Entering the Home Stretch of Summer

Yes, Summer doesn’t technically end until September 20, but this is the last week of August, so it’s the last week of Summer.

Not a lot happened this week, library-wise. I received the newest issues of Jacobin and Poetry (two great tastes which taste great together), but no new books.

In reading news, I finished A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, whose stories are wonderful and weird and strangely satisfying. Châteaureynaud has an interesting writing voice which feels like it came out of the late 1900s, even in his stories set in contemporary times. I am not entirely sure how much of this is Châteaureynaud’s own aesthetic and how much of it is a quirk of the translation process. I expect it would read much the same in French. Recommended for anyone looking for an unusual collection of short stories which skirt the edge of genre; like, say, Ivan Turgenev writing episodes of The Twilight Zone.

I am about half an hour from the end of Daâood’s The Language of Saxophones, and will likely finish it tonight. And I just started Snow over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Sirna, which arrived here a couple of weeks ago from Apex Publications. Only a few pages in, but I like it so far.

Namaste, yo.

Barry Hughart

On August 1, Barry Hughart, author of Bridge of BirdsThe Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen passed away. He was 85 years old.

I regret to say that I did not discover Hughart or his work until about ten years ago, when Subterranean Press announced that they were publishing a hardcover omnibus of the three novels in Hughart’s Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox series. There had been a thread on a website somewhere which had something to do with under-appreciated works which readers wished other readers could have a chance to read, and Bridge of Birds popped up enough that publishers began to take notice. Somehow I think I first became aware of all of this from a post on John Scalzi’s blog, which is a great place to be inspired to spend a lot of money on books.

I would like to say I read the entire collection in one sitting, but at over 600 pages, that was just not reasonable. I did, however, read it to the exclusion of all other reading material as well as a significant amount of sleep. Several times. All three novels are wonderful — full of action, adventure, wonder, humor both sharp and gentle, and above all a deep sense of empathy and compassion.

Subterranean’s was not the first omnibus version of Hughart’s novels. The books had been collected and published previously by The Stars Our Destination, a Chicago indie bookstore which closed back in 2003. This collection was their only publication.

(There’s something both melancholy and inspiring about this story, in the way the books came and went quickly, reappeared in an omnibus, disappeared again, then came back yet again, skipping like a stone over the surface of public awareness.)

Other than a rudimentary website, there isn’t much information about Hughart available on the internet, due likely to his relative obscurity and the fact that his writing career ended before the web really took off.

In the introduction to the Subterranean Press omnibus, Hughart described how he finally found the heart of Bridge of Birds:

… the first draft of Bridge of Birds didn’t really work and I couldn’t see what was wrong, so I dumped it into a drawer for a few years. Then one day I read Lin Yutang‘s The Importance of Understanding and found the prayer to a little girl that I mention in a footnote in the final version. It made me realize that while I’d invented good things like monsters and marvels and mayhem the book hadn’t really been about anything. I opened the drawer. ‘Okay!’ I said to myself. ‘This book is going to be about love.’ And so it is, and so are ones that followed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hughart.

Vita Brevis, Ars Longa

I can only guess that the current lull in books appearing on my doorstep is due to the end-of-summer doldrums currently afflicting (and affecting) the entire Midwest. The air has a noticeable weight to it which makes simple tasks like breathing and moving difficult. The only book to so far wing its way to my house is the one pictured, Snow over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Sirna, published by Apex Book Company. When Apex cancelled their superb magazine I tweaked the amount I contribute to their Patreon, and now I have a de facto subscription to the Apex Book Company catalog. Win!

No update last week as I was too busy with the ten thousand tasks which encumber the life of a homeowner and diligent boyfriend in these perilous times. I did manage to write a few poems, two free verse and two villanelles, which were both fun and useful for providing constraints which freed up the creative process.

In reading news I am working my way through two books – A Life On Paper, a collection of the stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, published by the always-excellent Small Beer Press; and The Language of Saxophones, a collection of the poetry of Kamau Daáood, which I picked up from City Lights Books during last month’s vacation to San Francisco. Both are brilliant, but my reading time has been been nearly non-existent this month so I probably won’t finish either until Labor Day weekend.

 

Scaling Back the Input, Apparently

Yes, I admit that over the past few years I have acquired a vast pile of books, which I am unlikely to ever read to the end. On the one hand, I will never lack for entertainment and enlightenment. On the other hand, that rate of acquisition is expensive to the point of being unsustainable. Also books take up room. Not as much as, say, beanbag chairs or motorcycles, but at a certain point any serious collection will begin to outgrow its space. And since my partner now lives with me, space is even more precious.

I am being more careful with the books I buy. The acquisitions will continue but not at the same pace as before. I might eventually get down below 100 new books and journals a year, but that will be difficult. I’m going to let some subscriptions lapse and perhaps not do quite as much impulse-buying on Kickstarter.

Or I might snap under the pressure of making decisions and bury myself under the complete run of Discworld. In hardcover.

Only one book arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey this past week – Glory and its Litany of Horrors by Fernanda Torres, from my subscription to Restless Books. I must say, that’s a hell of a title.

In reading news, I took a break from more heady stuff to burn through the three books of the Bobiverse by Dennis E. TaylorWe are Legion (We are Bob), For We are Many, and All These Worlds. They are light, compared to 19th century Russian romantics, but they are good, fun, fast reads. Taylor has a wonderful imagination, a good eye for detail, and treats his characters with humor and compassion. Well worth checking out.

Once through the Bobiverse I picked up one of the acquisitions from City Lights, The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism. I have read the first two essays therein, and need a break before the next two. If you thoughts Russian romantic novelists wrote dense prose, they ain’t got nothing on Leftist academics and social commentators discussing and deconstructing the effects of social media and incipient AI on the cognitive landscape of capitalist society.

See what I mean?

Back From San Francisco

Z and I returned home from our second annual trip to San Francisco early Sunday morning. Like, really early. 2:00 am, which was 23:00 San Francisco time. And since we had been staying up late there, our internal clocks were completely out of whack.

Of course we visited City Lights on one of our peregrinations around the city. How could we not? I was much better with my buying urges this time, as I didn’t want to be hit with the outrageous “heavy checked bag” penalty at the airport. I made it by one pound, too!

So. At top left is Rad Women A-Z, which I picked up because Grand Rapids recently commissioned 27 artists to paint 27 electric boxes around downtown. Many of these are in my neighborhood or on my route to work, and they are wonderful! I absolutely love public art projects like this, and I hope the city continues to commission work like this.

Top center is We the Resistance, a collection of essays and stories about nonviolent resistance, which is much needed, as, since the entrenched (e.g. Caucasian, male, conservative, christian, capitalist, etc) power structures default to violence in their enforcement of the status quo, it is easy to want to meet force with force, and that is by definition a limited and self-limiting toolset.

Top right is The Hammer by Adelade Ivanova, one of three books of poetry I picked up more or less at random, from the “recommended by the staff” shelves. The other two are Kamau Daaood’s The Language of Saxophones at bottom left and Lynn Breedlove’s Forty-Five Thought Crimes at bottom right. I have only started Daaood’s book, and it is superb! I have always loved jazz poetry, and my first forays in to the form were fun to read and write but, well, not good. These are extraordinary.

Bottom center is another impulse buy, this one based on the title alone: The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism. This is some heady reading. I was not at all surprised, given the title, that I opened to a random page and found a quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. It just seemed like that kind of book. And it is the third in a series, which means, once I finish it and scraped my brain off the ceiling, I will need to go back and read the previous two.

This visit reinforced my opinion that City Lights is the most finely curated bookstore I have ever visited, and bookstores nationwide could take cues from their selection and public engagement.

San Francisco was not all books, but the food and art will need to wait for additional blog posts.