About the Shark, phlegmatical one, Pale sot of the Maldive sea, The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim, How alert in attendance be. From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw They have nothing of harm to dread, But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank Or before his Gorgonian head; Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth In white triple tiers of glittering gates, And there find a haven when peril’s abroad, An asylum in jaws of the Fates! They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey, Yet never partake of the treat— Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull, Pale ravener of horrible meat.
Doesn’t this list just confirm his point? That there are a few memoirs, either especially rigorous or by especially talented authors, that are worth reading, and it’s just that the bulk of the others aren’t?
And I mean the blog line was stupid, but did no one detect a little bit of conscious self-parody, particularly in the first few grafs?
I’m not saying that his point is wrong, just that—as a critical stance, and a very public critical stance—it’s not at all compelling. (Better fit for his blog, as it were.) You could swap in “book” or “human” or “meal” or “album” or “song” or probably pretty much literally whatever you want for “memoir” in your summary and it would still hold true.
(Which, though, I guess I invited this misunderstanding by titling the list that way. Mostly I wanted to name some books I like and subtly brag about our new website.)
“But then came our current age of oversharing, and all heck broke loose. These days, if you’re planning to browse the “memoir” listings on Amazon, make sure you’re in a comfortable chair, because that search term produces about 40,000 hits, or 60,000, or 160,000, depending on how you execute it.”—
That first sentence is a nightmare about sentences.
I hope you have you have a comfortable chair if you plan on browsing (but buying at your local independent bookseller!) anything on Amazon. Amazon has lots of things. Over 2 million titles in fiction. Everyone is oversharing their made-up stories in 2011! Things are not the way that they used to be!
I am somehow always surprised that otherwise smart-seeming people are somehow always surprised that lots of bad books get written and published. Let’s call it The Problem With Reviewers. (Cf. Elif Batuman on writing workshops.) Many books are bad. You do not love all but a handful of the 6+ billion people that exist right now. Movies are often meh. Most meals are less than memorable. Just because bad books exist, and you’ve managed to round up a few at once, does not mean you should be pronouncing pronouncements and stating statements. You just ate a few shitty meals. Perhaps you should try eating somewhere else instead of denouncing all food.
“There was deep snow on the ground. I was in a sleigh, wearing my red wool hat and wrapped in my fur cloak. I had lost my boots that day, on my way to see an exhibition of savages from Africa. All the windows were open, and I was smoking my pipe. The river was dark. The trees were dark. The moon shone on the fields of snow: they looked as smooth as satin. The snow-covered houses looked like little white bears curled up asleep. I imagined that I was in the Russian steppe. I thought I could hear reindeer snorting in the mist, I thought I could see a pack of wolves leaping up at the back of the sleigh. The eyes of the wolves were shining like coals on both sides of the road.”
“Art is not a religion, but the making of it and the reception of it can both qualify as devotional acts. The earliest draft of this novel, which was really more like a long short story (twenty thousand words, give or take) was written in one sitting in a cafe in the East Village. This was about four years ago, on a snowy day around Christmas. It took ten hours and a whole legal pad, and there are no words to describe how powerfully good and right it felt. When it was over my arm was killing me, and the draft itself was utter junk (next to nothing from it survives to the finished book) but what I salvaged from what I wrote was far less important than the experience of the writing, and having the memory of that experience to draw on when I sat down to re-write it and re-write it. The most amazing part of this anecdote, it seems to me, is that the baristas let me hang out for that long when all I’d bought was a small coffee in the morning. And granted, I was a regular at that place, but still. If you’re looking for evidence of things not seen, I’d say start there.”
“And though the calendar appeared to be continuing its slow plod whenever she checked it, Margaret was dogged by a peculiar sensation. She felt that somehow, somewhere along the way when she had not been paying careful attention (and how could she have been so heedless?), time had come to an end. Now it was only a matter of a short interval before the world faded out entirely. Sometimes she was even gripped by a strange suspicion, unlikely as it seemed, that every last thing was already gone. All that now met her ears and eyes was a vestigial flare or after-impression, like the shape of the sun burnt on the retina.”
— Ida Hattemer-Higgins, The History of History
Ida reads here tonight at 7 pm; she’ll be in conversation with Chris Glazek of n+1 & the New Yorker.
The life span of black ink in disposable plastic pens is estimated to be about four and a half years. The blue ink in plastic pens starts to fade away in two. And newsprint is only intended to last for a day.
Already, scientists are experiencing difficulty in deciphering the technology that’s used in Univac, the earliest working computer from the late 1960s.
And even the laser-encrypted plastic that we put on compact disks is likely to start peeling off in about forty years.
A color photograph, says Kodak, will last for thirty years. Videotape for fourteen. Magnetic tape, seven.
The life span of skywriting is about nine minutes.
The life span of a sunbeam is six.
And the light that reflects off the Moon every night is traveling so quickly that it only lasts a second.
I have a job. And my job is to be the tumblr for this bookstore. Or, you know, that’s not actually my job, but it’s part of it. Mostly I do it from home so I don’t “get paid” for it—besides the point.
Listen, what I’m trying to say here is I do this for work and as part of my job I am going to ask you recommend this tumblr if you like when I reblog my sister and make fun of our friends at Housing Works.
“Baudelaire sensed the increased intimacy of a house when it is besieged by winter … As the result of this universal whiteness, we feel a form of cosmic negation in action. The dreamer of houses knows and senses this, and because of the diminished entity of the outside world, experiences all the qualities of intimacy with increased intensity.”—So Gaston Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Space as another three inches of snow falls on Cambridge. (via carpentrix)
- Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents - Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy - Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City - Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s - Truman Capote, Summer Crossing - John Cheever, The Collected Stories - Junot Diaz, Drown - Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the…
This is a good list. Am I the only who thinks of The Great Gatsby as a—maybe even the—New York novel? A little wrongly, but still. I’d add Melville’s Bartleby too, if there’s room for novellas. (There’s always room for novellas! They’re like appetizers.) And good to see Ed Park’s Personal Days on there.
A wall is real. A piece of baseboard that hides the gap between wall and floor, that’s real, too. I’ve spent a lot of my life mixed up with words, and carpentry has been a relief from that. Words make me stumble. I have chaos in my head and I’m not the best at sifting through the feelings or ascribing the right actions to the right feelings, or expressing those feelings in words.
Cutting a piece of trim, I don’t have to worry about how to explain what’s making me feel sad. I don’t have to worry about getting lost in the translation from emotion to language. A measurement, a cut, sawdust in my lungs. And the piece of wood slides in to fit tight after a few taps with a hammer. It’s this stripping away of bullshit, a stripping away of anything abstract or emotional or confusing.
This reminds of the way I feel about skateboarding, and also that excellent piece by J.D. Daniels about fighting in the last Paris Review.
And that great line of Romeo’s: O, teach me how I should forget to think!
Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.
Finally, an explanation!
This does not explain the way Housing Works smells.
Have you heard of the "Melville Logs?" It's a two volume compilation of nearly every primary source concerning the Melville family, ever. It includes everything from letters to Hawthorne from Melville to letters his father wrote to co-workers in France. It was created by Jay Leyda in 1951. Here's an excerpt, which I think is especially endearing:
This is the first letter I ever wrote so you must not think it will be very good. I now study geography, grammar, arithmetic, writing, speaking, spelling, and reading the class science book. I enclose in this letter a drawing for my dear grandmother. Give my love to Grandmomma, Uncle Peter, and Aunt Mary. And my sisters as so to allow.
Your affectionate Grandson,
This is from 1828, so he would have been 9 years old. I have no idea where to go about getting these volumes, as they were a part of my grandfather's personal collect. (He also sent me the 1937, Rockwell Kent illustrated edition of Moby Dick. Talk about a birthday gift!) Just thought you'd be interested.
Man, I haven’t. But now I covet them. Thanks, I think, for the tip. (Probably the last thing I need to spend money on is more Melville.)
I’ve got that Rockwell Kent edition too: it’s beautiful. I also have the t-shirt. (We sell it at McNally J.) One time a customer came up holding one, and he goes, “I knew this was a book, but I didn’t realize it was a t-shirt!” which was somehow a lot funnier when it happened than it is typed up. Oh well.
So it seems like everyone is telling me to read Updike first. Except Dustin. Dustin said read Baker first, which is what I was hoping everyone would say. (Thanks, Dustin.) See, I love Nicky B—what if, what if I read Updike and hate it, and then read Baker on Updike and lose respect for him?
Yesterday I bought Nicholson Baker’s U and I—his enthusiastic reading of John Updike. Coincidentally, I also got a copy of the first two Rabbit novels. I haven’t read much Updike (maybe really only “A&P”?), but I am already lightly skeptical: narcissist, misogynist, etc. etc. So, Q: Do I read the Baker first to temper my skepticism, or Updike first and then Baker?
Then he met Herakles and the kingdoms of his life all shifted down a few notches. They were two superior eels At the bottom of the tank and they recognized each other like italics. Geryon was going into the Bus Depot one Friday night about three a.m. to get change to call home. Herakles stepped off the bus from New Mexico and Geryon came fast around the corner of the platform and there it was one of those moments that is the opposite of blindness. The world poured back and forth between their eyes once or twice. Other people wishing to disembark the bus from New Mexico were jamming up behind Herakles who had stopped on the bottom step with his suitcase in one hand trying to tuck in his shirt with the other. Do you have change for a dollar? Geryon heard Geryon say. No. Herakles stared straight at Geryon. But I’ll give you a quarter for free. Why would you do that? I believe in being gracious. Some hours later they were down at the railroad tracks standing close together by the switch lights. The huge night moved overhead scattering drops of itself. You’re cold, said Herakles suddenly, your hands are cold. Here. He put Geryon’s hands inside his shirt.
Thanks for such a swift answers to my previous question on the printer. That was epic and I have already Tumbled a little response. So, I need some help picking out science fiction. Because I’m running dry and you never have the Charles Stross, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson defaults in stock when I want to spend money on a book I already own. So what should I be reading? I love myself classic cyperpunk, space opera and the last two sci-fi books I read (both purchased at McNally Jackson) were Paolo Bacigalupi's Wind Up Doll and China Mieville's Kraken.
I passed this onto Dustin, our skiffy expert (pronounced “nerd”). He says:
Okay. So, if she wants cyberpunk, there’s a chance she’s read Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix novel and stories, but if not, that should be urgent. Otherwise go for George Effinger. Souk-Cyberpunk. Another good choice would be the rerelease of Ken Macleod’s Fall Revolution series.
If she wants space opera (and we all want space opera. I’m convinced that a good explosion in the glassy silence of space is the cure for almost every book. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was ten AU’s past the Oorts before we got the ramscoop pulling evenly, and the AI still had that lisp.”) she should read Varley or Alistair Reynolds. We also carry two anthologies, maybe three now?, with Space Opera right in the name. Other recent headtrips along those lines are books by Walter Jon Williams.
And then in another email received six or seven seconds later:
Oh god. Has she read M. John Harrison? HAS SHE READ M. JOHN HARRISON? If I could have capitalized the abbreviating period in his name you fucking know I would have.
This is pretty nifty! Can I get just any ol book printed up? Like if I wanted some random science fiction? Is this like the goofy “download a book” in the future but in the past since its print a book sort of deal? Because when I picked up the new Steve Martin at McNally Jackson this morning (I so spent t$40 this morning on “Object of Beauty” and a book of short stories by Paolo Bacigalupi just because of this Tumblr, well also you are across from Equinox where I had a pilates duet this morning) I wanted to get both Snow Crash and Pattern Recognition just to have around so I can reread them when I feel like it but sci-fi didn’t have them. Would this have been an option?
The McNally Jackson tumblrhuman wants to tell you all sorts of things. Anything in the public domain (i.e. pre-1923) can be printed up easily. There are also a bunch of titles that publishers have given us access to; if you’ve ever special ordered a book and had us say, “Ooh, that’s print-on-demand so it’ll take about 2 weeks to get here,” those we can have for you in minutes. Also you can print your own books. Say you’d like to make an edition of your collected e-mail correspondence with a giant picture of your face on the cover, we will be able to print + bind that for you without judgment. (Some judgment, but secret judgment.) Pricing is a little different for each type of book, but none is more expensive than a regular paperback.
So it cannot print all books—it wouldn’t have changed anything you bought today (sorry for not having Snow Crash & Pattern Recognition! They’re on order!)—but it can print millions of them.
“In much the same way that I still can’t decide if it’s cool or uncool to wear skinny jeans (“but they’re designer!”), I don’t know where to fall on this thingamagig. I do know someone will surely tell me how I should be feeling about it on their tumblr at some point this week.”—I know how you feel, Guest of a Guest bloggerhuman blogging about the new Espresso Book Machine. These things are complicated. For example, I wear skinny jeans, but feel ambivalent about them. They are so tight on my legs! (They are not designer.) You should feel great about the new Espresso Book Machine. It’s neat.
It was dusk and he said, “Wait, wait, before we go in, come here, you’ve got to see this.” And we tromped through some snow and he grabbed my shoulder and said, “Just take a look.” And we looked up at this great house. A porch wrapped all the way around, a large round window mooned down above the driveway. “It took three years,” he said. He sounded proud.
My sister on her afternoon with Andre Dubus III—he showed her the house he built. His dad, Andre Dubus, is a favorite of both of ours; Nina’s reviewing the III’s memoir, Townie, coming from Norton in February.
Like this Tumblr? Like our events? We’re excited to offer two new internships at Lapham’s Quarterly. Please read carefully, as we will only consider applications that follow the instructions, and please note the deadlines, they’re sooner than you might think!
If I did not have, like, a “full-time job,” I would apply to this in a second. Students! Liberal artists! Take advantage!
“We are born falling. We are conceived in the heavens and die in your sewers. In our presence you can never deny that beauty is terrifying. All that glows could soon grow dark.”—Internal Memo: Snow by Christian Lorentzen
Hello new followers! Welcome to the McNally Jackson Internet Experience. McNally Jackson is an independent bookstore in New York City. Sometimes on the McNally Jackson tumblr I tell you what books are new or newish. You can also ask for book recommendations; I am literally a professional book-recommender. (Or ask whatever you want.) I also recommend looking at our twitter, where my co-tweeter Dustin and I co-tweet; Dustin likes to rub it in when it’s snowing, I pun and make jokes about Moby-Dick. Gird yourselves!
And if you’re a fan of Matthew Gallaway, know that he reads here on the 19th.
“I had just written two books about a sexual murder in my family (Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts) and I actively wanted to spend time writing and thinking about something I loved rather than something I found despicable and frightening. So it began as a pillow book of sorts, a book devoted to pleasure. Because I am who I am, or because pleasure is what it is, the book slid pretty quickly into dealing with pain too.”—Maggie Nelson, in an interview with Bomb, on writing Bluets. Found in Kyle Minor’s “Maggie Nelson Roundup” on HTMLGiant. Nelson has a big piece of non-fiction, The Art of Cruelty, which is about violence in art, coming out in July from Norton.