"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Raymond Roussel

Raymond Roussel's "New Impressions of Africia"

First of all anyone who is interested in 20th century literature should have a copy of this book. Number two, beyond the hype or stories how this book affected the 20th Century and beyond - this is pretty damn great book. Raymond Roussel was one of those guys who had it. And yes extremely wealthy and extremely neurotic - but nevertheless a superb genius. 

So what we have is a poetry book that is also probably the most clever "literary" puzzle ever. The translator Mark Ford, who is also the English biographer of M. Roussel did a remarkable and perhaps impossible translation. Yet the popular pop culture of this work comes through and it really lives in the 21st Century.  Now bring on  the big budget Broadway version of this poem on stage!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Books About Runnin'

After a solid hour or so of shouting for LA Marathon runners (way to gooooo!), I am thoroughly relegated to the back desk of the store, far from the action. But here are a few running books that I (and others) highly recommend! Call ahead to be sure we put them in stock for you...

Running with the Buffaloes, by Chris Lear. This fantastic little narrative is about the UC Boulder men's cross country running season around 1998. From successes to injuries, great news to awful tragedies, everything that happens to this devoted team of athletes is riveting. (I also learned from this book that I never, never want to have a heel spur. Yow!) It should be noted that since my reading this in first edition, it has been revised, so some pesky grammatical and typographical errors have hopefully been fixed... Despite the occasional it's/its snafu, this one offers fantastic insight to collegiate athletics.

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. We're having an event! I'm going on faith to recommend this ALA notable, since I haven't read the thing yet, but the positive review from one of my most voracious reader/runner friends should be trusted. A wildly talented set of natural-born distance runners in northern Mexico fascinates and inspires a sports and health journalist with a history of running injuries. Coooool.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. He's a great novelist and a runner! Coincidence? No. I initially rebelled against this book for its apparently rip-off title, but now I stand corrected. Apparently Murakami used to translate Raymond Carver books. "Runner's World" gave a good interview for it.

Catalyst, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This one's for the teen in your life. The controversial author of Speak gives her own record of productive, educational teenage drama a run (see? running!) for its proverbial money. The heroine's actual running really drew me into this story about how to thrive in whatever life provides for a person.

Other standards are John L. Parker Jr.'s Once a Runner, Tom Jordan's Prefontaine bio, Pre; "Runner's World" magazine, which we have at the News Mews, and Kathleen Krull and David Diaz's kids' book collaboration, Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman.

Way to go, marathoners - of the body and of the mind. Happy reading!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jill Fell's "Alfred Jarry"

The Reaktion Books "Critical Lives" series is an excellent introduction to the avant-garde 19th and 20th Century.  One of the latest ones, Jill Fell's "Alfred Jarry," is a very important and equally enjoyable bio on this great French writer/playwright.
The inventor of "the play/puppet play Ubu Roi" and "pataphisics" the study and school of nonsense.  Also a man who is fond of guns and racing bicycles.  In fact that was his one mode of traveling around France.   He was the heart of the fin de siĆ©cle, yet he died a very early death due to excess drinking.
Reading this 200 page bio makes me want to go back into the world of Jarry, who was one of the fathers of DADA and Surrealism.  For sure a major influence on Boris Vian - and actually, Jarry was very much of a boho 1960's European figure.  I can imagine him being involved with the Living Theater.  But alas 60 years too early!   Its a shame that he didn't live to see what he brought to the world

"Rebel Youth" by Karlheinz Weinberger

Who would have known outside of Switzerland that the hippest looking youth was in that country. Specifically in the very early 1960's. Photographer and full-time factory worker Karlheinz Weinberger knew. He photographed these kids in the parks and in the streets, and to add a certain voyeur quality - in his apartment. Erotic, with a tinge of danger, and a loyalty to Elvis, Cliff, Vince Taylor, and Little Richard, these cold war babies had a clothing style that was borrowed but then they added their own touches. 

A combination of rocker with a Situationist/Letterist motif with a hairstyle that is based on the 1950's but looked forward to an unknown future. The kids are playful, but the photographer, who is much older, is not. And it is that tension between image-maker and its model that gives Weinberger an edge. The book also has a wonderful introduction by John Waters, who actually met the late great Karlheinz Weinberger

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Five Books You Meet After High School

I mean, ideally these are the five books I'd have liked to meet after high school. A lovely pair of local parents came to the store yesterday seeking gift basket books for an auction, and these six made the choosy cut as "appropriate for a high school- to adult-age" reader - according to me, anyway. Now, into the basket with these! - all of which you, yes you, can get for yourself in the store.

Geek Love - Okay, so this Katherine Dunn novel is actually sitting on my desk at the moment. But if I'd known at 17 that there was a National Book Award finalist out there in the world exploring all the weird ess-aych-eye-tee parents can put their kids through out of what they might think is love (self-love or otherwise), I'd have scooped it up immediately.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - This (along with Slaughter-House Five and Edna Ferber's So Big) defined the summer after I graduated from high school. It also made me feel as hip as a New Yorker subscription, but let's not reduce Kav and Clay to street cred. Michael Chabon creates so thorough a world for his characters and so dense a timeline for art and comics and World War II that heart and history are inseparable. Huzzah!

White Teeth - This frantic little post-colonial exercise in near-allegorically contrived plot almost didn't make the cut, but holy moses does Zadie Smith run a tight narrative ship. I wouldn't have understood this with a high school education (sorry, Virginia public schools) but I'd have liked it anyway and learned why later.

How to Be Alone - Hoorah for Jonathan Franzen!, read The Corrections and Freedom though I have not. Also, on the inside I am very old. These calm collected (pun!) essays found their way to me later in college, but made me coolly reconsider a lot of things I take for granted - age, health, birdsong, and of course, the importance of a solitude that bars out even Facebook - something I wish I hadn't met after high school.

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi stole my heart at 16. Her comics-turned-memoir, originally released in serial French paperbacks, were then translated, offered in two gorgeous hardcovers, then combined into what we have at the store: a single-volume paperback filled with her story of growing up in Iran, then being filially transplanted out for much of the Revolution and returning as an adult. I read this again before giving it to my little sister as a gift, then again to write a paper on the themes of Persian art and how comics' duality serves memoir. Any book that compels me to write a paper is a-okay.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men - David Foster Wallace. Wide-ranging stories. That is all.

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bill Drummond's "$20,000"

"$20,000" is a combination of a travel journal (via the United Kingdom, and whatever that means to a British citizen), aesthetics, art, pop music, and the hard-to-answer question "what is an artist?" Bill Drummond is a man of great charm, but I find it a bit of a head scratcher why he's so interested in the subject matter of "Artist" in today's culture. 

For one he seems to fighting the public image of an artist, which seems to me kind of silly. I understand the concerns and the problems that goes with those concerns, but art is really like breathing. Even the most intellectual of artists Marcel Duchamp questioned the role of the artist in contemporary times. And there is also a guilt feeling from Drummond regarding the money worth of such art or the making of art with respect to the financial world. 

And also to reach the "common" man and woman while doing art. The beauty of pop music is an art form that is attracted to the masses. A painting can reach a lot of people, but it doesn't have the same affect as a commercially pop song. But the mediums are so different, that I think its hard to compare the two. 

Drummond came from an art background and then went into music making and its business. And I think it is the business aspect of music as well as the visual arts that fascinates him. And in turn it becomes his 'art'. 

The question is it good art? Drummond thinks a lot about this, but I think its impossible to answer because art is very subjective. It means different things to different people. You can define an aesthetic or theory on a page, but still people will react in their own ways towards a piece of music or art on a wall. Drummond is also very British in that he thinks what other citizens will react to his work. He's very funny, thoughtful, and I kind of disagree in how he looks at art - but I am happy to spend some time with him while he searches his soul and inner-thoughts on the subject of the role of the artist.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tosh Talks Feb.06.2011

My obsession with "The Lonely Doll" and its author Dare Wright.