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.

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?

Post-Travel Post

And just like that, we’re back! San Francisco was wonderful. We stayed in the Warwick, which is right in the middle of everything, and we ate ALL THE FOOD, which is all I will say about San Francisco in this post. We visited City Lights Bookstore, of course, and more San Francisco stories will accompany the photo of my haul from there.

Just one book arrived when I was out; A Punk Rock Future, from a Kickstarter created by the excellent Steve Zisson. For the general public, the book is available for pre-order at Amazon and will hit the shelves in October.

This was extra-EXTRA-special for me because my friend Steven (not Zisson) has a story in the collection, which I only discovered when I scanned the table of contents. I love when my friends win!

On the reading side of things, the week leading up to the trip was hectic and didn’t allow for much quiet time. I did burn through Mary Robinette Kowal‘s short story collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories. I have long enjoyed Kowal’s novels and podcasting, but this was my first foray into her short works. And they are great! Highly recommended.

Once vacation started, things settled down. The plane ride was about four hours each way, which gave me something which I very seldom have any more: big blocks of uninterrupted reading time. And who, historically, has written books meant for readers with big blocks of uninterrupted reading time? The Russians! Specifically, Ivan Turgenev. I brought with me the collection First Love and Other Stories, which I picked up in August of last year. Eight hours on a plane was just about perfect to read the six stories therein.

I like Turgenev’s writing. He has a deep understanding of how young men think and how they react to love, heartache, and stress. That said, the main characters are not particularly likable. They tend to be of a type. “Wanker” is, I believe, the clinical term, though Turgenev treats them with empathy and compassion, rather than as the butt of jokes. Not that there isn’t plenty of humor herein, of the satirical and sarcastic variety.

And that is how, early in my fiftieth year, I completed a reading assignment handed to me by my Russian Studies professor in January of 1991. I suppose I should let Dr. Rydel know I’m finally done.

A Winner Is Me!

So there I was, waiting for the holiday to begin and SUDDENLY OUT OF NOWHERE* there appeared an ARC of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born. The publisher ran a sweepstakes thing a few weeks back and I entered, as one does, not expecting anything to come of it. This just proves that hope is real.

The other two books in the top row are the latest from Deep Vellum Publishing – a collection of the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Blood Sisters, a newly-translated novel from South Korean writer Kim Yi-deum.

The bottom row consists of my rewards from a Kickstarter campaign I backed back in fall of 2018. Zombies Need Brains LLC publishes anthologies centered on various subjects and topics. Last year they announced Portals, Temporally Deactivated and Alternate Peace. I submitted a story to Portals, which was rejected, though it was a personalized rejection so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

ZNB just announced the themes for the 2019/2020 collections: Apocalyptic, Galactic Stew, and My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. The submission window will open when the Kickstarter launches the first week of August. Keep an eye out, and warm up your pens!

In reading news, I had a great, relaxing few days over the Independence Day weekend and dove into some science fiction from Patrick TomlinsonThe Ark and Trident’s Forge, which I picked up (and got signed!) at ConFusion a couple of years ago. Now I am about a third of the way through Rebecca Roanhorse‘s Storm of Locusts, the sequel to her excellent Trail of Lightning.

To keep myself on task I have begin transcribing all of the poetry sitting unattended in my (over 25 years of) journals. A lot of it is already in Google Docs, but the exercise of re-writing it by hand is useful for seeing where the poems can be improved and also gives me a sense for how my style and sensibilities have changed over the decades.

And maybe I’ll submit something to somewhere sometime.

* actually delivered by a postal employee

The Passive Acquisition of Reading Material

And just like that, the year is half over. Moderately more ups than downs at this point, which is entirely reasonable.

This was a slow but interesting week for the acquisitions department at Winkelman Abbey. Two Kickstarter fulfillment packages arrived, as well as two journal issues. On the left is Frozen Hell, the newly-released deluxe hardcover version of the John Campbell story which inspired The Thing. On the left-of-center is The Writer’s Book of Doubt, an anthology of encouragement for writers, by writers. Center right is the new issue of the always excellent journal Reckoning, and on the right is the latest issue of Poetry. These all just kind of appeared at my doorstep and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

In reading news, just before midnight last night I finished the book which I have been beta-reading for the past two months. It was superb, but I need to let it sit for a month before I offer my feedback to the author. I am also about 20% through the book of essays for which I will be providing a blurb in a few week. For pleasure reading I picked up Ken Liu‘s novella The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary. I quickly realized that, while a beautiful story, it’s a terrible story, if you follow me. Or, as Tom Waits would put it, “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. I’ll likely finish it this evening if time permits.

June 30 was the last day of submissions for the October 2019 issue of The 3288 Review, and I am hard at work sending out acceptance and rejection letters and contracts and other various communications on behalf of Caffeinated Press. After an extended bout of self-inflicted FUBAR around the previous issue, this one is coming together nicely, which makes me very happy as I finally have some breathing room in my life, so I can enjoy the summer with my wonderful girlfriend. Maybe I’ll even do some writing. And maybe it will even be good. And with a whole lotta luck and some good old-fashioned elbow-grease, I’ll get something published by the end of the year.

 

Kummerbücher

It’s been a stressful couple of weeks here at Winkelman Abbey, so I buried myself under a new pile of books. Between family, class, Caffeinated Press duties and work, I haven’t have any time to decompress, other than spare moments with my girlfriend at the beginning and end of the day. So my brain has unravelled a bit and lost some data.

If you are looking at this post through an Esper you will see that there are two copies of the Jim Harrison book. I was so distracted by events I ordered a copy from the publisher, then went out and bought a copy at Books and Mortar. When the publisher copy showed up in the mail I was both confused and elated, because multiple copies of a collection of Jim Harrison’s poems is inarguable a Good Thing.

(Plus, to crib a joke from My Blue Heaven, I might want to read it more than once.)

Starting from the left side, going clockwise around the circle, first is Outside the Gates of Eden by Lewis Shiner. I have always been fascinated by events which seem to be the nexus or apotheosis (or both) of cultural movements, and Woodstock is one of the most important of the post-WWII era. This will be a good autumn read, I think.

(I like my beer like I like my books – too thick to see through.)

Next is the most recent issue of Rain Taxi, which I hesitate to read until I get a couple more paychecks, as the reviews therein are just that good.

Third, at the twelve o’clock position, is Nineteen Letters by West Michigan poet Kathleen McGookey. This book is gorgeous! Hardbound and composed of a variety of types if paper, seemingly random. And the poetry therein is, of course beautiful.

Next is volume 3 of the Breakbeat Poets series, Halal If You Can Hear Me, full of poetry written by Muslim women and queer, non-binary, and trans writers. If it it anything like the previous two volumes in the anthology series, this will be a helluva read.

On the far right is the newest issue of The Paris Review. Next to it, in the four o’clock position is The Fall, the sequel to Tracy Townsend’s The Nine, which was a wild ride. Probably dig into it later this summer, and will CERTAINLY bring it to ConFusion 2020 for a signature.

At the bottom right is my current day read, Jim Harrison’s The Essential Poems, newly released by Copper Canyon Press. I have probably read every one of these poems at some point over the past quarter century, but they are good to revisit.

At the bottom left is an impulse purchase, the chapbook Dragonskin from the superb Michael Swanwick.

On middle-left is Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse, which is the sequel to Trail of Lightning.

In the middle are two new books from Apex Publications – the kickstarter-funded anthology Do Not Go Quietly, and Maurice Broaddus‘s new book Pimp My Airship.

Yeah, that’s a good haul. Just reciting them makes me feel a little more…stable.

In reading news, life has been chaotic and I haven’t read much other than a few dozen more pages in my role as a beta reader. I did finish Here: Poems for the Planet, and I offer my whole-hearted recommendation that everyone in the world buy a copy and read it cover to cover, twice. I originally planned to open some nonfiction next, but with the Harrison book it will be poetry for at least a couple more weeks.

(The title of this post is a play on the German word Kummerspeck – “sorrow bacon” – the weight gained through stress-induced overeating. Hopefully stress-induced book buying is less damaging, other than financially.)

Half a Century, Give Or Take

Yup. I did it. I just turned fifty. I have been reading for approximately the past 47 years. If I could do it all over again, I would start earlier and not purge the books I had to buy for college. Well, not all of them, anyway.

Here we are in the first full week of June. I have been running myself ragged trying to get the new issue of The 3288 Review out the door to our contributors and customers. We were ready to go a couple of weeks earlier but ran into an unexpected roadblock called I AM AN IDIOT WHO CAN’T INDESIGN, and that pushed us even farther behind schedule. But the magazines are out now, winging their way into the hands of the excellent members of the West Michigan literary community.

The latest issue, by the way, is in the upper right corner of the above photo. If you would like a copy, they are available from the Caffeinated Press online store.

(That amazing cover artwork? Local artist Jon McAfee.)

So, yes. It has been a busy week.

From top left in the above photo, we have the latest issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet from Small Beer Press, followed by the newest Dreamforge. On the top right is of course the Spring 2019 issue of The 3288 Review.

The middle row is all Harlan Ellison, from a Kickstarter campaign I helped fund back in 2016. Ellison, of course, passed away just over a year ago. But reading through these previously-uncollected works I felt the same frisson I experienced when I first cracked open Dangerous Visions, The Glass Teat, and the excellent collections put out by White Wolf Publishing back in the mid-1990s.

In the bottom row we have The Body Papers by Grace Talusan, published by Restless Books, followed by Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice. On the right is The Wilderness After Which, a collection of poetry from L.S. Klatt, a former Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The latter two I picked up on a whim on a recent visit to Books and Mortar. Call it a birthday present to myself.

In reading news, by day I am still working through the superb poetry in Here: Poems for the Planet. I would have finished by now, but I kept getting sidetracked by sudden inspirations for my own poetry. Collections like this will do that to a person. I am about halfway through the beta read of a novel a good friend wrote over the last decade or so. Time permitting, I should be done with that one by the end of the month.

In non-literary news, I was saddened to see that Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, a.k.a The Night Tripper, passed away on June 6. Dr. John’s music got me through some of the most difficult parts of my life, and the world is diminished by his passing.

The second line in his honor was quite the celebration.

 

The First Books of June

June has finally arrived, and with it morning warm enough to spend on the porch, buried under coffee and books.

On the left is the latest issue of the ever-excellent Jacobin. On the right is Exile, the last book from a recent purchase from OR Books. I read a bit of Exile while grilling this past Sunday. It has a lot of interesting and important things to say about the effect the chaotically-thrashing USA has on the rest of the world.

Today is my fiftieth birthday! Once I complete the read-through of the brilliant (and not-to-be-named-in-public) book by one of my best friends, I think I will pivot over to a summer of nonfiction. SO far this year I have read over two dozen books of fiction and poetry, and I want to explore some new topics.

So there we go. That’s my plan for being 50. Reading more books. What books, you may ask? Well, I have a copy of Piketty‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century gathering dust on a shelf next to a copy of Marx’s Capital. One shelf down from them is Antifa, which, given the current administration and its supporters and bootlicks, is always relevant. Those three should keep me busy for the rest of summer, and ready to dive back into fiction when the weather changes. Of course this is just a list of possibilities. I might easily say FUGGIT and just play games all summer. Like a fifty-year-old.

Rainy Days are Good Days for Reading

An interesting mix of reading material arrived here last week, fueled in part by a friend purging her collection and sending some books my way.

On the top left is the latest title from Two Lines Press, The Skin Is the Elastic Covering That Encases the Entire Body, by Bjørn Rasmussen. Next is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine. The last two in the first row are from Rudy Rucker’s most recent Kickstarter.

The three in the second row are the books from the friend who studied English and literature and the interpretations thereof, many years ago. She actually sent a large stack my way, but these three were the only ones which seemed like I would be able to make sense of them without a Master’s Degree.

In reading news, I finished The Nine by Tracy Townsend. It was fantastic! I’m looking forward eagerly to reading the sequel. I am not going to pick up another long novel until I finish the initial read-through of a draft of a book one of my oldest and dearest friends sent me a few weeks back. Once that is done, I will dive back into long-form fiction.

But I am still reading poetry. I just started Here: Poems for the Planet, edited by Elizabeth J. Coleman and published by Copper Canyon Press. The work contained herein is, quite simply, extraordinary. I usually write about nature and the environment in my own poetry so I find myself continually inspired by this collection. And I’m writing more too. Maybe one of these decades I’ll even get published!

I Got Nuthin’

For the first time in many month, I have endured a terrible week where no new reading material arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey. At this rate I may end up reading as many as 50% of my books before I die of old age, and that thought makes me feel oddly claustrophobic.

In reading news, I finished Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer, and have just opened The Nine by Tracy Townsend. This is another ConFusion acquisition, as was the Palmer book and several others from earlier this year. I love being able to read and enjoy the works of people I know personally (if not well). ConFusion is wonderful like that. I am also progressing through Jessica Comola’s poetry collection everything we met changed form & followed the rest. I hope to have both books complete by the beginning of June, as summer looks to be extremely busy.

The photo for this post is one of over five dozen fish in a mural created at 555 Monroe Avenue here in Grand Rapids. The specific fish was created by local artist James Broe.