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.

 

A Big Box of Books

The week of November 11 brought fifteen(!) new books and journals to Winkelman Library. The top two rows are the contents of the most recent Grab Bag from Subterranean Press, one of the premiere publishers of special editions of genre fiction. The bottom row includes, from left, the latest issue of Peninsula Poets; The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: The Happy Years, which is the latest book from my subscription to Restless Books; Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson, which I picked up at Books and Mortar; issue 54 of McSweeney’s, and All That Is Evident Is Suspect: Readings from the Oulipo 1963 – 2018, published by McSweeney’s. All this should keep me busy for the next week or so. The books in this photo are #217 to 231 in the 2018 Reading List post, where I have included links for ordering and author information.