Beghtol, LD.  (2006).  69 Love Songs. NY: Continuum.

Bowden, Mark, ed.  (2007).  The best American crime writing, 2006.  NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Bunyan, John.  (1678).  The Pilgrim’s Progress. NY: Penguin Classics.

Eagleton, Terry.  (1983).  Literary theory.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kois, Dan.  (2010).  Facing Future.  NY: continuum.

Sisario, Ben.  (2006).  Doolittle.  NY: continuum.

Stegner, Wallace.  (1950).  Joe Hill: A biographical novel. NY: Penguin Books.

Terry, Randall A.  (2008).  A humble plea: To bishops, clergy and laymen: Ending the abortion holocaust. Washginton, D.C.: Insurrecta Nex.

The Rumpus book club.

Vida, Vendela, ed.  (2007).  The Believer book of writers talking to writers. San Fransisco: Believer Books.

I am a sucker for the 33 1/3 series.  Each book is about a famous album and as far as I have been exposed each book is great.  Sisario writes about the famous album full of body counts by The Pixies, one of my favorite bands ever.  Kois writes about that song, a staple to weddings and Rom-Coms: Israel Kamakawiwo’s medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World”.  I bought them new becuase the books are so hard to find.  Even more difficult to find at a used book store.  In fact, it is this very series that has me contemplating the switch to an ereader.  I can have nearly any book, nearly instantaneously and for less than the cost of an actual book.  I also resent the amount of stuff I own, and an ereader can help cut it.  But, of anything to have as clutter, I do think books are acceptable.  Note the large libraries of smart people whom I respect.  Admittedly they are from a different time.  The library is an anachronism I cannot shake.  Reminds me of the scene in Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant: Finding Forrester) , when Will (Matt Damon: Ocean’s Eleven)is scrutinizing the library of Sean Maguire (Robin Williams: Jumanji).

At the end of April I was in a wedding in Charlotte, and it was easily the best wedding I have ever been to.  I was in one the next weekend and that wedding was ruined by the Charlotte one.  Of course, the Indian (dot, not feather) colors and traditins helped to spoil it, but the dancing and the music is what put it over the top.  Notably, the Kamakawiwo song was not played.  The occasional Indian pop music helped, but it was the absence of the traditional that was really telling.

Am I spendng enough to justify a B&N membership?  I don’t think so.  But, I am unsure enough that I should begin tracking.  Of course, then I will become aware of the horror that is the amount I spend at B&N.  Ugh, to save or to live in blissful ignorance?

One of the few magazines I read dutifully, even though I subscribe dutifully to many more, is The Believer.  I think Tin House might better suit my interests, but The Believer carries a monthly column by Greil Marcus.  In any case, the reason Tin House might be a better match than The Believer is because of its focus on writing.  This book by Believer Books seems to cater specifically to me.  Even though I read these interviews in their initial publications.  But they are great to revisit, not only because I forget things but because they are the epitome of how a rereading is a different reading altogether.  And… The Believer is where I first discovered the Nick Hornby series I have modelled this post after.

Wallace Stegner is a stud.  Good writer too.  Joe Hill was an important labor organizer.  Stud too.  All of this despite my IWW affiliations.

The Beghtol books is another in the 33 1/3 series.  This time the album is 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.  Ursa raved about this album.  The critics at Slate’s Cultural Gabfest rave about it.  I hear people on the street talk about in intimate terms unfamiliar to an album.  It’s a great album.  Here’s hoping this book serves it well.

John Bunyan.  I thought I was going to read about Minnesota and how its lakes were made.  Was Mille Lacs made by Babe’s hoof or by Paul Bunyan scooping it out with a spoon.  But… John Bunyan is not Paul Bunyan.  Sadly.  It’s an old, important, and oft-cited book.  I’ve never read it.  It was only $2.  It’ll look good on my shelf.  Which is the reason, I am ashamed to admit, that I have not yet bought an ereader.

My addictions are not just for Verso books and 33 1/3 books.  I also love The Best American [Crime, Science, Mystery, etc…] Writing series.  Bowden’s Black Hawk Down was so magnificent that this entry into the series has to be good.

Terry.  I found it on an airplane.  Sometimes I need a good laugh.  Sometimes I need to inflict some pain.  Most of all, I am curious about theology.  I am also curious about hearing the other side’s argument.

Terry Eagleton’s book has constantly been on my list of books I need.  I need to read it because of its importance.  I also need it to hunt down footnotes.  This was one of the books that was leading the charge for an ereader, so I could constantly have it on my person.  I folded.   The anniversary edition is just too damned pretty.  And I have so much time on my hands right now that I am delusional, thinking I can actually make it through this.  Through all of these books actually, this has probably been my most active month of book acquisition.  And I am moving.  I don’t have the space for all the books.  Sigh.

The Plot Against America
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I had not been to the local used bookstore in a while and since I leave for my first tournament of the season to-morrow I decided it was a good time to hit up the clearance section (no title was more than $2).

Scott Turow, editor.  The Best American Mystery Stories, 2006.

I am a sucker for this series.  I am also a Scott Turow fan.  Most law school graduates that write turn to legal writing, but he didn’t.  Of those, he is easily the best.  I am not a huge mystery fan, so much so that when my beloved Cold War fictions are placed in the mystery section I tend to find employees and lecture them as though I am an old man and they have some ability to care.  If it had not been in clearance then I would have never seen it and never have paid the money for it.

Iain Pears.  An Instance of the Fingerpost.

I remember this book being hot hot hot when I was working at Barnes & Noble.  A mystery (sigh) set in Victorian England (I think) and yet not a mystery but more a tour of theory and the history and thought.  Or so I remember one of my managers telling me as a reason why she thought I’d be perfect to read it.  Looking back, she wanted me to read it and review it for the Staff Recommendations section.  Maybe if it was free.  But, alas, modern businesses require their employees to spend their wages for their own marketing.

Ursula K. Le Guin.  The Eye of the Heron.

I have never read any Le Guin, but I am constantly coming across her name as an important literary figure.  And not just in science fiction circles.  I had never even heard of this book, but: 1. the author is important,  2. it is a tiny thing, I can get through something this size in less than a week, and 3. I have been on a science fiction kick lately.

Speaking of which, I am currently working on season 1 of Mad Men so I can see what all the hype is about.  Episode 4 and Draper is revealed to have been someone else before the war.  Now I am really intrigued as the story turns to be more inline with sci-fi circles than just a cultural criticism.  A TIRED cultural criticism, at that.

Duncan Heath & Judy Boreham.  Introducing Romanticism.

I am also a sucker for the precise genre.  Complex ideas simplified and then put into comic book form.  How can it not be worth a few bucks?

David Zane Mairowitz & Alain Korkos.  Introducing Camus.

I probably would not have bought this book had I not turned to the Camus chapter in the Sturrock book earlier to-day.  I am still not too sure that I care about him, but I am curious enough to drop a few bucks to find out.  And, it is also a precise book.  One of these days I will get some scratch together and commission my friends to write a precise pour moi.  Ursa can do some Spinoza.  I am not too sure what Nate would do, but I do not doubt I would learn something.

Philip Roth.  The Plot Against America.

Philip Roth.  Alternate history.  Philip Roth.  I almost bought this book several times when it was a hardcover on the bestseller list.  How this ever made it to the clearance rack I will never know.  I know Minnesotans read the wrong stuff, but this is ridiculous.

Phil Hellmuth, Jr.  Play Poker Like the Pros.

This is his serious book.  It was not on clearance, but I am curious to see what he has to say.  Poker writing fascinates me because the players are often engaging in some rather sophisticated communications theory without even knowing it.  The pain of reading these books is seeing them skate around methodologies and terminology.  They are almost quite there but I suspect there are editors or publishers delimiting the thought so the book remains available to the masses.  To the future poker writers out there: be brave, the audience will come along and appreciate it if the writing is good!

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The Prometheus Deception
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I am giving up on yet another book, Robert Ludlum’s The Prometheus Deception. I made it to page 89 but I feel as though it is written for high schoolers who need help seeing things.  First, a synopsis of the first few pages because it is an interesting idea.  Bryson is a spook working for The Directorate, a super secret organization fighting the evil commies.  So super secret that the Presidential award he is awarded cannot be given to him, he is given only a glimpse of it.  An error happens and Bryson is put to pasture as an academic in Pennsylvania.  At first I was offended, as though academics were so easy to get into, but then it is Pennsylvania (remind me someday to tell of my experience with an education major from a tiny liberal arts school in central PA).

A few years go by and Bryson is contacted by the CIA who tell him that The Directorate was instead a KGB (or was it GRU?) front set up to recruit the best and the brightest (common knowledge in the Reagan years that we were much smarter and capable) who did not have to pose as Americans.  Bryson then goes to uncover the current workings of The Directorate.  An intereting idea, so interesting that I am fairly certain I have encountered it somewhere else.  Have I tried to read this book before and gave it up then as well?

The scene where I finally called no mas finds Bryson on a large container ship that is an arms merchant platform.  His cover is blown and he is on the run.  He runs into the engine room.  The lights are turned off and he is being pursued by four men using night vision goggles, never mind the heat from the engines ought to wreck the utility of the NVGs.  Bryson is trapped against a bulkhead and shooting blindly.  Someone else enters and shoots his pursuers dead.  The other, a woman – sacre bleu! – turns on a light and tells him to follow.  Bryson, of course, argues and tests her for it not being a trap.  A trap?  Even if it is a trap, of course it is you undercover spook, you go with her because not going with her means death.  Ludlum decides to lecture the readers with the following nonsensical exchange.

Bryson stared at the woman.

“Come on!” she called, her voice rising in desperation.  “If I wanted to kill you, I would have done so already.  I’ve got the advantage, I’ve got the infrared – not you.”

“You don’t have the the advantage now,” Bryson called back, his grip steady on his stolen weapon, lowered at his side.

“”I know this ship inside and out.  Now, if you want to stay here and play games, be my guest.  I have no choice now but to get off the ship.  Calcanis’s security force is large – there are plenty of others, probably on their way right now.”  With her free hand she pointed toward an object mounted high on one of the bulkheads near the ceiling of the generator room.  Bryson recognized it as a surveillance camera….Unlatching [a hatch cover], she glanced back and jerked her head toward the opening, signalling him to follow.

Bryson hesitated no more than a few seconds before he did so. (95)

Really?  We needed all that?  Of course not, but for some reason Ludlum thought we did.  And.  And, I had left out about a paragraph of her explaining to him how following her was his only option.  No shit. I also left out the end of the previous chapter where she is again telling him he has no option but to follow her.

There were other moments of the book, but that passage was the straw that broke my back.  I love thrillers and even mysteries but why are so many of them written with such disdain for the reader?  I think of writing as I think of TV.  Maybe the audience is fille dof mainly idiots, but that’s okay as long as the story is interesting and the writing good.  People comeback for more, they understand there are smarter people in the world and most people are fine with that.  ER was a show that proved that theory.

Here is the problem now, what to read next?  I am away from my library and I only have heady stuff left but I am in the mood for some lighter fare.  Just not Ludlum light.

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Raw Power album cover
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I love Cold War fiction.  I mean that very precisely.  Some people think I mean espionage literature and that is not the case, because something is lost in the current crop of espionage thrillers.  The enemy is not as cunning and when they are it feels arbitrary and forced.  What I just said might be taken to border on some racism or negative stereotype: Arabs as a backwards and stupid people vis a vis us sophisticated folk.

My take is close to this but not because of anything intrinisic to the enemy.  The enemy is behind us in intelligence gathering capabilities as well as in motivation, they are after all still involved in an internal struggle for the future of their society whereas we are the outside intervention looking to mold them into our image.  That is a very different story to the classic Cold War espionage thriller and I am sad to see the genre shift.  I will outline a classic of Cold War fiction and hopefully the differences are easily seen.

I recently finished reading one of the classics, had there been enough time I am sure it might have become a touchstone of the genre, by one of the classic writers: Nelson DeMille’s Talbot Odyssey.  If you are a fan of the werewolf genre then you might also enjoy this story – yes, Talbot is that Talbot.  Not as well written as LeCarre’s novels, but it resonates like LeCarre does: as a Western.  All the familiar tropes are there: lethal environment (in this book set inside a hostile shooting Cold War), one man alone, a stunning and impossible achievement of the masculine image, narrator’s cultural criticism and the obligatory surprise twist.

The most important quality is probably the idealized masculinity because the rest of the book is informed and is a backdrop for this image.  I will provide for you a couple of places where DeMille drops these images in this book.

“As the Duke of Wellington said when asked to impart a piece of enduring military wisdom, ‘Piss when you can.'” (338)

The necessary self-sufficiency to survive is an important aspect of these thrillers.  Without resourcefulness and a willingness to disregard societal norms the hero is sure to fail and be sucked into the maelstrom that is eating away at the very society he is trying to save.

He remembered a favorite line from Thoreau: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” (81)

Never forget though that self-sufficient man is indebted to his predecessors and hence the self-sufficient man is well-read, an ubermensch.  It is not a far stone’s throw to see DeMille writing about a man making a horseback trip across the wild west, camping at night over a fire, can of beans and reading a book with a pistol in his lap.  The clothes on his back are all that he brought for the trip, saving more important space for more important things.

Now we come to the ubermensch’s approach to the modern environment, namely the social environment:

There are basically five ways to hunt – baiting, trapping, stakeouts, beating the bush, and decoying.  it depends on the animal you’re after, the season of the year, and the terrain.  With the human animal, you can use all methods, or combinations of methods, in any season and terrain.  Just keep in mind that when the human animal approaches, he may take any form, including the guise of a friendly animal.  He may wave a cheery hello, or ask for a cigarette.  But you must relaize you ar ebeing attacked, and in that split second of realization you have to act, becasue a second later it’s too late. (260)

It’s hard to miss the romantic ideal of fighting and always being on guard DeMille longs for in this piece.  I am also seduced by these images.  The few months after being hit by the car I would wander the streets and was always imagining an immanent fight.  It was warming to imagine that I can be vigilant enough to save myself.  It restored a sense of purpose and control.  It’s how I suspect people who cut themselves are trying to reassert a sense of control over their bodies.  Iggy Pop’s slow suicide is how Lester Bangs describes that reclamation of control.  And yet we know the world is no longer like that, which is precisely why people write and read these thrillers.

All of the above are ways these books serve to idealize a certain image of man.  Those images then give way to cultural criticism, often a very silly and tired form of criticism.

Its ceiling beams and oak paneling still gave it the flavor of a hunting lodge, but the mounted animal heads and horns were gone, replaced by oversize canvases of proletarian art: smiling, well-muscled men and women working in the fields and factories.  The early capitalists, reflected Abrams, mounted animals they probably never shot, the ruling Communists displayed pictures of happy workers they probably never saw.  The noble and idealized creatures of the earth were destined to wind up as wwall decorations for the elite.  in a just and orderly world, perhaps, capitalists would shoot, stuff, and mount Communists, and vice versa, leaving the wildlife and working people in peace. (321)

DeMille is smart enough to be a cynic but does he not realize that this ubermensch, the man above ideology, is like the wildlife and like the happy proletariat nothing but a fiction?  A mythical beast wandering the world in search of a home.  DeMille’s vision smacks me like McCarthy’s does.  My frst thought is always: the world is not this hard.  But that seems to be the issue, they wish the world were that hard because that hardness is what weeds out the chaff from the wheat.  Deep down they are romantics and environmental hardship is their antiseptic for the world’s over-developed sense of sociality.

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Cover of "House of Leaves"
Cover of House of Leaves

Nate suggested a while ago that I do what Nick Hornby does, or at least did, and each month compose a column listing books bought and books read and then some nonsense hopefully related and uniting the contents of the lists.  Hornby even published two books, albeit they are both small books, of these columns and I find the essays to be meandering and rarely about the lists.  In any case, this post will be a third of the task: a list of books bought.

I am currently in Ann Arbor for the usual summer gig and there is a store here which is my favorite book store of all the places across the US.  Some of you know about my obsession with Verso Books.  They publish high quality scholarship and their books have a certain aesthetic to them that I cannot avoid.  But it’s hard to find their books because they are exactly what the American book consumer is not purchasing.  Shaman Drum Bookstore is easily the best place I have found to find portions of the Verso catalogue.  My job finally settled enough to-day for me to venture out there and they are closing.  All books are half off so I had to indulge some.  As much as Chase and Wells Fargo would allow me to indulge, anyways.

Brooks, Daphne A.  (2007).  Grace. NY: Continuum.  This is part of 33 1/3 series where each ook is about an influential album.  This book is about Jeff Buckley’s Grace album.  It’s an enjoyable enough album, I thought I was going to enjoy it more.  The main track on it is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  You know it.  It is that one song on West Wing when CJ Craig’s bodyguard (Mark Harmon) is killed.  Oh yeah, THAT song.  I still shiver when I hear it.  In any case the book was $5 so I picked it up.  I do enjoy reading about music.  The book about punk rock Ursa introduced me to, Please Kill Me (I think) and Bang Your Head are easily some of my favorite reads ever.

Hampton, Howard.  (2007).  Born in Flames: Termite dreams, dialectical fairy tales, and pop apocalypses. Cambridge:  Harvard Press.  A subtitle like that how can I not buy it?  Plus the cover is gorgeous.  It talks some about my favorite book of criticism (one of my favorite books) of all time Lester Bang’s Psychotic Reactions and Carbeurator Dung.

Now for the Verso Books, all published in London.

Sarlo, Beatriz.  (1993).  Jorge Luis Borges: A writer on the edge. I have read zero Borges.  I continually come across refrences to him so he always make my list of books to read.  It’s a Verso book.  It’s about art.  It’s about avant-garde writing.  Borges is listed as the main reference for what is my favorite book of all time, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and that makes Borges worth investigation.  Plus, It’s a Verso book that was half price.

Elbaum, Mark.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. An interesting subtitle.  A Verso book.  It promises to fill in a certain gap in what I know about, radical formation in the US and its turn to Marxist analysis.  The Swede sent me a text yesterday that she ran into a bike mob in Minneapolis and the cops looked tired, hot, and pissed.  Critical Mass.  Fuck I love the radical community in Minneapolis.

Sturrock, John.  (1998).  The word from Paris: Essays on modern French thinkers and writers. French thinkers: Althusser, Lacan, Derrida and Foucault are just the most exciting of the ones in here.  And that is just Part I.  Part II is about writers, which looking over the names and resumes of the names I take Sturrock means fiction writers.  I am always on the look for short essays about some of these folk to serve as a memory jogger, a little refresher course to lift some of the cobwebs.

There we have the list of books bought to-day.  I was working on 100 year sof Solitude by GGM.  For days I have been fighting the temptation to put it down, only to hang on based on the prestige GGM has as a writer.  I doubt I will have the fortitude to not put it down to-morrow though.  After all I will be rooting for the USA to beat the Brazilian team and that struggle probably mirrors, in some odd way, the struggle I will take on as I defend GGM as not one of the 20th centuries best writers.  In my mind there is some parallel.

On another tangential note, I am doing a good job of aping Hornby’s articles, The Swede did make the NorthStar Roller Girls for next season.  That is very exciting.  I am happy for her.  You should be too.

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The Pulitzer gold medal award
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I am not sure why, I just know that I cannot help myself.  Later to-day, when?, the Pulitzer Prize committee will announce their winners for 2008 publications.  I have no horse in this race, but for a list of books that may win check the Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide.  Somehow they have figured out odds for what will win.  Sadly, I have not read any of the books, but I will, of course, be buying the winner and then trying to take it to task.

To-day I will begin my assessment of The Lovely Bones a book a few years old now but one that received much acclaim.  So much so that when at the airport a few weeks ago two random people approached me to tell me how much they appreciated the book and then those people disappeared from my life forever.  What kind of book can produce such fealty that people would approach a stranger for no other reason to say how much they enjoyed the book that person is reading, and also probably enjoying?

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Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous LIfe of Oscar Wao (highly recommended), has an interesting bit about his writing process in an interview (Callaloo, 23, 892-907).  He says that in his editing process he will look at a sentence without looking at the composition of the sentence.  If the sentence does not look right on the page then he will change it so it does look right.  I wonder of this is common and I suspect it is more common than many writers realize.  Note, this is not same as pacing, keeping paragraphs from being too long and too short.

Bolano, however, does not do this.  In the beginning of the book there was more dialogue that looked normal, with line breaks.  But as the book progresses there are less and less with dialogue looking more framed than acted out.  The paragraphs are also decreasing in frequency as the passages are becoming longer in composition but shorter in content and plot devlopment.  The book now seems to be a collection of anecdotes about the characters as they move towards the inevitable, which I now believe is going to be a gruesome bloodbath.  I will admit an excitement to see what he does and how he does.

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