) long story to tell, forged from her own hard times as an orphan and undocumented immigrant, in her debut novel--a 2007 American Book Award winner in fiction--Across a Hundred Mountains.

I salvaged this autographed copy yesterday afternoon from one of the local thrift stores I regularly haunt.  I had never heard of Reyna Grande before until yesterday, drawn to the book both by its title and its rugged, southwestern cover featuring what appears to be a VW bus (but may just be a regular city bus) attempting to navigate what looks as much like an impossible rocky arroyo as a so-called "road".  Terrible terrain and more terrible odds not unfamiliar to Grande or the roughly 300,000 human beings attempting to cross the U.S. border from Mexico every year.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled Reyna Grande's first novel off the shelf, opened it to the title page, and beheld her signature in purple felt ink.  Pretty cool.  Serendipity, I'd say.  Better yet knowing I've still the future pleasure (soon soon) of reading Across a Hundred Mountains ahead of me.  For more information on Reyna Grande, visit her website here.

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