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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Love Among the Chickens

October 15, 2014 | by

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INTERVIEWER

Of all the books you’ve written, do you have any favorites?

WODEHOUSE

Oh, I’m very fond of a book called Quick Service and another called Sam in the Suburbs, a very old one. But I really like them all. There are very few exceptions.

—P. G. Wodehouse, the Art of Fiction No. 60, 1975

I wonder how Wodehouse (born today in 1881) came down on Love Among the Chickens, one of his earlier novels and, to my mind, one of his strangest. It is, as its title page quite clearly states, “A Story of the Haps and Mishaps on an English Chicken Farm.” (Wonderful use of haps, there. Why is it that we only hear of mishaps these days?) Read More »

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Weighing In, Part 1

October 15, 2014 | by

Watching a cage fighter starve himself.

Photo: Jeremy Brooks

“Four eggs,” I instructed the waiter at the finest restaurant in the Palms Casino Resort.

“Egg salad?” He was in a starched suit, pouring water into a delicately lipped glass.

“No, four hard-boiled eggs.”

“Four eggs.”

The waiter returned with four eggs huddled in the slight depression of a sizable dinner plate, as if to further diminish the sad feast through a trick of scale. Each egg had been deshelled, which was, I supposed, the benefit of ordering hard-boiled eggs at the finest restaurant in the Palms. Erik was a few flights up in his hotel room, showering after a workout, but he had asked that his meal be ready when he descended, and I feared displeasing him.

Though his mentor Duke, his roommate Pettis, and his manager could be found dispersed among the card tables and slot machines, not a single member of Hard Drive, Erik’s fighting collective in Cedar Rapids, had ventured with us to Las Vegas. Following a momentous schism between him and his brother, Erik had been “banned for life” from the gym and its environs.

Banished, Erik had returned to Milwaukee, to his warm, fast-talking Italian American coach, to his potential as one of the youngest men in the most prestigious promotion open to men who weighed in at 155 pounds. From their offices in Vegas, connected people continued to call him in Milwaukee, and it was as if he had never made the mistake of going home. Would he like to be in the official UFC video game? They would fly him out to LA, take measurements, and then boys everywhere would fight their friends in the avatar form of Erik “New Breed” Koch. Pettis was asked to be a judge for the Miss Wisconsin USA pageant and, in declining the offer, sent Erik in his stead. Erik met, at the event, the manager of a Jersey Shore cast member. Would Erik like to be on an episode of DJ Pauly D’s upcoming reality spin-off show? He said he very much would like that. He was unattached, alone, free to make commitments to as-yet-theoretical reality shows as he pleased.

Erik at last arrived at the restaurant, sat across from me without a word, unrolled from the napkin his knife and fork, and began the surgical egg procedure with which I was, by then, familiar. I would have liked to discuss our surroundings, as it was my first encounter with a professionally run promotion and I had many astute observations on the subject, but he ate with an air of sacral solemnity I did not wish to desecrate by speaking. It was my twenty-ninth birthday and I had not told a soul in the world. Read More »

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Trim Size

October 14, 2014 | by

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An illustration from Bundesbuch von Magenau (Book of the Covenant of Magenau), 1790.

One of the many things that dates my childhood firmly to the eighties and early nineties is the ubiquity of large reference books in it. Reference books, big ones, figure in most of my memories; I guess they were easy to find at tag sales. At any given moment, you could find me poring over The Great TV Sitcom Book, The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, Best Movie Quotes, or The Big Broadway Fake Book, which is in fact probably still in use for auditions, since it contains only sheet music. (I read this only in moments of desperation.) However, it should be said that lines were drawn: someone once gave my family one of those dedicated Great American Bathroom Books, and my mother found it disgusting and threw it away immediately.

For a few years, this sort of tome—eighties excess between two covers—must have had imprints in every major publishing house of the era. There was a distinctive look to the volumes, which were probably intended as gifts or coffee-table items, but had their own low shelf at our house. Monumental title adjectives—great, big, ultimate, definitive—were desirable. The font had to be assertive. It was also a good idea to have lots of the content listed on the jacket, a taste of the great knowledge contained therein. Obviously they had to be physically large, as unwieldy as possible—although I carried them from room to room. It wasn’t just me, either. My friends liked them, too, as I remember, but this may be a comment on the quality of entertainment on offer at my playdates. Read More »

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Reunion

October 6, 2014 | by

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From a foreign edition of Reunion.

Glass half full: whatever the travails of the publishing industry, we live in a wonderful era for reissues. Think about it! All of Barbara Pym and Barbara Comyns are in print! Muriel Spark is having a moment! You want A Girl in Winter or Maiden Voyage or Sigrid Undset’s Jenny? You can have any of them within a week. Several of my new favorite books—In Love, Climates, After Claude—were introduced to me in recent editions. And people discuss Stoner and Speedboat as if they’re the latest must-reads.

Much of this is because of the hard work and great curation of publishers such as New York Review Classics, Persephone, Penguin, New Directions, and Lizzie Skurnick Books—to name only a few—but the readership is heartening, too. We want good books, but more than that, we want treasure. And the problem is, without library stacks and used bookstores, it’s increasingly difficult to stumble upon anything on our own. We depend on these publishers, and we depend on friends.

For all its chaos, the Internet does not make random book discovery as easy, I don’t think. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, altogether. I mean, I’ve read a lot of books, but I’m not what I would consider well read; there are too many gaps in my reading, it’s too scattershot, and too much of it has been bad. There were a lot of third-rate Victorian novels in the school library, or midseventies expository feminist novels from dollar carts, or memoirs by C-list celebrities. If I’d been shopping with intention—or, indeed, had had to pay shipping—I don’t think this would be as true. But for every random piece of pulp or strange book I’ve picked up on a stoop or at a thrift shop—okay, for every ten—there has been something worthwhile. I love the shelf of NYRB Classics in my local bookstore, but there’s less an element of discovery involved; you know what you buy will be worth reading.

I was talking online last night with some friends about what the next big new-old book would be; I joked that I had a hundred dollars on May Sarton. (I was only half joking.) I got several great recommendations out of the exchange, and I had the usual good feeling in the knowledge that there are tens of thousands of wonderful books we’ll never get to read, and thousands that could be potentially life changing, or at least life affirming. Read More »

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Cover Art

August 29, 2014 | by

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Looking at this pretty slideshow of circa-1900 book covers, one is struck by a couple of things. First, the beauty and elegance of the design. And, second, the fact that the titles are all unfamiliar. Of course, beautiful, striking covers are produced every day: talented art departments work hard to accommodate an ever-changing market and far more cooks (so to speak) than designers of old ever had to please. One imagines in the old days, the author would take his Art-Nouveau swags and like it; agents rarely figured in the picture, and if you’d envisioned, say, a pine rather than a stylized laurel tree on your novel—well, forget it.

It’s also a change in tastes, or of standards; like so many old buildings, whose standard-issue marble work and penny tiling now seem like models of beauty and lost workmanship, these ornate covers were the rule, not the exception. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, well, that sort of works for beauty, too. Maybe not the tragedy part. As to the titles’ relative obscurity? That's also modern hindsight. And who knows what hopes the publishers had for The Story of Ab: A Tale of the Time of the Cave Man? One thing’s for sure: these were not disposable objects.

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Charmed Objects

August 25, 2014 | by

Phantom-Shelf

An example of a Phantom Shelf. Credit: EM Photography

People talk about a “Keeper Shelf” for those books they love more than any others. Those which, I suppose, are worth owning in this time when owning a physical book means something more than it once did. (Or, as much as it once did.) For my money, though, there is no better proof of love for a title than not owning it—that is to say, having given it away. Call it the Phantom Shelf.

When my coffers are in a particularly robust state, I will sometimes indulge in the extravagance of replenishing those favorite books I am most inclined to give away. It is always the same few—titles that I need to share with someone like-minded, right now!—and by the same token, those which I always miss when they are gone. Read More »

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