The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books






July & August 2009

Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!


Apr.-June 09

Jan.-Mar. 09

Dec. 08

Feb.-Nov. 08

january 08

autumn 07

september 07

24 August 09

Geography, Paradox, and a Few Friends

— Road Atlas of Great Britain. 3 Miles to 1 Inch  (W. & A. K. Johnston, ca. 1955). I turned to this to get a sense of the geography of the Isle of Axholme (175Bc), in Mark Valentine’s “ The Axholme Toll ”. Do not, however, mistake the geography for the story ; nor the map for the territory. “ But I think I would believe more in the truth of a place that does not  claim them. ” A layered, complex tale, another gem in a fine book (see The Nightfarers , below).
— Ernestine Schlant. Hermann Broch . (Twayne Publishers, [1978]). Twayne’s World Authors Series 485. “ Strictly speaking, the very existence of the novel [ Der Tod des Vergil ] is a paradox. It is written by an author who had abjured literature and chosen the vita activa even while he created one of the most inaccessible novels our century has to offer, second perhaps only to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake . The questions raised in the novel as to the ethically right way of life are only outside the novel . . . ”

I have added a short list of some favorite books to the FAQ page : books that are part of the “ permanent collection ” of the Endless Bookshelf and always close to hand. This is not an exclusive list ; some of these have already been noted, and essays about others (even closer to heart though sometimes unmentioned) will be posted in coming weeks. Three such books are :

— Traditional Japanese Poetry. An Anthology . Translated, with an introduction by Steven D. Carter (Stanford University Press, 1991). I received an advance copy of this and have been reading in it at intervals ever since. Some poems are rediscovered by chance, others are marked, such as these :

Dogen Kigen (1200-1253)
577. “ Worship Service ”

In a snowfall
   that obscures the winter grasses,
a white heron —
using his own form
   to hide himself away.

Also :
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
838. WINTER On a cold night [Between 1680 and 1688]

My water jar cracks —
broken by ice in the night
   as I lie awake.

And one of the reasons this book remains within close reach :
Minamoto no Sanetomo (1192-1219)
521. BUDDHISM. A poem on “ On the Middle Way of the greater Vehicle ”

Our life in this world
   is like the image one sees
      inside a mirror  —
something that’s not really there,
but then not really not there.

— Eric Sackheim. . . . the silent Zero, in search of Sound . . . . An anthology of Chinese poems from the beginning through the sixth century . Translated by Eric Sackheim, with calligraphy by Ch’en Yung-sen. (Mushinsha Limited / Grossman Publishers, [1968]). A beautiful and wild book, theory of translation in action, with all sorts of interesting allusions and citations in western literature as well as Chinese and Japanese. Images and juxtapositions of words. A signed copy, gift of the author’s widow, whom I met some years ago.

— Das Oxforder Buch Deutscher Dichtung vom 12 ten bis zum 20 sten Jahrhundert herausgegeben von H. G. Fiedler . . . Mit einem Geleitworte von Gerhart Hauptmann (Oxford, 1911). A comparatively recent arrival : my grandmother’s copy, with her note, Christmas 1913. I read Goethe’s “ Wandrers Nachtlied ” (Über allen Gipfeln . . . ) at my father’s memorial last year, as a gesture to the German-speaking origins of the family (I am the only one of my generation to speak German), and then three weeks later found it among the poems transcribed by my grandmother in her commonplace book. Other pleasures to be found include Goethe’s “ Erlkönig ” (Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind . . . ) and “ Der Zauberlehrling ” (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), Schiller, Heine, and many poems now mostly forgotten in these parts.

— — — —

La république des livres

Pascal Assouline’s column on books & literature from Le Monde  << >> is always worth a look :

la Bibliothèque Nationale de France va confier la numérisation de son fonds à Google. “ Une partie seulement de son fonds ” dit-on encore ce qui est, là encore, un euphémisme. Il aura donc fallu quatre ans pour que la Bnf passe de la résistance à la collaboration.

And in a discussion of how words such as “ journalism ”, “ news ”, and “ media ” are behind the times, no longer employed in the twenty-first century, after noting how curious that a German-language news magazine, Der Spiegel , should publish an interview in English, and only online, he continues : 

Détail croustillant : sur le site, l’article est classé à la rubrique “ Zeitgeist ”. Un mot qui n’est pas près de se démoder.

There is an excellent reflection upon Louis Sébastian Mercier, proto-science-fiction writer and chief neologist, in the entry of 28 July 09. (I generally skip the comments, which seem to degenerate rapidly.) Assouline is wide-ranging and witty and interesting as critic, resembling in this Michael Dirda, sometime book columnist of the Washington Post Book World  and author of Readings. Essays and Literary Entertainments  (Indiana University Press, 2000) and Classics for Pleasure  (Harcourt, 2007).

— — — —

20 August 09

Thinking about AB Bookman’s Weekly

Last week I sorted, packed, lifted, and shipped the editor’s bound file copies of AB Bookman’s Weekly  to a distinguished American library, where someone else will someday, I hope, write the comprehensive study of the rich cultural, social, and economic history of the book that this periodical contains. Founded by Sol Malkin [SMM] in 1948, the Antiquarian Bookman  had its origins in the section of Publishers Weekly devoted to the out of print book trade. For the next half-century, the AB was a weekly part of the book world. Malkin turned it over to Jacob L. Chernofsky [JLC] in the early 1970s. Your correspondent [HWW] worked there as staff writer and later managing editor from 1996 until late in 1999, just before the magazine ceased publishing.
Looking into the huge, thick 1972 volume, the final issue for 25 December included memoirs of I.R. “ Ike ” Brussel, L.O.T.G.S. (Last of the Great Scouts), book scout and bibliographer, by his friend William White, Malkin, and John Carter. The Americana specialists Edw. Eberstadt announced the firm’s departure from New York City for a suburban New Jersey office (Johnny Jenkins bought their stock in 1975); hard to tell whether the trend for booksellers to leave city centers was well established or only just starting then (it is now almost complete). Scanning the major advertisers, I noted only two familiar names among the specialist dealers (Patterson Smith and Charles B. Wood III), and began thinking about how the book world has changed over the decades since then.
Just as now, it was a time when booksellers with customers sought books, and booksellers with books sought customers. Information was a scarce and imperfectly distributed commodity — but the nature of the scarcity and how the information was conveyed differs quantitatively and qualitatively from the way it occurs now, in the twenty-first century : those who had customers and needed books published long and very specific lists of wants or issued broad guidelines for subjects of interest, and those who had books quoted single books or long lists. Each week saw a successive wave of new information, with a few short articles and capsule reviews (a sentence or two) and columns about the book trade. A common language existed for description of condition. Centralization is a key concept to understanding this time : centralized sources of information dispersed through the medium of print, a flow of books to institutions building collections of original editions and the endless series of reprints, cities as points of concentration. Books seemed to be locally scarce, fuelling a steady demand.
All this changed in the late 1990s — when the twenty-first century began for the antiquarian book world : various kinds of information began to migrate to the internet, and an entirely different picture of scarcity and demand evolved. Certain books for which there had been a steady demand now proved to be available in vast quantities, while other books thought to be scarce turned invisible (and in fact supremely rare).
The weekly forum once read by everyone  — whether they hated it or loved it or were simply indifferent — became irrelevant in the space of a few years. Not without loss, for no single publication (online or print) has ever really filled the place of the AB . “ Things fall apart ; the centre cannot hold ”. And the making and finding and selling of books continues.

— — — —

Thing, Event, Word

In the mystery form, as in poetry, the reader is alert to the significance of thing, event, word : that by reading, a pattern may be discerned and meaning attained.1 Even while being entertained one’s ear may be stimulated and the palate amused by the writer’s careful attention to language.2 I am willing to follow some writers anywhere they go in prose, if I sense there is a precision of language and an awareness of how words play on the page. Then there are other writers to whom the only response is the scalpel of critical thinking : to read them with the ferocity of Joanna Russ3 and to see that imprecision in the narrative voice defines a pathology. For a writer of a detective story to have a character unable to choose between light and dark brown sugar in a supermarket can only be interpreted as a portrait of consumption induced paralysis — or else the writer is simply wasting the reader’s time.4

1. The Endless Bookshelf aspires to the state of collective enterprise but until that happens it remains largely the work of your correspondent [HWW] and the many authors whose books dance across its screens ; the whims and interests of your correspondent will dictate contents — this is why, from time to time, I attempt to define said whim and fancies, and even to identify the assumptions whence they derive.
2. “ The Peninsula ” is a exemplary story by Avram Davidson — not a major work but made interesting by what George Scithers called “ his always perceptive ear for regional dialects ” (The Other Nineteenth Century . Tor, [2001], pp. 231-242). There are countless other examples : Cross by Ken Bruen, noted below, captures the play of English as spoken by the Irish and gives a spare picture of Galway (and sparked these reflections).
3. An end to what Russ calls “ evasion of the hard questions ” (Joanna Russ, To Write Like a Woman . Indiana Univ. Pr., [1995], p. 159). And from “SF and Technology as Mystification”, elsewhere in the same volume : “ Eat a little economics. Eat a little political analysis. You’ll think better” (p. 39).
4. “ And Angelica’s list said brown sugar, but even that came in two choices. Should she buy the dark or the light ? ” (Lorna Barrett, Bookmarked for Death , Berkley Prime Crime, [2009], p. 43). A memory from the days of the hardball workshop round table at Columbia, what someone (Stephen Dubner ?) called the “ Get Real ” point, the sentence at which a critical reader pauses to query the writer’s grasp of technique or effect or even the writer’s basic awareness and control of words.

— — — —

Recent Reading & New Arrivals ; Also : Just a Glance, or, Pulled out of a Box

— [Timothy D’Arch Smith, with clerical assistance from Ed Maggs] Baron Corvo from the Collection of Donald Weeks  (Maggs Bros. Ltd, 2009). Edition of 126 copies, in paper wrappers, in 7 point sans serif type. The introduction is a fine piece of D’Arch Smithery, and there is much curious and interesting here, including a photograph of Baron Corvo’s revolver *. The collection is now at the Brotherton Library, Leeds University. Your correspondent enjoyed The Quest for Corvo  by A.J.A. Symons but is otherwise immune to the Corvo bacillus.
— Kelly Link. Pretty Monsters . Stories (Random House, 2008).
— Peter Straub, editor. American Fantastic Tales. Terror and the Uncanny. From Poe to the Pulps  [and] From the 1940s to Now . (Library of America, forthcoming October 2009). Proof copies, 1450 pages of stories, to be read closely and reflected upon for a review.
Fairground Fiction. Detective Stories of the World’s Columbian Exposition . Reprints of Against Odds. A Detective Story  by Lawrence L Lynch (E. Murdoch van Deventer), 1894, and Chicago Charlie, the Columbian Detective  by Lieut A.K. Sims (J.H. Whitson), 1893. Edited by Donald K. Hartman. Foreword by Carl S. Smith.
— Ken Bruen. The Hackman Blues . (Do Not Press, 1997).
— Ken Bruen. Cross . (2007; St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2008).
— Lorna Barrett. Bookmarked for Death . (Berkley Prime Crime, [2009]).
— Robert Sattelmeyer. Thoreau’s Reading. A Study in Intellectual History with Bibliographical Catalogue  (Princeton Univ. Pr., [1988]). What a fascinating book, pulled out of a box of Books to Be Read : “ Decayed literature makes the richest of all soils ” (from Thoreau’s Journal , 1852). Darwin, Whitman’s 1856 Leaves of Grass , De Quincey, Bartram, the sources for Walden  and “ Resistance to Civil Government ”. More to come on this book and what channels it opens.

— — — —

Literary artefacts ; or : Musty Old Wool & Cold Steel

A lock of Byron’s hair

D. G. Rossetti’s black Inverness cape1

Baron Corvo’s revolver

Hemingway’s suitcase

Will James’ riding coat (collection of Don Frazier)

les pantoufles de  Somerset Maugham2

Raymond Chandler’s trenchcoat3

William Gibson’s typewriter4

Isaac Asimov’s computer5

1. Worn by the young Ford Madox Hueffer while skulking about London : “ he later took to wearing D. G. Rossetti’s black Inverness cape and Madox Brown’s fifteen-year-old blue linen shirt and red satin tie ” (Alan Judd, Ford Madox Ford . Collins, 1990, p. 28)
2. Seen by a colleague appraising the collection of bibliographer and poet J.D. McClatchy.
3. Frank MacShane related to me that his publisher Jamie Hamilton arrived in Kathmandu and knocked at his door, wearing Raymond Chandler’s trenchcoat, to persuade him to write the Chandler biography.
4. Hermes 2000 portable (on which Gibson wrote Neuromancer  and the early stories of cyberspace).
5. Seen in the window of the Science Fiction Bookshop in the west Village in the early 1990s.

— — — —

‘ to expand their minds ’

London publisher John Calder reflecting on more than 50 years as a publisher (courtesy of Momus ) :

“ Publishing is about more than getting a return on an investment or being fashionable," he told Textualities . “ Publishers have a chance to contribute to making a better world. I recently published Jeff Nuttall’s Art and the Degradation of Awareness , in which [Nuttall] says ‘ Art gives out of courage; fashion takes out of fear. ’  Most of the ‘ art ’ we hear about today is fashion driven by commerce. Money is just a means of exchange, a means of keeping a roof over your head and all that, but to pursue wealth for its own sake is decadent. I agree with Samuel Beckett that one has to teach oneself not to want things. One wants many things for no better reason than that advertisers train us to want them  . . . The point of everything I do remains the same : to make ideas available to people, to expand their minds. ”

— — — —

12-13 August 09

The Nightfarers

— Mark Valentine. The Nightfarers  (Bucharest : Ex Occidente Press, MMIX). Frontispiece by John Coulthart. 191 pp. Green cloth, upper board titled in gilt, dust jacket with vignette, “ The Dawning of the Rakes ” by Mathieu Caragiale. Limited to 350 copies.
ISBN : 978-973-7764-22-5 (Note the URL with three “ c ”s.)
NOTE December 09 : URL is now with two “ c ”s :

A beautifully produced collection of short fantastic fiction, with an antiquarian and bookish flavor, to be read very attentively. Mark Valentine, whose writings I have seen in the publications of the Arthur Machen Society, proves to be a deft composer. Some of the tales are hommages  to Shiel and Hodgson ; the decadents and the late Victorian and Edwardian ghost story writers. Valentine’s concerns are books and postage stamps and old vellum charters — and the people obsessed with such artefacts — and what befalls the traveller after dark. The best stories, such as “ White Pages ” and “ The Dawn at Tzern ” and “ Undergrowth ” and “ The White Sea Company ” create original magic on the page. Lots happens in these pages, but rather than seeking outward dramatic effect, the transformations are inward, in the characters and in the reader. “ The Dawn at Tzern ” evokes the lost world of the old Balkan principalities better than anything I have read since The Adventures of Dr. Eszterhazy  by Avram Davidson (and this story has quite an eventful conclusion). “ Undergrowth ” is a superb, carefully controlled tale, a genuine addition to the dangerous book canon. I have not finished the collection and will likely have more to observe. [HWW]

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The List as Critical Model

The list is a resilient critical structure that offers, simply by association, interesting and demanding juxtapositions. Two recent examples from E-Verse Radio show the possibilities. I had never  considered the last item on the second list in the context of Utopia or Dystopia : its pre-eminence in the form admits no question. Thank you, Bethany.

Bethany Brings Us Top Five All-Female Utopias/Dystopias

5. The Female Man by Joanna Russ (1975).
4. Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (1992).
3. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Pia Guerra and José Marzá, Jr. (2003-2008).
2. The Book of the City of Ladies : written in 1405 by Christiane de Pisan.
1. “ Houston, Houston Do You Read ? ” (1977), short story by James Tiptree, Jr. (i.e. Alice Sheldon).

Ernie (a male of the species) suggests two alternates :
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915).
The Wall by Marlen Haushofer (1962).

Top Five All-Male Utopias/Dystopias

5. World Without Women by Day Keene and Leonard Pruyn (1965).
4. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper (1988).
3. Mars Needs Women (1968), film.
2. Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold (1986).
1. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. A Triumph by T.E. Lawrence (1926).

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9-10 August 09

A Future of the Book ; or, Several Futures of the Book

Eric Baker at Design Observer

“ Eventually I began looking closer, or should I say broader at ‘ things ’. Things lost on the fringes . . . ordinary, odd, beautiful things. Esoteric images, old diagrams, typography, cartography — visions of a once promising but now extinct future. ”
That is a pretty dire view, which is disputed root and branch, tree and leaf, by your correspondent ; the selection of pictures of book objects, including the following, is wonderful :

Courtesy of Bruce Sterling, who remarked “ Books aren’t what they used to be. ”

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Hiding in Plain Sight

While tending to communications today, your correspondent noted that due to emphasis on sampling current and recent books a number of permanent favorites of the Endless Bookshelf — core books that sit on real bookshelves in the yellow house — have not yet been mentioned. It would be impossible or even laughable to name a solitary favorite book, but some of these books do not even figure on the earliest list of favorites of the Endless Bookshelf. These omissions will be remedied in future posts.

— — — —

Current reading
— Farah Mendlesohn, editor. On Joanna Russ  (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). I have read only Mendlesohn’s introduction and Graham Sleight’s essay on the short fiction. I look forward to reading Edward James’ look at Russ as reviewer of science fiction, and to widening my knowledge of Russ. Last year I reviewed her collected critical writings for NYRSF, The Country You’ve Never Seen  (Liverpool University Press, 2007), curiously omitted from the bibliography of the present volume).
Sleight’s essay has a compelling penultimate sentence, comparing her work to Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree, Jr., and Gene Wolfe : “ But Russ exceeds those, even Tiptree, in the fierceness with which she addresses her material, the sense that she exhausts the material at the same time as the story. ” And for contemporary readers (and writers and reviewers), Sleight’s final sentence is, like the work of Joanna Russ, more demanding still : “ The challenge for readers now — when some feminist arguments have been, if not won, then at least normalised into Western culture — is to see that her fierceness is necessary : that these battles have not been won and that, as always with letters, the onus is on the reader : what do you do now ? ”

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John Crowley’s Summer Reading List

August 8th, 2009

06:28 pm
Books I have read, re-read, am reading, and will read in the course of a fiction-crammed summer. It will be obvious that I am writing about Nicholson Baker, and about ghosts in fiction.

A Box of Matches , Nicholson Baker
U and I , Nicholson Baker
The Everlasting Story of Nory , Nicholson Baker
The Anthologist , Nicholson Baker

(Also re-looked-at The Mezzanine , Vox , and Room Temperature .)

The Love We Share Without Knowing , Christopher Barzak
Beyond Black , Hilary Mantel
Alive in Necropolis , Doug Dorst
Asleep , Banana Yoshimoto
Stories by Haruki Murakami
Midnight Picnic , Nick Antosca
In Persuasion Nation , George Saunders, and other stories
Intro and selections from The Norton Book of Ghost Stories , ed. Brad Leithauser
Little Stranger , Sarah Waters
Magic for Beginners , Stranger Things Happen , Kelly Link

Waiting for the Straub-edited anthology [American Fantastic Tales] mentioned [earlier].

This is more fiction than I have ingested in any summer since . . . I don't know when, sometime in the late sixties or early seventies probably, consuming John Barth and Thomas Pynchon and the Ballantine fantasy novels and Ada and and  . . .

— — — —

Rudy Rucker’s Summer Reading

J.G Ballard, Miracles of Life
SF as a lens to understand the present, “ looking for the pathology that underlay the consumer society, the TV landscape and the nuclear arms race. ”

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
“ As another way of reawakening myself as a writer, I’ve been reading Pynchon’s old novel, The Crying of Lot 49 , and  as so often with Pynchon  it feels as if the Muse is talking to me through his work. ”

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6-7 August 09

“ the last book I will ever publish ” :
Epitaph for a Small Press with Style

Dennis McMillan sent me a long letter, written in the first few pages of a copy of The Scarecrow, that marks the end of an era. Beginning with some of his Fredric Brown in the Pulps paperbacks, I bought the books of Dennis Mcmillan, Publisher when I could find them or afford them. In 1997, after I wrote an essay on R. H. van Gulik, I came across the writings of Janwillem van de Wetering — Dennis published his biography of van Gulik, now a scarce book, as well as Mangrove Mama , a collection of Janwillem’s stories — and met the flamboyantly dressed publisher at the 1998 Bouchercon in Philadelphia where Janwillem was guest of honor. We would exchange the occasional letters, and I continued buying his books, to read, and sometimes to give to friends. The list of authors he published includes Michael Connelly, Jon A. Jackson, George Pelecanos, Scott Phillips, Kent Harrington, Jim Nisbet, and others. The world of micropublishing is diminished by the end of DMP. But what a stylish run of books he produced !

For Henry —
friend & compadre of Janwillem & mah humble self ; a copy of the last book I will ever publish, for many reasons [. . .] So I will now face the Void alone, not championing any others’ works or ideas, playing flamenco guitar for my only defence against the coming night. But I’ll have more fun doing it that way than I ever did trying (& failing) to promote art that wasn’t my own. So I depart book publishing feeling that I’ve probably left some  of “ my ” writers in the lurch, but I’ll be facing, myself, what they’ve  always had to face, when they  stared at that blank page that awaited them every time they went to create.
To quote our late friend  — “ It should be ‘ interesting ’ — ”

Dennis McMillan
(guitarrista flamenca)

With two footnotes in Dennis’ hand, the first on the dedication page beneath the printed dedication To James Crumley for The Last Good Kiss :

“ I came into this world kicking and screaming & I’m going to leave it the same way.”
James Crumley, “The Crum-devil” Sept 11, 2008.
Oct. 12, 1939 — Sept. 17, 2008
Three Rivers Texas — Missoula, Montana
R.I.P., Brother

And the second on the fly-title:

“ Life is a thin surface tension of civility floating on a bottomless sea of rage. ”
— Russell Michaelsen, Tucson, winter 2008-9

Thank you Dennis, and Success ! to you in your new activities.

— — — —

New York Public Library Blog

Frequently updated with contributions from different branches on a variety of subjects, ranging from feminism in America to the William Burroughs archive in the Berg Collection ; from capsule reviews of recent young adult novels to reflections on It Can’t Happen Here  by Sinclair Lewis or the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen ; with many images and maps from the collections :

William S. Burroughs Digital ID: 116489. New York Public Library
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Ickenham, the trickster Earl

— P.G. Wodehouse. Uncle Fred in Springtime  (1939 ; Penguin pbk, 1961). I am re-reading this for the first time in decades, in large part because I was startled and intrigued by an acute observation made by Tom La Farge in Administrative Assemblages (briefly noted upon its publication on 1 June) concerning a remark by “ P.G. Wodehouse’s great trickster earl ‘ Uncle Fred’ ” : “ I am not very well up in the Peerage. I seldom read it except to get a laugh out of the names. ”

Wodehouse employs the words “ confidence trickster ” two pages further into the same chapter, but La Farge’s comment suggests a broader significance to Lord Ickenham, for Uncle Fred in Springtime  is Coyote the trickster meets The Importance of Being Earnest , a primordial energy of gleeful disorder striding into the drawing room/country house farce. There is a dizzying choreography at work here. In the same way that Raymond Chandler would have a man with a gun enter the room to stir the plot, again and again Wodehouse knows to send in the one person who will complicate matters still further and tangle the standard conventions of London society, loony aristocrats, and star-crossed lovers. The snappy dialogue is allusive and Wodehouse plays English literary snippets against clichés with skill and range. The merriment and chaos of Uncle Fred can only be tamed by a power equally elemental : the wife (the goddess revered and feared though never seen in person in this novel).

— — — —

— Arthur Lyons. Castles Burning  (Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1979).
      —— Hard Trade  (Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1981)
      —— Other People’s Money  (Mysterious Press, 1989).
      —— False Pretenses  (Mysterious Press, 1994).
I had read a few early novels by Lyons when they appeared in paperback, including Castles Burning , which is a spare and well written book. Hard Trade is cynical in the extreme about city politics, real estate development, and connections. False Pretenses has moments of criminal police depravity but lacks the really black humor that sparkles in the the Miami novels of Charles Willeford. Reading Other People’s Money , I recognized a plot device borrowed straight from August Derleth, “ The Adventure of the Golden Bracelet ” (The Solar Pons Omnibus. Volume Two , p. 1274)  : an exotic woman met on a train, a golden armlet, and a mysterious Turkish treasure that ensnares an ambitious archaeologist (who is permitted only to sketch the artefacts). Lyons takes this idea much further than Derleth, and the novel exposes the rapacity of collectors and the manipulative politics of museum boards, and layers betrayal upon betrayal.

— — — —

The Anonymous Other described the Lyons private detective novels as the guy equivalent of chick lit (certainly False Pretenses  has an element of that, but my knowledge of the chick lit genre is limited — to be remedied).

A couple of sentences have been added to the review of The Manual of Detection , quoting passages from the poker game chapter. The marginal gloss about the tulip tree (from Walt Whitman) was first intended back when the tree “ near by ” was in bloom, only now cited. Several updates this day, now concluded to the sound of crickets in the dusk.

— — — —

4 August 09

Only Connect

Life Inc. by Douglas Rushkoff

— Douglas Rushkoff. Life Inc. How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back   (Random House, 2009). Empowering historical, ethical, and social consideration of the fundamental nature of the global economy and the implications for human life of the ascendancy of the corporate model. Rushkoff describes how utterly the centralized monetary policies of governments and the extractive nature of corporate entities have combined depersonalize human interaction. The key is the disconnect :

“ The higher the capitalist was on the economic ladder, the broader and more varied were his investments and enterprises — and the more disconnected he was from his business’s skills and the people performing them. ”

And :

“ Only a world steeped in this false notion of a wholly sovereign individual could have could have generated the bourgeois merchant class of self-made men threatening the static power o the aristocracy. [. . .] The more disconnected people became from one another, the more easily they could be manipulated. ”

The distinction between creating value (i.e., real work within a community) and extracting value (removed for shareholders at a distance) is useful and demonstrates the tensions between the yin of Disperse and the yang of Control*. What impressed me about Life Inc.  was the way Rushkoff kept probing at some pretty basic assumptions of modern life and pointed to inherent contradictions and impossibilities of the corporate mode. His timeline of public relations and social manipulation makes concrete and factual what Wm. Burroughs had already codified : “ Trak Trak Trak. ”
Rushkoff’s analysis is compelling and his concluding chapter is a succinct reminder to connect at the real, human level. The internet — instead of fostering alienation and distance — can become a tool for positive change : “ Complementary currencies make it easier to record and administer value exchange in an increasingly decentralized marketplace.” Rushkoff acknowledges that corporations will not disappear : his call for local action from the bottom up, including the use of alternative currencies, is a reasoned challenge to reclaim arenas of life lost to definitions in monetary and quantitative terms.

Read this book.

[Candid disclosure: once upon a time, your correspondent knew Doug Rushkoff in the course of a successful experiment in reviving a failing social enterprise. Your correspondent was the leader of a peaceful “anarchist” kitchen workers’ collective and learned about vegetarian food. For another perspective on those foolish days, see the recent Lost in the Meritocracy  by W. Kirn.]

* My terms, not Rushkoff’s


— — — —

— Jedediah Berry. The Manual of Detection (Penguin, 2009). A splendid novel of an unwilling detective in an idealized, rainy City in an earlier time (typewriters and phonograph records and dumb waiters), where the struggle is between the Agency and the Carnival — what a dichotomy ! — and a voice singing cryptic, catchy lyrics loops through the consciousness of the reader. The naming of the Carnival’s owner is suggestive and deliberate ; the utterances credited to him are potent :

“ Everything I tell you is true, ” he said, “ and everything you see is as real as you are. ”

“ I tell you the unknown will always be boundless. ”

Words are used playfully but always to a point. “ I had developed memory exercises to retain all the information entrusted to me. Imaginary palaces, archives of the mind. They were structural ; I could feel their weight in my head. The supports had been bending and groaning for a long time. I had only to loosen a brick or two, and let the rest collapse. ” Or : “ Had his mind already turned to dust ?” There is a memorable poker game in chapter six : “ ‘ We play for questions. ’ [. . .] ‘ Ante is one interrogative. ’ ” The stakes are queries, inquiries, perscrutations, catechisms, and interrogations. “ He traded in all his chips, which was enough, Zlatari told him, for the most severe sort of question the game allowed. The inquisition would be answered by everyone at the table. [. . .] ‘ The price of some questions is the answer, Detective. ’ ” And the collision of the literal and the metaphorical in the person of the Overseer is both surprising and inevitable.

The Manual of Detection displays its charms with a dreamy precision that seems to merit a Latinate name as evocative as Crowley’s infundibular geography in the final edition of Architecture of Country Houses . The Manual of Detection is at once a perfect, complex piece of origami that folds upon itself to be a completely different yet not unrelated form, or a painting of crows in the noon sky that is white doves on a moonlit night : it is a fun, flexible dance of a book.

And your correspondent signs off for now, late on a summer night.

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29 July 09

Hope Mirrlees on the Web. Her work, life, and historical context
Information central, a stylish new website with real content :
(Note the fly on the apple in the still life by Clara Peeters.)


Paris. A Poem. Hope Mirrlees. Hogarth Press, 1920
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28 July 09

Grammar of Human Life

— John Clute and Jason Van Hollander. Fustian . Special Edition. Merion Station, Pennsylvania : Magic Pen Studio, [2006?]. Illustrated. 18, [2] pp. Pictorial self wrappers, front cover image a modified version of the portrait of Clute by JVH published at the entry for FUSTIAN in The Darkening Garden  (2006). Edition of eighteen copies. An unnumbered copy, out of series [ “ one of the three unnumbered file copies ” (JVH)]. Separate publication of an interview first published in the New York Review of Science Fiction .

A brief and illuminating interview that just landed in the mailbox of the Endless Bookshelf, courtesy of the artist. I cite two exchanges, noting especially the final sentence.

JVH : What do you most admire about the stories you admire ?

JC : That they do not kiss and tell. That they are not, in other words, coated in the rhetorics of self-importance and significance [.  .  .] that utterly fail to disguise the dis-ease of their authors : not waving, but drowning. That stories one most admires are bombs within the mind. That when you learn them you learn a little more grammar of human life as we live it now. That they give you recognitions of now.

JVH : Are there any great or famous stories or books that you are not satisfied with ?

JC : I think the ending of Madame Bovary sucks. I hate stories that punish their protagonists for living better than anyone else in the book.

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— Michael Connelly. The Scarecrow  (Dennis McMillan Publications, 2009). Connelly’s novels have chiefly featured murder detective Harry Bosch and criminal lawyer Mickey Haller ; The Scarecrow  alternates the first person narrative of Jack McEvoy, old school journalist surfing the dangerous waters of the collapsing newspaper industry, with brief chapters of a third person narrative of the criminal protagonist. McEvoy’s voice is compelling and engaging ; the threads that tangle to intersection also point to the decisions of the novelist (how much to leave out, etc.). Your correspondent takes pleasure in examining the scaffolding of narrative architectures.
A beautiful production by Dennis McMillan, in a great dust jacket by Michael Kellner, cover photograph by Christopher Voelker, gift of the publisher (more about this particular copy later this week).

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Anent Michael Connelly, Nicholson Baker writes in the current issue of the New Yorker :

In print, The Lincoln Lawyer  swept me up. At night, I switched over to the e-book version on the iPod ($7.99 from the Kindle Store), so that I could carry on in the dark. I began swiping the tiny iPod pages faster and faster.
Then, out of a sense of duty, I forced myself to read the book on the physical Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks. But never mind: at that point, I was locked into the plot and it didn’t matter.

Good metaphor for the difference in platforms, perhaps, but your correspondent begs to differ : what book one reads depends upon the book (the edition, the physical page, the context, etc.).

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27 July 09

Current reading

— Michael Connelly. The Scarecrow  (Dennis McMillan Publications, 2009).

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Recent reading

— Julian Symons. Death’s Darkest Face  (Viking, 1990). Novel of the disappearance of poet Hugo Headley long before the book opens. Poet (and science fiction writer) Tom Disch, who suggested to John Crowley that he write a novel about a poet — The Translator (2002), which is dedicated to Disch — identified another example of this interesting genre by Christoph Ransmayr, The Last World (Die letzte Welt, 1988 ; translated from the German by John Woods, 1990). The form is a complex retrospective account by Geoffrey Elder, actor and former journalist, who had known Hugo Headley in 1936, ostensibly edited by Symons long after Elder’s death. Symons, who was editor of a poetry journal in the 1930s, sketches Headley through his brief appearances in Elder’s life (a few verse excerpts cited, allusion made to the posthumous works edited by his mistress) and as the subject of the investigation : energetic, full of grubby vitality, and a sordid opportunist (a minor Dylan Thomas clone with no redeeming qualities). A splendid layering of narrative distances and first person narratives of questionable reliability.
— Julian Symons. Playing Happy Families  (1994; Mysterious Press, 1995). Entropy and the English middle class. Symons has a way of setting up characters and — just when the readers thinks, right, self-righteous conservative jerk, or mousy and dull — unfolding complexities in matter of fact prose ; complexities that are rooted in the prior exposition of traits. Playing Happy Families  had one short passage where a fact is revealed to the detective that the reader can only deduce ; almost duplicitous, but merely the manipulations of the novelist employing the form of the third person narrative. Seeds were planted in an early conversation.
How enjoyable to have found, in the space of a month or so, four titles by Symons that I had never seen, even though I read a whole shelf a decade ago. I am especially pleased to have come across Death’s Darkest Face and its narrative strategy.
— Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. The Plain Janes. With lettering by Jared K. Fletcher (Minx, 2007). Graphic novel, art and high school and life in the Bush police state.

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24 July 09

Where I Write : Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in Their Creative Spaces

Photographer Kyle Cassidy has been taking portraits of authors in the natural environment. Delighted to observe so many authors’ bookshelves on view, the Endless Bookshelf and Temporary Culture are also pleased to note that author Michael Swanwick is at the heart of the project. Cassidy describes the origins of Where I Write as follows :

Some time in late 2008 I got invited to a party at his house, mostly or entirely, I suspect, because he mistook me for someone else. While there I asked if I could see his Hugos, since I knew he had five of them. “ Of course !" ” he said, jovially, and lead me up to his office. This I thought in stunned wonder as my eyes crept across the expanse of it, is a place of great significance and it needs to be seen. It was like I'd cracked open his skull and seen the gears of genius. The best way I can describe it is as a nest, made out of books, as intricate and well assembled as a Nevelson sculpture. I asked him if I could stop back and photograph it. “ Of course, ” he said, “ but not before I clean it up. ” I begged him not to but he replied “ You can't stop me from doing it, nor will you be able to tell that I have.”

Many other authors are featured, including Joe Haldeman (also a Temporary Culture author).

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21 July 09

Recent reading :

— Bill Loehfelm. Fresh Kills (2008 ; Berkley Prime Crime pbk., 2009). Deftly written, ultimately successful novel of Staten Island Irish mourning customs. John Sanders, Junior, whose father has been murdered before the novel opens, is angry character whose utter self-involvement and rejection of consequence are grating. I recalled the Sex Pistols song “ Seventeen ” :

“ You’re only 29 / Got a lot to learn / But when your mummy dies / She will not return [. . .] See my face not a trace / No reality ”

as I thought about how disconnected the narrator is his own life. And yet, just as omissions about the age of the narrator become bothersome, and his persistent self-deception threatens to drown the reader, he is compelled by circumstances (and his sister) to rouse himself. The ties of friendship are well delineated ; and the milieu is as carefully observed as A Field Guide to the North American Family. I am still trying to determine if Clute’s term “ Attempted Rescue ” — “ an attempt to rescue oneself from the iron cage of circumstance and destiny and gene ” (in The Darkening Garden , with reference to Robert Aickman) — can be applied to this novel. The term is robust enough to withstand some hammering and flexible enough to move outside of genre ; particularly when Clute notes that “ Even the most successful self is only an Attempted Rescue. ” Junior’s decision at the novel’s end is earned and the conventions of the crime novel are respected even as they are mostly subverted.

This re-issue of Fresh Kills  was the single title interesting enough to read from a large crop of mysteries received over the past two months ; the niche market aspect of many of the titles was of greater interest — to see how narrowly the audiences for mystery series might be defined : tattooing, knitting, culinary, home decorating, organizing, wine drinking, etc., etc. — than the prose contained therein.

— — — —

Today your correspondent has updated the page with pictures of hand bookbinding projects and added an additional entry to the course in micropublishing (below).
As gratifying as it has been to hear kind words from readers of the Endless Bookshelf, it would be more instructive and more interesting to all to receive pictures of bookshelves (working or at play), or to receive words or pictures of books old and new.

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17 July 09

From the Providence Bureau :

Pilgrims at the tomb of H.P. Lovecraft, July 2009 : Scott Edelman, Paul Di Filippo, Howard Waldrop (standing); Michael Dirda, Michael Bishop (seated). Photograph by D. Newton.

And a reminder asking all readers to send pictures of bookshelves : above your desk, at work, at play.

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Room 26 : A Real Place

“ a few of the bookshelves in Room 26 (an actual place — the office from which we post the blog) ” — Timothy Young

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Room 26

Room 26 : Cabinet of Curiosities is the striking, richly illustrated blog of Yale librarians Timothy Young and Nancy Kuhn and the collections under their gaze, with (for example) material from Stan Brakhage’s scrapbooks, portraits of poets by Jonathan Williams, a guest column on lesbian pulp novels by Anastasia Jones, and baby pictures of notable poets, and much else besides. With a suitably cryptic picture of the curators of room 26 (detail below), a trifle more interesting than the portrait in the official press release concerning the blog. With thanks to the Anonymous Other for this fruitful link. The Endless Bookshelf herewith requests pictures of the working bookshelves in room 26.

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Gone, Gone, Gone

One of the joys of making books is to know that publication day means the dispersal of books to the wide world. These books — publisher’s copy in chartreuse cloth (no. 1 of 25) with the five presentation copies in iridescent plum silk — are now scattered to the winds, as are the ideas contained therein.

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13 July 09

Recent reading :

— China Miéville. The City & The City (Doubleday, 2009). Science fiction detective novel of purest classical form (the murdered woman is dead before the narrative opens and the circumstances of her death are only discerned through the determination of the detective, heedless of obstacle or cost to himself ; the science fiction is in the rupture between direct and virtual, between human experience and social construct). A brilliant demonstration of the paranoid, simultaneous co-existence of conjoined opposites : the exclusionary possibility of the collision of legal and political rhetoric and precisely conditioned reflexes. The cities of Besz and Ul Qoma seem almost mappable onto the cultural heritage of eastern Europe, like Hav , but the interstitial, imaginary history is layered in twenty-first century form. I was reminded of the delicious alienation of returning to America after living in Europe in the 1970s  ; of life as an expatriate in Egypt  ; and of the real but now notional countries of the vanished eastern bloc. And as a work of the literature of the fantastic, this book simply could not have been written before the vocabulary of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy  (1997) : polders, wainscots, thinning.
— Royal A. Gettmann. A Victorian Publisher. A Study of the Bentley Papers (Cambridge University Press, 1960). When publishing was an activity undertaken by human beings, contracts were agreements between men and women — and the successful author could demand very favorable terms. The long-term stability of prices : a guinea and a half for a three-volume novel (31/6) was the retail price for more than fifty years. And the cultural revolutions of the 1890s, when authors began to write in a less stylized voice and at shorter length : form is function (see Kipling allusion to the extinction of the three-volume novel below).
— Julian Symons. Something Like a Love Affair  (1992; Mysterious Press, 1994, pbk.).
— Julian Symons. The Belting Inheritance  (1965 ; 1966 pbk.). Symons is always good on the socio-psycho-pathology of mid- to late twentieth-century England. The upper classes really exist in his books and reveal their least attractive traits. The Belting Inheritance  is interesting for spanning decades in a precise, retrospective tone ; Something Like a Love Affair  entwines narratives and has a tragic conclusion.
— Joan Aiken. The Serial Garden. The Complete Armitage Family Stories  (Big Mouth House, 2009). Aiken is a literary giant, as tall as Road Dahl and as playful (if the prose is a trifle less mordant, Aiken is never cardboard or cotton candy). These stories of the domesticity of English magic have their origins in the privations of wartime and postwar England but the dynamics of sibling Mark and Harriet — and Aiken’s attentiveness to the green world of rural England — ensure they do not grow stale. I will not be reading this all in one sitting, however.
— Sarah Waters. The Little Stranger  (Riverhead, 2009). Ghost story of class hierarchies and a decaying country house in late 1940s England, summoning for me the doomèdness of The Fall of the House of Usher. Query : title reference to the Kipling poem The Three Decker (1894), “we never talked obstetrics when the little stranger came” ? The mood of loss (vanished way of life) is not dissimilar to The Belting Inheritance .
— John Crowley. Four Freedoms  (William Morrow, 2009). This book is indisputably a fantasy of history (the brilliant chronicle of an unrecorded chapter in aviation history and simultaneously a new chapter in the history of American utopian communities). In its evocation of an imagined city where people gather to create a collective aim, Four Freedoms  is entirely of a piece with all Crowley’s earlier work, with a profoundly feminist attention and an utter love of women. Just as he evokes and then dispels a sequence of events in the new story I heard Crowley read this weekend at Readercon, “And Go Like This”, in Four Freedoms he creates in compelling richness the world before he was born (with even a short exemplary history of Adirondack summer camps in the 1930s in the Martha Goldensohn passage). And yet explicit in Crowley’s succession of narrations is the fact that the traces of this world exist only in ideas and imagination.

. . . but in the end she wrote nothing. What had happened there couldn’t be recovered, because too much was happening at the same time, and how could you express it all without wiping away all that had made it what it was . . . (pp. 278-9)

The recurring miracle of Crowley’s writing is that — again and again — he does write something, not wiping away but creating.

— — — —


With author Michael Swanwick in attendance, Hope-in-the-Mist  was published at Readercon 20 on Friday 10 July. Immediately following an intimate champagne reception, Swanwick interviewed Hope Mirrlees (portrayed by Marianne Porter, left) in an hour of delightful and biographically accurate improvisational theater.

When links to the recordings become available, they will be posted. The hand bound edition is fully subscribed ; and the paperback edition found many new readers (copies have already been shipped to Australia, Canada, and England). Your correspondent attended several interesting talks (John Clute on the Count of Monte Cristo ; and David Streitfeld interviewing Liz Hand, among others) and readings by Ellen Kushner, Howard Waldrop, and John Crowley. A report on recent reading will follow tonight once dates and page numbers for citations can be verified.

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Micropublishing : A Short Course

1. staff meetings : editor, publisher, binder, marketing department, only one doing anything is the tea-boy
2. money : pay the author first. handshake agreement or written contract, pay the author first
3. money (again) : until money budgeted for project is considered truly lost, not yet ready to begin publishing
4. style : form is function, are you making books or canned goods for the grocery store ?
5. making tea (aka attention to detail)
6. typos : intrinsic to process, & sometimes caught ; inevitable, & to be corrected in second edition ; not to worry
7. scheduling : exceed your familiar repertoire, you will learn how ; long nights are one of the joys
8. lifting books, lifting boxes of books, again, and again ; cardboard boxes not acceptable long-term home decor
9. remember your friends : even when you are doing it all by yourself you are never doing it all alone and unaided
10. publication day : make certain the champagne is cold & books are ready
11. you are a human being, not a corporation ; go to the post office when you can
12. your readers are human beings, too

extra credit :
13. shipping dept. keeps working after radiance of publication day has waned : joy of dispersal

Lessons one through nine were originally twittered (posted sequentially) in the marginal glosses from 23 June to 9 July, with an addition on 21 July.

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7 July 09

Hope-in-the-Mist : Report from the Bindery

Subscriber & presentation copies bound

The title page and the Charles Vess frontispiece illustration (folding)

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6-7 July 09

Hope-in-the-Mist : In the Bindery

Still toiling in the Temporary Culture bindery : books sewn, cases (cloth bindings) made ; books to assemble ; fingerprints to ink (none genuine without this mark). I have read a few interesting books, about which more on Friday.


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This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays, and eventually I will become adept at incorporating photos or comments and interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HW]

electronym : wessells at aol dot com

Copyright © 2009 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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