Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009

2 Photos of Books

These Simenon covers create an interesting geography when combined.

I had to improvise some photos tonight for The Rumpus. It's a good thing books are so pretty looking and that I have so many weird things on my shelves.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reading Writer's Memoirs, Briefly Sort Of

The first writer's memoir I read, I think I was fourteen or something and figured my life would never ever be as interesting or bizarre as Rexroth's during his years in BohemianlibertarianWobbly Chicago.

Memoirs are all the rage these days, and now is not really the time for me to talk about my feelings on that score. I will say that Phoenix Books has a superb memoir selection. And that it took almost a dozen boxes to haul it over to its new location. And that one of the books has the word, "Sexperiments" in the title.

I would like to add a few comments about writer's memoirs though. Ones I've read, and one, especially I want to read. And perhaps others I'm considering reading.

The few memoirs I've read have been by writers who have lived through emblematic or formative cultural periods in history. Whether it was because the world was actually changing, or it just so happened that tons of talented people were working together at the same place and at the same time, such sweeping historical context gives these memoirs an exciting and often enviable savor.

One of the most fascinating, informative books I've ever read about becoming a writer and a memoir that deals especially beautifully with the mechanics, psychology, sacrifices and neuroses behind the writing process.

Everyone can point to such classic times in history, give them a city name and a decade and a whole zeitgeist is brought to life. Mostly the cities are either New York or Paris. In the 20's, or the 30's, or the 70's. And then there's San Francisco in the 60's. Or really most places in the 60's. Seattle in the 90's. But that's more for music.

I'm not sure where the center of writerly innovation was in the 90's or if there even was one. Probably New York, Los Angeles, San Diego. Wherever Generation X authors first got famous. And then again the whole MFA thing certainly changes the geography of cultural innovation. Perhaps Irvine in the late 80's was akin to Paris of the 20's just because a dozen future Pulitzer Prize winners went to school there. Who knows? And really, broadly speaking, such things don't really matter except after the fact, when the writer sits down to write his or her memoir and realizes that they participated in a critical time in cultural history.

Not a memoir, Shattuck's The Banquet Years is a cultural anaylsis of the origins of the Avant-Garde in France. Featuring the colorful lives of Jarry, Apollinaire, Rousseau and Satie. A must-read. Like the memoirs I mention, this book is a special case of how artists interwove their talents to express a force of history that we feel today, like light from a distant star.

Most of these writer's memoirs are heavy on the name-dropping but not really for any self-aggrandizing reasons, considering that when they penned the memoirs they had already achieved enough fame based on their own merits. Mostly the name-dropping, the brief profiles of other writers and artists is to present the memoir less as a personal document and more as a cultural-historical document that pivots on their own consciousness.

Sometimes I guiltily fantasize about being That Writer way down the road of life, both figuratively and literally who has time to kick back and finally pen his memoir, who can belt out a rollicking 300 page yarn about his accomplishments, failures, adventures and learning experiences, and also about the ones of the people he knew and loved and sought counsel from. Maybe they were metalsmiths or balloonists or short story writers or steampunk ballerinas or filmmakers or radical gay libertarians. Or just teachers, mothers, fathers, gas station attendants, soup kitchen volunteers and gardeners. But we knew each other intimately, these were our shared hard times and we worked hard for what we wanted to express. Right after Bush destroyed our country and Obama disappointed some of us and we all lived in San Francisco or Portland or Davis or San Diego and nobody was making much money. But things like urban farming, sex worker parties, rooftop gardening and bicycling were on the rise, and we all felt like even as the ruins were already growing, that counter-ruins were containing them, fecund, fertile, growing as we grew . .

Ah, but that story's been told before I think. Maybe. We'll see how life plays out. But I wonder if I'm living in an epochal cultural phase and don't know it yet. Which means in order to find out I need to help fulfill it, right?

The one I want to read by the late Harold Norse.

And onward to my final instance of what I wanted to say.
Which brings me to a book that is probably the greatest memoir I haven't read yet. Especially in light of what I've been talking about.

Memoirs Of A Bastard Ange
l by the late Harold Norse who died less than two weeks ago. Go find it and read it. I plan on doing the same once I finish all the other books piling up on my shelf.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sunday, June 21st A Guest Blog Stint At THE RUMPUS.

Call me guilty of meta-blogging, but that's OK. These are challenging times right now. You gotta have your hands in every pot in order to have your ducks all in a line. Right?

Be that as it may, Sunday, as in tomorrow I'll be posting a bunch of interesting round-ups, asides, profiles, tangents and recommendations at The Rumpus.

IN fact, I will be donning the title of Sunday Editor if only briefly in the absence of Seth Fischer. The funny thing is I will also be working at Red Hill Books all day! Busy Sunday indeed!

If you're interested in what's going on in the Book World and other Worlds too, stop in and look around.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

My first window display, the fruit of a long obsession

One of the new window displays at Red Hill. My first contribution: the window of Possessive titles, a trend I can't stop ranting about. Especially with novels. But still, an admirable array of authors employ this sure-fire titling method. I, myself, might try it some day.

Why are possessives so popular in novel titles? Why, for instance, are there so many books titled along the same lines as The Memory Keeper's Daughter or The Bone-Setter's Daughter? The Time-Traveller's Wife or The Astronaut's Wife. Flaubert's Parrot, Correlli's Mandolin, and Wittgenstein's Poker?

I think one reason is that you can convey a sense of complexity in the possessive title, because in just two or three words, there is a distinct relation already at play. With family members there is one person who stands in direct relation to another person who still remains altogether different. And thus with relation stated, difference too is set in motion. Two histories, two identities connected yet distinct, all of it given in a simple title which brings with it too the promise of war, conflict, legacy and inheritance: the stuff of the novel.

I'm not sure though if this logic accounts for the ubiquity of possessive titles out there. But it is a step perhaps in a more illuminating direction.

Hard Labor Book Clerk Style

I hate generalizing but I'll make an exception here: I'm the kind of guy who gets roped into the most long-winded, arduous, chimerical and physically exhausting projects. Emphasis on the last part I think.

It's similar to the tendency I have of usually moving into houses right when they're at their point of most dire fragility and the inhabitants are either selling off their housemate's appliances to buy crank or the landlords are renting out the garages to ex-con tweakers with prostitutes who double as house-calling therapists.

Or I start jobs that are really just guinea pig positions and my immediate superiors are vigilant to see if I, the affable, curly-haired dude with that winning urban beard, will split under the pressure of being experimented on so cruelly. Like the time I had to dismantle the $100,000.00 architecture model while also making time to affix stamps to two thousands postcards.

But the part where I excel is moving. I enjoy the act of eradicating one space and making another. At the same time, as everyone knows, moving sucks. But still I excel at it.
Especially when it comes to big moves. Big, exhausting, dusty, soul-cursing moves.

Usually it's just helping my friends move. One winter, in the Outer Sunset, I consented wilfully to an 8 hour stint as volunteer mover merely so I didn't have to think of love woes and loneliness. That's a story I would like to tell: the guy OR girl who agrees to physically demanding favors just so they don't have to think about things. Gradually, they realize that they are saying yes to more and more dangerous, demanding and ultimately fatal adventures.

That particular time in the Sunset we had to deal with hauling a mattress up 7 flights of stairs because it wouldn't fit in the tiny lift in their apartment building. Another time, from the same pressing need to be helpful but also to push my body, I helped my friend move, which mostly involved carrying his 8 or 9 keyboards up several flights of stairs in the Upper Haight.

Sometimes I've helped my friends move just because it was the right thing to do. Like three weeks ago, when we got locked into a storage unit with our friend who was 8 months pregnant because the night manager forgot to show up for work. Promptly at nine everything shut down. Elevators, doors, gates. Thankfully a cop responded to someone else's call and found us instead, but he had to spend an hour trying to find a phone number for someone to give him the access code just so we could exit the parking lot.

And none of which even comes close to the mishaps of my own moving adventures...another installment of which will be happening in a month's time.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I spent half this week assisting for many hours in the physical, bodily and tangible act of moving a bookstore. Never thought I'd do that before, but then again, I think just by being born I unconsciously signed up for many more, presently unknown but similarly chimerical undertakings.

From one smallish location that had been there twenty years to a spot, three blocks down that is twice as BIG and replete with garden, basement, back office and children's book room, the moving involved all manner of boxing books, loading them, unloading them, sorting them, uncobwebbing, unratdropping, sucking down dust, hammering, carrying, shoving, splintering, sweating, hungering, picking up and dropping, dropping and picking up, being sarcastic to onlookers and being generally ebullient about the dirty, communal act of creating a new space. The last thing to go, maybe, was an old paperback of Dante's Inferno that was utterly clotted with dust and nailed to the wall and had been behind a bookshelf for two decades.

The new Phoenix Books is scheduled to be open tomorrow, Friday, June 19th. Stop by and spread good cheer. Here's a couple photos from the original site and the new site. (First two are from old sight; following three are the good work we did at the new one.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Two New Books I Want To Read Based On Seeing Them On The Shelves

China Mieville got a degree from the London School Of Economics, wrote a whole slew of books in varying speculative/sci-fi/New Weird modes and now has this new novel out, The City And The City which looks absolutely irresistible.

Doug Dorst's Alive In Necropolis is the next contender. It's a novel about Colma! But with a strangely beautiful cover fit for an adolescent mystery novel.

Both for sale at Red Hill Books!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Strange Aside

I've had poets on my mind lately.

The other day when I did my first shift at Phoenix Books I did my usual wandering around the store seeing which desirable titles they had on hand. On the Sale table I discovered a stack of thick paperbacks, copies of the collected works of a poet I had never heard of before: Harold Norse. And the title of his huge collected poems struck me as irresistibly enticing: In The Hub Of The Fiery Force.

That was June 8th.

Today I finally made right on my resolution to find this poet's biography online. I learned that not only was he a preeminent gay, Beat poet, a fan and friend of William Carlos Williams and Charles Bukowski, and who lived in San Francisco's Mission District for the last 35 years, but that in fact, according to wikipedia at least, he died the very day I was looking through his collection, wondering who the hell he was.

Which makes me think I should go back and buy that On Sale book, In The Hub Of The Fiery Force. And you should too.

Here's a poem from it:

Carnivorous Saint

we dig up ancient shards
clicking cameras
among the dying cypresses
choked by Athenian smog.

yet cats continue basking
in the hazy sun
the chained goat sways in ecstasy
the Parthenon looks down from creamy heights
lichen and rust nibble the pediments
and tourist feet break the spell
of antiquity's vibrations

the grass hits
as I look at rusty orangeade caps
thinking Who needs nuclear Apollo?
thermonuclear Minerva?
Nike crashing to grand finale?

we need the anti-Christ
who is probably playing football around the corner
the sweet boy who used to be called Eros
and wants us to be happy.

bring back the carnivorous saint
whose mother is no virgin
she's Our Lady of Peace Movements
to ban the bomb and clean up the air
she'll wave her umbrella and change the world.

ah yes, when the grass hits
old worlds burn down and new worlds form
in clouds of brown monoxide morning.

Athens, Jan. 1964

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Good Day In A Nice Place

A photo on my camera that I don't remember taking. . .

Beautiful little book framed on wine-stained bed sheets. . .

Most interesting writing is just about people walking around, wondering what they're going to do with their day and what they're gonna eat and how they're gonna pay for it. Which reminds me of most of my waking days in San Francisco. It also occurred to me that a recent teacher compared a story I wrote to the poems of Frank O'Hara, famous New York walking/eating poet. Two weeks ago in San Diego, I found my old Frank O'Hara pocket book with, among other things, a signed edition of the Journals Of Allen Ginsberg. In a nostalgic blast, I remembered how I spent years writing weird, surrealist poetry in little notebooks and walking around with those sleek little City Lights poem books in my back jeans pocket. O'Hara's verse is light, flouncy, accessible, sing-songy, urban and personal. I enjoy it, but I have to say I almost enjoy the orange and midnight blue composition of the book's design more as well as its the varied implications in just the title alone.

MUSIC by Frank O'Hara

 If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian
pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe,
that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf's
and I am naked as a table cloth, my nerves humming.
Close to the fear of war and the stars which have disappeared.
I have in my hands only 35¢, it's so meaningless to eat!
and gusts of water spray over the basins of leaves
like the hammers of a glass pianoforte. If I seem to you
to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world,
I must tighten my belt.
It's like a locomotive on the march, the season
of distress and clarity
and my door is open to the evenings of midwinter's
lightly falling snow over the newspapers.
Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear, trumpet
of early afternoon! in the foggy autumn.
As they're putting, up the Christmas trees on Park Avenue
I shall see my daydreams walking by with dogs in blankets,
put to some use before all those coloured lights come on!
But no more fountains and no more rain,
and the stores stay open terribly late.

The days are becoming summer and you know it because the skies are gauzy bruise-tones. Today however was an exception. A bright warm perfect Sunday in San Francisco and they even closed off the Mission streets, or at least Valencia so people could freely roam on their bicycles and walk on the asphalt and blare M.I.A. from souped-up carnival bikes and eat their picnics where normally UPS trucks are idling. I got a chance to work at Dog Eared books this morning for four hours while all this was happening outside the windows. Then I had an hour for lunch, most of which I spent walking back to Bernal, so I could round out my work-day with a four hour closing shift at Red Hill Books. It turned out to be an extremely busy Sunday because it was our 5th Anniversary Sale, complete with bluegrass music and cake and a generous discount. Today I regained some faith in the essential goodness of most people, at least the ones who are interested in books and reading and buying things from small local businesses. Today I was especially proud to be an employee at a bookstore. I'd like to write an essay about that, I think, about the risks, rewards, challenges of working in a highly-threatened cultural industry: book-peddling.