Tag Archives: Katherine Powers

Here We Go Again: The First, Last Best Books? The Best List?

1 Jan
Guess what?

Guess what?

Isn’t anyone sick of the ceaseless shit-stream of lists of ‘best’, ‘hottest’, ‘coolest’ ‘781 must- projectile hurled into the ether by an ever growing horde of people with opinions, one of which is that their opinion will be valuable to the rest of the world? Really, how many of these inventories qualify as even useful.

If however you have an interest these predictable journalistic devices the literary website Large Hearted Boy offers an assiduously collected list of lists (which it has been offering annually for eight years)

And, so it was a pleasure and a relief to encounter that literary flower of Cambridge, Katherine Powers’s astute criterion —as in Favorite Books of 2015. In keeping with the spirit of Ms Power’s offering, I canvassed a number of friends and acquaintances for news of their own favorites of 2015*

George Scialabba

One of the great unheralded (except in Cambridge Massachusetts) English speaking public intellectuals.Here’s his website. And here is George’s psychiatric (diagnosis: depression) medical record as published in the Baffler. And of course you will want to read my conversation with George at this very journal.*

 

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The Demise of Virtue in a Virtual America by David Bosworth

 

David Bosworth, The Demise of Virtue in a Virtual Age

 The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford

The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

The Age of Acquiescence by Steve Fraser

The Age of Acquiescence by Steve Fraser

Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence

 Love Hotel by Jane Unrue

Love Hotel by Jane Unrue

Jane Unrue, Love Hotel

What Kind of Creatures Are We? by  Noam Chomsky

What Kind of Creatures Are We? by Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, What Kind of Creatures Are We?

*And keep an eye out for a new collection from that guy with the funny Wop name … George Scialabba, I think … called Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews, 1980-2015, coming in February from Pressed Wafer.

Howard Dinin

If Howard is not a man for all seasons, he certainly is one for many. A skilled photographer, gourmand and cook, he is also a man of many carefully chosen words. But most importantly he is a great and generous friend, advisor and IT consultant. Howard is working on a project ( that I am not at liberty  to discuss) which should I will bring to your attention in the fullness of time.Stay tuned.

I operate on the presumption, long since proven to my satisfaction, that any book worth reading, whatever the subject, is always about something greater than itself—usually falling under the rubric of either cosmology, epistemology, or ontology.

Loathe as I am to admit to reading fiction any longer, accepting the risk of appearing deliberately to be hipper than thou by doing so, the fact is, always admitted sheepishly, that I do read fiction. But I read a great deal of all else of the genera of literary forms. And by literary, I hasten to add, I don’t mean any snot-nosed distinction between what is always someone else’s notion of what is high and what is low; rather it may be what is words alone, or what is words accompanied, like a piece of chamber music, by other sensory instruments, usually sounds and images, but what you will when you come right down to it.

Here’s what amounts to a potpourri of the stack being in descending order from the current date, as it has accumulated. You may conclude that I have read at least some of each, and completed one or another, if not recently, then at least long enough ago that it was time for another intimate re-acquaintance. If the book looks worn or misshapen, it’s for a reason.

I’ve quickly snapped the covers for Brother Birnbaum as I was headed out the door, laden with luggage and food and a sack or two filled with the impedimenta of a gadgeteer/flaneur/photographe on holiday.

The physical books depicted will have to wait for my return, but not a small number are also in residence in e-form on a tablet which rarely leaves my possession.

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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

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Notes on the Death of Culture by Mario Vargas Llosa

Notes on the Death of Culture by Mario Vargas Llosa

Photography by Ian Jeffrey

Photography by Ian Jeffrey

Photography by Ian Jeffrey

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The Other Paris by Luc Sante

The Other Paris by Luc Sante

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Two Towns in Provence by MFK Fisher

Two Towns in Provence by MFK Fisher

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Portraits by John Berger

Portraits by John Berger

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The Difficulty of Being a Dog by Roger Grenier

The Difficulty of Being a Dog by Roger Grenier

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Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote

Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote

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Zone: Selected Poems by Guilluame Apollinaire

Zone: Selected Poems by Guilluame Apollinaire

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Submission by Michel Houellebecq

Submission by  Michel Houellebecq

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The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

FIN

 

Paul Buhle. 

As is frequently the case I became aware of, and filled in, a large gap in my cultural literacy, as I chanced to become aware of Paul Buhle— that happenstance stemming from noting his collaboration with Howard Zinn to create A People’s History of American Empire— a graphic recapitulation of Zinn’s magnum opus.

 A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn and Paul Buhle

A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn and Paul Buhle

From that useful discovery I found out that Buhle is a former member of the sixties era radical organization Students for a Democratic Society and a devotee of Marxist and cricket scholar, CLR James. He is the author/editor of nearly thirty books, among them: Images of American Radicalism, Marxism in the United States, Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story behind America’s Favorite Movies, The Encyclopedia of the American Left, The Immigrant Left in the United States, The New Left Revisited,Insurgent Images: The Agitprop Murals of Mike Alewitz,From the Lower Eastside to Hollywood: Jews in American Popular Culture.
Che Guevara, a Graphic Biography, Wobblies! A Graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World Jews and American Comics and Bohemians. Paul was kind enough to take the time to offer some suggestions…

Paul Buhle

Paul Buhle

Odd Angles of Literary 2015

These are some of the favorites that would otherwise hide themselves under my desk or in the attic. They deserve readers.

Crime Does Not Pay by  OR: Dark Horse Books,

Crime Does Not Pay by OR: Dark Horse Books,

Crime Does Not Pay, Volume 4. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, from 2013 first edition. 217pp, color, $49.99.

These are the pleasures of sin, straight out of the middle to later 1940s as War Comics lose their charm and crime comics, with mobsters, molls (in “headlight” tight sweaters) and assorted victims get plugged full of lead thanks to this best seller of the era. Most oddly, publisher Lev Gleason had been a near-communist supporter of the Spanish Civil War’s Abe Lincoln Battalion, publisher of a short-lived slick lefty magazine and of a more successful knockoff of Reader’s Digest. He found his faithful readers in bloodthirsty teenagers. Actually the stories are lively and the art by some of the best, including bizarre figures like Bob Wood, alcoholic and murderer, just like his characters.

La Lucha    Drawn and Written by Joe Sack,

La Lucha Drawn and Written by Joe Sack,

La Lucha: the Story of :Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico. Drawn and Written by Joe Sack, edited by Adam Shapiro, with a Preface by Lucha Castro. New York and London: Verso, 2015,96p, $16.95.

A Spanish Association for Human Rights project centering upon a true heroine in the world South of the Border, notably Chihuahua, more like the underworld where violence is a daily occurrence and violence against women. The art is soft-expressionist, suitable to murder and impunity from arrest, “disappearances” with no seeming resolution and heroic efforts at popular resistance. The happy ending promised US authorities by the Calderon government only brings more death and misery. Read, learn, wince.

Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. Edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson.

Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. Edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson.

Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. Edited by Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson. Indianapolis: Pressgang, 2016, $15?

This is one of the most unusual comics ever to find itself in my mailbox. Neufeld, an erstwhile collaborator with Harvey Pekar and acclaimed comic artist of post-flood New Orleans, joins editorial partner, novelist Sari Wilson, and many artistic-literary partners in trying to push fictional or semi-fictional prose and comic art against each other. A two-pager by Lynda Barry would, alone, make this book worth seeing. Perhaps the remainder is best seen as young people experimenting. I had difficulty following these brief and varied efforts, but appreciate the effort.##

 

Steve Fagin

Steve Fagin [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Steve Fagin

 

Frankly I believe it should be sufficient to point out that Steve and I have been friends since high school in Chicago (Mather, Class of 1964). And that once a year Steve comes up to Boston from Manhattan and we visit Fenway Park. However, I do feel compelled to note he was a Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego. His videos include The Machine That Killed Bad People, Zero Degrees Latitude, Virtual Play, Memorial Day (Observed), The Amazing Voyage of Gustave Flaubert and Raymond Roussel and TropiCola which focused on contemporary Cuba. Also, he is the subject of the book Talkin’ With Your Mouth Full: Conversations With the Videos of Steve Fagin.

Talkin' With Your Mouth Full edited by Steve Fagin

Talkin’ With Your Mouth Full edited by Steve Fagin

A Noah’s Ark of 10 2015 favs

Theater

Phoebe Fox, Russell Tovey, Mark Strong, Nicola Walker, and Michael Gould star in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove

Phoebe Fox, Russell Tovey, Mark Strong, Nicola Walker, and Michael Gould star in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove

1) View From the Bridge @ the Lyceum
Van Hove does Miller

a super saturated rendition squeezes blood from a turnip of a play and reminds one that the over wrought , well done, can turn melodrama into great tragedy

A scene from Elevator Repair Service's The Sound and The Fury

A scene from Elevator Repair Service’s The Sound and The Fury

2) The Sound and Fury @ The Public theatre
Elevator Repair Service does Faulkner

Understanding , in certain cases , can be greatly overestimated. Being lost and confused only brings into focus the desperate ,hopeless idiocy of these terminally handicapped Faulkner babbling things .

Sports

1) Anderson defeats Murray 4th round of U.S. Open @ Armstrong Stadium

There is nothing better than the 4th round of the U.S. Open with upwards of 6 matches in a single venue . The intimate Armstrong Stadium with both temperature and humidity in the 90s is ectasy(SUMMER IN THE CITY)

2) Duel in the Sun,

deGrom outpitches Greinke as the first place Mets end Greinke’s 45 + scoreless innings streak and beat the Deserter Dodgers @ CitiField

LOVE,Love, love those pitchers

Movies

Films unlikely to win audience awards@ New York Film Festival

Film festivals have been kinda ruined by the audience award. The point of a festival should not be to pander but to challenge. I hate Sundance, I hate Sundance, I hate Sundance

J’taime Cet obscur objet du désir

!) Guy Madden’s Forbidden Room

2)Apichatpong Weerasethakul ‘s Cemetery of Splendour

Opera

More and less Kentridge

1)Kentridge’s Refuse the Hour at BAM

The first 21st century opera I have liked and liked it AND HOW. If forced to choose I liked the music by Phillip Miller better than the text and ART by Kendridge , but cannot squabble with the overall effect…WOW

2)Berg’s Lulu directed by Kentridge at the Met

Well, as I suspected I thought the Berg music , described by some “clever person “as Schoenberg and Mahler played at the same time, worked less well with the visuals of Kendridge than his spectacular version of Shostokovitch’s brilliant the Nose , but that was some hard act to follow. I’m sure many would squabble with my preference for Shostokovitch over Berg , but I think few would argue that Kentridge’s schtick works better with Shostokovitch than Berg

BOOKS

  Sidewalks  by Valerie Luselli'

Sidewalks by Valerie Luselli’

1)Valerie Luselli’s Sidewalks , but not her rave reviewed The Story of My Teeth. I find Story of My Teeth derivative, but perhaps both books are and I just prefer the antecedents to her essays in Sidewalks? Put another way, Sidewalks feels like a book written by an old person, Teeth by someone very young.

The Leopard  by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

2)The Leopard: A Novel by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa
I kinda cheated on this because I put it on my list every year and by the by I defy you to tell me a better book movie combo that the di Lampedusa novel and the Visconti movie

Peter Guralnick If you ended up in this way station you would , at the least. be familiar with Guralnick’s seminal two-volume biographical essay on Elvis Presley. But me not being a Presley admirer I didn’t come to Peter’s work until his excellent exposition of Chicago musician Sam Cooke’s (“A Change is Gonna Come”)life in Dream Boogie. I reconnected with Peter in conversatio with him on his latest opus devoted to the life of rock and rill pioneer Sam Philips( Elvis Presley, Howling Wolf, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King and more. Soon to see the light of day will be that conversation…

Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway’s Boat – Paul Hendrickson
The digression (always) rules. Like Tristram Shandy and Footsteps by Richard Holmes, this is to be cherished both for its cunning narrative strategy and for the firm truths that reside at its center.

 The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
Compact, emotionally and politically expansive, and broadly, tragically humanistic in the choices and resolutions that it tentatively offers.

The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary

The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary

The Horse’s Mouth – Joyce Cary
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this, or seen the movie (written by, and starring, Alec Guinness), but I am savoring it all the more this time more for its Blakeian essence and unabashedly romantic celebration of freedom.

The Hollywood Trilogy by Don Carpenter

 

The Hollywood Trilogy by Don Carpenter
I had read a bunch of Don Carpenter novels, including The Class of ’49 and his celebrated down-and-out classic, Hard Rain Falling, but nothing prepared me for the rambunctiousness of these three novels. (Well, maybe his posthumously published Friday at Enrico’s…) I guess I should have paid more attention to his biography. I mean, he did write the script for Payday, starring the inimitable Rip Torn as Hank Williams?/Waylon Jennings? the ultimate archetype of a falling star.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
Sprightly, exploratory (better time-travel than The Man in the High Castle) but fundamentally rooted in the human equation, with deeply etched portraits that stay with you forever. Very much like her earlier Life After Life and her wonderful Jackson Brodie detective novels.

 Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn

Dogs of Winter

by Kem Nunn
Mythic – and real. Great (melo) drama, probably the pinnacle of his surf-noir novels. Just as The Power of the Dog (what’s with all these dogs?) may be Don Winslow’s cartel peak. But in each case there’s so much more.

The Neapolitan Trilogy by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Trilogy by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Trilogy – Elena Ferrante
I haven’t gotten to the fourth yet, but I can’t wait. It’s as if the Patterson, New Jersey of William Carlos Williams had been transported to Naples.

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
Another great novel from a writer who defies categorization. Every one of his books is altogether different – every one is accomplished in its own right. (But start with Beautiful Ruins if you’re looking for sheer delight.)This is a re-read. I can’t believe how much – well, delight – I missed the first time around.

 Three Junes by Julia Glass

Three Junes by Julia Glass

Three Junes – Julia Glass
This was another re-read, I think prompted by her latest, And the Dark Sacred Night, and leading me back to all of her other interconnected books, with their thoughtful (and likeable) characters and depiction of a familiar and frequently interior world that you can go back and visit again and again.

 Inherent Vice by  P.T. Anderson

Inherent Vice by P.T. Anderson

The Master by P.T. Anderson

The Master by P.T. Anderson

Inherent Vice and The Master – P.T. Anderson
Like all of his films, great, detailed, and fundamentally uncategorizable literary landscapes. There Will Be Blood? Come on.

  Carried Away by Alice Munro

Carried Away by Alice Munro

Carried Away – Alice Munro
The tops. I read it every year. Every reading yields new levels of meaning and mystery. I can think of no one who can suggest all the manifold and contradictory dimensions of a world (in a short story!) like Alice Munro.

Richard Hoffman Although I think I was a Facebook friend of Richard’s I did not meet the poet/essayist/college mentor/social activist until we sat together before, during and after attending Professor Jabari Assim’s
surreal court hearing for a preposterous traffic violation (look it up in the Boston area newspapers) in my current hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. As with Peter Guralnick, you can look forward a lengthy unexpurgated conversation between 2 alta kackers (me and Richard). Look out, World.

You fill find here a recent essay by Richard Hoffman.

http://www.assayjournal.com/confronting-our-fears–richard-hoffman.html

Dear Citizen 786534219,

I’m going to chicken out when it comes to contemporaries whom I know, and especially colleagues; if I missed somebody I’d feel bad. Between my students’ writing, the reading I do for my literature classes, the work of my colleagues I try to stay up with, contest judging, reading ARCs for possible blurbs, there’s time for only a few of the growing stack next to my chair. However, among those who made it from that stack to a more permanent berth on my shelves are the following:

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon. This hybrid of memoir and cultural commentary was recommended to me by bookseller Matt Pieknik when I read at McNally Jackson in NYC. He had read my Love & Fury and thought that Eribon and I were covering similar ground. He was right. I love the book because he isn’t afraid to throw over, revise, outgrow, his former thinking. He is a biographer of Foucault, a respected French avante-intellectual, but with the death of his father the long bungee cord of his parentage pulls him back to Reims and his working class family. He sifts through complex questions of loyalty and identity and the political consequences of the left’s near abandonment of working people. It’s just a terrific book.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour. I am acquianted with Mandanipour through PEN New England. (He’s teaching now at Tufts.) This is what it is like to live as a literary person under the boot of authoritarian censors. The thing is, this book is a hoot! It’s a novel, like Catch-22, that renders its condemnations by illuminating not merely the cruelty of such a system, but its utter absurdity, all the while keeping in view the tragic price people must pay for resisting. A brilliant, inventive, laugh your ass off and get scared at the same time book.

 The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux


The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux

The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine by Henry A. Giroux. For a deep cultural, economic, and political analysis of our current inability to act in our own best interests, Giroux has no equal. Maybe being Canadian helps him; maybe he can see the mess clearly by looking over the backyard fence. People may be familiar with him in his role as a political commentator on the web at Truthout.

The Last Interview: James Baldwin

The Last Interview: James Baldwin

The Last Interview: James Baldwin. Melville House Publishing brought together four substantial interviews with Baldwin here, including his last, with Quincy Troupe in France in 1987, the year Baldwin died. I think it is amazing how much Baldwin in conversation sounds like Baldwin in his essays: his voice is his voice. It makes me wonder how writing and speaking influence one another throughout a writer’s life. There’s clearly some kind of feedback loop. Both his talk and his essays are a perfect balance of the spontaneous and the carefully considered. His presence, his integrity, his anger, warmth, humor, and defiant wholeness knock me out. It’s something to aspire to, I can tell you that.

 Something Crosses My Mind  by Wang Xiaoni

Something Crosses My Mind by Wang Xiaoni

I read a lot of poetry, but I know a lot of poets and as I said above, I’ll not name any of my friends or colleagues. Maybe I’ll stick to work in translation. One book I’ve enjoyed immensely is called Something Crosses My Mind by the contemporary Chinese poet Wang Xiaoni, translated by Eleanor Goodman. She writes of contemporary China in a way that de-exoticizes it for a western reader, there is enough of the observational (think Frank O’Hara,) the classical, and the epigrammatic, plus something that is the poet’s own, to make this a book of poems to read slowly, each one several times, for their resonance, their beauty, and their ability to reveal themselves a bit more with each reading.
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 Sobbing Superpower by Tadeusz Rozewicz

Sobbing Superpower by Tadeusz Rozewicz

 Light Everywhere  by Cees Nooteboom

Light Everywhere by Cees Nooteboom

Each Day Catches Fire  by Bitite Vinklers.

Each Day Catches Fire by Bitite Vinklers.

I’ve also enjoyed reading the selected poems of the Polish poet Tadeusz Rozewicz, Sobbing Superpower; Light Everywhere by the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, who is known more as a novelist in the west (translated by Joanna Trzeciak), and I’ve just finished a remarkable little book of poems by the Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis, Each Day Catches Fire, translated by Bitite Vinklers. I became aware of this poet when I read on a bill with Vinklers for The Manhattan Review. He is unique in that he writes, literally, fabulous poems, but ones that always begin and end in the real world. Many of his poems are short bursts of prose, and many of them manage to talk about writing under censorship without, of course, writing about living under censorship. More than that though, they are a delight. In one poem he writes, “Along with the moths tonight, love runs into the windowpane./ (‘Turn off the light, or we’ll have no peace.’)”

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Thomas Wickersham Thomas is the event maestro at the hallowed independent bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.I came to know of him through his mother Joan who mentioned him in a conversation I had with her upon the occasion of her wonderful story collection,The News from Spain. Thomas has been astute enough to invite me to chat with David Gates and Don Winslow during their appearances at Booksmith last summer.

Below are nine of my favorite books published or reissued in 2015 and a tenth bonus pick from the past. The books are in no particular order and the list could change tomorrow.

 The Cartel by Don Winslow


The Cartel by Don Winslow

I had impossibly high hopes for this sequel to one of my all-time-favorites, The Power of the Dog. Winslow miraculously delivered. Together, these two books are a stunning documentation of the 40+ year history of the Mexican-American drug conflict. Injected with political urgency while while remaining a page-turning thriller, The Cartel is epic in scope, yet heartbreakingly intimate. This is not a crime novel- it is a tale of war.

 The Whites by Harry Brandt

The Whites by Harry Brandt

Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt)- The Whites

I draw a distinction between mysteries with a police protagonist and “cop novels.” While there is a mystery at its heart, The Whites ranks with Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys and Kent Anderson’s Night Dogs as one of the finest cop novels I’ve ever read. Its stark naturalistic world of Night Watch policing is a living breathing nightmare land. Cops guzzle energy drinks and take selfies with murder victims. Evil is not the enemy so much as the absurdity of the streets.

 GBH by Ted Lewis

GBH by Ted Lewis

Ted Lewis- GBH (Originally published in the U.K. in 1980. First U.S. printing 2015.)

I read GBH exactly one year ago, almost to the day, and it has haunted me since. It is the story of a gangster in hiding. There are no nice people in this book. There are no happy endings. And yet, there is an intoxicating quality to the alternating storylines of terror and gloom. A cold sheen of glamor clings to the pervasive danger.

 Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Leonard Gardner- Fat City (Originally published in 1970, but reissued by NYRB in 2015)

Nominated for the National Book Award against Slaughterhouse Five and Them when it was first released in 1970, Fat City was woefully out-of-print for years. Nominally a boxing novel, it’s truly a book about desperation and hope. Again and again it captures the disconcerting emotions you didn’t realize you had. The best prose I read all year

 The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America by Colin Quinn

The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America by Colin Quinn

Colin Quinn- The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America

Based on his experiences growing up in ethnically-mixed Brooklyn, Colin Quinn tells the history of New York City through personal stories rich with laughs and rife with self-effacing humiliations. The Coloring Book is a memoir of one comedian’s formation, a celebration of what makes us different, and an ode to the life and death of American cities.

download

Peter Swanson- The Kind Worth Killing

A diabolically twisted web of double crosses that echoes Strangers on a Train. Sinister, but packed with sly irony, it is the most queasily enjoyable and ingeniously plotted thriller I read all year.

 Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville- Those We Left Behind

Stuart Neville has become a master at tackling psychological trauma. As an avid reader of crime fiction I am aware of my complicity in what is essentially violence for entertainment. For me, the “cozies” (The Kitty Who Painted a Poisoned Pie at the Beach) are in worse taste than graphically realistic police procedurals. Stuart Neville is by no means preachy or dry, but he doesn’t let you forget the cost of violence on victims. Reading Neville is the last time that a book literally made me miss my train stop.

Gang of Lovers by Massimo Carlotto

Gang of Lovers by Massimo Carlotto

Massimo Carlotto- Gang of Lovers

Massimo Carlotto is my favorite writer going for straight crime fiction. His Alligator series echoes many of the tropes of modern Private Eye novels. You have the melancholy music-loving heavy-drinking detective aided by his two friends: the techie and the honorable triggerman. Yet there is still a jarring unpredictability and lack of morality to the books, no doubt greatly influenced by Carlotto’s own wrongful imprisonment for murder. The Alligator series is a fine place to start (though Gang of Lovers is a direct sequel of sorts to Bandit Love), but The Goodbye Kiss and At the End of a Dull Day are the Carlotto masterpieces.

 A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar-

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar-

Lavie Tidhar- A Man Lies Dreaming (comes out in March 2016 in the U.S. but already released in Britain)

A Man Lies Dreaming is the most audacious perversion of the private eye novel ever written. Alternate history, revenge fantasy, or sorrowful daydream; each element of this book brilliantly forms a whole as mysterious for its structure as its plot. Approach it with as little foreknowledge as possible and never forget.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper-

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper-

Bonus: Dennis Cooper- The Sluts (published in 2004, but on this list as the only book in 2015 that I read in one night)

* editor’s note—I forswore heavy-handed editing and graphic consistency, except to attempt to eliminate most ,if not all, graphic and grammatical infelicities. To paraphrase Voltaire, “Perfection is the Enemy of the Good.” And m st the time the Good is the best that I can do.

UNFORTUNATELY IGNORED or TRAGICALLY OVERLOOKED?

11 Dec

scribes-in-ancient-greece-granger

Adult onset solipsism can be distinguished from the youth version of self centeredness by the admission that,as Van Morrison croons in The Meaning of Loneliness, “it takes a lifetime just to know yourself.” Thus the one is beset with constant instances of self doubt and self interrogation. One coping mechanism or technique I have employed to gain a foothold on serenity and enlightenment is to regulate or gate-keep my intake of information, allowing my intuition to guide me. For example I am prepared to make decisions on what to investigate further past a snappy headline or synopsis. As in my immediate disinterest for going any further in the text when I encountered this fatuous mandate at Arts and Letters Daily—”Undergraduates should be kept away from theory at all costs,” says —— ———-. They should read Kael, not Derrida….” Immediately sensing its syllogistic unsoundness, I saw this bit of grandiloquence as the kind of Tourette’s outburst one might encounter at faculty meeting or party. Of course, one of the joys of engaging this form of short form journalism (web journalizing) is the opportunity to engage in such orotund pronouncements.

Some Ignored Titles (photo: Robert Birnbaum

Some Ignored Titles (photo: Robert Birnbaum

Ok, for the longest time I had an aversion to lists, viewing them as a lazy journalistic ploy to contribute to the ongoing dumbing down of everything (uh, I still think I am correct about that). On the other hand I can see some creative usefulness in lists— Umberto Eco creates some that interesting. And then there is Paul Zimmer’s poem Zimmer Imagines Heaven where in his recording of it introduces it as a “list” and encourages people to make their own lists:

I sit with Joseph Conrad in Monet’s garden,
We are listening to Yeats chant his poems,
A breeze stirs through Thomas Hardy’s moustache,
John Skelton has gone to the house for beer,
Wanda Landowska lightly fingers a clavichord,
Along the spruce tree walk Roberto Clemente and
Thurman Munson whistle a baseball back and forth.
Mozart chats with Ellington in the roses.
Monet smokes and dabs his canvas in the sun,
Brueghel and Turner set easels behind the wisteria.
the band is warming up in the Big Studio:
Bean, Brute, Bird and Serge on saxes,
Kai, Bill Harris, Lawrence Brown, trombones,
Klook plays drums, Mingus bass, Bud the piano.
Later Madam Schumann-Heink will sing Schubert,
The monks of bendictine Abbey will chant.
There will be more poems from Emily Dickinson,
James Wright, John Clare, Walt Whitman.
Shakespeare rehearses players for King Lear.
At dusk Alice Toklas brings out platters
Of Sweetbreads à la Napolitaine, Salad Livonière,
And a tureen of Gaspacho of Malaga.
After the meal Brahms passes fine cigars.
God comes then, radiant with a bottle of cognac,
She pours generously into the snifters,
I tell Her I have begun to learn what
Heaven is about. She wants to hear.
It is, I say, being thankful for eternity.
Her smile is the best part of the day.

So, here’s a list (of sorts) I created. I thought to offer reasons for my choices but I decidedto rely on your good opinion of me and your curiosity. Additionally, I asked some bookish acquaintances for their recommendations of overlooked books that come to mind( they are pretty much reprinted as I received them). Onward:

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

Dog Boy by Eve Hornung

Dog Boy by Eve Hornung

Burning Marguerite by Elizabeth Inness-Brown

 Burning Marguerite by Elizabeth Inness-Brown

Burning Marguerite by Elizabeth Inness-Brown

BULLET HEART by MICHEAL DOANE

Bullet Heart by Micheal Doane

Bullet Heart by Micheal Doane

MRS IVES’S XMAS by OSCAR HIJUELOS

Mrs Ives Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Mrs Ives Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

MORNING BY WALT WETHERALL

Morning by Walt Wetherall

Morning by Walt Wetherall

COUNTRY OF WOLFES by James Carlos BLAKE

Country of Bad Wolves by James Carlos Blake

Country of Bad Wolves by James Carlos Blake

Once Upon The River by Bonnie Campbell

Once  Upon A River by Bonnie Campbell

Once Upon A River by Bonnie Campbell

Redemption Falls by Joseph O Connor

Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor

Redemption Falls by Joseph O’Connor

The Dog of War by Don Winslow

The Power of the Dog by Don WInslow

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Darkest Jungle by Tod Balf

Darkest Jungle by Tod Balf

Darkest Jungle by Tod Balf

Valley of Bones by Micheal Gruber

Valley of Bones by Micheal  Gruber

Valley of Bones by Micheal Gruber

Elizabeth Cox</strong> novelist, Night Talk (Random House)

Hey 
 One overlooked novel I would like to add to the list is The Iguana Tree  by Michel Stone. My husband  (Mike Curtis) edited that novel and it is a good story…

The Iguana Tree  by Michel Stone

The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone

David Rieff, author, Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir (Simon & Schuster)

Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution

 Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell

Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell

Robert Stone, novelist, The Death of the Black Haired Girl(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):

     Off the top of my head, I recall only one, and I’ve forgotten the author’s name. There was a novel about a man in  Maine published some years ago, called HARBOR LIGHTS. It was reviewed in IN BRIEF in the NY Times Book Review. A short, excellent novel…

HARBOR LIGHTS  By Theodore Weesner.

HARBOR LIGHTS
By Theodore Weesner.

Katherine Powers, literary personage, author, Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life (FSG)

So, I don’t know about “tragically,” and by “overlooked” I would mean that most people haven’t heard of these–and they are all A+:
“20,000 Streets Under the Sun” – Patrick Hamilton
The Armstrong Trilogy – Roy Heath
“in Hazard” – Richard Hughes
“The Golovlyov Family” – Shchedrin

 20,000 Streets Under the Sun by Patrick Hamilton

20,000 Streets Under the Sun by Patrick Hamilton

Richard Russo,award winning novelist Elsewhere (Knopf), screenwriter (Ice Harvest)

But for my bookseller daughter Emily’s recommendation, I doubt I’d have come across A Marker to Measure Drift . You might want to check to see if it did better than I imagine, but sense is that it slipped into oblivion, and the last scene in the novel is as brutal and breathtaking as anything I’ve read in a long time.

A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik

A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik

Ron Rash , novelist, The Cove (ECCO)

With by Donald Harington –Harington is America’s Chaucer.

With by Donald Harington

With by Donald Harington

Edwidge Danticat novelist, Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf), humanitarian

I’d say many of Percival Everett‘s novels including Erasure. Everett is as a brilliant at creating narratives as he is at bending genres. He has one of the least classifiable careers, but one of the most brilliant, in American letters.Everett’s 2001 masterpiece, “Erasure”–a parody of the African-American urban novel, offers a lyrical critique of a publishing establishment which continues to pigeon hole writers, particular African-American writers. Everett is also a respected poet and painter. His previous honors include: ThemPEN Center USA Award for Fiction, The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction and the Dos Pasos Prize.

Erasure by Percival Everett

Erasure by Percival Everett

Joseph O’Connor ,overlooked Irish novelist, Where Have You Been? (Harvill Secker)

Tragically Overlooked Novels? Well, all of mine, for a start. But: do you mean Tragically Overlooked Novels from 2013 or in general? …In my view, DEATH AND NIGHTINGALES by Eugene McCabe is one of the great novels of the late 20th Century. It’s a story of thwarted love set in 1883 in rural County Fermanagh, on the border of Ulster and what is now as the Republic of Ireland. The events of a single day in the life of Elizabeth Winters provide the plot, which is so utterly gripping that you can’t stop reading. But McCabe smuggles in all sorts of darkness and depth. This is a truly brilliant book about racism, gender politics, and political rage, but the subtle (and supple) language weaves you into the story with such fierce and clever grace that you never feel you’re attending a lecture. It’s got touches of Coatzee and Faulkner but a mesmerizing smolder all its own. If you’ve ever doubted the novel’s power to express realities that politics can’t reach, you need to read this magnificent thing.

DEATH AND NIGHTINGALES by Eugene McCabe

DEATH AND NIGHTINGALES by Eugene McCabe

Stuart Dybek ,author, Northwestern University mentor,(forthcoming)Paper Lantern: Love Stories (FSG)

I don’t know how “overlooked” Peter Matthiessen’s Far Tortuga is but i saw it on no lists whatsoever when the millennium nonsense was going on & i don’t think there’s been a change since.

 Far Tortuga  by Peter Matthiessen

Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen

David Thomson, cultural encyclopedia,author
Moments That Made the Movies (Thames & Hudson)

Troubles by J.G Farrell. If you don’t think it’s overlooked then The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding.

Darin Strauss ,author,Half a Life: A Memoir (McSweeney’s), NYU mentor

i don’t know what counts as forgotten anymore. THE FIXER, by–which is tough and beautiful and unsentimental in its treatment of something awful? MOMENTO MORI, which I just read, and which taught me about the consoling half-thoughts and cruelties, the passing cruelties of stupid people. (In other words, most dumbasses will act dumb and assy and never feel bad about it—will come up with reasons, in fact, to feel good about the immoral way they act.) Or maybe THE STATEMENT by Brian Moore, which is a perfect thriller, a smart philosophical treatment of evil and racism, a fun read, and about an afternoon’s read?

 THE FIXER  by Bernard Malamud

THE FIXER by Bernard Malamud

All of the above?

BRIAN DOYLE ,novelist, Mink River (University of Oregon Press) editor of Portland magazine

Hmmm. Maybe THE HORSE’S MOUTH by Joyce Cary. Best novel I ever read, period, but not one that many people have on their shelves. Also made into a terrific movie, which is a rare case of a glorious novel being made into a glorious movie. The few others I know: LITTLE BIG MAN, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, LORD OF THE RINGS, THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, maybe THE ENGLISH PATIENT, maybe MASTER AND COMMANDER.

THE HORSE’S MOUTH by Joyce Cary

Daniel OLIVAS, novelist The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press)

The Old Man’s Love Story by Rudolfo Anaya

I interviewed him for the first print. Enjoy the list-making edition of the Los Angeles Angeles Review of Books regarding this novel. It’s quite beautiful but did not receive the kind of coverage it should have.

The Old Man's Love Story by Rudolfo Anaya

The Old Man’s Love Story by Rudolfo Anaya

Micheal ORTHOFER ,editor, eminence gris The Complete Review

Way too much gets way too overlooked, but I guess I’d suggest: “Where Tigers are at Home” by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès (which seems to have gotten almost no review- and little reader-attention). Runner-up: “Tirza” by Arnon Grunberg, which got a bit more attention but nowhere what it deserves (it’s a best-of-year-contender) — perhaps overshadowed by Herman Koch’s somewhat similar (and considerably inferior) “The Dinner”.Still: that’s just the tip of the overlooked iceberg.

 Where Tigers are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès

Where Tigers are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès

BEN FOUNTAIN, award winning author, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco)

…Several come to mind:

Little Big Man by Thomas Berger. I don’t know if it could be called tragically overlooked, given that it was made into a blockbuster movie in the late 60s, but nobody talks about it much these days. I think it’s one of the great American novels. Top ten for sure, maybe top five.

We Agreed to Meet Just Here by Scott Blackwood. A lovely, short novel that came out about 7-8 years ago. It won the AWP award, and Scott subsequently got a Whiting Award on the strength of it. It’s just about perfect. His forthcoming novel from Knopf is even better.

The Gay Place by Billy Brammer. A novel of Texas politics, published 1961 or ’62….

"We Agreed to Meet Just Here" by Scott Blackwood

“We Agreed to Meet Just Here” by Scott Blackwood

Robert Mccrum , editor, The Observer, author, Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language (WW Norton)

Hadrian the seventh by Frederick Rolfe

Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe

Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe

ALLAN Gurganus ,novella-ist, Local Souls

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page By G.B. Edwards—this is the single novel by a bureaucrat who spent his life on the Isle of Guernsey. G.B. Edwards imagined a trilogy of such works but he died in a mainland boarding house with this manuscript under his bed. The landlady got it published in 1981. The work is erotic, tumultuous and heroic as a Beethoven symphony. We get the twisted history of incestuous island families. We get the German occupation of the island during World War II. Love stories are offset by men battling the ocean and its creatures. This novel, a rare instance of Folk Art in narrative, deserves a larger readership, a secure place in our literature.

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page   By G.B. Edwards

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page By G.B. Edwards

Gary Fisketjon ,veteran editor at Knopf

Indeed, I could fill a volume in that category with many new additions every fucking year. But given that we’re in 2013, I’d say that Steve Yarbrough’s THE REALM OF LAST CHANCES has been overlooked most tragically. That’s one reason my only lingering resolution – to quit smoking – always fails to get any real traction. …

The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough

The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough

Billy Giraldi ,novelist, Busy Monsters (WW Norton) critic , essayist, long form journalist editor, Agni

Indeed. Caleb Williams by William Godwin and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Neglected masterworks of suspense both of them. Divinely written.

Caleb Williams by William Godwin

Caleb Williams by William Godwin

Hari Kunzru ,novelist, Men Without Gods (Knopf)

I’ll nominate Walter Tevis’s The Man Who Fell To Earth. Bowie fans have seen the movie, but the book is beautiful, poised. As if Richard Yates wrote SF.

The Man Who Fell To Earth  by Walter Tevis

The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis

Joseph Epstein ,short fiction writer,The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff: And Other Stories (HMH), essayist, former editor, American Scholar

1. Lampedusa’s The Leopard 2. Sandor Marai’s Embers. I’m not sure if these are tragically overlooked or merely insufficiently well known, but both are swell novels.

 Embers by Sandor Marai

Embers by Sandor Marai

Sven Birkerts, Literary Man for All Seasons, editor, Agni memoirist, writing program administrator (Bennington),

I’m Not Stiller by Max Frisch
The German Lesson by Siegfried Lenz
The Death of a Beekeeper Lars Gustafsson

I'm Not Stiller  by  Max Frisch

I’m Not Stiller by Max Frisch

Tom Piazza ,novelist, City of Refuge (Ecco) screenwriter (Treme), musical connosieur

I’d have to vote for Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann, in the H.T. Lowe-Porter translation. Mann is underread in general these days, but Buddenbrooks was a masterpiece. People tend to think it’s just a 19th-Century family saga, but it’s really a book that combines 19th-Century techniques and sonorities with startlingly modern technical strategies that get missed because they work wholly in the service of the narrative. It’s almost like a Mahler symphony — one foot in the 19th Century and one stepping off the cliff into the unspooling chaos of the 20th. Very important to get the old Lowe-Porter translation. Random House made the mistake of letting somebody “update” the translation and they ruined it, sort of the way Pevear and Volokhonsky ruin the Russians.

Among contemporary books, Lives of the Monster Dogs should have made Kirsten Bakis a big literary star.

Lives of the Monster Dogs by  Kirsten Bakis

Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

Susan Bergholz, non-pareil and sage literary agent (Eduardo Galeano et al)

Here you go; can’t do just one!LOG OF THE S.S. THE MRS. UNGUENTINE by Stanley Crawford, simply the best book about marriage ever written in the US by a living treasure POWER OF THE DOG by Thomas Savage/dead now, extraordinary workAN IMAGINARY LIFE by David Malouf–a pitch perfect novel, except for the Afterword.THE TIME OF OUR SINGING by Richard Powers, our most brilliant and amazing male novelist; makes Franzen and company sound as though they are writing soap operas. Prepare for his novel out in January, ORFEO/stunning!!!

I forgot one very impt novel: CARAMELO by Sandra Cisneros
And another one: IN THE PALM OF DARKNESS by Mayra Montero
And: AND THEIR DOGS CAME WITH THEM by Helena Maria Viramontes.
Ok–I’ll stop now!!!!!!!

LOG OF THE S.S. THE MRS. UNGUENTINE by Stanley Crawford

LOG OF THE S.S. THE MRS. UNGUENTINE by Stanley Crawford

href=”http://www.identitytheory.com/blake-bailey/”&gt;,literary biographer Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson (Knopf)

THE LOST WEEKEND, of course, and Anthony Powell’s first novel, AFTERNOON MEN<a.

THE LOST WEEKEND by Charles Jackson

Gorgeous George

7 May
For The Republic by George Scialabba

For The Republic by George
Scialabba

That the flames of ambition have turned to fading embers did not prevent me from attending what will be (ostensibly) my only book party of the year.That the fete was hosted by the inimitable Katherine Powers (whose tome Suitable Accommodations is forthcoming later this summer)was,of course, an encouraging sign. In my past, larger life I was a diligent and ubiquitous attendent of all manner of festivities: commercial, artistic , personal, cultural, callow networking and so on.Now, recognizing the low value of most of those events and having calmed down significantly, I have a preference for remaining within the confines of my somnambulistic zip code. In this instance trekking over to Cambridge for the celebration of George Scailabba’s latest and 4th opus. For the Republic: Political Essays (Pressed Wafer books) balanced out the ordeal of battling traffic as I crossed the Charles River.

The affair turned out to be attended by a lively and congenial gaggle of George’s admirers. Among the illustrious attendees were John Summers, editor of the Baffler; Susan Faludi, a Baffler contributor and well-known social critic; novelists Russ Reimer, Leslie Lawrence, Monica Hileman, and Jane Unrue; George Kovach and Cat Parnell of Consequence Magazine; Lindsay Waters of Harvard University Press; and too many other literary eminences to mention.

For a number of not very good reasons you probably have not heard of George. This is partially explained by Scott McLemee in his 2006 profile:

George Scialabba is an essayist and critic working at Harvard University who has just published a volume of selected pieces under the title Divided Mind, issued by a small press in Boston called Arrowsmith. The publisher does not have a Web site. You cannot, as yet, get Divided Mind through Amazon, though it is said to be available in a few Cambridge bookstores. This may be the future of underground publishing: Small editions, zero publicity, and you have to know the secret password to get a copy. [contact information for Pressed Wafer Press is at the bottom of this page —for anyone inclined to put a check in the mail.*)

When interviewed for his 2009 tome What Are Intellectuals Good For?(Pressed Wafer) George was asked his preference “bad writers who are politically congenial or good writers whose politics he dislikes?”

It’s a complex question,” he says, “leading in all sorts of directions. I’m going to offer a simplified and peremptory answer. Better good writers with bad politics than bad writers with good politics. The former teach us how to think (and feel and imagine); the latter merely what to think. Knowing how to think is incomparably more important. Unless most people know how to think, there can’t be genuine democracy.”

In 2012 with the publication of his (then)most recent collection of essays, The Modern Predicament(Pressed Wafer), here’s his answer to the query,” What, in brief, is the modern predicament? Which authors, and what lived experience in history, most shaped your understanding of it?”:

Modernity is the ensemble of changes – intellectual, political, economic, social, cultural, technological, aesthetic – that have altered the world drastically since roughly the 17th century, until which time the world was, in the above respects, far less different from the world of any previous epoch of recorded history than it is from the world of today. The modern predicament is the set of problems these changes have bequeathed us.

One problem is our loss of ontological, social, and psychological embeddedness. Formerly, the meaning and purposes of life were, to a far greater extent, simply given for most people by the religious, family, and societal structures in which they were born and grew up. Very few people, and even those people to a limited extent, were expected or encouraged to become individuals, free to make fundamental choices about love, religion, occupation, political allegiance, even location. Only a tiny elite could aspire to an individual identity and an individual history.

Nowadays everyone, or at least most people in the rich countries – I realize that this still leaves out most of humankind – can be an individual. But that turns out to be difficult. Over millions of years, we evolved characters and psyches that needed to be held in and held up by intense bonds, usually provided by strong families and local communities. For many reasons – economic development, geographical mobility, religious tolerance, the rise of nation-states, the emancipation of women – those bonds have weakened over the last few centuries. The resulting freedom obviously has enormous benefits for the previously unindividuated. But for many people it also has costs: isolation, loneliness, purposelessness, powerlessness, and hyperstimulation.

The modern predicament, then, is the difficulty of finding a sane, harmonious balance among all the vast and various consequences of science, technology, democracy, mass literacy, feminism, and the other forms of modern progress.

My own involvement with these questions began in college, when the devout Catholicism in which I was brought up – I was actually a member of the traditionalist religious order Opus Dei – met and was vanquished by the 18th- and 19th-century secular critique of religion. For some years after that I was not only a passionate anti-clericalist and philosophical materialist (as I still am), but also a fervent believer in progress as a fairly linear process, a smooth upward slope in which all that was necessary was to complete the long march through all the orthodoxies, religious, political, and sexual, which the Enlightenment had begun.

Then, in my thirties, I encountered the two most important (for me) critics of modernity, D.H. Lawrence and Christopher Lasch. Lawrence was a kind of Hebrew prophet, not of righteousness but of the body, and against what he perceived (at least in early-20th-century-England) as a disastrous over-valuing of the mental, the conceptual, the explicit – what used to be called, roughly from Kant to G.E. Moore, the Ideal. He was a pagan, reasserting the importance of all the wisdom that had been forgotten in the course of the (necessary) rejection of traditional religion and metaphysics. He was also the finest prose stylist I had ever encountered, so I was (and still am) blown away. His essays, collected in the two volumes of Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers are one of the great neglected resources of European culture. I try to say why in the essay “Shipwrecked” in The Modern Predicament.

Lawrence was a bit archaic and exotic; Christopher Lasch was as American as apple pie or Walt Whitman. With different materials and a completely different intellectual and verbal style from Lawrence, he made a subtly parallel argument about the forgotten wisdom of pre-modernity, in particular of the producerist, or yeoman, or civic republican tradition. I’ve written about him at length in both What Are Intellectuals Good For? and The Modern Predicament, but I’m still coming to terms with him.

Morten Høi Jensen has an accurate, succinct take on George Scialabba

… Scialabba’s eloquent prose and boundless literary-intellectual reserves shrug off these claims to redundancy. He is a natural heir to the critics whose lives, works, and careers he explicated so sympathetically in What Are Intellectuals Good For?: Dwight Macdonald, Nicola Chiaromonte, Lionel Trilling, Randolph Bourne, Irving Howe. He is a counterargument to his own claims about generalists. Reading George Scialabba emphasizes the need for more George Scialabbas.

For the Republic is divided into 4 sections: Theories, Thinkers, Plutocratic Vistas and Rant which include ruminations on a wide array of sages and savants—IF STone, Gore Vidal.the Christophers(Lasch and Hitchens),Tony Judt, Thomas Friedman, Edmund Wilson, George Orwell,Victor Serge and Ed Hirsch.In his Introduction to For the Republic Rutgers History mentor Jackson Lears concludes:

But if the forces of inevitability triumph (as their prophets claim they inevitably will), it will not be George Scialabba’s fault. Through the dark decades of Reaganism and neoliberalism, he helped us sort through the portentous trivia and see (against all odds) what really matters…One is reminded of William James, who (according to John Jay Chapman)always seemed as if “he stepped out this sadness in order to meet you.” Sometimes even everyday acts require a quiet heroism. We can only be grateful that Scialabba, like James, has continued to summon it.

George Scialabba (photo: Robert Birnbaum

George Scialabba (photo: Robert Birnbaum

*McClemee writes “the publisher seems to be avoiding crass commercialism (not to mention convenience to the reader) by keeping Divided Mind out of the usual online bookselling venues. You can order it from the address below for $13, however. That price includes shipping and handling:Arrowsmith, 11 Chestnut Street, Medford, MA 02155”
And For the Republic can be gotten at Harvard Bookstore or from Pressed Wafer, 375 Parkside Ave, Brooklyn NY 11226. Or from Amazon.

Currently reading Snapper by Brian Kimberling (Pantheon)

The Wizard of Williamstown

16 Jun

Having recently championed a relative new comer to the literary sandbox—an advocacy which was validated by no less personages than Katherine Powers and Ron Charles, I am inclined to put my tenuous reputation on the line with, as the hipsters say, a “shout-out” for the Sage of Williamstown, Williams mentor Jim Shepard upon the publication of his latest short fiction collection you think that’s bad. Shepard, author of nine books of fiction (short and long) is cursed with that
the career stifling rubric ” a writer’s writer” thus you need not puzzle out his relative obscurity and this unforgivable lapse
in your literary savvy. .

His newest cornucopia of eleven short fictions perambulates from the obscure stage of a so called black world operative,to a confrere of Joan of Arc who is aroused by slaughtering children; to the inventor of Godzilla films; to a GI involved in the WWII invasion of New Guinea; to a group of Polish mountain climbers specializing in winter mountaineering.

My favorite (a term I use loosely)is “The Netherlands Lives with Water” set in not-to-far-in future Rotterdamn. Its a nifty blend of scientific speculation about impending planetary doom and love story:

We’re raised with the double message that we have to address our worst fears but that nonetheless they’ll also somehow domesticate themselves. Fifteen years ago Rotterdam Climate Proof revived “The Netherlands lives with water” as a slogan, the accompanying poster featuring a two panel cartoon in which towering wave in the first panel is breaking before its crest over a terrified little boy, and in the second it separates into immense foamy fingers she can relievedly shake its hand.

Shepard also guest edited the Fall 2010 edition of Ploughshares