“You were in Housing Works on Chambers Street in Tribeca,about to go downstairs to housewares. I said hey. I wanted your advice. At first you dissed me thinking that because you’re like African American or black or whatever, I thought that you were working at HW as one of those volunteer slash outpatient types who gives you the number when you go into the dressing room But I said no I just wanted your advice because you looked awesome. (You were wearing cargo shorts, showing a little of your boxers and crack but not too much. You weren’t gross or anything.) So I showed you the shirt I was thinking about buying for my boyfriend (but we broke up) and you told me to get the one without the EAT SUGAR on the front (which I ended up getting anyway because I want to wear it). If there’s any chance that you see this please answer b/c I think we could hook up or at least go shopping.”
I get really excited when I see Housing Works in a Missed Connection, but I gotta admit this is not really what I had in mind…
A:I have. It is. Though I fear that expectations are outpacing reality and people are going to be disappointed, because how could any book be as good as all that hype? Backlashes are boring.
Q:Did you read The Corrections?
Q:WHICH IS BETTER?
A:Well--okay. When The Corrections came out I was a freshman in high school, so I was more concerned with, I don't know, zits and punk rock than I was with literary fiction. I was up at my mom's place years later and without a book. She had a copy. I started reading it, not having read any Franzen or knowing exactly what was going on--just that it was maybe a famous book--and obviously it was exciting stumbling on something that great. Literally actually stumbling: It was a hardcover and being used as a doorstop.
Q:Answer the question.
A:I enjoyed The Corrections more--for the newness, the discovery--but Freedom might be the better book.
Since this is ostensibly a bookstore blog, maybe I’ll try to get you to buy some things?
In paperback this week:
Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs
Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City
Julia Holmes’ Meeks put out by the beloved Small Beer Press and blurbed by Wells Tower and Lydia Millet, both of whom I like, and so by the transitive property of blurbing (TPoB) I should like this one.
Saffy Fo’s Eating Animals (30% off! Always! By edict of Sarah McNally (the bosslady) who thinks it that important that everyone read it.)
Terrence Holt’s In the Valley of the Kings, which was dark and weird and good (I put “We Recommend” stickers on it).
Simon Van Booy! 3 books: Why We Need Love, Why We Fight and Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter. Fact: He wrote a lot of his first collection in our cafe.
n+1’s Diary of a Very Bad Year is still around and still great, but you should probably wait on this until next month when it should be a staff pick and 10% off. Always looking out for you.
Okay! I haven’t had time to formulate a decent response to objectivecorrelative’s long, thoughtful post on Ulysses, but, first: Someone asking a good question; writing an overlong response; that response triggering another question; the answer to that question leading to a great long thing? That rules. Take that, Gary Shteyngart. One point for the thoughtful internet.
My intention was to gurgle on about authorial intent, thinking about DFW’s “art’s heart’s consciousness.” More or less: I like to remember that an author had a life, a reason to write—an attitude toward the world and their work. Which of course can’t be the last word, but it’s one of them. But anyway! Is the difference between our loves maybe just a matter of when? Maybe there’s only room enough on our brains’ bookshelves for a few of these big books—the ones that you re-read and puzzle out and pull open often. Swap out Ulysses for Moby-Dick in your post and it describes my reading experience almost exactly. I just happened to find Moby-Dick first.
I pulled out my copy of Ulysses—inscribed by my sister as I was leaving for Dublin. The furthest folded page was fifteen. Maybe I should try again.
“Elias Canetti, in his book on the twentieth century’s greatest writer, says that Kafka understood that the dice had been rolled, and that nothing could come between him and his writing, the day he spat blood for the first time. What do I mean when I say that nothing could come between him and his writing? To be honest, I don’t really know. I guess I mean that Kafka understood that travel, sex, and books are paths that lead nowhere except to the loss of the self, and yet they must be followed and the self must be lost, in order to find it again, or to find something, whatever it may be—a book, an expression, a misplaced object—in order to find anything at all, a method, perhaps, and, with a bit of luck, the new, which has been there all along.”—Roberto Bolaño in the essay "Literature + Illness = Illness," which is in The Insufferable Gaucho (great title), which is just out and on our fiction table.
I just read Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch’s Ten Walks/Two Talks. Rather than bother with thinking of my own thoughts, here’s what my sister said about it:
It counts as some small death, the blinders-on result of routine, when instead of noticing how the light hits the river or the man in front of the noodle shop crouches as if he’d got no bones, your thoughts pinball from your sandwich to an e-mail you want to write to a ticking of your to-do list. Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch’s slim, strange book reminds us that it takes vigilance to see the place in which you live, to pay attention to the world you’re moving through.
She’s right. Good book. Find it in our poetry section.
“Good movies, or at least pleasurably bad movies, make the worthless ones even worse. They remind us that watching Kick-Ass was not inevitable, that there are other, better ways to spend a Tuesday afternoon, an afternoon that will not come again. Maybe you can get your money back but not your time, and so whatever worth Kick-Ass has is only as a memento mori. As the credits rolled, I told myself: You must change your life.”—Elizabeth Gumport on Kick-Ass in the just-launched N1FR, n+1’s new online film supplement.
“Someone with tickets to a game show said oh. The man with tickets said be honest. Said: Midwestern Beauty, one of many. My brand-new boots were white. When they wooed me stage-side, I lied. About my last name first. About my handshake last. About my legs and my laugh.”—From Ashley Farmer’s “Game Show,” a super short story up with the new Gigantic online. It takes two minutes to read and your day will be better for it. (It’s raining.)
“I have had for some years on my computer a file called “Unpleasantness of Euripides,” in which I place at random thoughts on this subject, in hopes that the file will someday add up to an answer to the question, Why is Euripides so unpleasant?”—Anne Carson, from Grief Lessons, her translation of four Euripides plays.
“Critics function that way often. They make art easy, safe, and wholesome. But the artist is working with dangerous materials because he is making something that’s got reality in it, and reality is something that the human race flees from. Every culture is busy building some sort of false environment. I am increasingly impressed by how nature permits human beings to make fools of themselves in vast numbers.”—William Gass, in another one of those Dalkey interviews.
“But for literary fiction, the fiction of discovery, formulas are death. In my 12 years at FSG, we saw publishers lose millions every season trying to corner the market on the Big New (preferably Young) Literary Sensation. Meanwhile really tricky, idiosyncratic writers—Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, Elif Batuman, Richard Price, Sam Lipsyte, Roberto Bolano, James Wood, Hans Keilson—confounded even the most charitable expectations of the chains, and went through one printing after another. Now Franzen seems poised to do the same thing on a much, much bigger scale.
I name these particular authors, all published by FSG, only because I was there when it happened: I know for a fact no magic was involved. The books succeeded because critics kept yelling eureka (and because some resilient booksellers, like that clerk at Cluster of Grapes, kept putting them in customers’ hands). These books may never have cornered any market. That wasn’t the point. They found the readers who needed them. Each became a few thousand people’s favorite book.”—Lorin Stein, guest blogging for The Atlantic this week. (via theparisreview)
I hate to be the person who asks this kind of question, but! I am a regular patron of your store, and every time I am there (weekday evenings, generally), a charming young gentleman bookmonger always says hello, always compliments my selections, and is generally happy to see me. (I do come in often -- a few times a month, at least!)
Now, I know not to confuse professional courtesy with genuine interest, especially in a retail environment, but he's never quite as effusive to my shopping companions, or other bookstore patrons (that I've observed, anyway).
But! If there is more than just general friendliness going on, I'd like to perhaps go on a date with this fine young bookseller. The frustrating thing is that I've tried to politely stalk him on your staff picks page, in order to ask, "Hey Sam, is _____ single and straight?", but his picture isn't there. Perhaps he is the anonymously-pictured David? This question is getting too complicated!
Help a girl out?
Everyone here at McNally Jackson Lovemongers was delighted at this. We all blushed at once, boys and girls both. However! Hm. Without a description, we just can’t figure out who this might be. Some of us are single, others are not. Sometimes we are just excited by good taste, sometimes more. Our advice: Fortune favors the bold.
“I finished Ulysses, & think it a misfire. Genius it has I think; but of the inferior water. The book is diffuse. It is brackish. It is pretentious. It is underbred, not only in the obvious sense, but in the literary sense.”
Do you actively dislike Ulysses, or are you just not as into it as you feel you should be? As a full-blown Joyce obsessive, I'm not totally sure I can fully comprehend either scenario, but am now incredibly curious.
Okay! I feel kind of allergic about detailing—in public—my dislike for a thing (and particularly such an obviously well-loved thing). It seems glamorous and daring to stand athwart public opinion and say no, wrong—witness the backlash to any indie band, the backlash-to-come over the Franzen novel, &c. &c.—but ultimately it’s an unappealing position. At its worst it’s just a variation of a playground taunt: I know something you don’t know.
That said, not everything is great, and some great things won’t hit us the way others do. And I’ll try to explain why Ulysses doesn’t hit me that way. And! Oh man, feel free to disagree and try to convince me otherwise. I studied in Dublin, and wrote a biggish paper about Dubliners (which I love!) and read a lot of Joyce thinking about Joyce. Rather than blather, really my unease about the book is captured in that famous quip of his: “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” I know something you don’t know. My friend the Vladophile reminded me that her gripe was that I dismissed Ulysses not having read it. Which, ahem, fair enough. But I have tried—more than once! So I didn’t get to read Molly Bloom saying yes, but just got the sense the whole thing was James Joyce saying “I know”—how smart this is, how clever, how big, how sure I am about it.
Anyway, the answer is far more the latter than the former. But, again, disagree with me! Explain your love. What am I missing?
“Clark also has odd notions about the Oxford English Dictionary, calling it a schoolmarmish and Victorian work, one with no room for the naughty parts of English — yet the four-letter words have been comprehensively cataloged in the dictionary since the 1970s, and more obscure terms like “testiculose” (defined rather delicately via a citation from an earlier dictionary: “that hath great cods”) have been included from the start.”—From the Times’ otherwise positive review of Roy Peter Clark’s The Glamour of Grammar.
“There’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent like Leyner’s or serious talent like Daitch’s. Talent’s just an instrument. It’s like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved. I know this doesn’t sound hip at all. I don’t know.”—David Foster Wallace in this interview over at the Dalkey website. Posted now as a b-side to my answer to agrammar.
Hi, Sam! So I recently picked up Taylor's story collection from your store, but I've only read a couple pieces so far. Is there anything you can tell me about why you're excited for his novel, or why you like him as a writer? (His interview with Bookslut this summer was really fascinating to me, but I haven't gotten through enough of the fiction to know how I feel about it yet.)
Hello! Thanks for asking. Here’s a go at an answer: Recently a friend was giving me grief for refusing to like Ulysses. This girl, she also loves Nabokov, and I started to re-read Lolita at her behest, but, well, just couldn’t finish. In the abstract, I should love Joyce and Nabokov both: I’m a sucker for sentences. And puns! I [regrettably] love puns! I can be dazzled by these two—but rarely moved. This is something you know about. My favorite book—one I pushed on the same friend—is Moby-Dick, which moves me where those others don’t. Hawthorne in his journal wrote that Herman “can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” I could spend a lot of time with this sentence. The first chunk identifies what I think is a particularly modern anxiety, or one that at least feels particularly modern the way these things do when you’re young and confused, like I am. Anyway it’s one I know I know: can neither believe, nor be comfortable in unbelief. The difference between can & can’t—the definitiveness of it—is important. And this, coupled with the impossibility of unbelief (“There is no such thing as not worshipping,” as DFW had it)! (I realize that unbelief had specific connotations with the context of Christendom, but here I like to think of it as a belief-vacuum, an empty space—something distinct from the more obvious “disbelief,” which as we all know is a kind of belief of its own.) And the second chunk describes exactly why I love Moby-Dick so—the trying.
Or, to try another tack, in Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson writes that she “would like to grasp why it is that these two activities, falling in love and coming to know, make me feel genuinely alive. There is an electrification in them. They are not like anything else, but they are like each other. How?” She answers her own question: “They have at their core the same delight, that of reaching, and entail the same pain, that of falling short or being deficient.” The book is about gaps, boundaries—the empty spaces we try to fill or collapse. There’s risk in that.
The books I like best are written out of a place of discomfort (nature hates a vacuum), the gap between belief and unbelief: the literature of sorting out, books like tightropes between not knowing and—. The trying is what I love: risky, frisky books reaching to touch something that isn’t theirs, yet, or isn’t there. Melville did it; Chris Adrian is clearly trying to get to the bottom of something; Flannery O’Connor claimed not to know her own plots until they happened, and suddenly someone is stealing a leg, which is fun. Leaning hard here on David Foster Wallace, of course; Maggie Nelson’s Bluets; young Roth. Nicholson Baker’s curiosity—curiosity is a kind of continual reaching out—is delightful: you can feel his love for the whole mundane world. William Gass. There’s a slew of new non-fiction, too: John D’Agata’s About a Mountain, Stephen Elliott’s Adderall Diaries, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, which I just started and might have to force on everyone. When Franzen and DFW talk about books that make you feel less alone—these are reaching books. From the Monson book: “When we read a thing, we are susceptible to magic. I becomes a we, a little less lonely.”
But back to Justin Taylor, and a hasty close reading that I think explains why I like his stories. In “What Was Once Yours” (this is the one I remember best from the collection, maybe because it was the one he read when he read at McJ), there’s this line: “The day was genius with sun, the kind of day that makes you want to say, God bless the sunny South forever, and not be kidding at all.” Hovering behind this is the young male narrator’s mistrust of his mother’s newfound religion; he blames her father’s death for it, “But I don’t know that I ever totally believed that explanation, even though I was the one that made it up.” Not comfortable in belief or unbelief, hanging aloft in the anxious space between wanting to say something unkiddingly and saying it. This new novel is supposed to be about anarchists, and what better way to forefront questions of belief & action & interaction than with this far-out, hard-line philosophy, a decidedly uncomfortable one by American standards and one that’s almost implicitly impossible to realize? It makes me feel less alone knowing that there’s someone more or less my age with similar enough backgrounds in the same city trying to explore those gaps. The trying is enough to make me excited for this new novel. And anyway, he knows how to write a sentence.
“How to join: You can purchase the book from us or from an independent bookstore. Just send proof of purchase to “admin AT therumpus.net” to join the book club for free. Books purchased from Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon are ineligible.”
“The light in the bedroom died, and after a time Shelby came out on the porch and handed her father a beer. Kaley was in there, in that dark bedroom. She was in there alone. Toby folded his rucksack under his arm. His courage had flagged and roared back and flagged and now it was back again. He did not feel alone. He felt egged on by something greater. It wasn’t Kaley’s fault, and it wasn’t even Toby’s. He would be different now; he would be new. He would possess a secret that put him above his uncle and his teachers and Coach Scolle and all the convenience store clerks and all the nameless punks of Citrus County who thought knocking over mailboxes and stealing cigarettes would save them.”—From John Brandon’s Citrus County. He reads tonight with Hilton Als, who—in addition to appearing in the newest McSweeney’s—is the theater critic for the New Yorker.
"There is no folly of the beasts of earth which is not infinitely outdone by not moving in with Sam and Willa." - Merman Helville
Friends! Willa and I are still looking for a third roommate in “East Williamsburg.” The room is the largest in a large 3BR apartment. You’d have your own private full bathroom (!!), and the rent is reasonable (I live there on a bookstore salary, after all). We are blocks away from the Montrose L, and ditto to the JMZ and G. I ride the M to work; it’s a superior train. We throw parties occasionally. We don’t have curtains, but we’re working on it.
For photos and info, email sam [at] mcnallyjackson.com. (And feel free to reblog.)
“And utterance and thought as clear as complicated air and
moods that make a city moral, these he taught himself.”—Have you read the Anne Carson poem in the new New Yorker? She writes books that are too good to staff pick.
I love these goddamn things. I listened to this while I got ready for work this morning. LOVE YOU, CHRIS ADRIAN. LOVE YOU, DONALD BARTHELME. VERY SAD THAT I THOUGHT YOU PRONOUNCED DB’S NAME LIKE “BARTELMY” BUT IT’S REALLY “BARTHELMY.”
1. I blame a few writing prof’s. 2. Maybe Chris Adrian and Deborah Treisman are just incorrect. Maybe Deborah Treisman was incorrect and Chris Adrian was like, Oh shit, you pronounce the th sound?, like, mid-podcast, and went with her pronunciation, to be kind. 3. I was probably just wrong, though.
Chris Adrian writes with a force few other contemporary writers can muster. Neat to hear him reading Barthelme. (Also, don’t forget about the handy McSweeney’s Chart of Mispronounceable Names!)