And we are closed. Read the books you already own, browse some ebooks, and, today only, you have our blessing to go to Housing Works.
General Liddament pondered this assertion for some seconds in resentful silence. He seemed to be considering porridge in all its aspects, bad as well as good. At last he came out with an unequivocal moral judgment.
“There ought to be porridge,” he said.
—Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time
Books: We have them. You want them. Sometimes. Now is one of those times, because I am about to tell you what’s new and good.
- Blood, Bones & Butter: This is a memoir by the woman who runs Prune. Astaff pick of Douglas, hated by the serial commatariat.
- Open City: Teju Cole’s meandering novel about a man meandering through New York City.
- Leaving the Atocha Station: This isn’t new, but it remains great.
- Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy: Also not the newest, still one of the most interesting destinations on the internet.
- Conversations with Kafka: Franz!
- Ten Thousand Saints: The Lower East Side! Punks! Straight edge! The ’80s!
- Dukla: Dukla! Dustin says it’s “one of the most gently but singularly pointless novels I’ve read recently, is also one of the most satisfying.”
- Life Sentences: Cranky old Gass’ baroque sentences are still the funnest to read, even when they don’t make all the sense.
- The Flame Alphabet: We’ve got signed copies of this, about language plague.
- Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty: Deb Olin Unferth, whom I trust, says that “Each page is like throwing open the window in an electrical storm—strange sky, air full of voltage, and inside, a square of brave.”
Today is the publication date for Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories, a collection of his early stories set in Berlin where he followed his elder brother in 1905, all in original translations by Susan Bernofsky. We thought we’d share the first story in the book, titled “Good Morning, Giantess!”:
It’s as if a giantess were shaking her curls and sticking one leg out of bed when—early in the morning, before even the electric trams are running, and driven by some duty or other—you venture out into the metropolis. Cold and white the streets lie there, like outstretched human arms; you trot along, rubbing your hands, and watch people coming out of the gates and doorways of their buildings, as though some impatient monster were spewing out warm, flaming saliva. You encounter eyes as you walk along like this: girls’ eyes and the eyes of men, mirthless and gay; legs are trotting behind and before you, and you too are legging along as best you can, gazing with your own eyes, glancing the same glances as everyone else. And each breast bears some somnolent secret, each head is haunted by some melancholy or inspiring thought. Splendid, splendid.
First things first, I’ve never read Nin, but heavens! Don’t start with the biography. You’ll only read her fiction as symptoms of her life—diminishing it, somehow, if you ask me (which, ha ha, literally you are). If you end up loving her, go to the bio later. That said, having consulted a few who have Ninned a time or two, everyone says start with Henry & June.
There’s a big flood in Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital—and angels, some sinister, some not, and a pervading sense of doom. It’s a favorite. Kelly Link’s short stories are definitely modern and definitely fantastic—surprisingly sweet, but certainly not romance. Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx is one of the weirdest and least romantic novels I know.
(And of course the epistolarily horrifying Dracula. And Borges! Borges, of course.)
My colleague Dustin recommends Lethem’s Chronic City and Whitehead’s Zone One, both in future New Yorks. Also Brian Evenson’s Fugue State and Sarah Schulman’s The Mere Future. And Brian Francis Slattery’s Spaceman Blues. It’s very romantic, he says, but what’s the matter with romance?
We might? Most of what I know about what happens over there is me shoving the raspberry scones (made by the great Pickle Petunia) into my face. But you should give us your resume, in case anything opens up. You can come through and drop it off, or email it to info [at] mcnallyjackson.com—just make it clear you’re aiming for the cafe.
n+1 offers internships, and they let you bartend parties and maybe you’d get to become very famous on their twitter. Our friends over at Lapham’s Quarterly offer internships too, and you’d get to think about all the books by theme—a fun activity.
But well—I was about to list a bunch of magazines and publishers (Norton, FSG, the Observer, etc. etc.) that I’ve heard positive things about, but Anonymous! I know so little about you. It’s impossible to know what you’re interested in. Figure out what you like, or might like, and then try figure out a way to be there, doing that thing.
Also, read this.
In the top 20? No, not really. It’s a definite reflection of our neighborhood, which I think we know well—the pretty edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald on booze at number 3 feels exactly right. Simon Van Booy has a long history with the store. Blood, Bones and Butter was a staff pick, and the book has a local hook. I recommended The Art of Fielding hard, but I don’t think I was a lone voice there. I am proud of pushing Leaving the Atocha Station: we sold a lot of copies of that weird little book, which I loved, before it really took off, largely thanks to the James Wood review in the New Yorker.
We have really smart customers, and we can trust that when we put, say, Leve’s Suicide on the table, that it will sell itself—which it did. We also have very many customers, which means that not everything is right for everyone and that those books that do find their audience (with our help!) might not be able to beat Goon Squad, which all types of readers are reading. So the stuff we do well—the stuff that really matters, putting the right book into the right hands—might not be so visible in the numbers.
Here are McNally J’s bestselling books of 2011. It’s a list! 31 books long. Arbitrarily. I had to go get my laundry.
- Just Kids, Patti Smith (Now also the bestselling book in McNJ’s history.)
- A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
- On Booze, F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Bossypants, Tina Fey
- The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
- The ReadyMade 100 Project Manual (printed on our book machine!)
- Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
- 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
- Go the Fuck to Sleep, Adam Mansbach
- Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton
- The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey “Salivagate” Eugenides
- The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
- The Help, Kathryn Stockett
- The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach (This would be been higher if it hadn’t gone out of stock the week before Christmas.)
- Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart
- Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
- All the public domain books from the Espresso Book Machine!
- Everything Beautiful Began After, Simon Van Booy
- Suicide, Edouard Leve
- Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
- The Tao of Wu, The Rza
- Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
- One Day, David Nicholls
- Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
- Woolgathering, Patti Smith
- Blue Nights, Joan Didion
- Life, Keith Richards
- By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham
- You Deserve Nothing, Alexander Maksik
- We the Animals, Justin “Former McNJ Staffer” Torres
Other notables (i.e. books I like that were not far down the list): Rich People Things, The Ask, Emma Straub’s Other People We Married, which we had in stock way too infrequently. Leaving the Atocha Station is in the Top 100 (another title that would’ve been higher if it hadn’t fallen out of stock everywhere just before Christmas). Lydia Davis’ The Cows—a chapbook about literal cows—is just outside the 100. Actually, though, our bestselling item-type thing by far was the set-up fee to publish on our Book Machine.
We don’t. That said, we do occasionally offer jobs—part-time ones, too, if you’re a student. We’re not hiring right now, but who knows when something might open up. You can either come through and drop off a resume or email it to info [at] mcnallyjackson.com with a little note explaining why you’d want to work at this independent bookstore. Perks include touching the books, alphabetizing, and explaining that the Paris Review is not, in fact, reviews of Paris.
First things first, there’s still time! Sort of. We’re open from 10-6 today (closed tomorrow). Anyway, onward!
The fuck-saying discoqueen throws me for a bit of a loop, but, ignoring that, she might go for Cutting for Stone or The Invisible Bridge—both have that “those” just-want-a-good-story vibe book that I’m getting from her choices. Also they’ve both been read—and loved—by McNJ staffers.
A little while ago, Ugly Duckling put out Jen Bervin’s Nets. She makes these small, evocative poems by erasing (incompletely) most of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
I’ve said it once and I’ll said it again, but The Great Night by Chris Adrian—a retelling of A Midsummer’s Night Dream—would be good if this Shakespearean also reads contemporary stuff.
I’m not sure how well you know me—probably not at all—but if he’d like to know about American literature, you could—surprise!—get him this edition of Moby-Dick, i.e. the best and most classic of American lit. It’s a paperback, but it’s big and beautiful enough that it’s as substantial and gifty-seeming as a hardcover. Also, as a companion volume, D.H. Lawrence’s hilarious Studies in Classic American Literature, which is apparently literally what he wants to know about. (It’s one of those nice Penguin classics with the green spine.)
We’ve got a handsome volume of Hemingway’s fishing stories.
It’s been out for a little while, but Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea is another one of those great adventure histories—this one involves cannibalism and whales.
And because you mentioned Everest, I thought of Wade Davis—you may remember his zombie-hunting in Haiti, The Serpent and the Rainbow—and his new one, Into the Silence. Everest! War! Death! Mallory! Davis is “National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence” which is a funny oxymoronic dream job to have.
She might like the very strange Michal Ajvaz. Plus you get to feel a little uncomfortable everytime you try to say his last name. Ajvaz. The Other City is a strange and wonderful—by which I mean it’s full of wonders—book. Dustin, I think, prefers The Golden Age.
I’ve never read Hrabal, but I’d like to. His Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age was just put out by NYRB (pronounced “nerb”) and is a single sentence (!).
Hmmmmm. If your mom is the type of mom who watches Friday Night Lights, then she’d like The Art of Fielding, I’m sure. But you probably knew that.
Yes! Enrique Vila-Matas’ Never Any End to Paris is narrated by a Hemingway-loving young man wandering around Paris wondering why his experience isn’t more like Hemingway’s. Very good. (Also A Moveable Feast, of course.)
Edmund White’s The Flaneur should be next on your list.
First question! Have you read every word of F. Scott F.? I recommend The Crack-Up, since it contains “My Lost City”—a near perfect piece of writing, if you ask me. Also Hesperus Press just put out The Cruise of the Rolling Junk—a collection of pieces written for Motor (!) magazine about driving from Connecticut to Alabama.
You might also like Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. It’s perhaps not quite as high literary as Fitzgerald, but you’ll get your jazzy social-climby New York fix.