Monday, February 6, 2017

If my Brain were a Bookstore... A-1

Musty and Dark, full of hidden gems, a bibliophile's Dream, or Nightmare.
If you did not know what you were looking for, you would drive right past this little gem. How many hours have I spent here is anyone's guess but every once and awhile I am drawn like a moth to a flame to the A-1 Bookstore.

Housed in an old Gas Station in Richville, Ohio, and home to an enigmatic cat, I absolutely love this place (didn't see cat this morning).

My haul's from A-1 have been considerable, but that is not why I come. It's the hunt. If you didn't know better, you would think that there is no rhyme or reason to the stacks, but it is remarkably well organized for this appearance.

When I go, I do not have a clear list in mind, I just go. One must pull and re-stack constantly. Don't fret if you knock a pile over with your butt, no one minds. Kindly re-stack when you get a chance. Some of my favorite A-1 finds were made this way.

If you have allergies pop 3 or 4 Sudafed if you must but at least try it once. And yes, I always bring a flashlight. If you are free on a Saturday, give me a call and I will go with you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Witch of Lime Street

Broadway Books 2015

ISBN 0307451062

If you are interested in the history of the paranormal, Mediums and the Occult in the early Twentieth Century, this book is for you. If you are just looking for a good yarn, you may want to skip it. I am tangentially interested in this sort of thing, but not to the extent that this book takes it. It is lavishly researched with tight and excellent prose. But, it is to long by half.

I very much enjoyed the chapters about Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the lead up to the main story. That could have been two different and excellent books in themselves. Honestly, this book could have easily been three books, and been much more enjoyable. I can’t completely pan the book because it is so well written. Ultimately, it did deliver on it’s promise. But, it was a very long slog to get there. I received a copy of 'The Witch of Lime Street' this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Russian Absurd


Daniil Kharms
Alex Cigale (Translation)
Northwestern University Press 2017
  • ISBN-10: 0810134578

Grotesque deaths in miniature are a hallmark of the work of Daniil Kharms”1

What is absurdism?  In short, it’s the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. Certainly, this applied to the environment in which this work was written.
Daniil Kharms was one of the founding members of a group of Russian Absurdist creators called Oberiu. Translated it means ‘the Union for Real Art. It was an avant-garde collection of musicians, writers, and artists who found themselves in the chaotic universe of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
‘Russian Absurd’ is taken from the notebooks that were found in the bombed out room that Daniil Kharms left behind whilst he was starving to death in an insane asylum during the siege of Leningrad. It includes correspondence, poems, short stories, flash fiction, and a copy of his signed confession that was used to condemn Kharms and his fellows to the NKVD.

“I am altogether some sort of special unfortunate”

Silly and whimsical this is not, jarring and disturbing is more of an apt description. Did I mention that Kharms was a children’s author who hated children? I took my time reading this. It did not lend itself to a straight-through reading. You really need to read each entry then digest them separately. Indeed, they are written at different points in the author's life and are presented chronologically.

I was shocked and drawn to this collection at the same time. I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in Absurdism, the weird and authors like Gogol, Pushkin and Bulgakov.
Of special note was the short story ‘The Infinite; that is the answer to all questions...' for its beautiful blend of prose and mathematical theory from which I lifted the following quote;

“One cannot pry under an infinite line; we cannot grasp it with our thoughts. It doesn’t intersect with us anywhere; for anything to be intersected, its end, which does not exist, must be discovered.”
If you do seek this out, I would recommend the print copy. I received a digital copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I felt that I lost quite a bit of the aesthetics by reading it in that format. I have already added it to my wishlist. I found an interesting binding of Kharm’s work at Ugly Duckling Press, but it appears to be out of print.
Well done to the translator of the notebooks, Alex Cigale. I can only speculate how hard it is to translate from a foreign language into English, let alone translating absurdist literature.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Tunnels

The Tunnels:
Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill
By Greg Mitchell
Crown 2016

I am fascinated by history. The broad strokes and the minutiae. I am especially intrigued by the way the conflicts of the Twentieth Century are viewed. One of the most interesting areas to me is how the conquerors divvy up their spoils and the long-term effects of those decisions and negotiations. This book scratched all of these itches and added a personal touch that is absent from most history books.

As the Cold War raged on, the Soviets placed a crude fence then a concrete wall on the line that separated the East from the West; separating families and friends and accelerating the already tense situation.

Mr. Mitchell lays out the background then weaves a deeply human story surrounding the efforts of those stuck in the Totalitarian East to escape to Freedom. If that wasn't enough, television personalities from competing networks are racing to show the world the great lengths that people will go to to tunnel under the wall; and to profit from the story.

Wait, there's more. The Kennedy Administration believes that showing the tunnels and tunnelers will ratchet up the tension and it tries to quash the network's stories. The author gives us a rare peek into the crude attempts at the censorship of Presidential Administrations.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The anecdotes and personal stories of the tunnelers set against the background of Geopolitics and the attempts to tell the story are marvelous.
The book can be purchased here.
After reading the book if you would like to see the NBC documentary that finally did air, you can find it here.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Live and Let Die

If you're a fan of fun books and are looking for something well
written as a change of pace, try the 2008 reprints of the James
Bond Classics.
I found this book at the Good Will, so it cost me a buck.
Of course, I was attracted by the lurid cover.
While the language is not politically correct, the prose is tight
and fun as hell.
If you find these in the wild, buy one or two and treat yourself
to a night or two in the 1950's world of spy versus spy and sexy fun time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Orwell's Nose: A Pathological Biography

John Sutherland
Reaktion Press 2016

‘but it was shot through by a sharper reek of sweat, which -one knew this at the first sniff, though it was hard to say how -was the sweat of some person not present at the moment.’

This book is a Quirky and Snarky Treat!
It is not like any other biography you will ever read, or likely will ever read. And, that is a great thing! Mr. Sutherland has managed to write an unforgettable picture of an unforgettable writer. Sutherland, who has permanently lost his sense of smell, examines Orwell's life tangentially; through his descriptions of the fascinating world around him.
Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) was an incredibly fascinating person, and unlike
most writers, he lived the lives that he wrote about.

'four frightful words...The lower-classes smell'-the Road to Wigan Pier

It turns out, after reading this book, you will never read him the same again. Oh what a sense of smell! Here are some examples:

'Poverty is spiritual halitosis'

"Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.'

I have read about half of Orwell’s books, and I'm working my way through the rest, and I must say that I hardly knew ye, Mr. Blair.

'Their[Burmese Women] slender flanks and pointed breasts... the odour of spices that clung to their satiny skins.

If Mr. Sutherland writes more biographies like this gem, say on Marx or Conrad, I'm in.

'The hallway smelt of smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats.'
[Victory Gin] 'It gave off a sickly, oily smell, as of Chinese rice-spirit.'

So many quotes, so little space. What I can say is that if you've only read 1984 and Animal Farm, you are missing out. If I could I would suggest 'Why I write', it's short and is all kinds of fantastic.

Socialism, at least in this island, does not smell any longer of revolution and the overthrow of tyrants; it smells of crankishness, machine-worship, and the stupid cult of Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism may win.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Hampdenshire Wonder

J  .D. Beresford 1911
Eyre & Spottiswoode

In an effort to ‘touch the roots of Science Fiction’, our book club is reading as many of the Pre-Golden Age classics as we can reasonably stomach. This might be a noble, but vain effort. But dammit, we’re going to try. I know you are anxiously awaiting my review of ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
According to the ‘Anatomy of Wonder’, which is an amazing reference for science fiction fans, this odd tale is the origin of the Superman Myth. Wikipedia gives him a hat-tip for creating the wunderkind. I’m not sold on this, certainly the New Testament may have something to say about this.
The book opens on a train where the narrator encounters a strange babe in the arms of his mother. To put it bluntly, the lad has a huge head and crazy eyes.

I thought the child was a freak; an abnormality: and such things disgust me."

Anyone who meet the eyes of this “Very Remarkable Child” is entranced and shaken. The only person who is immune to his gaze is the ‘Harrison idiot’  (his term), a man who was born with an overlarge head as well.
The narrator, whom I would label an unreliable one, then disappears for  a few years while the lad grows into a creepy toddler. There is nothing truly remarkable about his parents other than his father, Ginger, is a cricket wunderkind. For some odd reason, the author spends 23 pages of the book describing in minute detail the accomplishments of Ginger and the ins and outs of cricket bowling (pitching). This was for the most part incomprehensible.

If you are interested in pre golden age science fiction, read this book. What I can say is that I was initially unimpressed. Upon reflection, I would say my feelings are mixed.
I will tell you that the epilog is the best part. I kept thinking throughout the book that this would have been much better if Lovecraft would have written it.