Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Felicia READS!!!

One of the most important loves is self-love. Oh, how I know it. In that spirit, and with the assumption that SSN is a singular entity of which I am but a part, I'd like to spread a little in-house self-love in the direction of Felicia.

Tomorrow, Feb. 28, she reads from her memoir, The Sky Isn't Visible From Here, at the Boxcar Lounge. The evening will be hosted by Jami Attenberg. Felicia will read with Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End), Annie Choi (Happy Birthday or Whatever), and Min Jin Lee (Free Food for Millionaires). The event starts at 8pm. For more information, click like this.

Gabriel Josipovici

Please excuse the light cross-pollination but there's an interview up with Gabriel Josipovici, author of the forthcoming novel Goldberg: Variations, at the CruelestMonth. A few books are being given away too.

Friday, February 23, 2007

It's coming!


issue #4 will hit brooklyn this weekend. i received a copy of ssn #4 via overnight mail and i'm thrilled. seriously. really. absolutely. i love every single story in this issue and if you have a few bucks, why not support my little mag that could today. unsure? well taste the whole shebang for free. you heard me, FOR FREE.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poor People

Vollmann's latest, Poor People, is reviewed by Janet Maslin: "The Poor Are Different From You and Me. Or Are They?"

Clip/Stamp/Fold

I'm sorry to point this out so near its closing (not to say that you didn't already know about it - if you did), but hopefully the time constraint will get you moving. Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X - 197X exhibits "an explosion of architectural little magazine in the 1960s and 1970s [that] instigated a radical transformation in architectural culture." The show can be found at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street. It closes this Saturday.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dzanc Books First Two 2008 Titles Announcement

Straight from the source:

Dzanc Books is both excited and proud to announce the first two titles we will
publish in 2008.

February 2008 will see the publication of our second
book, Yannick Murphy’s In a Bear’s Eye. Murphy’s collection includes 24 stories,
16 of which have been published in journals such as The Quarterly, McSweeneys,
and StoryQuarterly. The title story will soon be included in The O’Henry Prize
Stories 2007 (Anchor, May 2007).

Dzanc Books will follow In a Bear’s Eye
with Peter Markus’ Bob, or Man on Boat in the Fall 2008. Peter’s fourth book,
Bob, or Man on Boat, will be his debut novel. Markus’ three story collections
have shown him to be a master of repetition and rhythm and have earned him a
loyal following of readers, as well as seeing his work frequently anthologized.
Markus’ third collection, The Singing Fish, spent its first few weeks atop
Powell’s Small Press bestseller list.

Click here to read more!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Circles in Life: Pigeons, Zeffirelli, the Hurdy Gurdy Man

I hope everyone had a meaningful Valentine's Day with someone special. If not, well, hang in there, tiger.

The past few months I've been going on about Donovan - aka, the Hurdy Gurdy Man - and his free-spirited music. Totally tripped out on love, I stumbled upon The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man (St. Martin's, 2005). It just appeared in my cubicle one day and stared up at me like a pebble smiling from the bed of a mountain stream - so groovy. I haven't delved too far yet (though, it's better than one might expect). Janet Maslin reviewed it in the NY Times this past November.
However time has treated Donovan personally, it has been kind to his music. This
book, with legitimate frustration but without hubris, reinstates that music's
seminal influence and the underlying seriousness that has always been easy to
miss.
I couldn't agree more (judging from the first three chapters), especially in regard to the work he did for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a film directed by Franco Zeffirelli (better known for his classics Romeo and Juliet and Jane Eyre). I first experienced the mystic joys of BSSM in my 10th grade Italian class. (It's about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, so it was relevant.) Back then, the proliferation of MP3's had only begun, and out of the fifteen songs I had managed to download to my Gateway Desktop, eight or nine of them were by Donovan from this soundtrack. This, also, was something I had been going on about the past few months. My girlfriend (yes, girlfriend), being the astute and beautiful creature she is, honed in on these obsessions and gifted me the DVD for V-Day. So last night we stayed in, drank wine, and I cried like a bitch when St. Francis got all goofy on God. But the convergences did not end there.

In addition to the fantastic DVD, I was gifted Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman. I had read the NY Times review awhile back, which only reinforced my conviction that pigeons were a species of import and interest. Here's the kicker, though. The epigraph to Pigeons:
If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. - St. Francis
It must be love.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Before You She was a Pit Bull

I like the way Elizabeth Ellen writes. But it isn't her style, which is unique, or her ability to mold believable charaters within the confines of a single paragraph, which she can. She understands the most important (I believe) rule of writing which so many writers ignore; that it is imperative to start out strong and hook the reader from the first sentence.

We're halfway across the field when I realize the weed we're smoking is laced.

Her technique is more than simple shock value. From the first story, "Trucker," in Ellen's collection, Before You She was a Pit Bull, I was hooked. She's got me wanting to know more, what weed? what field? how did the character get in this position in the first place? I read on. And before you know it I'm investing an entire afternoon when I should be working to read all her first sentences, all of her stories.

The stories of Before You She was a Pit Bull have a confessional feel and all consist of the same thematic element, what little girls with drunk, philandering mothers grow up to be and do. In "Trucker," it means attempting over and over to cheat on her husband with a man that has no interest in her. In "Breathing Lessons," it means getting involved with a man who has a fetish for choking.

Only after I'd felt him inch his way up inside me did he release his grip on my hands. He let go and they remained where they'd fallen on either side of my head. His hand moved the to my neck, encircling it first gently with his fingertips before closing completely around it. My back arched, offering up more of my nech to his hand, as though I was familar with this technique, as though I knew what I was doing. I didn't. Slowly, in gentle increments, he excerted more and more pressure on my throat until I felt as though I were being submerged deeper and deeper into a pool or warm water. Finally my body succumbed to a series of epileptic shudders that outlasted any I'd previoulsy experienced.

Although the characters of Before You She was a Pit Bull do hold similar backgrounds, personalities, penchant for drug use and a taste for the bizarre, there is a toned down matter-of -factness to her storytelling that makes the events and situations feel as normal as brushing your teeth.

My mother will tell me these things in the morning as she walks from the bathroom to the kitchen naked and smoking. She will talk to me as I wipe the crumbs and smears of grape jelly from the counter and she stands in front of the fridge, drinking juice from the pitcher. She will kiss me goodbye and pitter-patter back to her bed with the pianist while I walk down our drive singing to myself and wondering if it will ever snow.

Before You She was a Pit Bull may only be a chapbook, Ellen's first, however, it packs the same wallop as a double Jack neat. Here's to seeing more of this talented writer in the future.

Before You She was a Pit Bull
Elizabeth Ellen
Future Tense Press

What I'm reading next: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Contention surrouning NBCC

Eliot Weinberger, a former finalist for the NBCC award in criticism, said that one of the nominated authors, Bruce Bawker, had engaged in "racism as criticism" in his book While Europe Slept. Weinberger's voiced this opinion two weeks ago when he announced this year's finalists. The NY Times has a report on the cultural implications of recent books dealing with the clash between Islam and the West: "In Books, a Clash of Europe and Islam."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Albyn Leah Hall

I just finished reading Albyn Leah Hall's The Rhythm of the Road, and I am fairly impressed. Hall's debut novel takes place in England and is about a lonesome, depressive Irish truckdriver, Bobby, and his daughter, Jo. Bobby is all the family Jo has, as her mother, Rosalie, abandoned her at birth and returned to her California home. Bobby raises Jo in their lorry while on road with country music and junk food instead of with fresh air, public schools and plenty of vegetables.

That weekend we were off the road. We were in London, and London was making me sad the way only London could. I missed the transport caffs and the roundabouts and the road spinning beneath our wheels. I missed the motorways at night with their tall yellow lights or red lights or sometimes on the B roads, no lights at all. I missed the night itself, when there was no real bedtime.
It was Sunday, and I had school the next day, I hadn't been to school for three weeks and I could hardly remember what happened there, though I had the back-to-school smell in my nose already: a thickish smell of chalk and glue. Bobby said I was always miserable before school. "Ah, Jo," he said when I was like that, because he didn't have enough words to change my mood.

Jo's unique and solitary upbringing has left her socially stunted and once she meets the beautiful, rising country start Cosima Stewart, Jo begins to realize there are other opportunities in life than those of the road.

A few things were different about her. She was an American, but it was just that. On the road we met just about everybody: Welsh people and Irish people and Scots, German people and Spanish people and Americans and, of course, people from every part of England...
Cosima was a cowgirl, at least to look at. She wore a cowboy hat and a belt with a brass buckle. She wore a suede jacket, its fringe damp and tangled from being sat on in so many cars and lorries (or trucks because they didn't say lorry in the U.S.A.). Her accent wasn't broad, but her voice had gaps in it wide enough to park a lorry in. I'd ask her a question and she wouldn't say anything and I'd think she hadn't heard me. Just when I was about to ask it again, she would answer. Cosima always kept you waiting, even when she was right there next to you.

When Jo is eighteen, Bobby commits suicide on the ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. Jo is now alone in a world she is unprepared for. Within just a few pages Hall shows us the surprising and awkward ascention of girl to woman as Jo dives head first into drugs and promiscuous sex, using them as means to love and acceptance. Jo attaches herself to Cosima and her band as a groupie, Jo loves their music as if they were making it just for her. Soon, however, the band tires of her as they prepare for their American tour. Rejected, and with no place else to go, Jo morphs into a desperate stalker.

When I finally came out of the toilet Zero 7 was still playing, but nobody was in the sitting room. I wasn't hot anymore, but numb and cold and wanting my bed. I put on my coat and looked around for my hand bag. I found it on top of a pink chest of drawers, just before the door. One of the drawers was open. It was filled with matchbooks from Tokyo, New York and Brussels. There were cigarettes, foreign money, condoms and keys. Some of the keys had labels attached: MUM, CHARLOTTE, JAMIE, KATIE. And finally, RICK & COS.
I picked up the keys marked RICK & COS.
I
could hear Bobby's voice in my head:

Put them back, will you Jo?

Hall's talent for writing and her ear for the awkward and absurd uncoils The Rhythm of the Road like a train wreck in slow motion. Many times throughout the book I found myself wincing and thinking, god, no, how can Jo do that? That, I believe is the mark of a job well done by this burgeoning story teller.

Albyn Leah Hall
The Rhythm of the Road
St. Martin's Press

What I'm reading next: Before you she was a Pitbull by Elizabeth Ellen



Lethem on the joys of "second-use"

Jonathan Lethem's thought-piece "The Ecstasy of Influence" running in February's Harper's Magazine is an insightful (charming, perhaps) take on American copyright law. "A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense." This wisdom prompts Lethem to open a new dialogue for the revision of copyright law in what he says should be "an ongoing social negotiation." Along with the necessity to keep ideas active and relevant, he cites the joys of "second-use" as reason enough to question the extensive (blind) reach of copyright law.

His argument is vast, nuanced, and required four sittings for me to finish. If I've been a little dry, check this quick interview he did with Publisher's Weekly: "Lethem on Plagiarism."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Frost on the Edge"


David Orr discusses the often awkward placement of Robert Frost in the American canon: "Frost on the Edge," NY Times.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Killer Amazon Sales

According to Publishers Weekly, Amazon.com's total merchandise sales rocketed up an amazing 21% for the fourth quarter and media sales were up 19% world wide for the year (a year which was not influenced by Potter sales). On the one hand, these are incredibly uplifting stats. After years of down stats, books are finally making a comeback. More sales means more people with books, means more folks reading. However, on the other hand, it's quite possible that this supposed huge popularity spike in book sales is more a reflection of market share, and not a statement on the reading habits of the nation.

I suggest that the latter is true in part because I am a hypocrite. A book bigot. And I accuse more than a few of you of doing the same. We know who we are, we say "Think Globally, Buy Locally", "Support Your Local Mom and Pops". Which I did for so many years. Fuck the internet profiteering. If I wanted a book, I'd walk over to City Lights in North Beach, or Green Apple Books in the Sunset, or Stacey's or Powells City of Books, where I would browse to my heart's content and pay in cash.

But something happened to me. I admit it. I got lazy. I became bored with my lack of choice in those stores. I logged on for the first time. Created an account. The Amazon interface is so intuitive! One click purchasing! In my underwear! And how do they always seems to know just what I'm looking for before I do! I was quickly out of control. The UPS man knew my by my first name, I had to get a bigger mail box. All because, I admit it, I love Amazon's cheap, infinite selection of books!

Sob...

I haven't been to City Lights in nearly two years. The last time I was at Green Apple was for the last Harry Potter, it was midnight and I had been out drinking. I was at Powells last week but that was just because it was a convenient place to meet a friend before we went to lunch.

Sob...

Hi, my name is Joshua, and I'm addicted to Amazon.com.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Powell's Will Buy Your Used Books!

Powells.com has unveiled a program where you can sell your used books to receive credit with the online book retailer. Shelf Awareness reports:

Under the program, which has been quietly launched, powells.com offers credit, not cash, on the titles. Sellers submit ISBNs for books that must be in good condition, meaning that there is no underlining or highlighting, hardcovers have the original dust jacket, no pages are torn, etc. The site checks the ISBNs and will then either decline the book or make an offer. If the seller agrees to the offer, powells.com pays for shipping within the U.S. by providing a link to a prepaid "media mail" Postal Service shipping label. (Sellers may also send the books other ways and from around the world at their own cost.) Books must be shipped to powells.com within a week for the price to remain valid. For now, powells.com is buying only used trade books online.

Powells.com will promote the program in a "heavier" way in the next three weeks, according to Dave Weich, director of marketing and development at powells.com. Eventually the company may also offer cash for purchases. The key element of the project was developing the technology that allows the site to respond immediately to the ISBN offering "looking at what we have in stock and based on the book's sales history," Weich said.

"We've been thinking about this for a long while," he continued. "This is what we do so well in the stores, and to offer it online is kind of a no-brainer. We're thrilled to extend it into the online environment."--John Mutter

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Rhythm of the Road

I'm fifty pages in to Albyn Leah Hall's debut novel, The Rhythm of the Road about an Irish/American girl, Jo, growing up in England, on the road with her truck driving, depressive father, Bobby. Bobby and Jo love country music, junk food and the feel of the lonely open road. Jo seldom attends school or has any other interaction with kids her own age and often feels a heightened and confusing awkwardness around young people, especially young women. Here Hall captures a "tweens" angst perfectly-

I was standing between the prettiest girls in the world, working hard to make me one of them. I wouldn't have swapped the moment for any other, apart from one thing: me. I had never thought I was ugly exactly, but now I saw that I was. I had a small mouth and a flat nose and a hint of a double chin. I had three spots: on my nose, on my forehead, to the side of my mouth. And my body! It was a tree-stump wedge, straight up and down, soft from all the fried food we ate. Bobby hadn't said those things because he was in a mood. He'd said them because it was true.
Cosima snapped the compact open and smoothed powder over my face. "This will take the shine away."

I'd never thought about the shine before. Now that she'd said it, I could see that it was very much a thing - another thing - to be taken away. She dabbed on some more powder and, using her fingers, she spread it on the oily bit around me nose. She was taking the shine away, but she'd never take my face away.

Albyn Leah Hall
The Rhythm of the Road
St. Martin's Press

Thursday, February 01, 2007

SoMa

Just finished reading Kemble Scott's SoMa and I need to take a deep breath and a cold shower. I'll be reviewing the book and interviewing Kemble for SSN, but I do want to jot down an initial thought about the book that isn't really proper in a normal review.

The sex is amazing, embarrassing, sickening and erotic.

SoMa is the neighborhood in San Francisco south of Market Street and east of The Mission known for it's kink, fetishes, drugs and danger. It was home to the dot-coms and the dot-bombs. It's glittery and grimy. SoMa was my neighborhood for nearly ten years and I thought I had seen, heard and experienced everything, but parts of this book blew me away.

"Don't move, man. I'm going to pull out now." That should do it, Andrew sighed. He thought of the club boys who would trade piss on Tina. They'd each do a hit and then dance for hours, filling themselves with bottled water all night long. When they'd feel their high start to wane, they'd head to a men's room stall where they'd drink each other's piss to make the buzz last a little longer. The routine would repeat until the sun came the next day.
Amateurs, Andrew thought. You can recycle crystal to keep a high going that way, but it was nothing compared to pissing up someone's ass. Why go through the stomach when there's a more direct route?
He marveled over his protege's ability to hold on. It had already been several minutes, and there was no sign of weakening. On meth, this guy Raphe was a natural, able to take anything without complaints or fear. Some guys would turn into such pussies on Tina, but not this kid. It was like a shield for him. Andrew couldn't introduce him to the Boys Toys women, since that would violate his agreement. But if this kid was up for making some money, his immunity to this type of pain would make him perfect for...

Potter set to fly July 21

Not that you're all Potter freaks or fans, but you should at least prepare yourself for widespread public weeping and a riot or two. PW Daily Reports:
The Harry Potter bookselling bonanza will take place this July, though not on July 7 as many expected, but two weeks later, July 21. Scholastic announced this morning that the final volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be priced at $34.99, the first price increase since 2003. Scholastic has received the manuscript, but no page count has been released, though at the hefty price the book is likely to be a long one. Amazon is already accepting preorders and is discounting the title at $18.89. It will be interesting to see how the discounting story plays out in the U.S. In the U.K., where a number of independent booksellers said they won’t carry the title because of deep discounting by other retailers and e-tailers, Bloomsbury will also release the book on July 21, in four editions: a children’s hardcover, an adult hardcover, a gift edition and an audio version.