Archives Are In the Attic

Yesterday whilst out shopping with my girlfriend I picked up some cardboard bank boxes, and filled them with books which, until that point, had been on my bookshelves.

Two things prompted this decision. First, as I no longer live alone, space in our living quarters is at somewhat of a premium and, well, I have a lot of books. Second, the two books which arrived last week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey are HUGE.

On the left is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Labyrinth of the Spirits, the last of the four volumes of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It is 880 pages long, several inches thick, and quite heavy. On the right is the latest delivery from And Other Stories, Endland by Tim Etchells. It is also quite hefty. At almost 400 pages it is probably the longest book I have received from this publisher.

So books require space. So do relationships. Therefore one corner of my attic is now the archive, and the first 60 books from my collection to be stored are now in boxes. Since I have significantly slowed my rate of acquisition (again, relationship) I don’t expect to need to shuffle books around more than once every six months or so.

I don’t have a firm criteria for which get archived, other than that I don’t anticipate wanting to read them, or needing them for reference, or otherwise finding them all that interesting at the moment. That could change in years to come, so I am trying to come up with a tracking system of some kind so I can, if need be in the years to come, find specific archived books with a minimum of hassle.

In reading news, I finished re-reading Jim Harrison’s True North, and it was every bit as good as I remember from the first read ten years ago. I am in the middle of Insides She Swallowed, a poetry collection by Sasha Pimentel Chacon which I picked up at Arkipelago Books in San Francisco in June 2018. I haven’t read enough to form a solid opinion, but the poetry therein is beautiful.

As the year winds down my already limited reading time becomes even more scarce and suddenly fifteen uninterrupted minutes is a precious commodity. NaNoWriMo starts in eleven days and the volunteer work for ConFusion 2020 is slowly ramping up. All of this is fun and wonderful but O, the time disappears so quickly.

Gearing Up and Winding Down

My life has been crazy busy for the last several months, and though things are beginning to wind down, the psychological and emotional hangover is just beginning. I’m tired. Really, really tired. I spend my (still limited) free time reading books. So some things haven’t changed.

This past week most of the acquisitions came from subscriptions of various kinds – the latest issue of Pulphouse, two books from Deep Vellum and one from Restless Books. I did go out of my way to pick up J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman, as it has been on my list for a few months, and is now at the top of my to-read stack.

In reading news I am a little over 100 pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I seriously love this book! It is amazing, and I wonder what the hell reviewers were talking about when they compared it to Game of Thrones, because other than belonging to approximately the same broad genre, they are absolutely nothing alike. It’s like saying that fans of Lonesome Dove will really like Blood Meridian.

I am also re-reading True North by Jim Harrison. I recently loaned my copy of Dalva to a friend and realized that I had not read any of Harrison’s fiction in at least a couple of years. His work still holds up, and I wish I had a fraction of the talent he brings to the page.

Two weeks until NaNoWriMo!

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Probably Do Again

So what we have here is a big pile of poetry books and one issue of Poetry. The magazine came from a subscription. The books came from the bookshelves of Write616 (formerly the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters).

Why, you may ask, do I have a big ol’ stack of poetry books from the shelves of Write616? Well, therein lies a tale.

For the past couple of years, the GLCL/Write616 has shared space with Caffeinated Press, the publishing company of which I have been a part owner/director/executive/dogsbody since 2014. This past weekend the Powers That Be of Caffeinated Press met and decided that, as we are all of us older, exhausted and burned out, we will be closing down the shop at the end of 2019. Parallel to this decision, the Powers That Be of Write616 made a similar decision.

Thus closes a chapter of my life which has been front and center to my day-to-day existence for just over five years. I started as an editor in September of 2014, just after the publication of the first volume of the Caffeinated Press house anthology Brewed Awakenings. I joined the board in early 2015, and shortly thereafter we launched our journal of arts and letters, The 3288 Review (named after the miles of coastline in Michigan, as measured in 2000).

We still have a few projects in the works which are mostly completed. The last issue of The 3288 Review will come out at the end of this month. The remaining few books which are in process will be complete by the end of the year. All of the paperwork, finances, etc., will wind down by December 31.

And I will, for the first time in five years, have free time in my life on a regular basis. Of course, knowing me, I will immediately fill it with something else. Already I have ideas for a new lit journal, one which would focus more on art, interviews, and specifically the Grand Rapids literature scene.

But before I do anything like that I will start writing again. And submitting my work for publication. I have dozens of poems in various states of completion, as well as more than a score of short stories and essays. And they need homes. Also, National Novel Writing Month begins an about three weeks, so it’s time to start planning something to write.

So it goes.

The Emperor’s New Books

What, you can’t see them? There a stack right there, just above these words!

Another slow week for acquisitions here at the Library. No new reading material, which allowed me to catch up on some work, reading, and quality time with my honey (the last of which is NONNA YA BIZNIZ!)

Yesterday afternoon I finished Ted Kooser‘s Local Wonders, and it was, as Jim Harrison wrote in his cover blurb, magnificent. And I have just finished Christine Rhein‘s beautiful and sorrowful poetry collection Wild Flight. The two books together have further rekindled in me the writing itch, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, as well as an impending significant uptick in my available writing time, I have high hopes for the rest of the calendar year.

I have just started reading Marlon James‘ novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I am one chapter in and already hooked. As this book is something over 600 pages long I expect I will be finished around the end of the year, with shorter works interspersed as time and attention span allow.

The Last Day of Summer, 2019

The cover art seems apt for the eve of the darkening of days toward the winter solstice. This is the trade edition of I Am the Abyss, the Kickstarter-exclusive edition of which arrived here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey a few weeks back. Dark Regions Press has turned out a truly excellent product with this book which, given the difficulties they had with various printing and distribution resources, is quite an accomplishment.

In reading news, I finished A Hero Born and 45 Thought Crimes a couple of days ago. Both were excellent reads for entirely different reasons. A Hero Born was loads of fun, full of exciting battles, intrigue, compelling characters, and a surprisingly complex story line for an adventure novel. 45 Thought Crimes was energetic and angry, pointing out at the multiform cruelties of the 21st century here in the USA – economic, social, racial, gender-based, sexuality-based, and class-based. Sadism is, more and more, the national hobby.

Currently I am reading Ted Kooser‘s memoir-ish Local Wonders, as I need to let my brain cool off a little. I love Kooser’s writing – close to the earth, humble, insightful, and seasoned with a sly and wry humor which comes from a lifetime spent paying attention to the small details of the world.

In poetry I just started Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, though I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or another.

Only forty days remain until the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month. I was not sure if I would participate this year, but recent events have freed up some time and brain space, and I will give it a shot, though I do not yet know what I will write, nor whether I have a chance of reaching 50,000 words in thirty days. Time will tell.

A Break in the Drought

Oh it’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks, but to make up for the stress of work, work, and, uh work, we received a refreshingly large pile of reading material here at the library of Winkelman Abbey.

Top left is the latest issue of Dreamforge. Next to it is the latest issue of Rain Taxi, which means I will probably soon be ordering a few more books, based on the reviews in Rain Taxi. Third is The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain, which I picked up from Amazon on a whim. Last in the top row is the latest Tensorate series book from Jy Yang, The Ascent to Godhood.

Bottom row left is She Had Some Horses by newly-installed Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo. I am somewhat embarrassed to say this is the first of her poetry I have read. Next is the Ted Chiang’s newest collection Exhalation. Second from right is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This one has been on my radar for some time, and in anticipation of its arrival I have watched several of Kendi’s lectures and interviews on YouTube. Dude has some seriously powerful things to say about institutional racism.

Rightmost in the bottom row is the newest book from my Patreon subscription to Apex Books, Ration by Cody T. Luff.

I haven’t had much time to read this past week, what with work hours and the run-up to the release of the next issue of The 3288 Review. I am about 30 pages from the end of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, and about a dozen poems from finishing Lynn Breedlove’s  45 Thought Crimes. After that, the next thing on my reading list is sleep.

It’s the Little Things In Life

Not much to add to the stack at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week. The latest issues of The Paris Review and Two Lines arrived a few days ago, but life has been so busy I have not even had time to look through their tables of contents.

For reading, I finished The Hammer by Brazilian poet Adelaide Ivánova. It was quite an experience. The poems deal with rape and assault and infidelity and rage; what Tom Waits would call “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” Highly recommended.

Right now I’m reading A Hero Born by Jin Yong. I won it a couple of months ago from a sweepstakes held at Tor.com. I have practiced martial arts for thirty years and seen scores of martial arts movies, but until now I have never read a wuxia novel. It’s great! Good characters, an interesting plot, and loads of great fight scenes.

I am also browsing through Andrés Neuman‘s book How to Travel Without Seeingwhich I received in September 2016 as part of my subscription to Restless Books. This is a travel book of sorts. Neuman wrote it as a collection of sentence- to paragraph-sized vignettes describing scenes and moments in his travels throughout Central and South America.

I have read other books written like this – Trysting by Emmanualle Pagano (excerpt). Notes From a Bottle Found On the Beach at Carmel and Points for a Compass Rose by Evan S. Connell. I love this technique – collections of notes, distinct in themselves, which when assembled create a compelling narrative. And the writing is beautiful; each vignette could be a short poem; each chapter a lyric essay.

Now that Autumn approaches my reading time will be in short supply, with the deadline for the next issue of The 3288 Review arriving in October, and National Novel Writing Month in November.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate already.

Late-Summer Doldrums

The first day of September 2019 dawned gloomy and wet, and the city seemed hung over after a night of desperate carousing at the end of the beginning of the Labour Day weekend.

Our hero, John Winkelman, looked over the stack of books which had accumulated during the last hectic week of August. The stack was short, consisting of a single volume — This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, published by Two Lines Press.

Oh, well, thought John, it’s not like I don’t already have a thousand unread books in my library.

“False!” shouted the Imp of Unpurchased Volumes from deep in Winkelman’s limbic system. “You have a mere thousand unread books in your collection. No serious antilibrary is so sparse that a single person could possibly read its contents in a single lifetime.”

Thus Winkelman was both shamed and enlightened.

I wish I could say that a slow accumulation of books makes for more reading time, but that just ain’t so. The frantic pace of the past couple of weeks has slowed my reading to a crawl. I did finish Kamau Daáood’s The Language of Saxophones, which was extraordinary, and immediately started The Hammer by Adelaide Ivánova, which I picked up at City Lights Bookstore at the same time I purchased the Daáood collection. So far it is very good; angry and pointed and occasionally surprisingly subtle.

I am almost finished with Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna, which has some good bits but is overall leaving me somewhat less than impressed. The writing is quite uneven and in places repetitive. The manuscript could have used another couple of rounds of editing. That said, the story — an odd mix of high-tech post-apocalyptic and fantasy — is interesting, and I would like to see a revised edition of the book at some point in the future.

 

 

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.