Los Mala Lobos

17 Jan

Along with everything else that is lacking in American urban newspapers, it is no surprise that coverage of literary culture is, uh, wrong headed. For example, at a time when papers were hemorrhaging circulation most of them chose to curtail their book coverage—so that the people who were most likely to actually read the papers were given one less reason to do so. Smart, eh?

And the papers that have continued to cover books, well I leave it to others to judge their usefulness. Although I must offer the comment that my quarrel with the New York Times and the like is rarely with their review choices as much as the books that are ignored. And, of course, review editors seem to be fixated on the same 10 or 15 titles, with an occasional token offbeat selection thrown in as a gesture to originality.

In this instance, I am vexed that James Carlos Blake’s new opus, Country of the Bad Wolfes Cinco Puntos Press) has, so far, garnered no review attention. Blake who has 8 or 9 fine novels under his belt, has a sure-handed grasp of 19th western US history and culture that is every bit as engaging and authentic as say, Cormac McCarthy and Guy Vanderhaeghe and Jim Harrison. Blake is a fine story teller whose prose enlivens the history and ambience of the frontier and the separate nation that is the US Mexican border.

His new novel begins in New England in 1828 as the twin sons of Irish pirate Roger Blake Wolfe who are soon enough orphaned and separated— make their way down to Mexico (though much of it will soon be Texas) . The real action begins in 1845 through the first imperialist baby steps of the US and the modernization of Mexico under Porfirio Díaz through the 1910 Revolution. Three generations of Wolfes, two sets of identical twins ,and a skillful and astute narrative of life in Mexico make this an enthralling tale that is also respectful of Mexican history and culture.

Currently reading The Obamas by Jodi Kantor (Little Brown)

3 Responses to “Los Mala Lobos”

  1. Howard Dinin January 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    It seems to me, Robert, that market forces here, as anywhere, would prevail, as they always have. Mr. Blake’s no doubt estimable book attracted a publisher, however small and obscure… no small feat, and nevertheless an excrescence of the adamantine gates any writer—good, bad, or indifferent—must breach in order to see print in the legitimate, establishment, mainstream publishing world (call it whatever more benign euphemism you like… that’s what it’s always been and remains; small and vanity presses nothwithstanding, as they’ve always existed too, as part of the template). It’s my conjecture, though you don’t mention it, that the smaller literary publications, some of the hoary survivors of the past, and the every renewing crop of newcomers from the boundlessly energetic “new” litterateurs, seemingly led by David Eggers (who is a publishing industry unto himself apparently) can and do review this more obscure titles, I should call them less than anointed, sanctioned, and supported by the major publishers… And these publications address the attention and interest of the minority of serious readers out here, and manage to sell books, or not. As you know, unless you insist on being disingenuous, that a good review of a book in the NYT or the NYRB guarantees nothing. It’s easy, and romantic to sound Quixotic. What would be better if somehow you could play your part in galvanizing a movement that makes real the actual changes that have occurred in the industry, and spell its death knell (however distantly it tolls at present in the background; though we hear it loud and clear when a Borders goes under… and we wonder when will Barnes & Noble go?) at least in its current incarnation. Eggers, after all, game as is his effort, cannot publish everything, nor can this Cinco Puntos Press…

  2. Desi Rein June 14, 2013 at 12:26 am #

    So, our man in Boston, what do you think is the answer? I’d be very interested…

    • robertbirnbaum June 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

      My beef with (so called ) newspaper book /cultural coverage is that, while they exist, their view of literature (the furthering of which is not exactly their mission) is pathetically myopic. Which is at odds with the personal values of most of the editors whom I have met. What explains the disconnect? Who knows?

      Now that I re-read my grousing about the failure of literary gatekeepers to acknowledge James Carlos Blake (although the LA Times did earlier in his career award him something or other)I am not sure whether my complaints have any merit. After all there are remainder tables in bookstores around the country full of books by worthy but unacknowledged authors.

      By the way, in the case of Carlos-Blake his follow up to The Country of Bad Wolfes is being published by Grove Atlantic

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