Obscure (& Awesome) Books Unearthed from the Upstairs Dollar Section of The Last Bookstore in Historic, Art Deco Era, Downtown Los Angeles, Part I: A Couple of Comedians by Don Carpenter

If you've been there, you know.  You know that The Last Bookstore is the best bookstore you've ever been to.  For me, there's not a close runner-up, not even from my memory of a defunct legend like Acres of Books.   Much has been made of The Last Bookstore's spectacular style; yet it's substance is just as spectacular, particularly for bibliophiles who put on their camouflage and go hunting deep inside their virtual jungle of dollar books.  Case in point: A Couple of Comedians by the late great Don Carpenter.

my copy of the first printing
Don Carpenter was a revelation to me when several years ago I first read the NYRBs reissue of his first published novel Hard Rain Falling, which was actually the fourth novel Carpenter had written, but the first three he wrote, according to his website (currently undergoing maintenance or I'd have linked it), are lost.  Or rather destroyed by Carpenter.

Who was Don Carpenter?  He was a talented novelist and screenwriter: those are the two most pertinent and basic facts you need to know.  Until NYRB intervened, Don Carpenter was completely out of print.  Forgotten by most but for his fellow colleagues and hardcore fans who kept the then waning legacy of this under appreciated writer's writer alive.  A Couple of Comedians, like all his novels, wasn't a bestseller upon it's publication in 1979.  Even if the NYRB were to reissue it (it's actually been recently reissued as part of The Hollywood Trilogy omnibus published last year by Counterpoint) I suspect it still wouldn't be one of their bestsellers, but owning it, having salvaged it (and so what if it's a library discard that was never checked out, it's a first printing of an out of print novel by Don Carpenter!) is absolutely priceless to me.  A first printing from the 1970s by a writer who, except for a few recent reissues (and may those reissues -- thank you Counterpoint and NYRB! -- keep on coming), are largely long gone.  Long gone, that is, unless you were perusing the upstairs dollar section of the Last Bookstore on a lazy Sunday morning not too long ago, like me, and found Don Carpenter's gem A Couple of Comedians.


More obscure (& awesome) books unearthed from the upstairs dollar section of The Last Bookstore in historic, Art Deco era, downtown Los Angeles, coming soon. . . .


Not Exactly Water and Power by William L. Kahrl

Mulholland Drive is a paved snake winding its sinuous way for dozens of miles through the curvaceous contours of the Hollywood Hills.  Pause at a precipitous turnoff, careful to avoid parked cars whose occupants have fogged their interiors; and gaze southward, where iconic canyons steeply recede into riparian mysteries and rustic enclaves of musicians and artists; or, glance north, and if its night, all the stars will have fallen from the sky, still alight, in gaudy boxy grids, a matrix of massive and enmeshed illumination, this sunken panorama otherwise known as Los Angeles and the Valley.

by Dawn2dawn photography
Mulholland Highway extends further out west, gaining altitude as it slithers along the crest of the fire drenched Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu before dead-ending, like so many damned California dreams before it, on the rocky cliffs confronting the Pacific. What little rain falls rarely reaches the ocean except for whatever runoff escapes the concrete lagoons either side of PCH. Come autumn, come the as much maligned as they are malignant, Santa Anas, whose combustible gusts some unseasonably hot afternoons are stand-ins for fuses, for gasoline.  Santa Anas are the L.A. arsonist's aphrodisiac.

Were Mulholland Drive a human being, she'd have gone mad or been murdered.  Be missing. On F.B.I. Most Wanted persons list and posters, or wanted by any one of a million garden variety Valley pimps exploiting her online. Had she survived into middle age, she'd be skidding around the corners in her old man's baby beamer, cranking Coldplay, driving drunk, disoriented, on drugs, her custom black sundress she'd named Eclipse billowing around her like a busted parachute with the top down, her skimpy dress whipped skyward in the molten breeze.  After a near head-on or three, she'd slam the brakes and spin to a stop on the slim shoulder of a hairpin curve, unable to remember how she got there. David Lynch might know.

Leaving the BMWs lights on, she'd stand atop the earthen embankment at the edge of road, where pieces of pavement have cracked off like so many scales, a slender silhouette on a dangerous stage.  She'd

She'd what?

Maybe its better Mulholland Drive was named for a man.


The above began as a book review, now abandoned, of Water and Power by William L. Kahrl, a 1982 comprehensive account of the legal (and more often illegal) conflict over water rights between the citizens of the Owens Valley -- the duped victims of the man that Mulholland Drive was named for, William Mulholland -- and the city of Los Angeles, but quickly metamorphosed into something else above.  Which is to say that, like the 1974 Roman Polanski classic Chinatown, Water and Power fueled my imagination gone temporarily neonoir-ish.


A Fabulous Opera by Tropic of Ideas

What could the following ninety-six titles listed below -- novels mostly, some poetry, memoirs, a how-to manual on caring for goats, treatises on linguistics and literary criticism, as well as other unclassifiable, though delightful, oddities and arcana (including one movie review) -- possibly have in common? . . .  Go ahead, peruse the eclectic list.  Take your time.  Say to yourself, "I've never heard of that."  I insist.  Some of the titles you're sure to recognize.  How many have you already read? Me?  I've finished twenty-four of them. Began and abandoned another quarter of that. Five of the twenty-four I've read shook me up enough that I was prompted; no, compelled to scribble my inmost thoughts about them.  But, damn, I've digressed.  What do the books below have in common?--that was the question! . . .

2666 (2004) by Roberto Bolano,
A Book of Common Prayer (1977) by Joan Didion
A Drink Called Paradise (1999) by Terese Svoboda,
A Passage to India (1924) by E.M. Forster,
A Small Yes and a Big No (1923) by George Grosz,
A Voice from the Attic (1960) by Robertson Davies,
Adam Bede (1859) by George Eliot,
Arjun and the Good Snake (2011) by Rick Harsch,
Black Light: A Novel (1966) by Galway Kinnell,
Calling Mr. King (2011) by Ronald De Feo,
Chateau d'Argol (1938) by Julien Gracq,
Children of Violence Series (1952-69) by Doris Lessing,
Clarel (1876) by Herman Melville,
Complete Plays (2001, posthumous) by Sarah Kane,
Confessions (398AD) by Saint Augustine of Hippo,
Contraptions (2007, posthumous) by W. Heath Robinson,
Darconville's Cat (1981) by Alexander Theroux,
Decadence Mandchoue (2011, posthumous) by Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse,
Delinquent Days (1967) by John A. Lee
Digging Deeper--A Memoir of the Seventies (2011) by Peter Weissman,
Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker,
East of Eden (1952) by John Steinbeck,
Eugene Onegin (1825) by Alexander Pushkin,
Finnegans Wake (1939) by James Joyce,
Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley,
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002) by Neil Peart,
Have You Seen Me (2011) by Katherine Scott Nelson,
Hector (2009) by K.I. Hope,
High Albania (1909) by Edith Durham,
History: A Novel (1974) by Elsa Morante,
"I Am": The Selected Poetry of John Clare (2003, posthumous) by John Clare,
Independent People (1934) by Halldor Laxness,
Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace,
Jennie (1950) by Paul Gallico,
Johnson's Dictionary: A Modern Selection (1755) by Samuel Johnson,
Kettle Bottom (2004) by Diane Gilliam Fisher,
Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) by D.H. Lawrence,
La-bas (1891) by Joris-Karl Huysmans,
Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) by John Sturges,
Les Miserables (1862) by Victor Hugo,
Let the Great World Spin (2009) by Colum McCann,
Magnus (2005) by Sylvie Germain,
Man in the Holocene (1979) by Max Frisch,
Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) by Marguerite Yourcenar,
Middlemarch (1874) by George Eliot,
Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) by Nathanael West,
Moby-Dick (1851) by Herman Melville,
My First Two Thousand Years (1928) by George Sylvester Viereck,
Nadja (1928) by Andre Breton,
Neighbors at War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowner's Association (2013) by Ward Lucas,
Nightwood (1936) by Djuna Barnes,
Of Human Bondage (1915) by W. Somerset Maugham,
Owen Wister Out West: His Journals and Letters (1958, posthumous) by Owen Wister,
Pincher Martin (1956) by William Golding,
Play It As It Lays (1970) by Joan Didion,
Published Poems: The Writing of Herman Melville, Volume 11 (2002, posthumous) by Herman Melville,
Sheep and Goat Medicine (2001) by D.G. Pugh, DVM, MS,
Star Maker (1937) by Olaf Stapledon,
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert Heinlein,
Suite Francaise (2004, posthumous) by Irene Nemirovsky,  
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy,
The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) by Robert Burton,
The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History (1987) by Maria Rosa Menocal,
The Arcades Project (1927-40) by Walter Benjamin,
The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Fyodor Dostoevsky,
The Double Tongue (1995) by William Golding,
The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast (2009) by Scott Coffel,
The Golden Notebook (1962) by Doris Lessing,
The Green Child (1935) by Herbert Read,
The High Life (1979) by Jean-Pierre Martinet,
The Hour of the Star (1977) by Clarice Lispector,
The Inarticulate Society: Eloquence and Culture in America (1995) by Tom Shachtman,
The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (1819-21) by E.T.A. Hoffmann,
The Magic Mountain (1924) by Thomas Mann,
The Magus (1965, rev. 1977) by John Fowles,
The Master and Margarita (1966, posthumous) by Mikhail Bulgakov,
The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins,
The Odd Women (1893) by George Gissing,
The Poetics of Space (1958) by Gaston Bachelard,
The Poor Mouth (1941) by Flann O'Brien,
The Rebel Angels (1981) by Robertson Davies,
The Recognitions (1955) by William Gaddis,
The Sea (2005) by John Banville,
The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph Conrad,
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson,
The Things That Always Were (2013) by Solla Carrock,
The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O'Brien,
The Virginian (1902) by Owen Wister,
Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe,
To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf,
Trainspotting (1993) by Irvine Welsh,
Treatise on the Origin of Language (1772) by Johann Gottfried Herder,
Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe (2005) by Doreen Baingana,
Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce,
Ursule Mirouet (1841) by Honore De Balzac,
We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

published by Running Girl Press, 2015
What connects each book to the next are the readers who read and reviewed them. Readers like me, perhaps you, who've met other readers online and got down to discussing and dissecting (not out of some empty dissertational duty, but because they had to, for love) what they'd read and were inspired to write about in forum posts and threads. The best of what they'd read and reviewed were selected for publication in a fabulous book about fabulous books: A Fabulous Opera.  A Fabulous Opera was collectively authored, edited, and produced by a group of obsessed readers known as Tropic of Ideas, reader's whose mutually shared fervent mantra might be, "Give me literature, or give me death!"  Most of these readers, I might add, had never (and probably will never) meet together face to face, which only amplifies how deep their emotional bond over books goes.  You can buy their book (of which I contributed the preface and five of the more than 100 reviews) here at CreateSpace or wherever fine and/or fabulous books are sold.

So that's A Fabulous Opera, but Who or What is Tropic of Ideas?

Tropic of Ideas is any place, from any time, where memory or imagination or a combination of both have combusted and erupted out from under and become material mass. A Fabulous Opera is one such place happening right now.  The very writers whose brilliant books are reviewed in A Fabulous Opera, however, describe the idea of Tropic of Ideas with more eloquence:

"I dream about living on a beautiful tropical island that I have made out of nothing, as advertised." ~ Terese Svoboda, A Drink Called Paradise

"...do not weep, life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it. If we would, we should have heaven on Earth tomorrow." ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." ~ Steinbeck, from this interview.

"Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms." ~ Derek Walcott, Midsummer, Tobago

There are many many beaches, in fact, many bridges, virgin bays and busy harbours, as many islands and archipelagoes as there are days in the Tropics. Some are famous: Tahiti, Bora Bora, Peter Matthiessen's Grand Cayman, the mythological seascape for "Far Tortuga," Barbados, Fiji, Martinique. . . Days there last forever. Exquisite destinations, all. Other tropic enclaves remain unknown, elusive as pirate's sunken gold. . .  Sao Tome & Principe, for instance, rarely receive 100 visitors in a year. Not many more travelers frequent the forgotten and exotic isles of Ascencion, Tuvalu, and Chuuk.

The diverse myriad of tropical islands comprising Books and Literature are much the same. Great Expectations, War and Peace, Remembrance of Things Past, Wuthering Heights or, any novel by, say, Jane Austen or Henry James, might as well be ... Waikiki. Arguably the Tropics' most classic destination: Heavily trodden but lush and revered. And rightly not to be missed by anyone who wishes to experience those popular pages.

While always amenable to Waikiki and other Hawaiian Islands of World Literature, Tropic of Ideas prefers those keys and hideout-reefs not already shipwrecked by Hyatts and Hiltons, tempting though they be. Tropic of Ideas' citizens prefer survivor-type atolls unlisted in travel guides, Carnival Cruises, or Google; but instead, chooses sandbars happened upon by pure chance -- by the sea's serendipity -- rather than current itineraries; books for intrepid, eccentric Readers, for Certifiable Bibliophiles (even sultry BiblioBimbos) committed in their "gentle madness" not merely to asylums, but to salvaging and restoring rare tomes into a dialogue with popular culture.

Welcome to the solitude and simplicity of lapping wavelets and trade winds. Recline with that book or breeze in our scattered hammocks hung from palms. Sip a fresh coconut spiked with rum. Regardless what shackle, imagined or real, has perchance immobilized you in this or that cage the great Gaddis called a cubicle, may Books and Literature release your liberation even while you're chained.

Buy A Fabulous Opera by Tropic of Ideas