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Unusual, Neglected and/or Lost Literature

Major update during Aug.-Oct. 2014. Quite a bit of new material that's of course not marked in any way as the newer stuff so you'll just have to poke around.

Major update during Nov. 2008 including reformatting (e.g. what was I thinking using all those HTML lists?), many new entries, and adding new material to old entries (although I've not yet found the motivation to check for all the dead links).

Contained herein are links and books in my personal collection (well, a few aren't...yet) in the general category of unusual literature, for which the best definition I can come up with at the moment is: stuff I like that's a little or a lot different than most of the stuff you'll find down at the local Books'R'Us. The list will expand in number and in content as I add personal editorial content as well as comments from elsewhere [Right. Don't stay up late waiting for the former. - Ed.] Some of the volumes are obviously intrinsically better pieces of literature than others, but intrinsic literary quality will not in itself be a criterion for including/excluding a volume from the list. Actually, there probably won't be any criteria for excluding volumes from the list unless I have a strong visceral reaction against a particular volume, and even then I can probably get over it.

I guess the ultimate goal is to provide somewhere for myself and others of my particular bent (and I use that word very deliberately) to go to find something to read during those times when the usual fodder just isn't satisfying the need, as well as to provide a web presence for the writings of obscure/unusual authors who deserve wider recognition. To put it another way, if your interests are anywhere near consonant with mine, you've hit the mother lode. If not, run like hell, but with the hopefully comforting thought that there are another billion or so pages on the web.

I've chosen/pinched/pilfered reviews basedly almost entirely on their informational content rather than their opinion of the book, on the theory that the more you know about the author and the book the more you'll be able to appreciate it. If you like the review, check out the link to that reviewer and you'll probably find more good stuff by them. If you want my opinion just ask. If I have one I'll share it, and if I don't I won't. If you don't want your review on here, just ask and I'll delete it.

Suggestions and commentary are more than welcome and will be fully credited unless otherwise desired. Email to:


For anyone interested, my personal collection has been cataloged and can be browsed by poking around here.


Meta, i.e. Other Sources Similar to This Page

The best nine SF novels you've never heard of
99 Novels
An article written by Anthony Burgess to accompany his "99 Novels" book, wherein he listed and wrote brief essays about "99 fine novels produced between 1930 and now [i.e. 1983]." If I hadn't chanced upon that book in the mid-1980s, this page almost surely wouldn't exist. Thanks, Wilson.
Alternate List Source

50 Essential Postmodern Mysteries
61 Essential Postmodern Reads
20 Best Books in Translation You've Never Read
Writers No One Reads
F&SF Curiosities
10 Forgotten Fantastical Novels
100 Best Comic Novels - Michael Dirda
10 Offbeat Literary Works of Non-English Writers
10 of the Most Bizarre Books Ever Written
10 Most Influential SF and Fantasty Anthologies
Unjustly Neglected Works of Science Fiction
The Most Unusual Books at the Complete Review
The Most Obscure Books at the Complete Review
The 20th Century's Greatest Hits: 100 English Language BOoks of Fiction
A reaction to the 1998 Modern Library list of the 100 greatest English language novels. This one's a whole lot more fun.

Rough Guide's "Cult Fiction: The Isolation Ward"
A book dedicated to authors who produced one cult novel.

Books About Books
Rich, creamery metabookage.

Top 50 Irish Novels
Created by the Irish Times. The Irish novelists are better at the unusual than most.

50 Essential Alternative Horror Books
Bibliography of General Bibliographies of SF Literature
New York Review of Books Classics
Modern Horror Fiction: 113 Best Books
A Century of Horror
A Century of Horror: Six Months Later
Checklist of Lost Race Literature (missing)
The Encyclopedia of Steampunk
This is mostly in Polish, although a Chronology is in English.

The Invisible Library
"A collection of books that only appear in other books. Within the library's catalog you will find imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound." Alas, this marvelous site seems to have vanished. A degree of consolation can be found at the Wikipedia List of Fictional Books, though. Hooray for the archive.org copy.

Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Works
"What we have here is a site dedicated to presenting works in the fields of science-fiction and fantasy--sometimes collectively called "speculative fiction"--that get high grades for literary quality without needing any bonus points just for being science fiction or fantasy. The books are judged as literature, not as "science-fiction books" or "fantasy books"."

Fantastic Metropolis
"Since its inception in October 2001, Fantastic Metropolis has been engaged in what is part of a permanent revolution against sterile, stereotypical fiction by encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas between genres and cultures, while showcasing speculative literature written by uniquely talented and creative people from around the world."

10 Overlooked Odd Speculative Fiction Classics

The Exploits of Engelbrecht - Maurice Richardson
The Hereafter Gang - Neil Barrett, Jr.
Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book - Don Webb
Dr. Adder - K. W. Jeter
Bones of the Moon - Jonathan Carroll
Zod Wallop - William Browning Spencer
Lunatics - Bradley Denton
Mind Parasites - Colin Wilson
Dead in the West - Joe R. Lansdale
Anno Dracula - Kim Newman

Matt's Top 10 Overlooked, Unknown and Forgotten Books of Speculative Fiction
Lost Book Archives
Best Overlooked Fantastical Fiction
The Lost Club Journal
Science Fiction Curiosities
It Goes on the Shelf
Overlooked Gems of SF and Fantasy
The Cheap Truth
"Cyberpunk's one-page propaganda organ, Cheap Truth, was given away free to anyone who asked for it. Cheap Truth was never copyrighted; photocopy 'piracy' was actively encouraged. Cheap Truth deliberately mocked established [SF gurus] and urged every soul within earshot to boot up a word-processor and join the cause."

Desperado Literature
The Green Man Review
"Nabokovilia is a haphazard collection of quotes by writers who have snuck references to Nabokov and things Nabokovian into their work."

The Electronic Labyrinth
"A study of the implications of hypertext for creative writers looking to move beyond traditional notions of linearity."

Encyclopedia of Superfictions
Rap Sheet's One Book Project
"What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?"

The Modern World
"The web's largest site devoted to exploring twentieth-century experimental literature."

The Compulsive Reader

Dalkey Archive Reading Guides

Overlooked Works of Fiction
Important Works of Fiction with a Reputation for Being "Difficult"
Funniest Works of Fiction 1
Funniest Works of Fiction 2

Dalkey Archive Press
Any Amount of Books


Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission - Michael Ondaatje et al., ed.
A Reader's Delight - Noel Perrin
Unknown Masterpieces - Edwin Frank, ed.
Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason - Nancy Pearl
Nicholas Brisbanes trilogy:

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
Patience & Fortitude : A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture
A Splendor of Letters : The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World
Imaginary Books and Libraries - John Webster Spargo
Bound to Please - Michael Dirda
The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction - Michaela Bushell, Helen Rodiss and Paul Simpson
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die - Peter Ackroyd and Peter Boxall
The Footnote: A Curious History - Anthony Grafton
The Devil's Details: A History of Footnotes - Chuck Zerby
Indexers and Indexes in Fact & Fiction - Hazel K. Bell
Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities - Kevin Jackson

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels : An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle
Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels : An English-Language Selection, 1946-1987 - David Pringle
Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorne and Michael Moorcock
Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
Horror: Another 100 Books - Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
They Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels - Jim Huang
100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century - Jim Huang
Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers - Jim Huang
The Crown Crime Companion: The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time - MWA
Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books - H. R. F. Keating
100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels - Nick Rennison & Stephen E. Andrews
100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels - Stephen E. Andrews & Nick Rennison
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 - Damien Broderick & Paul di Filippo
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction - John Clute
100 Must-Read Crime Novels - Nick Rennison
100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century - Jim Huang
Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers - Jim Huang
Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels - John Connolly & Declan Burke
1001 Midnights: The Aficionado's Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction - Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller
Reference and Research Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction - Richard Bleiler
The Supernatural Index: A Listing of Fantasy, Supernatural, Occult, Weird, and Horror Anthologies - Mike Ashley & William G. Cantento
Queer Books (1928) - Edmund Lester Pearson
The A to Z of Fantasy Literature - Brian Stableford
Time Machines: The Story of the Science Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950 - Mike Ashley
Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970 - Mike Ashley
Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980 - Mike Ashley
Sequels: An Annotated Guide to Novels in Series - Janet G. Husband & Jonathan F. Husband

50 Best Alternative Horror Titles


The Ambrose Bierce Appreciation Society
The Garden of Forking Paths: Jorge Luis Borges
The Avram Davidson Website
Lionel Fanthorpe Appreciation Page
Harry Stephen Keeler Society
The Nights and Cities of Gerald Kersh
R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page
Jerusalem Dreaming: An Appreciation of the Writings of Edward Whittemore


Anecdotal Evidence
Mumpsimus - Displaced thoughts on misplaced literature.
Clews's Reviews: A Book Log
The Library of Babel: A Book Log
Outside of a Dog: A Book Log
Virtual Marginalia

Amazon Lists of Exceptional Interest

Remarkable Books: An Eclectic List
Exotic Fantasy and SF Favorites
Concealed Labyrinths Innovative Etc. Etc. Prose
Some Restrictions Apply: Oulipo Novels & Texts
Eclectic List of Literary Obscurities
Obscure Writers Deserving More Attention
Not Dead Yet 1
Not Dead Yet 2
Not Dead Yet 3
The Experience of the Other Night
Library of Peripheral Experiences
Books at the End of the Night
No One Should Read These Books
Strange Books
Read Closely Enough and Your Eyes Will Fall Out
Curious Contraptions
Essential Genre Reference Works
Truly Modern Suspension Bridges
Labors of Love, by Odd Ducks
Logophiles and Hyperbolists
books about nothing
Where Lies the Strange, the Corrupted
Strange Nonlinear Fiction
The Slipstream Core Canon

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
Little, Big - John Crowley
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link
Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany
Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories - Angela Carter
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Love and Sleep - John Crowley
Daemonomania - John Crowley
Endless Things - John Crowley
Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology - James Patrick Kelly, ed.
The Complete Short Stories - J. G. Ballard
Stranger Things Happen - Kelly Link
The Lottery and Other Stories - Shirley Jackson
Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon
Conjunctions: 39, The New Wave Fabulists - Peter Straub, ed.
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
The Trial - Franz Kafka
Absurdists, Surrealists and Annihilation
Books selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 1)
Books selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 2)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 3)
Books Selected by Borges for his 'Personal Library" (Part 4)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 5)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 6)
Books Selected by Borges for his "Personal Library" (Part 7)
Searching archives: Researchers and the meaning of the past
The Disciples, Collaborators, and Contemporaries of Borges
Labyrinths and Puzzles and Mysteries, Oh My!
Isomorphisms, Strange Loops, Multiple Levels of Meaning
Pornography for Astral Bodies: An Announcement
The Great Heresy
Society of Skeletons and Paleobotanists
Tuxedo Fred, or The Peruvian Swordsmith: An Allegory
Pataphysics, Situationism, Dada, Whathaveyou
Tomes of Surreal and Symbolist Literature
Little Read Books That Are Well Worth Reading
Fantasy Nouveau
Science Fiction Nouveau
Beyond Bridget: Uproarious Fictitious Diaries and Memoirs
Books to Tickle Your Funny Bone
Some Like It British: Humour for Confirmed Anglophiles
Dictionaries of the Strange and Fabulous
Science Fiction Plus Absurdism
Entertaining But Different: Strange Fiction
Weird Reads
Fiction: Obscure But Great
Vintage Weirdness
Some Masterpieces of Fantastic Fiction
Future Nobel Prizes
Sterne and Kafka Revisited: Fantastic Excursions
Altered States: Brilliant But Twisted Books
Metafiction and Surreal SF Absurdisms
The Age of Irony: Reading List
Lost Maps or Manuscripts, Lost Libraries, Gothic Winds
Postmodernism for the Impatient
Classic Lit: The Lesser Known Authors
Twentieth Century Lit Redux 1
Twentieth Century Lit Redux 2
Wet Moth Exhaustion
Magic Realism I
Magic Realism II
Magic Realism III
Masterpieces of Magic Realism
Lists Are Like Pairs of Pants
The Blazing Lights of the Sun
Found Poetry and Altered Texts
The Book That Exploded
Exploded Metaphysical Surrealism
Great Experimental Fiction
Bizarro and Other Literary Oddities
Best Experimental Fiction, Postmodernism, and Bizarro
Obscure and Esoteric Delights
Best Books You've Never Heard Of
Incredible Fictional Literature
Obscure Russian Books You Should Read
Post-Modern, Warped and Highly Innovative
Time is a Mid-Night Scream
Bizarre Journeys
Great Absurdist and Surrealist Fiction
Unimaginable Domains from the Void
Jazz History Ken Burns and Wynton Don't Want You to Know
Fantasies of Time and Place
20 Overlooked Cult Beauties
1994 - Growing Up Weightless - John M. Ford
1993 - Through the Heart - Richard Grant
1992 - King of Morning, Queen of Day - Ian McDonald
1991 - Points of Departure - Pat Murphy
1990 - Subterranean Gallery - Richard Paul Russo
1989 - Wetware - Rudy Rucker
1989 - Four Hundred Billion Stars - Paul McAuley
1988 - Strange Toys - Patricia Geary
1987 - Homunculus - James Blaylock
1986 - Dinner at Deviant's Palace - Tim Powers
1985 - Neuromancer - William Gibson
1984 - The Anubis Gates - Tim Powers
1983 - Software - Rudy Rucker


Rudolph von Abele

The Party (1963) - Rudolph von Abele

"In a single evening late in World War II a party gathers at an Austrian chateau to be entertained by, and pay homage to, a Nazi host. The completely amoral Marshall is as clever as he is brutal and the counterpoint to his dominant will is his ability to charm even his worst enemy. He is pitted against his guests, particularly the benign Steinbaum who proves unable to withstand the alternate cruelty and wit of the Marshal. The careful style and the frank description of a world of uncertain reality work to advance a brilliant analysis of the people who serve and were served by the Nazis.

Roger Sale says that this novel "can quickly be described as being about Herman Goring and by Henry James. It is a wonderful tour de force, and if it doesn't reread so well as it reads, that is in part due simply to one's amazement the first time that such a book could exist. It takes 400 pages to describe the events of one evening, with, obviously, great slowness and concentration."" - "Writer's Choice," Bill Katz, 1983, p. 3

Walter Abish

Alphabetical Africa - Walter Abish

"Alliterative Analogies, assertively assembled, appear aplenty, appropriately, apt and artful, absorbing attention ad infinitum. This could be a fitting summary of Abish's stunningly "now" novel, written almost a quarter of a century ago with a linguistic device concocted between Kabbala and alliteration. Chapter 1 is composed with words beginning only with the letter A, Chapter 2 with A and B and so on until chapter 27, when Z first, then chapter by chapter all other letters, are progressively subtracted. In spite of a scheme tracing back to the beginning of written literature, the novel tells of deeds and characters so surprisingly contemporary, they may have been culled from today's headlines: polysexually inclined thugs hide in Africa after a crime spree, with the Author in pursuit of the woman who betrayed them. Chasing after the thugs from country to country, we are introduced to a ruler queen transvestite, war and genocide, corrupted burocrats and soldiers, rampant corruption in a landscape still in hot air, where sparsely assembled people wollow in African Indolence. All is narrated with poetic detachment, in a dimension between joke and dream that implies social, political and historical commentary with what appears linguistical accidentality: it is just that the words were limited by my artifice, reader, the Author seems to smile. No harm intended. Perhaps: the scenario may have seemed so far fetched in 1974, to have been deemed the product of unabridged fantasy. Great art, when unhindered, relates to the whole of time, in all tenses. While amusing, Abish has managed a ponderous read, which meandering on through verisimilar everyday history of attitudes and practices, inserts deep philosophical reflections as light as the puns enclosing them and extends like a prophecy to contemporary events. Attentive readers will delight in finding the one slip from the add-subtract letter scheme. And wonder: was it accidental? "In order to be perfect, all I lack is a defect" goes an ancient italian folk ironic couplet." - A Customer

J. J. Abrams

S. - J. J. Abrams

"S. is one of the best books I¿ve read. Period. But I believe I feel differently than the average reviewer because I made the conscious decision that I was going to ¿believe¿ before I started reading. You see, you can only enjoy this book if you go in accepting that you are not its first owner and that what you are reading was not intended for your eyes. The ability to become an active participant instead of a passive reader, I would imagine, is the difference between loving this book and hating it. I fall so far onto the ¿love¿ side of the spectrum that I simply cannot wait to read it again.

S. is really a story about 6 principal characters:

¿ S. ¿ The main character in the novel "Ship of Theseus" who is suffering from amnesia. The novel follows S. as he desperately tries to figure out who he is and what his significance is to both the Ship of Theseus and the various ports at which it docks.

¿ V.M. Straka ¿ an enigmatic author of the novel Ship of Theseus, the book which serves as stage to this mystery.

¿ The Translator (FXC) ¿ a historian of Straka¿s works who not only translates his novels into a variety of different languages but also pens commentary in the form of footnotes throughout Ship of Theseus.

¿ Eric ¿ an exhausted theorist who believes the mystery of ¿Who is V.M. Straka¿ can be solved via subtext clues cleverly embedded throughout Ship of Theseus

¿ Jen ¿ a student who stumbles upon Eric¿s copy of Ship of Theseus and who¿s penchant for researching the obscure and who's fresh perspective on the tale helps reveal that the initial question of ¿Who is V.M. Straka¿ is only the tip of a very, VERY large iceberg.

¿ YOU ¿ You are the 3rd handler of this book. Jen and Eric have taken extensive notes in the margins and left dozens of pieces of ephemera tucked into the pages that serve as clues. You will use these clues to not only help solve the mystery of V.M. Straka, but also explore the mystery of why it is that you now have this book in your possession.

By reading S., you essentially become a character. In the same way that Eric and Jen attempt to solve a mystery about FXC and VM Straka, you must solve the mystery of Eric and Jen. Eric and Jen will often express frustrations over how they are not privy to the conversations and events that took place outside the pages of Ship of Theseus. This is not dissimilar to frustrations you, as the reader, will experience when Jen and Eric engage in meetings and ongoings outside of the book¿s margins. It¿s a brilliantly complex and maddeningly open-ended plot hurdle that you will regularly encounter throughout S.

The quantity of information that is thrown at you all at once is alarmingly difficult to comprehend. This is, of course, intentional. You may reach a page that has a postcard tucked into the binding, has 2 footnotes from FXC, has 11 margin notes from Eric and Jen (in 4 different ink colors), and, obviously, the continued Ship of Theseus novel. There is no good way to digest all of this, you simply have to read through it and absorb it as best you can before moving on. As you progress through the book, you pick up tricks for understanding when a note was written, who wrote it, and what the meaning is. Unfortunately, you¿ll gain this perspective just in time to realize that ¿ at some point ¿ you¿ll have to start the book all over again. However, while this is undeniably frustrating, it lends authenticity to the overarching plot of S., pulls you deeper into the story, and makes you feel like you really are solving a mystery. In this way, Eric and Jen become very real and you¿ll feel like you can help them in the same way they are trying to help V.M. Straka.

S. is so much more than a book. It¿s an experience. I continue to obsess over every detail, every clue, and every word contained in these pages. But, what¿s funny about S., is that I wouldn¿t recommend this book to most of my friends and family. Simply put, I just don¿t think many people will ¿get it.¿ I don¿t know how many people have the tolerance for ambiguity in the same way I do. I don¿t know if other people will appreciate the complexity, the depth, or the details like I do. If The Da Vinci Code was the pizza of the literary world, then S. is the sushi. Most people probably won¿t like it, but it will be passionately loved for by a few.

I could go on about this book for days. I would write more, but I have to go Google how to read a ¿rail-fence¿ cipher so I can continue solving this mystery :)" - H. Parker Smith III

J. R. Ackerley

Hindoo Holiday: An Indian Journal - J. R. Ackerley

"A journal of Ackerley's stay in the Indian province of Chhatarpur during the 1920s, "Hindoo Holiday" records and mocks the muddled morality and intellectual immaturity of both slothful Indian rulers and equally pampered British colonialists. After Ackerley returned from India, he spent several years touching up his diary for publication; he changed the names, toned down the sexual content, and removed passages that might be considered libelous. This recently published version is the first unexpurgated American edition, with all the cuts restored.

Ackerley's intent was to be mischievous and outrageous and comic; and his book became both a critical hit and, to everyone's surprise, his most commercially successful work. The book is at its best in its humorous depictions of the Maharajah, his private secretary Babaji Rao, and the contingent of valets, including the endearingly sweet Sharma and Narayan. For the most part, Ackerley's portraits are nonjudgmental and fond; he reserves his venom for the British guests and, to a lesser extent, for his sycophantic tutor, Abdul, and clumsy servant-child, Habib.

Throughout "Hindoo Holiday" there is a disconcerting, even creepy, undercurrent that revolves around the sexual despotism of the Maharajah, whose predatory advances are directed towards the "Gods"--his name for the boys in his employ. "Boys" is Ackerley's term; at least one is identified as being twenty and several are married, so it's possibly more accurate to call most of them young men. But, whatever their age, these youngsters are compelled to have sexual relations with the Maharajah--and with his wife while he's watching. Complicating this issue is the subtly hinted possibility that the ruler is suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis. (The paternity of the palace's heirs is a great mystery, as well.) Only a few of the youths seem able to withstand his advances, and Ackerley often must come to the defense of Narayan, one of the "Gods" who refuses to comply.

Ackerley reports these incidents with disquieting aplomb. His own role in these matters is rather innocent; according to biographer Peter Parker, he limited his affections to kissing and holding hands: "If he had sexual relations whilst in India, he left no record of the fact." (And Ackerley was not known for being shy about such matters in either his journals or correspondence.) Nevertheless, intentionally or not, the goings-on in the palace are emblematic of the corruption, indolence, and decadence of the British Raj.

Most modern readers, then, will find much of the tone and material and humor in "Hindoo Holiday" a bit dated. Yet Ackerley's memoir is still an accurate portrait of the time--and there are moments of brilliant hilarity." - D. Cloyce Smith

My Dog Tulip - J. R. Ackerley

"I think My Dog Tulip is possibly the best book about dogs I have ever read. It doesn't suprise me to see that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (The Hidden Life of Dogs) has written the introduction to the current edition, as Ackerley opened up some of the territory she was to explore. They remind me of each other quite a lot.

In the first scene of My Dog Tulip, Ackerley meets a little old lady wheeling a little dog around the park in a pram. The dog is dressed up in a blanket and she is cooing to him like an invalid. It's obvious that this highly anthropomorphised canine is the sort of dog Ackerley wants NOT to portray. He commented at the time that he wanted to restore beastliness to beasts, and as E.M. Forster put it, Tulip is 'a dog of dogdom', not just 'an appendage of man.' My Dog Tulip lampoons the British middle class as well as human anthropocentrism in general. Ackerley's technique of combining shocking subject matter with a genteel, decorous prose style is always a joy to read. It's also definately the main reason he managed to get away with publishing this book in 1956. It's no small measure of the success of this balancing act, that a book which still manages to upset a minority of readers in 2001 was published in 1956 to general critical acclaim.

What you get, if you buy My Dog Tulip, is a very detailed account of Ackerley's life with his dog Queenie (he changed the name to Tulip, only after it was suggested to him that 'Queenie' might cause some tittilation, as Ackerley had been a somewhat outspoken member of London's gay community for some time). At times it is hilarious - never more so than when he's poking fun at English propriety. At other times it is very touching, and at others there is a barely concealed anger against human arrogance. Yes, there are many, detailed descriptions of canine bodily functions - one chapter is titled 'Liquids and solids'. In my view Ackerley pulls this off with complete dignitiy, even if I'm reminded of Salvador Dali explaining to a shocked society lady how he covers himself with filth when he paints, but in order to attract "only the cleanest flies."

When the real Queenie died, Ackerley was devestated, and never really recovered. The greatest achievement of My Dog Tulip is its final chapter 'The Turn of the Screw', where suddenly the style of the writing changes; the comic veneer is dropped, and suddenly all the imagery about life, death and reproduction make sense. Tulip is still with him, but time is against them. It is one of the most beautiful and moving ruminations on mortality that I've read." - T. Gadd

We Think the World of You - J. R. Ackerley

"It's practically impossible to imagine a book like this being published in today's publishing atmosphere, but thankfully, NYRB is around to buck that trend. I mean what editor today would manage a straight face upon opening a proposal about a middle-aged gay man taking care of the irrepressible dog of his working-class lover who's in jail? But as usual, with any work of art -- craft, talent, intelligence, compassion -- this remarkable work is so much more than that. Around its droll premise, Ackerley found a way to brilliantly expose the pettiness of people, regardless (or precisely because) of their social standing. The dog, which is just as vividly alive as each of this novel's (bipedal) characters, is really only it's lovable catalyst. But finally, what makes this work astounding is how it slyly and assuredly gets funnier and funnier and more blackly though generously hilarious with each successive page. A real snicker of a book." - wordtron

Henry Adams

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres - Henry Adams

"Privately printed in 1904 (and revised seven years later), "Mont Saint Michel and Chartres" was never meant for the general public. It's the intellectual's ultimate "what I did on my summer vacation" essay, written for friends as a gift to accompany their excursions through France. The first half is a highly personal travel book and an idiosyncratic guide to art and architecture of medieval French cathedrals (particularly of Chartres); the last six chapters offer a succinct excursion through the spiritual mindset of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

If you've never been to Mont Saint Michel or to Chartres, the first ten chapters can be hard going; it's like reading a 250-page description of a painting you've never seen. Even if you have been to both locations, it's unlikely you'll remember the details Adams expected his readers to have in front of them. Fortunately, his prose is not dry (and is at times characteristically witty). Adams is able to render vividly the fleches, the portals, the arches, the statues, and the stained glass panels, and he provides the tourist with a thorough understanding of the achievement represented by medieval religious art. He also supplies as background a wealth of related literary and historical references .

The tenth chapter (and the last of Adams's official "tour") focuses less on the cathedral of Chartres itself and more on the cult of the Virgin that it represents. It serves as a segue to the second half of the book, which will be far more accessible to general readers. He compares contemporary portrayals of three queens--Eleanor of Guienne (Aquitaine), Blanche of Castile, and Mary of Champagne (who wasn't really a queen, but never mind)--to the representations of the Virgin Mary in the art, in poetry, and in hagiography. "The Virgin was a real person, whose tastes, wishes, instincts, passions, were intimately known," Adams argues. "Like other Queens, she had many of the failings and prejudices of her humanity." The final three chapters turn to the intellectual life: the ongoing tensions between universalism and nominalism, Bernard and Abelard, mysticism and rationalism--all culminating in the balancing act of Thomas Aquinas.

Over 75 years ago the "Cambridge History of English and American Literature" judged Adams's book as "probably the best expression of the spirit of the Middle Ages." Well, not quite; such a view could be proffered by a literary critic perhaps, but certainly not by a historian, and I think Adams himself would have been appalled by such a statement. (A more accurate and more thorough account from the early twentieth century is Charles Homer Haskins's "Renaissance of the Twelfth Century," published in 1927.) What Adams offers here is a glimpse of the medieval Catholic intellectual spirit as seen through the prism of his own rather conservative nineteenth-century Protestantism. His book is not so much a scholarly treatise as it is a wistful refashioning of the medieval spirit." - D. Cloyce Smith

Demetrio Aguilera-Malta

Seven Serpents and Seven Moons - Demetrio Aguilera-Malta

"This story was written in 1970 in Mexico by Ecuadorian Malta. It is written in authentic `magical-realism' style a la `100 Years of Solitude'. It is based in a fictional Latin-American town Santoronton, on the banks of a river and small island `Bahumba'; it's not clear when or which country this really is, though Zinc roofs suggest it is at least mid-1900s.

Santoronton is ostensively a normal rural town well populated by the usual suspects of such places: Colonel Candelerion (crocodile) the villainous rapist/murderer leader, witch doctor Bulu-Bulu (monkey) with daughter Dominga, Catholic Father Candido (with personal live wooden Jesus), families including the Quindales with daughters Chepa (a ghost) and Clotilde (bat), Dr Juvenico, secondary baddy bandit Chalena (toad). The town however has the story but also the magic to overlap events and personal animal similes (as indicated in brackets). The `real' animals appear to participate in the story.

The basic arc of the story is that the Colonel lusts after Chepa, he murders the family and rapes both daughters: Chepa (marries quickly but dies soon after) comes back to haunt him, what can he do?. The town is the centre of devil (`X-tail') activity with Chalena, who sold his soul?, controlling the water supply and ends up owning the town and people. The town rely on their religion Candido loses his church in a fire and the burned Crucifix comes alive; another Father comes to build a concrete church and falls in with the baddies. Candelerion is Candido's godson (if not son?). Clotide starts to entice men and castrate them, what can doctor Juvenico do to help her? Dominga needs a man to protect her from the tin-tins.

You might have been looking for another `100 Years' style of book - this is that book. The story is engaging and enthralling; add in the author's clear magical style which works very well because it's always there but not in an overpowering way - one can simply read the story as magical or preferably (form my point of view) clever analogy that expands events i.e. does the Colonel really turn into a crocodile and kill people so easily? .

Assuming you're into Latin American books you will not regret finding and reading this book." - H. Tee

Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

Leg Over Leg, Vol. 1 - Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

""And here she interrupts him, saying, 'I take your meaning, which is self-evident and calls for no explanation, and is just what I was going to say myself. So give me your hand and take mine' - and so it continues until their hands have roamed all over, groping and grasping, swiping and wiping, searching and seeking, poking and stroking, squeezing and teasing, clasping and parting, slapping and tickling, rooting and rummaging, delving and digging, rubbing and pinching." This passage, translated from the hundred-fifty-year-old Arabic book Leg Over Leg shows the book at its best: playful; linguistically limber; language, sex, and love balled into one jumble. With the publication of Humphrey Davies' translation of Volume III and IV of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq's novel, the introduction of this Lebanese classic of Arabic literature into English comes to a close, and opens the doors of discussion, interpretation, and a chance for more Arabic literature in translation to find the attention this work has received. Written in 1855, in a language that is severely under-translated, and largely autobiographical, there's the temptation to turn to the historical record to contextualize the book, to focus on it as a piece of history. That this translation is a chance for English-language readers to have a greater understanding of al-Shidyaq's place in the history of Arabic literature is undeniable. He's an author who blended Western traditions and culture into Arabic while practicing traditional Arabic forms and mining the depths of obscure and unimaginably specific Arabic words. However, to focus too much on the historical, the timeline of literature, risks reducing Leg Over Leg to mere artifact, dead facts instead of living literature. It can deny the life, the entertainment, of the book, and cut off interpretations and reactions that come from reading it now, responding to the text as a contemporary reader. Reading Leg Over Leg somewhere between historical blindness and overt attachment to autobiographical and historical readings deepens its well of interpretation, as understood by the author himself, who writes, 'A book . . . grows more valuable with each passing year, and its benefits multiply.'

The benefits of Leg Over Leg have multiplied, and its contemporaneity is astonishing. It is a bawdy celebration of sexuality, satirical of religion, narrated by an author aware of and commenting on the act of writing and reading, proto-feminist, and more. This shock, that a book from its time, from its area of the world, could be so involved with the complications of a protagonist who both is and isn't the author, that the narrator is self-aware, that the equal rights and intelligence of women is promoted, also risks overwhelming the book: when trying to convince friends it's worth reading, I found the easiest arguments tempting, that it's progressive in many of its values, especially for 1850s Lebanon, and it's wildly transgressive in spending six full pages listing words for different types of vaginas, penises, and sex. This reduces, and undersells. In ways, in the arguments between husband and wife that make up much of Volume IV, Leg Over Leg is progressive and transgressive for 2010s America through their honest, open expression, reaching for solid ground to stand on together, even if the perspectives themselves are familiar:

"Is there a single man who can maintain an affection and not deviate from it every day. I swear, were women to desire men as much as men desire women, you wouldn't find a single man unbewitched."

"Is there a single woman who can maintain affection and not deviate from it each day a thousand times?" I asked her. "All books bear witness to the trustworthiness of men and the treachery of women." "Weren't the ones who wrote those books men?" she countered. "They're the ones who made up those stories." "But only after investigation and experience."

It beats out most contemporary novels in the formal risks it takes, as when the narrator interrupts to challenge the reader to keep up, or ends a chapter by admitting that both author and reader need to take a break, relax a while. In a three-sentence chapter titled "Nothing," the narrator declares that he must "sit myself down a while in the shade of this short chapter to brush off the dust of my labors." The shock of a novel such as this coming from when and where it does also, oddly, denies the historical, forgets that the basic, confined structure of the novel is actually, as shown at length in Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History, a modern development. "The novel has always been a workshop, not a museum," Moore writes. A reader's surprise at the 'newness' of Leg Over Leg is an immediate, surface-level gut reaction, and to go no further is a denial of the historical, much as the historical is itself a denial of what is new.

At its core, Leg Over Leg is a travelogue. The protagonist is the Fariyaq - the name a portmanteau of Faris al-Shidyaq - who moves from Lebanon, to Malta, to England, to Paris, and makes various stops along points in between. Along the way he makes friends and enemies, joins and leaves a monastery or two, works varied jobs as translator, dream interpreter, general scholar, marries, and has a family. And the book itself travels, has its own sense of motion. Though there is a sexual innuendo in the title Leg Over Leg - legs entwined, either in action or in the post-coital jumble of comfort - it also calls to mind a sashaying one foot in front of the other, traveling confidently, with style, across themes, obsessions, affections. Arguments over religion take hold in the first two volumes, then, like traveling from one land to another, crossing border regions, in volumes III and IV, family matters take over. Like an intelligent, careful traveler, the progress is gradual, never rushed, and lands far in the distance must be remembered or anticipated in order to be understood: the Fariyaq's love of women is present in all four volumes, but begins to shift when he meets his wife, and then changes further when she turns out to be able to go toe-to-toe with him intellectually and conversationally. ..." - P. T. Smith

Robert Aickman

Cold Hand in Mine - Robert Aickman

"Along with Sub Rosa, one of the twentieth century's two or three greatest collections of weird fiction, Cold Hand in Mine stands among Aickman's best books. It contains eight "strange stories", his preferred term for his own works and a very apposite label: more ambiguous and more inclusive than the usual "ghost story" rubric, and much more appropriate to Aickman's achievement, which in his best stories is less that of a teller of ghostly tales than that of the ghost itself. "The Hospice", in which a man spends a night at the establishment of the title, is a brilliant example. The surroundings are luxurious, the food plentiful and rich, the staff polite and obliging; yet the guests (inmates?) are prone to strange moods and night-time excursions - and at least one of them is chained to the wall during dinner. The protagonist leaves the Hospice in the morning, physically unharmed but riding in a hearse which has come for one of the residents. Sexual unease and perversity pervade several of the tales, most spectacularly "The Swords", in which a beautifully described, tatty circus act is the instrument of a young man's fall from innocence; and "Niemandswasser", one of the best in this best of collections, in which a German aristocrat, alone in the unclaimed, desolate middle of an icy lake ("no man's water"), meets a dreadful female apparition with a mouth of spiny, fishlike teeth. More conventional and far more civilised is the vampire story "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal"; but that's the only nod to genre conventions you're likely to find here. "The Same Dog", with its weird deja-vu plot; "Meeting Mr Millar" with its narrator's haunted neighbour; "The Clock Watcher", which is partly, perhaps, about the triumph of time over love; and "The Real Road to the Church", in which a woman witnesses a strange ceremony, then meets, and flees from, the image of her own soul, are all exquisitely written, startling and haunting. An encounter with a real ghost could hardly be more unsettling than an encounter with one of Aickman's stories." - Phillip Challinor

The Wine Dark Sea - Robert Aickman

"Robert Aickman was a writer of what he called 'strange stories', but of the eight stories in this collection 'The Fetch' is the only piece resembling a traditional ghost story. Aickman's work contains acute psychological insight; he is master of a unique and very modern form of horror where the protagonist often doesn't know what he or she has done to bring about disaster. This is seen at its starkest in 'The Inner Room' (the first story I read by Aickman and still my favourite - a truly haunting piece which will stay with me for as long as I live), and in the title story, where protagonist Grigg allows "the last living rock" be killed...but doesn't actually know what he did to let it happen.

The twentieth century was a time of disorientations, when Europeans were walking "on overgrown paths" as Knut Hamsun famously put it. So how is one supposed to act in such situations? There is something, a hidden room, to which we don't have access...

Aickman reveals subtle and ambiguous sympathies for fascism and Nazism in this book - admittedly far more ambiguous than those of Hamsun. In the final story of this volume, 'Into the Woods', a Polish officer asserts there was "darkness on both sides" in what Aickman describes elsewhere ('The Inner Room') as "the late, misguided war". And in 'Never Visit Venice' Aickman mentions an inscription left "by the previous regime" (i.e. Mussolini's) to the effect that a minute as a lion is preferable to a lifetime as an ass. This has been left up, not just for difficulty of access but also apparently for deeper reasons.

In 'Your Tiny Hand is Frozen', the central character Edmund St. Jude is a member of an old, aristocratic family, and an authority on obscure 18th century poets. St. Jude (named for the patron saint of lost causes?) struggles to fit in with his contemporary surroundings. This mirrors Aickman's own deep suspicion of modernity. In another story, a character observes that "the Greeks used to decorate their houses with flowers and sing songs. Now they buy tinsel from shops and listen to radios."

'Never Visit Venice' demonstrates Aickman's antipathy to the modern world at its starkest. Mass tourism has made the world into "a single place, not worth leaving home to see." The protagonist Henry Fern has something inside him which makes him different, something indefinable which he would like to be rid of, yet at the same time which he is sure is the best thing about him. This undefinable something acts as a barrier between Fern and other people, and holds him back in his career. He feels work and relationships are largely a charade, and one girlfriend accuses him of being "too soulful". He dreams of a woman with whom he attains understanding and affinity. But that woman turns out to be...Death.

"The city fathers are all dead. Everyone in Venice is dead. It is a dead city. Perhaps it died when 'Tristan und Isolde' was composed here." Aickman feels cut off from the feminine, something which emerges more explicitly in a story of his not included in this collection, 'Ringing the Changes' (which itself is something of a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth').

Aickman is not without humour, though, as shown in the grotesque and hilarious 'Growing Boys'. The boys' repulsive father, a hypocritical, Guardian-reading leftist called Phineas Morke, is seen by his own wife as resembling "an immensely long anchovy, always with the same expression at the end of it."

'Into the Woods' delves into more esoteric regions. This tale of insomniacs (read: initiates) whose knowledge makes them feared by the general populace is an allegory about finding the true Self, which very few ever do. The forest, or Self, has "no beginning or ending", similar to Jung's description of the Self as a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. This Self cannot be quantified, but contrary to the claims of certain totalitarian empiricists, it most definitely exists...and no one knew this better than Robert Aickman, one of the finest supernatural writers of the twentieth century.: - A Customer

Joan Aiken

The Cockatrice Boys - Joan Aiken

"This is one of Starscape Books' better reprints, and one that relatively few readers will know about. Joan Aiken, best known for her "Wolves of Willoughby Chase" books, serves up a delightful fantasy/horror/comedy story that is sure to win over any fan of things that go bump in the night.

Cockatrices have invaded England. What are cockatrices? It's a general term for various malevolent, nasty, omnivorous beasties that arrived via luggage at an airport (hee!) and soon begin snorking up the unwary inhabitants. In a matter of years, people are hiding from them as they roam through England and lay waste to it. General Grugg-Pennington is given an order: Create an armored train and have a special corps of soldiers to deal with the cockatrices.

One of the people who volunteers is the boy Dakin -- Dakin is brought along because he plays the drums, and repetitive loud noises kill some of the cockatrices. Things become substantially more complex when Dakin's cousin Sauna ends up on the train as well. But something evil is massing in the north -- something connected to Sauna and the cockatrices, and something that will do anything to achieve its ends.

There are plot holes in this that you could throw a Flying Hammerhead through (why don't the people just leave England? Why can't they use an electronic recording instead of drums?) but somehow it never really matters. It's fun. Just fun. Aiken expertly mixes goofy Brit humor with a grimmer tone (sort of post-apocalypse-lite) in a newer kind of England where green leafy vegetables are a precious rarity and German dogs are imported to fight the Snarks. The flying sharks, the slightly dotty old lady, the pleasant old Brit soldiers, the apartment full of porcelain knickknacks, and so on. The plotting is tight; it gets darker as the book progresses, bringing in such old details as Michael Scott and covens of plotting witches.

Dakin is a suitably plucky everyboy, polite and dutiful and thoroughly sympathetic. Sauna is a bit more of a dark horse, as her ancestry and abilities are slowly revealed. The characters around them are less 3-D, but are great fun. There is some violence and creepiness, but nothing too major; this book may, however, scare some younger kids. The scenes with the eerie, almost ghoulish "Aunt Flossie" and her malicious rat were absolutely horrific.

Paper and binding are about average. My only beef? The cover! It's awful! Gris Grimly's drawings are quite good on the inside -- creepy and suitable, kind of a sharp-edged Edward Gorey -- ... In addition, the ending is a bit vague.

This is a really fun romp that kids will enjoy, and adults can chuckle over as well." - E. A. Solinas

Cesar Aira

Shantytown (2013) - Cesar Aira

"The setting is Buenos Aires in the 1990's. The protagonist is Maxi, a large, muscular young man, who is good-natured but rather simple-minded. Maxi spends his mornings at the gym and in the afternoons and evenings he helps, more or less as a Good Samaritan, trash-pickers load their carts and haul them back to Shantytown, where the destitute of Buenos Aires live in shacks along narrow streets brightly lit with pirated electricity.

That set-up is somewhat unusual. What César Aira does with it is more so, as the plot becomes increasingly surreal. Maxi's daily excursions into Shantytown with the trash-pickers attract the notice of a corrupt policeman, who begins to tail him. Others join the plot: Maxi's younger sister and her equally fatuous girlfriend, a Bolivian girl who works as a maid and lives in Shantytown, a mysterious Indian known as "the Pastor" who seemingly has connections to illegal drug trafficking and a fundamentalist evangelical sect, and a crusading celebrity judge with a cadre of elite police officers under her command and a gaggle of television camera crews and chatty news girls who follow in her wake. The novella culminates in an apocalyptic deluge in the midst of Shantytown.

I am a little ambivalent about César Aira, yet I keep reading him. This is the fifth novella of his that I have read in translation. (He has written well over fifty, most of which have not been translated into English.) Every one that I have read is nominally set in Aira's native Argentina, but elements of the fantastic elbow aside most indicia of realism. I normally am not a fan of fantasy. But Aira handles it so well, in such wholly unexpected ways and with a rather droll delivery, that I keep coming back for more.

Aira's narrative meanders, taking all sorts of twists and turns. The cumulative effect can be disorienting, as Aira playfully acknowledges near this tale's end, when one of the characters "turned her head with a look of shock and horror, as if to say 'This is too much! If there's one more twist in the plot . . .' And perhaps her dismay was justifiable. As a beekeeper may be killed by just one more sting because of all the toxins that have accumulated in his system * * * there may be a limit to the quandaries that a mind can accommodate."

As with the other Aira works I have read, the question arose upon closing the book: What was that all about? With SHANTYTOWN, at least, I have a possible answer: it is an anti-drug morality tale. But that might be me exercising my preference for meaning in literary works and imposing it where the author was simply writing a story -- in this case, an occasionally violent but nonetheless intriguing one with a series of surprises. It is like a trip to the funhouse." - R. M. Peterson

Chingiz Aitmatov

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years - Chingiz Aitmatov

"Set mostly in a small railroad crossing in Kazakhstan's Sarozak desert sometime in the latter part of the 20th-century, this novel tells the story of Burrunyi Yedigei's effort to bury his coworker and friend in the ancient cemetery used by the few people of the area. In doing so, Aitmatov mounts a subversive critique of the Soviet system that crushes traditions and unfairly persecutes people. The story is told through Yedigei, a long-suffering worker who recounts episodes from his life along with a old tales drawn from Central Asian folklore. A running subplot involves a nearby cosmodrome (presumably Baikonur), and a joint Soviet-American space station which makes contact with a utopian alien race. This seems to be an attempt to link the lives of insignificant workers with earth-shattering events, or is perhaps an allegory about the Iron Curtain vis a vis the West. Or more likely, Aitmatov is attempting to tell a story in the past (folktales), present (the burial plot), and future (space). Whatever the intent, the space material feels very awkward and anyone coming to the book for science-fiction will be disappointed.

The real core and strength of the story is the insight into the hard lives of the Kazakh rail workers and the way in which Aitmatov uses the genre trappings of Soviet Realist literature to mount a rather subversive critique of life in the USSR. We learn of the post-WWII hardship that took Yedigei and his wife Ukubala to the rail crossing, and of their daily struggle to survive there. There are plenty of other threads, most importantly the arrival of a politically suspect family looking for a place to start over, their friendship with Yedigei, the desire the wife arouses in him (echoing one of the folktales), and finally the Orwellian tragedy that takes them away. Here, Aitmatov is directly criticizing the Stalinist purges in which his own father was executed in the 1930s (the book first appeared in 1980, so he does so from a position of relative safety). There is also a running thread about Yedigei's fierce camel, a barely domesticated proud and fierce beast which is a metaphor for the Central Asian people subjugated under Soviet rule.

The death of Yedigei's friend Kazangap is the inciting event that allows for everything else to be told, as Yedigei organizes the community for the wake and burial, to be done in the traditional way. However, tradition is not what it used to be, and Kazangap's son and relations are less than enthusiastic about the whole matter, long having fled for the modern world of the city. Moreover, the traditional funeral train of camels is augmented by a truck and tractor to assist in the grave-digging. Indeed, the clash of the modern Soviet world with the traditional Kazakh extends even to burial grounds, as the procession is denied access to the old Ana-Beiit cemetery. This relates directly to what is perhaps the novel's primary theme: cultural memory. One of the folk tales recounts how Mongol conquerors tied bands around the heads of captured enemies and allowed them to shrink, turning the wearer into a mindless slave without a memory. This crops up in the space subplot, when two cosmonauts who glimpse the utopian future are doomed to have their minds wiped. All of which relates to the Soviet attempt to eliminate cultural memory in Central Asia (embodied here in the denial of access to the traditional cemetery). This is without a doubt a book of great importance to those interested in Soviet or Central Asian literature, but others will probably not find it that compelling." - A. Ross

Daniel Akst

St. Burl's Obituary - Daniel Akst

Vassily Aksyonov

The Burn - Vassily Aksyonov

"The Burn by Vassily Aksynov is an outstanding literary achievement. The Burn tells the story of the children of the revolution, raised on Soviet Ideology and the disillusionment that followed the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Its protagonists are five talented, sophisticated, cynical and albeit hopeful denizens of Moscow: a famous jazz saxophonist who is the idol of the city's rebellious youth; a melancholy romantic writer; a scientist disturbed by the militaristic use to which his discoveries are being appropriated; a doctor searching for the mysterious substance that is the source of life; and a sculptor od scandalous works. Frustrated by hopes for freedom in all its guises, the novel is infatuated by the profuse and copious draughts of alcohol and the salacious yet sensually sublime sexual experiences. Each of the five disenchanted souls share a common middle name and the acquaintance with Tolya von Steinbock. Each representing an aspect of Tolya: with particular reference to his childhood, spent in the work camps of Siberia where his mother was a political prisoner (this fact an autobiographical anecdote reminisced with poignancy and humor by Aksynov). Wildly inventive, obscene, outrageous, surreal and verging on the perilous hold of a numb infatuation with the detritus that overstates the omniscient social strictures, this novel is eloquently rendered by Michael Glenny in a tortured assiduosly immanent prose, acid in its disdain for conventions and melodious in its evocations of the protagonists' insolent wanderings. The novel marked a new era for Russian letters, one which returned its critical sphere to the realms of Dostoevsky and Bulgakov, where the individual is buffetted by normative quandaries that insinuate upon his personhood while forging its very structure of feeling. The language and the narrative composition is of extraordinary beauty, treading the contours of A Dreiser with the inpertinence of a Henry Miller. This outstanding expression of the Soviet experience goes beyond the semantic sway of time and place and retrieves the overwhelming affects the madhouse of the ideological intimations between the individual and the social order annotates as it fashions an irreverent and blasphemous fantasia of indolence and contempt. Even if you are not into Russian literature this is a novel that will entertain and provoke as much as it offers insights into the art of novel writing more broadly speaking." - Luca Graziuso

"Thomas Pynchon is the first writer that springs to mind after reading the first few pages of The Burn. Then slowly you discover that this incredibly eclectic panoply resonates with Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, J.P.Donleavy, John Barth, Ken Kesey, Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow. The Burn is undoubtedly the first truly serious effort by a major contemporary Russian classic to transcend the constraints of culture topologies and hermeneutics pushing the translator's job into the realm of the impossible. Should it be "translation proper", or "transmutation", or "partial tranformation" or some symbiotic balance between the three? To what extent the attainment of this serendipity could be enhanced by total immersion and participant observation? A simple example. In the first chapter of The Master and Margarita thirsty Berlioz accompanied by the poet approach a kiosk and are offered a lukewarm fruit lemonade. So far so good. Then Bulgakov writes: suddenly both were overwhelmed by the smell of a barbershop(translation is mine). Images and associations of what barbershop does it invoke? Downtown Moscow beauty parlors and saloons today are redolent with Estee Lauder and Ralph Lauren, so what does the reference really connote, could it be just skipped as something of marginal significance or even complete irrelevance? Indeed, the barbershops with cheap cologne that smelled like fruit lemonade have long been gone, but I still remember the tonsorial establishments of the early fifties and that provides an olfactory input to supplement and augment the semantics. This builds a springboard for free association whose crazy kaleidoscope takes me on a journey down the memory lane, and bingo, here I am ensconced in a chair in a barbershop that smells like Bulgakov's lemonade. The Burn is undoubtedly, a colossal enterprise,it's cerebral, witty, hilarious, extraordinarily elegant and scandalously bawdy, a seminal book by all standards. I have yet to read its English translation by the impeccable Michael Glenny to compare notes, so to speak. However I have a strong suspicion that no matter how brilliant the translation, only a reader possessing the highest level of cross-cultural literacy could make a connection. Which brings me to another interesting point, Conrad and Nabokov both wrote in English. Nabokov once made an interesting comment in an interview, he said(this is not a quote, just a paraphrase) that he could write a perfect description of a sunset or a crawling insect, however the problems arose if he were to ask directions to the nearest convenience store. The proverbial barbershop again!" - Ilia Toumadjanov

Boris Akunin

F.M. - Boris Akunin

"F.M. (Russian: ¿.¿., the initials of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky and also probably a pun on FM radio) is a novel in two volumes by Boris Akunin, which reached bookstores in Russia on 20 May 2006.

This work presents a postmodern engagement with Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. The main character of the book is Nicholas Fandorin, the grandchild of the famous sleuth Erast Fandorin, who seeks the lost variant of Crime and Punishment in modern day Russia. Another character is Porfiry Petrovich, the detective in Crime and Punishment, from whose perspective the story is told. Thus, the story is relayed through two distinct temporal perspectives: 21st century and 19th century. All the characters from Dostoevsky's work have counterparts in the more recent time.

The book was published in Russian in 350,000 copies." - Wikipedia

Brian Aldiss

The Shape of Further Things - Brian Aldiss

"This is non-fiction from Aldiss, not really on any particular subject, or arranged with any goal in mind, but a conversation between himself and the reader, importuned by a January 1969 night's conversation between himself and Christopher Evans. If I may not be too bold, it's much the same as what I imagine First Impressions to be, although Aldiss has me soundly beat in terms of far-ranging intellectual discourse. We all have to start somewhere, though.

Although in some ways this book is trapped in the time at which it was written, it also overcomes such by realizing that it would be. The title, of course, refers back to H.G. Wells' Shape of Things to Come (or, at least I think that's right). Aldiss tries to live up to that earlier volume by playing the prophet as well. And, like most prophecies when looked back on with hindsight, it's interesting to note the things that didn't come to pass more than what he's gotten right. This is also a biographical and historical document as it relates the rise of SF in Britain, as well as describing some of the inner workings of the New Wave. Thanks to Paul di Filippo for sending this book to me (a perfect way to make sure I read your recommendation!)." - Glen Engel Cox

Barefoot in the Head (1969) - Brian Aldiss

"This book deserves to be rediscovered, from lonely out-of-print land, if only for the awesome premise that Aldiss has created. Europe has been devastated by chemical warfare, and the weapon was psychedelic drugs. The unlikely perpetrator is Kuwait of all places, and that's ironic in more ways than one. Now the whole population is on a multiple personality-inducing acid trip. An aid worker named Charteris was one of the few people not affected, and as the only sane person around, all of the headtrippers think this guy is the messiah. But it turns out that the psychoactive effects of the drug are contagious, so Charteris becomes affected himself and starts to believe that he really is the messiah. As Charteris becomes more and more insane as the book progresses, so does the third-person narrator along with Aldiss' writing style, leading toward complete incomprehensibility.

Sadly, such an incredible premise is buried under a completely misguided writing endeavor. Aldiss has used this interesting idea to merely experiment with writing techniques that were derivative for their time. The book is 100% 1969 and is showing its age. The stream-of-insanity writing style that Aldiss inflicts on us here is a thinly disguised copy of the groundbreaking works of William Burroughs, plus a little of Philip K. Dick. This is even more evident when you consider that most of Aldiss' other works are more straightforward sci-fi. So the incredible potential of the premise is squandered beneath waves of faddish psychedelic writing style and an exasperating parade of made-up terminology (though I admit I like the adjective "vonnegutsy.") This type of writing has been done successfully, and can bend your mind to extreme proportions, but get it from the originators.

The actual plot elements, theme, and character development of this story could fit into a much more focused short story of twenty pages. This tale had infinitely more potential when it started. A real disappointment." - domsdayer520

Felipe Alfau

Chromos - Felipe Alfau

"Written in the 1940s but unpublished until now, this surreal and labyrinthine fiction is the only other novel by Felipe Alfau, whose 1936 Locus was reissued to great acclaim in 1989. Set in New York City, Chromos explores the predicament - one that is at once indicative of modern exile and explosively funny - of a community of "Americaniards," Spanish exiles in the New World, adrift in the no-man's land between languages and cultures, spinning out theories on everything from social improvement (can the earth be saved by breeding smaller people?) to the best method of cooking paella, all the while bombarding one another with stories and stories within stories." - Back cover propaganda

"There are so many interesting things to say about Felipe Alfau and his novel, "Chromos," that it is difficult to decide where to begin. There is the novel itself, of course, a complex and sometimes difficult post-modernist narrative written years before the appearance of the so-called post-modernists (Alfau was, in other words, ahead of his time). There is the history of the novel's publication, a fascinating tale in its own right. There is the fact that Alfau, a Spaniard who came to the United States at the age of fourteen, wrote "Chromos" and his earlier novel, "Locos," in English, rather than his native Spanish. And there is, finally, the biography and the views of the author himself-the former enigmatic, almost mysterious, in its obscurity; the latter disturbingly reactionary, reminiscent of Ezra Pound and forcing the reader to separate the man from his work.

"Chromos" is a series of narratives within narratives of a coterie of Spanish immigrants living in New York City sometime between the two World Wars. Among the main characters is Don Pedro Guzman O'Moor Algoracid, also known as Peter Guz and the Moor, and his close friend, Dr. Jose de los Rios, whom the Moor calls Dr. Jesuscristo. It is the Moor who first tells the novel's unidentified first person narrator to write the story of Spaniards living in New York, of the "Americaniards" as he calls them:

"You should write a book about the Americaniards, somebody should-but you have not written for a long time-anyway you could not write any more about your people in Spain-have been too long away, forgotten too much-don't know what it's all about and you could not write about Americans-don't know enough-impossible ever to understand another people. I could not understand them when I first came and every day I understand them less. We meet, we talk, but neither knows what it's all about-total confusion. My English was abominable when I arrived and everyday I speak it worse-impossible; can't understand a damn thing."

It is this request that frames the narrative, the Moor mysteriously taking the reluctant narrator to an old, dark, cockroach-infested basement apartment devoid of furniture (except for a book-filled bookcase), its walls covered by chromos-chromolithographs-"depicting people and scenes that came to life, but more like things remembered or imagined."

From this place, the unidentified narrator of "Chromos" relates his close relationship with the writer Garcia. It is Garcia who provides two narratives within the larger framing story, reading aloud to the narrator from two different works-one the seemingly "corny" and salacious multi-generational saga of the rise and decline of the Sandoval family in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Spain, the other the cinematic narrative of a Spaniard named Ramos who, in a Mephistophelian bargain, is given the ability to skip through time and emigrates to America in the early twentieth century. All the time, while Garcia narrates the stories contained in his two novels, the larger narrative of "Chromos" provides a first-person account of the day-to-day life of the Moor, Dr. de los Rios, Garcia, and the narrator. And the narrator, too, provides another narration as he sees into the mind-sees the imagination and dreams-of the seemingly forlorn, hapless character Fulano. Indeed, one of the most powerful narrative sequences of "Chromos" occurs near the end, when the narrator details Fulano's sordid, obsessive, sexual and homicidal dreams of a female store mannequin.

"Chromos" is, in short, a complex novel that reminds the reader of the post-modern writings of Borges, Calvino, Coover, Pynchon, and others. It is, in this sense, a remarkable achievement since it was written in 1948, long before such fictions became prominent. And this leads us to the next part of the story, the fact that while "Chromos" was written in 1948, it was not published until 1990, when it was nominated for the National Book Award. For this, we have an editor of the Dalkey Archive to thank. As related in a 1990 article in Newsday, reprinted at the Dalkey Archive web site (http://www.centerforbookculture.org):

"In 1987, Steve Moore, [an editor at] a small publishing company, Dalkey Archive, found a copy of "Locos" [Alfau's 1936 novel] at a barn sale in Massachusetts. He paid $10 for it and after reading it, immediately found Mr. Alfau's number in the Manhattan phone book. Mr. Alfau, living alone in Chelsea, told them to publish the book if they wanted to; he didn't care what happened. When "Locos" did reasonably well, Mr. Alfau told them to use the money for somebody else's unpublished work. He had no use for money. Moore asked Mr. Alfau if he had written anything else. Mr. Alfau took "Chromos" out of the dresser where it had been since 1948."

While a native Spaniard and Spanish speaker, Alfau wrote in English and, for this reason, he has been compared to other writers who adopted another, non-native language for writing their fictions, writers like Conrad, Beckett, Nabokov, and Brodsky. Indeed, the first paragraph of "Chromos" adumbrates the theme not only of the immigrant living in a foreign country, but the way that immigrant experience is further occluded by language:

"The moment one learns English, complications set in. Try as one may, one cannot elude this conclusion, one must inevitably come back to it. This applies to all persons, including those born to the language and, at times, even more so to Latins, including Spaniards. It manifests itself in an awareness of implications and intricacies to which one had never given a thought; it afflicts one with that officiousness of philosophy which, having no business of its own, gets in everybody's way and, in the case of Latins, they lose that racial characteristic of taking things for granted and leaving them to their own devices without inquiring into causes, motives or ends, to meddle indiscreetly into reasons which are none of one's affair and to become not only self-conscious, but conscious of other things which never gave a damn for one's existence."

So what is a reader of "Chromos" to make of all this? If you believe Alfau himself, not too much. When asked in an interview about the sale of his first novel, "Locos," which departed drastically from the commercially accepted novels of the time, he replied: "I got $250 for `Locos.' But you are right. In fact, I don't see how anybody could like my books or could even understand them. They are unreadable."

In that same interview, published in the Spring, 1993, edition of Review of Contemporary Fiction (and reprinted at the Dalkey Archive web site), Alfau-ninety years old at the time and demonstrating his reputation as iconoclastic, opinionated, curmudgeonly, and politically incorrect-is quoted as follows: "I think democracy is a disgrace. Machiavelli was absolutely right: the difference between tyranny and democracy is that in tyranny you need to serve only one master, whereas in a pluralistic society you have to obey many. I always thought Generalissimo Francisco Franco was a trustworthy ruler of Spain, and thus supported him. Since his death, the Iberian peninsula is in complete chaos. In fact, at the time of the Spanish Civil War, I championed Franco's cause in this country as much as I could."

While Alfau's politics and personality may seem anathema, "Chromos" is a remarkable work of literary imagination and narrative structure that should be read by anyone interested in modern and post-modern writing. While perhaps "unreadable," as Alfau says, by those looking for a traditional linear narrative with an unvarnished plot, "Chromos" is a joyride for those who like experimentation, complexity and intellectual pyrotechnics." - A Reader

Locos: A Comedy of Gestures - Felipe Alfau

"I share the puzzlement of the reviewer below over why this isn't considered one of the 20th Century's great works of fiction. I'd go further and say this is probably the most underrated novel of the last 100 years. The most important literature not only blazes a trail, but does so in a way that compares favorably to the books it inspires. This is true for Locos. The book should have had a stronger edit, but what Alfau achieves here - stories that rewrite each other, characters who morph into each other - unleashed new powers from the fictional narrative that have yet to be fully tapped. There's a moment at the end of a story called "A Character" that is one of the very few mindblowing experiences I've had reading fiction. Alfau was probably the first novelist since Laurence Sterne to understand this potential in narration. There's a character in Locos named Fulano who, desperate to get others to notice him, breaks a storefront window. The owner comes out, ignores Fulano and wonders how such a thing could have happened. In a sad way, Locos is like Fulano. Everyone marvels at the glass it shattered, but nobody can see Locos." - A Customer

This is a beautifully constructed book and full of surprises. Another example: one does not notice in this opening chapter the unusually small hand of Don Gil, seen only as a mark on a whitewashed wall. The lightly dropped hint is picked up unobtrusively like a palmed coin several chapters later when Don Gil is being arrested at the reluctant order of his brother-in-law because his fingerprints have been found all over the scene of a crime: ¿Don Gil had very small hands¿and the handcuffs did not fit securely enough¿. ¿Officer, those handcuffs are too big for me. You had better get a rope or something.¿ ¿ In his conversations with the Prefect, he has kept invoking ¿the man from China,¿ that is, the man who has the perfect alibi but is tracked down by science through the prints his hands have left. Don Gil¿s last article, published in a Madrid newspaper on the day of his apprehension, is entitled ¿Fingerprints, a sure antidote against all alibis,¿ and his last words, which he keeps reiterating as he is carried off in the police wagon, are ¿I am the man from China¿. Fingerprints never fail.¿

Perhaps police work and criminality, just as much as mad, fantastic Spain, are the subject of Locos. And considerable detection is required on the reader¿s part, to be repaid, however, as in the case of ¿Wanted¿ lawbreakers, with a handsome reward. For instance, among the clues planted to the mute presence of Señor Olózaga in the Café of the Crazies there is simply the word ¿butterfly¿; I failed to catch the signal until the third reading. And I still have a lot of sleuthing to do on Carmen-Carmela-Lunarito and the beauty spot on Lunarito¿s body that she charges a fee to show. A knowledge of Spanish might help. In the Spanish light, each figure is dogged by a shadow, like a spy or tailing detective, though sometimes the long shadow is ahead: ¿She stood at the end of her own shadow against the far diffused light of the corner lamppost and there was something ominous in that.¿ It may be that this is the link between the theme of Spain and the theme of the criminal with his attendant policeman. In some moods Locos could be classed as ¿luminist¿ fiction. But I must leave some work (which translates into pleasure) for the reader.

If Locos is, or was, my fatal type, what I fell in love with, all unknowing, was the modernist novel as detective story. There is detective work, surely, supplied by Nabokov for the reader of Pale Fire. I mentioned Calvino, too, but there is another, quite recent example, which I nearly overlooked. The Name of the Rose, of course. It is not only a detective story in itself but it also contains an allusion to Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles. But in Locos Sherlock Holmes is already present: while in England Pepe Bejarano pretends to have studied under him, which explains his uncanny ability to recover his uncle, the Prefect¿s, wallet. The grateful police officer, who does not know whether Conan Doyle¿s creation is a real person or not, wants to express his thanks. ¿Yes, Pepe, yes, I should like to write an official letter to that gentleman, to that great man¿Cherlomsky, is that the name?¿

Yes, there is a family resemblance to Nabokov, to Calvino, to Eco. And perhaps, though I cannot vouch for it, to Borges, too." - Mary McCarthy

Dalkey Archive

Marcel Allain

Fantomas - Marcel Allain

"Paris is the grip of fear. One name is at the root of this panic: "Fantomas." In a matter of days, a wealthy heiress is hacked to death in her room. A young guest, Charles Rambert stands accused by his own father of the crime, and commits suicide. A Russian princess is robbed in her room. An English lord, a veteran of the Boer War, goes missing. One detective, Juve, knows that Fantomas is the mastermind of so much misery. Can he unmask the criminal in time? Or is this all a figment of Juve's mind?

Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain's creation "Fantomas" is the pinnacle of pulp brilliance. He's one of the great literary super-villains, a shadowy crime-lord who "spreads terror" for the absolute pleasure of it. He doesn't want to rule the world. He makes his living from crime, but clearly enjoys the notoriety his crimes bring him. In a sense, Fantomas is a break-point between the fantastic qualities 19th century pulp, and the down-to-earth crime fiction of the mid-20th century.

The first novel is a rip-roaring ride of horror and intrigue, as Fantomas layers scheme upon scheme, murdering and stealing for the pleasure of it. A master of disguise, Fantomas moves through the novel as an ambiguity, appearing as various people, usually people he has murdered, forwarding his loathsome schemes. Juve, also a master of disguise, is obsessed with capturing the fiend. He also moves as a shadow, under the guise of beggars and criminals, investigating each lead that might bring Fantomas to the guillotine.

The novel is episodic, naturally, as it was originally serialized. There is an almost maddeningly number of interconnected plot-lines. Juve and Fantomas play a bloody game of cat and mouse, each hidden under impossible disguises. Fantomas' crimes alternate from being dashing and Robin-Hoodesque to terrifyingly violent and bloody. He murders because he can, willingly slaughtering dozens so as to do away with an assumed identity. While the writing is fairly overwrought, it is also quite lush and lurid, sweeping up the reader and leading them to compulsively read the next exciting episode, as cliffhangers abound and plot-twists litter the landscape.

Naturally, the character development is secondary. Each character is drawn in broad-strokes: the dogged, obsessed Juve; the mysterious, malign Fantomas; the hapless Charles Rambert, and; the pitiable victims who find themselves caught in Fantomas' web. Further, the narrative is not a single linear plot, but rather a tangled web of events, some of which are resolved quickly, others which are never adequately followed to their conclusion. More than anything, the authors were interested in excitement, and they give that to the reader in spades.

"Fantomas" is simply the first in a series of over 30 books. Sadly, the first one has only recently come back into print in English. Hopefully, more of adventures of this lurid, prototypical arch-villain will be available soon." - Ian Fowler

"For some reason, Fantomas never figures in the genealogy of the detective story, where Borges, with his 1942 story 'Death and the compass'is credited with completely reversing the traditional elements of detective fiction (crime,investigation,solution, resolution), to create a new post-modern genre, 'anti-detective fiction', followed by Nabakov, Pynchon etc,which is characterised by a lack of or a compromised resolution, an unknowable world (Holmes, Poirot etc. always knew the world they operated in), and a hugely fallible detective who is unable to control the plot, and is usually destroyed by his own detection. Fantomas does all this 30 years earlier. In the first book, we don't even know who Fantomas is - there is enough textual evidence to suggest that he is not Etienne Rambert-Gurn, that we can never know who he is. We have only Juve's word for it, and he is constantly admitting that this may be a figment of his imagination. The form itself is also revolutionary - instead of following a single narrative to its resolution, the narrative is continually splintering, with different stories on the go at once. Juve manages to connect them all to Fantomas, but to accept this is to ignore the special contrapuntal magic of the text, which through repitition, doubling, mirroring, achieves a terrifying loss of control on the part of the reader, who is frequently in the dark as to which character is which. Even if Gurn is Fantomas, the ending is hardly the cosy resolution of Agatha Christie, say. An innocent man is executed, and a homicidal lunatic is on the loose. The predominant motif of the novel is of the theatre, acting, inventing a role - the result being a comprehensive deconstruction of any simplistic, holistic notions of identity, and therefore, perhaps, offering a more liberating way of looking at the world, one which does not depend on repressive dichotomies, such as good and evil. This novel, despite being indifferently written, is a masterpiece, which proves the superior power of the unconscious over the conscious artist." - A Customer

Alphonse Allais

Captain Cap: His Adventures, His Ideas, His Drinks (1902) - Alphonse Allais

"A mammoth madcap trade paperback edition -- the complete and unabridged translation of the original 1902 French classic by Alphonse Allais. 370 pages, including eight uncollected "Captain Cap" stories, plus a "Cappendix" of rare historical pictures.

The book is illustrated throughout with witty drawings by Doug Skinner, in addition to his extensive notes on the translation and lively introduction.

ALPHONSE ALLAIS (1854-1905) was a peerless French humorist, celebrated posthumously by the Surrealists for his elegant style and disturbing imagination. In addition to composing absurdist texts for newspapers such as LE CHAT NOIR and LE JOURNAL, he experimented with holorhymes, invented conceptual art, and created the earliest known example of a silent musical composition: FUNERAL MARCH FOR THE OBSEQUIES OF A DEAF MAN (1884). Truly ahead of his time (as well as ours), Allais is needed now more than ever. His mischievous work remains fresh, funny, and always surprising." - Black Scat Books

C. J. L. Almqvist

The Queen's Tiara - C. J. L. Almqvist

"I know of nothing quite like this strange, imaginative book, with its melding of historical fact and dramatic fiction, romantic fantasy and hard-edged reality, thriller-like political intrigue and aerial amatory caprices. Its gender-bending main character and the attendant inability of those around her/him to accommodate the mere notion of his/her existence are as canny and original as the tapestry of inventive, nearly baroque conceits Almqvist constantly unfurls, from copper plates depicting inquisitional tortures (used to frighten the imprisoned Tintomara) to an elaborate subterfuge involving a robotic mannequin. Yet far from seeming cultish or marginal in its fantasy elements, The Queen's Tiara comes across as a classic indeed: a compelling historical novel that pre-figures Freudian psychology and blends Sadean cruelties with the most ethereal romanticism, an oddly moving invocation of the mysteries of human psychological and political processes, and a daringly imaginative caracole around the incestuous intertwining of reality and fiction. It's also, on top of all that, an enormously entertaining story." - Seraillon

Kingsley Amis

Russian Hide-and-Seek (1980) - Kingsley Amis

"The scene is England 50 years after its conquest by the Soviets. The plot is to turn the occupying government upside down.

A handsome and highly sexed young Russian cavalry officer, Alexander Petrovsky, joins the plot and learns to his regret that politics and playmates don't mix."

Thomas Amory

The Life and Opinions of John Buncle, Esquire - Thomas Amory

In the year 1756, there resided in the Barbican, where the great John Milton had lived before him, a funny elderly personage called Mr. Thomas Amory, of whom not nearly so much is recorded as the lovers of literary anecdote would like to possess. He was sixty-five years of age; he was an Irish gentleman of means, and he was an ardent Unitarian. Some unkind people have suggested that he was out of his mind, and he had, it is certain, many peculiarities. One was, that he never left his house, or ventured into the streets, save "like a bat, in the dusk of the evening." He was, in short, what is called a "crank," and he gloried in his eccentricity. He desired that it might be written on his tombstone, "Here lies an Odd Man." For sixty years he had made no effort to attract popular attention, but in 1755 he had published a sort of romance, called Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, and now he succeeded it by the truly extraordinary work, the name of which stands at the head of this article. Ten years later there would appear another volume of John Buncle, and then Amory disappeared again. All we know is, that he died in 1788, at the very respectable age of ninety-seven. So little is known about him, so successfully did he hide "like a bat" through the dusk of nearly a century, that we may be glad to eke out the scanty information given above by a passage of autobiography from the preface of the book before us : "I was born in London, and carried an infant to Ireland, where I learned the Irish language, and became intimately acquainted with its original inhabitants. I was not only a lover of books from the time I could spell them to this hour, but read with an extraordinary pleasure, before I was twenty, the works of several of the Fathers, and all the old romances; which tinged my ideas with a certain piety and extravagance that rendered my virtues as well as my imperfections particularly mine. . . . The dull, the formal, and the visionary, the hardhonest man, and the poor-liver, are a people I have had no connection with; but have always kept company with the polite, the generous, the lively, the rational, and the brightest freethinkers of this age. Besides all this, I was in the days of my youth, one of the most active men in the world at every exercise; and to a degree of rashness, often venturesome, when there was no necessity for running any hazards; in diebus illis, I have descended headforemost, from a high cliff into the ocean, to swim, when I could, and ought, to have gone off a rock not a yard from the surface of the deep. I have swam near a mile and a half out in the sea to a ship that lay off, gone on board, got clothes from the mate of the vessel, and proceeded with them to the next port; while my companion I left on the beach concluded me drowned, and related my sad fate in the town. I have taken a cool thrust over a bottle, without the least animosity on either side, but both of us depending on our skill in the small sword for preservation from mischief. Such things as these I now call wrong."

If this is not a person of whom we would like to know more, I know not what the romance of biography is. Thomas Amory's life must have been a streak of crimson on the grey surface of the eighteenth century. It is really a misfortune that the red is almost all washed off.

No odder book than John Buncle was published in England throughout the long life of Amory. Romances there were, like Gulliver's Travels and Peter Wilkins, in which the incidents were much more incredible, but there was no supposition that these would be treated as real history. The curious feature of John Buncle is that the story is told with the strictest attention to realism and detail, and yet is embroidered all over with the impossible. There can be no doubt that Amory, who belonged to an older school, was affected by the form of the new novels which were the fashion in 1756. He wished to be as particular as Mr. Richardson, as manly as Captain Fielding, as breezy and vigorous as Dr. Smollett, the three new writers who were all the talk of the town. But there was a twist in his brain which made his pictures of real life appear like scenes looked at through flawed glass.

The memoirs of John Buncle take the form of an autobiography, and there has been much discussion as to how much is, and how much is not, the personal history of Amory. I confess I cannot see why we should not suppose all of it to be invented, although it certainly is odd to relate anecdotes and impressions of Dr. Swift, a propos of nothing at all, unless they formed part of the author's experience. For one thing, the hero is represented as being born about thirteen years later than Amory was "if, indeed, we possess the true date of our worthy's birth." Buncle goes to college and becomes an earnest Unitarian. The incidents of his life are all intellectual, until one "glorious first of August," when he sallies forth from college with his gun and dog, and after four hours' walk discovers that he has lost his way. He is in the midst of splendid mountain scenery - which leads us to wonder at which English University he was studying - and descends through woody ravines and cliffs that overhang torrents, till he suddenly comes in sight of a "little harmonic building that had every charm and proportion architecture could give it." Finding one of the garden doors open, and being very hungry, the adventurous Buncle strolls in, and finds himself in "a grotto or shell-house, in which a politeness of fancy had produced and blended the greatest beauties of nature and decoration." (There are more grottoes in the pages of Amory than exist in the whole of the British Islands.) This shell-house opened into a library, and in the library a beauteous object was sitting and reading. She was studying a Hebrew Bible, and making philological notes on a small desk. She raised her eyes and approached the stranger, "to know who I wanted" (for Buncle's style, though picturesque, is not always grammatically irreproachable.)

Before he could answer, a venerable gentleman was at his side, to whom the young sportsman confessed that he was dying of hunger and had lost his way. Mr. Noel, a patriarchal widower of vast wealth, was inhabiting this mansion in the sole company of his only daughter, the lovely being just referred to. Mr. Buncle was immediately "stiffened by enchantment" at the beauty of Miss Harriot Noel, and could not be induced to leave when he had eaten his breakfast. This difficulty was removed by the old gentleman asking him to stay to dinner, until the time of which meal Miss Noel should entertain him. At about 10 A.m. Mr. Buncle offers his hand to the astonished Miss Noel, who, with great propriety, bids him recollect that he is an entire stranger to her. They then have a long conversation about the Chaldeans, and the "primaevity" of the Hebrew language, and the extraordinary longevity of the Antediluvians; at the close of which (circa 11.15 A.m.) Buncle proposes again. "You force me to smile (the illustrious Miss Noel replied), and oblige me to call you an odd compound of a man," and to distract his thoughts, she takes him round her famous grotto. The conversation, all repeated at length, turns on conchology and on the philosophy of Epictetus until it is time for dinner, when Mr. Noel and young Buncle drink a bottle of old Alicant, and discuss the gallery of Verres and the poetry of Catullus. Left alone at last, Buncle still does not go away, but at 5 P.m. proposes for the third time, "over a pot of tea." Miss Noel says that the conversation will have to take some other turn, or she must leave the room. They therefore immediately "consider the miracle at Babel," and the argument of Hutchinson on the Hebrew word Shephah, until, while Miss Noel is in the very act of explaining that "the Aramitish was the customary language of the line of Shem," young Buncle (circa 7.30) "could not help snatching this beauty to my arms, and without thinking what I did, impressed on her balmy mouth half a dozen kisses. This was wrong, and gave offence," but then papa returning, the trio sat down peacefully to cribbage and a little music. Of course Miss Noel is ultimately won, and this is a very fair specimen of the conduct of the book.

A fortnight before the marriage, however, "the small-pox steps in, and in seven days" time reduced the finest human frame in the universe to the most hideous and offensive block," and Miss Harriot Noel dies. If this dismal occurrence is rather abruptly introduced, it is because Buncle has to be betrothed, in succession, to six other lively and delicious young females, all of them beautiful, all of them learned, and all of them earnestly convinced Unitarians. If they did not rapidly die off, how could they be seven ? Buncle mourns the decease of each, and then hastily forms an equally violent attachment to another. It must be admitted that he is a sad wife-waster. Azora is one of the most delightful of these deciduous loves. She "had an amazing collection of the most rational philosophical ideas, and she delivered them in the most pleasing dress." She resided in a grotto within a romantic dale in Yorkshire, in a "little female republic" of one hundred souls, all of them "straight, clean, handsome girls." In this glen there is only one man, and he a fossil. Miss Melmoth, who would discuss the paulo-post futurum of a Greek verb with the utmost care and politeness, and had studied "the Minerva of Sanctius and Hickes' Northern Thesaurus," was another nice young lady, though rather free in her manner with gentlemen. But they all die, sacrificed to the insatiable fate of Buncle.

Here the reader may like to enjoy a sample of Buncle as a philosopher. It is a characteristic passage :

Such was the soliloquy I spoke, as I gazed on the skeleton of John Orton; and just as I had ended, the boys brought in the wild turkey, which they had very ingeniously roasted, and with some of Mrs. Burcot's fine ale and bread, I had an excellent supper. The bones of the penitent Orton I removed to a hole I had ordered my lad to dig for them; the skull excepted, which I kept, and still keep on my table for a memento mori ; and that I may never forget the good lesson which the percipient who once resided in it had given. It is often the subject of my meditation. When I am alone of an evening, in my closet, which is often my case, I have the skull of John Orton before me, and as I smoke a philosophic pipe, with my eyes fastened on it, I learn more from the solemn object than I could from the most philosophical and laboured speculations. What a wild and hot head once - how cold and still now; poor skull, I say : and what was the end of all thy daring, frolics and gambols - thy licentiousness and impiety - a severe and bitter repentance. In piety and goodness John Orton found at last that happiness the world could not give him.

Hazlitt has said that "the soul of Rabelais passed into John Amory." His name was Thomas, not John, and there is very little that is Rabelaisian in his spirit. One sees what Hazlitt meant - the voluble and diffuse learning, the desultory thread of narration, the mixture of religion and animalism. But the resemblance is very superficial, and the parallel too complimentary to Amory. It is difficult to think of the soul of Rabelais in connection with a pedantic and uxorious Unitarian. To lovers of odd books, John Buncle will always have a genuine attraction. Its learning would have dazzled Dr. Primrose, and is put on in glittering spars and shells, like the ornaments of the many grottoes that it describes. It is diversified by descriptions of natural scenery, which are often exceedingly felicitous and original, and it is quickened by the human warmth and flush of the love passages, which, with all their quaintness, are extremely human. It is essentially a "healthy" book, as Charles Lamb, with such a startling result, assured the Scotchman. Amory was a fervid admirer of womankind, and he favoured a rare type, the learned lady who bears her learning lightly and can discuss "the quadrations of curvilinear spaces" without ceasing to be "a bouncing, dear, delightful girl," and adroit in the preparation of toast and chocolate. The style of the book is very careless and irregular, but rises in its best pages to an admirable picturesqueness. - Edmund Gosse


Rohonczi Codex

"One of the most mysterious books in existence today is a work known as the Rohonczi Codex, commonly spelled Rohonc Codex. Not only do we not know what it says, we also have no idea where it comes from. In the early 19th century, the manuscript was donated to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in the city of Rohonc, but that¿s where the trail tapers off.

One of the reasons the Rohonc Codex has remained undecyphered for so long is its apparent alphabet. Most alphabets have somewhere between 20 and 40 characters, making it relatively easy to start replacing coded symbols with letters. The Rohonc Codex has nearly 200 separate symbols in its 448 pages, and no matter how many scholars take a crack at it, nobody can agree on a translation, let alone a general geographic area where it might have been written. Guesses range from Hungary to Romania to India.

It¿s such an impressive code that scholars in the 19th century concluded that it had to be a hoax, although these days it¿s believed to be genuine. If you want to take a crack at it, you can access all the pages online." - Listverse

" If there is anything that makes a scholar get out of his armchair and pace his room like a man possessed, chewing on the stem of his glasses or pulling at his beard, murmuring to himself and going through the whole gamut of emotions from optimistic outbursts to utter despair, then it is one of the well-kept secrets of history, an undecipherable text or unbreakable linguistic code. No historian who believed these writing systems to be absolutely unbreakable would take his chance and dedicate a huge amount of his time, money and energies into trying to decipher them. He must have the itchy feeling that he might be the one who finds the missing clue, puts the pieces of the jigsaw into a coherent whole and either breaks the code or proves that it is, indeed, unbreakable.

There are a number of such long known but hitherto undeciphered puzzles in historical research, from the Linear A writing system of ancient Crete and the Rongorongo writing of Easter Island, through the pictorial codes of the Voynich manuscript to the nineteenth-century Beale ciphers. People with very different backgrounds, scholars with an interest in the codes¿ historical context, amateur code breakers, experts employed by intelligence agencies, mathematicians, linguists, treasure-hunters and many more have attempted to unveil their mysteries. While the efforts may be heroic, the rewards are often meager. Many famous or ill-famed codes have turned out to be forgeries, (dirty) tricks played on contemporaries and later generations for riches and fame, an intellectual challenge taken a tiny bit too far.

While all of these cryptic writing systems have received intense scholarly interest and been the subjects of large numbers of studies and monographs, a similarly intriguing and undeciphered code had to wait a long time before getting the attention it deserved. The Rohonc code is contained in a 450-page codex, a richly illustrated book with long sequences of ciphers handwritten on 10 × 12 cm paper sheets. It derives its name from the Castle of Rohonc (now Rechnitz, Austria) one of the aristocratic residencies of the Batthyány family, who accumulated an unmatched collection of over 30,000 books there, many of which¿the codex in question included¿ended up in the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1838. The Batthyánys had always been known for their bibliophilia, and their passion for collecting caused them to acquire books from the most diverse sources. It is therefore almost impossible to know where this particular codex came from.

After the codex passed to the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, a few enthusiasts saw in the code some form of ancient Hungarian writing and attempted to decipher it accordingly. When they realized it was not, the codex was discarded as a mere forgery unworthy of a gentleman¿s attention. And so it largely remained until a fatal encounter with historian Benedek Láng some time in 2006. How much Láng paced his room rubbing his beard cannot be known for sure, but it seems safe to conclude that the appeal of the Rohonc codex was impossible for him to resist and prompted him to engage in years of research. The result is a monograph that both educates and entertains." ... - AHR

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes: His Fortunes and Adversities - Anonymous

"I read this short comic masterpiece as part of a survey course in Spanish and Latin American literature along with more monumental and recognized works of the genre (Cervantes' Don Quijote, Unamuno's Fog, and Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, to name a few.)

To my surprise, this little tome was the liveliest, most engaging, and by far, the most digestible of the lot (although the other three are indispensable reading and highly recommended as well).

Lazarillo de Tormes ranks as one of the true cornerstones of world literature yet (INHO) it is still riproaringly funny and insightful without being heavy-handed or tedious. Even though I read Lazarillo in Spanish and cannot commment on this translation, I imagine the story would translate without much ado into English. As a first-year Spanish student, I devoured it in a single afternoon.

In many ways, it seems to me to be the precursor to Hucklebery Finn. I came away from reading this short tome with the same sense of empathy for the character of Lazarillo as I had had for Huck Finn. Like HF, the tale of Lazarillo de Tormes is episodic in nature with a series of adventures featuring quirky antagonists who are each (the reader later realizes) satiric portraits of the various social classes of the day (the priest, the gentleman, the beggar thief, etc.) Both books inspired laughter, pathos, sympathy, empathy -- and ultimately, an overarching sense of the flawed yet ultimately endearing human qualities that imbue us all-- and transcend the centuries. Even though Lazarillo de Tormes predates Twain's masterpiece by three full centuries, I found it equally accessible, being a delightful and extremely quick read. In short, it is one of the earliest examples of the proto-novel, and to my mind-- still one of the best.

Highly recommended for all readers of all ages." - Robert G.

One Man's Odyssey to Annihilate Violence - Anonymous, M.D., Ph.D.

Charles Ardai

Fifty-to-One - Charles Ardai

"As a member of the Hard Case Crime Book Club, I get my books just a few weeks before the publication date. This month's selection Fifty-To-One is written by the co-founder of Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai.

As the fiftieth novel to be published by Hard Case Crime, Fifty-To-One marks a significant milestone in the company's history, and consequently the novel is cleverly structured to mark and also to pay homage to the forty-nine novels previously published. Each chapter bears the title of one of those forty-nine novels, and it's no mean feat that the chapter titles correspond chronologically to the publication of the novels in the Hard Case canon. While it may appear fairly easy to fit titles such as: Say It With Bullets and Kiss Her Goodbye into the storyline, I imagine Ardai tearing his hair out to work chapter titles A Diet of Treacle, and Lemons Never Lie into the plot. But Ardai manages to weave the chapter titles into the plot so seamlessly that I had made considerable headway into the novel before I twigged the strategy.

Also in this commemorative issue, the center of the book includes an insert illustrating all fifty covers of the novels published so far, and that's a bonus for readers who may have missed a title or two.

The novel begins with Tricia Heverstadt, a naive young girl who arrives in New York from South Dakota. Within a few minutes of her arrival, she's fleeced of her savings, and in the pursuit of revenge, she runs head-on into the offices of Hard Case Crime (yes, art does imitate life in this instance) and its shady publisher, Charley Borden. Ever on the lookout for a quick buck, Borden specializes in cheap knock-off titles such as Eye the Jury. Borden's Hard Case Crime titles look like "drugstore crime novels, the covers lurid and peppered with ladies in negligees and men with guns." Borden's goal is to sweep the market with a tell-all expose about the mob, and Tricia decides to write the book. Taking a job as a dancer in a sleazy mob-owned nightclub, she sets out to gather the dirt on mobsters. In spite of eavesdropping every chance she gets, Tricia doesn't pick up any tidbits about gangster life, but she's a creative woman. Fabricating a tale about a disgruntled mobster who rips off his mafia boss, Tricia packs her fantastic story into a confessional bestseller, I Robbed the Mob, supposedly written by an anonymous mobster.

The book's tale of a fictional robbery uncannily mirrors a real-life heist, and soon Tricia and Borden are on the run from vengeful gangsters while they simultaneously look for answers and clues to help them identify the real robbers.

Fifty-To-One is definitely one of the humorous entries in the Hard Case Crime canon. Tricia and Borden's misadventures result in a madcap romp through New York, but with female boxers, hard-edged dames and legions of gangsters, there are still moments of gritty violence and bloody encounters. What's so particularly enjoyable here is the manner in which Hard Case Crime reinvented itself through fiction into the classic noir era of 40s/50s America, and this is achieved smoothly and with a pleasant wry sense of humor, proving that Ardai is quite at home in this era--and probably longs to be there--at least within the pages of this action-packed pulp novel." - anomie

Reinaldo Arenas

Hallucinations; Or, the Ill-Fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando - Reinaldo Arenas

For many years Fray Servando had been fleeing the Spanish Inquisition all across Europe, constantly beset by the humiliations and hardships that exile and banishment impose, when one afternoon, in a botanical garden in Italy, he came across a thing which brought tears of despair and dejection to his eyes - a Mexican agave, the yucca, or century plant, which is pervasive throughout Mexico. This specimen was jailed in a little cell, behind a protective picket, and it had attached to it a kind of ID card. - first paragraph

The Peasant Revolts - Gaby Wood

Alain Arias-Misson

The Mind Crime of August Saint - Alain Arias-Misson

Determined to solve a dual crime - on the one hand an abstract Millenial Conspiracy perpetrated against the conventional "logocentric" mind, on the other a gruesome muder - litterateur-detective August Saint embarks on a most peculiar investigation, one that requires him to unravel the collusion of a dazzling assortment of unlikely characters. In his investigation Saint wanders through a distinctly familiar European landscape, but simultaneously, inexplicably, finds himself traversing parallel media-spawned realities.

He discovers that movies, comic strips, news articles, biographies, and fiction have each captured a channel on some formerly unimaginable, universal, television-like network. There characters and incidents, while indulging in spatio-temporal experimentation and dodging astrogel intervention from outer space, evolve infinitely and cross media with impunity. In this reconfigured universe Saint mingles with celebrities from movies, television, and literature; courts a beautiful Cuban maiden; and witnesses the twentieth century's most magnificent and horrific events. His discovery, after these endless and exhausting adventures? The conspirators in the crime are legion. The include a Belgian comic book hero, an agile "bi-locating" friar, an aristocratic Proustian masochist, a sinister clerical familiar, an NYPD Chief of Detectives, a distinguished Italian film director, the Baader-Meinhof gang, assorted literary luminaries, and possibly even Dr. Spock. At last, the criminal is captured and brought to trial, and in his features Saint recognizes a very familiar face. - Back cover propaganda

American Book Review - Tim W. Brown

The "Information Superhighway" has commanded a lot of attention lately. Mainly you hear promises of a better tomorrow: 600 TV stations, interactive video, home shopping, mail-carrying capabilities that one day might rival the U.S. Postal Service. But increasing numbers of leaders in government and industry (Vice President Al Gore among them) are warning darkly of its potential to become a zone of anarchy, where computer criminals prey on you and information spies from every quarter invade your privacy. Alain Arias-Misson shares this latter vision; in August Saint he creates a character who is channel-surfing through a huge cosmic conspiracy.

A self-styled "sleuth of the transcendent," August gets tangled up with a wide range of historical and fictional characters, including Elena, his beautiful Cuban lover; his main rival in solving the case, Chief Inspector Nickastra, a police detective from a TV crime drama; international terrorists Carlos the Jackal and Ali Aga; Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom; Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate; the cast of Star Trek; the Belgian comic book hero Tintin and his Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum sidekicks; and several Roman Catholic clerics who labor more for this world than the next. Everyone travels freely through time and space, showing up in such far-flung locations as the Jonestown Massacre, the Canary Islands at the site of the worst airplane crash in history, Havana during the height of the Cuban Revolution, Joyce's Dublin, and Jerusalem during the first-ever Holy Week. All appear to be involved in a plot that "was vast and comprehended many personages and violent events and synchronicities."

Roberto Arlt

The Seven Madmen (1929) - Roberto Arlt

"This is one of the strangest (and greatest) novels of the 20th century. Written by the eccentric Argentinian Roberto Arlt, it explores the tortured inner life of bill-collector Remo Erdosain and follows him as he becomes involved with a bizarre terrorist plot to overthrow the government. Filled with lunatics, pimps, and prostitutes, this novel creates a vivid picture of Buenos Aires in the 1920s, where the lucky few live in luxury and the rest suffer the strain and humiliation of poverty and social impotence. If you are looking for a brilliant and disturbing novel, look no further--there is nothing else like The Seven Madmen. Hopefully we will see the rest of Arlt's work come out in English translation soon, as well as that of his contemporary Roberto Mariani, because this is cutting-edge literature at its finest. Arlt was a true rebel who was way ahead of his time, and The Seven Madmen belongs near the top of any list of great 20th century novels. Its style remains stunningly innovative to this day." - A Reader

Fernando Arrabal

Tower Struck by Lightning - Fernando Arrabal

Hans Carl Artmann

The Quest for Dr. U: Or a Solitary Mirror in Which the Day Reflects - Hans Carl Artmann

Hans Carl Artmann, an Austrian born in 1921, is one of the most remarkable experimental writers of his generation. In the 1950s he was the principal founder of "The Vienna Group": the group's black romanticism, allied to a scepticism partly derived from Wittgenstein, had a widespread influence on German letters.

His works are at once humorous, profound, flippant and stylish. The Quest for Dr. U is no exception, a protean adventure story which sets out to subvert its numerous literary models: Victorian detective fiction, fantastic, romantic, "pulp" and avant-garde fictions. Its hero pursues an ultimate villain, the volatile Dr. Unspeakable, through a bizarre labyrinth of situation and genre. - Back cover propaganda

Miguel Angel Asturias

Mulata - Miguel Angel Asturias

"No book compares to the Mulata. Not just in quality, though it's a wonderful book, or in prose style, though it's beautifully and psychedelically (yes) written, but in topic, which is as far out there yet as perfectly (il)logical as anything I've ever read. Based it seems on Guatemalan mythology, the plot follows a poor farmer (name forgotten by me) who starts out dissatisfied with his economic state and makes a deal with Tazol, the corn-husk devil, an enigmatic being whose first request of him is that he go to market with his fly open to lead the town's women into temptation (thus the title of the other translation, "the Mulata and Mr. Fly"). He ends up divorcing his wife (in a sense; he turns her into a kind of inanimate doll) and marrying a Mulata, who is doubly-sexed and indeterminately dangerous. The book continues to interact with more demons, witches, beasts, gods, etc, etc. Pure loveliness. There is none better. If someone would only translate "Leyendas de Guatemala" ... the itch for more might be scratched, but as it is, this is your only option. and a necessary one." - Fax

Donald Antrim

The Hundred Brothers: A Novel - Donald Antrim

"The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim is nothing like I have ever read before, and neither would you have if you ever get the chance to read this book. This book is strange - it is not even weird strange and it takes time to get your teeth into this one, however once you do, it will be very difficult to get yourself away from it, till you have finished it. What is the book about? Well, here goes:

The story is about one hundred brothers (literally, minus one though) who come together for dinner one night. The objective is to possibly find the urn which contains their fathers' ashes. One of the brothers is our narrator. He quickly descends from trustworthy and seemingly normal to crazy. But why and what happens to him, is something you have to read and find out for yourself, or else that would be a spoiler and I would not want to do that to you.

The Hundred Brothers quite literally speaking is a stream of consciousness - while a lot is happening, nothing really does happen. Donald Antrim has touched on almost every masculine behavior and thought pattern that there is to cater to for the reader - from pornography to homosexual references to sports to hunting to bullying - all the male archetypes (almost) are mentioned and that's what to me made the writing fascinating.

A lot of times "The Brothers Karamazov" flashed before my eyes while I was reading the book and why not? They both are about brothers and a crazy family. There is the gradual crescendo of horror from humour and every brother, including the narrator has glaring faults in which we also recognize our own. The setting, obeying the Aristotelian unities of time and place, seems to grow and evolve in a nightmarish fashion. The love and hatred between the brothers is searing.

Antrim has a way of establishing a rational and simple universe, and then subtly and ironically, disseminating it bit by bit, gradually to show us what lies beneath the surface. His writing is twisted to the point that the reader does not want to move on and yet is compelled to do so. His allegories are mischievous and mysterious at the same time.

There are no chapters in the book - it goes on, the premise is huge, magnanimous almost - making the reader wonder, how did he ever get this idea? What propelled him? And then there are the dynamics between the brothers - the way the writer intended it to be portrayed. I do not want to classify the book or the writing to any form. It is best left untouched, however make note of one thing: Read this book and read it one sitting. Let it play with your head. Let it take you on a very strange rollercoaster and by the end of it, you would be wondering why it ever ended. It is that good." - Vivek Tejuja

Pietro Aretino

The School of Whoredom - Pietro Aretino

"If you want to read a work that is literally pornography, you are in luck. Remember, pornography literally, etymologically, is "whore writing", or writing about or by prostitutes. Of course we have grown away from this literal standard, but _The School of Whoredom_ (Hesperus Press) by Pietro Aretino meets it. It consists of a classic dialogue (from the time when dialogues where the choice way of explaining ideas in astronomy and philosophy) between a whore and her daughter who will become a whore. This makes it sound quite a bit coarser than it really is. While the book is not without frankness and the translator has not spared four-letter words, it is a sophisticated satire on the morals of men and women. It is full of jokes, robust humor at the expense of courtiers, clerics, men, women, and different ethnicities of the sixteenth century. It has some advice to a daughter that works just fine in modern and less meretricious settings.

_The School of Whoredom_ (written around 1535) is not a work like Aretino's famous _I Modi_, called the world's first "stroke book". While it treats of the erotic endeavors of men and women, it could hardly be called an erotic work itself. Basically, it is instruction more on how to be a courtesan than how effectively to engage in coitus. As such, it is more about manipulation of the emotions of men than of their anatomy, and might be read as a prescient call to feminist solidarity. Whoring, mother Nanna reminds daughter Pippa, isn't easy: "So, you see, becoming a whore is no career for fools, well I know it..." She also advises, "You'd need more skills than a doctor to be a courtesan." There is plenty of other advice, some proverbial. "Never mock at the truth and never do harm with a joke." "Don't take pleasure in upsetting friendships by reporting gossip; avoid scandals; and whenever you can make peace do so." By such means, Pippa is to ensure her position of relative esteem in society, but always she is to be mindful of the bottom line: "... a courtesan whose heart pounds for anything other than her purse is like a greedy, drunken tavern-keeper..." who eats his own fare instead of selling it.

While the liveliest parts of the book are the descriptions of ruses for parting punters from their extra cash, there are many pictures here of a vibrant society, one which valued good food and entertainment. Aretino's work shows they also liked satire. There is much here to expose those in power, and plenty that makes fun of the sexual peccadilloes from cardinals to monks and nuns. Nanna discusses the merits (or lack thereof) between Frenchmen, Spaniards, Romans, Florentines, and Germans, giving pride of place to the Venetians ("If I said everything they deserve to have said about them, people would tell me: 'Love has blinded you.'"). Nanna has triumphed over men for years, and is delighted with Pippa's prospects: "My heart swells so much with pride at seeing you at home in these affairs that I'm in raptures." Careful reading, though, almost five centuries later, shows she has instructed about far more than the ways of whoredom." - R. Hardy

Daisy Ashford

The Young Visitors: Or, Mr. Salteena's Plan - Daisy Ashford

"How many self styled "comic" novels could hope to be as funny as this one...not many in my opinion. When a novel can be read through in a couple of hours and give you laughs on every page, you'd be mad not to buy it. Plus you'll probably want to read it again. There's plenty of information surrounding the background to this unique book, so I won't repeat any of it here. But basically, anyone with an interest in humour, absurd romantic situations, social history and a love of the English language simply has to have a copy of this. The charm of this book lies chiefly in the reading, it cannot be understood by just having it explained to you. Nor does it translate well to filmed adaptation; the recent BBC dramatisation with Jim Broadbent made a real ham-fisted job of it, adding their own extra plot and even making up new dialogue and mis-spellings...unforgivable!!

I agree with another reviewer who has mentioned that the J.M. Barrie forward is almost as entertaining as the book itself, drawing attention as it does to many of the best passages. Everybody I have introduced this book to has fallen in love with it, because it's nothing less than a pleasure to read. And its cheap too. In fact, my review could really be confined to two words - "Buy It!"" - A. Griffiths

Philip Atkins

A Dodo at Oxford: The Unreliable Account of a Student and His Pet Dodo - Philip Atkins & Michael Johnson

Mercurius Politicus blog review

"In 2008 a diary was discovered amongst some books donated to a charity bookshop in Oxford. It was a most remarkable book, supposedly written over three hundred years ago by a student, describing his life and unusual pet, a dodo.

Everyone knows the dodo, a comic and ungainly bird, the sad symbol of extinction. But what was a living dodo really like? The author of the diary was a student of science and he recorded his pet's every move, as well as the reactions of his friends and acquaintances. He had some idea of the bird's rarity, but not that his pet might have been the last dodo to have walked upon the earth.

Doubts have been cast over the authenticity of the diary, so every page has been photographed and reprinted to enable readers to judge for themselves. As the publisher cannot guarantee that it is genuine, they have reluctantly placed the diary within the 'Historical Fiction' book subject category, until more information is known.

The editors, Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson, have included notes on the diary entries, on such topics as astrology, book production, doll's houses, and gout. Many items were found stuffed between the diary pages, including a bookmark, cigarette cards, and a 1973 fishmonger's receipt, and these are all illustrated.

As well as providing a portrait of the famous bird and glimpses of seventeenth-century Oxford, this is the history of a book: how it was printed, made, unmade, torn, stained, scribbled over, and forgotten. Now by strange good fortune both book and bird have come back to us, large as life." - Oxgarth Press

Paul Auster

The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster

Amazon reviewer Stone Junction:

How do you discuss a mystery that's not a mystery? More importantly, how do you WRITE three mysteries that aren't? And still manage to create involving, memorable, and deeply disturbing novels? I don't know how, but Paul Auster has figured out. In the space of three short novels, Auster has developed mysteries that are more concerned with ideas than plot, with the style of writing rather than the content. He has, in short, written THE NEW YORK TRILOGY.

Describing the plots does no justice to the novels (they are, after all, practically plotless), but I will endeavor to summarize. CITY OF GLASS tracks Quinn, a frustrated novelist who agrees to accept a detective case, after being mistaken for the detective Paul Auster. GHOSTS follows the exploits of Blue, a detective hired by White to spy on Black, for reasons which remain obscure. THE LOCKED ROOM is centered on an author who has been charged with the task of tending to an old friend's vast literary output, after the friend has mysteriously vanished from civilization.

As mentioned previously, these novels ARE mysteries, on their surfaces. (That's initially what drew me to their pages.) But Auster isn't concerned with the intricacies of the detective genre. He is far more fascinated with the image of the author, that person who creates people out of thin air and smoke. Auster delves into what the make-up of such a person may be, a person who's public character is defined by the artistic output, not by whom the author actually is. Who the author actually may be, or what the author's opinion is as to his or her own writings, is not important. It is a schizophrenic life, to be sure, and Auster knows it. Are we defined by our inner monologue, or do our actions govern our identities? Is who we purport to be as important as how we appear to be?

CITY OF GLASS is an excellent example of Auster's musings on this theme. As Quinn slowly begins to develop his detective persona, he can feel his previous author persona begin to slip away. By his inadvertent creation of a new persona, he erases his past; but as he was only really defined by his novels, it is a far easier task than it first appeared. This culminates in an exploration of the inner workings of personal discovery that reminds me of nothing so much than Arthur C. Clarke's elliptical finale to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Is it environment, or public perception, or biology that determines what we turn out to be? Auster interweaves this theme into all three of his novels. The character of Stillman, in CITY OF GLASS, is so obsessed with this idea that he deprived his son of any form of contact, trying to discover the hidden, secret language of God. Fanshawe, in THE LOCKED ROOM, is determined that he distance himself from what he was perceived to be, unwilling to accept anyone's characterization of his psyche. Blue, in GHOSTS, discovers that what he fears the most is true, that his existence is his job; outside of that, nothing he thinks or feels has any effect.

Mind you, none of this would raise the themes above the quality of a academic treatise without Auster's remarkable writing ability. While he may be loathe to be judged by his output, the fact remains that Auster can relate a story with the best of them. His characters, while purposefully vague, still manage to create an empathy with the reader. The quest for identity, that search for the ego, is a universally understandable topic. Auster achieves the feat of simultaneously having the characters understand themselves at the same time that the reader does. Any discussion of the past is irrelevant, it's the NOW that matters. The author in THE LOCKED ROOM gradually understands this in his quest for the missing friend Fanshawe. What he discovers about Fanshawe only serves to confuse. Perhaps he was better off with his own personal memories, rather than try to incorporate the recollections of others.

Auster also realizes that one's opinions about a novel can differ from another's; it makes no difference. What is important is what YOU thought, not what others may tell you to think. The NEW YORK TRILOGY seems designed to provoke different responses, alternate beliefs as to what it all means. I personally haven't been privy to such a possibility as to the ultimate meaning of a thing since witnessing Peter Greenaway's remarkable film THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER. What does it all ultimately mean? Who knows? What's important is that it affected me, on a level I wasn't expecting. It is a pleasant surprise.


Windy Baboulene

The Blue Road - Windy Baboulene


"I first read Windy's book in manuscript, having met the fellow online through the now defunct "studguppies" online writing workshop. For some reason, we had hit it off--likely because he said nice things about my stories, while I couldn't get enough of his Monty Python-ish humor. And while we stayed connected all these years since, I had nearly forgotten Windy's book and how funny I had thought it, and what a shame it was that he hadn't sold it yet.

Except he had sold it and it was finally published, nearly ten years later. I had nearly forgotten about it, except that I finally had an opportunity to meet him in the flesh due to a recent trip to Brighton. "Windy, old boy," I said, "I must beg a copy of your book," neglecting to mention that I have no idea where that original manuscript copy may have been misplaced in my numerous moves. Being the kind of stand-up guy that he is, he not only presented me one gratis, but he also signed it with his real name and not just some pseudonym foisted off on the less-suspecting.

Ten years later, and the book is only better than I remember. First off, the big difference is a title change, to one that is more metaphorical and about the entire book rather than just culled from one of the more hilarious episodes. I suspect there's been some general word-smithing as well, although my memory isn't good enough to be able to pin anything exact down.

Windy was only seventeen when he felt the call of the open sea--the "blue road." Of course, it was either that or jail, given his young prolictivities which had recently centered around attempting to burn down the school chemistry lab. The education he was to receive as a merchant marine was much more practical, and likely more suited to his destructive temperament, than the one behind a desk or in front of a chalkboard. He joins the classroom of the confined space where he discovers the amazing properties of coconut oil. Windy undergoes the crossing-the-line ceremony, not for the weak of stomach (and definitely not to be read while eating dinner). And he learns about the love of the sea, and the sea of love, or at least what sometimes passes for that when one is young and apt to ship out on the next tide.

Like other British travel writers, Windy has the ability to be both self-effacing and courageous, that ability to keep a stiff-upper lip in times of crises. In a manner similar to Eric Newby, Windy strings the reader along on a story that goes for pages to then quickly be undercut by a single line that reveals the narrator hasn't got quite the upper-hand he was telling us about. And, like Redmond O'Hanlon, Windy's travels are the kind that you don't mind joining in virtually but might think twice about if he rang you on the mobile to join in for a quick jaunt next Tuesday.

But mainly, Windy's funny, and that's why you need to read this book. Yes, you can learn about the merchant marines, and yes, there's some bits about places you never heard about before, but the reason you keep reading is because you want that next pain in your side just like the one you got from reading just a few pages back. Not to worry, because Windy's patter is perfect, just as if you were in the audience for one of the better stand-up comics.

I know, you're thinking, "He's a friend--you're just saying these things because you know him." Ahem. I dare you read this book and not laugh. It really is that good, and deserves to be better known." - Glen Engel-Cox

Frank Baker

Miss Hargreaves - Frank Baker

"Summary: Norman Huntley and his friend Henry are visiting an old church and while speaking to the keeper, on a lark, they invent an eighty-plus old woman, Miss Hargreaves, giving her quite an eccentric character, a cockatoo, and a bath she takes with her everywhere. Still having a good laugh they write a letter to this fictional character at the hotel where they've got her staying on her travels. The lark takes a downward spiral when they receive a reply back and shortly afterwards Miss Hargreaves arrives in the village complete with cockatoo and bath. She latches onto Norman like a dear, long lost friend and Norman's once sedate life as choir member, organist and bookstore helper turns upside down with the havoc created by the imaginary but very real Miss Hargreaves.

Comments: This book is simply put, a pure delight! Though written in 1940, the story is set sometime prior WWII and with an offhand remark about WWI we can surmise the story takes place in the 1920s or early 30s. The wonderful British village life filled with a variety of characters is a joyful story. Miss Hargreaves is a most eccentric character and her appearance turns the conventions of the town topsy-turvy. She descends upon Norman and completely takes over his life with her devotion. Creating episode after episode within the village and church community Baker's novel starts off as a hilarious farce. But when Norman can't take it anymore, close to losing his girlfriend, he tells Miss Hargreaves he's done with her and she can do as she like. This causes Miss H. to disappear for some weeks and Norman realizes that he's become a bit fond of the old girl. When Hargreaves returns she's not the woman she was before, she snubs Norman, puts on airs and her former escapades are completely forgotten as she becomes the new centre of the village's society.

Norman and Miss Hargreaves's relationship is a wonderful story. I often felt it compared to that of a parent and a child, with Norman taking the parental role since he 'created' Miss Hargreaves. Miss H. starts off as the doting child thinking Norman is the centre of her universe then after an argument she turns into the defiant teenager who ignores Norman and does what she wants. At this point Norman realizes the feelings he has for Miss H. are genuine and he loves her as a parent; he tries to make her see reason and is forever turned away, banging his head against a wall, and yet he keeps returning for more as his love is coupled with responsibility. While the story is filled with whimsy, there are also to be found great moments of pathos and the ending will tug at your heart strings.

Both Norman and Miss Hargreaves are astounding characters. While they appear to be at odds for the majority of the book, there are profound moments that they share together sometimes through speech and other times simply through a shared look. They are very compelling characters not soon to be forgotten. The secondary characters are also full of life from Norman's little sister Jim, who taunts him frequently, to the church's righteous Dean, who is a bit too full of himself, to Norman's scatterbrained bookstore owner father, to Henry, the one who helped Norman create Miss Hargreaves yet can't quite believe it isn't all some trick.

A delightful book, highly recommended to fans of British cozies. The author wrote fifteen novels and I certainly wouldn't mind trying another." - Nicola Mansfield

Kirsten Bakis

Lives of the Monster Dogs - Kirsten Bakis

SciFi.com Review - John Clute

Amazon reviewer Anne Schneidervin:

The year is 2009, and Cleo Pira has an interesting job - as a free-lance journalist she is able to investigate unusual stories. She comes across a tale most bizare-if it is true-that the 150 self-proclaimed "monster dogs" who have appeared in N.Y.C. are not a hoax.

Cleo is invited to be their biographer and recount the history of their creation, through the efforts of mad Prussian scientist, Augustus Rank. The dogs have been surgically altered to walk upright, speak, use prosthetic limbs and have an intelligence similar to humans. Their own historian, Ludwig Von Sacher, has fallen prey to a malady that seems to be spreading throughout their colony-a type of insanity which has no cure. Ludwig comes to love Cleo, though his mental deterioration causes him to confuse her with Augustus Rank's mother, Maria, whose ghost seems to occasionally enter both of their lives.

The dogs reveal their emigration from Canada to America was precipitated by their destruction of the human scientists/masters who held them captive. The rebellion in "Rankstadt" (the city) occurred after Augustus Rank's death and was lead by a dog Mops Hacker, who had been ill-used. The beautiful Samoyed, Lydia, was the only dog who did not participate; instead, she killed Mops Hacker when the opportunity presented itself, despite the fact she loved him. Lydia is an interesting character, but throughout the book keeps her secrets from being revealed, which is frustrating.

The story is moved forward through three diaries; Cleo's, Ludwig's and the deceased Augustus Rank. Rank was the true monster, rather than the dogs. His diary is revolting as he recounts the horrible and twisted acts of vivisection he performed on numerous small animals- and the enjoyment he received from this. His uncle finds some of his surgical "experiments" and instead of having him locked up (and hopefully throwing away the key) lauds Rank as a child prodigy and promptly enrolls him in medical school as a surgeon.

Rank manages to murder his half-brother and gloat about it in his diary; he also dreams of creating "monster dogs" who would be absolutely obedient to him: "Their minds will be my mind, their hearts will be mine, their teeth will by my teeth, their hands will be my hands." He achieves this bizarre goal, and enlists followers to help him carry on with the so-called glorious work. For some reason, the dogs who learn of Rank (who is long gone by the time of their creation) obsess and long for him as "their father" but hate their actual creators (Rank's scientists.) Part of this stems from the fact that somehow they have lost their love of humankind through the changing process. This is clearly demonstrated in the opera they write and perform, which is quite unusual. Lydia and Ludwig are the only dogs that demonstrate they still retain love for human beings through their behaviour towards Cleo.

This is NOT a "Watership Down" type of novel; it really is closer to an Anne Rice story in style, which at times is both lyrical and haunting. The depths of the dogs' true natures and the obvious loss of love for men (with the exceptions I have noted) is never fully plumbed. Parts of the story are disjointed, and I suspect an over-zealous editor was a factor. The ending is rushed and unsatisfying. However, the writing style is compelling; the plot is unique; the characters leave you wanting to find out more about them.

In the same vein, one may compare "The Monster Dogs" to "Sirius" by Olaf Stapledon, a rather hard-to-find book which has at its core the same theme and issues. The difference is that in "Sirius" the intelligence-enhanced dog is raised by a loving family who strive to understand and accomodate the terrible loneliness which such a genetically-altered being is subject to. In Stapledon's book, the best of the dog's traits,unconditional love and loyalty, are more pronounced. Bakis' dogs have lost this; an irony, since this was the one thing Rank wanted more than anything from his creations, feeling himself an outcast from society.

The question of how dogs would relate to people if they themselves were manipulated into being a semblence of humans is an intriguing one; the theme of psychosis following the dispensation of accelerated intelligence without proper grounding a recurrent one. Compare "Flowers for Algernon" which also has the short and heady rise to genius followed by an abrupt descent into inevitable madness.

Jesse Ball

The Way Through Doors (2009) - Jesse Ball

"Jesse Ball's second novel with Vintage may confuse and frustrate some. I daresay this is of no import to Mr. Ball, though I could be mistaken. Indeed, there is a care for both the characters and the reader in this book, accompanied by an understanding that not all may find the book as engaging or enjoyable as others.

I'll spare you a recounting of events and names found within in favor of attempting to convey the experience of reading The Way Through Doors. As with his previous book, this one makes reality seem blurry. In fact, it is handily placed out of reach as if to say, "you need not be concerned with this, dear reader. Please join me for the experiences and playfulness I hope to share with you." In this sense reading any work by Ball requires a sort of trust and submission to the story. Obviously, only through the reader's agency to engage the text in the first place does the book take on life, but one's expectations should be checked upon opening the book; any preconceptions should be vanquished. Why such hyperbole? Because the thread of this book may not even end up being a thread! It may end up a web, and if the reader struggles or resists it may entrap and cause discomfort. If the reader relaxes into it, the web serves nicely as a hammock of sorts, though dozing off is strictly prohibited; one must pay full attention to the swirls of characters and events moving throughout the web. Some of these swirls are more brightly-colored than others, though any number of these will make an imprint on your psyche and linger as pleasant images in the mind's eye.

There is a playful nature to Ball's writing, though you may find it manifesting as glee in one example, and shortly after it may emerge very dire and obfuscated, like reveling in the macabre. Others have noted his work does not follow many conventions of the novel. There have been writers who discarded these conventions in disgust and furrowed their brows to create a sort of reaction to the novel. Not so Jesse Ball: in this regard he comes off as playing with the conventions, folding and re-folding them into forms--whether paper airplane, origami crane or something never before seen--which please him." - W. Edwards

Richard Balzer

Peepshows: A Visual History - Richard Balzer

John Franklin Bardin

The Deadly Percheron (1946) - John Franklin Bardin


"Dr George Matthews, a psychiatrist, encounters a patient who claims he is paid by a leprechaun to wear a flower in his hair. Another, he claims, pays him to whistle at Carnegie Hall during performances. A third pays him to give quarters away. Jacob Blunt wants Dr Matthews to confirm that he's mad. Dr Matthews is curious, so he accompanies his patient to a rendezvous with one of the leprechauns. His name is Eustace and he isn't at all pleased to see the doctor.

So begins the Deadly Percheron. After that it gets strange. First published in 1946 this unique murder mystery transcends the boundaries of the genre. It's noir, it's nightmarish, it's compulsive. John Franklin Bardin drags the reader into a world where the nature of identity is constantly questioned. Is our hero who he says he is? Can he be trusted? Is he, in fact, sane? Reality, as seen through his eyes, is a shifting kaleidoscope of memories.

As the murders mount up the fragments of his shattered psyche are slotted together. Slowly reality stabilises. At the end of the novel, but only then, it all makes sense. Who killed Frances Raye? Well, now, let's start at the beginning..."Jacob Blunt was my last patient. He came into my office wearing a scarlet hibiscus in his curly blond hair. He sat down in the easy chair across from my desk, and said, "Doctor, I think I'm losing my mind.""" - A W BUCHAN

Nicola Barker

Darkmans - Nicola Barker

"Ashford in Kent, with its mildly risible strapline `Gateway to Europe', should be very pleased with Nicola Barker, who has taken its mundane amenities and sprawling blight of industrial estates and turned it into a place of infinite and magical possibilities. Chief of which is the idea that, lurking in its deep suburban reaches, there might be a small worm-hole in time through which Darkmans makes his way to the present century. Darkmans is John Scoggins who was Edward the IV's court jester, (banished for cruel jokes against Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's queen), who seems able, at will, to inhabit the modern day bodies he comes across, but chiefly, that of poor Isidore (Dory), the tall, goodlooking German (who has a captivating wife, Elen, a chiropodist, also prey to Darkmans' cruelties). We first come across Dory riding bareback on a stolen horse in the fort-like kids playground of a graceless local dining hall named The French Connection. He has no idea how he got there. The only person who can `see' Darkmans is Fleet, the small five-year-old son of Dory and Elen.

A large cast of characters inhabit this superbly edgy, utterly captivating novel. Chiefly we are concerned with Dory's family and Beede, a 61 year-old who manages a hospital laundry, and his son Kane, who half-heartedly deals drugs, both of whom are plagued by foot problems. Though they live in the same house, Beede and Kane have a further grim disability when it comes to communication - and how this aspect of their life is resolved is one of the triumphs of this book. Kane's ex-girlfriend, Kelly Broad and her bottom-feeder family also feature large. Events pile up as Dory sets Kelly's Uncle Harvey on to mend his roof (the scaffolding arrives on time, but not much else happens) and Isidore's psychotic episodes intensify. Darkmans takes a holiday from Isidore and haunts Beede for a while (and this episode is wonderfully, hilariously dark), and Kane is put in the stocks (real ones) by Peta, the smart and sexy cigar-smoking woman who is doing artefact restoration work for Beede. Beede is engaged on an investigation into the history of Court Jesters, but he is also much exercised by the rapine and destruction of habitat occurring whole-scale in Ashford's local environment, chiefly due to the existence of the Channel Tunnel.

This whopping great paperback (838pp) will not be to everyone's taste. The sense of things not being quite right is suggested rather than focused upon (which gives the book its subtlety and suspense), and the writing is sometimes eccentrically punctuated. It has, however, a wonderful coherence and a sinister grace which kept me pinned to the page. It is also riotously funny. The humour is a brilliant mixture of slapstick and violence, married to a remarkable ear for incongruity. Language is its key - the variableness and instability of language is a major theme, from the casual obscenities of Kelly Broad, who gets religion in a big way but can't quite leave her working-class vernacular behind, to the reported speech of Turkish immigrant Gaffar, whose Turkish asides, often witty and adroit, are rendered in bold print, in English. This is a clever ploy and so much more effective than merely making his English pidgin.

My guess is that this book will either speak to you, or it won't. All I can say is that it spoke volumes to me and I loved every word. Shortlisted for the 2008 Booker, this is Nicola Barker's best book so far and, yes, it should have won." - Eileen Shaw

Julian Barnes

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters - Julian Barnes

"The novelty inherent in Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters is - in part - that it is not really a 'novel.' It is more of a comically tragic reminiscence of Joyce's Dubliners than your standard long-prose work, complete with protagonist, antagonist, and the typical one-plot, one setting structure. Its 10 ½ stories bluntly give us a non-revisionist's history of the world by traveling from a tale of 'unclean' woodworm stowaways upon Noah's Ark to Barnes' conception of Heaven. It is realist and fantastic at once, telling how it was, is, and is to be with such honesty, depth, and sensitivity that its classification should be a sort of jocular Capotesque non-fiction novel.

A History of the World's most curious feature is its division. Ten strikingly different stories and one half-chapter side-note are seem as if they are randomly slapped together until the reader starts to make the connections. The woodworms stowed away on the Ark are in a subsequent chapter tried for the destruction of church property and blasphemous offence against God when their progeny take residence in and consume the Catholic cathedral of Mamirolle. The trial sings with critique of man's distortion of the religious impulse and social commentary. The Ark comes up in nearly every chapter, establishing a sort of nautical theme tied together with the wreck of the Medusa, a 17th century French naval frigate and the theories of the modern human's ascent from the sea from an amphibious state. Barnes also maintains a religious theme throughout the work, adding a discussion of Jonah in the whale, a timely leap into Middle Eastern religion turned politics, and a philosophical treatise on the meaning and purpose of heaven. All of this is weaved together to form a mystical collage of human nature and history.

As one might surmise from the title, the ½ chapter is of great importance to the unity of the narrative. Entitled 'Parenthesis' these 19 pages of side note seem to be a larger version of the 'aside' in which the author speaks directly to the reader. Barnes includes this personal commentary to reveal the main theme of the work: an exploration of love and its value for the human species. Love is the only tool we have to beat down the history of the world and make life plausible, give it some meaning.

History isn't what happened. History is just what historians tell us. There was a pattern, a plan, a movement, expansion, the march of democracy; it is a tapestry, a flow of events, a complex narrative, connected, explicable. One good story leads to another. And we the readers of history, we scan the pattern for hopeful conclusions, for the way ahead. And we cling to history as a series of salon pictures, conversation pieces whose participants we can easily reimagine back into life, when all the time it's more like a multi-media collage, with paint applied by decorator's roller rather than camel-hair brush (240).

Because of the confusion of sentient existence, 'Our random mutation [love] is essential because it is unnecessary.' (238) We don't NEED it, that's why it means something and how it empowers us.

Simply stated, Barnes' novel (alright, I admit, it is a novel - however NOVEL) wants us to be more conscious of what a blessing it is to be a sentient, thoughtful beings capable of reading novels. It wants us to not get tied up in 'historical facts' and to realize that we can get more out of a fictional account of history which admits to this condition than from revisionist histories around the world that disguise themselves in FACT. Or maybe, it just wants us to read it and enjoy it." - Christopher D. Curry

Neil Barrett Jr.

The Hereafter Gang - Neil Barrett Jr.

"Here is The Neal Barrett Jr. Story. At first sight it looks very much like The Elmore Leonard Story: The Sequel. After 30 years of hardworking obscurity, a period during which he has published only paperback originals, Neal Barrett finally gets a hardback house to take him seriously. In 1987, when he's almost 60, Through Darkest America is released to a chorus of surprised reviews, and all seems set for the bandwagon. But something happens. The hardback house turns sour on sf, and Barrett s next novel, a sequel to the breakthrough book, comes out as a paperback, and sinks out of sight. This is not a great career move, this is not The Elmore Leonard Story. This is not how to enjoy a prosperous old age.

We come to 1991, and to The Hereafter Gang (Mark V. Ziesing, 1991), and we simply do not know what to think. The book itself is attractively produced, and distributed widely within the sf world; but there seems no way, all the same, that a small press like Ziesing can hope to muscle into the chains. It seems unlikely, therefore, that this second potential breakthrough novel will reach the very wide readership it deserves. The Hereafter Gang is almost as hilarious as Larry McMurtry s Texasville, and less earthbound; nearly as haunted as Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and less suffocating. Like both those books, it attempts to hold on to America as the century blows us away; like neither of them, it bites the bullet, in language of tensile brilliance. In The Hereafter Gang, the only way to recapture the past or to hold on to the present is to die.

Doug Hoover is 58 years old but looks 35. He lies about his age, not through vanity, but so he can continue living the life he wants to lead, which means avoiding permanent employment, and sleeping with alnost every woman he meets. Suddenly he finds that he has gotten stuck. He is becoming far too successful in his job public relations work in Dallas and is now due for promotion, and he discovers that he seems to have been married for several years to one woman, Erlene Lamprey, who owns one book in the world and whose. "idea of outdoors was a windchime in front of the A/C." It is time to light out for the Territory, like Huck Finn.

But at the end of the century, in the heart of Dallas, there s not much territory to light out for. Ricocheting from one bar to another, and frightened half to death by a succession of terrible, sharp chest pains, Doug skedaddles into the world of memories: the sharp scents and colors of youth; the precious polished cars and toys and girls of his early years. Guided by an amiable young drifter, with whom he identifies, and seduced by a sweet-and-sour teenaged "Southern girl," he exits the no-exit freeways of 990 and immerses himself in the past.

In other words, Doug Hoover has died. The Hereafter Gang is a posthumous fantasy. Like similar work by a wide variety of writers, from Vladimir Nabokov to Flann O Brien, from John Crowley to Gene Wolfe, it tells of a hero who, after the death of the body, must sift through the materials of the life he has left in order to make sense of his naked soul. But posthumous fantasies tend to slide all too easily into intolerable solitude, as the hero narrows in on himself; and it is here that Barrett leaps sideways from his models. The posthumous landscapes visited by Doug are peopled: the folk he loved, the small towns he grew up in, the beverages he drank, the World War I planes he made models of, the Western heroes he emulated, all congregate. His search for order turns into a clambake.

At this point, the novel risks becoming a feelgood traipse through theme park suburbs of the dead, full of portion-control sweetness and light. It is a dangerous moment, but Barrett gets past it with great skill. After all the sleek contrivance of the plot, and the strange exhilaration of a posthumous landscape next to which the real world seems impossibly scarred and tawdry, The Hereafter Gang finds itself in the American soul of its hero. In Doug, Barrett has created a figure too complex and ornery to sort himself out glibly, and too American to go quietly into the good night; an awful man, and almost a great one. Nothing Doug has done in his life is alien to him, nothing is turned away. The dreadful and the garish and the good, he embraces it all. The Hereafter Gang is a celebration of this embrace. It is one of the great American novels. Try to find it." - Washington Post, 6/30/1991

Interstate Dreams - Neil Barrett Jr.

John Barth

The Floating Opera and The End of the Road (1956) - John Barth

"John Barth's first novel will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary of publication in 2006 Should this almost 50 year-old book, whose protagonist was born in 1900, still be read in the 21st century, by people who may not have even been alive when Barth wrote it? Emphatically, positively, yes!

The Floating Opera serves as an excellent introduction to the body of work of one of the 20th century's greatest writers (time will tell), and also stands on its own as an engrossing, amusing, thought-provoking tale. It establishes many of Barth's common themes and settings: the flawed, cynical (yet also fun-loving) protagonist; impossible quests; the absurdities of society's structures and laws; philosophy and morality; coastal Maryland and boating on the Chesapeake. Barth's later works are longer and much more intricate, so TFO is very much like Beethoven's first symphony: a simpler work than his later masterpieces, but which still shows definite signs of genius, originality, and timelessness.

The storyline, like Barth's other works, is quirky and highly original. It describes the lead-up to an event that, because of the way the book was written (in the first person), the reader knows cannot have taken place. Barth openly explains the disjointed nature of the book's structure (which is just one way that the floating opera of the title is important to the story), and everything holds together in the end.

TFO's protagonist, Todd Andrews, is a lawyer who has developed a detached, cynical view of the world. His mentality is perfect for his profession, and he wins his cases by crafting intricate technical loopholes that reduce his cases to absurdities. Thirty-five years before the Johnnie Cochran's poetic words in the O.J. Simpson trial, Barth prophetically describes a similar situation of the "bon mot" winning out over the "mot juste". But this is just one of the amusing vignettes in TFO. Barth also describes the challenges of an open love triangle, different ways to approach old age and death, the drawbacks of various outlooks on life, and an intense father-son relationship. Comic relief is never too far away, especially when the various crusty old men in the book are speaking.

"The End of the Road" shares a central plot element (a love triangle) with "The Floating Opera", but in TEOTR the relationship is about as far from consensual as can be, and as a result TEOTR is a very different, even more powerful story. Barth crams a lot of substance into TEOTR, and it succeeds on multiple levels: as a compelling story with much for the reader to ponder, as a political statement (John Irving appears to me to have been inspired by the ending of TEOTR in his acclaimed "Cider House Rules"), and as applied philosophy, with religious undertones.

"In a sense, I am Jacob Horner," states Jacob Horner, the Barthian hero/anti-hero of TEOTR, at the very beginning of the story, but who is Jacob Horner (or whom does he represent)? Jacob Horner may represent the ultimate modern man, a person who rejects objective, absolute truths in favor of relativism, and who is so imbued with knowledge that he can see all sides of any argument, contradiction or paradox. At times Horner is completely paralyzed from acting, and at almost all other times his actions are timid to the extreme, such that he relies on "the Doctor", who prescribes nonsensical therapies to get Horner to take action, any action. Horner's thought process has many parallels in today's society, especially leaders who can't make up their minds and waffle on the issues. Horner suggests he may be the devil, but his logical thought process (his ability to see and accept opposite qualities in others, as in a love/hate relationship) suggests the "shades of gray", fuzzy logic thinking prevalent at all levels of modern society.

Joe Morgan, Horner's colleague, also believes only in relative values, and has even more formal education than Horner, but he has devised a philosophy which he believes tells him how to act in all situations. Morgan, whom Horner suggests may be God, is the "black and white" thinker in contrast to Horner's gray, but his philosophy has holes that become obvious to all but him at the end.

TEOTR, while not Barth's greatest work, is everything a great piece of literature should be. Barth creates fascinating characters drawn from the fabric of modern society, puts them through episodes of high drama, and produces outcomes that provide the fodder for debate about just what it all means." - cs211

The Sot-Weed Factor (1959) - John Barth

"Over the first three months of 1955, American author John Barth wrote the first part of an intended trilogy of works -- his 'nihilistic comedy', "The Floating Opera". He completed the second part, "The End of the Road" (a 'nihilistic tragedy') in the final three months of the same year. Encouraged by the speed with which he composed these two books, Barth embarked on the final part, convinced he would have it completed by the time he turned 26, on May 27, 1956. In the end, it took him over three years to pen the 800-odd pages of what was to became "The Sot-Weed Factor" -- a massive and massively complex burlesque comedy, in antiquated style, which would forever after be seen as one of his greatest achievements, and the book that would stand as a timeless landmark to the brilliance of this young American writer. In deciding a subject for this book, Barth underwent something of a major crisis in a hitherto almost blind pursuit of realism in his fiction, eventually coming to a realisation that words, ultimately, can never truly convey reality, thus making realism an imperfect tool for communicating the truth of anything. In David Morel's seminal paper, "Ebenezer Cooke, Sot-Weed Factor Redivivus: The Genesis of John Barth's The Sot- Weed Factor" (published in the Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 8, No. 1 [Spring, 1975]) Barth is quoted as summing up his views in an interview, thus: "One ought to know about Reality before one writes realistic novels. Since I don't know much about Reality, it will have to be abolished. What the hell, Reality is a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there, and literature never did, very long."

Rather than continue in his pursuit of realism, with "The Sot-Weed Factor" Barth turned instead to the idea of art-as-artifice and set about writing a comic, half-farcical novel built on historical documents, imitating the conventions of the eighteenth-century novelist, and encapsulating all of the elements of the classic eighteenth-century novel: 'a hero on a journey with a nit-wit servant as his companion; a search for one's father and one's long-lost beloved; stories told along the road; tests of virtue and manliness; encounters with bandits, bawds, noblemen, and bullies; unbelievable coincidences; abundant fornication and adultery, with possible incest; and more, all woven into a plot whose complications seem designed for nothing more than to spin the reader's head' [Morel, ibid]. All of this Barth achieves in splendid style in "The Sot-Weed Factor", taking as its inspiration an obscure and barely known poem, first published in London in 1708: "The Sot-weed Factor: or, A Voyage to Maryland", attributed to one Eben Cooke (Gent) which describes in cumbersome rhyming couplets the poet's daunting experiences setting out from England to take up a new life in Maryland as a tobacco ('sot-weed') merchant. With little known about its author, authenticity or any of the circumstances under which it was written, Barth was free to construct almost any story he wished around the work and, indeed, the poet, Ebenezer Cooke. Barth being a native of Maryland, he was also ideally placed to research and weave in at length a great deal of that State's early colonial history and legend, involving native chiefs, piratical bands, slave traders, whores and assorted eighteenth century opportunists of various waters.

The result is an absolute tour de force, which achieves all that the author set out to achieve and more, mixing fact, fantasy, and Cooke's original poetic publication into a seamless blend which creates a greater reality from the very act of its fabrication and which, with supreme irony, required the author to tone down some of the truly ludicrous historical truths in order that the book be not deemed altogether too far-fetched and fantastical. The book is a classic on many, many levels; the plot is massive and its twists and convolutions can be immensely difficult to follow, as confusion and subterfuge abound. But it is alluring and masterfully handled throughout. As indeed are most of the wenches (and at least one of the sows) who feature in it.

Lustily recommended." - Steve Benner

Donald Barthelme

Sixty Stories - Donald Barthelme

"In his review of "American Beauty," the New Yorker movie critic David Denby writes, "I can think of no other American movie that sets us tensions with smarty pants social satire and resolves them with a burst of metaphysics." The same can be said for many of the stories in this collection. The first three fourth's of "The School," for example, is narrated with the deadpan cool that predominated in popular eighties minimalism. It is textbook black humor. But "The School" ends with a poetic riff on cultural relativism, exposing everything that came before in the story, and giving us a glimpse of the narrator's frailties. And then with the final two lines, Barthelme throws in an oddball joke, making the story even more uncertain. It's like on The Simpsons, when you get their craziest, surreal joke right before a commercial break. A Barthelme story simultaneously invites interpretation and outguesses the reader.

Another great thing about both Barthelme's stories and "American Beauty" is that when a narrative stradles that border between reality and parody, the characters get away with making the most straightforward thematic statements. In "The Seargent," a story about a middle aged man who somehow finds himself stuck in the army again, the narrator keeps repeating, "This is all a mistake. I'm not supposed to be here," etc. "Of course I deserve this." If the protagonist of a realistic, mid-life crisis story made these statements it would be interpreted as too obvious. Suspension of disbelief might be violated. When the situation is absurd, however, the characters can be beautifully direct. Artificial people bemoaning the fact that they are bound within an artificial form can be very poignant to us real people bound by necessity. Our situations are curiously congruent.

This is my favorite book. It reminds me a lot of when I was a kid and I had a favorite toy. It is informed by the French noveau roman novel, though less dark, where the experience of reading is given primacy over the experience of the characters. If I had simply bought the book and read the stories in order then put it back on the shelf, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the enjoyment that I did out of it. This book is in my library and I go to the shelf and peruse through it whenever I need a break from studying. It has so much play and creativity. Barthelme has said that collage is the dominant twentieth century art form. Pieces of writing that resemble advertising copy or quips from a political documentary, are juxtaposed with philosophical discursiveness. And the humor, fortunately, keeps it from getting overly pretentious, though some might find it pretentious at first. I've talked to a number of readers who think Barthelme is just faddish, conceited and intentionally obscure. If you find that's the case, I encourage you to give it time. Especially if you're a fan of contemporary short stories. If not for any other reason, it'll give you a new perspective on Lorrie Moore and Raymond Carver, among others. If I had to choose favorites, I'd say "Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel" and "Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning," but all the stories in this book are worth it." - Webb Haymaker

The Teachings of Don B. - Donald Barthelme

Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

Augustus Carp Esq. by Himself - Sir Henry Howarth Bashford

London Review of Books - Thomas Jones

The spoof memoir Augustus Carp, Esq. by Himself: Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man was first published anonymously in 1924. Carp is a pious, hypocritical, gluttonous, not very bright and, yes, carping resident of Camberwell, and the narrator of what Anthony Burgess called 'one of the great comic novels of the 20th century'. He begins one recollection of his childhood with a description of how he was 'happily employed combing a grey rabbit, to which I was deeply attached, and which I had named, but a day or two previously, after the major prophet Isaiah'. That use of 'major' speaks volumes. Twenty years ago, Burgess persuaded Heinemann to bring out a new edition, and in the process discovered that the author was Dr Bashford, a Post Office medical officer from Hampstead who went on to become Honorary Physician to George VI. Whether or not this meant he was expected or even allowed to combat the King's diseases I don't know; either way it didn't stop him getting a knighthood. His name doesn't appear on the cover of the most recent edition of Augustus Carp (Prion, £8.99), but he is acknowledged on the title page, and his potted biography is in Robert Robinson's introduction. Carp, unlike his author, has no pretensions to modesty:

It is customary, I have noticed, in publishing an autobiography, to preface it with some sort of apology. But there are times, and surely the present is one of them, when to do so is manifestly unnecessary. In an age when every standard of decent conduct has either been torn down or is threatened with destruction; when every newspaper is daily reporting scenes of violence, divorce and arson; when quite young girls smoke cigarettes and even, I am assured, sometimes cigars; when mature women, the mothers of unhappy children, enter the sea in one-piece bathing-costumes; and when married men, the heads of households, prefer the flicker of the cinematograph to the Athanasian Creed - then it is obviously a task, not to be justifiably avoided, to place some higher example before the world.

Augusto Roa Bastos

I, the Supreme - Augusto Roa Bastos

"There are three great novels about the Latin American dictator and all of them are very different. Miguel Asturias' Mr. President deals with a backwater banana republic where the president for life's presence itself is minor. What occurs instead is the lethal working out of a hideously unjust system which crushes and destroys all who resist and those who are caught in its clutches. Then there is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, an example of high modernism at its most brilliant. In sentences of increasingly serpentine length (in the end consisting of the final chapter of forty-five pages) Garcia Marquez deals with an aged dictator who has ruled for centuries and is capable of every iniquity (such as serving up a cabinet minister for his treacherous colleagues to eat) while living in a world of pretend power and real submission (he has to sell his country's sea to pay off the Americans). This book is also high modernist, but is very different. Instead of the fantastic elements of the Autumn of the Patriarch we have here the story of the founder of Paraguay, Dr. Francia. Dr. Francia consolidated his country's independence by creating a regime of isolation and absolute power. He expelled the Jesuits and set up his own Catholic Church so it would not be beholden to Rome. He was utterly ruthless and the result, according to E. Bradford Burns was an autarky that probably benefited the masses more in terms of literacy and nutrition than any other Latin American country of the time. Its fate, however, was to be crushed by the surrounding countries in the great war of 1870-73 where the male population was almost literally devastated.

No venal tinpot hack, Dr. Francia appears as a man of frightening sincerity, in an account that is of direct revelance to the fate of Castro's Cuba. I, the Supreme begins with a proclamation in which the dicators calls for the decapitation of his corpse and the lynching of all his ministers. It continues with tales of prisoners forced to live in boats travelling down the rivers of Paraguay without ever stopping. We read of Francia's dialogue with a sycophantic Vicar General ("How long did the trial of the infamous traitors to the Fatherland last? As long as it was necessary in order not to rush to judgement. They were granted every right to defend themselves. In the end every recourse was exhausted. It might be said that the case was never closed. It is still open. Not all the guilty parties were sentenced to death and executed."), who then goes on to condemn his priests for siring dozens and hundreds of illegitimate children. Like Lenin and indeed Stalin he rants against the jungle of bureaucracy that he himself has created, he outsmarts the greedy surrounding oligarchies who wish to absorb Paraguay, he reminds his civil servants not to express and exploit the Indian population. We read reports of how school children are indoctrinated to see their great leader ("The Supreme Government is very old. Older than the Lord God, that our schoolmaster...tells us about in a low voice.) The book is a masterpiece of polyphony, filled with many voices and viewpoints, combined with a richness of metaphor and incident and a complexity of moral vision that have few competitors this century. Writing for a country that has possessed only brief and shadowy vestiges of liberty, Roa Bastos deals with its pain in a way that should be required reading for all who care about democracy." - pnotley

John Calvin Batchelor

The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica (1983) - John Calvin Batchelor

"Writing from the point of view in the early 80's and fresh from the chaos of the 70's oil crisis Batchelor naturally used this experience to build his world which in SF terms would be classified as a "near future" narrative.

More accurately his book is that rare animal in the XX century a political fiction talking about the issues of freedom and personal responsibility in the face of antiutopian fictions like 1984 or The Brave New World and actual political utopian projects like the Soviet Union or Third Reich.

It is easily recognizable that Batchelor is writing from a Libertarian perspective and that would allow me to label the book as a 'Libertarian fable' however this book is much more.

Taking Sweden in the early 70's as the location of his books beginning the writer appropriates the heritage of Norse mythology and epic poems for his flawed hero and this imagery stays with the reader throughout the book in tone, names and a whole chapter that takes place during a 'berserk' war fury during which the Hero Skallagrim Strider commits many crimes.

However Batchelor posits his crimes against the political crimes of those who convicted not just the hero but millions to a fate worse than his. The metaphor of the 'road to hell is paved with good intentions' is aptly used here.

In the end the Hero is given a sort of a political redemption by becoming a "Republic of one" incarnating the libertarian ideal of personal responsibility and freedom in the wastes of Antarctic islands.

Fascinating read that will stay with you, slightly dated due to the basic premise of a breakdown in world social order by Oil crisis, racism and religious fervour. Otherwise, to the point, asking the most fundamental questions about the political animal-Man." - Milos Tomin

Wolfgang Bauer

Feverhead - Wolfgang Bauer

"Wolfgang Bauer is an incredible oddity, the man must be either insane or the purest form of genius. I don't believe this alone. Malcolm Green must feel the same way to have taken the time to translate this complex, hilarious, amazing piece from the well-known (at least in Europe) Austrian playwright. An out of this world journey, The Feverhead will drag you around the world, maybe even to Heaven or Hell. You might even meet ULF! Imagine it...ULF! Weird and Wacky, but extremely compelling, with twists and turns that will keep you at the tip of seat or wherever you read, this book is a treasure. Being the only in print English work of Mr. Bauer, you will feel priviliged and honored to have it in your collection to return to again and again. A book not only to read and own, but maybe even to live by." - Reid Harris Cooper

Jonathan Baumbach

Reruns (1974) - Jonathan Baumbach

"Back in the early `70s, Jonathan Baumbach started a non-profit publishing house with a focus on experimental metafiction called the Fiction Collective (now FC2) alongside writers Steve Katz, Peter Spielberg, Ronald Sukenick and the miserable (or so I hear) B.H. Friedman at the Brooklyn College to be run entirely by likeminded writers, editing and publishing one another's stories--it's the only publishing house I know that gives the author complete--and I mean C O M P L E T E--control over their stories--using pocket $$$ from the writer and grants from the B.C. to pay for each book's initial publication until enough copies are sold that the writer can be paid back, and to be honest I have no idea how that works, as Reruns was originally published in 1974--one of the first three FC publications: Friedman's Museum & Spielberg's Twiddledum, Twadledum--and my copy, a third printing released in 2003, is still a first edition, and undeservedly so.

In under 170 pages, Baumbach successfully builds and maintains a sort of hypersurreality, mixing together dream and film, meditating on the art of storywriting for both the printed page and the camera. His handling of things dreamlike and filmic has a very Lynchian vibe to it: any random section's goings-on would be right at home in any D. Lynch film, esp. Eraserhead.

I went in on the run. The sensation of impact--the sudden shock of cold--hanging on like a bad memory. Someone came in after me. I was swimming under the water toward what looked like an American flag at the bottom of the pool when a pair of hands attached themselves to my ankles. Whoever it was--I assumed Anna--followed like an appendage. Under the American flag was the corpse of a large animal--a cow, I thought, though it's difficult to tell under water. When touched it made a mooing sound. I started to surface.

There's also a lot that goes on in this short novel, so much so that it's almost impossible to keep up with, particularly if you're trying to read more than 30 pgs in one sitting. It's overwhelming, and if you can consider that a detractor, it's surely this novel's largest. It's helped a lot by the 33 short chapters (`Nights'/reruns) making up the narrator's past, and briefly a child's escape from a family of vampires straight out of old, xenophobic Hollywood.

Beyond this, I don't really know how to comment on Baumbach's wicked cool book, or how to even describe what's going on in it. Baumbach's is a world where loved ones will be intimate friends one second and strangers the next, where secretaries type with the nipples of their breasts, where friends literally disappear into thin air when attention is being paid elsewhere, where amateur snipers take up residence in your apartment, spending weeks picking off any unlucky walker, where actors (e.g., Gregory Peck) insert themselves into minor roles, and enemies are suddenly close friends, where disconnected phones are always ringing, where real life-or-death situations are averted because the camera recording them ran out of film, &c. It all makes up an often hilarious, always nightmarish pop culture mash-up, blending dreams with books and TV, and asking how these clichés and archetypes have an effect upon our lives.

Go. Now. Order Reruns." - Amazon Customer

Martin Bax

The Hospital Ship - Martin Bax

Pierre Bayard

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read - Pierre Bayard

"Pierre Bayard's "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read," translated superbly from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman, comes at a time when a number of experts declare that reading in America is on the decline. Since the 2004 report from the US National Endowment for the Arts documented that Americans are reading less and less, there are more distractions than ever that keep people away from bookstores and libraries. The Internet, cable television, and other forms of entertainment, as well as the pressures of work, family, and social responsibilities quickly gobble up our days. For some people, a lack of erudition presents no problem. However, for those who would like to appear knowledgeable (even if they are anything but), Bayard comes to the rescue.

The author, a Professor of French Literature and a psychoanalyst, assures us that "it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven't read it in its entirety--or even opened it." Whew, what a relief! In addition, Bayard informs guilt-ridden non-readers that they are in very good company, since "mendacity is the rule" when it comes to reading. Few individuals who wish to be taken seriously by their peers will admit to never having read certain "canonical texts," so they simply lie and pretend to have read them. The whole spectrum of non-reading is covered here: books we've never cracked open, those we've merely skimmed, books that we've never laid eyes on but have heard about from others, and those that we read years ago and have long since forgotten. When books fade from our consciousness, we might as well not have read them at all, Bayard asserts. In many cases, "Our relation to books is a shadowy space haunted by the ghosts of memory...." Therefore, if you are a non-reader, fear not; you have nothing to be ashamed of and you are certainly not alone.

The author quotes works both well-known and obscure, such as Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose," Graham Greene's "The Third Man," and Balzac's "Lost Illusions" to support his thesis. He uses intricate and arcane philosophical arguments that are almost mathematical in their precision, to "prove" that one can and should avoid delving too deeply into books. He even uses his own jargon (some of which is borrowed from other disciplines) to describe ways in which non-readers relate to unread books and to one another: screen books, inner books, phantom books, virtual libraries, and the collective library.

Although to the casual reader Bayard may seem to be playing it straight, "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" is brilliant and subtle satire. Amazon reviewers should take special note of the Oscar Wilde quotation that serves as the book's epigraph: "I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so." Comments such as these that demonstrate how foolish it is to actually read the books that we talk about are so absurd (although they appear logical on the surface because they are couched in such ornate language), that Bayard ends up strengthening the opposite viewpoint. Those steeped in literature, even if they do not recall every word they have read, are generally people worth knowing; they are far more interesting to talk to than those who spout empty phrases devoid of precision or depth; people's lives are richer because of their intimate knowledge of books. They do not have to worry about surviving professional and social situations on a wing and a prayter, hoping never to be exposed as frauds who profess to have literary knowledge that they lack. Ironically, Bayard ultimately demonstrates the power of books to evoke passion, sway hearts and minds, subvert the social order, and change our lives. "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" is provocative, thought provoking, and great fun. Rather than pretending to read it, read it!" - E. Bukowsky

Barrington Bayley

Knights of the Limits - Barrington Bayley

"This is Bayley at the peak of his powers, barkingly brilliant. The thought experiments he weaves into a mosaic of energetic stories works its way to you like Borges on speed, a strange hybrid of Rudy Rucker, Italo Calvino and A. E. van Vogt - yet the core of it remains inescapably Bayley's own brand of strange sf. It's more like speculative cosmology, except Freeman Dyson would never have come up with ideas like Bayley's:

Like; what if the universe was completely filled with rock? And each of us is living in a little bubble in the rock. In other words, the basic premise of the story is impossible because the universe is not full of rock. But he's like, "what if it was?" And he goes on to describe attempts at space travel in this universe, the problems that arise, and ends the whole shebang with an orgasmic zen buzz to your frontal lobes. Wow. And then there more, each story going off on wild tangents into space and time and the lack thereof. If you think you're up for the ride, go for it. But be warned - this is NOT extrapolative hard sf, this is utterly original speculative stuff that will mess with your notions of reality and boggle the mind." - albemuth

The Zen Gun (1983) - Barrington Bayley

"An entertaining and absorbing romp through space aboard a battle class pleasure ship in search of the ultimate weapon. While developing a new space drive, humans have accidentally torn a hole in space, annoying nearby aliens, and inadvertently releasing strange creatures who mold matter indisciminately. As a human-primate chimera and his samurai escort quest for the power of the zen gun, intelligent animals threaten to take control of the empire. Even though the moon is falling from the sky, and the robots are on strike, there is always time for a brief physics lesson or two. Barrington J. Bayley is not only a great storyteller, he is also a master of the English language." - diane@scifikid.com

Muharem Bazdulj

The Second Book - Muharem Bazdulj


"The protagonists of The Second Book, are connected vertically and horizontally by their struggles. Nietzsche, on the edge of madness, spends a number of mornings contemplating his sweeping ideas and the tiny details of life through hazes left by "the gluey fingers of sleep." In "The Hot Sun's Golden Circle," the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, discoverer of monotheism, embarks on a search for the only true god of Egypt. Bazdulj's charming and funny "The Story of Two Brothers" examines the lives of William and Henry James from the shadows of the Old Testament and the age-old archetype of conflict between an eldest brother and the "maladjusted impracticality" of the younger.

Muharem Bazdulj has broken from the pack of new Eastern European writers influenced by innovators such as Danilo Ki¿, Milan Kundera, and Jorge Luis Borges. Employing a light touch, a daring anti-nationalist tone, and the kind of ambition that inspires nothing less than a rewriting of Bosnian and Yugoslavian history, Bazdulj weaves the imagined realities of history into fiction and fiction into history. To quote one critic, for Bazdulj history "is the sum of interpretations while imagination is the sum of facts." - Anon

Steve Beard

Digital Leatherette - Steve Beard

"So, you want to know how to obtain a digital leatherette?

- Take a large dose of Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum" with its hinting at occult forces and synchronicities unknown to most but used by a few to further their generally unwholesome goals.
- Include a take on history which illustrates the subtile prevalence of said forces.
- Add the 'post' cyberpunk atmosphere (complete with Raves and Trips to the Other Side) of Jeff Noon's "Vurt".
- Spike with of stock-market voodoo and some quantum-mechanical goobledygook.
- Add distillations of shamanism, millenium fever, gnosticism, new-age mythology, a society obsessed with surveillance and Fox Mulder.
- Enhance with references to contemporary cultural icons (like I just did)
- Powder with techspeak and lotsa acronyms. Zap through the channels.

Taste the enjoyable result. Do not look for a story -- let the text sink into you. Match, cross-correlate, flip through the book. Check out your history books. Don't go for linear -- you have been warned!

If you need it, here's the attempt at a Resumé:

Stardate: 2012. We are reading through a folder of e-mails transmitted to (intercepted? obtained by?) some unspecified entity.

The "authors" of the e-mails include: a reporter interviewing the Last English Pop Star in Antartica, a modern-day voodoo priestess performing at Raves in Battersea, Ukanian (sic) Government snoop units, an intelligent settop box (?) also acting as mole for Special Intelligence, net d00Dz hanging out in a cyberspace autonomous zone, drugged-out chatroom yakkers and excerpts from a text-based MUD which somehow seems to be an allegory of real- life events (but maybe Steve Beard just wanted to fill some pages with that one ?-)

What's it lead up to? The occult forces of good and evil (or just power and antipower?) are playing out their never-ending poker game well hidden behind the facade of real-world political events. The truth is out there! Ukania gets its comeuppance as Queen Elizabeth II is (maybe) assassinated and London financially taken over by the Chinese after the biggest market crash in history." - Game Cat

Samuel Beckett

Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable - Samuel Beckett

"There are many good reasons for reading Beckett's Trilogy. There is, in the first place, his beautifully clear and supple prose, a prose that moves with ease from the simple and straightforward treatment of everyday matters through to passages of intense lyrical beauty, or to equally moving outbursts of extreme brutality and obscenity. There is also Beckett's wonderful sense of humor, and readers will often find themselves chuckling at his eccentric characters and their zany carryings on. There is the unique effect produced by the general strangeness of his novels, with their odd characters moving through vividly realized landscapes which seem real enough but in which many of the happenings are either inexplicable or left unexplained.

There are also such things as his compassionate treatment of animals, for although Beckett seems most of the time to have little love for his fellow men, the intensity of his love and respect for the humbler creatures of the earth - donkeys, sheep, pigs, bees, birds, etc., - can be overpowering. Here, for example, is Beckett in 'Malone Dies' (p.304) describing, in his powerful and beautiful prose, a grey hen : ". . . this big, anxious, ashen bird, poised irresolute on the bright threshold, then clucking and clawing behind the range and fidgeting her atrophied wings, soon to be sent flying with a broom and angry cries and soon to return, cautiously, with little hesitant steps, stopping often to listen, opening and shutting her little bright black eyes"

There is here a total identification with a creature we would normally have difficulty identifying with, and a very real compassion. Like Molloy,Moran, and Malone, the hen is trapped: trapped in the universe - and trapped in a body. Like them, too, it desires happiness and is averse to suffering. It is experiencing the agony of incarnation, the agony of being in a body. It suffers from heat, cold, thirst, hunger, fear, desire, confusion, frustration, loss, pain, injury, terror, and ultimately death. It also endures many of the other afflictions that we too must somehow suffer through and try to survive - all the while uncertain as to how we got here, why we are here, and where we are going, and desperately searching for some meaning, some explanation, some way out.

Beckett is not easy to read. His books demand real stamina. They give us a world in which, despite its occasional hilarity, none of us can feel truly comfortable for nothing in it makes much sense. For Beckett, as for the Buddhists, a continuous self is a mere illusion and has no real existence - hence the indeterminacy of his characters, and the melting of Molloy into Moran, Malone into Macmann, etc. Ultimately unreal, and thus without meaning, they move painfully, but also comically, through a world in which the link between cause and effect has been broken - a world which is itself therefore meaningless, and in which redemption can come only through art since in a world emptied of absolute meanings there can only be fictions. While each of us is unconsciously busy creating the fiction which is our self, and helping to sustain the larger fiction which is society, Beckett was consciously creating his own fictions. But they are all fictions and all ultimately without meaning. Or perhaps one could say that the meaning is that there is no meaning.

Despite this general meaningless, however, readers who patiently work through these books will find much to reward them. They offer us a true, though grotesquely exaggerated, vision of life, albeit one in which there is much that is grim and disgusting. They also offer a marvelous field for the play of Beckett's comic genius, and he can rarely resist poking fun at the kind of mind produced by the massive organized pedantry which passes for education in the modern world. And finally, we should not forget those moments, more precious for their rarity - moments such as Molloy's vision of the young woman on the beach who wishes to help him - when there is an inexplicable intrusion of sheer goodness and beauty into his grim world. Perhaps Beckett was not quite the misanthrope and pessimist he liked to pretend. He was certainly one of the wittiest, and beneath his tough intellectual carapace there is a warmth and love he never did succeed in wholly disguising.

The Grove Press edition of Beckett's Trilogy is printed in an ugly heavy blunt font; comes with that special contribution to the modern reader's hell - one of those cheap-and-nasty glued spines which split easily; and (like many of Beckett's books) is riddled with typographical errors and misprints. Potential readers would probably be better off finding the physically more handsome and durable Everyman edition, though whether it offers a more accurate text I don't know." - tepi

William Beckford

The History of Caliph Vathek - William Beckford

Online text version

"The tale of Vathek is undeniably a wonderful oriental fable, where enlightenment ethics are presented and critiqued. If read in conjunction with Samuel Johnson "Rasselas", Montesquieu's Persian Letters and "Arabian Nights" one may be able to better understand the landscape upon which orientalism (a term used by Beckford himself to illuminate the period's infatuation with the orient, not to be confused with Said's) and enlightenment values where divulged. Beckford's tale however speaks of a more prescient sphere where the author's inner struggles and thwarted tragic desultoriness devolves. As with all literature this compact gem stands on her own; however many have tried to extract a moral import and some have even described a mystique of knowledge and a system of ethics with undue fastidiousness. In a more likely scenario we have a wonton fable whimsical and indulgent, crafted as a parody of "orientalism". Knowledge of Beckford's life may serve the reader well but should not hinder her enjoyment. The author's disquietude trumps an increasing distance from the absurd drive and hedonistic tendencies of the protagonist, while we feel a sympathetic kinship laxed the more into the novella we proceed. The author wrote this fable in French and supervised the translation as best he could. The grotesque and the sublime are here married insolubly but tend to find a balance suspended over a void that derides and insinuates the emptiness of a spiritual fantasy in turmoil.

The ending paragraphs are singed with a sad glow that seems to recriminate as much as it moralizes: much like a father that punishes a child only to feel remorse over the fact that his own blood cannot enjoy what is most enjoyable. He is not convinced and Beckford created a wonderful fable where much is exposed, but the simplicity, the arrogance and the conviction are to be regaled with the same comic grotesque sprightliness with which he infuses his narrative.

A quick fun read that demands little of us, but in degrees can disclose a sensibility we may be dismissive of if we are to package it as a tale where orientalism meets enlightenment values." - Luca Graziuso


William Beckford was an eccentric millionaire; his short novel Vathek is an eccentric novel. It is apparently a morality tale based on some of the stories in the Arabian Nights. It tells the story of Vathek, an imaginary descendant and successor of Caliph Haroun al Raschid. He has two passions: for decadent luxury (vast feasts, beautiful concubines) and arcane knowledge. When an evil looking Indian magician visits his court, his desire for knowldge becomes even greater when he sees something of the magical power of this man. He becomes willing to go to any lengths to discover his secrets, even abjuring Islam and sacrificing the fifty most beautiful children in his realm. However, the episode has been arranged by Mohammed to give Vathek a last chance to repent of his evildoing, and disaster awaits him when he fails to do so.

Alan Beechey

An Embarassment of Corpses - Alan Beechey

"This novel made me homesick for England. But pleasantly so. It opens in London's Trafalgar Square, which lives in my memory as the place to go on Christmas Eve. There would be a huge Christmas tree, sent over from Norway, I believe, all decorated and lit up, and hundreds of people singing Christmas carols. There's no Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in the opening of this book. There is a body instead. It is discovered by Oliver Swithin, who has hay-colored hair that is straight and floppy. teeth that are too prominent, docile blue eyes behind wire-framed spectacles. He is wearing a tuxedo that has seen better days. Not a macho hero, one deduces almost immediately. Sir Hargreaves (Harry) Random was "floating face-down in a Trafalgar Square Fountain....with a look of mild irritation on his face, mortified in all senses of the word." Listen to this. Far above ... the rising sun was gilding the pigeon guano on Nelson's hat." (For the unknowing, Nelson's column is one of the primary features of Trafalgar Square.) There are a lot of wonderfully visual and fresh images like that throughout this well-wrought novel. Here's a description of a police officer, Sergeant Welkin: "He was an overweight man in his thirties, with a black moustache and a harsh boxer's face, who invariably reminded people of someone else they knew. He bred Burmese cats." Oliver writes a series of books about a "Foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ex-public-schoolboy ferret named Finsbury.... giving the beast all the vices he had never possessed." The series of course becomes a critical and financial success, though not for Oliver, who isn't getting any of the money. "Hoist by your own pet," Oliver's uncle murmurs. The Finsbury books expose the infants of England to the evils of alcohol, drugs, pornography, promiscuity, soccer hooliganism, smoking, and country and western music." (Ahem! Excuse me?) Mr. Beechey very cleverly, after introducing Finsbury, obeys the dictum that if you show a ferret early in the plot, the ferret should bite someone before the end. If left to myself here, I'd quote the whole book and you wouldn't have to buy it and that would never do. Oliver as sleuth is assisted by, or sometimes desisted by, his Uncle , Inspector Tim Mallard of the Yard. He sleuths by Zodiac signs, following the trail of a serial murderer. He also yearns for Sergeant Effie Strongitharm and fantasizes her response to him with replies that range from a snorted "With *you*?" to a breathless, "At last--take me now, my shy young hero among men." He's not too successful with Effie, which is hardly surprising. There are many surprises in this book so I'm not going to tell anything about the plot progression. One big surprise almost lifted me out of bed, where I was reading. For a few pages, I was really......no that would be a spoiler. There are a lot of puns in this book, and as you've seen--much humor. Not of the slapstick kind, but my favorite kind of understated English humor that depends mostly on a very satisfying use of words. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment. I loved this book And I've decided I have to visit London next year. For sure." - Margaret Chittenden

Max Beerbohm

A Christmas Garland - Max Beerbohm

"In the splendid Introduction to this edition of Max Beerbohm's A CHRISTMAS GARLAND, John Hall writes that "there has never been a better collection of parodies in English." I am no expert on the art of parody, a rare art indeed in today's world, but I suspect Hall is correct.

A CHRISTMAS GARLAND consists of seventeen pieces, averaging nine pages each, from the pen of Max Beerbohm but attributed to different literary contemporaries of his, thinly disguised by their vowelless names - such as H*nry J*m*s, H. G. W*lls, G. K. Ch*st*rt*n, Th*m*s H*rdy, and J*s*ph C*nr*d. In each of the pieces, Christmas plays a role of some sort, in some quite obliquely, in others front and center. The resulting garland is both charming and esoteric.

Of the seventeen authors I have read one or more works of nine of them. I am in no position to judge how effectively Beerbohm mimics the other eight of his subjects (four of whom - A. C. Benson, Arnold Bennett, G.S. Street, and Maurice Hewlett - I had never even heard of). But for the nine authors I know, Beerbohm's parodies are strokes of genius. So good are they that Henry James said that none of the writers satirized in A CHRISTMAS GARLAND could now write "without incurring the reproach of somewhat ineffectively imitating" Beerbohm.

Here's an example from the piece aping Joseph Conrad, the subject probably most familiar to potential readers of this review:

"The hut in which slept the white man was on a clearing between the forest and the river. Silence, the silence murmurous and unquiet of a tropical night, brooded over the hut that, baked through by the sun, sweated a vapour beneath the cynical light of the stars. Mahamo lay rigid and watchful at the hut's mouth. In his upturned eyes, and along the polished surface of his lean body black and immobile, the stars were reflected, creating an illusion of themselves who are illusions. * * * Within the hut the form of the white man, corpulent and pale, was covered with a mosquito-net that was itself illusory like everything else, only more so."

By the way, in this piece, entitled "The Feast", it is Christmas day and the thoughts of the white man, when he awakes, harken back to Marylebone and "a savour of especial cookery." He tells Mahamo, "It's a feast-day of my people," and Mahamo answers, "Of mine also." It doesn't take much to figure out how the story ends.

This edition from Yale University Press consists of three parts. The largest is a facsimile of the first edition of A CHRISTMAS GARLAND, as published in 1912. There also is a section of twenty-four visual caricatures of some of the seventeen subjects, as drawn or painted by Beerbohm. They too are brilliant, and the section well illustrates that "caricature can be seen as a kind of graphic equivalent of parody." Finally (though placed first in the book), there is the Introduction, which includes for each of the parodied authors a brief discussion of who they were, Beerbohm's relationship with them, and the salient characteristics of their prose that Beerbohm seizes upon and exaggerates.

A CHRISTMAS GARLAND is, to be sure, a bit of fluff. But it is inspired fluff, and it is moderately entertaining. Plus, this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of its publication. So, if you are looking for a Christmas present for a bibliophile who is also an Anglophile, might I suggest A CHRISTMAS GARLAND? And if you decide to get it, either as a gift for someone else or for yourself, do make an effort to track down this very nice hardcover edition published by Yale University Press." - R. M. Peterson

Seven Men/Two Others - Max Beerbohm

Project Gutenberg

NYRB Introduction - John Updike

In Seven Men the brilliant English caricaturist and critic Max Beerbohm turns his comic searchlight upon the fantastic fin-de-siecle world of the 1890s--the age of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and the young Yeats, as well of Beerbohm's own first success. In a series of luminous sketches, Beerbohm captures the likes of Enoch Soames; only begetter of the neglected poetic masterwork Fungoids; Maltby and Braxton, two fashionable novelists caught in a bitter rivalry; and "Savonarola" Brown, author of a truly incredible tragedy encompassing the entire Italian Renaissance. One of the masterpieces of modern humorous writing. Seven Men is also a shrewdly perceptive, heartfelt homage to the wonderfully eccentric character of a bygone age.

Max Beerbohm at the Victorian Web

Max Beerbohm at the 1890s Society

Brendan Behan

Confessions of an Irish Rebel - Brendan Behan

John Bellairs

The Face in the Frost - John Bellairs


""The Face In The Frost" is a richly imaginative tale of two wizards, Prospero (not the one you're thinking of) and Roger Bacon, who must overcome a third wizard, the evil Melichus before he destroys them, and a lot of other folks as well.

Even if you think you've heard this story before, you've never come across a variation like this one. The closest analogue that I can come up with is "Howl's Moving Castle" for its eccentricity, but 'Face' outdoes 'Howl' in this respect as well as in its fear quotient. The scary scenes approach M.R. James in intensity, and they are always preceded by migraine-like aura. Prospero senses that something is slightly off about the inn where he is staying. He is still trying to figure out what is bothering him at four in the morning:

"Strange thoughts began to come to him now: locked boxes and empty rooms. Four dials and a black hole. Four cards and a blank. And a dead sound on the stroke of four. Why did that mirror bother him?

"Quietly, Prospero got dressed, took his staff from the corner, and opened the door of his room. The hall was dark and silent...He lit [a candle] and tiptoed down the stairs to the place where the mirror hung. Prospero stared and felt a chill pass through his body. The mirror showed nothing-not his face, not his candle, not the wall behind him. All he saw was a black glassy surface."

Prospero explores further and finds his landlady standing fully-clothed in her room, with a butcher knife in her hand. "In her slowly rising head were two black holes. Prospero saw in his mind a doll that had terrified him when he was a child. The eyes had rattled in the china skull. Now the woman's voice, mechanical and heavy: "Why don't you sleep? Go to sleep." Her mouth opened wide, impossibly wide, and then the whole face stretched and writhed and yawned in the faint light."

Prospero manages to escape the inn and town that were nothing more than an elaborate trap set up by Melichus to destroy him. He is reunited with his friend, Roger Bacon and they continue on their quest to find and destroy Melichus's evil magic.

There are delightfully eccentric set-pieces in 'Face:' a king who builds elaborate clock-works of the universe; a monk who collects strange plants; a talking mirror that divulges scores from a 1943 Cubs-Giants baseball game. I suspect the author wove his fantasy out of migraines, nightmares, and a love of mechanical oddities and spells that turn tomatoes into squishy red carriages. Prospero himself has a "cherrywood bedstead with a bassoon carved into one of the fat headposts, so that it could be played as you lay in bed and meditated...On a shelf over the experiment table was the inevitable skull, which the wizard put there to remind him of death, though it usually reminded him that he needed to go to the dentist."

I'd better put an end to this review before I quote the whole book. It's so good, it pulls me in every time I open it---Enchanting, in the original sense of the word, and frightening, too." - E. A. Lovitt

Thomas Berger

Who is Teddy Villanova? - Thomas Berger

"Berger's send-up of the private eye genre. Think of Hammett and Chandler and all the other writers of hard-boiled detective novels and then try to come up with the best way to parody them, and you have this wonderfully crazy book. Berger uses lots of word play: getting around to asking about a dog, a character says "Something's rotten in the state of Dane - I mean Denmark." Tough guys aren't so tough: "I'm not the knave you take me for, sir. The day is not more pure than the depth of my heart," says one, quoting Racine. And the book opens with the line "Call me Russell Wren," as if MOBY DICK was the greatest detective story of them all. Berger's humor, as always, is broadly applied, and the book's a fun read. " - Bomojaz

Rafael Bernal

The Mongolian Conspiracy (1969) - Rafael Bernal

"Rafael Bernal's The Mongolian Conspiracy, written in 1969, is a masterful work of hilarity and noir. Compelling and full of wit, this is a detective story with a cast of memorable characters, delicious Mexican profanities and sharp, well-placed dialogue. The protagonist, Filiberto Garcia, is an ex-Mexican revolutionary hired by authorities to gather intelligence on a rumored assassination plot on the Mexican and American presidents. Garcia, a "private contractor" with a set of indispensable skills, investigates an underworld that reveals spellbinding truths about corruption close to home. When he begins a relationship with Marta, a young half-Chinese woman he meets along the way, his sense of purpose is only heightened. Not especially common in the world of Mexican noir, the love affair serves as an alluring, and inevitably heartbreaking, backdrop for a classic tale wrought with blood and intrigue. Translated by Katherine Silver." - Juan Vidal

Michel Bernanos

The Other Side of the Mountain (1968) - Michel Bernanos

Jeff Vandermeer:

"With Candide-like brevity and the sanctity of spare prose, Bernanos chills the reader with one of the most quietly horrific accounts of an explorer's journey to another place. The book is long out of print - a situation that should be rectified immediately. This little piece of the alien and the alienated gets under your skin in a myriad of unsettling ways. It begins as a simple Robert Louis Stevenson/Melville story of a youth indentured at sea to a brutal crew, who becomes lost, who turns to cannibalism, who then passes into a strange land:

"All around us was the liquid void. The day grew lighter and lighter and on the horizon a curious red hue preluded the sun-a color akin to blood. Slowly it spread. I had never seen anything quite like it and for a moment I imagined I was having hallucinations. I was amazed to see that when the sun finally rose it was entirely speckled with this same strange color, as if it had suffered a wound."

Until gradually the narrative's inexorable and steady pace by itself acclimatizes us to upcoming disaster with image after image that will remain with you long after the last page has been read. Some books are strange fish. They fit no known pattern. Their scales flicker with an emerald and unknowable light. But you'd be mistaken to throw them back."

Lord Berners

Collected Tales and Fantasies of Lord Berners - Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson Berners


"Lord Berners' Collected Tales and Fantasies are six rather bizarre tales or short novellas, filled with dark and mysterious happenings. The characters who inhabit these stories are equally as bizarre and eccentric as the tales themselves, and, although they contain some hilarious satire in the style of Evelyn Waugh or "Saki," the narratives are laced with violence and tragedy. Lord Berners' characters include an assortment of eccentric artistocratic types that he knew between the years dividing the two World Wars. His characters include a mixture of neurotics, paranoids, megalomaniacs, pederasts, parasites, and what Monty Python would call "upper-class twits," all of whom partake in the most amazing adventures. In one of the best stories, "Far from the Madding War," the author himself makes a brief appearance as Lord FritzCricket. Berners admits that his own outlandish personality is that of "the Unstable Peer," an eccentric born into the aristocracy who can act in any way he pleases. Let us look briefly at a few of the stories. "Percy Wallingford," (written in 1914) tells the adventures of a self-assured and talented man who, on the eve of World War I, has his confidence destroyed by his wife, a fantastic woman who can see in the dark and who strips him of his self-assurance. "The Camel," (written in 1936) relates the mysterious appearance of a camel at a vicarage in the quiet British town of Slumbermere, which violently disrupts the easy life there and forces people to confront their own fears, anxieties, and jealousies. It is a deceptively dark and disturbing tale, perhaps influenced by the novels of Thomas Hardy and Anthony Trollope which also dealt with small-town British rustic life. "Mr. Pidger," (1939) takes place on the eve of World War II and is, in reality, a British country-house farce in the best tradition. Lord Berens takes the models of the genre - a dog-hating misanthrope, a missing will, an ill-tempered dog, an over bearing wife, and a reticent husband - and molds them into a bizarre burlesque with tragic overtones. "Count Omega" (1941) is a satire on reincarnation, Freudian sexual psychoanalysis, modern music, and practical jokes, which involves the ego-centered musician Emanuel Smith, maliciously modeled on the British composer Sir William Walton. "The Romance of a Nose" (1941) may be the weakest tale of the collection, a rather plodding story about a Queen with an enormous nose and the chicanery that takes place in international politics. Berners' final story in the collection, "Far From the Madding War" (1941) is in itself worth the price of the book. It is an outrageous reaction to World War II, peopled with whimsical neurotics and eccentrics in the university town of "All Saints." It is Lord Berners' satirical attack on Oxford and Cambridge Universities' reaction to the war, and an intimation of his own nervous breakdown during and after the war years when his private world was shattered. It is a hilarious yet disturbing story. I highly recommend these six stories to those Anglophile readers like myself who enjoy the works of such writers as Evelyn Waugh, "Saki," J.P. Donlevy, George MacDonald Fraser, or John Mortimer. Lord Berners is indeed a talented author who writes stylishly and with a sharp satiric thrust. I have enjoyed his music (now recorded on several CD's) and his excellent memoir, "The Château de Résenlieu," which was recently published. I hope that more of his fine literary work will be published." - Russel E. Higgins

Thomas Bernhard

Concrete - Thomas Bernhard

"Thomas Bernhard's "Concrete" is a concentrated, excessive and disturbing stream-of-consciousness monologue by Rudolf, a reclusive, wealthy Viennese music critic who lives alone in a large country house. Rudolf suffers from sarcoidosis, a disease not described in the narrative, which is characterized by inflammation of the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, and other tissues. Physically miserable and obsessively fearful of death, he also is a man paralyzed by his misanthropic, conflicted, exhaustingly relentless thoughts. Trapped in his own mind, Rudolf is a literary creation directly descended from Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Beckett.

Rudolf has been working for ten years on a biography of Mendelssohn, yet has failed to write even the first line of his work. "I had been planning it for ten years and had repeatedly failed to bring it to fruition, but now had resolved to begin writing it on the twenty-seventh of January at precisely four o'clock in the morning, after the departure of my sister." It is an intention to begin writing that recurs again and again throughout Rudolf's narrative, an intention to begin writing at a specific time in a specific location after the completion of specific preparatory tasks. And in each instance, Rudolf fails to begin, a sign of procrastination bred by obsession or of extreme writer's block or of extreme mental imbalance.

When Rudolf's sister leaves the house, he still cannot begin to write. Despite her departure, her aura remains: "Although she had gone, I still felt the presence of my sister in every part of the house. It would be impossible to imagine a person more hostile to anything intellectual than my sister. The very thought of her robs me of my capacity for any intellectual activity, and she has always stifled at birth any intellectual projects I have had . . . There's no defense against a person like my sister, who is at once so strong and so anti-intellectual; she comes and annihilates whatever has taken shape in one's mind as a result of exerting, indeed of over-exerting one's memory for months on end, whatever it is, even the most trifling sketch on the most trifling subject."

This theme, Rudolf's hatred for his older, worldly sister, runs throughout his narrative, the sister becoming one among many reasons (or excuses) for Rudolf's intellectual paralysis, his inability to write, even his inability to function in day-to-day life.

But it is not merely his sister that Rudolf despises. He also despises Vienna, the city where he once lived (and where his sister continues to live). "Vienna has become a proletarian city through and through, for which no decent person can have anything but scorn and contempt."

A complete recluse, his mental world bordering on solipsistic isolation, Rudolf no longer has any interest in social life of any kind. "To think that I once not only loved parties," he reflects, "but actually gave them and was capable of enjoying them!" Now he sees no reason or need for the company of others, for the people Rudolf spent years trying to "put right" but who only regarded him as a "fool" for his efforts. As Rudolf thinks, in a long, discursive interior response to his sister's claim that his desolate, morgue-like house, "is crying out for society":

"There comes a time when we actually think about these people, and then suddenly we hate them, and so we get rid of them, or they get rid of us; because we see them so clearly all at once, we have to withdraw from their company or they from ours. For years I believed that I couldn't be alone, that I needed all these people, but in fact I don't: I've got on perfectly well without them."

Rudolf is isolated in his own mind, a man who cannot accept the imperfections of others and of the world, but also cannot accept his own imperfections. And it is perhaps this, more than anything else, which explains his inability to get along in the world, his inability even to write the first sentence of his Mendelssohn biography. "Once, twenty-five years ago, I managed to complete something on Webern in Vienna, but as soon as I completed it I burned it, because it hadn't turned out properly." As Rudolf says, near the end of his short, but exhausting, narrative:

"I've actually been observing myself for years, if not for decades; my life now consists of self-observation and self-contemplation, which naturally leads to self-condemnation, self-rejection and self-mockery. For years I have lived in this state of self-condemnation, self-abnegation and self-mockery, in which ultimately I always have to take refuge in order to save myself."

"Concrete" leaves the reader exhausted from Rudolf's excessive and relentless narrative, giving truth to the remarkable power of Bernhard's literary imagination and narrative voice. It is a stunning literary achievement, perhaps the best work of one of Austria's greatest twentieth century authors." - A Customer

Gargoyles: A Novel - Thomas Bernhard

""The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed," writes Thomas Bernhard, and that one sentence can be said to sum up his view of human life. If you're of a tendency to agree, you're of a tendency to enjoy the work of literature's answer to anyone obtuse enough to tell you to "Have a Nice Day!" Just be sure to have plenty of Zoloft and Wellbutrin XL on hand because Bernhard is potent stuff.

If "Gargoyles" were a boxing match instead of a book and Bernhard a fighter you could say he came out swinging hard at the opening bell and faded away in the middle rounds...only to come back stronger than ever to knock you out cold in the end. The minimal plot describes a son who, having returned from university for the weekend, accompanies his physician father on his daily rounds through the countryside. The day starts offs with a brutal murder at a local inn and ends with a visit to a mad prince holed up in his mountain estate. In between, father and son check in on a variety of patients--each one of them a "gargoyle," a human grotesque, suffering from one or another of the awful maladies of existence. Hemmed in by illness, grief, loneliness, age, hopelessness, these poor souls are a parade of human misery, the victims of the horrors that flesh is heir to.

The son is the ostensible narrator of these events, but Bernhard has him take a primarily background role, letting the patients and their grim circumstances speak for themselves. This technique culminates in the final one hundred or so pages of *Gargoyles* which are mainly the text of an extended monologue by the novel's most intriguing character: the prince of a large and decaying estate who is clearly on the verge of the sort of insanity that may be the clearest wisdom of all.

It's precisely this extended monologue that proves to be the strongest--and weakest--part of the novel. There were stretches where this speech read like nothing more than the ravings of your typical schizophrenic--gibberish interspersed with the occasional gleam of brilliant insight and dark humor--and, as such, became somewhat tiresome. But just when you start to sense your eyes glazing over, Bernard kicks things into overdrive and the prince's monologue becomes a riveting panegyric of proverb and prophecy that relentlessly hammers shut every door that one might have hoped could lead to an escape from human despair. This `madman's monologue,' which at first seems mind-numbingly arbitrary and inconsistent builds in coherence and power until the novel's finale where Bernhard sets off a nihilistic fireworks display of devastating aphoristic brilliance. It's truly one of the great "mad rants" of world literature--a tour de force performance not to be missed.

Not without its weaknesses, *Gargoyles* is nonetheless a challenging and rewarding novel that manages, ultimately, to be more than a `mere' novel--but an irrefutable testament to the tragedy of the human condition...a tragedy that, incredibly, is not without its share of laughs." - Mark Nadja



"Woodcutters is definitely my favourite novel by Thomas Bernhard. It is Thomas Bernhard at his best. He got sued by former friends of his when he published the book so as in many of his books the narrator is very close to or maybe even identical with Thomas Bernhard himself.

Basically, the book consists of two parts. In the first part, the narrator sits in a chair and watches his hosts plus their other guests waiting for an actor to have dinner. The narrator had bumped into his hosts whom he hadn't seen for many years and they had invited him to join their dinner. A mutual friend of them had just committed suicide so he had felt obliged to join them - much to his regret. The second part describes the actual dinner. However, most of the book consists of what the narrator is thinking about his former friends, about friendships in general and about relationships between people. This nearly endless rant evolves around every possible aspect and like a surgeon Bernhard cuts deep into what everybody takes for granted and lays open treachery, lies, and hypocrisy (If you believe in family values and in a good world, this book might disturb you quite a bit!). As I mentioned before, old friends of Bernhard's sued him when the book was published because it was too obvious he was actually referring to them - and he was showing them in a way nobody would possibly want to be shown. This is not to say that Bernhard is necessarily a misanthrop. Quite surprisingly, when the narrator leaves the dinner table abruptly, he runs back home "through Vienna the city I loved like no other city" - quite a surprise after his Vienna-bashing. To me, Thomas Bernhard always was a deeply disturbed person who hated the world because it wasn't as nice as he wanted to believe it was." - joerg colberg

Morris Bishop

A Gallery of Eccentrics Or, A Set of Twelve Originals & Extravagants from Elagabalus, the Waggish Emperor to Mr. Professor Porson, the Tippling Philologer (1928) - Morris Bishop

Jack Black

You Can't Win - Jack Black

"I first discovered Jack Black's `You Can't Win', as I suspect many readers did, when I found out that it was William S Burroughs' favourite book. Until I read it, though, I couldn't imagine just how big an influence it was on Burroughs - who drew upon its style, and the code of honour it describes, for the entirety of his writing career.

When you read Burroughs' foreword to this edition of `You Can't Win', it hits you that he didn't (as you might assume with a favourite book) reread the book regularly. Rather, he memorised the book as a boy, and then throughout his life `read' the version memorised in his own mind. Even the passages that Burroughs quotes in the foreword aren't word-for-word precise (I compared them with the text of the book proper), because they've been committed to myth and memory, and are recited in ritualistic fashion.

All of which aside, `You Can't Win' deserves to be known as more than just `the book that inspired Burroughs'. It's written in a plain, unsentimental style which has as much in common with the writing of Charles Bukowski as it does with the Beats - a style of writing which reached its apotheosis with `The Grass Arena', the harrowing autobiography of the British alcoholic vagrant John Healy. (Now, someone should teach a literature class comparing `You Can't Win' and `The Grass Arena' - THAT would be an inspiration.) What these writers have in common is that when you read them, you instantly think: `Now this is good, compelling, uncluttered prose.'

Many of those who have posted reviews below rightly praise Jack Black's memorable language and characterisation, which make `You Can't Win' into a kind of turn-of-the-century lexicon and encyclopaedia of the life of American thieves and hobos. But I was even more struck by Black's remarkable resolve, self-dependency and moral fortitude, and above all his categorical refusal to feel sorry for himself, or to let the reader feel sorry for him.

Three passages in the book in particular, all of which concern prison, are horrific - two passages in which Black is punished by flogging, and an absolutely unbearable passage in which he is tortured in a straitjacket by a sadistic prison warden. If these passages had been written by a lesser writer, I could not bear to read them. But Black takes the reader firmly by the hand, conveys what happened to him, and moves on.

Describing the first flogging: `It would not be fair to the reader for me to attempt a detailed description of this flogging.... If I could go away to some lonely, desolate spot and concentrate deeply enough I might manage to put myself in the flogging master's place and make a better job of reporting the matter. But that would entail a mental strain I hesitate to accept, and I doubt if the result would justify the effort.'

Describing the second flogging: `To make an unpleasant story short, I will say he beat me like a balky horse, and I took it like one - with my ears laid back and my teeth bared. All the philosophy and logic and clear reasoning I had got out of books and meditation in my two years were beaten out of me in 30 seconds, and I went out of that room foolishly hating everything a foot high.'

Describing being tortured in a straitjacket: `Every hour Cochrane came in and asked if I was ready to give up the hop. When I denied having it, he tightened me up some more and went away. The torture became maddening. Some time during the second day I rolled over to the wall and beat my forehead against it trying to knock myself out. Cochrane came in, saw what I was doing, and dragged me back to the middle of the cell. I hadn't strength enough left to roll back to the wall, so I stayed there and suffered.'

Black opens the book with a description of his own face, and fittingly enough, there is a photograph of him near the front of the book. Many times while reading `You Can't Win', I found myself flicking back to look at that careworn, yet amiable face, and picturing Black's exploits in my mind. The afterword to this edition, which outlines Black's life after the book was published, is equally fascinating - I was moved almost to tears to read that he simply vanished in 1932, and was strongly suspected of having tied weights to his feet and thrown himself into New York Harbour.

Of course, `You Can't Win' is a unique and priceless document of a bygone American era. But lest you find yourself feeling nostalgic for this way of life - as readers are prone to feel, whenever they read vivid descriptions of times before they were born, and as William S Burroughs is certainly guilty of feeling in his foreword - Black cautions us against precisely this kind of nostalgia (and ironically, uses an irresistibly romantic description of the past to do so):

`I'm not finding fault with these brave days of jungle music, synthetic liquor, and dimple-kneed maids, and anybody that thinks the world is going to the bowwows because of them ought to think back to San Francisco or any big city of 20 years ago - when train conductors steered suckers against the bunko men; when coppers located "work" for burglars and stalled them while they worked; when pickpockets paid the police so much a day for "exclusive privileges" and had to put a substitute "mob" in their district if they wanted to go out of town to a country fair for a week. Those were the days when there were saloons by the thousand; when the saloonkeeper ordered the police to pinch the Salvation Army for disturbing the peace by singing hymns in the street; when there were race tracks, gambling unrestricted, crooked prize fights; when there were cribs by the mile and hop joints by the score. These things may exist now, but if they do, I don't know where. I knew where they were then, and with plenty of money and leisure I did them all.'" - Sandy Starr

Maurice Blanchot

Thomas the Obscure - Maurice Blanchot

"Admirers of Kierkegaard, Sartre and Beckett will enjoy Blanchot's philosophical rumination on existence in the form of this odd novela tragic existential romance of sorts. Thomas and Anne meet at a country hotel and believe themselves to be in love. We learn nothing of their pasts, mutual or personal, or of their plans or hopes. Such superficialities as character development do not concern Blanchot. Instead, the narrative focuses on the neurotic pair's inner worlds, where every slight notion and observation of the outer world carries explicit philosophical implications. The mental processes play unbroken for pages like impassioned and cerebral jazz piano pieces: the ocean is the modern soul, creatures are ideas, cats talk in monologues and the greatest action is a nervous collapse. With this couple, Blanchot examines the extent to which we are separated from our fellow humans by our solipsistic natures. Insight and true high comedy reign throughout these suffering-soaked chapters, remarkably and elegantly translated by Lamberton. For those who dare, this new version of the first novel by the influential French writer, a mystifying and ingenious work, will not soon leave the memory." - Amazon

James Blinn

The Aardvark is Ready for War - James Blinn

Roberto Bolano

The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolano

"Bolano is a a master storyteller. Best book i've read in years.

THE STORY: Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are the young leaders of literary movement they call the Visceral Realists, think BaaderMeinhoff Literary Brigade. The movement is part-gag -- a sendup of Andre Breton's surrealist movement and its "purges" -- but also an attack on the old guard of Latin American literature, people like Octavio Paz (who they jokingly/seriously threaten to kidnap) and Garcia Marquez. They show up with their teenage cohorts at literary events and heckle the sacred cows as the old men of letters attempt to recite their poetry! They threaten their critics with duels (as any self respecting man of letters must do)! Some of the Visceral Realists don't even appear to read! The motley group of Mexico City street kids -- Ulises, Arturo, Lupe, Garcia Madero, Maria and Angelica Font, Luscious Skin, San Estifanio -- are bonded by their belief in poetry, the poets life, their alienation, and their youth.

The story follows this gang from their beginnings in 1970s Mexico City through their wanderings throughout the world (Spain, France, West and Central Africa, Latin America, San Diego)and into the 1990s. The realization that the life of a poet is both the happiest and the saddest thing. And it finds Arturo, Ulises, Garcia Madero, and Lupe lost in the Sonora Desert running from an angry pimp and searching for a lost poet, the first Visceral Realist, a woman who disappeared into the desert some forty years before.

Oh yeah, there's alot of sex and drugs, some violence, poignancy and irreverancy. And there's a lot of poetry.

I can't recommend it enough, especially for those who believe that books can offer more than entertainment, for those who dream the naive and true dream that books and the people who write them are revolutionary." - D. Domingos

2666: A Novel - Roberto Bolano

"As any reader would tell you, in America, every reader of literature is in search of the Great American Novel, every reviewer tries to proclaim one work, or another to be almost there, but it always seems to fall short. Post-Modernist of late have been holding the praise, I say this do to the recent death of David Foster Wallace, whose major, nearly unreadable tome Infinite Jest played more like the Emperor's New Clothes to reviewers, than an actual work that examined anything of life and meaning and the world (At least not in the clear and lucid prose that you find here).

Roberto Bolano was a great writer because, unlike the writers in America who take on large scopes, Jonathan Franzen etc., Roberto Bolano believed in the power of the written word. While American writers cried they didn't have an audience and people weren't reading, Roberto Bolano's books delcared the eternal importance of literature, and writing, while at the same time, showing it in both its gritty realism (poverty) and its heaped of forgotteness (writers of importance who may one day become relevant).

This book is brilliant because, even though the paragraphs are long and sometimes laborous, but never are they tedious, never do you feel a word was misused or overused, never, as you do with a lot of books that write in the style that Roberto Bolano seemed to perfect, do you feel that he was ever trying to write in the way he was wriitng. Reading 2666, reading any of his works, you feel as if he sat down and what came out came out, as if you're reading a work right from his mind. A writer once said, "Writing's easy, all you have to do is sit down and open a vein," and that's what Roberto Bolano did.

The Critic Section is entertaining, a high praise to literature. Though many critics have pointed out that its second feels disjointed and a bit awkward, I'd be hard press to find such a book that created an interesting beginning about what potentially could've been an uninteresting subject (this seems to be Roberto Bolano's greatest ability, Nazi Literature in the America's, a fictional encyclopedia of far right authors). The Part about Amalfitano had a beautiful allure and moved quickly.

I don't want to give blurbs for each part, it trivializes this great work, there is no doubt if I were talk freely about each part in this review it would be a second book. When I first found Bolano, I came to him, not without urging, but not wanting to commit myself to a six hundred page brick of a book about Spanish Poets called the Savage Detectives right off the bat, so I decided to get Amulet, only because it was cheap and I had a thirty percent off coupon. I read the book in six hours and thought there couldn't be anything more special. I read his book of short stories Last Evenings On Earth and thought the urgency and brilliance of his words shows an aptitude that I haven't seen in a long time in literature. His works renewed a zeal, that feeling one gets when they're reading something they hadn't known existed. I went to the Savage Detectives quickly, and if there wasn't a great Novel of the 21st century, this was certainly it--Not American, not Latin American, Not French or Asian--but a novel, a brilliant work of fiction, from Bolano's mind to the page. A novel which broke rules that seemed so impossible to break and did it in such a way it was too beautiful to ignore. Now this book, 2666, a behemouth, a dying man's last work, a work he fought hard to get done, and left partially unfinished (though you really can't tell). This work, we can all hope, is the beginning of something, and not the final statement of a dead man, but the awakening statement to a world of writers to stop chasing the Great French or American or Mexican or Canadian or Chinese novel, and start writing the Great World Novel. This is what 2666 is, the first and maybe only great world novel. It eclipses his former works and unites them in a way that no other novel has probably ever done for an authors body of work. It came in the 21st century. It's either a start of something great to come, or the remnants of the end of the 20th century. I hope for the former, fear the latter.

Buy this book, devour it, and enjoy. It deserves to be read by anyone who has ever read a book of literature and found themselves tired with the latest strand of same old same old literary fodder. This book steps out, its a blood letting for the masses, its a speedball ride into the lurid and entertaining, into the frightening and the joyful, into the horrors of this world and into its beauties. It's a portrait and serial, pulp and high form, horrorific journalism and perfected prose, lucid and direct, a work that will have you finish and turn to the front page to start over again." - N. m Oliver

Nelson Slade Bond

The Far Side of Nowhere - Nelson Slade Bond

Kyril Bonfiglio

Don't Point That Thing at Me - Kyril Bonfiglio

"This book is like biting into a rich chocolate sundae. It's a guilty pleasure, it won't make you a stronger or moral person, but you will have one heck of a smile on your face as you read the book because it is just jam packed with witticisms, cutting asides, and outright gaspers. Nobody has done the smug, witty bastard characterization since Kingsley Amis (maybe his son, see Martin Amis's Money) or P.G. Wodehouse.

Charlie Mortdecai is an art dealer, an inveterate tippler, and person of general low morals and high standards. Bonfiglioli treats the difficult matter of a plot like Terry Southern did in Candy, or Voltaire did in Candide; it's just a device to keep the witticism, asides, and gaspers coming. In fact, imagine the plotting of Southern, the sharp wit of P.J. O'Rourke, and the polished knowledge of all things art of say, someone like Robert Hughes, and that pretty much sums it up.

Oh, and there are the characters: Mortdecai's servant, Jock Strapp, the devious Inspector Martland, the ravishing (and loves to be ravished) Johanna.

Don't worry that the plot is thin and kaleidoscopic. If it needed attention, you miss all the literary allusions, sly historical allusions, and trenchant observations about the history of Britain.

Not since the Jason Starr/Ken Bruen trilogy involving several lowlifes have I laughed so hard while reading a crime novel. This will not impress your friends, your parents, or your clergyman, but it will make you smile broader than just about any book I can think of.

If you are politically correct, run like hell from this author. He loves to skewer your sensibilities. Preferably while quaffing champagne, oysters, and caviar." - Jeff

Petrus Borel

Champavert: Immoral Tales - Petrus Borel

"At the time the fiery romantic literary artist Petrus Borel penned this collection of seven short stories he was a lycanthrope, that is, a human on the outside, a wolf on the inside. And as a man-wolf he was an extreme outsider to society and culture, to convention and rules, to comfort and routine, an outsider telling his tales as he viewed humans and human society through his wolfish eyes. And what he saw wasn't pretty: any beauty and purity life offers up is defiled by twisted, debased bipeds who thrive on vanity, greed, bigotry, lecherousness and pure evil. Is it any wonder what we encounter in these pages are `Immoral Tales', tales where Borel's characters act in ways miles removed from any sense of decency and a standard of right and wrong? And is it any wonder the reading public who encountered his tales of depravity and brutality triumphing from the first word of the first sentence to the last word of the last sentence despised his writing?

So what was man-wolf Petrus Borel's message? How did he compare to other 18th and 19th century authors writing as social outsiders? Did he see our retreat from society and human interactions leading us to spiritual inwardness as did the Danish existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard; to aesthetic freedom and ascetic renunciation as did German pessimistic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer; to a state of nature and goodness prior to society as did French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau? No, not at all. For Petrus Borel, society and human life is so poisoned, so diseased, so contaminated to its very core, there is only one way out: oblivion.

With this worldview of the man-wolf Petrus Borel, we turn to a few of the tales:

Monsieur De L'Argentiere, the Prosecutor
Two aristocratic men speak as friends as they partake of a meal together. We read, "They were leaning voraciously over the table, like two wolves disputing a carcass, but their dull interlocutions, muffled by the sonority of the hall, were like the grunting of pigs. One of them was less than a wolf; he was a Public Prosecutor. The other was more than a pig; he was a Perfect." As we follow the story we see just what friendship means here. The Pubic Prosecutor acts with such trickery, such lecherousness, such sheer evil, that friendship, innocence and love are trampled, while all along employing reason and logic in his role as Public Prosecutor. Friendship was one of the keys to a good life in the ancient Greek and Roman world, championed by such great philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero and Seneca. Petrus Borel shows us what friendship has been reduced to in 19th century Paris.

Don Andrea Vesalius, The Anatomist
A howling, frenzied mob stands at the gate of a palace, objecting to the wedding of a young girl to an old doctor who they see as nothing less than a torturer, a necromancer and a murderer. A handsome capped cavalier, the young girl's lover, leads the crowd in their attack on the palace. The attack brings on the king's mounted guard. The crowd is dispersed, the cavalier wounded. Since, as it turns out, the old doctor is too elderly and impotent to have relations with his young wife and bride, over the next four years she has separate rendezvous with three other lovers, including the capped cavalier, lovers who vanish when she awakes the following morning. And what happened to these three lovers? In the course of discovering the truth, we follow the doctor as he leads his young wife to his laboratory. We, along with his young wife, encounter the grittiest of scenes. The author writes, "The workbenches were laden with partly-dissected cadavers; there were shred of flesh and amputated limbs underfoot, and muscles and cartilage were crushed by the professor's sandals. A skeleton was hanging on the door, which, when it was agitated, rattled like those wooden candles that candle-makers hang up as their sign, when they are stirred by the wind." We find out just how far the old doctor will go to become a world-famous anatomist.

Champavert, The Lycanthrope
This tale begins with a letter written by Champavert, wherein we read, "I've often reminded you of that night, when, after having wandered for a long time in the forest, appreciating all things at their price, distilling, analyzing and dissecting life, passions, society, laws, the past and the future, breaking the deceptive optical glass and the artificial lamp illuminating it, we were sickened with disgust before so many lies and miseries." Oblivion, according to wolf Champavert is the only way out, but fortunately for lovers of great literature, on the way to oblivion Petrus Borel wrote these tales with richly poetic language and powerful emotions, tales that are (as stated boldly on the book's back cover) one of the greatest collections ever published. We are also fortunate Brian Stableford tackled the challenge to translate this collection into English and provided a 9 page introduction." - Glenn Russell

Jorge Luis Borges

A Universal History of Iniquity - Jorge Luis Borges

"Jorge Luis Borges is thought by many to be the 20th century's greatest Spanish-language writer. Borges was a poet, essayist and short story writer. Although born in Argentina in 1899, Borges spent most of his early years in Europe until his family returned to Buenos Aires in 1921. "A Universal History of Iniquity", originally published as "A Universal History of Infamy" was published in 1935. The stories represent a collection of stories originally published in the Argentine newspaper Critica between 1933 and 1934. The stories were a huge success for the newspaper and established Borges as a writer of the first rank in Argentina.

Each of the stories in Universal History of Iniquity was designed by Borges to give his newspaper readers a small glimpse of the evil that men (and sometimes women) do. They vary from slave owning states in the pre-U.S. Civil War south in "The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell", to the China Seas in "The Widow Ching - Pirate", to feudal Japan in "The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette Kotsuke no Suke", Turkistan in "Hakim, the Masked Dyer of Merv" and the mean streets of Buenos Aires in "Man on Pink Corner". Borges acknowledges that these stories were all loosely based on little known historical treatises, the Arabian Nights, and other pieces of fiction. Lazarus Morell was clearly an homage to Mark Twain's Mississippi River stories.

Although this is Borges earliest work one can already see the creative, almost whimsical approach he takes to the art of telling a story. He constantly throws the reader off balance and engages in little acts of mis-direction, perhaps starting a story by telling the reader he will not set out the facts behind a story and then proceed to do just that. In the Preface to the First Edition, Borges writes that certain techniques are "overly used: mismatched lists, abrupt transitions, the reduction of a person's life to two or three scenes." While these are certainly valid self-criticisms the reader should remember, as Borges was no doubt aware, that these stories were written for publication in newspapers with severe word limitations. I thought the condensed nature of the stories heightened their impact and think that perhaps Borges was engaging in yet another act of misdirection.

I came to this book after reading Danilo Kis' "A Tomb for Boris Davidovich". The structure and theme of Tomb for Boris Davidovich was intended by Kis to be part of a literary polemic between Kis and Borges, specifically concerning the title of Borge's Universal History of Iniquity. Kis seven stories all involved iniquities performed by those involved in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, a horror that Kis felt made Borges' iniquities look quaint by comparison. Kis asserted that the universal infamies related by Borges were those of gangsters, pirates and highwaymen. Kis argues that as far as infamy was concerned, "infamy is when in the name of the idea of a better world for which whole generations have perished, in the name of a humanistic idea, you build camps and destroy both people and their most intimate drams of a better world." Now that I have read both books I think this may be something of an apple and oranges comparison. Nevertheless, reading one book enhanced the experience I got from reading the other. If the reader likes Borges' stories they might also enjoy Kis." - Leonard Fleisig

The Chronicles of Bustos Domecq - Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy-Casares

The Book of Imaginary Beings - Jorge Luis Borges

Borges Biography - The Modern World

A small child is taken to the zoo for the first time. This child may be any one of us or, to put it another way, we have been this child and have forgotten about it. In these grounds-these terrible grounds-the child sees living animals he has never before glimpsed; he sees jaguars, vultures, bison, and-what is still stranger-giraffes. He sees for the first time the bewildering variety of the animal kingdom, and this spectacle, which might alarm or frighten him, he enjoys. He enjoys it so much that going to the zoo is one of the pleasures of childhood, or is thought to be such. How can we explain this everyday and yet mysterious event? We can, of course, deny it. We can suppose that children suddenly rushed off to the zoo will become, in due time, neurotic, and the truth is there can hardly be a child who has not visited the zoo and there is hardly a grown-up who is not a neurotic. It may be stated that all children, by definition, are explorers, and that to discover the camel is in itself no stranger than to discover a mirror or water or a staircase. It can also be stated that the child trusts his parents, who take him to this place full of animals. Besides, his toy tiger and the pictures of tigers in the encyclopedia have somehow taught him to look at the flesh-and-bone tiger without fear. Plato (if he were invited to join in this discussion) would tell us that the child had already seen the tiger in a primal world of archetypes, and that now on seeing the tiger he recognizes it. Schopenhauer (even more wondrously) would tell us that the child looks at the tigers without fear because he is aware that he is the tigers and the tigers are him or, more accurately, that both he and the tigers are but forms of that single essence, the Will.

Let us pass now from the zoo of reality to the zoo of mythologies, to the zoo whose denizens are not lions but sphinxes and griffons and centaurs. The population of this second zoo should exceed by far the population of the first, since a monster is no more than a combination of parts of real beings, and the possibilities of permutation border on the infinite. In the centaur, the horse and man are blended; in the Minotaur, the bull and man (Dante imagined it as having the face of a man and the body of a bull); and in this way it seems we could evolve an endless variety of monsters combinations of fishes, birds, and reptiles, limited only by our own boredom or disgust. This, however, does not happen; our monsters would be stillborn, thank God. Flaubert has rounded up, in the last pages of his Temptation of Saint Anthony, a number of medieval and classical monsters and has tried-so say his commentators-to concoct a few new ones; his sum total is hardly impressive, and but few of them really stir our imaginations. Anyone looking into the pages of the present handbook will soon find out that the zoology of dreams is far poorer than the zoology of the Maker. We are as ignorant of the meaning of the dragon as we are of the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the dragon's image that appeals to the human imagination, and so we find the dragon in quite distinct places and times. It is, so to speak, a necessary monster, not an ephemeral or accidental one, such as the three-headed chimera or the catoblepas. We have deliberately excluded the many legends of men taking the shapes of animals: the lobisdn, the werewolf, and so on.

A work of this kind is unavoidably incomplete; each new edition forms the basis of future editions, which themselves may grow on endlessly. We invite the eventual reader in Colombia or Paraguay to send us the names, accurate description, and most conspicuous traits of their local monsters. As with all miscellanies, as with the inexhaustible volumes of Robert Burton, of F razer, or of Pliny. Zoologia Fantastica is not meant to be read straight through; rather, we should like the reader to dip into these pages at random, just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope. The sources of this collection are manifold; they are recorded in each piece. May we be forgiven any accidental omission. - Preface to 1957 Edition

Fantastic Zoology: A Graphical Interpretation of J. L. Borges "Book of Imaginary Beings"
The complete series of illustrations for The Book of Imaginary Beings was done by the graduate students in the Department of Illustration and Art of the Book at the Vakalo School of Art and Design in Athens,xi Greece. The project was carried out under the Art Direction of Hector Haralambous and Dimitris Kritsotakis and started with a few selected students. As it went on many more students insisted that they had fallen in love with the theme of the book and that they would like to do it as well.

The Book of Fantasy - Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo, Adolfo Bioy Casares, eds.

In 1937 three friends in Buenos Aires sat talking one night about fantastic literature. This was a half century before the literature of fantasy became a sub-genre unto itself - or should I say literary ghetto? Anyhow, the three - Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo - started talking, according to Casares:

`... about fantastic literature ... discussing the stories which seemed best to us. One of us suggested that if we put together the fragments of the same type we had listed in our notebooks, we would have a good book. As a result we drew up this book ... simply a compilation of stories from fantastic literature which seemed to us to be the best.'

The result was originally published in Argentina in 1940 as Antologia de la Literature. Revised editions were published in 1965 and 1976, with the first English language edition published in Great Britain in 1988. The U.S. edition of The Book of Fantasy is of course now out of print. After all, who would want an anthology of fantastical short stories chosen by one of the great authors of the last century (from his vast reading of the literature of the previous half-millennium) when they could buy another fat, worthless fantasy trilogy chock full of vowel-less, boring trolls, elves, and various other mythological creatures standing in for the dead horse.

The version I've got is a trade paperback and contains over 70 stories in its 384 pages - Borges preferred the short in reading as well as writing. There's an introduction by Ursula Le Guin and a list of sources for all the stories (although most are long, long out of print and, I'll bet, damned hard to find and damned expensive once you find them). Each story begins with a short bio of the author, many of which are as intriguing as the stories themselves, e.g.

I. A. Ireland, English savant born in Hanley in 1871. He claimed descent from the infamous impostor William H. Ireland, who had invented an ancestor, William Henrye Irlaunde, to whom Shakespeare had allegedly bequeathed his manuscripts. He published A Brief History of Nightmares (1899),

Spanish Literature (1900), The Tenth Book of Annals of Tacitus, newly done into English (1911).

Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919) studied law at the universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg but, after depressions which led to several suicide attempts, turned to writing, encouraged by Gorki. His sensational themes, treated in a highly realistic manner, made his reputation; amongst his works are In the Fog (1902) and The Red Laugh (1904), as well as numerous plays.

A corking good read. - S. Baum

Frederic Boutet

The Antisocial Man and Other Strange Stories - Frederic Boutet

"Perhaps it would be appropriate to have this book of Frederic Boutet's rococo tales fitted with a fine cover of black leather inlaid with golden arabesques, and then, after partaking of a tincture of opium or wine, book in tremulous hand, surrounded by odiferous flowers and pungent perfumes, in solitude, at midnight, by the light of a solitary candle, take a seat in a plush chair. With these modest preparations - the decorated cover, lavish ambience and one's inner hypersensitive state - a reader will begin to match the author's ornate sentences and baroque storytelling.

Indeed, if you have a taste for the fantastic, for gothic horror, for weird characters and arcane landscapes described in rich, opulent language, for a book that could be sub-titled `Deadly Beauty', then this collection translated and introduced by Brian Stableford and published by Borgo Press might become one of your very favorites. By way of specific examples, here are a few quotes and my comments on three of the thirteen tales:

The Veritable Victory

A pale-faced, black-bearded visitor removes his top hat and cloak and is lead to a room where a young woman of great beauty, dead to all appearances, lies on an ivory bed with lace pillows and satin sheets. We read, "He thought: What does tomorrow matter? She is beautiful tonight; she is all mine; and I shall love her until I vanquish death!" And then we read, "He possessed her in a voluptuous delirium multiplied tenfold by opium." We know right from the outset this is a scene that has been repeated many time before: the visitor is lead into the house by a horror-struck old housekeeper and the woman lies on the bed as if dead. But then one night there is an unexpected change. The author writes, "But he exhausted himself in vain in gluing his lips to the pale mouth; she did not part her own any more. In vain, he caressed the voluptuous body passionately, but she did not quiver and her arms did not return the embrace. The translucent eyelids remained closed over the large blue eyes, the little feet were icy, the limbs became ever colder, ever heaver." One senses Boutet coated every sentence of his sumptuous, extravagant tale with overpowering cologne and death.

The Idol

Lost in a forest, a mounted traveler by the name of Jean Falmor encounters ugly, stinking creatures gnawing on roots. He then comes upon Marestote, a holy black monk, a monk who tells Falmor how the brutish half-men he now sees crawling around the fires had their souls devoured by a fatal power: Woman. Confidence in his holiness and Christian mission, Marestote invites the traveler to join him in his confrontation with his evil enemy. At the point in the story when the black monk challenges the Woman, Boutet describes what these two men see when the Woman displays her miraculous naked beauty: "The whiteness of her skin is mat and polished, with a gilded roseate translucency. Above her arched feet, resting on a swans-down carpet, the slimness of her ankles elongates and folds back lazily. Then, there is the gracious grasp of the knee and the voluptuous plentitude of thighs; the skin is as delicate as the most adorable silk, seemingly warm and perfumed, and the delight of its touch must be superior to any other." This is but one paragraph of description; Boutet goes on to further describe the Woman (author's capitalization) in equally florid language in five more paragraphs. Not only does this tale contain a most exquisite description of female beauty but also will prompt us to reflect on our philosophical and theological presuppositions.

The Antisocial Man of the Qual Bois-L'encre

This Boutet story is decidedly unlike the others in the collection in a couple of ways - first, at 72 pages, it is a much longer piece; and, second, the story is a mad-cap cross between two forms, what would come to be known in the 20th century as 1) South American magical realism, and 2) Soviet absurdist fiction. To underscore this point, the story's characters provide reports not only on the Antisocial Man, a recluse isolating himself in a top floor apartment, but also creatures sharing the Antisocial Man's living space, including a baboon, brown bear, anti-bear, hippopotamus, kangaroo, goat, boa constrictor, armadillo and a bearded vulture. And what more detail do we have on the Antisocial Man? Here is a description from a bailiff's notebook: "The Antisocial Man, as I've said, is not mad. At the very moment when I am writing these lines I can see him through the foliage, a short distance away. He is sitting on the edge of the spring. He is thin, beardless, muscular, sardonic and calm. He is smoking his pipe. His clothing is simple. He rarely speaks. Sometimes he reads books. At his feet is his favorite goat: a very young, very pretty, very affectionate and very capricious goat, which never leaves him for long and for which he appears to have, doubtless in imitation of Robinson Crusoe, an excessive tenderness." You may ask: how can an apartment have foliage and a spring? Again, this is a work of sheer imaginative fancy, an occasion for our singular author to stretch his creative powers and literary inventiveness." - Glenn Russell

Nicolas Bouvier

The Way of the World - Nicolas Bouvier

"It was the `50's, and two authors hit the road. Since having read it, I think that Jack Kerouac's work, with the subject title is vastly overrated. He bounced back and forth between the oceans that encompass America, and seemed to see so little. But Nicolas Bouvier, seven years younger, was so much more perceptive, and undertook a bolder and more arduous journey, in a beat-up Fiat, with his artist companion Thierry Vernet.

At 25 they simply did not have the financial resources to undertake the trip, so they "had to wing it," and more than once benefited from the kindness of strangers. As an epigraph, he quotes Shakespeare: "I shall be gone and live, or stay and die." And to those that have done it, the end of his preface rings true: "Traveling outgrows it motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you - or unmaking you."

Bouvier was one of the trail-blazers along what would become known as the "hippie route to India" in the `70's. He is Swiss French, from Geneva; he meets Thierry in Yugoslavia. They travel on through Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and into Afghanistan, with the book, but not the journey (apparently) ending at the Khyber Pass, between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It takes them 18 months to complete this portion (they "wintered" in Tabriz, Iran). They both have an astonishingly well-developed aesthetic sense, and are quite knowledgeable in a broad range of fields, particularly for their age. And they are observant, both of their surroundings, and human nature. They have a "knack" for dealing with government officials, and the people of the road.

Bouvier spins numerous memorable aphorisms: "It's very odd how revolutions which profess to know the people take so little account of their sensibilities, and fall back on slogans and symbols that are even more simple-minded than the ones they're replacing"; or, in terms of travel, "We denied ourselves every luxury except one, that of being slow." Considering where we are now, always plugged in, and "on-line," Bouvier makes an incredibly prescient observation for the `50's: "They lack technology: we want to get out of the impasse into which too much technology has led us, our sensibilities saturated to the nth degree with Information and a Culture of distractions."

Consider his descriptive powers, and insight in the following observation: "Time passed in brewing tea, the odd remark, cigarettes, then dawn came up. The widening light caught the plumage of quails and partridges...and quickly I dropped this wonderful moment to the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again...In the end, the bedrock of existence is not made up of the family, or work, or what others say or think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love. Life dispenses them parsimoniously; our feeble hearts could not stand more."

This is also a book that should be required reading for the American military general staff: "The Afghans don't change their ways for Westerners. There was no trace of the spinelessness some second-rate Indians greet you with, or the phony psychic powers some of them claim. Is it the effect of the mountains? No, it's rather that the Afghans have never been colonized.... Thus there is no affront to wash away, no complex to heal. A foreigner? Simply a man."

The best portions of the book were their time in Yugoslavia, "Kurdistan," and at the Saki bar in Quetta. Perhaps it is the nature of travel, but I felt his anecdotes were too disjointed. There were numerous issues that were never explained, yet were central to the trip: Why winter in the bitter cold of Tabriz when it would have been much more enjoyable in Shiraz? Why end the book as he is to enter Pakistan, and there was apparently much more traveling ahead? How did they get back to Europe? Did he have his reunion with Thierry, and his new bride? His vignette of searching the Quetta "dump" for his lost manuscript is memorable; but it underscores the fact that all notes of his journey were lost there, and it was only 10 years later that the account was reconstructed in this form. Finally, though his observations about Islam seemed well-informed, he did get the Higerian century wrong - it was the 14th (p 98).

Eighteen years after Bouvier I undertook a very similar journey, making it all the way to Madras, before flying on to Singapore (since deck passage on a boat across the Bay of Bengal was "not recommended to people of European origins"). I didn't have even a beat-up Fiat, and had to rely on local buses and trains, probably to my overall advantage. I wish I had this book to compliment my "Lonely Plant" guide, for a journey that almost certainly can not be made in peace for a person "of European origins" for another two decades. And for sure, I would have seen so much more if I had had Bouvier's erudition. For his age, a 5-star book, for sure; in the fullness of time though, I'll give it 4-stars." - John P. Jones III

Jane Bowles

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles

"This is a curious book: irritating, frustrating, but, once properly into reading it, oddly interesting, and then, finally - a feeling of release once finished. It follows the fortunes of two characters, the serious ladies of the title, who are acquaintances rather than deep friends .(though, to be honest, there seem to be no real relationships of meaning and emotional intimacy anywhere in the book)

At the start, the 2 acquaintances encounter each other at a cocktail party, on the eve of one of them frequently addressed by the other as 'little Mrs Copperfield' departing for a journey to Panama with her husband, whilst the second, Miss Christina Goering, is about to decamp from her rich abode, for no particular reason in order to rent a seedy dwelling out of the fashionable milieu, with 2 or 3 hangers on. The married lady is a lesbian,and is drawn to prostitutes; the unmarried one, without any particular interest, it seems, in sex, nevertheless drifts into meaningless encounters with men, and gets mistaken for a prostitute. They go their separate ways, and we follow each story. Each woman is rich, drinks heavily, is febrile, curiously rootless, weak-willed, selfish, inconsiderate, and exhausted (not to mention exhausting to the reader!). They meet up at the end in another meaningless encounter with each other. The world of the book is suffused with ennui - and yet there are enough sharply drawn moments, or moments when people come awake, briefly, before settling down back into torpor, to keep a thread of interest alive.

Like Carson McCullers, Bowles' characters are freakish, on the margins - but the lack of any real engagement, any real relationship, the utter pointlessness of the characters and their encounters becomes too much in the end. It isn't even the strong sense of life-as-meaningless-existential-unease (which at least involves a strong emotion) of existentialist writers, this is too unrelieved in its not even deeply felt pointlessness to really grip.

It seems curiously valid that the afterword, by Truman Capote, who knew the writer, should start

"It must be seven or eight years since I last saw that modern legend named Jane Bowles, nor have I heard from her, at least not directly". He proceeds to write more aboput himself and about other writers they both knew, and Tangiers, where Bowles was living at the time Capote provided this afterword to a collection of her published writings, than he does about Bowles herself. So everything about the book hangs heavy with dislocation, disconnection and a sense that it's all, really, futile. In a tired, rather than an angst filled sort of way. And yet there are these odd moments of humour, in dialogue of inappropriate formality:

On the encounter between Miss Goering and the wife of one of her hangers on:

"You're a harlot" said his wife to Miss Goering. Miss Goering was gravely shocked by this remark, and very much to her own amazement, for she had always thought that such things meant nothing to her.

"I am afraid you are entirely on the wrong track" said Miss Goering, "and I believe that some day we shall be great friends"

The scene and the sentence construction irresistibly reminded me of Gwendolyn and Cicely's tea-party in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wit is there to be found, but I found myself too easily sinking into the torpor of the Serious Ladies world to become enchanted, engaged, angry, or any other strong, dynamic response." - Lady Fancifull

W. E. Bowman

The Ascent of Rum Doodle and The Cruise of the Talking Fish - W. E. Bowman

"Mount Everest is a mere planetary pimple compared to Rum Doodle, the fictional 40,000 1/2 foot mountain in "The Ascent of Rum Doodle," a hilarious spoof of mountain climbing expeditions. Perhaps the reason why Rum Doodle was not previously conquered was "because it is there"--way out "there"--in the remote Central Asian Kingdom of Yogistan. The Yogistani language alone crippled many expeditions. The language, a branch of the aneroid-megalithic tongue, contains no verbs and is spoken entirely through the stomach. Over 95% of Yogistanis understandably suffer from gastritis. Altitude deafness often compounds the problem. The ascent begins inauspiciously enough with two great circles until Jungle, the route-finder, releases the safety catch on his compass. Risibility rises with altitude as the intrepid six Rum Doodle dandies and their 3,000 porters overcome one embarrassment after another in their quest for mountaineering immortality. No praise is too high for the men who could go no higher. Or could they have? Why are there no photographs at the top? What about the Atrocious Snowman? And then there's the question inquiring minds most want to know: "Can I see my house from there?" Read this book at your own risk--of laughing aloud! But "The Cruise of the Talking Fish" was a mediocre book at best." - Mark J. Rhomberg

Roger Boylan

Killoyle - Roger Boylan

"Any book subtitled "An Irish Farce" is worth a thorough reading, and Killoyle was no disappointment. The story alternates between despair and hilarity - this is Ireland, after all - as it follows the lives of the inhabitants of Killoyle. Among many other folks, there is the aging editor of a glamour magazine, a waiter who is something of a poet, and the resident nutcase who likes making prank phone calls as much as he likes books by or about God. Of course, being a novel about Ireland, there are the requisite problems: drinking, sex, God, and Ireland itself.

The real genius of the novel is the footnotes, including gems like this one: "This round-buying will be the death of the Irish nation, you mark my words. Once I was conned into buying eleven rounds in the space of a single wet lunch, with no one else in the bar!" The persona of the footnotes provides comic relief, criticism, rude comments, and seemingly random filler throughout the text. However, from driving directions to snappy comebacks, the footnotes provide, as they should, the details that flesh out the story.

Besides being just plain fun to read, Killoyle is worth a look because Boylan rose to the challenge of doing something 'new' with the novel. I applaud him and his witty footnotes, and I highly recommend Killoyle if you are in the mood for a good yarn." - piratebean

Malcolm Bradbury

Dr. Criminale (1993) - Malcolm Bradbury

The Daily Channel - George D. Girton

This is a comic novel about philosophy in Europe today, or shall we say ten years ago?

You may ask, how is this possible, to have a comic novel about Philosophy. And it would be a good question, with perhaps only one definitive answer: this book.

Written as an entertaining and evocative travelogue of the places Frances Jay must visit (London, Budapest, Lake Como, Geneva, Brussels, Buenos Aires and of course Paris) in search of the famous philosophe and 20th-century intellect Bazlo Criminale.

Well, actually it's written as a mystery and a love story, but the travel writing is great. And of course it's serious, too. After all, no book about love, life, and philosophy can be funny all the way through, especially when a great deal of money is involved. And so many wives.

My Strange Quest for Mensonge : Structuralism's Hidden Hero - Malcolm Bradbury


"I lent my copy to so many people that I don't know where it ended up. I was looking this up to order a copy, and I was horror striken to learn it is O.P.

Let me put it this way: this is the funniest book ever written about academia, and the best academic parody ever written. The book is the recounting of an attempt to gather concrete evidence concerning Mensonge, who is the deconstructionist's deconstructionist. In "What is an Author?" Foucault argues that in the creative act, it is not the individual who write the work, but all of society that writes the work through the individual who serves merely as the nexus for society. Mensonge is the fictional author of one of the most difficult of deconstructionist classics, of which only a few dozen copies exist, and each one of which differs from all the other copies, because the type was changed randomly by the incompetent printers who produced the final copies. The title of the work in English would be (I can't remember the French title precisely, which is the only title given in the book, and I can't double check this, because I don't know where my copy is) FORNICATION AS A CULTURAL ACT. Mensonge takes the Foucaultian insight a step further, and argues that in the act of fornication, it is not the individual but society as a whole that is engaged in the act.

This book is a priceless jewel for anyone who has studied any literary theory in the past thirty years or even heard the name Derrida. Bradbury's comments about academia are hysterical, the near-encounters and Mensonge sitings he describes are delightfully surreal, and the style in which he pursues his subject unyieldingly real in an obvious absurd situation. The bibliography is worth the cost of the book, with, for instance, genuine writings by Barthes alongside patently made-up articles on Mensonge.

If no publisher takes this book up again, the MLA should print it and distribute it for free." - Robert Moore

At the Gates of Commonsense - Lidia Vianu

The one book that gives Bradbury the status he probably always hungered for, that of an ironist of the intellect, is My Strange Quest for Mensonge, Structuralim's Hidden Hero (1987). As one who has put Structuralism and Deconstruction both behind and aside, subscribing to intelligible criticism, I am delighted with Malcolm Bradbury in this small book. It ought to be forcefully fed to many academics. It offers such relief from the incomprehensible theories that lead nowhere, the babble of minds which have lost all love for and sense of everyday language. It mocks at all those who attempt to deprive literature and criticism of relaxed, unpretentious readers, who merely want to enjoy a text, not hack it. It is subtle humour for a very good cause. Actually, Mensonge may be Bradbury at his best.

Encyclopedia of Superfictions

A little known French philosopher whose biography was written by Malcolm Bradbury. The following quote from this great work sums up its tone:
"As Francois Mitterand was heard to say the other day, teasing at a shrimp vol-au-vent at some Quay d'Orsay reception to do with the Channel Tunnel,'Aujourd'hui, mes amis, et les anglais, nous sommes tous de necessite structuralistes.'

"And we may take it Mitterand's statement was true, or as true as true is in a time when, thanks to deconstruction , truth is very much an open question. For it is quite certain that these two separate yet related tendencies (structuralism and deconstruction ) are our philosophy, our condition, our crisis and our promise, and we cannot say nay to them. Whether we realise it or not, they dominate the flavour of life and thinking in the last quarter of the 20th century just as existentialism did in the third quarter. They are, in the realm of cognition, what Texas is to California in the realm of growth potential and property values, but with the added advantage of not being directly oil related. Where existentialism was intense and heavy, strong on plight and anguish, structuralism-deconstruction , in keeping with the times, is clean absurdism or cool philosophy; it is laid back, requires no weighty black gear, and goes very well with Perrier water and skiing."

Why Come to Slaka?: The Official Guide to an Imaginary, Mysteriously Mobile Piece of Europe - Malcolm Bradbury


"What? You not been to Slaka ? Not yet, you say ? Don't know how to ? Why go ? Where it is ? All your questions and answers are available in "Welcome to Slaka", a guidebook to the land of Slaka, a guidebook translated from native Slakan by the late Malcolm Bradbury, Professor of English and expert on Eastern Europe.

Bradbury keeps the spirit of Slaka and the original Slakan in his amazing translation. Chapters with headings such as "Slaka : how was?", "Slaka: how to?" and "Slaka: how is?" cover her history, travel routes and current affairs. Creative photographs and statistics help the reader imagine the country, as do the collection of very useful phrases translated to Slakan; these include "Help! Help!", "Police!", "You mean this is the police?", "Let me go." and "Take me to the Consulate".

With intimate details of restaurants and the night life, the recommended spots for tourists, and Slakan customs, "Welcome to Slaka" is my favourite guidebook beating the Lonely Planet for its sheer inventiveness. As Slaka is ignored by most map-makers and guide-books ( even the Lonely Planet does cover Slaka - Not yet, Not yet!), as if it does not exist, "Welcome to Slaka" is a remarkable book, helping us understand the life and times in Slaka. On my bookshelf, it stands next to that other classic "Photographs of Greeneland".

For those who love to travel, while sitting at home, for those who love laughter cloaked in seriousness (and vice versa), for those who have missed out on this unique world, "Welcome to Slaka" is a must-read, a remarkable document that stands unparalleled in English literature." - surajit basu

Caryl Brahms & S. J. Simon

Don't, Mr. Disraeli! - Caryl Brahms & S. J. Simon

"If one wonders why this review is for the 1987 reprint edition of a book published in 1940 (and which was reprinted in Penguin paperbacks in 1949, at a time when they were orange with a penguin but no cover art), it's simply because if you did want to get this book off Amazon, the 1987 edition can be had for a few bucks. Never mind that I found the Penguin edition in a used book store in the dollar bin; you may not have that kind of luck.

If you did, however, you'd have stumbled onto a treasure trove of forgotten literature from the 'forties, from a unique pre-TV time when books were king (and queen). You'd notice it's the second in a series of eleven novels by the writing team of Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon, respectively female and male, each of which appear, at the offing, to be historical fiction. But the two are satirists, and hysterical fiction is more like it. The authors (and reviewers of the day) would probably call this light fiction, but the appeal is yet to litterateurs (well-read readers) and history buffs, since they alone will get the numerous historical and literary references and borrowings. It almost makes you glad you had a liberal arts education. Or, of course, took history online.

With eleven books, you can pick and choose which period you want to mingle in, in this case the Victorian era. But 'mingle' is the word, as the authors warn that "this is not a novel set in the Victorian age: it is a novel set in its literature". They call it a kaleidoscope, in which any event from 1800-1900 "may come into focus, bearing no relation to the date at which it occurred". A certain sort of reader will greatly enjoy this series, even with little knowledge of the actual history. I laughed my way, for instance, through Malcolm Muggeridge's The Thirties in Great Britain The Thirties, while having only the sketchiest knowledge of that history in the UK. Bits of the style are reminiscent of Chesterton and P.G. Wodehouse, to name two other light humorists, but I can't say whether Wodehouse was the influence, as he was on so many other authors, or the other way 'round. And that might be another audience for this series." - Gord Wilson

Ernest Bramah

Kai Lung's Golden Hours - Ernest Bramah

"I tried to write my comments on Ernest Bramagh's Kai Lung's Golden Hours, which I just finished, in the same style:

In the opinion of this lowly reader, the esteemed author before our unworthy eyes has created a gem of the highest quality, polished by fine craft.

But you can only do this so long before you get frustrated, which is why you have to admire Bramagh, because he could maintain this oblique and ornate style throughout and still manage to tell a compelling and, more than often, extremely humorous story.

The titular character, Kai Lung, is a storyteller who runs afoul of the local authorities, in particular a rather nasty advisor. The problem is that Kai has set his eyes on a most beautiful young woman who is also highly desired by the advisor, and the mandarin in charge is quite corrupt. The one saving grace for Kai Lung is that the mandarin also likes a good story. Like Scherazade, Kai Lung is therefore in the positive of entertaining for his life, and that he is able to accomplish this is not due to the fragment of 1001 stories available to him, but also the help of his beloved (a fairly strong female character given the situation and the date this was written, 1922).

Not everyone will care for this book, because a style as circular and dense as this doesn't lead itself to the short-attention-span-generation (only James Branch Cabell has a more elaborate, yet beautiful, prose form in fantasy). I don't know what it was about the 1920s that enabled the creation of such great comedy (Bramagh, Cabell, P.G. Wodehouse [who first became popular as a novelist in the 1920s], Thorne Smith). Maybe it was the post-War jubiliation, the underground of prohibition, or the pre-Depression stockmarket? Not ours to wonder why, but just to enjoy and laugh." - Glen Engel Cox

The Wallet of Kai Lung - Ernest Bramah

"Bramah sure can spin a phrase. The book is a collection of stories told by Kai Lung, and as such is excellent. You are transported back into this fictional China, where introductions can take hours as the two people flatter each other & humble themselves endlessly. The stories are very amusing, but be forewarned; the language takes some time to read through & comprehend. Not a book to breeze through (but oh so rewarding when you do read it!)" - David C. Johnson

The Mirror of Kong Ho - Ernest Bramah

Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat - Ernest Bramah

Best Max Carrados Detective Stories - Ernest Bramah

Ignacio de Loyola Brandao

Zero (2003) - Ignacio de Loyola Brandao

"Brandao's (in)famous book "Zero" follows the vertiginous life of Jose Goncalves, a young Brazilian man. The book's structure is complex, using panels, fragments, and diagrams to express and reflect the chaos of Jose's inner and outer world. Brandao is harrowing in his view of Brazilian government and the infiltration of American consumer culture. But the genius of the book lies in its philosophical implications - where the idea of Being is not presupposed or given as an insipid substratum to the human condition; rather, the concept of multiplicity or difference in identity - moving towards what French philosopher Deleuze would coin as the "aleatory point," the zero in infinity or vice versa - is one of the books central implications. This book transcends the genre of postmodern fiction in its ability to constantly break the rules of linear narrative while, at the same time, cultivate a deeper literary and ontological coherency. At once a scathing critique of society and a burning phenomenology of one mans' experience, Zero is a journey that goes nowhere and thus... arrives at many places." - Owen Ware

Sebastian Brant

The Ship of Fools - Sebastian Brant

Stultifera Navis: The Medieval Satire of Sebastian Brant

In 1494, humanist Sebastian Brant published Das Narrenschiff, or The Ship of Fools, a long, moralistic poem written in the German language. Born in Strasbourg, Germany circa 1457, Brant earned degrees in philosopy and law at the University of Basel, then continued there as a lecturer. He wrote a law textbook and several poems prior to Das Narrenschiff, as well as editing books and broadsides for local printers. Brant was a loyalist to the Holy Roman Empire, and when Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1499, Brant returned to imperial Strasbourg. There he worked for the city in various administrative capacities until his death in 1521.

In Das Narrenschiff, Brant describes 110 assorted follies and vices, each undertaken by a different fool, devoting chapters to such offenses as Arrogance Toward God, Marrying for Money, and Noise in Church. Some of the chapters are united by the common theme of a ship which will bear the assembled fools to Narragonia, the island of fools. Das Narrenschiff proved so popular that it went through multiple editions, and was translated into Latin, French, English, Dutch, and Low German.
Brant's message was enhanced by a set of stunning woodcuts, most of them believed to have been carved by a young Albrecht Dürer during a short stay in Basel in 1494. Each woodcut illustrates a chapter from Das Narrenschiff, giving either a literal or allegorical interpretation of that particular sin or vice. Most of them feature a fool in a foolscap decorated with bells engaging in the activity being ridiculed. Dürer's detailed backgrounds show interiors furnished with slanted desks and diamond-paned windows, and hilly landscapes dotted with rocks and plants. Additional woodcuts are the work of the Haintz-Nar-Meister, the Gnad-Her-Meister, and two anonymous artists.

Review - Duchan Caudill

Gerd Brantenberg

Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes - Gerd Brantenberg


This book is both hilarious and makes you think. It's subtitled "A satire of the sexes", and that basically says it all. It's an upside-down society, in which men are repressed and taken advantage of, and women have all the power. There men wear the skirts and have to cover their unattractive, flat chests, while women wear the pants and can walk around topless if they want to. And the men take care of the kids, once the woman has decided she wants to have one. The whole language reflects this society's views, e.g. by referring to humanity as Woman, rather than Man. It's written in Norwegian originally, and I really feel sorry for the translator who had to find culturally and linguistically comparable expressions. I've read the original, and the language "switch" is even more successful there. (... that "history" was left in the original form, which it should rightfully be, as this has nothing to do with the pronoun "his") It does lose a bit of the wordplay-effect of the original, which is inevitable. Still I think the translation is good, considering the differences between the languages.

Because of the "creative" language it's a bit heavy to read, especially in the beginning. At least I found myself trying to "translate" back to the usual way of saying things - the patriarcaic way. But if you're looking for a book out of the ordinary and don't mind the effort, this is an interesting read.

Reginald Bretnor

The Schimmelhorn File: Memoirs of a Dirty Old Genius - Reginald Bretnor

The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor - Reginald Bretnor

Hermann Broch

The Death of Virgil - Hermann Broch

Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil revolves about the poet's wish to burn his masterpiece, The Aeneid, and creates out of his signified keen senses and heightened perceptions a rich vision, with full actuality, the religious, philosophical and political impulses of the time. The novel should be read as an epic poem in four parts (water, fire, earth, air) that parallel to four movements of a symphony in which the manner of the theme and variations of each successive part serves as some kind of commentary and reiteration on the parts that have preceded it.

The book is arduous in reading, strenuous in contemplating the richly lyrical prose. Woven and sifted throughout are reflections and perceptions of Virgil's febrile yet lucid thoughts in such rocking rhythms that illuminate, to the full actuality, the macabre sensation of the drifting journey on which the poet is being carried by the bark of death. Death's signet was graved upon his brow. The epic closely accounts for the last 24 hours of Virgil's life as soon as the near-death poet returns to Rome from Athens. The uninterrupted flow of lyrical speculation begins at the port of Brundisium where the bark docks, lingers in the mental suspension between life and death, between the "no longer alive" and "not yet dead", and ends with the journey to death, to nothingness, to a dimension of non-recollection and stillness.

Truth seems to be the recurring theme. The notion of truth is being illuminated and brought to full elaboration through the repeating insistence of reflections on life, death, memory, knowledge, perception, and philosophy. As the poet approached death, he admits with bitterness and cold sobriety that he has pursued a worthless, wretched literary life. The Aeneid, which is acclaimed by Caesar and to whom it is dedicated, has been a mere indulgence of beauty, self-sufficiently limited to the embellishment of concepts long since conceived, formed, and known, without any novel contribution in it. The truth of artistic inadequacies, lack of perceptions, thirst for superficialities, and egotism yields the decision to mock his works. Despite Caesar's effort to cajole Virgil, the poet comments that he lacks the perception, to which he never takes the first step, and yet nobody has ever attained the knowledge of truth of such perception.

The stream of consciousness technique renders the poet's final hours to the full actuality. In fact, Virgil regards death as the most significant event of his life (perception and knowledge of truth?) and is full of anxiety lest he miss it. His sense of time seems to be warped and each passing second has grown to some immense, throbbing, empty space which is not to be linked. The body and its human qualities are denuded and are stripped to the naked soul with the most naked guilt. For Virgil, death is part of life and the understanding of death enlightens meaning of life. Strong than death and the shackle of time is fate, in which the final secret of time lay hidden. It is for this very secret of time (and death) that the suspense and tension of the book not being thwarted.

The conversations are reproductions of external events and actual dialogues (Aeneid, Georgics, Eclogue, Horace Carmina) and their inclusion into the book's inner monologue (the narrative seems to have proceeded in the third person but soon has discerned that narrative constitutes to an inner monologue made up of Virgil's dreams, reflections, visions, and delusions) gains them an abstract touch. The flow of the book presses on through various tempi according to the degree of Virgil's consciousness. The more headlong the tempo (which usually occurs during Virgil's conversations with his friends, attendants, and Caesar), the shorter the sentence. The slower the tempo becomes, the more complicated the sentence structure (i.e. Part 2 - Fire). Virgil's reflections and musings manifest some interminable, richly lyrical prose that mirrors the dying poet's thoughts and ravings.

The writing also deftly alludes to the religious impulse at the time of Virgil. Talks of the coming of salvation bringer prevail in Virgil's conversations with Caesar, who denies the need of such salvation. In various occasions Virgil forebodes the coming of a savior who will not only live in the perception, but in his being the world will be redeemed to truth, whom will conquer death and bring himself to the sacrifice out of love for men and mankind, transferring himself by his own death into the deed of truth. Virgil's audacious statement signifies the turning point in history, the crisis of the godless era between the no longer antiquity and the net yet of Christianity.

From Broch's own words, nothing is really "reported or perceived" in the book but what "penetrates the invisible web of sensual data, fever visions and speculations." The richness of the writing and its lyrics sharpens the contours of the concrete and brings to full actuality Virgil's musings and memories. It's a strenuous, challenging read that requires undivided concentration." - Matthew M. Yau

Christine Brooke-Rose

Textermination (1992) - Christine Brooke-Rose

Amalgamemnon - Christine Brooke-Rose


"To give a plot synopsis of this novel would be almost pointless because the book is all about voice. The narrator spills out words and puns and jams them together (as in the title) to make new words, thus forcing the reader to think in new ways about how the words relate. It is also a novel of ideas, and in many ways, a novel about power. The narrator posits herself as Cassandra to the various Agamemnon's (thus amalgamemnon) that ignore her. Technnology, capitalism, and Wester, male-dominated society are all forces that she struggles with. Interestingly, Brooke-Rose also foresees the power of terrorism and the threat of fundamentalism that responds to these same sources of powers. To be sure, though, this is mostly a novel about language, and if you don't enjoy playful, postmodern punning, then skip this one." - Russ Mayes

Charles Brockden Brown

Edgar Huntly, Or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker - Charles Brockden Brown

"Often ranked as "the first significant American novelist"-this is how Norman Grabo characterizes him in the Introduction to this volume-Charles Brockden Brown was an ambitious and inventive teller of tales, although an awkward literary craftsman. Brown was only in his twenties when he published this novel in 1799, but it was already his fourth book. Edgar Huntly, which takes place in rural Pennsylvania in 1787 recounts the strange adventures of a young man who sets out to discover the person responsible for killing his best friend, Waldegrave, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. His investigations put him on the track of Clithero, an Irish servant employed in his uncle's household, but one thing leads to another and Edgar finds himself having to fight Indians and face the perils of the wilderness in order to make his way back home. Most of the story is told by Edgar himself in a long letter-some twenty-seven chapters long-that he is in the process of writing to his intended, Waldegrave's sister, Mary.

Edgar Huntly belongs to the genre of romance, the much older but somewhat less respectable sibling of the novel of social realism that had come into vogue in the eighteenth century. The romance frequently has an exotic setting, and features incidents that stretch the limits of artistic plausibility, where it does not take a plunge into fantasy, as it does in Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk or Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. Nevertheless, the genre enjoyed great popularity here down to the time of the Civil War, and Brown shows himself well acquainted with its conventions. He not only throws in a whole series of hair-raising encounters that pit the inexperienced Edgar with natural hazards, predatory wild animals, and marauding Delawares, but supplies a convoluted plot line that he further complicates with stories-within-the main story told by subordinate characters. Even for a romance, Edgar Huntly has an unusually tangled narrative web. It's hardly surprising the neophyte author himself sometimes has difficulty keeping track of the strands.

The reader making the acquaintance of Brown for the first time will not get any help from the note on the back cover supplied by Penguin, according to which "Edgar Huntly is the story of a young man who sleepwalks each night, a threat to himself and others, unable to control his baser passions....One of America's first Gothic novels...." I wonder whether the person responsible for these inane comments ever bothered to open the book. In the first place, Edgar Huntly is no Gothic novel. As E.F. Bleiler pointed out, it takes a castle to make a Gothic novel. But Brown explicitly distances himself from the suspicion of Gothicism in the remarkable address "To the Public" prefaced to the book, in which he prides himself on having found his materials in his native country and rejoices in not having fallen back on "Gothic castles and chimeras" in composing his work. But the statement about Edgar is not just inaccurate-it is blatantly incorrect. Edgar has at the most two sleepwalking episodes, one of which serves to initiate the most remarkable series of events in the novel, when he awakes to find himself mysteriously transported to a cave in the middle of the night. And nothing Edgar relates suggests he has a history of somnambulism in his past-nor that he is "unable to control his baser passions." In fact, the first sleepwalker to show up is the far more uncontrolled Clithero, who almost seems to have infected Edgar with his affliction.

Brown was clearly a pioneer of psychological analysis in the history of the novel. Like Edgar Allan Poe later, he probed the souls of his characters by plunging them into violent, imminently lethal situations. As a student of extreme states of the human psyche, he was not only a predecessor of Poe, but of Hawthorne and Melville as well. Yet Brown lacked the ability to apply his talent to the creation of highly individualized characters, one of the strengths of great nineteenth century novelists such as Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. All of the characters in Edgar Huntly, the protagonist included, remain little more than phantoms inhabiting a largely crepuscular world throughout the course of the action. However, like other trailblazing figures in the early history of American fiction-James Fenimore Cooper is a perfect example-Brown had an estimable ability to create atmosphere. It is not intended as a sarcasm to say that the reader may feel he or she is turning into a sleepwalker while reading Edgar Huntly." - Dave Clayton

Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist - Charles Brockden Brown

"Charles Brockden Brown's first novel, 1798's "Wieland," is an outstanding, riveting work fraught with anxieties over the new American nation and its enlightened foundations. Set sometime between 1763 and 1775, "Wieland" is narrated by Clara Wieland, and concerns the fate of her family and friends - her brother Theodore, and their friends Pleyel and Catharine. Clara is a woman born and raised into a secure world of enlightenment rationality. She is a model of Wollstonecraftian feminism - educated, astute, and benevolent.

Clara's narrative begins with a recitation of her family history - her Anglo-German roots and an account of the family's migration to the American colonies, to wit, Pennsylvania. Following an account of her father's religious enthusiasm and apparent spontaneous combustion, Clara shows herself and her brother, who equally partition the family estate, living in perfectly rational harmony. The estate of Mettingen is an enlightened utopia, where the Wielands and the Pleyels discuss literature and virtue, completely oblivious to the outside world. Though Philadelphia is not far away, the concerns of the city, of commerce, and of politics are not theirs.

Their ordered world is soon upset by the manifestation of mysterious disembodied voices around the estate. Shortly thereafter, Carwin, a rustic stranger with remarkable intelligence and a shrouded past, enters their isolated society.

In "Wieland," Brown calls into question the enlightened basis of the still new American government. With fresh knowledge of the failure of the French Revolution, subsequent uprisings in Ireland, and an intense fascination with the radical political philosophies of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, "Wieland" powerfully engages and synthesizes the currents of its time. With all the trappings of psychological gothic trauma, Brown, a resident of a nation conceived in liberty, asks whether the ideological break between a rational new world and a traditional, superstitious old world actually changes anything in human nature." - mp

Craig Brown

The Marsh Marlowe Letters - Craig Brown

"Sir Harvey Marlowe, publisher, engages in a sprighytly correspondence with his old schoolmaster (retired) Gerald Marsh. From his home in Shuffling, Marsh waxes lyrical on the subject of household manners (¿I blow my nose with an handkerchief. Et toi?¿) and the pleasures of reading books backwards. Meanwhile, Sir Harvey, darting from meal to meal with gifted young writers, sends his old friend the hottest news from the literary front. But despite their passion for literature (¿I imagine you already know that steak is an anagram for Keats?¿), 1983 proves a testing year for their friendship. At the same time as Marsh is completing Pass the Fruitcake, Iris, his 1,000¿page study of music hall gaffes, Sir Harvey is becoming strangely attracted to his wife. A wickedly funny send¿up of literary pretension."

Fredric Brown

From These Ashes: The Comlete Short SF of Fredric Brown - Fredric Brown

Night of the Jabberwock - Fredric Brown

"Doc Stoeger is the editor of the Carmel Clarion, Carmel City's weekly newspaper, put to bed on Thursday night and released on Friday. On this particular Thursday night, the paper is looking extremely void of news and Doc complains that he wishes something would happen on a Thursday night to give him a hot story. As well as being editor of the local paper, Doc is also an aficionado of the works of Lewis Carroll and enjoys nothing more than spouting verse in Smiley's bar when work is over. The Lewis Carroll references become very important to the storyline and are scattered liberally throughout the book.

Before the night is half over, Doc's wishes come true as he is absolutely deluged with exciting stories that would make terrific reading the next morning. From bank robbers, to a factory fire, to the capture of a criminal gang. But as quickly as they break, the stories evaporate leaving him with the prospect of delivering a newspaper with nothing worthwhile to read.

In the midst of his newspaper worries, Doc is visited by a man calling himself Yehudi Smith - a name of great significance to a Lewis Carroll fan. Yehudi seems to know a great deal about Doc and about his fascination with Lewis Carroll and he invites Doc to accompany him later that night on a hunt for the Jabberwock. As surreal as this prospect seems, Doc is convinced that the prospect isn't as crazy as it first seems, so he agrees to go.

This is just the start of an amazing night for Doc Stoeger. Before the night is through, he finds himself in an unbelievably hopeless predicament on the run from the police, desperately trying to make sense of the night's events. It seems that the story goes off the rails and heads into the realms of fantasy, but the key to the whole story is hidden in the fact that, although everything that happens seems impossibly fantastic, when logic is applied and reasoned out carefully, the events become part of a very clever plot.

This is a brilliantly constructed book combining the strange and, at times, nonsensical talents of Lewis Carroll's brilliance with a scathingly clever mystery. This is the first book I have read by Fredric Brown, but I am now hopelessly and helplessly hooked." - Untouchable

John Pairman Brown

The Displaced Person's Almanac (1962) - John Pairman Brown

""If the leaves are really falling, it won't do to try and scotchtape them back on the branches." Less gently and more exactly this odd little book catches us in our ridiculousness. As students, busi-ness-men, teachers, clergy, Americans, but especially as a member of that curious race, man, we begin to feel uneasy as we read. The hopes to which many of us clutch like ice-cream-happy children are carefully and accurately laughed out of existence. John Pairman Brown forces his readers to recognize the deadly faults in the world and in themselves, to realize the human need to do what is "right," and to accomplish this "right," whatever it may be. And it must be done now, for all tomorrows are too late.

"What phonies we are! And we only type these words because we trust our readers not to believe them." If cynicism isn't your flavor this month, the book is still worth reading for its humor and surprises. The author ranges through large areas of history and literature to support his arguments and his jeers. And despite the caustic tone of the book the author acknowledges his love in these introductory words. "Anyhow when you come down to it, about all you got here is a bunch of mash notes to a pugnosed and freckled globe hardly out of pigtails."" - Mary Jane Skatoff

John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner

"British writer John Brunner's novel, first published in 1968 (it won both the Hugo and British Science Fiction awards, and four years later, the French Prix Apollo), is certainly one of the most literary, complex, challenging, even difficult works of science fiction written during the twentieth century. Yet, in spite of the hurdles it may present some readers, the book manages also to be fast-paced and hysterically funny.

One of the triumphs of Brunner's book is that it can be read on any number of levels, which is probably why it seems to resonate with readers of extraordinarily divergent tastes. Having read it twice (once as a bookwormish Valley brat and now twenty-odd years later as a still-bookwormish publishing professional), I am not surprised that this book might be entirely different beasts to different readers; the enthralling, bewildering thriller I remembered from my adolescence has somehow transformed itself into a darkly sardonic political and social commentary--and I like both versions just fine.

The novel is not, at first, an easy read. Its "unique" jump-cut/collage structure, its pseudo-hip prose style, its fabricated lingo--all are modeled rather precisely on John Dos Passos's classic American classic trilogy, "U.S.A." Like Dos Passos, Brunner interlaces chapters in several strands. The bulk of the storyline appears in the "Continuity" chapters, which detail the misadventures of secret agent Donald Hogan and corporate executive Norman House, and the "Tracking with Closeups" chapters, which describe two dozen characters who are peripheral to the action. The other two strands--"Context" and "The Happening World"--provide background material (film descriptions, encyclopedia entries, song lyrics, document excerpts, advertising jingles, news stories, etc.) that catalog a world drowning in both information overload and an excess of people who would no longer be able to stand "on the island of Zanzibar without some of them being over ankles in the sea." Much of the novel revolves around how various nations and individuals deal with the perceived need to limit births both in number and in quality. (A helpful hint to the baffled reader: "Read the Directions," the first chapter in "The Happening World" sequence, serves as both a dramatis personae and a jargon decoder.)

After the first 75 pages or so, once you're accustomed to the pace, the book is smooth sailing; it's as much a novel to be admired as enjoyed. And it's one of the most wickedly, playfully funny books ever written--in any genre. The plot is far too complicated to attempt to summarize here; suffice it to say that Donald is trying to thwart a potentially dangerous and politically volatile eugenics program and Norman is struggling to increase his company's profits while simultaneously enriching an underdeveloped yet perplexingly peaceful African nation.

The two plots seem disconnected, yet at heart is the juxtaposition of naked greed and dignified idealism, of selfishness and altruism, of capitalism and communalism, of totalitarianism and anarchy. (At times, the overt political and sociological messages recall Le Guin's "The Dispossessed.") Or, as the character Chad Mulligan puts it in one of his sociological treatises, "applying the yardstick of extremism leads one to conclude that the human species is unlikely to last very long." Yet Brunner avoids the trap of losing himself in the hopelessness of his nightmarish world; instead, the resilience of human ingenuity and the vision for a better world still stand a chance, even on Zanzibar." - D. Cloyce Smith

Samuel Brunt

A Voyage to Cacklogallinia - Samuel Brunt

"By the early 18th century there had been many published satires and utopian novels featuring imaginary voyages that discover and describe strange races and civilizations. Some of them went to previously unexplored parts of our world, while others went instead to the moon. A Voyage to Cacklogallinia is perhaps unique in that it does both. Its narrator, Captain Samuel Brunt, first discovers the Empire of Cacklogallinia somewhere in South America, then he accompanies the Cacklogallinians on their first flight to the moon, discovering yet another strange culture.

The authorship of this novel remains a mystery. Jonathan Swift is a possibility, as are Daniel Defoe, John Arbuthnot, and other like-thinking and imaginative English writers of the period.

Samuel Brunt begins his story with his arrival in Jamaica as a merchant seaman on an English slave ship. He is with a group of sailors who are attacked by a band of fugitive slaves. The others are killed, but Brunt's life is spared because of a kindness he had once shown to one of the slaves. He is held prisoner by the group, which eventually puts to sea in in canoes to escape pursuit. There they encounter a pirate ship and join up as crewmen, promising to put Brunt ashore at the earliest opportunity. But what ensues are sea battles, a mutiny, an epic storm and a shipwreck--all standard plot elements since Greek times for leaving a person helpless, alone, and irretrievably lost.

Brunt is now in Cacklogallinia, a country peopled by giant, intelligent chickens. Here begins the satirical phase of the novel. Once Brunt learns to speak the locals' language, they exchange information about their respective countries. Brunt describes England in glowing terms, saying that the politicians are all honest and self-sacrificing, that physicians treat all patients equally regardless of their ability to pay, and that lawyers are few and devoted to justice. The Cacklogallinians admit that all is not as it should be in their country, and what follows is the satirist's parody of the real England of his time.

After Brunt has lived among the Cacklogallinians for five years and risen to a position of trust in the Emperor's court, he is asked to participate in a flight to the moon. A rooster scientist has theorized that there is gold in abundance on the moon's surface, and before long shares are being sold in the venture. The reports Brunt sends back from the team's mountain-top launch point are used to manipulate the share prices. Fortunes are made and lost before they even leave the ground. This is an obvious reference to the South Sea Bubble venture which created a scandal in England in the 1720s.

Brunt travels to the moon in a streamlined capsule towed by his chicken companions. Aside from the issue of an interplanetary atmosphere, the author's assumptions on gravity, weightlessness, the distance to the moon, and travel time are fairly accurate. Brunt may be have been history's first space-walker, when he emerges from his capsule in mid-flight to float alongside it. Once Brunt is on the moon the novel loses its satirical character and becomes a spiritual and moral fable. Brunt and the chickens are treated to a series of visions resembling those that Scrooge would see a century later in A Christmas Carol.

A Voyage to Cacklogallinia is a well-written and often entertaining satire that is neither obscure nor overlong. The author's description of a chicken civilization--including their wars with the owls and the magpies--is clever and funny. Nor is his sympathetic account of escaped slaves in Jamaica to be overlooked." - Steven Davis

Mikhail Bulgakov

Diaboliad - Mikhail Bulgakov

"Considering there are over five hundred amazon reviews of The Master and Margarita and my review of this collection of Bulgakov tales published some twenty years ago is the first on amazon, it is fair to say many readers have committed an oversight. Which is unfortunate since these short works are masterpieces in their own right. If you love The Master and Margarita you will also love reading this book. There are eleven tales here, two of which - Diaboliad and The Fatal Eggs - are long enough to qualify as novellas. For the purposes of this review and in the interest of brevity, I will focus on the title story of the collection.

Diaboliad is a forty-five page absurdist romp through the Russian state-supported bureaucracy, told in 11 chapters, each chapter complete with its own heading, which can give one the sense of reading a novel in miniature. We follow our hero and main character, Comrade Korotkov, a gentle, quiet clerk who would like nothing more than to continue his predictable routine at Main Central Supply (suppliers of Match-making Materials, that is) - and you have to love Bulgakov's telling us the unit is not only `Central' but also `Main Central', adding a pinch more spice to the satirical stew . And such spicy satire is sprinkled on every page.

Here is an example of what happens a day after the unit's cashier returns to the office with a dead chicken as part of his general announcement that there is no money. Imagine not only having to deal with the boss of your nightmares, but also the boss's identical twin, identical with two exceptions - the twin has a long red beard and much different voice. However, you are totally in the dark, thinking the twins are one and the same boss with a long red beard that keeps mysteriously appearing and disappearing and a voice that keeps changing. Such is the plight of Korotkov. But this is only the very beginning. Turns out, Korotkov has to deal with his own twin, a twin who might or might not be the creation of bureaucratic error. As Korotkov runs frantically from office to office in an attempt to save his job, his identify and recover his stolen documents, we realize our hero is in a kind of Alice in Wonderland world, but this being 1920s Soviet Russia, we have Korotkov in Stalinland. How far can things spin out of control? Toward the end, in Chapter Nine, TYPEWRITER TERROR, we read what happens in one of the government offices:

" . . . the wall fell apart before Korotkov's very eyes, and tinkling their bells thirty typewriters on desks began to play a fox-trot. Swaying their hips, wiggling their shoulders voluptuously, tossing up their creamy legs in a white foam, the thirty women set off in a can-can and circled around the desks."

Now a comrade can take only so much, even a comrade who is gentle and quiet and merely wants to do his job as a clerk. Comrade Korotkov becomes progressively more frustrated and then progressively more angry, stomping his feet and yelling, and, toward the end of the novella, when given a prompting to become violent, Comrade Korotkov does indeed become violent, resulting in a fellow-worker's very bloody face and head. Such violence leads to the final chapter, A CINEMA STYLE CHASE AND THE ABYSS, a chase and abyss that must be read in Bulgakov's own words, even if those words are in English translation." - Glenn Russell

Black Snow - Mikhail Bulgakov

"Bulgakov is certainly one of the best Russian writers, and 'The Theatre Novel' is certainly among his best works. Unfortunately, it's been translated in English as 'Black Snow', which changes the idea of the book quite a great deal - 'Black Snow' is the title of the novel written by Maxudov (the main character), but in this case Bulgakov doesn't mean that we are reading THAT novel. It is quite misleading; Maxudov's 'Black Snow' is NOT 'The Theatre (or Theatral) Novel'.

The novel itself is quite hard to understand; I believe it could be best understood by those who have a good deal of knowledge about the situation Bulgakov is describing. I cannot say I have that, therefore it is not as easy to read this novel as it is to read other works by Bulgakov. However, the novel is definitely a masterpiece - the descriptions, for example, are overwhelmingly vivid and warm, which stands out even more considering that most modern (and pre-modern) novels do not depict that warmth and depth of feeling. The strikingly accurate descriptions of human emotions seem to be a thing that can most often be found in good Russian literature (Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Chekhov...), and that's why you need Bulgakov to use almost half-a-page to list different kinds of people, for example...

The plot of the novel is quite hard to follow - which only illustrates how much of a genius Bulgakov is, as he manages to brilliantly reveal the confusion Maxudov experiences and the absurdity of his world. The feeling of uncertainty never leaves Maxudov. Nor does it leave the reader...

I'd have given this book 5 stars if Bulgakov hadn't also written 'The Master And Margarita'. 'The Theatre Novel' is a great book, but it simply cannot be as great as that one..." - anybody else

Jesse Bullington

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington

"Jesse Bullington's debut novel is a difficult one to review, not because of plot or character, but because of the general style in which it is written. Plainly speaking; it's pretty gross. Full of pus, vomit, blood, urine, gore, snot and other bodily fluids, "The Brothers Grossbart" isn't short on content that will make you screw up your nose in disgust. Yet dismissing this novel for its ability to make you cringe is a bit like going to a Quentin Tarantino movie and complaining about the violence. That's the whole point.

Set in the fourteenth century, Hegel and Manfried are brothers that take over the family business of grave robbing, with plans to travel to Gyptland to seek their fortunes there. They traverse the countryside from the mountains of Europe to the deserts of the Middle East at a time in which life was short, violent and smelly. To make things even more difficult, this is a world that is strewn with demons, witches and other monsters straight out of the Old Testament. Grotesque in appearance and evil in nature, the brothers end up pitting themselves against these hellish denizens as they rob and hack their way across the continent.

Naturally, there have been hundreds of anti-heroes throughout literature, many of whom the reader can secretly cheer for, or at least admire for their cunning, determination or audacity. The Grossbarts however, exist well outside the parameters of basic human decency, falling short of the standards set by the likes of other anti-heroes such as Long John Silver, Captain Ahab, Becky Sharp or Heathcliff. In the very first chapter the brothers decide to finance their trip by robbing a farmhouse, a task that ends with them killing a woman with an axe, cutting a boy's throat in front of his father, and burning the house down with several infants still inside it. They leave the farmer alive since killing him would mean: "there'd be no one left to learn the lesson."

After reading this, all anyone wants is for the two of them to die slow, painful deaths. But again, that's the point. And naturally it's not to say that they're not interesting despite their horrid natures. The two brothers engage in philosophical discourse as they travel, discussing the nuances of Christian orthodoxy and casually (unconsciously?) twisting it so that it justifies their own behaviour - as you may have guessed, neither brother really believes that they're doing anything wrong.

To add suspense, the Grossbarts also make enemies along the way, both demonic and human. Tracked by horrific creatures with a vendetta against them, the brothers eventually fall in with a lying priest and a sea captain that has a secret of his own. Though the pacing slows when the brothers reach Vienna, the beginning and ending segments of the novel are suitably fast-paced and intriguing, despite the gruesome subject matter. Likewise, Bullington's style is impeccable; the brothers' speech patterns are maintained throughout the novel, as is an atmosphere that's difficult to describe: every oozing boil and spurt of blood is lovingly described, the monstrous creatures are grotesque yet vividly rendered, and hanging over all is a palatable sense of dread; the reader knowing full well what both human and demon are truly capable of.

And yet for all of this, the moments of humanity contained here shine all the more brightly for their grim context. Nicolette's story is as chilling as any macabre 14th century horror story can possibly be, and yet also bizarrely touching as a love story, one that reads like a dark fairytale that the Brothers Grimm purposefully left out of their anthologies. Likewise, the farmer who the Grossbarts leave alive at the beginning of the novel naturally has a tragic story and a heartrending journey of despair as he tracks down the men who murdered his family, finding no solace in heaven and so turning to the nefarious regions in order to sate his thirst for vengeance.

I can hardly describe this as a pleasant book, nor even an "enjoyable" one (unless you like the feeling of nausea), but it is entertaining, intriguing, oddly thought-provoking, and evocative of its place and time. It is certainly not for everyone, yet it manages to straddle a wide range of subjects (horror, fantasy, black comedy, history, theology) all in a tone that feels authentic to the period in which it is told, in which superstition and religion were more or less interchangeable, and witchcraft and the black plague were dangers that weighed equally on everyone's minds.

As someone who likes her fairytales dark, this novel was certainly blacker than I had anticipated, and yet once I'd adjusted to the debauchery and violence, there was plenty here to both ponder and appreciate, particularly in the chaotic mish-mash of demonology and mythology that permeates the story (though I would have dearly loved to learn more about the Nixie!) One thing is for certain, and that is that "The Brothers Grossbart" is like nothing else I've read. It is unique, standing in a genre of its own." - R. M. Fisher

The Enterprise of Death - Jesse Bullington

"In 2009 I was given a gift card to a chain of bookstores, which shall remain unnamed. Having nothing to read at the time, I was determined to find a new author to read. Being a devotee of all things horrific and macabre, imagine my delight when I saw the cover of Jesse Bullington's debut novel, "The Sad Tale of The Brothers Grossbart", which graphically depicted the titular brothers posed atop an open grave while creating the optical illusion of a skull staring from the cover. Right up my alley.

I purchased this new and weird book, thinking at the very least I could re-sell it if I didn't like it, and have a few dollars for my troubles.

From the first page, I was enthralled. I couldn't stop telling my friends about this disturbing yet hilarious book that was causing me to grin and guffaw all day long. I was researching all the new information, like what the heck a Manticore was, or how demons were believed to be composed of bodily fluids, or that robbing graves was ever actually considered a profession by some. It was grotesque and enthralling, and gloriously blasphemous. It seemed to be written for me. I read it, and immediately re-read it.

In my research, I came across Jesse Bullington's Facebook page, and sent him a friend request. I don't know why I did it. He'd never met me, nor I him, and sending a random friend request is frowned upon in some circles, but I did it nonetheless. Imagine my delight when he accepted my request.

Imagine my further delight when, due to a little friendly competition on Jesse's blog, I won a copy of the galley's for his forthcoming novel, "The Enterprise of Death". I very nearly soiled myself with delight.

"The Enterprise of Death" is, quite simply, an astounding work. The amount of detail worked into the plotlines is staggeringly dense, to the point where the visualizations induced were akin to hallucinations. This is one picturesque, as well as grotesque piece of writing: Blatantly, heretically, and violently grotesque. "Slaves-murdered-and-reanimated-to-commit debauchery-and-to-defile-the-living" grotesque.

At one point, a necromancer is copulating with a corpse on top of an undead, reanimated bear that is all the while chasing and terrifying the necromancers' apprentice. Try getting that little vignette out of your head...

Underneath the putrid façade of the grotesquerie, there is an examination of morality and the relativity of it. There's a exploration of the disease and filth of medieval Europe, and a blatant rebuke of the church and all of it's manipulations. All the horrors that spawned society...

His descriptions of the necromantic arts and processes almost make one believe they're not only possible, but that he's had first hand experience of these far-flung possibilities. The details and nuances of alchemy and the dark arts belie a studious approach to a bawdy execution.

The dialog is fierce, equal parts old English and "Deadwood", Jesse has breathed a contemporary life into what are essentially ancient stories, and he's done it in such a way that one could easily see either of his two books being shot as a film. Except for maybe the necrophilia....

I will be buying "The Enterprise of Death" as soon as it hits the shelves, and re-reading it at a more leisurely pace. The first time through, I was so enchanted and enthralled I could barely take time to turn the pages.

Next time, I will be wallowing in it, letting the words soak further into my addled brain. I only hope that Mr. Bullington hasn't used up all of his tricks. With his first two novels, he's set the bar so high, or low in this case, that outdoing himself might be tricky.

I'm pretty sure he can pull it off, though. I'd never have imagined he could have topped "The Brothers Grossbart", but he has, and he's done it splendidly." - Leon Larue Sandall

The Folly of the World - Jesse Bullington

"In a flooded 15th century Holland there are very few opportunities available. Jan may have an amazing opportunity at a life full of riches, but it's hidden somewhere at the bottom of a flooded town. To reach his greedy goal in the dark moldy depths, Jan enlists the help of a wild young girl with a knack for swimming. Add Jan's slightly psychotic but ever-faithful partner Sander to the mix and you have yourself a watery adventure with a cast to remember.

In both of his previous books, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death, Jesse Bullington went to great lengths to defy our expectations in every way. His characters were immoral, his language was foul, his violence was graphic, and his subject matter was often nauseating.

His fans will be pleased to know that The Folly of the World is full of the same decadence, degeneration, and gut-wrenching twists and turns we've come to know and love. The Folly of the World proudly carries the Bullington torch of depravity, but it's applied in a more focused, less liberal manner -- like using guided missiles instead of napalm.

The characters in The Folly of the World are as you would expect from Jesse Bullington -- flawed, violent, and disturbed -- but this time he has taken extra care to build a backstory that lets us understand why they turned out that way. Empathy can be a cruel tool for an author to wield. This was done so well that I was horrified to find myself actually feeling sorry for these despicable people. Readers who didn't like The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart because of the characters may feel differently about this novel.

But as usual, Bullington still takes delight in making his readers very uncomfortable -- The Folly of the World is filled with sexual tension, unwelcome surprises, and short lifespans, all of it weaved with masterful wordplay and dark humor. Bullington has perfected his voice in this novel. He's taken the elements that his fans loved from his previous work and incorporated them in a manner that addresses the critiques of those who didn't appreciate his earlier work. I think this demonstrates a sense of self awareness and growth as a writer. He was scary good before, and he just keeps getting better.

The Folly of the World is Bullington's best work to date. I love his previous work, but this is something special. When I recommend his work to others, I'll suggest this book first. Thanks, Mr. Bullington, for an excellent piece of fiction. And if you're one of the readers who were grossed out by the Brothers Grossbart, try The Folly of the World." - Justin Blazier

David R. Bunch

Moderan (1971) - David R. Bunch

"This book was created from a compilation of his "Moderan" stories and his "Little Brother, Little Sister" stories which were originally published in the Sci Fi mags of the 50's and 60's such as "Amazing" and "Fantastic".Also some new works were created for this oeuvre. Being a compilation of short stories, the truly picky reader might say it does not track well as a whole. While I disagree, it might be due to the fact his editor rushed Bunch when he proofed the gallies. They wanted to get the book out on the market as quickly as possible.The true Bunch fan will appreciate each chapter for the little jewels they truly are! Bunch always hoped he could correct some of the minor mistakes in a second edition. As he is now deceased this probably will not happen. We can always hope, as his "literary heir" would certainly be amenable. Moderan never got the build up and publicity it should have because it was brought out the first and only time in paperback. A 2nd Edition in hardback would garner a whole new generation of fans for Bunch!

On the whole the book hangs together well. It is divided into three basic sections. These are cohesive in themselves. Bunch is not an easy read. You have to work at Bunch...his style, use of language,and content. This will be a book you read more than once. Each time you read it you will notice something different. Bunch makes you think!!!!

He was a very under appreciated writer in his time. He was a contempory of Bradbury, Asminov, and Ellison when they were publishing in the little mags. He was the only writer to have two stories in the same issue of "Dangerous Visions". He also wrote occasionally as Daryle Groupe. Bunch was not without humor.

Bunch is just now beginning to be appreciated as one of the greats that he truly was, because so much of what he was writing about fifty years ago has or is coming to pass. Plus he is just an exceptionally good read!!

If you enjoy "Moderan" this author also wrote "BUNCH" . It is a collection of his later diverse and some darker short stories. He also wrote "The Heartacher and the Warehouseman". This is a collection of Bunch's poetry over the years. It is a fabulous collection of early poems and poems he wrote for this book. It showcases his evolution as a writer and poet. It is difficult to find this book but well worth the trouble.It had only one printing in 2000 which was the year this great great light went out!(May 29,2000)

He is no doubt beaming star frowns down at us for the current "bad bad" situation we allow in the world! Bunch was nothing if not political and of his times, even as he wrote about the future he envisioned if we did not change course. This is why so many editors and publishers didn't know what to make of Bunch's writing. It was not the Science Fiction of "Martians and Monsters" as he liked to say. The other greats such as Ellison, Bradbury, Asminov, and many others however, recognized his talent and that he was one of their own." - hneybunchspk

Katharine Burdekin

Swastika Night (1937) - Katharine Burdekin

""Swastika Night" was published in 1937, although the fact that "Murray Constantine" was a pseudonym for Katharine Burdekin was not revealed until the early 1980s (Burdekin died in 1963). The chief interest in this dystopian novel was that Burdekin was telling the story of a feudal Europe that existed seven centuries into a world in which Hitler and the Nazi achieved total victory. The novel begins with a "knight" entering "the Holy Hitler chapel," where the faithful all sing the praise of "God the Thunderer" and: "His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, the Only Man. Who was, not begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded!" With such a beginning it is hard not to look at "Swastika Night" as a nightmarish version of the Germany and England that would result from a Nazi victory. Given the time in which she was writing, two years before Hitler's forces invaded Poland and officially began the Second World War, it is equally obvious that Burdekin is simultaneously an indictment of Hitler's political and militaristic policies and a warning of the logical consequences of the Nazi ideology.

Burdekin depicts a world that has been divided into the Nazi Empire (Europe and Africa) and the equally militaristic Japanese Empire (Asia, Australia, and the Americas), a demarcation that raises some interesting issues all by itself. Obviously in the Nazi Empire Hitler is venerated as a god and all books and documents from the past have been destroyed so that the Nazi version of history is all that remains (the similarity is more to the efforts of the ancient Egytpian pharoahs than Orwell's idea of the continuous revision of the public record). With all of the Jews having been exterminated at the start of the Nazi era, it is now Christians who are the reviled object of Nazi persecution, as well as those who are "Not Blood." Burdekin's protagonist is an Englishman named Alfred (suggesting parallels to England's legendary king Alfred the Great), who rejects the violence, brutality, and militarism of Nazi ideology because it results not in boys rather than men.

However, the fact that Hitler lost World War II does not mean that "Swastika Night" does not speak to contemporary readers in an important way. After all, we have not been progressing towards the dystopian vision of George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is still the mos widely read dystopian novel around. Burdekin's novel also explores the connection between gender and political power. Part of Hitler's deification is because he was never contaminated by contact with women, and In contrast to the "cult of masculinity," Burdekin depicts a "Reduction of Women" in which all women are kept ignorant and apathetic, their own function being for purposes of breeding. She clearly say the male apotheosis of women as mothers as being the first step on the slippery slope to the degradation of women to mere breeding animals. Despite the obvious comparisons to "Nineteen Eighty-Four," it is the contrast between the womanless world of "Swastika Night" and the woman-centered utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" (or even Virginia Woolf's "Three Guinesas," published in 1938) that most students of utopian literature are going to want to pursue.

Once World War II began "Swastika Night" became a historical footnote, especially since its pacifism would have been considered an impractical response to Hitler once war was declared. But today the feminist arguments regarding hypertrophied masculinity and the correlating reduction of women that are as much a part of the work as the condemnation of Nazi ideology makes it well worth consideration by contemporary readers." - Lawrance M. Bernabo

Anthony Burgess

The prolific and fascinating Burgess is unfortunately known to most only as the author of that book on which Kubrick based "A Clockwork Orange." Herein we'll laud the neglected stuff.

The Complete Enderby - Anthony Burgess

"The first thing to say about these books is that they're very funny. - They're very funny! - I spent several nights during the reading of them chuckling myself to sleep over the Enderbian maladventures I had ingested during my day's reading. They're also an uproarious satire of (and I'm sure to be leaving several things/groups/people out):

Postwar England
Poetry Awards
Women's Magazines
Magazines of any sort
Avaricious-Papist-Magazine editing women
Poets who sell out
Modern avant-garde film
Psychiatry (Big one here)
Psychiatrists (Even Bigger)
Pop Music
Pop Music Stars
Randy women Selenologists
Beat poets
The film industry in general
The American Bicentennial
Creative writing students
Women Creative Writing students
Black (Or, er, Afro-American) Creative Writing students
Talk shows
New York City
American women -"These American women were very straightforward people, quick to disclose their madness." P.534
American men - "The men were a bit slower." P.534
Spiritualist sessions
Hiberno-American Anti-Anglo sentiments
Theatre people
The American spelling of "Theater"
Anyone who dares to mess with Shakespeare

Well, that will do for starters. What makes all this satire, um, digestible, so to speak, is there is really no vitriol in it (or, well, not very much) and, further, what makes it actually palatable is that one is so busy pitying poor Enderby, in the first two books at least, that the verbal cuts, often hidden among Enderbian musings, hit us so often at unawares. Also, the old-fashioned poet trying to heed his Muse and not sully himself with the modern world catches it the most.

There is, though, a problem that another reviewer has pointed out - The problem of identifying with either Enderby or Burgess - or perhaps Enderburgess. The first two books, Inside Mr. Enderby and Enderby Outside, are much superior, in my mind, to the last two books. Here, Enderby is a character separate from Burgess. Yes, it's still partly autobiographical, but not SO autobiographical that one feels one is reading about Burgess himself, which is the sense that overwhelmed at least this reader while poring over (still chuckling, mind you) The Clockwork Testament and Enderby's Dark Lady.

Finally, there is something more to all this than just laughs (though these certainly help things along). Enderburgess truly believes in the sacredness of poetry and the poet's mission. He heartily defends them against the slings and arrows of the modern world, much to his sadness and discomfiture, it must be said.

The girl who comes to Enderby at the end of Enderby Outside, and serves, more or less, as his Muse incarnate, intones:

"When Shelley said what he said about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he wasn't really using fancy language. It's only by the exact use of words that people can begin to understand themselves." P.358 This is the Enderburgessian motto, the recurrent theme throughout the book. I can think of no better one with which to laugh and learn or relearn the poet's mission." - Daniel Myers

Tremor of Intent - Anthony Burgess

The Wanting Seed - Anthony Burgess

"Your bookstore is stocked full of novels predicting mankind's future, but none quite like this. With the Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess turns the typical dystopian novel on its ear. Instead of a methodical, technorganic world, Mr. Burgess presents a smelly, macrobiotic mess of overpopulation and disharmony. Instead of a more stringent emphasis on rightwing ideals, the aforementioned overpopulation has caused an enthusiastic governmental endorsement of homosexuality and opposition to typical family ideals. Instead of a grim, foreboding atmosphere, Mr. Burgess employs a lighthearted, quirky tone, allowing readers to smirk at the ridiculousness and incongruity to which the world of the Wanting Seed has been driven. It is obvious that Mr. Burgess, the same literary practical joker who filled his best-know book, A Clockwork Orange, with make-up slang, meant to poke some well-needed fun at the dismal 1984/Brave New World genre.

But just because the Wanting Seed is a work of playful parody and dark comedy does not mean there is nothing profound about it. In fact if I had to pick the one dystopian novel towards which our society is most surely leaning, it would be this one (which is pretty amazing considering it was written in 1962). As counties like China and India are regulating procreation and instituting their own versions of Mr. Burgess' "population police" and the value of human life wilts ever downward, I wonder how close we are to vision of the Wanting Seed. The novel stands as a warning that repressing man's natural urges and diminishing his worth is not the answer to the problem. Your bookstore is stocked full of novels predicting mankind's future, but few as startling and important as this." - P. Nicholas Keppler

Sir Richard Francis Burton

The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-yezdi - Sir Richard Francis Burton

"The word Kasidah can be translated Testament, and here it conveys several of the meanings of that word. It is a statement about what the author believes and what he does not, it is concerned with the authority and veracity of scriptures, and it is deeply concerned with the meaning and consequences of death.

Burton here melds his broad knowledge of Western philosophy and religion with a deep understanding of Eastern philosophical and metaphysical thought, and he presents it flawlessly in the poetic idiom of the Sufis. This work stands alone, incomparable, for it is truly a unique work of genius. The Way of the Sufi is here presented in Western thought, clothed in poetic Sufi garb.

The Kasidah is an Agnostic Gospel. It calls for an abandonment of argument over what can never be known an acceptance that death is a mystery that we cannot penetrate, and a shunning of bribes of heaven or threats of hell. Burton offers instead his code for living the life before us - "Do what thy manhood bids thee do/ from none but self expect applause;/ He noblest lives and noblest dies/ who makes and keeps his self-made laws."

The Kasidah expresses Burton's life philosophy, stark, with a terrible beauty. It has been called his spiritual autobiography. More than any of his many other works, it reveals the heart and mind of this brilliant and amazing man. That is more than enough reason to read this powerful book.

This book should be read by anyone with an interest in Sir Richard Burton, Sufi poetry, the philosophy of applied Agnosticism, or works of unique and powerful vision. It has my highest recommendation." - Theo Logos

Vikram and the Vampire or Tales of Hindu Devilry - Sir Richard Francis Burton

"1893. This volume is Volume V of the Memorial Edition of the Works of Captain Sir Richard F. Burton. This translation contains eleven of the best tales surrounding the legend of a huge bat, vampire or evil spirit which inhabited and animated dead bodies. They are old and thoroughly Hindu legends composed in Sanskrit, and are the germ which culminated in the Arabian Nights. The stories turn chiefly on a great king named Vikram, the King Arthur of the East. There is not a dull page found within and this work will please those who delight in the weird and supernatural, the grotesque and the wild life. Illustrated." - Anon

Robert Burton

The Anatomy of Melancholy - Robert Burton

"Don't be misled by the title of this book, nor by what others may have told you about it. In the first place, it isn't so much a book about 'Melancholy' (or abnormal psychology, or depression, or whatever) as a book about Burton himself and, ultimately, about humankind. Secondly, it isn't so much a book for students of the history of English prose, as one for lovers of language who joy in the strong taste of English when it was at its most masculine and vigorous. Finally, it isn't so much a book for those interested in the renaissance, as for those interested in life.

Burton is not a writer for fops and milquetoasts. He was a crusty old devil who used to go down to the river to listen to the bargemen cursing so that he could keep in touch with the true tongue of his race. Sometimes I think he might have been better off as the swashbuckling Captain of a pirate ship. But somehow he ended up as a scholar, and instead of watching the ocean satisfyingly swallowing up his victims, he himself became an ocean of learning swallowing up whole libraries. His book, in consequence, although it may have begun as a mere 'medical treatise,' soon exploded beyond its bounds to become, in the words of one of his editors, "a grand literary entertainment, as well as a rich mine of miscellaneous learning."

Of his own book he has this to say : "... a rhapsody of rags gathered together from several dung-hills, excrements of authors, toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out, without art, invention, judgement, wit, learning, harsh, raw, rude, phantastical, absurd, insolent, indiscreet, ill-composed, indigested, vain, scurrile, idle, dull, and dry; I confess all..." But don't believe him, he's in one of his irascible moods and exaggerating. In fact it's a marvelous book.

Here's a bit more of the crusty Burton I love; it's on his fellow scholars : "Heretofore learning was graced by judicious scholars, but now noble sciences are vilified by base and illiterate scribblers."

And here is Burton warming to the subject of contemporary theologians : "Theologasters, if they can but pay ... proceed to the very highest degrees. Hence it comes that such a pack of vile buffoons, ignoramuses wandering in the twilight of learning, ghosts of clergymen, itinerant quacks, dolts, clods, asses, mere cattle, intrude with unwashed feet upon the sacred precincts of Theology, bringing with them nothing save brazen impudence, and some hackneyed quillets and scholastic trifles not good enough for a crowd at a street corner."

Finally a passage I can't resist quoting which shows something of Burton's prose at its best, though I leave you to guess the subject: "... with this tempest of contention the serenity of charity is overclouded, and there be too many spirits conjured up already in this kind in all sciences, and more than we can tell how to lay, which do so furiously rage, and keep such a racket, that as Fabius said, "It had been much better for some of them to have been born dumb, and altogether illiterate, than so far to dote to their own destruction."

To fully appreciate these quotations you would have to see them in context, and I'm conscious of having touched on only one of his many moods and aspects. But a taste for Burton isn't difficult to acquire. He's a mine of curious learning. When in full stride he can be very funny, and it's easy to share his feelings as he often seems to be describing, not so much his own world as today's.

But he does demand stamina. His prose overwhelms and washes over us like a huge tsunami, and for that reason he's probably best taken in small doses. If you are unfamiliar with his work and were to approach him with that in mind, you might find that (as is the case with Montaigne, a very different writer) you had discovered not so much a book as a companion for life." - tepi

Ron Butlin

Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK - Ron Butlin, ed.

"This is an anthology. So you do not need to follow the pages and you can skip twenty pages forward then twenty-five backward and then thirty-seven forward again. You can just use the table of contents and read the poems that contain one particular word in their titles, or those of names you know or think you recognize. You like or you don't like this or that and if a poem is not pleasant you wan zap over it. Sipping is the rule in such reading and such a genre: sip here and sip there and try to get the divine sap on which you can sup and even if you really like it you can have your last supper of the day and then go digest it in your be-dreamed mind during the night. I must say the little monkey who is constantly sitting on my left shoulder, the heart shoulder mind you, is constantly telling me what to feel, what to think, what to do, and I must admit he was really active while I was reading this book. I must admit he told me a couple of times I was an assh*** to read such stuff while the world was needing so much action. Since he is my little monkey I have the right to tell him what I told him, that action is fine and dandy but action without feelings and inspiration is like a day without sunshine, and since the sun will collapse only in four hundred billion years, or so, I told him I wanted as much sunshine in my action as I could get for free.

That should make you understand at what a loss I am in front of this book. I did not lose my mind or my virginity. I lost something else that is quite different. I lost the tight feeling of things, mental or material, I generally have. It loosened my grounding in my intellectual firm lands and it sent me aloof and aghast in a sea of formless and soundless ghosts I had managed to keep at a distance for long enough to have nearly forgotten their existence. In no time, in a few pages, I was haunted by shape-shifters, body-shifters, body-thieves and soul-catchers that had decided I was a derelict thinker on legs and that I had to get off my legs to start thinking more freely. And it got me off my legs indeed.

It took me beyond genetics and the ranting and raving of H.G. Wells and his Morlocks and Eloi and his idea that the human species was going to evolved into two different antagonistic species setting the bourgeois capitalistic world upside down ass over teakettle, ass over head or head over heels. In the same way we are beyond the white supremacist scientific world H.G. Wells advocated in his film "Things to come." That was only the first step of modern apocalyptic science-fiction and that was a long time before Ron L. Hubbard and his shift of science fiction from machines to human beings. Ron Hubbard has always had the tendency to believe he was the great changer of the world. H.G. Wells was a catastrophic science-fiction writer for sure but he was quite in phase with Jules Verne who was a lot less catastrophic or apocalyptic. But both men were centered on man, human psychology, human potential future and inhuman potential dangers.

But we are beyond these writers and these at times dystopian utopias.

We have also stepped a long way beyond the easy explanations of evil as being the result of social organization, be it capitalism or market economy or whatever the fad of today, yesterday and tomorrow will bring back from the 19th century or even the 18th century if we consider Rousseau. We are beyond the vision that evil is an integral part of the human individual because we know today that this human individual is phylogenetically and psychogenetically produced and thus that what may be seen inside is necessarily the result of at least some influences from outside elements like education. It is obvious that this science fiction has understood that our education system is cultivating evil in every single one of our children for them to be normal adults, hence ready to fight our wars and fight against aliens and foreigners to the death, to the finish, to the bloody gladiator-like gritty fatal, lethal, deadly rape. And I say rape because rape is part of the education we provide our children with. This science fiction is beyond that and considers what this will produce in one or two generations. Tastily sickening, but sickeningly salvational. Thanks God we are saved, though God . . . And the wheel of Sarah Westcott's "O" is that wheel of salvation so often referred to and described in the Old Testament. But being a turning wheel the human being has become a machine or the macine has become a human being or both at once.

15 I then noticed that on the ground beside each of the four living creatures was a wheel,16 shining like chrysolite. Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it, 17 so that they could move in any direction without turning.18 The rims of the wheels were large and had eyes all the way around them.[k] 19-21 The creatures controlled when and where the wheels moved--the wheels went wherever the four creatures went and stopped whenever they stopped. Even when the creatures flew in the air, the wheels were beside them." (Ezekiel, 1:15-21)

We are definitely beyond Hubbard but Hubbard is one of the mind-bogglers that have left a deep voyeuristic furrow in our consciousness.

"Then he went down alone in the dark vault.
When he was sitting on his chair in the shade,
And that was on his forehead closed underground
The eye was in the grave and looked at Cain."
(Victor Hugo, The Legend of the Centuries, "Consciousness," 1859)

This unconscious scientologist eye in our own consciousness is like Big Brother made anew and afar and totalitarian as if this Big Brother was not a spying eye in a TV screen but a self-denouncing confessing urge in our own head impressed there by manipulating and pressurizing in the name of the engrams we have to bring out and reveal to the clear people who govern our healing.

This collection of poems is vastly beyond Extraterrestrials and other cosmic beings though when they are envisaged as such the colonial spirit comes back but such Extraterrestrials are passé today and the future cosmic beings are our descendants. Descendants you say? Hence in Darwin's line? Not really as we are going to see. The descent is beyond pure genes. The chromosomes are eternal but mutate constantly and at any stage the descending survivors continue those they left behind extinct

". . . Those who won were left
The standing stones, the seed, the memories
Of people before the people they
Left dead."
(Ken MacLeod, "Succession")

This collection seems to have integrated the post-Singularity thinking of people like Ray Kurzweil. In fact it is seriously exploring what would happen if Kurzweil's dream and desire were to become real. If all our "minds" meaning brains were to be invaded by all kinds or nanobots able to communicate together we would no longer be independent beings since our nanobots would be in constant communication with all the nanobots of the world and we would be each one of us one little transistor on and in a giant motherboard. Then the computing concept of master-slave would become a reality, a reality in our flesh, in our brains. Big Brother would really be Super-Big All-powerful Almighty Super-Brother this time. No confession necessary; No clears necessary; Just a giant cosmic computer to serve as the server of all these nanobots and we would be nothing but the flesh-dressed dendrites of this giant cosmic server. This collection of poems is seriously considering what may happen beyond this point. And this time the eye of consciousness in Cain tomb has become the constant leash, lashes and dashboard that command us from morning to morning and through the whole day and night. The Extraterrestrials then are the electric pulses, the digital commands and the viruses that come from the central cosmic server into every single one of our integrated circuit via our motherboards.

"All the fearless orphans you incubate
In the heat of the humming motherboard.
Our guillotining legs and slicing through
Your interactive future towards you:
We are coming, we are coming for you."
(Brian Mvcabe, "They Are Coming")

Speaking of dystopia, I am afraid, in fact frightened s***less, Ray Kurzweil is probably the best and most dangerous peddler of such a man-made apocalypse, of such a satanic nightmare straight out of the worst prophetic moments of the Old Testament, of the Torah even. The Leviticus transformed into an integrated nano-circuit multiplied in millions of varied types and modules and controlling our own material and mental life. Speaking of fundamentalism, I am amazed that such an MIT thinker may produce something that is billions of times more potent than the most stringent version of Islamic shari'ah law since then no individual at all would be able to have any individual initiative at all in anyway possible. I wonder what this other MIT mad scientist, Noam Chomsky who stated the innateness of universal grammar, think of this pushing his black box into becoming the black server of the cosmos.

When I have said that, and my little monkey helped me a lot yesterday while I was climbing a few hundred yards in the mountain in the sunshine (he is like me, he is not afraid of the sunshine since I retrieved him on his way back from South-East Asia some years ago), I could maybe enter the anthology and look at each poem in great detail. I could write hundred of pages, and each poem deserves such a full treatment. But that would be out of proportion here. So I am going to do what all monkey do: jump around from one tree to the next and scavenge what I can get here and there, a few blossoms, a few fruit, or a flea from the back of some fellow monkey, and share them with you.

Chris McCabe in his "The White Star Hotel" gives us the most complete version of the post-Kurzweilian apocalyptic dystopia. The "you" he is speaking of opposed to his "we" is clearly that master that controls us all via our nanobots.

"You are the conscience
You are the blueprint
You are the mind
You are the stars
You are the mass
You are the zeitgeist
You are the mute
You are the script"

What is left then to "us"? Not much after the great technical revolution:

"We devised our first strategies for waiting men to be born by machines."

But now that has happened "we" can go back to the closet of obsolete objects, and machines are bearing and delivering the new generation of what exactly?

"I knew the Fall was coming that night I woke, cardiac throated:
The gulls went lit by modern lights.
Our hearts were splattered with poverty.
We could smell smoke in the library.
Our newspapers turned to papier mache.
White ferries taxied us homewards.
Panic made kiosks of our possessions."

The reference to the Fall is of course a reference to Adam and Eve and the Fall from the Garden of Eden after eating the apple (ah! ah! a fig, man, or boy or whatever) when Eve played the fruit and Adam tried to play the writhing snake of a penile reptile child-maker. But after this second contact with the Tree of knowledge, the human species was out of the picture:

"All our new babies looking up with eyes of glazed chrisms. . .
The Fall happened in a vacuum. . .
The fact to remember about the Fall
Is that we were prepared for the atomic.
What happened was not atomic. . ."

Is there any hope in all that? Boy, man or whatever you prefer, girl or b***h even if that's your sex, gender or taste, not much if we keep the dystopian tone in that tale. But The author is a genius who discovers that we are governed in such a perspective by a Priest, in this case let's say Kurzweil or some other Hubbard, or a Steve Andreas, a Pete Bissonette, a Jamie Smart resolving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in you on a public stage for everyone to see the miracle, initiating you to fast reading or whatever personality change you may dream of, or even some American Monk jumping quanta in his old age, and what (certainly not who) Chris McCabe calls the Shadow which is this bodiless, fleshless, mindless entity deprived of any humanity and that controls all things without being in any way material, hence being entirely virtual. And the end of the poem following my last quotation is:

"And we could have pulled through somehow
We could have pulled through
Until we knew
The Priest was spending nights with the Shadow."

You cannot stop the hormonal impulses, even of a priest. He has to spend his night with something, if he can't spend them with someone, and you can imagine Kurzweil cajoling his Singularity, or Burt Goldman caressing his quanta, between the silk sheets of his/their night, gamboling and prancing in-between the Shadow legs or rather under the Shadow's spear (the Roman soldier), spike (for crucifixion or a hypodermic injection), carpenter's nail (also for crucifixion), or whatever a shadow can have as for a Jack-out-of-the-box-hammer.

And yet the poem is not finished. There is third section that pushes the theme even further and describes what happened when we got off the white ferries on our last trip across the cosmic ocean. I should quote the whole page but I can't. It is too powerful, too cruel. I feel like raped in my deepest and most intimate being and beliefs by this page and I kind of feel I have to thank the author for his foresight The author is raping us with a pneumatic drill of his own boring a Chunnel through our brains. So let me give you the second half of this page, only:

"The future pulling the souls from our bodies
Like the flesh of razorclams sucked from their shells
We knew
As we looked back for the final time
-- our emptiness fluted by the wind of the beach --
-- our first memories expiring into the blue -
-- a cot, a curtain, a rail of stars -
We knew by the lights in the mouths of our lovers
That everything had changed forever."

If we are dumb enough suckers to believe this priest or these priests of the singularity or whatever it is they peddle telling us the stars - if it is the stars - will eat our souls like we eat oysters, discard our bodies as useless casings, and we will have been transformed into fodder for the cosmos. A beautiful ending in a way but somewhere it must leave you un-satiated as for the sexual pleasure this intercourse should have brought you. You have become a virtual and totally enslaved mucroprocessor in the motherboard of the singularity's cosmos.

And that is Saint Kurzweil's gospel beaming his rays of supernatural virtual light onto the world in the name of MIT, the last laboratory of mad scientists incorporated in Massachusetts no longer bridging anything, but for sure being the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) camshaft or connecting rods of some devilish cosmic engine.

And to conclude this ranting raving of a critique I will quote Steve Sneyd's "Morning in June" that materializes the virtual predator that the cosmos had turned into in the previous poem:

"No one sees what is done
The planet's jaws gnash once
And swallow the whole scene."

I have to apologizes to all the authors I have not quoted but I think the readers of this critique should be titillated enough where they have an itch, I hope not too high between their knees, to get to the volume and read some more pages. It is worth even more than a very short while and in a way it is sickeningly funny (strange not ah! Ah!) and instructive. Particularly Sue Guiney's "What Can Be Taught" in which she explains all that apocalyptic fantasy is only possible because the teachers of our dear schools and universities are implementing the first of the ten most unpredictable questions Harvard Business School asks in the interviews to select their MBA students:

"Explain to me something you're working on as if I were an eight-year-old?"

turning themselves into grown-up children and thus locking up the children in their childish identity and personality.

And then we are surprised if the grown-ups that come out of these children are big children who can fall for the first priest available and speaking in the name of the unnamed first shadow imaginable. All that because we did not listen to what the children had to say and we did not care for it, we did not take care of it and answer their questions. The education system of this planet produces the apocalyptic vision at first and later the reality that will bring our civilization down like a secular temple built with newspaper scraps and fragments (page 27, the well numbered, 3x9, 999, the beast, Edwin Morgan's "a piece of newspaper caught in the traffic", and page 67, a prime number of its own 6+7=13, Edwin Morgan again and "a paper . . . caiught on some swirling freeway")." - Jacques Coulardeau

Dino Buzzati

The Tartar Steppe - Dino Buzzati

"On first thought, this is a overwhelmingly desolate book. It is the life of Giovanni Drogo who, after graduation as military officer, is sent to Fort Bastiani, located on "the Northern frontier", and beyond which the Tartar steppe lies for miles and miles. At Fort Bastiani, nothing ever happens. Holding the absurd hope that some day something will happen that will bring him military glory, Drogo consumes his life amidst the boredom and the rutine of the site. But his hope never dies: as another reviewer correctly noted, it acts like a drug on him. I haven't spoiled anything about the plot: some day, something will happen.

This novel is pure literary magic, and it is a shame and a pity that it is so ignored, especially in English-speaking countries. Note: Enlgish-language literature is certainly one of the best corpus of literature in the world, but their ignorance of many other literatures is in their own detriment, unfortunately.

"The Tartar steppe" is a masterpiece which, with an ironic and subtle sense of humor, talks about the desolation, the apparent uselessness of living, the futility of existence. It talks about it, but in a subtle yet powerful manner contradicts those theses: Drogo will show the reader that, no matter how dull and empty your life is, there is ALWAYS something about life that makes it worth living. Fort Bastiani and the Tartar Steppe are both real and symbolic: they may be an office, a shop, a house or a city.

Read this novel and you will love it forever, not only for its content but for Buzzati's excellent handling of words. He showed he was a great writer. But beyond the style, you'll remember it every other time, when you feel you are Giovanni Drogo, eager for something to happen." - Guillermo Maynez


James Branch Cabell

Jurgen - James Branch Cabell

""I have finished Jurgen; a great and beautiful book, and the saddest book I ever read. I don't know why, exactly. The book hurts me -- tears me to small pieces -- but somehow it sets me free. It says the word that I've been trying to pronounce for so long. It tells me everything I am, and have been, and may be, unsparingly...I don't know why I cry over it so much. It's too -- something-or-other -- to stand. I've been sitting here tonight, reading it aloud, with the tears streaming down my face..." -- Deems Taylor, in a letter dated December 12, 1920.

What can I add to that? Jurgen is on my short list of very favorite books. It wrestles, in its odd way, with the fundamental tragedy of human life in general and male life in particular: We are doomed to age and die; meanwhile happiness will prove elusive. Wow, I'm making this sound awfully depressing, aren't I? But that's not right. Jurgen is humorous and fun and weirdly uplifting. Jurgen's strange adventures manage to represent all that a man may pursue and aspire to. The tale burns, but in a wonderfully brilliant way. (I made that comment about the tragedy of "male life" because Jurgen is, among other things, the quintessential rogue. His notion of how happiness might be ideally pursued differs somewhat from the ideas of the females he holds discourse with. Thus does Cabell illustrate a reality that we can either acknowledge or deny; take your choice. Enlightened people will prefer the latter.)

Jurgen isn't for everyone. Some will "get it" and some won't. I once handed a copy to a person who returned it with the comment that he wasn't a fan of the S&S ("swords & sorcery") genre. This surprised me; the book can only be described as S&S by someone who does not look below the surface. I mention this not to mock but to warn. Jurgen may be better appreciated by those who are stirred by symbol and metaphor. We may not be prancing through a magical world as Jurgen does, but some of us will see echoes of our own dreams and nightmares in his story. If you're such a person, then Jurgen may hit you like a ton of bricks. Otherwise you'll chuck the manuscript against the wall.

It's worth noting that Jurgen, in its circumspect way, managed to offend the contemporary powers-that-be. The book is obscurely suggestive without being explicit; it went over the heads of some, but others saw what was going on, and they either guffawed or objected vigorously. There were serious attempts to suppress it, which of course only made the text notorious. It was (and still is) politically incorrect, and it garnered something of a counter-cultural following for all the wrong reasons. Well, so be it. The book is great, and that's all there is to say.

The tale incorporates supporting characters and environments rummaged from myth and history. You won't need to know all these background details to understand or enjoy the plot; however if you should want to follow up, some rabid fans (of which there were many) put together a collection of footnotes way back in 1928. It's long out of print, but you'll find an Amazon listing on it (Amazon lists everything!); search Amazon books for ASIN=B00085DJ0A. A copy of the notes is also posted online; search the web on the phrase "Notes on Jurgen".

If you buy the book, you'll want the Dover paperback edition (ISBN=0486235076), which is a trade paperback and includes the wonderful old illustrations. Holding this edition in my hands just feels right. There's also a great unabridged audio cassette (ISBN=1574534505), rendered by a troupe of actors. They do a very nice job, switching to the most appropriate character to read the text as the book progresses.

Cabell was a prolific author, with "Jurgen" being his best-known (and probably his greatest) work. If you're unfamiliar with Cabell, "Jurgen" is the book to start with. If you want to follow up, look for "Figures of Earth"." - David Rolfe

"Early in his journey, Cabell's Jurgen comes to a place known as 'The Garden Between Dawn and Sunrise.' In the garden live all the imaginary creatures that humankind has ever created: centaurs and sphinxes, fairies, valkyries, and baba-yagas. Jurgen is surprised when he sees his first-love wandering around the garden, but his guide replies "Why, all the women that man has ever loved live here...for very obvious reasons."

Moments like this, simultaneously jaded and genuine, sentimental and cynical, are the most delightful parts of 'Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice.' Nominally the story of a medieval pawnbroker's quest to find his lost wife, 'Jurgen' becomes a bildungsroman in reverse as, on the way, its hero regains his youth and visits the lands of European myth, from Camelot to Cocaigne (the land of pleasure) -- each land shows Jurgen a way of life, and he rejects each in favor of his own sardonic stoicism, for he is, after all, a "monstrously clever fellow."

That phrase describes Cabell as much as it does Jurgen: the author is remarkably erudite, and, like a doting parent hiding easter eggs, drops in-jokes through the book on subjects as far-ranging as troubadour poetry and tantric sex. Cabell corresponded with Aleister Crowley in his day, and, in ours, is an influence on Neil Gaiman ('The Sandman,' 'Neverwhere,' etc.). The book itself caused quite a splash when it became the centerpiece of one of the biggest censorship trials of the early 20th century: something to do with Jurgen's very large *ahem* sword.

Social satire and an idiosyncratic cynicism in the guise of a scholarly romance-fantasy, 'Jurgen' is what would have happened if J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Parker had gotten together to write a book." - A Customer

Italo Calvino

Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday - Italo Calvino, ed.


"The brilliant Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985) compiled Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday, a historical overview of great fantastic literature of the 19th century. Many of his 26 selections are from well-known authors (Sir Walter Scott, Honoré de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Ivan Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells), but Calvino largely avoided their best-known stories; the only inclusions likely to be familiar to many Americans are Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," and H.G. Wells's "The Country of the Blind." The remaining contributors range from moderately well-known to obscure. So the reader who purchases Fantastic Tales gains not only an intelligently annotated anthology of superb fiction, but, in one pleasant sense, a collection of mostly new stories.

Interestingly, some of the finest stories are by authors least known in America. Théophile Gautier's beautifully written, wrenchingly ironic "The Beautiful Vampire" establishes the traditions for romantic vampire fiction. Mérimée's "The Venus of Ille," a tale of culture clashes (Parisian and rural, ancient classical, and contemporary Christian), is sharp, well-written, and uncommonly horrific. With the gorgeous "A Lasting Love," the sole woman contributor, Vernon Lee, paints the most vivid portrait of obsessive, transcendent, destructive love.

Caveat: Calvino's introductions sometimes reveal more of the plot than readers will like." - Cynthia Ward

The Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino


"Calvino never fails to mesmerize. His books suck you in and don't let go until the final word (and that final word always seems to include a touch of sadness that the novel is over). This is one of Calvino's earlier works, written in 1957, the same year he left the communist party (his reason is summed up in: "my decision to resign as a member of the party is founded on the fact that my discrepancies with those of the party have become an obstacle to whatever form of political participation I could undertake"). "The Baron in the Trees" does include some passages about disappointed political ideals (e.g., about the French Revolution), but the book touches on far too many topics to reduce it to a mere "political" novel.

The story begins, as the first line of the novel tells us, on the fifteenth of June, 1767. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò is a member of a family whose father has sights on climbing the aristocratic ladder. In the very first chapter there is a family scuffle, during dinner, which results in Cosimo going into the trees and vowing never to come down ("And he kept his word" Cosimo's brother, who narrates the story, states). Cosimo then resigns himself to a life in the trees. After some initial mishaps (dealing with rain, bathing, food, etc), he proves himself very adaptable to living off the ground. Human adaptability seems to be at the back of the story (along with many other things); his family and town almost grow accustomed to Cosimo's darting amongst the branches. Cosimo even makes a name for himself "up in the trees" (Voltaire asks about him, and Napolean insists on meeting him). Of course the big question that comes from this action, in the very opening of the novel, is why did Cosimo go up into the trees? Why didn't he simply run away? One possible answer is that he wanted to make an example of himself. Living in the trees (especially in the 18th century) would likely make one into a spectacle. Running away wouldn't make as strong of a point, and would sever ties to his family which Cosimo does not want to do (this becomes more obvious as the novel moves on). And why does he stay in the trees? One possible answer is that which his brother gives to Voltaire: "My brother considers that anyone who wants to see the earth properly must keep himself at a necessary distance from it." Another possibility is, close to the novel's end, Cosimo is speaking with a Russian officer, who says, right after some members of his unit present him with the severed heads of some hussars, "You see.. War... For years now I've been dealing as best I can with a thing that in itself is appalling; war... and all this for ideals which I shall never, perhaps, be able to fully explain to myself..." Cosimo answers in like: "I too have lived many years for ideals which I would never be able to explain to myself; but I do something entirely good. I live on trees." Rambunctous and impetuous youth led Cosimo into the trees (he was only twelve when he took to the branches), but his ideals, once established, kept him there the rest of his life. All of us make descions in our youth that we either follow through with or abandon. Cosimo never abandoned his decision, for good or ill.

The novel reads like an adventure in places (e.g., when the feared, or imaginary, "Gian dei Brughi" is terrorizing the countryside, but evetually becomes addicted to novels - which in and of itself makes for a hilarious few chapters - Cosimo is there for almost every move); in other places it reads like a heartbreaking love story (e.g., Cosimo's nearly lifelong affair with Viola, which becomes so intense it's almost painful to read). A lot of action goes on in the trees, and the reader will likely not conclude that Cosimo has "missed something" as a result of his decision. Overall the novel is so readable that it's hard to put down (it could probably be completed in one long sitting). It has that mix of reality and fantasy that Calvino is famous for (it's easy to find references to Calvino as "one of the world's best fabulists"). Like other Calvino it's funny (Cosimo's sister serves bizarre arrangements of food to the family), heartbreaking (did Cosimo find true love in the trees or did he fail miserably?), poignant (he finds a great comrade in a small daschund he names "Ottimo Massimo" but the dog ultimately belongs to someone else), and a great read. The decisions one makes in life have impact on oneself and others, and in Cosimo's case his decision had vast impact on his immediate surroundings, regardless of the reasons why. Make a good decision for yourself and read this book." - ewomack

Cosmicomics - Italo Calvino


I have never read a book quite like this one. It is definitely not a novel, in as much as there is not a set beginning, middle, climax and denouement, nor one or more characters that we follow throughout the book in a series of adventures and incidents. While the book contains a dozen short stories with a common link that may be described as science fiction, I would not call it strictly a book of this genre.

"Cosmicomics" may instead be described as a series of beautifully and imaginatively written poetic fables that defy time and space. They take place prior to, during and after the galaxies and the universe were formed, throughout myriad evolutionary cycles, prior to the birth of mankind, and even ante-dating the beginning of what is commonly called life. These tales concern atoms, molecules and other worldly beings interacting, almost interacting, and even repelling one another while travelling between gravitational and anti-gravitational forces. They may be floating around in space, chasing each other or being chased at one and the same time. There is a story of betting on the chance occurrances of historical, pre-historical, and pre-planetary incidents, and of lovers living in a time before colors, when black, white and shades of gray were the natural order of things. There is a wondrous tale of a time during the formation of the universe, when the earth and the moon abutted one another and people utilized a ladder to climb from the earth to the moon to spoon out milk. One of the most beautiful of these parables concerns the last dinosaur to survive on earth and his relationship and near love affair with one of the new ones. This is truly a book to cherish.

The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount - Italo Calvino

"Calvino rarely, if ever, disappoints. This book includes two early stories, both of which have everything you would expect from Calvino: surrealism, wisdom, fabulism, and poignancy derived from bizarre and unexpected sources. Reading them is a unique experience, much like reading anything Calvino has written; these stories, being earlier works, are slightly more conventional (for Calvino) in that they follow a plot line and a story unfolds linearly (contrasted with later works such as "Invisible Cities" or "Cosmicomics" where there's a story, but not in a completely conventional sense).

"The Nonexistent Knight" is about just that: a knight in Charlemagne's army who doesn't exist, but "inhabits" an empty suit of armor. The knight, Agilulf, is an exemplar of chivalry, and annoys almost everyone. When the validity of his knighthood is brought into question, a great chase ensues between the main characters of the story, which, when the smoke clears, culminates in a "confession" of the narrator. The story's mood is a strangely profound tongue-in-cheek. It is moving, funny, and intense.

"The Cloven Viscount", by contrast, is a harsh and violent story that includes enough whimsy to keep it from sinking into a hopelessly depressing tale. After the mostly upbeat feel of "The Nonexistent Knight" the brutal imagery of this story is shocking. The story involves a Viscount who is in fact cloven, that is, literally cloven in two by a Turkish cannon. He is not only cloven physically, but in other more interesting ways. The implications this story presents are numerous and incredibly thought-provoking. When the two halves of the Viscount occupy the same town, the feelings of the townsfolk are summed up in this brilliant passage: "...our sensibilities became numbed, since we felt ourselves lost between an evil and a virtue equally inhuman."

This short book is another incredible example of the writing of Italo Calvino. It may not be his absolute best work, but even Calvino at his worst makes for engaging and unforgettable reading. His stories defy description and stretch the boundaries of literature beyond what is usually expected. After reading one of his books, you just want to read more." - ewomack

Roland Camberton

Scamp - Roland Camberton

"Scamp is another of those classic London novels from the 1950s that evokes Julian Maclaren-Ross, Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins, Samuel Selvon and so on. It makes a brilliant companion piece to Adrift in Soho by Colin Wilson.

The back streets of Soho and the West End are brought vividly to life and, whilst the plot is slightly inconsequential, that doesn't make the book any less enjoyable. Every page provides an opportunity to experience late 1940s bohemian London and, as I think we can all agree, that is a wonderful thing.

Julian Maclaren-Ross makes a few appearances as "Angus Sternforth Simms", who is usually to be found in The Corney Arms (a thinly disguised version of his home-from-home The Wheatsheaf pub). Indeed the sections of Scamp that take place in The Corney Arms could have come straight out of Paul Willetts's biography of Julian Maclaren-Ross "Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia".

Interestingly, and despite his appearance (or perhaps because of), Julian Maclaren-Ross was particularly scathing about this book in his review of it for Times Literary Supplement on 10 November 1950...

"The book is written from the standpoint of the "bum": that bearded and corduroyed figure who may be seen crouching over a half of bitter in the corner of a Bloomsbury "pub"; it is ostensibly concerned with the rise and fall of a short-lived literary review, but Mr. Camberton, who appears to be devoid of any narrative gift, makes this an excuse for dragging in disconnectedly and to little apparent purpose a series of thinly disguised local or literary celebrities."

Despite Julian Maclaren-Ross's negativity, the book won the 1951 Somerset Maugham Award (given to authors under the age of 35) and I can quite see why. The book's great strength is its evocation of late 1940's London and in particular the areas of Bloomsbury, Soho, Kings Cross, Fitzrovia, Fleet Street, and the multifarious and compelling bohemian characters that populate this world.

The book was out of print for many years until publishers Five Leaves, through their New London Editions imprint, republished it in 2010 (they've also republished two books by Alexander Baron which I have on my shelf and will be reading soon). I love books like this and am delighted that more of these titles are getting reprinted. There's a beauty and a purity in the shabby streets and seedy cafes and the lives lived on the margins. Not only that, but as the story went on the more quietly profound it became as Camberton muses on maturity and the loss of youth, and how being poor and bohemian loses its allure after a time.

Sadly Roland Camberton only wrote one other book before giving up writing, Rain On The Pavements, and that has also been republished by Five Leaves. Whilst about halfway through this book, and filled with enthusiasm for Roland Camberton, I got hold of a copy of Rain On The Pavements yesterday which I will read sometime soon. It's such a shame that there's only two books to read, still we should savour these two novels and be grateful to Five Leaves for bringing them back into print. Both novels have been reprinted complete with their original cover art by John Minton which are both beautiful artworks and really compliment the contents and enhance the reading experience." - nigeyb

Elias Canetti

Auto-da-Fe - Elias Canetti

"The history of Canetti's odd, inventive novel provides clues to its understanding. According to his memoirs, Canetti originally conceived the "Human Comedy of Madmen," a fictional cycle portraying eight characters. Of these, only one character lived on in his imagination: Brand the Book Man. Inspired by Gogol, modeled after Stendhal's "The Red and the Black," and informed by Jacob Burckhardt's "History of Greek Civilization," Canetti's surviving portrait is an allegorical odyssey of a recluse who lives only for his books.

Yet those already familiar with "Auto da Fe" know that there is no character named Brand in the book. During the year (1930-31) that Canetti finished his novel, he changed the main character's name from Brand [German for conflagration] to Kant and the novel's title to "Kant Catches Fire." Canetti explains in the second volume of his memoirs that the lingering emotions he felt from his presence when a mob burned down Vienna's Palace of Justice in 1927 made this new title "hard to endure." And so "Kant became Kien [German for resinous pinewood]; the ignitability of the world, a threat that I felt, was maintained in the name of the chief character." Likewise, he changed the title to Die Blendung [The Blinding], a reference to the biblical legend of Samson. It was under this title that the book was published in 1935, but it was soon banned by the Nazis.

The main character is a leading Sinologist whose meticulous scholarship and linguistic expertise make him famous among an elite group, but Kien's lack of social skills ultimately defines him: he refuses to be part of the crowd (the dynamics of which is one of Canetti's real-life intellectual preoccupations). Kien's 25,000-volume library overtakes his entire apartment, the 40,000 characters of the Chinese alphabet challenge his intellect, and his only human relationships are daily contacts with a housekeeper of eight years and morning ventures to the bookshops that dot the city of Vienna. His cloistered life is shattered, however, when he decides to marry the housekeeper; her conniving greed is eventually wedded to the brute force of the building's superintendent, a retired police officer whose nascent fascism finds full expression in his treatment of Kien. Eventually, Kien conflates his fear and hatred of his wife with the misogyny he has learned from his vast readings.

Simultaneously bizarre and uncomplicated, the story reads like a 450-page Homeric epic filtered through the psychoses of the Brothers Grimm. Expelled from his book-dominated oasis, Kien descends into the underworld of Vienna, a journey that results in the destruction of the world as he knows it. Dwarfs, prostitutes, blind men--each of the major and minor characters develops his or her own perspective of the events through which they live; when their internally consistent yet outwardly incongruent worlds clash, the results alternate between absurdity and madness. What it is all supposed to mean will engage the patient reader's imagination for weeks."- D. Cloyce Smith

The Memoirs of Elias Canetti : The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, The Play of the Eyes - Elias Canetti

The uncompromising achievement of Elias Canetti has been matched by few writers this century. Canetti worked brilliantly in many forms, but the three volumes that comprise his autobiography are where his genius is perhaps most evident. The first volume, The Tongue Set Free, presents the events, personalities, and intellectual forces that fed Canetti's early creative development. The Torch in My Ear explores his admiration for the first great mentor of his adulthood, Karl Krauss, and also describes his first marriage. The final volume, The Play of the Eyes, is set in Vienna between 1931 and 1937, with the European catastrophe imminent; here he vividly portrays relationships with Hermann Broch and Robert Musil, among others. - Amazon

Crowds and Power - Elias Canetti

"Canetti's book is somewhat strange; it is also gripping and often uncannily accurate about the nature of power. At the same time it is full of conceptual nodes and holes that reflect the peculiarities of his own life and the times in which he lived (e.g., can the world's wide array of political arrangements be reduced to the narrow spectrum of paranoid rulers, their enablers, and the preponderant human majority of quasi-slaves that Canetti presents as typical throughout all of human history?) Taking into account his own early life as an "undesirable element" (a Jew) who was not fully welcome in the land of his birth (Bulgaria) and who was then cast out of the society of his adolescence and early manhood in Vienna (where he acquired his higher education and the language of his thought and writing) his focus in Crowds and Power makes sense in a very personal way -- had you led his life with all of its insults you too might have arrived at similar conclusions about the dismal nature of "power relationships" among people, especially if you came of age during the pan-European turmoils of the first half of twentieth century, a very bad time for the human race.

The work is "Nietzschean" in its construction and often in its tone (and, from the light shed on human thinking, there are shades of Kafka in the work as well - man as beset, mortified and made anxious by the social walls that surround him and metastasize in growth and shape in his mind.) As in Nietzsche, there are idiosyncratic topic groupings and unexpected leaps between groupings. Canetti illuminates his central point by setting intellectual bonfires in a circle around it. There are strikingly original chapters that deal with topics such as "transformation" (the key to understanding totemism), "the mask", and the blatant intrusiveness of asking any but the simplest question. The style is often aphoristic, and many of its aphorisms are slaps in the reader's face, prodding us gently with the message that it's time to wake up.

Unusual typologies and word-usages abound (e.g., "increase pack", "lamentation pack", "crowd crystals", "command stings", "paralytic sensibility", and, most importantly, his catholic terms "Crowd" and "Survivor", each of which embraces a wealth of pathologies.) These oddities are not a product of faulty translation, since Canetti knew English well enough not to allow his key terms to be misrepresented by a lazy choice in that language. The work ranges widely through history, cultural anthropology, psychology, and evolutionary theory as these analytical frameworks were applied in his day to the explanation of specific behavior patterns in men, monkeys, and other animals, all within his general interpretation that discrete pieces of evidence from these disciplines fall under the heading of "the crowd phenomenon", either literally or metaphorically.

We are left with considering men to be either Survivors or Slaves. The only "free" man who avoids the "sting" built into every command and its acceptance or rejection is the man who altogether evades situations in which commands are given and responded to. By avoiding the normal situation of playing a part in a social hierarchy he becomes free; such a man has to be, by definition, marginal, perhaps even a social isolate. (Canetti was well-known for his individualism and his prickliness, brutally self-illuminated in Party in the Blitz - one wonders if he considered his behavior to be the tokens of such a hypothetical "free man"?) There is something in Canetti's typology that is akin to Raul Hilberg's Holocaust-studies classification of hundreds of millions of Europeans as either perpetrators, victims, or (not entirely innocent) bystanders - for Canetti seems to see human history as a sort of continuous political holocaust, a repetitive nightmare of power relations from which we cannot awake.

Canetti's Survivor runs the gamut from the winner of a duel or contest through the warrior (especially the warrior as a general or commander of troops) through the ordinary king to the most paranoid (and therefore bloodthirsty) absolute ruler -- undoubtedly the unsavory careers of Hitler and Stalin were prompting him in this typological direction. The ultimate Survivor best differentiates himself from the Crowd by standing alone amid a pile of corpses his commands have created; yet he remains anxious that the vast majority of humanity (i.e., the dead) will still try to interfere in his life, control his thoughts, and suck him into their bleak vortex. Canetti lived long enough to entertain the cases of Mao or Pol Pot, and these could only strengthen his conviction about the correctness of his analysis of power and its recurring tendency to manifest itself in psychotic demi-godly rulers.

In spite of the level of Germanic abstraction and reification in the presentation of his ideas about power, much of the evidentiary material he draws upon is still useful in the analysis of contemporary social and ideological phenomena. Some of the material is surprisingly germane today -- who could have guessed the present temporal consequences of the basic outlook of Shiite Islam, which, sixty years ago, he characterized as a wounded and resentful cult of lamentation that could only be soothed and healed by a yearned-for apocalyptic ending of human history? Wounded beasts are dangerous, especially when new-found wealth is coupled to old resentments.

He summarizes his equations by his closing comments on the case of Daniel Paul Schreber. (On a parenthetical note, reading of Schreber's father's exploits -- inventing devices to physically restrain his own children -- goes a long way toward explaining not only the substance of many of Schreber's delusions, but also the popularity in 19th century Germany of illustrated childhood discipline manuals, some of them presented in darkly comical form, e.g., Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter. What dark roads this mania led to, hardly comical, is left to the reader's imagination.) Schreber became the demented sounding-board of Kraeplein, Bleuler, Freud and many other observors who wished to generalize about something (and even everything) important about all of us, based on minute examination of the delusions of this most famous, and most eloquent, late Victorian madman. The correct medical diagnosis of Schreber's condition was that he suffered from "paranoid schizophrenia" accompanied by florid delusions of grandeur. According to Canetti it is these attributes which also characterize history's great men, and what delusional power over man and the universe Schreber wielded in his fantasies, those great men have wielded over our bodies and minds. It's a grim picture and may even be an accurate one.

The work concludes with a brief epilogue in which hope of escape from our almost biological thralldom to power might be based on our understanding the roots of our craven condition as they are diagnosed by the author. If the success of the "talking cure" in psychiatry is taken as our model, then we're still in for a long and gloomy night." - Robert T. O'Keeffe

P. H. Cannon

Scream for Jeeves: A Parody (1994) - P. H. Cannon


Cannon parodies P.G. Wodehouse and H.P. Lovecraft by combining the two, and brevity, clean prose and a good ear make it work. Bertie Wooster retells three Lovecraft tales in the manner of the ``Jeeves'' stories, and the humor comes from Bertie's cheery, puerile voice describing Lovecraft's horrors, interspersed with doses of Lovecraft's overwrought prose. The best is ``Cats, Rats, and Bertie Wooster,'' which sticks to ``The Rats in the Walls,'' although sometimes too many Lovecraft elements threaten to capsize this fragile craft. ``Something Foetid'' adds Lovecraft's Randolph Carter to ``Cool Air.'' ``The Rummy Affair of Young Charlie,'' mixing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and ``Arthur Jermyn'' with ``The Music of Erich Zann,'' seems disjointed and the climax is muddled. Occasional anachronisms jar, and it seems inconsistent, even in the world of ``H.P.G. Wodecraft,'' that Bertie should be so familiar with the lore that in Lovecraft's stories is exotic and abstruse. In the sometimes stilted closing essay on Lovecraft, Wodehouse and A.C. Doyle, Cannon strains after connections among the three, to no apparent purpose. But, quibbles aside, the book is clever and fun. One needs to have read some Wodehouse and a lot of Lovecraft to get all the jokes, but fans will be tickled.

Karl Capek

The Absolute at Large - Karl Capek

"First, buy the paperback instead of the photoprinted hardcover. Easier to read and much cheaper.

Science fiction is at its best when well constructed with futuristic visions based on predicted fact and a novel point of view (no pun intended). "The Absolute at Large" was first published in the 1920's (remember Czech author Karel Capek was born in 1890), but uses remarkable futuristic telling that presages atomic fusion while commenting on the ethics and spread of power and mass production that Karel Capek saw in the technological and political revolutions occurring around him. In addition, he raises theistic-antitheistic arguments that are still going on today. And, lest I forget, he also includes comments on communism, national socialism, and free market capitalism.

But the real kicker is that this book is funny. The novel is written with a tongue-in-cheek style that will often have you laughing out loud. It's only when you finish the book that you realize just how much philosophy was covered while you were having so much reading fun. Humorous science fiction wrapped in a thoughtful core - just the right thing for the thinking reader." - L. M. Crane

Tales from Two Pockets - Karl Capek

"The fourth Earl of Chesterfield once admonished his son to "wear your learning, like your watch in a private pocket: and do not merely pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one." The stories contained in Karel Capek's "Tales From Two Pockets", unlike Chesterfield's watch, are worth taking out and reading again and again and again.

Karel Capek played a pivotal role in Czech arts, literature, and politics in the years of the first Czech Republic. He was a playwright and, with his brother, authored "RUR", the play that introduced the word robot to the world. His novel War With the Newts remains today one of the great pieces of dystopian fiction. His life and work during this period was inextricably linked with a strong belief in the newly born Czechoslovakian Republic. Capek's devout faith in democracy and his aversion to both fascism and communism was well known. His intimate socio-political relationship with Czech President Tomas Masaryk served as an inspiration to Vaclav Havel the artist who became president after the Velvet Revolution.

The 48 stories in Tales From Two Pockets first appeared in print in 1928 in a Prague newspaper. They were known as pocket tales because presumably the newspaper could be folded and placed in ones coat pocket after getting off the tram. Immensely popular the first 24 stories were published in book form as Tales from One Pocket. The remaining 24 stories were originally published as Tales From the Other Pocket. This edition, published by Catbird Press (which has done a marvelous job of publishing English editions of Czech masterpieces) and excellently translated by Norma Comrada, contain all 48 tales.

To call the first 24 stories detective stories would not do them justice. They do tend to involve a murder or a crime of some sort but Capek stands the genre on its head. They involve more than the solution of a crime. Capek tends to work around the crime to look and spin small stories that tell us a little bit more about human nature than about the crime business. Each story contains a snippet; they are too short to be an exegesis on humanity. But each snippet is worth reading and after you read one or two you can put them in your pocket and start all over again.

The second 24 stories each flow from one into another. Think of a group of people sitting around a table in a bar. One tells a story about a crime or some other foul deed. After one story is finished someone pipes in and announces, "I can top that". They stories flow seamlessly one to another. Again, no single story packs a huge `message' but cumulatively they are thought provoking and provocative. It should also be mentioned that the stories are also just fun to read. Capek was one of the first Czech authors to write in colloquial Czech. His writing style was not formalistic and stilted. He wrote the way people talked and his stories are all warmly told and engaging.

So, put these tales in your pocket and pull them out whenever you'd like to lose yourself for a little while in the world of little mysteries created by Karel Capek." - Leonard Fleisig

War with the Newts - Karl Capek

Girolamo Cardano

The Book of My Life - Girolamo Cardano


A bright star of the Italian Renaissance, Girolamo Cardano was an internationally-sought-after astrologer, physician, and natural philosopher, a creator of modern algebra, and the inventor of the universal joint. Condemned by the Inquisition to house arrest in his old age, Cardano wrote The Book of My Life, an unvarnished and often outrageous account of his character and conduct. Whether discussing his sex life or his diet, the plots of academic rivals or meetings with supernatural beings, or his deep sorrow when his beloved son was executed for murder, Cardano displays the same unbounded curiosity that made him a scientific pioneer. At once picaresque adventure and campus comedy, curriculum vitae, and last will, The Book of My Life is an extraordinary Renaissance self-portrait--a book to set beside Montaigne's Essays and Benvenuto Cellini's Autobiography.

David Carkeet

I Been There Before - David Carkeet

"This early work by David Carkeet is a consistently hilarious recreation of the work of Mark Twain, by Mark Twain Scholars, and covers the miraculous reappearance of Mark Twain in 1985.

Carkeet captures the essence of Twain, the humor, the pomposity, the improbable, and at the same time, honors the author of some of the best fiction ever written.

In a multilayered format (biography, remembrance, personal journal, critical essay, parody, extensive footnotes, etc) Carkeet finds humor in the academic pursuit of the minutiae of Twain's life, and in the academic's own lives.

Carkeet is one of the finest American author's writing today. This book, and Campus Sexpot, should be required reading for high school and postgraduate students." - Dharma

Thomas Carlyle

Sarto Resartus - Thomas Carlyle

"The greatest neglected book in cultural history, endlessly complex, subtle, always self-critical, ironic, mysterious, beautiful and powerful. Not a book to read through from beginning to end, but one to dip into, explore, examine from different angles. As in the book itself, the so-called Editor attempts to piece together the shards of the hero Teufelsdrockh's identity, so the reader needs to enter this book in-medias-res, striking into its magical maze of ideas. - A Customer

Alejo Carpentier

The Lost Steps (1953) - Alejo Carpentier

"Probably the most remarkable literary event of the 20th century was the explosion--no other word will suffice--of Latin American literary creativity, fully comparable to a similar explosion in the US in the 19th century. And one of the most remarkable creators of this explosion is Alejo Carpentier. Reasonable people may differ regarding who is the greatest Latin American novelist, but surely Carpentier must be ranked among them, and "The Lost Steps" is his most widely read work.

The plot of "The Lost Steps" can be summarized very simply. The narrator, a naturalized American citizen living in New York City, once had youthful ambitions to become a composer. However, he now finds himself earning a living doing musical hack work, e.g., jingles for TV commercials. He is married and also has a mistress. When the novel opens, he has not had any work commissioned in a while and is starting to feel desperate. A friend who is a museum curator offers him the opportunity to go to an unnamed South American country to find a rare musical instrument. The narrator cynically sees this as an opportunity to have an expenses-paid trip with his mistress, but as the trip progresses he feels his dormant musical creativity being revived. He eventually finds the instrument he is looking for. He also meets a primitive, illiterate, mixed-race young woman by whom he is initially repulsed but with whom he eventually falls in love and cohabits with. His mistress leaves him and goes back home. He ends up living with his mistress in a small, inaccessible village deep in the jungle; the only other inhabitants are a native tribe and a few merchants of European descent. He believes that he has now found true happiness, away from the corruption and decadence of modern civilization. He forgets all about his obligations to the museum that sponsored his trip and vows never to go back.

One day his idyllic bliss is shattered when a helicopter lands and he learns that his "disappearance" has become front page news in the US. His wife and his museum sponsors have sent a search party to look for him. He realizes that he has no choice but to go back, although he desperately wants to stay. He promises his native lover that he will be back as soon as he can. When he gets back home, he discovers that he has become a celebrity, at least for a while, but he is miserably unhappy. His pregnant wife files for divorce, and the newspaper that sponsored his rescue now regards him as a traitor and deceiver and portrays him in the most negative light possible. His sources of income dwindle. He is reunited with his mistress but is repulsed by her and wants desperately to return to the village.Nearly a year passes before he is able to attempt to get back to the remote village. Getting there involves a water passage, and he finds to his horror that the rains that have fallen in recent months have caused the water level to rise to the point that the river covers the steps that were his marker for the jungle path to the village. He has no way to return to the village! Shortly thereafter he learns from someone who occasionally visits the village that his primitive lover has married someone else in the village. He is devastated. He suddenly realizes that he was never accepted by the people of the village or by his lover, that he was always regarded as an outsider who was only there temporarily and would never stay. Reluctantly, he decides to return to New York, realizing that he has no other choice.

This simple synopsis does not to justice to the richness of this novel. Even in translation, the richness of Carpentier's prose comes through: his fluency with words, his mastery of sentence structure, his mastery of metaphor and allegory. This is a novel of immense erudition, replete with literary and musical references. One of the novels messages, I think, is to enjoy and savor the peak experiences of life when you can, because they won't last and they won't come back again. Another message is that perfect happiness is unattainable and that most humans need to be content with what they are able to attain. In short, this is a work of incomparable richness that I can recommend unreservedly." - William J. Fickling

Leonora Carrington

The Hearing Trumpet - Leonora Carrington


"The Hearing Trumpet is deliciously funny and irreverent; Surrealist painter/author Leonora Carrington's apocalyptic tale is filled with gems such as "Darling, don't be philosophical, it doesn't suit you, it makes your nose red." Filtered through the eyes and ears of Marian Leatherby, a 92 year-old inmate of a Spanish old folk's home (run by the cultlike Well of Light Brotherhood), the tongue-in-cheek tone and hilarious chracters make this book a refreshing surprise. Every copy I've ever owned has been stolen! From the first paragraph, the reader will see that Marian Leatherby and her friends are NOT LOL's (Little Old Ladies), and Leonora Carrington is not your average author. (She's truly hilarious, for one!) Read this book for its wacky imagery (a trompe l'oeil "furnished" tower, a pair of murdering religious quacks, termite engineering, wigs, marijuana-stuffed needlepoint pillows, and a 92 year-old lady swarming down ten stories of rope, for starters), then hide your copy from your well-read friends...or buy them their own!" - maui

Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll


"Thomas Abbey leads an undistinguished, unsatisfying existence. He teaches English at a boy's prep school, but is chiefly known as the son of a glamorous 1940's film actor. He bitterly resents this constant association but feels unable to escape it. For his entire life he's lived in the shadow of his late father and their conflicted relationship. When he was a child, his greatest solace was found in the fanciful books of Marshall France, a reclusive writer who died at forty-four. One day, in an antiquarian bookshop, the doleful teacher meets an eccentric woman, Saxony Gardner, who is equally obsessed with France and together they travel to the writer's adopted hometown in Missouri to start work on a France biography. But almost nothing in the sleepy town of Galen is what it seems and slowly their idyllic existence turns into an inescapable nightmare.

Like Neil Gaiman , I am a huge fan of Jonathan Carroll, but of all his works, this novel has particular resonance for me. It suggests that our lives, our selves, even, to a great extent, our world, are largely products of our influence on them. That we are the authors of our own story; we collaborate with our histories to create ourselves and thus the past is as mutable as our relationship with it. The book is chock full of symbolism that deftly illustrates its twin themes of self-invention (e.g., Abbey is a collector of masks) and self-determination (e.g., his lover, Saxony, a maker of elaborate marionettes).

This is a vigorous, engaging read told in a naturalistic, matter-of-fact style that belies the tension and horror lurking just beneath the surface. The characters are well-fleshed out and human with relatable, believable motivations. And despite a shocking climax, at least the denouement allows Thomas Abbey to finally make peace with his past and even find ways to make use of it." - Blake Fraina

Mircea Cartarescu

Blinding - Mircea Cartarescu

"It¿s hard to know where to begin with Mircea C¿rt¿rescu brilliant memoir, Blinding. I don¿t really think calling it a memoir is really accurate as more often than not it reads like anything but a memoir. Before I bought the book I saw one of the captions from Kirkus review that compares the book to a Dali dreamscape; now after having finished the book that description rings true. The book bombards the reader with so many fantastic descriptions and dream images that I felt like I was being assaulted by Mircea C¿rt¿rescu¿s subconscious. Make no mistake, this is a serious, and incredibly talented writer that we in the U.S have been deprived of until now. With that said this book won¿t appeal to everyone. If you are looking for any kind of straightforward narrative you should steer clear of this. There are points where he attempts to tell us bits and pieces, really just fragments of what we imagine were Mircea¿s so called real world. There are descriptions of his mother and father and how they met and a really long beautiful piece about his mother and her sister leaving their village and coming to the city to work and their adventures they had there until the war. There is also quite a lot about him being sick as a child and being hospitalized and the effect that may have had on him. But more often than not these fragments from his ordinary life quickly crumble and turn into surreal dreamscapes where giant organic butterflies give birth to gods who give birth to worlds and time and space where this talented Romanian writer sits marveling over it all. There are at least two other volumes to this wonderful memoir-or anti-memoir and I will be eagerly waiting for their U.S release! " - Stephen M. Fragale

Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

"The beginning of Nights at the Circus is filled with descriptions that question the identities of the characters rather than offer clear descriptions of them. The characters transform themselves, but not in the typical way that fiction creates characters through an explained process of development; but rather, it is one of mutation. The character's presentation of themselves is an act of subterfuge. All the narrative voices that are encountered assert their position as authoritative and dominant in a way that seeks to undermine all the rest, but remains questionable. As Lorna Sage writes in her examination of narrative voices in Nights at the Circus, All of these voices are generously endowed with the kind of dubious plausibility that comes from the suspicion that they are making it up as they go along, just like the author, so that the reader is often treated to the uncanny feeling that he or she is being addressed from behind masks by characters who know they are on stage. It is in the hands of the questionable narrators that the author has placed us as an act of subversion to point out that, while the characters are fictional constructs, they are also entitled to a kind of creative freedom in the identity they choose to present to the reader. This is a technique that blurs the character's identities to create a space of historical disharmony. If the reader is to believe that the characters have an actual past, it is one that we will never feel entirely secure about. It is implied in this that the past is created out of a single personal perspective, one that is largely based on imagination, rather than a line of uncontestable facts. This narrative technique pushes the reader into the chair of an audience member. The spectacle that ensues frames a number of questions about the construction of identity. Is identity solid or fluid? Are the assumptions made about the character's identities formed from a personal perspective or that of an observer? Rather than offer answers to these questions, the narrative of the characters offer a sense of being that is constantly maintained within the present and not subject to a sense of inevitability based on history.

Biographical facts are distorted through a voyeuristic presence upon a character's identity. When Walser comes to interview Fevvers he is more ambitious about dismantling and destroying the identity that is presented to him than trying to understand it. This is a condition of his journalistic ambition, but it is also an act of misogyny to align Fevvers to his own image of what a woman (or a proper bird) should be. Considering her actions in the rest of the narrative, it appears that her ability to transform what people believe to be her identity is what saves her from the many attempts to destroy her sense of being (both physically and mentally). Her vibrant character and profession as a performer enables her to dodge any idea that she is only what the external perspective perceives her as. Through her ability to constantly maintain a performance, the reader and other characters that view her are forced to question their sense of her identity. Through this she is able to maintain an unstifled sense of identity because it is one based upon transformation and elusiveness. Walser deliberates on her motives of presenting herself in the way she does: he (Walser) was astonished to discover that it was the limitations of her act in themselves that made him briefly contemplate the unimaginable - that is, the absolute suspension of disbelief. For, in order to earn a living, might not a genuine bird-woman - in the implausible event that such a thing existed - have to pretend she was an artificial one? He smiled to himself at the paradox: in a secular age, an authentic miracle must purport to be a hoax, in order to gain credit in the world. The distinction between what is genuine and what is false is invalid if a perception of another is made with total acceptance. The reason why Fevvers encounters so many hardships is that people cannot suspend their disbelief. However, the question of whether she really is a bird-woman is suspended in favor of the idea that an unconditional perception of another is what should be made rather than asking a plethora of unanswerable questions about another's identity. If this is the standpoint the reader maintains while reading Fevvers' account of her life, then emotional involvement will take precedence over any logical objections. Any secure sense of being can only be made if there is a certain amount of faith. Fevvers' sense of her own identity is large enough to undo any grounding perception others may have of her and this is why she is able to fly.

The communities in Nights at the Circus are counterpoints to the closed, highly formed communities found in novels like To the Lighthouse and the stories of Katherine Mansfield. They allow identity to be individually created rather than socially arranged. The identities always remain in control and under the ownership of the characters themselves. This technique of writing resists any attempt to marginalise the character's position in their social environments because they create identities outside of a hierarchy scheme. Rather, the characters inhabit a fantasy zone composed of mobile symbols intended to poke fun at and undermine the ideas they represent. Nights at the Circus is never allowed to submit to any particular ideological scheme, but point to dreams which are the hinder side of thought's boundaries. It is a novel not intended to platform any particular ideology like feminism (a common belief of this novel), but champion a general philosophical outlook that can undermine conventional moralistic and limited systems of belief." - Eric Anderson

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman - Angela Carter

"This is one of Angela Carter's wildest and best novels, a verbal feast served up by the late writer's seemingly inexhaustible imagination. Erotic, picaresque, complex, surreal, and humorous only begin to describe the pleasures contained herein. The story revolves around Desiderio, who as a young man sets out to assassinate Dr. Hoffman, a genius waging war against an unnamed city by means of hallucinations or dreams produced with the "eroto-energy" of 50 copulating couples in his Wagnerian mountain castle. In his very Swiftian travels, Desiderio encounters a deserted seaside town, is arrested for a murder he didn't commit, and escapes with a bullet wound; is taken in by the river people with their strange, seductive ways who eventually try to sacrifice him; escapes again to sojourn with a traveling circus where he is raped by nine Moroccan acrobats who later fall off a cliff with the rest of the circus and a town of puritans (imagine that conflict); meets a megalomaniacal Count whose travels take him and Desiderio to Africa where the Count is boiled in a pot by a cannibal chieftain; spends time in a curious, religiously rigid culture of centaurs (Carter's most obvious homage to Swift). The novel is a satire of sexual mores, restrictions, fetishes, and hang-ups that only a writer as gutsy and opulently talented as Angela Carter could have attempted. As a work of art, it's all over the place, and you might not enjoy it unless you let it take you along for the ride. It makes a very suitable companion to her later, more disciplined novel, The Passion of New Eve." - Andrew Rasanen

Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories - Angela Carter

"In 'Notes From the Front Line', Carter said that she was not in the remythologizing business but in the demythologizing business. Anna Katsavos asked Angela Carter what she meant by that. Angela said, 'Well, I'm basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semireligious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.'

Simply stated, Angela Carter has taken icons and myths we were all raised with and given them back to us in a form we know and trust. In stories. Her stories are adult fairy tales; lush, penetrating, uninhibited and dark.

An introduction by Salman Rushdie sets the perfect tone for the reading ahead. It is the closest to gushing the man has ever come. He says, these stories are also a treasure , to savour and to hoard. They begin with her early works, from 1962-6. The Man Who Loved the Double Bass tells the story of a musician in madly love with his instrument. Could he live without her? In the section called Fireworks; Nine Profane Pieces from 1974, Carters work begins an ethereal exploration on of the psyche in achingly beautiful prose. Her ability to write fantastical tableaus is showcased. In The Executioners Daughter, an executioner is told to execute his only son. The setting, itself, becomes a character. In Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest, a brother and sister are nudged into exploring the a dark forest and its hidden fruit tree. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is next, featuring writings from 1979. These are fairy tales retold for adults and contains some of the most stunning and psychological erotic written. Black Venus contains writing from 1985 and American Ghosts and Old World Wonders, work from 1993. Uncollected Stories contains work from 1970-81, featuring The Scarlet House, about a woman trapped in a house by a master of Chaos.

These short stories are profane, wise, surreal, unrepentant and brilliant. The Tiger's Bride alone is worth the price of admission in to this magical world." - Jennifer Jordan

Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares

"One would not readily connect the fantasy of Poe, the science fiction of Verne, the surreal existentialism of Kafka, or the theories of the French nouveau roman. But this 100-page novella by Argentinian author Adolfo Bioy Casares, first published in 1940, manages to make the link. Jorge Luis Borges, the dedicatee, who also wrote the preface, describes the book as one of the rare "works of reasoned imagination" written in Spanish. By this, he appears to mean a work of wild fantasy which nonetheless proceeds according to a logic that raises existential issues that remain even after the story has concluded.

Before I delve too deep into pseudo-academic seriousness, let me say that it is a simply delightful book, beautifully presented by the NYRB press, with original drawings in a mild Cubist style by Norah Borges de Torre that are evocative without being limiting. The story has almost a TREASURE ISLAND quality; an escaped convict, wrongly accused, finds himself marooned on a tropical island. Not a virgin paradise, more a civilization abandoned; at the top of the hill, there are a monumental museum, a swimming pool, and a chapel; think of one of those empty squares painted by De Chirico. But then other people appear out of nowhere, only to vanish again. Dressed in old-fashioned style, they listen to music from the twenties on a phonograph, play tennis, or stand around talking as though guests at a summer house-party. Among them is a woman the others call Faustine, to whom the narrator becomes immediately attracted. I cannot say much more without giving away the delightful point of the story. Surrealism turns to science fiction (Bioy clearly pays homage to H. G. Welles'THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU), but the shifts of genre do not stop there. By the final pages, he is dealing with the nature of life, the meaning of reality, and the impossibility of desire -- though the book remains more playful and lucid than any attempt to explain it!

Inspired apparently by Bioy's fascination with the movie actress Louise Brooks (pictured on the cover), this is a book that could not have been written without the invention of the cinema, and it had a significant influence on the cinema. Director Alain Resnais and writer Alain Robbe-Grillet cite it as one of the principal influences on their epochal filmLAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. For sure, Bioy's tropical island is very different from the pristine parterres in that movie. But the sense of fashionable people appearing from nowhere and disappearing, of lovers meeting as strangers across the divide of time, of a world at once familiar and obeying its own inscrutable rules, all this clearly comes from Bioy's novella. And the two works explore similar issues: how life may be traduced by memory, and, in a media world, how facsimiles become more cogent than reality itself." - Roger Brunyate

Orly Castel

Dolly City (2010) - Orly Castel

"In order to fully understand and appreciate Dolly City, it is helpful to first read Castel-Bloom's more traditionally structured and written Human Parts. With Human Parts as a reading guide, Dolly City becomes a bit more intelligible for the reader unready for Castel-Bloom's flights of surreal fancy. Castel-Bloom is fixated with the sense of insecurity in the lives of individual people in the State of Israel, and Dolly City is the extreme, deranged expression of this. Nothing is taken for granted in Dolly City, both the novel and the fictitious city of the same name. Anything can happen at any time, and the characters are both unprepared for a response, have the wrong response, no response at all, or overreact to life's demands. So this work can be a jarring novel to read: there is an inescapable sense of dread on each page, of infinite possibility, and as if live itself is not a given anymore, but derangement heading straight to death." - Eric Maroney

Jacques Cazotte

The Devil in Love (late 1700s) - Jacques Cazotte

"The narrator of this tale of demonic seduction is a twenty-five-year-old Spanish soldier named Alvaro Maravillas who is a captain in the king's guard in Naples. He admits that his chief occupations, when he can afford them, are gambling and womanizing. One evening after he and his fellow officers had been sitting and drinking, an old Dutch soldier confides in Alvaro that he is a practitioner of the occult arts and has been able to summon an infernal spirit to be his personal servant. Of course Alvaro wants to try it himself.

In the ruins of an ancient temple, standing inside an inscribed pentagram, Alvaro repeats the incantation he has been taught to summon Beelzebub. A horrible and threatening visage appears, but Alvaro stands his ground and commands the demon to submit to him and prepare a feast for his companions, complete with a servant in livery. All is done as Alvaro has ordered, but the servant, a youth of striking beauty, looks at Alvaro in the most unsettling way. After the dinner the servant refuses to be dismissed or even leave Alvaro's side, and insists on becoming his page.

It isn't long before Alvaro confirms his suspicions that his page is actually a woman. He calls her Biondetta. She claims to by a sylph, an air-spirit, who fell in love with Alvaro and seized the opportunity to take human form to become his lover. She sets out patiently to seduce Alvaro who is naturally wary of such a being. Is she really a spirit become mortal as she claims to be? Or is she Beelzebub himself in disguise? Can Alvaro trust anything his senses tell him, or is everything he sees and feels just a grand illusion?

Cazotte's writing is remarkably fluid and concise for its time, more reminiscent of Poe than other 18th century authors. His handling of the apparent gender shifting of Biondetta--"she" in one guise, "he" in another--is subtle and eerie, as are the growing erotic tension and the uncertainty over Biondetta's true nature. The weakest part of the story, however, is its ending, which is abrupt and unsatisfying. According to Brian Stableford's introduction, Cazotte has originally planned (and perhaps wrote) a work twice as long, and the ending was rewritten because early readers rejected the author's first version. The Devil in Love is a captivating story that, with a better ending, would have become a classic." - Steven Davis

Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine

Castle to Castle - Louis-Ferdinand Celine

"I read somewhere that Michelangelo considered his artistic oeuvre--all the paintings and sculpture taken together--as one great work, each a sustained whole, and yet fragments of a grander, all-encompassing vision of life. The novels of Celine can be thought of in a similar way--as one large novel, one extended visionary statement, published in a series of volumes.

In *Castle to Castle,* Celine takes up the rant where he last left off, a doctor-refugee and Nazi collaborator on the run with the rest of the Vichy government as Germany implodes during the final lap of WW2. As usual, Celine rails against hypocrisy, betrayal, greed, opportunism, and inhumanity wherever he sees it and he sees it practically everywhere--and an astonishing good deal of it directed, undeservedly, at himself! Poor Ferdinand, everyone hates him, is out to get him, makes him eat worms--well, honestly, when all is said and done, don't we all feel like that, more or less?

A good part of *Castle to Castle,* more than is usually the case, is taken up with Celine's scathingly sarcastic diatribes against personal enemies, some more obscure than others, and even many of the less obscure requiring enough explanatory back-of-the-book editorial notes to become distracting. And, indeed, many of Celine's attacks are repetitious--they often seem to serve as a way to get him warmed up to begin the real subject of any given chapter, an angry theme upon which to build his endlessly vitriolic variations.

You've got to hand it to the French--they aren't afraid to air their dirty laundry, to give the devil his day in court--and to fully appreciate this one has only to realize that Celine really was an incarnation of the devil back in the day. Traitor, Nazi collaborator, racist, anti-Semite, imprisoned, and perilously close to execution, Celine was deservedly, or not, widely reviled and yet publishing books like *Castle to Castle* not all that long after the activities that earned him so much ill-will...books in which he wasn't apologizing or offering explanations for anything, but launching a fierce and unrelenting counterattack! Talk about turning the stick in the wound! Not only was Celine still squawking but he had the nerve to point the finger back at his accusers, calling them, the great heroes of the Resistance, the real traitors and thieves! I can't imagine the parallel occurring in America. Maybe the recent O.J. "fictional" murder confession comes close and not even that was a matter of high treason, of being on the wrong side of the greatest war between good and evil in human history. Well, it just goes to prove what an open-minded people the French are. They'll entertain any viewpoint to any argument so long as it's entertaining enough. And that's one thing you can count on with Celine, even in an "off" effort like *Castle to Castle*--he'll entertain the boots off you.

I'm not exactly sure where *Castle to Castle* falls in the chronology of Celine's exploits, not that it seems to make much difference. Even within his books, chronology is often as topsy-turvy as a city during a bombing. But *Castle to Castle* gives one the impression of a "transitional work"--rather like a car stuck between gears on an uphill grade, it never gets properly going while giving you the impression that it's just about to crest the summit and whatever comes afterwards will be quite a ride. Still, it's a text quite worth reading, especially by Celine fans, who can never quite get enough of the granddaddy of all ranters, this proto-blogger, this anti-literary terrorist.

Celine considered his work--and his unique style--to be the forerunner of the writing of the future (a lot of folks, including the preeminent critic Roland Barthes agreed), and in spite of the immense influence he's already had on a number of major literary figures since--many of those themselves now long dead--it may well be that Celine's real influence is only now being realized in the angry, solipsistic, blackly comic, counter-cultural, fragmented first-person ravings of today's cyber-literary scene. Bristling with indignation, sputtering and spitting with outrage and outrageous insults, barely able to finish a sentence because the next one's rushing out right behind it, Celine's fragments are a kind of mental shrapnel flying in all direction, a mosaic of madness of which we're all heirs, an outrage over the general condition of things so uncontainable it exploded all conventional expression and left it to some unimaginable future to pick up the pieces. Celine, like all forms of terrorism, is a literary question to which we still don't have an answer. *Castle to Castle* is that rare book as important--if not more important--for how it says, as it is for what it says." - Mark Nadja

Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine


"For the uninitiated, Journey to the End of the Night is a 450-page chronicle of anger, bitterness, hopelessness, despair, disillusionment, and resignation. It is one of the most pessimistic, negative books ever written. It addresses almost every base and negative aspect of the human experience: warfare, cowardice, lies, corruption, betrayal, slavery, manipulation, exploitation, perversion, persecution, cheating, greed, sickness, loneliness, madness, lust, gossip, abortion, disease, vengeance, and murder. In a book that explodes with adjectives, there is hardly a cheerful word to be found.

But don't let that stop you from reading it. It is also a weird and wonderfully written mix of prose, philosophy, rant, and slang. At times it is hilarious. It is also sad, moving, and deeply insightful. Celine's voice is unique, and his dark vision changed the face of twentieth century literature.

True to its title, the book is a metaphorical journey into the dark side of humanity. It doesn't really have a plot. In a nutshell, it follows Ferdinand Bardamu (who is telling the story), who joins the army on a whim, entering World War I. The fear and madness of his war experiences leave him shell-shocked. He spends the remainder of the war convalescing in a hospital, where he spends his time avoiding the front, laying nurses, and pulling himself together. After the war, he yearns to escape, so he travels to the French African colonies to run a trading post deep in the jungle. There, he contracts malaria and is sold into slavery by a Portuguese priest, only to be dumped in a quarantine facility in New York.

He eventually winds up in Detroit, where he works a dead-end factory job at Ford and falls in love with a prostitute. Restless, he leaves his love behind and returns to France. There he completes his medical studies, and begins a practice in a Paris slum. After enduring abject poverty for several years, he leaves his practice in disgust; eventually he winds up working in a private mental hospital in Paris.

Throughout the story, and at each major stop of his journey, Ferdinand encounters Robinson, a fellow traveler and nihilist. As the book progresses, Robinson lures the unwilling Ferdinand into a series of misadventures, taking him deeper and deeper "into the night."

I first read this book about 15 years go, in my mid-twenties. I had a stultifying corporate job, and I thought the next 40 years of my life were going to be nothing but empty and meaningless drudgery. In short, I thought my life was already over. So when I first read Journey, I was immediately hooked. It perfectly voiced all of the loathing and emptiness I was feeling. And sadly, it reinforced every dark, evil, vile thought I had about life and humanity. In retrospect, I realize it inspired and fueled my depression, which dogged me for another two and a half years.

I finally scraped up the courage to make some changes in my life, and my own "night" faded into daylight. And for the most part, the darkness has stayed away. So, 13 years later, it is with very different eyes that I finished reading Journey for the second time.

So how was it the second time around? How has this poisoned wine aged? It has aged beautifully. It is a tremendous book, and I still love it. Celine perfectly voices the world-weariness and despair that accompany hopelessness. And he captures the restless urge to escape when there is no meaning in your life. It wasn't as funny as I remembered, but it seemed more insightful, more devastating, and even more sweeping in it vast range of observations.

I also found it slowly pulling me back into my own dark place-but only momentarily. With a bit of effort I was able to keep things in check. But it's good to look back now and again, to remember where you came from and how you've grown. Celine's world is a sad, bitter, and lonely place. But it's a place we all visit from time to time. Sadly, some are trapped there, never ending their grim journey. Read this book and enter their world." - John M. Lemon

Guignol's Band - Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine


"It's almost impossible to break Celine's works down into the usual category of "books." Basically everything he wrote, his entire oevre, is one metabook. If you want to get sequential, start with Death on the Istallment Plan and work your way up from there. DOTIP deals in large part with "Ferdinand's" childhood and we are treated to descriptions of a surreal upbringing (an entire neighborhood enclosed in soot-encrusted glass, a mother and father depicted as slightly less than imebeciles). I would then suggest reading Journey to the End of the Night (primarily about WW1 and his trip to America), Guignol's Band, London Bridge (Guignol's Band II), Rigadoon, Castle to Castle and North. All have been well translated. Don't be put off by puffy readers who say that these texts can only be appreciated in French. This is one author who comes through loud and clear (probably just as biting and clever in Swahili) in translation. Celine deals in high comedy and his novels move at the pace of a Mack Sennet or Charlie Chaplin film. The energy is always frenetic and he seldom allows you any lulls. The descriptions in this book of "The Leicester Boarding House," lorded over by Cascade, Dr. Clodovitz, the wounded-in-the-ass Joconde, Boro - master of the keyboards, but most of all Titus Von Claben, will leave you howling if Celine strikes a responsive chord. If he doesn't, then you have a different sort of sensibility than mine and should probably avoid this author at all costs. There is nothing Keilloresque about Celine. He came up out of the Paris slums and witnessed some of the most horrific scenes the 20th century produced. That he came out of it all with a sense-of-the-ridiculous intact is a marvel in itself. He was on the wrong side of most issues his entire life. He made some stupid choices. But those who maintain that he wallowed in self-pity are way off the mark. He always points to himself as his own worst culprit. He never pretends to heroism. He is, like Chaplin, always the fall-guy, but is also, in the same light, a survivor. He gets up after his prat-falls, dusts himself off and heads on towards the next chapter." - Bruce Kendall

"Like his Bulgarian pianist-pimp boro, Celine enters the house of the gangster novel, hurls a grenade and flees, recording the pieces. This is an underworld novel Lautreamont might have written - indeed, the first third reads like an update of 'Maldoror', less narrative chapters than prose poems of war, urban fever and mental breakdown, imploding under the simultaneous tension of concentration and fragmentation. The opening sequence is thus very difficult to read, the air attack on a traffic-jammed bridge imaged in a verbal bombing, which, while undeniably brilliant and exciting is very exhausting.

if you are understandably tempted to give up, persevere - the novel 'settles' into a relatively conventional (and hilarious) plot, divided into three sequences dominated by three larger-than-life father figures who take the hero under their wing - a ganglord, a pawnbroker, a magician.

Despite a vibrant vision of London rarely experienced in literature, Celine constantly pushes material normally associated with generic materiality into the realm of magic, farce, fairy-tale, pantomime, the Guignol of the title - the novel's complex allusiveness includes Shakespeare and the Arabian Nights. This conflict, between realistic content and fantastic/theatrical form gives the novel its feeling of being on the brink of collapse; its eruptions into brawls (both narrative and verbal) looks forward to Pynchon's 'V'.

Be warned - although you wouldn't know it from the information on this edition, this is only the first part of a two-volume novel (the second is translated as London Bridge). I didn't know this when reading, which was obviously affected." - darrah o'donoghue

North - Louis-Ferdinand D. Celine

Blaise Cendrars

Moravagine - Blaise Cendrars


"As one commentator has said, this disturbing book, with its two anarchist lead characters, is Cendrars' view of the artistic process, viewed from the destructive perspective; to recall Michael Bakunin (1814-76), "The passion for destruction is also a constructive passion," a famous utterance which is like a watermark behind everything which occurs in _Moravagine_.

There is no fun or point in giving away the picaresque plot of this extraordinary work. I have no idea how this reads in the original french, but the english translation by Alan Brown (Penguin) is clear and compelling. Apart from the disease imagery, present from the first to the last, there are many luxuriant images and, on the whole, an intensity which retains power even when people today have read or seen so much about terrorists and murderers. As the narrator and Moravagine make their way across continents, the pace flags, notably in the Blue Indians section, but Cendrars' vision, and the slow, inexorable unwinding of the narrator's previous self-confidence and enormous conceits become more interesting than Moravagine's own nature. Anticipating postmodernist writers, Cendrars includes a snapshot (a fake one, to be sure) of himself as a minor character whose path crosses the two killers.

A convert to Cendrars, having just finished _Moravagine_, would best follow it with the Dan Yack books (_Dan Yack_; _Confessions of Dan Yack_), and then the uneven but exhilirating tetralogy comprising _The Astonished Man_, _Planus_, _Lice_ and _Sky_. If one can forget Nina Rootes' interference with Cendrars' own presentation of his material, then these hard to obtain books (most out of print) are well worth reading. An excellent critic on Cendrars (and more respectful translator) is Monique Chefdor.

Blaise Cendrars is a neglected Modernist who does not make a big enough blip on english radar, partly because he was not affiliated with any political group or -isms. He rarely receives extensive mention in anthologies or reviews of french letters written in english. His daughter, Miriam, has published a biography which is at present only in french. University libraries are the most reliable places to find a good selection of his works." - Jeff Bursey

Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow - Robert W. Chambers

"This series of stories is an early science-fiction/horror work first published in 1895. It was recommended by Stephen King in his history of horror, "Danse Macabre." Despite its early date, the series is certainly science fiction: the first story projects the setting to 1920, and reviews the "history" till then, getting it all wrong, of course, but interestingly so. The second story posits the invention of a way to create sculpture instantly from life forms, much as photography had usurped realistic painting in that day, and reminds one of the 3-D printers just showing up now.

"The King in Yellow" is also certainly horror fiction. The first stories are framed by account of a morally appalling play of that name, which drives everyone mad who reads it. The play has widely been banned and criticized from pulpits and boards of review everywhere. The key to this book is that 1895 was the date of Oscar Wilde's trial for perversion, and "the King in Yellow" is surely a reference to Wilde's play "Salome," which was also widely banned and criticized for its moral decadence. The principals in these stories all know each other and are all artists or writers, like Wilde and his friends. A gravely deformed man, apparently deformed by the exigiencies of law, is a mad character in the lead story named Wilde, and he has a cat that alternately attacks him and lounges on his lap purring: the reference is presumably to Wilde's unstable lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, who was responsible for most of Wilde's problems and his eventual imprisonment and death not long after release. (See the excellent modern biography of this remarkable character, "Bosie" by Douglas Murray.)

"The King in Yellow" therefore fits in with a then-literary fashion of revulsion toward the Wilde fin-de-siecle decadence, especially after Wilde's trial, when even his famous illustrator of "Salome," Aubrey Beardsley, cut him dead in Paris when Beardsley happened to walk past a café where Wilde was sitting. (See the brilliant and definitive modern biography "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde" by Neil McKenna.) "The Green Carnation" was another such work, published anonymously and variously attributed to men who had travelled with Bosie, at least, and had heard libelous stories of misbehavior with young boys.

"The Green Carnation" doesn't stand on its own: it's a roman à clef and you need to know the key. "The King in Yellow" does stand on its own, however, being a creepy series of horror stories with surprisingly modern notes of science fiction. After the framed stories, there is a charming if traditional story involving falcons, and then some psychological thrillers not related to the eponymous series." - Phebe

Graham Chapman

A Liar's Autobiography: Volume VI - Graham Chapman

Steven Chapman

The Troika - Steven Chapman

Infinity Plus:

Three travellers are crossing a desert under the intense glare of three suns. They don't know why they're crossing the desert and they don't know what they'll find on the other side. They've been crossing the desert for a long time, too: for centuries. They can't even escape by killing each other, although they try often enough.

Alex is a man who has always wanted to be a machine; when we first encounter him in the desert he is the guiding intelligence of a jeep (but things change in Chapman's strange fictional world, things never stay the same). Eva is an old Mexican woman, although she has been a fish-priestess and later a whore. Their daughter, Naomi, is a brontosaur who was once a military corpsicle.

If this is starting to sound weird, then that's because it is. And it gets weirder...

The story of their journey across the desert is interspersed with dream-sequence flashbacks, returning us to various transformed versions of the 20th Century. Some of these vignettes are rather dense in imagery and language, others are striking and powerful: there's a wonderful horror scene where a young man who'd been frightening his girlfriend by recounting incidents from a splatter movie is confronted by a far more immediate, personal horror; there's a brilliant sequence where Alex recalls the extreme methods he employed when he worked as a pest control robot.

The dreams and flashbacks are often meandering and full of contradictions and delusions. Their effect is subtle and the picture they build up is slow to form, yet nonetheless relentless.

In The Troika, we have three unreliable narrators in an unreliable world, each taking turns to tell us their unreliable histories.

And Chapman's great achievement with this novel is that not only does he deliver a strange and surreal melange of imagery, not only does he work at language and form, teasing and pulling about his sentences and scenes with playful artistry ... not only does he do all that: he does it without ever really losing touch with the kind of narrative momentum more familiar to thriller readers. Yes, some of the dream sequences threaten to tie you up in knots of illogic and, yes, sometimes the language is too tricksy and florid, but regardless, you just have to keep going, have to keep building up Chapman's mosaic in your head, have to get to the end.

It's the kind of book you read, and somewhere in the back of your mind a little voice says: He's not going to pull it off. He's not going to pull it off. He's not going to pull it off.

In novels like this ("novels like this" - what am I saying? There are no novels like this!)...

But anyway... in novels like this, there comes an inevitable point where some kind of underpinning logic has to emerge from the weirdness: too little explication and the reader is liable to feel let down, betrayed; too much and all that has gone before is liable to look just a little silly. Chapman gets it right, he delivers. Somehow he's managed to write a novel of the weird with the narrative drive of something far more conventional. Little wonder that it has been praised by John Shirley, Brian Stableford, Paul McAuley and others. Little wonder that it rapidly seems to be acquiring cult status.

If you spot it in a bookshop, buy it -- you won't find another novel like it in a long time. You'll recognise it by the stunning cover art by Alan M Clark. Or you could always order it from one of the addresses below, just to be sure." - Keith Brooke

George S. Chappell

Throught the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera - George S. Chappell

"Gary Trudeau conducting a tour of Ronald Reagan's brain. J. G. Ballard flensing a drowned giant. Isaac Asimov orchestrating a fantastic bloodstream voyage. James Morrow towing the corpse of Jehovah.

What do all these expeditions--through cellular landscapes entered via shrinking or across enlarged physiognamies encountered as geography--have in common? Surely Jonathan Swift's accounts of Gulliver's Lilliputian and Brobdingnangian exploits figure somewhere in the literary morphic fields of these works. But a closer ancestor, one more likely to have been encountered by authors of a certain age, is George Chappell's Through the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera, a profanely comic and bodily disrespectful tour through the helpless interior of an anonymous citizen.

Presented as the first-person scientific account of an unnamed explorer and his three companions, Through the Alimentary Canal is a continuously hilarious, linguistically inventive parody of two genres: the safari memoir and the layperson's medical compendium. After circumnavigating the exterior of their victim (not omitting the naughty bits), the explorers, without any technological fuss, simply slip through the "Oral Cavern" and before you can say "down the gullet" are riding their portable boat toward their ultimate destination of "Colon-sur-mer," through a surreal jungle environment populated by various tribes such as the savage Haemoglobins, and rich with such wildlife as heeby-geebies and gastroids. The visitors fish for phagocytes, carve their initials on the spine, and are entertained in the Peritoneum by the Great Omentum, a local rajah. Along the way, Chappell satirizes academia, Prohibition, religion, national pride, and our quirky mortal machinery.

Chappell (1877-1946) belonged to that great generation of humorists that included Benchley, Thurber, Perelman and Leacock, and wrote a number of lesser books under the persona of Dr. Traprock. But this slim imaginative masterpiece surely deserves resuscitation." - Paul Di Filippo

Jerome Charyn

Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution - Jerome Charyn

"If Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain had collaborated on a novel about the American Revolution, there's a very good chance they would have concocted something much like "Johnny One-Eye."

This intoxicating and comic look at the Revolutionary War centers on the picaresque adventures of the eponymous Johnny One-Eye (aka John Stocking) a half-blind double agent whose loyalty seems to change with the winds of war.

Charyn's novel creates a bawdy, dream-like world in which George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton and various British and French military leaders cavort like phantoms who are simultaneously recognizable and utterly foreign.

Most of the action takes place in New York, where Washington and his small, poorly trained and inadequately equipped army initially await the inevitable arrival of a massive British force under the command of the brothers Howe - one an admiral, the other a general. New York remains the principal setting even after the British capture the city.

Manhattan is awash in spies and whores, with the latter plying their trade in a neighborhood of brothels called Holy Ground, so named because of its proximity to St. Paul's Chapel. Charyn explains, in an author's note, that Manhattan really had a red-light district by that name during the 18th century.

The most famous bordello in Holy Ground is the Queen's Yard, where owner Gertrude Jennings hovers over her brood of prostitutes, who are known, appropriately enough for the setting, as Gertrude's Nuns.

The star of Gertrude's enterprise, and the love of Johnny's life, is Clara, a blond, green-eyed "octoroon."

Johnny narrates this tale of his "unremarkable life" in an appealingly disjointed style. His fanciful depiction of the American Revolution is bemusing, preposterous and yet, somehow, credible. Despite the comic overtones, Washington emerges as a principled and courageous leader, albeit one with a conflicted attitude toward slavery.

Adding to the novel's charm is Charyn's fondness for wondrous words, such as "homunculus" and "raspcallions." Prince Paul, the leader of Manhattan's impoverished black neighborhood and a secondary character, is described as "palavering" with other folks. A knave is not a knave in "Johnny One-Eye," but a "varlet."

If the magic that Charyn creates were the norm in historical fiction, perhaps more readers would develop a taste for the genre. In the hands of someone as talented as Charyn, the past is a bizarre world of surreal splendor." - Paul Carrier

G. K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday (1907) - G. K. Chesterton


"For a book that's only about a hundred pages long, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Chesterton's classic novella tackles anarchy, social order, God, peace, war, religion, human nature, and a few dozen other weight concepts. And somehow he manages to mash it all together into a delightful satire, full of tongue-in-cheek commentary that is still relevant today.

As the book opens, Gabriel Symes is debating with a soapbox anarchist. The two men impress each other enough that the anarchist introduces Symes to a seven-man council of anarchists, all named after days of the week. In short order, they elect Symes their newest member -- Thursday.

But they don't know that he's also been recruited by an anti-anarchy organization. And soon Symes finds out that he's not the only person on the council who is not what he seems. There are other spies and double-agents, working for the same cause. But who -- and what -- is the jovial, powerful Mr. Sunday, the head of the organization?

Hot air balloons, elaborate disguises, duels and police chases -- Chesterton certainly knew how to keep this novel interesting. Though written almost a century ago, "The Man Who Was Thursday" still feels very fresh. That's partly because of Chesterton's cheery writing... and partly because it's such an intelligent book.

He doesn't avoid some timeless topics that make some people squirm. Humanity (good and bad), anarchy, religion and its place in human nature, and creation versus destruction all get tackled here -- disguised as a comic police investigation. And unlike most satires, it isn't dated; the topics are reflections of humanity and religion, so they're as relevant now as they were in 1908.

But the story isn't pedantic or boring; Chesterton keeps things lively by having his characters act like real people, rather than mouthpieces. From Symes to the Colonel to the mysterious Sunday himself, they all have a sort of friendly, energetic quality. "We're all spies! Come and have a drink!" one of the characters announces cheerfully near the end.

And of course, once the madcap police investigations are finished, there's still a mystery. Who is Sunday? What are his goals? And for that matter, WHAT is Sunday -- genius, force of nature, villain or god? The answer is a bit of a surprise, and as a reflection of Chesterton's beliefs, it's a delicate, intelligent piece of work.

"The Man Who Was Thursday" is a wacky little satire that will both amuse and educate you. Not bad for a book often subtitled "A Nightmare."" - E. A. Solinas

Luis Chitarroni

The No Variations: Diary of an Unfinished Novel - Luis Chitarroni

"A dizzying look at the backrooms of literature, with petty squabbles, long-nurtured grudges, envied or undeserved prizes, failing publishers, and self-important critics, The No Variations is a serious game, or perhaps a frivolous tragedy." - boilerplate blurb

John Collier

Fancies and Goodnights - John Collier

His Monkey Wife or Married to a Chimp - John Collier

Every other summer or so I reread "His Monkey Wife" by John Collier and urge others to do so, too. The stumbling block has been that the book has been out of print for years. I, of course, am far too wise in the ways of the world to lend anyone my own copy. ("Never lend books," advised Anatole France, "for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those that other people have lent me.") So, I am happy to report that Collier's work has just returned to print thanks to Paul Dry Books .

The novel is one of the great idiosyncratic comedies in English - a designation, incidentally, that is a literary category in my mind. To it belong other such noble curiosities as Stella Gibbons's "Cold Comfort Farm," Flann O'Brien's "At Swim Two Birds," G. V. Desani's "All About H. Hatter," J. R. Ackerley's "Hindoo Holiday," L. Rust Hill's "How to Retire at Forty-one," and - well, we'll leave the full list for another day [DAMN!!! Ed.]. Suffice it to say that what distinguishes the books in this category is not only that each is so idiosyncratic as to be sui generis, but also that the fulcrum of their comedy is cultural piety and the Western literary tradition. (It may be, alas, that in this day of enlightenment, the works can be enjoyed only by readers of "a certain age.")

"His Monkey Wife" is written in high-flown, often urgent, prose. It is a love story and concerns Mr. Fatigay, a schoolmaster, and his "petite, dark and vivacious" disciple, Emily: the toast of the British Museum Reading Room and a chimpanzee. As in most love stories there are moments of passionate jealousy, longing, and fierce romantic intrigue, all conveyed with such a fine and delicate sensibility that one should, perhaps, be ashamed of oneself for laughing. But then, as P. G. Wodehouse observed, comedy is "the kindly contemplation of the incongruous." - Katherine Powers

Francesco Colonna

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream (1499) - Francesco Colonna

Sean Connolly

A Great Place to Die - Sean Connolly

Robert Coover

The Public Burning (1977) - Robert Coover

"The sheer brilliance of 'The Public Burning' cannot be understated. From the virtuousity of the writing to the subtle intelligence of its criticisms, this book still stands as a classic. Importantly, this novel is not merely an unfavourable take on the culture of the cold war but is a broader interrogation of the ways in which history folds into fantasy in American life, how law becomes theatre, war becomes spectacle, politics an electrocution. Its cartoonish aspects are not simply Coover's attempt to indict the era through mockery nor an invitation to stand over people in the past. Instead, they are a representation of a culture that can only ever come to terms with itself through cartoons, a nation that needs its enemies animated, its champions superheroic, its values decomplicated in dusty bromides and staid clichés. Most intriguing perhaps is the treatment of Eisenhower: in Coover's world, an example of how even the most moderate and benign public figures are entangled in the extremities of violence and cynicism that are not just the work of the political fringes nor the province of any one political party over another but are instead the popular centrifuge around which the idea of America assembles itself. There is no doubt that this is a highly political book but it is not political because it is partisan (a work of the Left raging against the Right) but rather because it is sceptical of politics altogether. All Americans assemble to see the Rosenbergs fry -- wherever they may lie on the political spectrum, Democrat or Republican, conservative or dissident. What burns in this novel is the public -- the very idea of a public entity or a civic realm which is constituted through well-intentioned notions of truth, security, justice, freedom and faith, but which cannot have any of these without an allegiance to the idea of the nation itself, an allegiance which will allow dissent within tight bounds but which will put those too far outside this boundary - especially those who move against the state in a criminal way - to a showy, spectacular death. At the heart of all this lies Nixon, not just because the disgraced future President is an indication of democratic bankruptcy, a representative of how power has become so misplaced, but also because he embodies the emptiness of the idea of the nation itself, the coercive need to 'act American' which is necessary to put into motion this patriotic stir of activity, this great rollicking farce. I note that some reviewers here have taken issue with the apparent lack of depth in the characters Coover offers in this book - Uncle Sam as snake-oil salesman, Nixon as buffoon and so on -- but this misses the author's real aim: to assemble already well-worn clichés in such an intense concentration that they expose the impossibility of character in such a culture, to demonstrate how the idea of America strings itself together in a series of lip-service wisdoms about history and destiny that ultimately eclipse individuality and to place each and every person in proximity to the electric chair, implicating everyone in the violent lunacy of the legal execution, which, because it is carried out in the name of the people, cannot help but involve the people in their entirety. Too often authors attempt to criticise America by putting forward a vision of what the 'real' America actually is or what the 'true' America should be, an alternative in either way that 'sheds light' on how the 'actual' inherent worth of the country has been corrupted. Coover, on the other hand, will have none of this: the carnivalesque inferno he conjures out of the careful blend of fiction and fact is aimed at decimating any salvageable idea of the nation at all, of tearing the whole logic of allegiance to the ground. In this sense, and quite proudly and profoundly, 'The Public Burning' is as treasonous to America as the Rosenbergs were deemed to be themselves.

It has to be said, however, that this book is not so much a defence of the Rosenbergs themselves or their crimes as it is a critique of the law that convicted them. It is a misreading of this book to assume the Rosenbergs are made into heroes, or that their operatic casting as victims should make us excuse their proven or potential guilt. Rather, Coover looks to them not to pardon them but to tell a story that will act as a counternarrative to how guilt and innocence were decided in this case. To this day, the controversy surrounding the Rosenberg trial is not so much to do with whether they were foreign agents (it seems Julius Rosenberg was involved in espionage, though the evidence is still out on his wife, Ethel) or whether the information they provided to the Russians was of any actual use (there is still some debate over this) but rather the gross miscarriage of justice embodied in the way they were put to death. As Justice Douglas explains early in the book to Uncle Sam, the US Constitution states that "no person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court." In the Rosenberg case, there was only one witness - Julius' brother-in-law, David Greenglass - and no confession. As such, to get around this, government prosecutors tried the Rosenbergs on a lesser conspiracy law, a piece of legislation which had been enacted by Congress to circumvent the 'two witness' provision by revising it so that only one witness's testimony could permit a conviction. And yet the hypocrisy of this was not so much the law in and of itself but the fact that the Rosenbergs were convicted on this lesser law even as they were sentenced to death on a *higher* law. Their prosecution went against the provisions of the Constitution but they were also handed the maximum punishment for treason - death - that only the Constitution allows. In other words, what enabled them to be executed was the very document that was shunned by prosecutors in the first place. This kind of legal cherrypicking is at the heart of Coover's critique because it demonstrates how the Constitution - designed, remember, not only to protect the nation from traitors but also to prevent the misuse of power, a different kind of treason - was corrupted in this case to serve the so-called national interest. If Coover wants this book to be traitorous in its searing critique of the idea of America, he also wants it to be constitutional. In fact, what Coover ironically shows us is that to be treasonous and to be a constitutionalist is one and the same in the USA so many years on from its founding. To think ourselves outside the nation is to actually think toward the document that brought it into being. This is not to say that Coover believes he can discern some 'true' shape of the nation in the constitution. No, in adhering to the constitution so closely, he cleverly highlights how the self-autonomising nature of that document - as the 'thing-in-itself' of the nation, as that which declared it into existence and thus somehow simultaneously embodied a pure *arrival* at its essence, already, case closed, all those hundreds of years ago - is so routinely and naturally undercut by the manipulations inherent to the history of the nation's actual practice. In truth, there is no democratic ideal so guaranteed by that founding document that we can't find a way to detain it or delay it or circumvent it on the ground - and always in the name of that selfsame democratic ideal, of course, and in the name of the constitution that is meant to forever defend it. In this sense, 'The Public Burning' is neither a simple-minded polemic against the cynicism of a culture nor a ham-fisted attempt to excuse the inexcusable. In the end, and with great courage and sensitivity, it is one long oath to a nation we would like to think exists but never really does." - David J. Rylance

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1971) - Robert Coover

"The basic story of Coover's book is quite simple. Henry Waugh creates an intricate single-player baseball game that's played with dice. He plays entire seasons with his eight-team league; he keeps detailed statistics for every player and every game; he creates backstories and personalities for his players; he develops an administrative body for his league and imagines political debates among the players; and he acts as an official historian of the league, writing volumes of stories about the game and its players. When something shocking and unexpected occurs within the game, Henry gradually loses the ability to distinguish between reality and imagined events within the game. In the end, he is more or less consumed by his game.

As the synopsis above no doubt suggests, this story begs to be read as an allegory. One might read it as an allegory of God's relation to His creation. Henry, like God, is a creator who appears to have complete control over his creation, and yet, like God, his creation comes to take on a life of its own. When terrible things occur, he desperately wants to step in and set things right, but he also wants the game to retain its integrity. So Henry is like God in that he remains outside his creation even though it seems he could sometimes intervene to set things right. (Indeed, some of the game's players are said to have some sense of a higher power controlling their destiny.) One might also read Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of man's attempt to make sense of his world through art, religion, science, philosophy, etc. All that's really going on is the random event of rolling the dice, as, in some sense, all that's really going on in the universe is certain random physical events. And yet Henry imagines an entire alternate reality to make sense of the random events of his game. His player backgrounds and psychologies, his historical interpretations of the game, his imaginings of crowds and stadiums--all of this is intended to give the random throws of the dice some meaning, some significance to him. (This reading is also suggested by our one look at Henry at work in his job as an accountant. Rather than merely crunch the numbers, he reads a story of the operation of a business off his accounting books. He makes sense of the numbers by seeing them as evidence of something beyond themselves.) Finally, one might interpret Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of the artist's relation to his works.

These allegorical readings notwithstanding, it's also possible to read this book as a simple and moving story of one isolated man who gradually loses touch with reality. While Henry seems a decent enough chap, he has no family, only one friend (and not an especially close one), no real love interest, and no interests outside of his game. From what we learn in the novel, it seems his entire life consists in (occasionally) going to work at his mind-numbing job, stopping at the local bar to drown his sorrows, and sitting at his kitchen table playing his game. Since Henry's life is thoroughly dull and uneventful from the outside, the book focuses on what's going on in his mind. The focus of the book is his isolation and his attempts to create something important and lasting and to be a part of something larger than himself. The opportunity to create something important is what the game appears to provide him, and so it's not all that surprising that he ends up losing himself in his game.

This, of course, suggests that Henry can be understood as an example of the way in which alienated individuals can get lost in solitary pursuits that are made available to them by modern life. Because he lacks an community of people with which to identify, Henry ends up getting lost in his game in much the same way that others can get lost in books, television, the internet, etc. All of these things appear to provide their user with a connection to a world beyond himself, and yet total immersion in them brings you no closer to other people than you'd be without them.

I'd give this book 4.5 stars if I could; that seems a more accurate assessment. The reader should note that this isn't really a baseball book. It's more about the trappings of baseball--the statistics, the history, the players, the rites--than it is about the game itself. So this isn't a book for someone looking for a presentation of dramatic athletic feats; instead, it's a book for the baseball fan whose appreciation of the game is intellectual rather than visceral." - ctdreye

Gerald's Party - Robert Coover

""Gerald's Party" depicts a single evening in the life of Gerry, a married man who has opened his home to a flood of strange friends, and describes the chaotic string of strange events which occur. The book is written in real time, its 300 pages comprising a single narrative, unbroken by chapters, from the party's beginning to its end. Gerry is the narrator, proceeding from event to event, unable to control anything, and hardly able to understand anything, including himself.

The book is experimental, but does have a plot, concerning a murder-mystery at Gerry's party of strange guests. The story is told in the tradition of surrealists, however, and not a straightforward narrative. Once the reader settles into understanding how the story works, it becomes a joyful romp through mad times.

The theme of the book is very simple: life is a major mess, and it just keeps going. People eat and drink, sleep and sex, live and die, digest and waste, kill and protect, mate monogamously and share polyamorally, control themselves and let themselves go, have children and have fun, grow up and act childish, dirty and clean, dress and undress, lie and speak true, think scientifically and think artistically, fantasize and live pragmatically, search for philosophical meaning and live hedonistically for today. And they never stop! Robert Coover pushes all the buttons in the psyche of the human animal, as if writing a reference manual for an extraterrestrial, telling it: "Here's humanity. Welcome to it!"

This book is experimental and surreal, but arguably more accessible than Beckett, and certainly more earthy and explicit. (This is so Coover can push all your buttons.) It uses an interesting form of dialog occasionally: two or three different conversations interweave their lines, making it a joyful challenge to follow along, and creating interesting intersections at times. There are two dozen characters, all with their own independent dynamic, and Coover mixes them with entertaining effect. Some are consistent, such as the wife, the son, the mother-in-law, and others, who exercise their own unique idiosyncracies steadily throughout the book, like pschological points of reference interweaving with the other characters.

This book is very well done. I cannot praise it highly enough. Coover deserves immense credit for pulling it all off. Once the reader understands the story is meant to be absurd, not literal, it becomes great fun, very vivid, and memorable. Coover is extremely imaginative, and "Gerald's Party" is a fantastic riot." - Hovig J. Heghinian

Pricksongs and Descants: Fictions - Robert Coover

"Published in 1969, this collection of short stories could only have appeared in America at the end of a decade as turbulent as the sixties. The influence of that decade and all the stress it forced upon a comfortable America emerging from a comfortable 1950's- the assassination of JFK, the war in Vietnam, the rise and influence of psychedelic drugs, an emerging sexual freedom, riots in our cities- while not explicitly present in this collection of witty and masterful pieces, presides over every word and story. The anxiety and sense of danger that the sixties imposed upon the United States oozes from page one all the way through to the unsettling finish.

The book starts off with the familiar- fairy tales- only they read nothing like the ones we were raised on. Then we're off to a deserted island where two lone females encounter strange men and magic fireplace pokers. Or do they? Nothing happens to them and yet everything happens to them. In another story, a babysitter gets raped, molested, accidentally drowns the baby, and falls asleep watching television- all at the same time.

In every story, at every chance he gets, author Robert Coover challenges what we, the reader, think we know about what is going on and then presents a completely different scenario. It is clever, the word play is rapid and at times dizzying, and while it may feel at times that Coover is simply a magician pulling the wool over our eyes (an accusation he addresses in the final story, about a magician who attempts to pull the wool over the audience's eyes), his writing is so confident that he essentially gets away with whatever literary trick he attempts to pull.

Biblical stories are reinterpreted. The Jesus story from the viewpoint of Joseph, the Noah story from the viewpoint of some unlucky neighbors. Lepers, sadistic stationmasters, men who fear elevators, the topics are unique and varied. One that stands out, that seems to speak to Coover's view of America and what it is becoming, concerns a man hit by a truck while crossing the street on a green light. While lying underneath the truck dying, the theater of the absurd takes place around him while people blame the pedestrian, laugh at a woman claiming to be the dying man's lover, yell at a helpless police officer, and encourage the futile antics of an incompetent doctor. Absurd yet underneath it all, deeply unsettling.

Violent, sexual, crude- these are not nice stories. But if you want to read an author at his fearless best, grab this book now and savor some of the best writing modern America has produced." - PuroShaggy

The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Directors' Cut - Robert Coover

"Think of the infinite cycle of revenge initiated by Fellini's 8 and a half. Yes, the dream sequence! No, not the first one, the other later on when he is living in perfect harmony with all the 8 maybe 9 women of his dreams... Broadway still sings about it! Peter Greenway tried to re-movie it HIS way... Coover's way WAY outdoes them all proving that he is firmly transmodern, transcinematic, pantronic, pornoclastic, iconomorphic! Check the references. Go to imdb.com . Verify that Coover found Lucky Pierre in Herschell Gordon Lewis 1961 forgotten naive exploit of the same name which no one cared to see or comment on. Brought Pierre out of retirement to protagonize as only he could, the brunt of feminist deconstructive romp in this newly meta-Tarrantinized nitemare of romp and stomp, this de-Ramboesque purge so telling of the times.

It is Felini lionised! It is Mastroiani finally "Slavroinized"! It is the all-consumming, selfcom-summing, sum total of all male fears penned with the supreme mastery of the pen-is-my-pained-penis only Coover commands. This is a brilliant work, in more ways than anyone can find or fathom. A slap o mastery that one can only hope, has the infinity of sequels it deserves and engenders in the mind! If you have not read it yet and you are not reading it now, what the hell are you waiting for?" - Joao Leao

Julio Cortazar

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute (2007) - Julio Cortazar

"The "autonauts" are Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar and his third wife Carol Dunlop. In May 1982, they embark on an expedition down the L'Autoroute du Sud, the freeway from Paris to Marseilles. Most drivers manage that trip in a day. But not "el Lobo" and "la Osita" (their pet names for one another). The trip takes them over thirty days - because, by design, they visit each and every rest area along the way, staying the night at every second rest area (except when forced by exigencies to make small exceptions to that rigid routine). They therefore drive only about twenty minutes per day and they complete the Paris-Marseille journey without ever leaving the freeway. Their vehicle is a red Volkswagen Combi Van, which they dub "Fafner" ("the Dragon"). Fafner carries a fridge and provisions and libations, their typewriters and lawn chairs, as well as a bed where they can sleep and make love.

AUTONAUTS OF THE COSMOROUTE is their joint documentation of their madcap expedition. It consists largely of reports on what they discovered at the various rest stops along the Autoroute, as well as numerous flights of fancy conjured up during their trip. There also are brief logs for each day of the expedition; black-and-white photographs, most of which were taken by Carol and almost all of which, at least as reproduced in this edition, are sadly blurry; and charming drawings of the rest area layouts ("ex post facto cartography") supplied by Carol's fourteen-year-old son based on the autonauts' reports and photographs.

A propos of a work by Julio Cortázar, AUTONAUTS OF THE COSMOROUTE is slightly zany, sly and witty, and utterly sui generis. Originally published in 1983 (in simultaneous French and Spanish editions), it was the last of Cortázar's works published during his lifetime. He died in 1984. Carol Dunlop died in November 1982. At the time of their trip, both Julio and Carol were suffering from what turned out to be terminal leukemia, so the "Cosmoroute" of the title takes on a poignant extra dimension. The book, shot through and through with a zest for life, is a valediction like few others.

There are many brilliant notions and conceits in the book. A recurring one is a series of five letters from a mother to her son, reporting on her curmudgeonly husband, the death of Aunt Héloïse, and the bizarre coincidence of repeatedly encountering this strange couple camped out in and around a red van at different rest areas along the freeway over a three-week span. Another one is a brief adult fairy tale about motel sex. And there are many stunningly original passages, of which the following one about being surrounded and buffeted by trucks while driving on the freeway is representative:

"Up till now we've always been David against Goliath: What can a Renault 5, or even a tremendous Porsche, do when a tractor-trailer precedes it, and another follows ten metres behind and sticks its enormous threatening giant's face in the rear-view mirror, while a third overtakes, making space itself tremble and letting out horrendous snorts? This is how users of the freeway soon develop a complex little studied by Freud, acute truckophobia, which can only be cured by buying a truck to join the enemy's ranks (this is known as transference in psychoanalytic terms) or by taking the train."

That paragraph, incidentally, is also indicative of what surely is a brilliant piece of translating by Anne McLean.

Alas, like every long-distance expedition faithfully recorded, there are more than a few boring stretches. And some of el Lobo's and la Osita's fancies don't tickle my intellectual funny bone. Though to do so might have violated the spirit and structure of the original undertaking, judicious editing or abridgement by the authors would have made for a more consistently enjoyable book." - R. M. Peterson

Cronopios and Famas - Julio Cortazar

Saturated with the starkness of the pampas, Cronopios and Famas is at once a disturbing and exhilarating collection of short, short vignette-proclamations. Containing little to do with anything and yet much to do with everything, I'd call this a surrealist's fairy-fragments, a lazy Sunday afternoon sundae that at once calls to be slurped in a gulp and teases us into enjoying it languorously. - Subir Grewal

Divided onto four sections, Cronopios and Famas offers an enjoyable introduction to the mind of Julio Cortazar.

The first section is an Instruction Manual, offering precise and sometimes far-fetched instructions on a number of unlikely subjects -- "How to Comb the Hair", "How to Cry", "How to Wind a Watch" (instructions that come with their own preamble), and "How to Kill Ants in Rome". Not necessarily the most useful advice, but these are clever pieces, going off on small (and sometimes obscure) tangents as Cortázar sees fit. Varied and short, one would not mind more of these instructions. - Complete Review

""Cronopios and Famas," by Julio Cortazar, is one of those wonderful books that stands in a class by itself. It has been translated from Spanish into English by Paul Blackburn. The book is a collection of interconnected short pieces that often blur the distinctions between the short story and the essay; some of the pieces further share aspects of poetry and drama. Cortazar also incorporates elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and comedy into this work. Call "Cronopios and Famas" a novel, if you prefer; or simply label it "experimental literature." But whatever you call it, read it!

The book is divided into four main sections, each of which is further subdivided into several short pieces. The first section, "The Instruction Manual," contains such pieces as "Instructions on How to Cry" and "Instructions on How to Climb a Staircase." Cortazar invites us to look at everyday things and actions from a radically altered perspective; in the process, he seems to point towards an occult, or metaphysical, wisdom.

The second section, "Unusual Occupations," details the antics of a bizarre family (think TV's "Addams Family" as drawn by Dr. Seuss, with input from Franz Kafka). The third section, "Unstable Stuff," is the most varied and chaotic section of the book, and is rich in fantastic and absurd elements.

The final section of the book has the same title as the entire book: "Cronopios and Famas." In several short vignettes Cortazar draws a portrait of an alternate society populated by three different types (races? castes? species?) of beings: Cronopios, Famas, and Esperanzas. Cortazar describes the individuals of each group, and details many instances of social interactions between the groups. This final section of the book is reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," but more cryptic. Along the way we witness the invention of the "wild-artichoke clock" and get a glimpse of "GENITAL, the Cigarette with Sex."

"Cronopios and Famas" is not for the lazy reader. I must admit that after my first reading of the book, I didn't really like it that much. But the second time I read it, I said to myself, "This is brilliant! What was wrong with me the first time I read it?" I wonder what my reactions will be on my third and fourth readings. This book, rich in irony and remarkable images, is truly a remarkable achievement by one of the most innovative masters of 20th century literature." - Michael J. Mazza

Hopscotch - Julio Cortazar

"It has taken me years to sit down and finally make a serious commitment to read Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch/La Rayuela." I cannot think of a better companion to devote a few weeks to, maybe even a bit longer - hey, whatever it takes! It depends on your reading speed and the time you take to savor the poetry of the author's language. So, be willing to make a small personal investment in this very special novel, and the reward you reap will be a worthy one. Julio Cortazar will take you to places you have never been before in literature, and may never experience again. I read "Hopscotch" over this past summer, after a thirty year delay. I can be real stubborn about putting off what is good for me!! Cortazar's imagination is boundless, his prose rich and luminous, his wit and sophistication rare, the dialogue brilliant, the plot...I won't attempt to describe that with a few adjectives. Wander through the extraordinary labyrinthine plot on you own - the way is yours to discover. I promise, you won't get lost!

My introduction to "La Rayuela", (which means hopscotch, like the children's game), is a personal story. I will make it quick. About 30 years ago, while living in Latin America, a friend told me that I reminded him of a character in a novel. The character, La Maga - the book "La Rayuela/Hopscotch." With personal interests at stake and much curiosity, I bought a copy in Spanish, which I read with some fluency at the time. After experimenting with which way to approach the novel, and trying both ways, I gave up...and just read the parts about La Maga. I was too impatient at that point in my life, and needed to become a mellower person, to read slower, with more of a sense of play and participation. And Cortazar wants his readers to participate - to make reading his book an interactive experience, not a passive one. I was and still feel touched when I remember my friend's comments regarding La Maga. She is a magnificent character and Cortazer's prose, his language, (Spanish), is exquisite. So, I thought I'd give it another try, in English, perhaps with better results. None! I just wasn't ready, I guess. That happens to me with fiction sometimes. I have to be open to the experience. However, after all these years, I still thought of Horacio Oliveira and La Maga from time to time. And why not? They are truly unforgettable. As I wrote above, I did make time, at last. For an adventure of a lifetime, I recommend you do the same.

When Julio Cortazar published "La Rayuela" in 1966, he turned the conventional novel upside-down and the literary world on its ear with this experiment in writing fiction. He soon became an important influence on writers everywhere. "Hopscotch" is considered to be one of the best novels written in Spanish. This is an interactive novel where readers are invited to rearrange its sections and read them in different sequences. Read in a linear fashion, "Hopscotch" contains 700 pages, 155 chapters in three sections: "From the Other Side," and "From This Side" - the first two sections are sustained by relatively chronological narratives and so contrast greatly with the third section, "From Diverse Sides," (subtitled "Expendable Chapters"), which includes philosophical extrapolation, character study, allusions and quotations, and an entirely different version of the "ending."

The book has no table of contents, but rather a "Table of Instructions." There, we learn that two approved readings are possible: from Chapter 1 through 56 "in a normal fashion", or from Chapter 73 to Chapter 1 to... well, wherever the chapters lead you. The instructions are all in your book and are extremely clear. At the end of each chapter there is a numeric indicator to lead the reader to the next chapter. One never knows where one will be lead. Due to its meandering nature, "Hopscotch" has been called a "Proto-hypertext" novel. Cortázar probably had this work in mind when he stated, "If I had the technical means to print my own books, I think I would keep on producing collage-books."

What is most important, as a reviewer, is to give you, the prospective reader, an idea of the narrative and the characters...and to tell you why reading this novel was such an extraordinary experience for me. Horacio Oliveira, our protagonist and sometimes narrator, is an Argentinean expatriate, an intellectual and professed writer in 1950's bohemian Paris. He and his close friends, members of "the Club," do lots of partying, drinking, and intellectualizing, discussing art, literature, music and solving the world's problems. Oliveira lives with and loves La Maga, an exotic young woman, somewhat whimsical, at times almost ephemeral who leaves behind her, like the scent of a light perfume, a feeling of poignancy and inevitable loss. La Maga refuses to plan her encounters with Oliveira in advance, preferring instead to run into each other by chance. Then she and Oliveira celebrate the series of circumstances that reunite them - although he knows well the places she frequents and is capable of causing at least a few planned surprises. Eventually, he loses La Maga, who loses her child. With her absence, Oliveira realizes how empty and meaningless his life is and he returns to his native Buenos Aires. There he finds work first as a salesman, then a keeper of a circus cat, and an attendant in an insane asylum.

As Oliveira wends his way through France, Uruguay and Argentina looking for his lost love, "Hopscotch's" narrative takes on an emotionally intense stream of consciousness style, rich in metaphor. Back In Argentina, Oliveira shares his life with his bizarre double, Traveler, and Traveler's wife, Talita, whom Oliveira attempts to remake into a facsimile of La Maga. The game of hopscotch is only developed as a conceit late in the narrative. It is first used to describe Oliveira's confused love for La Maga as "that crazy hopscotch." The theme develops as a metaphor for reaching Heaven from Earth. "When practically no one has learned how to make the pebble climb into Heaven, childhood is over all of a sudden and you're into novels, into the anguish of the senseless divine trajectory, into the speculation about another Heaven that you have to learn to reach too." The variations on the children's game are described as "spiral hopscotch, rectangular hopscotch, fantasy hopscotch, not played very often." The allusions continue and include some beautiful passages.

"Hopscotch" is much more than a novel. Ultimately, it is best left for each reader to define what it is for himself/herself. Pablo Neruda in a famous quote said, "People who do not read Cortazar are doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease." I don't know whether I would go so far. Remember, I put off the experience for many years. But this is one novel that should be read during one's lifetime. It is brilliant and it is fun!" - Jana L. Perskie

Blow-Up: And Other Stories - Julio Cortazar

"In this book are collected some of the most well-known short stories of the great Latin American writer, Julio Cortazar. Cortazar was a great experimental writer (his most famous novel, "Hopscotch", was a pre-cursor to future hyper-text novels) who drew his inspiration from French Symbolism, Surrealism and the improvisational nature of Free Jazz.

Fellow Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges, once famously stated that there was no way of retelling the plot of a Cortazar story - he was absolutely right. The plot is minimal for many of the stories in this collection and in a sense, it is subsidiary. The `essence' of a Cortazar story is largely ineffable. Attempting to capture it in words leads one to fumble just the way that his characters do (see, for example, the short story "The Idol of the Cyclades" or "The Pursuer"). In Cortazar's fictions, reality and fantasy are separated by a permeable membrane and the proper way to read his writing is to experience it, to exercise to the fullest extent possible one's sense of empathy with the writing, in a sense, to merge with it. Indeed, this merging of the fantastic and real, of several viewpoints, is a recurring theme in this collection of short stories - it is most fully manifest in "Axolotl" wherein the young boy becomes obsessed with the axolotls to the point where he actually becomes one. However, the theme also recurs in "The Distances", "A Yellow Flower" and "The Continuity of Parks."

Many of the stories are a bit like the Taoist parable of Chuang Tzu who dreamed that he was a butterfly but upon waking was no longer sure whether he was a man who dreamt that he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. Cortazar's stories seem to exist in kind of quantum superposition states where both one and the other are simultaneously being realized -- this is literature at the Planck scale. Probably no other author has managed to capture, in writing, the feel of the uncanny as masterfully as Cortazar has. There is a sense of unease, half-hinted, that permeates through almost the entire collection. This barely expressible sense of a discordant note is especially evident in "The House Taken Over", "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris", "The Night Face Up" (a stand-out story which for me had some similarities to Borges' story, "The South"), "Bestiary", "Blow-up" (on which the Michelangelo Antonioni film was loosely based) and "Secret Weapons."

I suspect that I will be returning to many of these stories in the future as they seem to welcome repeated visits. Not all of the stories were of equal quality for me - some were less enjoyable than others. In discussing Cortazar as a novelist Borges once commented "He is trying so hard on every page to be original that it becomes a tiresome battle of wits, no?" To a certain extent, I felt the same way about some of the short stories in this collection, though quite possibly this is because I am not a sophisticated enough reader of post-modernist literature.

Overall however, reading the collection was an enjoyable experience which I recommend to other readers. Some of the stories are sure to persist in one's memory as beautifully strange, haunting experiences, inviting repeated visits." - Vladimir Miskovic

Raymond Cousse

Death Sty: A Pig's Tale - Raymond Cousse

"Death Sty: A Pig's Tale is an amazing, original, thought-provoking piece of fiction. I feel compelled to first say what this book is not: it is not an expose of the shocking cruelty taking place in slaughterhouses, nor is it a vehicle in which the author tries to convince you to become a vegetarian. This is basically a pig's story of his life and its grand purpose. This is no ordinary pig, however; he is a philosopher, political theorist, and sociologist blessed with amazing insight. Our unnamed narrator describes his current life inside a small enclosure at a slaughterhouse, referring back to his days of youth and continually looking forward to the day when his ultimate goal will be achieved. That ultimate goal is nothing less than his slaughter; he glories in the thought of his posthumous legacy as food for humankind. He devotes himself to forming the best hocks, ham, blood sausage, etc. He explains the course of his life, even providing a statistical chart showing his estimates of how much he weighed at each step of weaning, fasting, braking, etc. He knows full well what will happen to him when he reaches the butcher's domain, almost delighting in the communication of each step of the final process. Although he is alone throughout the course of his tale, he describes pig society, quotes famed pig thinkers, and laments those pigs who foolishly wish to make a mockery of their lives by resisting their glorious destinies. While he views the butcher as a god of sorts, he does have much to say about swineherds. He can barely tolerate these base men who see fit to come tramping nastily into his home any time they want and insist on putting his water bucket in the middle of his enclosure, where it naturally restricts his predilection for diagonal movement, rather than beside his trough. It is these same swineherds who have perpetuated so many lies about pigkind, he declares, while they are really the nasty beings who themselves, rather than hogs, live in sty-like squalor.

He expresses thoughts of rebelling against the swineherd, often in subtle ways, but he has no use for mass porcine action against man. This pig is basically a political thinker whose complex views often ring with religious overtones--after all, paradise for the pig is found at the hands of the butcher. He disdains those pigs too shallow to understand their true purpose. Most interestingly, he decries the thought of being taken out of his enclosure and being allowed outside--he would resist this by all means at his disposal, even though he has fond memories of a short time in the meadows as a young piglet. The thought of his brethren escaping the slaughterhouse is an affront to his sensibilities. Such an act betrays the very heritage of pigkind.

Clearly, this is political and social satire at a high level. One reading is not sufficient to truly understand everything the author is trying to communicate. The religious connotations immersed in the story are quite subtle and in no way offensive, but it is the pig's thoughts on politics and pig society that make this book so thought-provoking. I would say this is essentially a work of natural philosophy clothed in the guise of brilliant satire. Its originality, subtlety, and universality afford this short novel an honored position in my library of literary treasures." - Daniel Jolley

F. Marion Crawford

The Complete Wandering Ghosts - F. Marion Crawford

"At the beginning of the twentieth century, F. Marion Crawford was one of the most prolific, widely-read novelists of the English-speaking world--a sort of Sidney Sheldon of the Edwardian era. Now, his novels are banished to the musty shelves of old-fashioned romance and historical fiction, but his supernatural tales live on, most especially "The Upper Berth" and "The Screaming Skull."

Lee Weinstein has collected all eight of Crawford's supernatural stories, some of them gothic in the extreme, others oozing pathos. But this author was at his best when writing of the sea and its unforgiving dead. Many of his stories retain a place of honor in ghostly anthologies for their atmosphere of slowly-building horror. I am in agreement with Lee Weinstein when he says, "One can only regret that he did not write more of them."

"The Dead Smile"--A gothic tale of forbidden love and vengeance from beyond the tomb. We 21st century readers are a bit more used to dealing with the theme of incest, but when Crawford published this tale, it must have shocked many Victorian sensibilities. Incestuous hints abound. The evil, dying Sir Hugh Ockram, his son, and his son's fiancée all have the same hellish smile: "...She smiled--and the smile was like the shadow of death and the seal of damnation upon her pure, young face." The best scenes are in the vault below the castle, where the Lords of Ockram lie in burial shrouds, but not entombed.

"The Screaming Skull"--A doctor murders his wife by pouring molten lead in her ear. He dies mysteriously with his throat torn out. The old seaman who inherits the doctor's cottage also inherits a skull in a hat box. Something inside the skull rattles when he shakes it. When he tries to get rid of the skull, the screams begin.

"Man Overboard!"--This story was worth the price of the book for me, because I'd never seen it before, and it's a great ghost story. Just let the obscure nautical language flow past you, e.g. "I coiled down the mizzen-topsail downhaul myself, and was going aft to see how she headed up..." This is a story of identical twin brothers who both love the same woman. When they go to sea on the 'Boston Belle,' one brother is swept overboard during a storm and drowns--but somehow remains part of the crew. As is true in most supernatural stories featuring a wedding, the innocent bride meets a horrible fate.

"For the Blood is the Life"--I don't much care for vampire stories, but this one is wonderfully eerie. Two men are dining on the roof of an old tower-fortress on the Southern Italian coast. After moonrise, the guest sees a figure lying on a mound of earth near the tower and goes to investigate. When he returns, his host tells him the story of the grave-mound.

"The Upper Berth"--A business traveler who makes many Atlantic crossings secures a berth on the 'Kamchatka,' bound for Liverpool. He requests a room with a double bunk and is disappointed to learn that he will have a roommate in the upper berth. The first night of the voyage, his roommate runs screaming out of the small room and throws himself overboard. The business traveler learns that three other men who booked into room 105 have killed themselves in the same fashion, and he is determined to investigate.

"By the Waters of Paradise"--A gothic tale that has a happy ending for a change. A melancholy young man is raised by his superstitious Welsh nurse in an ancestral castle, surrounded by gardens and fountains. One night the old nurse sees "One--two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" Sure enough, his parents die, and the nurse tells her charge the story of the Woman of the Water. Will the new lord of Cairngorm be able to escape the curse?

"The Doll's Ghost"--An old man repairs a rich girl's doll and becomes so fond of it he can hardly bear to part with it. Finally, he instructs his young daughter to return the doll to its owner. The daughter doesn't return, but the doll does.

"The King's Messenger"--A man is seated between a lovely young girl and her beloved at a dinner party, and learns that his right-hand neighbor is the King's Messenger. After the girl disappears, he discovers what the man really does." - E. A. Lovitt

Stanley Crawford

Travel Notes: From Here to There - Stanley Crawford

"Fiction. Originally published in 1967, TRAVEL NOTES is a hallucinogenic dream journey thru the incomparable mind that subsequently brought us Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine, then dropped off the grid to become a garlic farmer in New Mexico. TRAVEL NOTES could indeed read like Stanley Crawford's private travelogue, yet no real-world places or people are explicitly mentioned. Instead we're taken on a rompish tromp thru wild and often absurd landscapes¿in a bus that gets dismantled & reassembled to get around a broken-down car, in a biplane that only flies in the mind of the naked pilot, or on the back of a white elephant named Unable with untranslatable obscenities tattooed to his underbelly¿the traveller ever self-aware of the nagging fragility of routine customs, ever on the verge of having the magic carpet pulled out from beneath your feet if you stop to think. This mind-jarring comedy of errors shares campy common ground with Brautigan in its carefree wackiness, with Robbe-Grillet in its disciplined lunacy and obsessive- compulsive attention to detail, with Márquez in its magical realism (though Crawford, in exile on Crete, was at the time unaware of One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in the same year) and with a healthy dose of subversive angst thrown in for good measure. By the end, TRAVEL NOTES becomes a boot-strapping map to your own brain, projecting psychotherapeutic color on the otherwise gray matter of real-world events."

Gascoyne - Stanley Crawford

"Stanley Crawford's 1966 novel "Gascoyne" is the sort of book that hooks you on the first page. Not only that, it grabs you and runs away with such momentum that, at least for the first 100 pages of the novel, you almost don't want to blink. The bizarre anti-hero of the book, Gascoyne, at first appears to be a private detective but then, maybe, a fiendish uber-capitalist bent on something like world domination. Not only that, Gascoyne seems to be not entirely human. He passes weeks at a time in his car, contrives to always go double the speed limit in a traffic-choked city, runs a huge company with only a handful of employees knowing him by sight, and manages to thrive on a diet of Ritz crackers, sardines, and chocolate bars.

The book is a dark, modern satire on the order of "Dr. Strangelove" or DeLillo's "White Noise." The doggedly-bleak, burlesque tone sometimes becomes wearying, but usually you'll go ahead and laugh at the jokes (whether you feel good about it or not) because Crawford allows you no choice in the matter. Take the following passage in which Gascoyne spies on a misbehaving wife, just recently widowed. Gascoyne climbs a ladder, looks in a window, and:

"First there's the Widow Roughah stretched out on the bed naked as all hell and second more or less on top of her is the hairy-chested fake giant tree sloth, and I think some people sure like to butter their bread funny. I always thought there was more than meets the eye in that woman and now I know what. But I really feel sorry for the poor b*stard inside the sloth suit which must smell like twenty-nine jockstraps in a pressure cooker. But maybe he likes that, you never know."

As wild a ride as "Gascoyne" is, there is something that brings it down in the end. Crawford's error comes in allowing his deep cynicism to infect his storytelling technique. It really seems that Crawford felt that things weren't worth tying together, even in a marginal way, and that he just stopped writing when he got bored with the character. So, when all is said and done, the book leaves enough loose ends cluttering up the landscape to make you feel not only irritated but a bit ripped off. If a little more care had been taken with the ending, the novel might have ranked with other counter-culture classics of the period, such as the novels of Rudolph Wurlitzer and Richard Brautigan." - A. C. Walter

Log of the S. S. the Mrs. Unguentine - Stanley Crawford

Frederick Crews

The Pooh Perplex - Frederick Crews

"I ran across a reference to Postmodern Pooh about a week ago, and I decided to read Crews' first Pooh satire before reading the latest. What a gas! Crews takes the prevalent methods of literary criticism leading up to the 1960s and apes them with a deft touch. One of my favorite moments was when "C. J. L. Culpepper, D.Litt., Oxon.," after determining the Christic nature of Eeyore, declares that Christopher Robin is a stand-in for God the Father. He proves this simply: "Christopher Robin" is an anagram for "I HOPE CHRIST BORN. R." ("I take this to be a decree in the hortatory imperative, dispatched to the Heavenly Host, urging the speedy fulfillment of the Incarnation and signed 'R' for REX.")

Admittedly, the book does drag at times, but only rarely, and probably due to Crews' too perfect mimicry of the rather dry literary personae being roasted over the flames. Not many books make me laugh out loud on every page -- this is one of them." - Chris Tessone

Harry Crews

A Feast of Snakes - Harry Crews

"Only Harry Crews could write a novel filled with unlikable charcters who have no redeeming qualities and make it work. That Crews is an outstanding writer should be a given to those familiar with his work. That his writing is often angry and depressing should come as no surprise. But I never would have thought he had a book like "A Feast Of Snakes" in him. This is the written equivalent of a shotgun blast to the belly.

"A Feast Of Snakes" is more than an angry book; it boils over with rage. Joe Lon Mackey isn't just a Southern redneck stereotype, he is the embodiment of the frustration and desperation of America's rural poor. "Deliverance" reads like a fairy tale in comparison to this novel.

The tone of "A Feast Of Snakes" is vile and hateful. It feels like Crews' most personal work, perhaps written at a time when Crews was going through a living hell of his own. Like Joe Lon Mackey, Crews comes from a poor, rural area of Georgia. Unlike Joe Lon, Crews' skills afforded him the opportunity to break away from the endless cycle of violence, ignorance, hatred and self destruction that is Joe Lon's life. But Crews hasn't forgotten. As detestable as Joe Lon is, it is obvious that Crews has a certain respect for - or at least feels a kinship with - the character.

You will likely feel unsettled after reading this novel. You may feel angry. You will certainly feel something and you will feel it intensely. This book grabs you by the throat and bangs your head against the wall for seemingly no reason. But maybe there is a reason. Maybe someone finally realized that in order to properly convey the impotent fury of the Joe Lon's of the world, the story must be written with cold, hard, unflinching honesty. Love it or hate it, you simply can't deny the truth that Crews has the guts to tell with a defiant pride." - M. Langhoff

John Crowley

Little, Big - John Crowley


"You don't have to like science fiction or fantasy to love Little, Big. Anyone who appreciates beautifully crafted writing and books that touch the deepest part of soul should find what their looking for here. John Crowley is one of the most wonderful writers in existence and Little, Big is certainly his best effort to date. His wonderful (and wondrous) books do unfold without a lot of John Grisham action, so if that's your idea of great literature, Little, Big probably wouldn't be for you.

About half of this gorgeous story takes place in New York City, although Crowley never actually calls it that, he just writes, "the City," while the other half takes place at Edgewood (you will find as you read that none of the names in this book are chosen at random, each has a special significance that eventually becomes crystal clear). Edgewood is an unsurpassingly complicated house, built around the turn of the century, by an architect whose wife could see...faeries.

Although we never meet the faeries directly in this novel, their presence is felt through almost all of the book. They are the faeries of A Midsummer Night's Dream, embodying the qualities of mischievousness, whimsy, capriciousness and untrustworthiness. The faeries are also an odd mix of power and vulnerability, but their spirit is in decline. Much of what happens in Little, Big happens because the faeries must rejuvenate the old with the new. Far from being a simple tale of magic or fantasy, this a highly complex one; Little, Big is a mammoth work of more than 600 pages in length.

The story begins with Smoky Barnable, an ordinary man who marries into an extraordinary family (the architect's great-granddaughter). It is Smoky who introduces us to Edgewood and to the subtle, but fantastic presence that his wife's family seems to take for granted. Smoky has a difficult time adjusting and sometimes he feels as though he's the only sane person in an otherwise insane world. The other residents of Edgewood see it differently; they somehow realize that a grand scheme is being played out and that once it is, their lives, as well as the lives of the faeries, will take on a luminous new meaning.

As we near the end of the century, Smoky's son Auberon leaves Edgewood for the City. It is, however, not quite the magical city that Smoky knew. There is a depression, nothing runs quite like it should and a feeling of dread looms over all. Against this background of dread, Auberon meets and falls in love with Sylvie. It is her disappearance that provides the catalyst for the final act of the faeries' scheme.

Despite Little, Big's length, not a word in the book is wasted. Everything is essential, everything is perfect and everything is perfectly placed. There are digressions and detours, but they all have their purpose. And, even if they didn't, they are a joy to read, in and of themselves.

This is a book that unfolds slowly, like new Spring leaves or roses on a perfect summer's day, but slowly is just right for Little, Big. Crowley conveys so many emotions in this book: joy, sorrow, loss, lust but most of all, love. By the time you reach the end, you come to a slow but perfect understanding of why the faeries' rejuvenation is so crucial. This is a beautiful and beautifully-told tale and one that lingers...like a lover's kiss or the end of that perfect summer's day." - A Reader

Seamus Cullen

Astra and Flondrix - Seamus Cullen

"I'm sure that there's a world where in 100 years, students writing scholarly dissertations about fantasy novels will come across this book and address it as a fine example of subgenre. At that point, it may gain cult status, who knows?

I had to give this book one extra star for sheer creativity-- whether it was the farm-wife who was (*ahem*) extra-close to her sheep or whether it was the cruddy curse of the human king, Cullen clearly doesn't have a problem with his imagination.

The plot was tedious, nothing more than an excuse to feature the various anatomical ways that elves, dwarves, deer, sheep, humans, and chickens (this is not an exaggeration) can interact. Even the erotica had very little virtue except a clearly vivid imagination behind it.

Champions of the very strange may get something out of this." - frumiousb


Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves (2000) - Mark Z. Danielewski

"This postmodern, typographically chaotic novel is a monstrous book, both in page numbers and ambition. It is the literary equivalent of "The Ring." As we learn in the introduction, Johnny Truant, a tattoo parlor employee, has come into possession of a trunk full of bizarre scraps of paper once owned by an old blind man, Zampano, now dead. The papers comprise an exploration of a cult film called "The Navidson Record" and its sub-films, documentaries about an ever-expanding house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside and which consumes the lives of anyone who enters its dark hallways or watches the tapes. Johnny becomes himself obsessed with Zampano's papers and, in turn, with the Navidson house. He is haunted by the beast he smells and the descending madness he had no inclination to stop. The book itself is the melding of Zampano's papers, Johnny's footnote digressions into his own life and its troubles, and the debate among academics as they struggle to make sense of a film that probably never existed. The result is a dark, wild, often hilarious, sometimes excruciatingly boring foray into the meaning of home, family, love, and self.

The structure of the novel is innovative, with Johnny Truant's story unfolding in footnotes and in the appendices, while Zampano describes the film and the academics bicker over its meaning in the body. The most riveting narrative thread in this novel is of Navidson's and others' descents into the smooth walled, dark cavern of the mysterious hallway. The consequences on Navidson's marriage and on those he loves are devastating, and the reader is swept into both the horror and the need for hope. Johnny's story is less compelling, especially as the house fades into the background and his story takes over. The academic over-analysis is tons of fun - as long as you have the patience to get over the dryness to find the kernel it has been working toward. For example, early in the book, Danielewski (in the writings of Zampano) provides a lengthy academic discussion of the myth of Echo and its scientific and literary significance, only to derail it with a Johnny Truant footnote telling the reader that "Frankly I'd of rec'd a quick skip past the whole echo ramble were it not for those six lines . . ."

Even more bizarre than the telling of Truant's tale in footnotes is the typographical methods used to visually evoke the house in the Navidson Record. The words become their own labyrinth, with "hallways" of text enclosed in blue boxes; they sometimes inhabit corners only, or skip up and down the pages, one or two words at a time. When the characters don't know which way is up, the reader is twisting and turning the physical book to read upside down and sideways. You have to see the book to fully appreciate the visual hijinks Danielewski uses. It can take a long time to read certain sections, only to find that you can flip through several pages with just a glance at each.

Despite the suspenseful plot, HOUSE OF LEAVES is anything but a quick read. Its satisfaction is derived more from its individual parts than as a whole since it ends, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, not with a bang but a whimper. I recommend this for patient readers and for those who delight in experimental turns in fiction." - Debbie Lee Wesselmann

"Nor will you find your way out of Danielewski¿s House of Leaves, with its stories within stories, its devious subterranean measurements, its extra dimensions. Footnotes stumble through the text like wayward explorers: sometimes a little closer to home, sometimes completely lost-and losing the reader too. Additional text at the coda of the book serves only to provide some lovely epistolary entertainment that, alas, cannot, under questioning, justify its presence in the narrative. Nonetheless, the Blair Witch-meets-Kierkegaard main story of a family that moves into a house only to find that their house is bigger on the inside than the outside¿namely, an extra six feet of corridor, leading down into a potentially endless series of labyrinths¿is brilliant, meshed as it is with the idea that the photographer head of the family filmed the horrible happenings¿and these film fragments are distributed to folks who think it is a fictional horror movie. Apparently, the house, or the space where the house currently exists, has been around for a long time...

The fractured narrative, the narratives within narratives, the changing points of view, all create a believability that would have been lacking using a traditional narrative structure. Of small import but of great glee to the reader: Danielewski leavens his story with quotes about the film from famous artists, filmmakers, etc., but in such a way that the text absorbs them¿70 years from now, when no one knows who Dr. Joyce Brothers is, her quote will still resonate in this book. The first, joyous, utterly absorbing outburst from a writer who will, one day, write books that are not so much outbursts as beautifully intricate works of art, each element in its proper place.

Motor through the footnotes and the typography experiments as they are but juvenilia next to other such experiments by Alasdair Gray, et al. Instead, focus the meat of your attention on the meat of the text, that it and you may feast on each other in equally ravenous fashion. - Mark VanderMeer

Henry Darger

The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion - Henry Darger

"The entire time Henry Darger was working as a janitor in downtown Chicago, nobody knew that he was secretly writing one of the most bizarre and intricate storybooks of all time. When he died in 1973, Darger¿s landlord discovered a 15,000-page manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.

The book was immense, a sprawling epic composed of more than nine million words and over 300 watercolor illustrations, most of which were made by juxtaposing images from magazines and newspapers and tracing over them. Some of the final illustrations were laid out on massive sheets of paper over 3 meters (10 ft) wide. Nobody really knows how long Darger worked on the book, although it¿s believed to have been decades. He lived in the same cramped, single-room apartment for over 40 years, and he never spoke a word of his lifelong dream to anybody." - Listverse

Avram Davidson

The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy - Avram Davidson

"Long before the words "magical realism" ever cropped up in literary criticism, Avram Davidson was quietly creating a spectacular body of erudite, eloquent, evocative history-as-myth. The Dr. Eszterhazy stories, along with the Vergil novels and "Adventures in Unhistory", are the pinnacle of his accomplishment.

No one has ever had a better ear for dialect, a better sense of the self-importance of minor officials, a better notion of how Balkan politics play out in the back-alleys of minor capitals. And certainly no one has ever had such a perfect (and reverent) sense of the ridiculous, when it comes to the probable behavior of the Vicar-at-Large of the Unreconciled Zwinglians, or the demands of the Frores for an independent Bureau of Weights and Measures, or the universal value of a glass of shnopps, wudky, or St. Martin's." - A Customer

The Other Nineteenth Century - Avram Davidson

"In stories, magic books have the decency to advertise themselves. They come with disturbing skin bindings and huge forbidding clasps, and faded gilt lettering warning the reader not to open this one. Sadly, this is real life, and I have been captured by a magic book disguised as a perfectly ordinary hardback: Avram Davidson's The Other Nineteenth Century. It's grabbed me and sunk itself into my brain, and it's not even as if there were any spells. There are only short stories, but they are living stories. They act like simple, well written tales until the end, when every one of them leaps up to surprise and snatch the reader.

The first story, "O Brave Old World," shows a world nearly our own. The faces in it grow increasingly familiar, until by the end a history that never was seems inevitable and true. "The Singular Incident of the Dog on the Beach" features some familiar characters, on loan from another imagination. "Summon the Watch" tells of the heroism of two old ladies who are just unimportant enough to have lived unnoticed by history.

Avram Davidson plainly studied the history of the real nineteenth century, and there are several stories here seemingly designed to send readers themselves on research trips. "One Morning With Samuel, Dorothy and William" features the heartbreak of broken inspiration. "Traveler From an Antique Land" and "The Deed of the Deft-Footed Dragon" give a new view on two scandals of the day, one now largely forgotten and one famous. "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" might be described as an almost-war story, and captures carefully a moment on its way to changing history. These mysteries were closed, but the last turn of these tales opens them up again.

So read "Author, Author" for comedy, "Dagon" for eerie horror, "The Necessity of His Condition" for bitter social commentary, and "Now Let Us Sleep" for SF (and also bitter social commentary).
... Rich Horton

Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy (1991)

Robertson Davies

The Deptford Trilogy - Robertson Davies

"I had read some Robertson Davies in the past--Murther and Walking Spirits and The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks--and thought him a fine curmudgeon and a fine Canadian writer, but I had not given him much thought beyond this. I find this to my detriment now, for I remember friends who always had a copy of one or other of his novels about, and I faintly recall many recommendations in the past. So, what made me finally pick up one of these and read it? The recommendation, passed to me second-hand, by my favorite writer, Jonathan Carroll, given as one of his influences for conceiving novels with interlinking characters.

Fifth Business is a marvelous book, and while it doesn't have quite the same mystery or horror of Carroll, it does have an excellent style, and there is indeed a twist or two along the way to keep most any reader sated. Basically the autobiography of Dunstable Ramsay, born around the turn of the century in the small Canadian town of Deptford, Fifth Business details not only Ramsay's life, but also the life of his oldest friend, Percy "Boy" Staunton. What makes this novel so remarkable is how realistic the portrayal is, without bogging down in pages of mundane description. Over the course of the novel, one's understanding for Dunstable grows, both in positive and negative turns, and by the end, he is as an old friend of one's own.

Based on some of the cover blurbs, I had expected a little more magic realism, or at least an edge of the fantastic, to this book, and while it may be there, it is consistently down-played. Normally I am not one to go in for fiction without at least a feeling of the extraordinary, but Davies writing style kept me glued to the page, reading longer into the night than I would ordinarily wish during the work week. And I learned many things, including what the term hagiography refers to, and some feeling for Canada and their strange ties to Britain and the world.

But it is the aspect of Fifth Business itself where this book receives full credit for its recommendation. "Fifth Business" refers to, as related in the novel:

"You don't know what this is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna--always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.

So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex. And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot."

Dunstable is indeed Fifth Business, for he does know the secret of the hero's birth, and does come to the assistance of the heroine, and keeps a woman in her cell, and may even be the cause of Boy Staunton's murder. The trick is discovering who exactly is the hero, and the assistance only lasts for a short time, and being locked in a cell is not always advantageous, and who exactly did murder Boy Staunton? These and more questions are brought up in Fifth Business, some of which are answered.

The Manticore picks up almost where Fifth Business lets off, but quickly reverts to flashback to tell some of the same story from the point of view of Boy Staunton's son, David. David's recollection of some of the events as told by Ramsay are colored by his own life, including the fear introduced by his sister that David is not actually Boy's son, but Ramsay's. Whereas Ramsey was fifth business to Boy Staunton, David is a star in his own story, which is told by a journal that he writes to discuss with his psychotherapist.

It sounds dull, and at times it slows due to the conceit, but Davies has a way of interjecting interest right as you are about to put away the novel. Two-thirds into the novel and it breaks away from the psychotherapy, returns to the "present" of the trilogy, and reunites us with Ramsay and some of the other characters from Fifth Business. The problem with The Manticore is that it is the middle novel, without the refreshing newness of the opening and lacking the rush towards the climax of the concluding novel.

And what a rush World of Wonders is--once again, it covers some of the same ground of the two previous novels, filling in detail about magician Magnus Eisingrim (nee Paul Dempster of Deptford) that also provides additional insight into Ramsey and, in the end, Boy Staunton. Of the three novels, World of Wonders is closest to Carroll. Rather than tell the story from Magnus viewpoint, Davies switches back to Ramsay. However, the story Ramsay tells is of the biographical confessions of Magnus. This way Davies can tell the story from a new viewpoint while retaining the mysterious nature of Magnus (who is the closest to the unreliable narrator used by Carroll) to keep the secret of Boy Staunton's death until the closing minutes. Magnus' history isn't pretty, and the World of Wonders is as a carnival sideshow, full of flash but hiding a seedy underbelly. However, Magnus is not unhappy with his lot, looking back over his life, which is one of the aspects of the story that haunts Ramsay, who feels somewhat responsible (along with Staunton) for Paul Dempster's early life. The philosophical aspect of this is interesting--Davies implies that, while taking responsibility of one's actions is important, there is a statute of limitations on guilt.

The Deptford Trilogy is a strong suite of novels, cunningly wrought and well worth your time. I regret that I had waited this long to discover them." - Glen Engel Cox

The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks - Robertson Davies

S. F. X. Dean

Harry Dean at Prep - S. F. X. Dean

Louis De Bernieres

The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts - Louis De Bernieres

Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord - Louis De Bernieres

The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman - Louis De Bernieres

Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists - Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab - Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists - Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon - Gideon Defoe

Tom DeHaven

Freaks' Amour (1986) - Tom DeHaven

"Freaks Amour is a bizarre, frightening look into the future after a nuclear "accident." You will meet one of the most memorable cast of characters ever dreamed up, all of whom are freaks due to their parents' exposure to radiation from an accidental nuclear blast in (where else?) New Jersey.

Because their incredible appearance (graphically described by the author) causes them to be ostracized by non-freaks, they must resort to performing in live sex shows to earn a decent living.

A nicely-done and highly entertaining metaphorical tale of the underclass, the details and strange characters of this book will stay with you for a long time. I read this book when I was 12 and have been trying to locate a copy for the past 26 years." - A Customer

Walter De La Mare

Desert Islands and Robinson Crusoe - Walter De La Mare

Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany

"It may be said that the novel that most reflects what Samuel R. Delany preaches in his 2005 compilation About Writing is his 1974 tour-de-force Dhalgren.

I took up Dhalgren several years ago, but only got about half way through before dropping it despite the fact that I¿ve read at least ten of his other works. This time, after reading some sections in About Writing, I stuck with it¿¿in part because I had a better idea of what Delany was after.

It¿s easy to get caught up in the story¿¿the nameless young man wandering into a large city in middle America that has been cut off from the outside, the unusual circumstances of life in Bellona, the sexual adventurism, the protagonist¿s Joycean minute-by-minute portrait of sights, sounds and feelings. As interesting, however, if not more so, if it can be separated from the story, is what Dhalgren teaches us about the novel as an art form.

Dhalgren exemplifies Delany¿s three rules about fiction writing, which are ¿don¿t overwrite,¿ ¿don¿t let your writing become thin or superficial,¿ and ¿don¿t indulge clichés.¿ In particular, Delany¿s prescribed writing process is exposed in Dhalgren in the way he incorporates into the text the protagonist¿s self-edits, showing his search for the precise word or phrase that describes what he has seen, heard and felt.

What makes the novel difficult reading is that Delany seems to invent circumstances as he goes. Although there are recurring themes and situations, he is lightly bound to them; sometimes they repeat, sometimes they do not. Time has little efficacy¿¿the local newspaper appears with arbitrary dates. The physical characteristics of the city shift without warning or explanation: things once near become far, fires break out and devour blocks, street names change. The outside world does not impinge except one day there are two moons, another day a huge sun fills up most of the sky and then sets.

In Bellona, bereft of social institutions from police to money, things boil down to their essence. Without the need to work for a living, residents take what they need and do what they feel like doing. Throughout the novel there are no food or water shortages that cannot be remedied by moving to a new location. People form groups for protection, comradeship and power. Sex can occur with anyone or several people at any time day or night.

In the midst of this chaos, the protagonist, Kid (or Kidd or The Kid), writes poetry and later keeps a journal. Dhalgren reflects Delany¿s ongoing interest in the role of language¿¿written and spoken¿¿in society. Part six is entitled Palimpsest, the definition of which describes The Kid¿s journal style¿¿borrowing from and writing over previous entries. It also suggests a lack of linearity which is what the reader has to deal with in the final section, The Anathamata, where pages are divided into columns, each containing unconnected entries, only the last of which is chronologically fixed.

One is tempted to interpret Dhalgren as a social commentary, having been written during the counter-cultural revolution that produced protests, Hippie communities, love-ins, and the like. But other than an implied defense of bi-sexual relationships, Dhalgren does not read either as a defense or condemnation of the Hippie life-style. Neither is it an Americanized Lord of the Flies. Civilization breaks down, but not to the point where the weak are systematically exploited by the strong. As the leader of the nest, the building where a group that call themselves scorpions live, Kid defends and protects oddballs, including one who has committed murder.

What makes Dhalgren worth reading forty years after its publication? Imagine yourself in a world where all boundaries have disappeared, where your past doesn¿t define who you are. On that level, Dhalgren is an adventure story that can be read to see how people deal with these circumstances. It¿s also a mystery in which the reader searches for clues to make sense of what¿s going on and it is a treatise on art and literature, a disquisition on sexual and race relations, a study of human nature and an imaginative portrait of an alternative reality.

Like the best works of fiction, Dhalgren has not aged. It is still in many ways ahead of its time¿¿an exploration of the American landscape, stripped of social conventions, including labels (names), stripped of the structures technology, time and place impose on human interaction. Dhalgren asks who we are and how far will we go when free to act when unencumbered from quotidian considerations. Delany offers hints, but with his usual sense of modesty, he does not try to impose answers. He allows us to explore these questions by his side, pointing out landmarks along with way, but letting each of us try to make sense out of the chaos." - Peter G. Pollak

Rick DeMarinis

A Clod of Wayward Marl - Rick DeMarinis

"Fans of De Marinis's earlier works will recognize bits and pieces of Guido Tarkenen, the central character of "A Clod of Wayward Marl"--Italian on his mother's side, Finnish on his father's, with a fondness for drink and a tendency toward bad trouble with women, he could be a grow-up cousin to Trygve Napoli, the protagonist of "The Year of the Zinc Penny," or to the adult heroes of any number of his short stories (see his superb collection "Borrowed Hearts"). Guido's a writer of "slasher trash" novels, temporarily teaching writing at La Siberia U., located in a border town bearing a close resemblance to El Paso. There's plenty of plot here, but the real pleasure of the book is De Marinis's gleeful genre-bending in his creation of Guido's demented little world--it's a little bit hardboiled P.I., a little technothriller, some academic comedy, with a little SF thrown in just for fun. (The book contains the best description of a virtual reality trip I've read anywhere, and it's funny to boot.) If there were any justice De Marinis would be one of the best-known writers in America, and if enough people sit up and notice this one, maybe he will be." - robert phillips

Lawrence Dennis

The Dynamics of War and Revolution - Lawrence Dennis

_The Dynamics of War and Revolution_ was written by American interventionist capitalist Lawrence Dennis in 1940 just before the involvement of the United States in World War II on the side of the Allies. In this book Lawrence Dennis predicts the coming war in which America was to be immersed and shows why fighting this war will ultimately be not in the best interests of the American people. World War II was sold to the American people on the grounds that it would "make the world safe from fascism" - in which the United States fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan - but as Lawrence Dennis shows by instituting an Industrial Mobilization Plan as well as the New Deal legislation, FDR in effect was able to bring about the fascist revolution here in America. Lawrence Dennis sees in fascism (and national socialism, of course) as well as in the communism of Stalin the revolution and the birth of socialism. According to Dennis, capitalism and democracy were brought about by revolution (the Industrial Revolution) and once this revolution has taken effect the subsequent socialist revolution (resulting in "dictatorship of the proletariat" as predicted by Karl Marx) is inevitable. Dennis argues that Hitler had been able to bring about the revolution in Germany by capturing the capitalists through anti-communism, the nationalists through anti-Versailles rhetoric, and the masses through the anti-Semitic delusion. (Indeed according to Karl Marx, anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.) Rather than preserving capitalism as the bourgeois in Germany had hoped, Hitler in fact had destroyed it and brought about socialism and thus the revolution. Dennis notes how the existence of usury through finance capitalism makes possible interventionist involvement overseas, by the Americans. By issuing fiat money the capitalists force industry to increase production and that this excess must be sent overseas. In times of peace, this is easy enough to do through foreign aid. However, eventually it becomes necessary to do so through war. This is indeed what the elite have intended. Dennis writes this book for the elite and not the masses, having naturally little faith in the mass man or in democracy itself. For the in-elite, the contents of this book are already known and are being used to bring the country into a war. But for the out-elite, this knowledge may prove valuable in their attempt to remain afloat during the subsequent revolution (brought about through the war). Dennis seems to have sympathy for socialism as opposed to liberalism (capitalism plus democracy), although his remarks are largely intended to be merely prophetic and factual without actually taking a side on the whole issue of morality. To Dennis, the current capitalist system fueled through finance capitalism is not in the best interests of the people of the United States and thus will be toppled. Dennis argues that a new "folk unity" among the American people will be made necessary through the subsequent war and the coming revolution in America.

Lawrence Dennis was an early writer who saw the development of socialism within America subsequent to the Second World War. At the time, his comments were greeted with much disapproval from the elite (including FDR and his minions) and he was subsequently tried for sedition. While Dennis wrote in the interests of America, he noted that while he personally was opposed to the coming war, he would do what was in his power to defend America after the war had started (either through propaganda writing or otherwise). This book is one that bypasses the usual Left/Right divide and takes a look at the capitalist situation from a third perspective. Republished by Noontide Press, this book promises to open some eyes to the immorality of the capitalist system which fuels revolution within the United States and across the world. In an era in which a war has been declared on "terror" these writings by Lawrence Dennis are all the more important today." - Prometheus "zosimos"

Maria Dermout

The Ten Thousand Things - Maria Dermout


The Ten Thousand Things is a novel of shimmering strangeness--the story of Felicia, who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to the house and garden that were her birthplace, over which her powerful grandmother still presides. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present. First published in Holland in 1955, Maria Dermout's novel was immediately recognized as a magical work, like nothing else Dutch--or European--literature had seen before. The Ten Thousand Things is an entranced vision of a far-off place that is as convincingly real and intimate as it is exotic, a book that is at once a lament and an ecstatic ode to nature and life.

G. V. Desani

All About H. Hatter - G. V. Desani

'all about h. hatterr', by the indian author g.v. desani is a novel whose popularity is a bit like the rain in some parts of india - either there's not a drop to be seen or there's a monsoon. when the book first appeared in 1948, it was greeted with a flood of critical acclaim and rare enthusiasm by many distinguished literary critics, including the poet t.s. eliot. a few years later it sank into obscurity, dismissed by the previously enthusiastic west as "just a little savoury from the colonies" - going out of print in 1951 - only to emerge in the seventies as a 'modern classic', with a laudatory introduction by english author anthony burgess (author of 'the clockwork orange' and many other novels, as well as a scholar of james joyce), who called it 'capacious hold-all of a book'. it then again vanished (and went out of print) for another decade, mouldering in crates, until salman rushdie - fter receiving the booker prize for 'midnight's children' in 1981 - acknowledged desani as his literary predecessor and brought 'all about h. hatterr' back into the spotlight. sometime in the mid-eighties it predictably submerged once again and is presently out of print (even in india). but one can still find copies floating about (on the ebbing flood of its 80s popularity); recently, I quite easily located a nice hardback - the first Indian edition (from 1985!)

Bas! Enough of printery-shimentery! So, if you'll kindly allow me to adopt the lingo of H. Hatterr (more on this below) for the nonce, or, to put it most specific, for this paragraph - one might quite understandably be wondering at this moment in time: - Damme, who is this Desani bloke you're on about? And H. Hatterr, what's that feller's obsession with twices, vis a vis, his orthographical peculiarities? What the hell does he need two H's for, much less two T's, and two R's is sheer bloody extravagance. Well, now, I'll tell you all about...

... our friend H.H., who is a charming clever-naïve Anglo-Indian seeking [1] wisdom from the seven sages of India, [2] a bit of ready lucre and [3] the elusive charms of certain females, including a lion(ess)-tamer. Mr Hatterr's 'autobiographical' (as it is presented) recounts the various misfortunes and humiliations he undergoes on his quest for the aforementioned goals: wisdom, capital and carnal knowledge [interjection: I just realised that H.H.'s pursuits match nicely against those set down in the ancient Sanskrit 'Dharma Shastras' ("Law Codes"): the 'Manusmriti' (social philosophy), the 'Arthashastra' (wealth, material gain & kingship) and the well-known 'Kama Sutra' (love & pleasure) - sorry, back to the story...¦]. These punishments include being run out of the European club, getting tricked by dubious swamis, his wife leaving him, having an 'evil spirit' forcibly 'exorcised' and coming damn close to being devoured by a 'tame' beast. His only true friend is his 'Indian pal; Banerrji, who annoys H.H. by quoting to him from the Bible, Shakespeare and the Kama Sutra, and who inadvertently causes many of Hatterr's misfortunes. - Dooyoo

Peter Dickinson

Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures - Peter Dickinson

Denis Diderot

Jacques the Fatalist - Denis Diderot

"Two centuries or so before "modern" writers began writing experimental novels, Denis Diderot, the force behind the Encyclopaedia effort, wrote this strange and indeed very "modern" novel in which the author leads a conversation with the reader, asking him where he (or she, of course) would want to go and what to do with the characters and the story. Here we see the author in the very process of creation, exposing his doubts, exploring his options, and playing with the story.

There is really no plot as such. Jacques, a man who seems to believe everything that happens is already written "up on high", but who nonetheless keeps making decisions for himself, is riding through France with his unnamed master, a man who is skeptic of Jacques's determinism but who remains rather passive throughout the book. Fate and the creator-author will put repeatedly to test Jacques's theory, through a series of more or less fortunate accidents and situations, as well as by way of numerous asides in the form of subplots or stories.

The novel is totally disjointed and these asides and subplots blurb all over the place, always interrupted themselves by other happenings. The most interesting of them is the story of Madame de Pommeroy and her bitter but ultimately ineffectual revenge on her ex-lover.

Diderot confesses to having taken much from Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" and Cervantes's "Don Quixote". This last novel's influence seems obvious at two levels: Cervantes also talks to the reader, especially in Part Two, and also reflects abundantly on the creative process. Moreover, the tone and environment of the book is very similar to the Quixote: two people engaged in an endless philosophical conversations while roaming around the countryside and facing several adventures which serve to illustrate one or antoher point of view.

Diderot's humour is bawdy and practical and the book is fun to read. The exact philosophical point is not clearcut, but it will leave the reader wondering about Destiny, Fate, and Free Will." - Guillermo Maynez

The Indiscreet Jewels Denis Diderot

"Better known for his primary role as a Philosoph promoting the Enlightenment (cf. Diderot's work as editor and author of the monumental Encyclopedie), Diderot did what any starving writer would do early in his career: he turned to pornography ("Oh, NO monsieur! It is an erotic novel!) and published it anonymously. Well, word gets around: everyone knew he wrote it, and he served a light jail sentence.

I tried to read this novel the first time many years ago when I was learning to read French, and was happy to see it in translation (except for the occasional 18th century text on chemistry, I did not have the skill or patience to read any other books to completion).

While I would agree with other reviewers that it is not great literature (when compared with Flaubert, Zola, Proust, etc), it IS a good read.

In part this is for the sheer silly fun of a magic ring that causes vaginas to become indiscrete and tell tales of sexual adventure that would shame the efforts of boys in the locker room.

And partly this is for the historical insights a reader finds in The Indiscrete Jewels. As history of science, the novel is a good example of the active male scientist seeking the truth from passive female nature. As political history, the novel is a good example of how edgy intellectuals like Diderot (or like Galileo before him) had to suck up to royalty (in Diderot's case, King Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pampadour) in order to gain patronage or at least benign disregard.

It's a quick read, and I recommend it for anyone with a curiousity about those darned French were up to in the mid- to late-eighteenth century.

Favorite Diderot quotation: "There are little testicles at the bottom of our most sublime feelings and our purest tenderness."" - Pat Munday

Norman Dixon

On the Psychology of Military Incompetence - Norman Dixon

"As an active duty officer, I found this book to be not only highly entertaining but highly enlightening as well. Dixon could have ground an axe here, but he didn't. His writing is clear, concise, logical, eminently readable, and very accurate in a depiction of what actually goes on in the minds of some officers. While his emphasis is on character development, there is some discussion of unit character as well. A great book for those interested in why we think the way we do, and we can only hope someday, somewhere, someone will publish a second, updated version which includes organizational behavior which reinforces incompetence. His allusions to "The General" by C. Forester are quite appropriate. Definitely a book to be read by active duty as well as civilians." - A Customer

Stephen Dixon

Frog - Stephen Dixon

Jim Dodge

Fup - Jim Dodge

"We once read exerpts at a college Thanksgiving dinner and discovered that while most of us were soon gasping for breath from laughing so hard at that one part where..., our friends from Germany, Sweden, and Japan thought it was amusing, but didn't react at the same deep level. So although this is the book I give to all my new friends, I know it doesn't work for everyone. It also doesn't work for people who have never had dirt under their fingernails. For the rest of us, it's short and funny and deeply real.

It's a book about a duck. And a boar. And Tiny, who builds fences. And Grandaddy Jake Santee, with his Ol' Death Whisper whiskey.

It's a book about livin'." - Amy A. Hanson

Jose Donoso

The Obscene Bird of Night - Jose Donoso


"The mutations of characters, the non-linear style in which this story is told, the repetitions, shifts in perspective add to make this work a remarkable book. Without a doubt not only one of the finest magical realist works I've ever stumbled upon, but one of the finest novels I have ever read.

As the work has multiple foundations, one of the major ones about Humberto Penaloza, who as a child & adolescent was always told by his father that he must become something, it doesn't matter what, as long as Humberto doesn't go through the same social obscurity that he endures. Later on, he becomes the assistant to Jeronimo, a wealthy politician who is trying to lengthen the family tree. His wife, Ines de Azcoitia is unable to bear him children. Then through either an act of black magic, or Humberto's intimacy Jeronimo is given his child. The child, simply called Boy, is horribly deformed. Jeronimo decides to build the child it's own world, entirely secluded from anything outside of it and surrounded by other people with monstrosities. Humberto is put in charge, and becomes the abnormal one in this newly formed world where deformities is not the exception but the rule. Humberto's abnormality is his plain everyman look, social obscurity. He ends his days in a former catholic church, now peopled by elderly women, either nuns or former servants waiting to die.

This book works on so many different levels & they're always communicating to one another, effortlessly the past becomes the present, it is a hallucinatory poetic parade of the grotesque and the beautfiul, of the grotesque as the beautiful. It is also a commentary on domination in its many forms- husband & wife, father & son, the elderly & the young, master & servant. Sometimes the dominant position is usurped & the roles are reversed.

It's no wonder that both Carlos Fuentes & Luis Bunuel considered it to be a masterpiece." - Scott M. Eaton

Edward Dorn

Gunslinger - Edward Dorn

"The epic is conceivably the endpoint of the modernist implosion into premodern aesthetics and anti-formal/anti-perspectival tribal art. Whether that makes GUNSLINGER modern, postmodern, or premodern is anyone's guess, 5 of 8 dentists prefer "postmodern." The book smears semantics and Heidegger and cocaine into a psychedelic, post-industrial dreamscape. Ed Dorn studied an americanized version of "psychogeography" at the Black Mountain College with Charles Olson and Robert Creely which contributed to the development of his slow-acid-laced-western-sound poetry aesthetic: "I have no wish to continue my debate with men, my mare lathers with tedium, her hooves are dry. Look, they are covered with the alkali of the enormous space between here and formerly."(Gunglinger, Book 1). This should be read with some cigars and cactus and MM's cover of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show's "Get My Rocks Off" and Beck's parenthetical "Lazy Flies" ("The skin of a robot vibrates with pleasure, Matrons and gigolos Carouse in the parlor")." - Wesley Moore

Coleman Dowell

White on Black on White - Coleman Dowell

Terry Dowling

Rynosseros - Terry Dowling

Blue Tyson - Terry Dowling

Twilight Beach - Terry Dowling

Hal Dresner

The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books - Hal Dresner

Rikki Ducornet

Four Elements Tetrology

The Stain (1984) - Rikki Ducornet

Entering Fire (1986) - Rikki Ducornet

"Rikki Ducornet is probably one of the most overlooked novelists of the past 25 years. I think she is a very important writer just shy of being great. Like her previous novel, The Stain, Entering Fire is sexually charged and exhibits a sensuousness seen only in latin american writers like Marquez and Fuentes (except those two authors are boring).

Entering Fire, which begins in 1880's Paris, on the surface, is about an amatuer botanist named Lamprias de Bergerac, a descendant of the famous long nosed Cyrano. Not known to the average person is that Cyrano conducted alchemical experiments and composed what may be the first sci-fi story about a trip to the moon. Lamprias has inherited that quest for knowledge from him, even if it goes against the moral conventions of his day. A lover of women, stuck in a loveless marriage with the aptly named Virginie, he takes on many concubines in his travels, even having the nerve to bring home one such from China with ironic name of Dust. Lamp goes further by having a child by his mistress, named First Man. Most of the book focuses on Lamp's travels and the adventures that he has in the jungle which are quite fascinating.

Meanwhile, his son by Virginie, named Septimus, feels replaced by First Man, and begins to develop a xenophobia because of it. He feels inferior so he has to become a racist to make himself feel superior, with the encouragement of his mother, whose reasons are the same, feeling replaced by Dust. In the end he becomes a Nazi supporter during World War II and helps send his father's first love to the death camps of the Gestapo.

Basically, you have two intertwining stories in the book, one of Lamprias, as he tries to discover a new Eden through physical and spiritual quests and willing to sacrifice his family to gain it. The other is that of his son's descent into madness and the love of his father which, once being rejected turns into a hatred of all those he sees as inferior.

Most of the novel is powerful and dissects the madness and obsessions that humans can get locked into. The parts with the son are especially frightening by showing how a person can brainwash themselves into devaluing human life.

Something that Ducornet has that so many of her high minded peers do not have is a sense of humor. This book could have been very apocalyptic but shining through everything that's going on is humor. For example, when Lamp recounts how he met Virginie, he says how impressed he was with her poetic speech and the deepness of her intellect. Unknown to him, she had simply memorized verses and thoughts from her school textbook and really didn't even know what she was talking about. She was just repeating them like a robot. He found out too late. Of course, just like comics have bad jokes, Ducornet doesn't always hit it.

I highly recommend this book. I believe that some day Ducornet will join the great writers of my time where she belongs. Until then, I guess she will be my little secret." - Sesho

The Fountains of Neptune (1992) - Rikki Ducornet

The Jade Cabinet (1993) - Rikki Ducornet

Andy Duncan

Beluthahatchie and Other Stories - Andy Duncan

Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories - Andy Duncan

Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn

"Lovers of language and readers looking for a unique experience, take note! Ella Minnow Pea is the fascinating story of an independent island nation off the coast of the U.S. (fictional, of course) named after their national hero, Nevin Nollop, originator of the renowned sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Known to all novice typists, this "pangram" contains all letters of the alphabet, with very few repeats.

Nollop has been exalted to saint status for his achievement, and when the monument to his memory--and his memorable pangram--begins to lose letters, town leaders interpret it as a sign from the afterworld that each lost letter must be successively eliminated from all oral and written communication. It is a challenge that is progressively difficult for residents to meet, and they must find creative ways to stay within the law or join the rebels who risk public punishment or even exile. Author Mark Dunn also accepts the challenge of eliminating each letter successively from his novel, which is written entirely as correspondence between two young women in their late teens and other island inhabitants.

Not only an intellectual exercise (although an amazingly successful one), Ella Minnow Pea is an engrossing story as well--both a biting condemnation of a government fanatically self-righteous in its enforcement of the increasingly impossible laws it has imposed, and a hilarious account of the residents' antics in the face of absurdity.

A quick but enthralling read, the book reaches an eminently satisfying conclusion that will leave readers shaking their heads in admiration and struggling to create their own pangrams." - Margie Bunting

Mary Dunn

Lady Addle Remembers: Being the Memoirs of Lady Addle of Eigg - Mary Dunn


"Lady Blanche Addle was a fictitious character created by the British author Mary Dunn (1900 -1958) First published in the 1930's Dunn's Lady Addle books amusingly parody and satire of the then British upper classes, and paricularly the works of Walburga, Lady Paget; Daisy, Princess of Pless and Adeline, Countess of Cardigan and Lancastre. It could also have mentioned Lady Sybil Grant.In her two books Mary Dunn traces the life Lady Blanche Addle nee Coot daughter of the 13th Earl of Coot from her Victorian childhood until World War II.

The books are written in the first person in the form of "memoirs". Lady Blanche details in gushing tones the daily and mundane details of her and her family's uneventful life in such a fashion that she believes they will be of great interest to future generations. written with a subtle humour of which Lady Addle is seemingly unaware. Lady Addle fancies herself a poetess and author whose literary works are of high merit when in fact they are banal, and she gives hilarious suggestions on cookery and entertaining as serious fact.

A second character detailed in the books is "Millicent, Duchess of Brisket", commonly known as "Mipsie." She is Lady Blanche's much married sister, a nymphomaniac, black marketeer, brothel keeper and gold digger, facts which Lady Blanche unwittingly details while concentrating only on the tragedies of Mipsie's life, and how misunderstood she is.

The books are illustrated by genuine Victorian photographs of members of the British upper class that have been hideously altered. For example, Lady Blanche's mother is heavy-browed and cross-eyed, yet the photograph is captioned "My beautiful Mother", Mipsie always shown with wild hair and protruding teeth is captioned "Mipsie at her loveliest"

Lady Blanche symbolises in a humorous way those females of the early 20th century, British aristocracy who subconsciously felt themselves more talented and intelligent than those of less exalted birth encouraged by a period when it was not uncommon for the pronouncements and literary efforts off upper class women to be eagerly consumed by an aspiring bourgeoisie."

Lord Dunsany

The Collected Jorkens - Lord Dunsany

"Fantastic tall-tales with low-key humor told by Jorkens at the Billiards Club. The old man's remembrances of unusual adventures at the edge of the world in the 1920s and 1930s are quite amusing. They include a story about a mermaid, adventures in Africa, and trees that are alive. Jorkens recounts his adventures for club members in return for a whiskey, and the club members are never quite sure how truthful he's being. This first collection by Nightshade of three volumes includes tales originally published as The Travel Tales of Joseph Jorkens (1931) and Jorkens Remembers Africa (1934).

I love the atmosphere of these stories. Dunsany knew how to grab readers at the start:

The talk had veered round to runes and curses and witches, one bleak December evening where a few of us sat warm in easy chairs round the cheery fire of the Billiards Club. "Do you believe in witches?" one of us said to Jorkens. "It isn't what I believe in that matters so much" said Jorkens, "only what I've seen."

How can you not read further after a beginning like this? Dunsany knew how to tell good stories. I quite enjoyed this collection of stories. If you like old ghost stories or Sherlock Holmes, you may enjoy Jorkens." - W. Elliott


Jason Earls

Red Zen: A Novel of Extreme and Bizarre Adventure In Which a Mystical Book on Buddhism Changes the Hero's Life (2007) - Jason Earls

If(Sid_Vicious == TRUE && Alan Turing == TRUE) { ERROR_Cyberpunk(); } (2007) - Jason Rogers & Jason Earls

0.1361015212836455566789110512013615... (2006) - Jason Rogers & Jason Earls

William Eastlake

Go in Beauty (1955) - William Eastlake

The Bronc People (1958) - William Eastlake

Portrait of an Artist with Twenty-Six Horses (1962) - William Eastlake

Jean Echenoz

Piano (2005) - Jean Echenoz


"Goncourt-winner Echenoz offers a cheeky take on the dubious pleasures of the afterlife in this slim, sly novel, which tracks the adventures of a musician after he dies. Max Delmarc is a talented Paris concert pianist burdened by a terrible case of stage fright, unrequited love for a vanished woman named Rose and a weakness for the bottle. On the way home from a benefit concert, Delmarc is mugged and stabbed; he wakes in an afterlife "Orientation Center," part hospital, part hotel, part jail. In his weeklong stay, he gets plastic surgery to repair his stab wound; enjoys a romantic interlude with Doris Day, a nurse at the facility; and is then assigned to "the urban zone"â¿""I mean, to Paris, you understand," he's told. There's a brief side trip to South America, but soon Delmarc is back in the City of Lights, under orders not to contact anyone from his former life or play music. Delmarc quickly violates both rules by leaving his job as a hotel bartender to take a position as a lounge pianist in a more upscale hotel and by embarking on a search for Rose, whom he saw as the love of his life despite his inability to connect with her. Echenoz's satiric style makes the somewhat limited afterlife concept work, and he includes some surprisingly effective plot twists. The result is a quirky, slight novel that offers an original take on human potential and folly." - Publication Weekly

George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails - George Alec Effinger

"George Alec Effinger wrote three books about Marid Audran, a private investigator living in the Budayeen, the red light district of an unnamed Arab country in the 23rd century (but in actuality modeled on the French quarter in New Orleans, where Effinger lived). When Gravity Fails is the first of the three books, which introduce us to Marid, who was raised in Algeria by his mother, an Algerian prostitute, and who never knew his French father. Considered a barbarian north african by the Arabs in his city, Marid lives on the fringes among the drug dealers and users, and the strippers, protitutes, sex changes and outcasts that live just outside the law, working as a private detective when he can find a client. Marid prides himself on being unwired, that is, unlike most residents of the Budayeen, Marid has not adapted his brain to accept personality modules, or Moddies, or add-ons, better known as Daddies. Nor does Marid work or live under the largesse or protection of Friedlander Bey, better known as Papa, who controls most the business, legitimate or otherwise, in the Budayeen.

When a client is killed in front of Marid's eyes and Marid's acquaintances start dying horrible deaths, Marid is drawn into an uneasy alliance with both the police, whom he does not trust, and Papa, to whom he does not want to be beholden.

Effinger has created a world that is unlike most science fiction books, keeping the actual science light, and letting us believe that this is how the Arab world might be in the 23rd century, with not much changed except a bit of technology. Effinger offers both an interesting who and why-dunnit, while examining the issues of faith and identity. Is Marid, a heavy drug and alcohol user who lives by his own code and is committed neither to Allah nor any other human, the faithful one, or is it Papa, who kills and extorts in the name of business but who faithfully prays 5 times a day? What is it like to be an outsider, and how do you find yourself?

This book is sadly out of print, but easily available used on the internet. Still compelling after all this time and well worth tracking down. - J. Fuchs

Tristan Egolf

Kornwolf - Tristan Egolf

"An intriguing work hampered by some vague wording and a general sense of being unpolished. The premise is original and the attention to detail helps to flesh out some of the scenes, but overall it feels too loosely connected to really carry the impact it's seeking.

It was nice to see a return to the werewolf-as-embodiment-of-community-tensions-trope; it seems like most recent works go straight for the cheap horror route, and it was nice to see hints of something deeper here. It was also great to see the Stubbe Peter case used to give the story some historical grounding, though the infodump in the middle could have been worked into the flow better.

Unfortunately my experience in general was undermined by the novel's elements being too loosely connected, and by weaknesses in verbal precision. The story jumps from the Amish community to boxing to corruption in the local police force and back again. They're connected, true, but the effect feels more random than intentional. A few awkward turns of phrase also led to the book feeling unfinished. For example:

"[T]he opening notes thereof settled over the room as a sedative haze, lulling the almost unbearable pain to recession, if anesthetically so..." [Highlight Location 506]

"Anesthetically" seems a bit of an odd choice here, given that the preceding clause means almost exactly the same thing. For most books it's not an issue but for satirical novels, the phrasing must be precise, and there were several spots where it was a little off. It was small things like this that gave the general impression the book might have been stronger if the chances for further revision had not been denied in such a tragic manner.

So, in short, it's worth a read if you're looking for something other than just some straight-up cheap horror, but it didn't have quite the impact I think it was going for.

As for the humor, that depends on whether you find it funny that the novel has towns named Blue Ball, Intercourse, Laycock, Bird-in-Hand, etc., and whether you appreciate frequent jokes about how the werewolf looks like Richard Nixon. Yes, I realize these might be actual place names but the fact that they were repeated ad nauseum didn't make them any funnier. If you do think these are funny, great, you will probably find this book hilarious, but if you're not really into novels that resort to obvious dick jokes, there's not going to be much else here in the way of humor that's likely to capture your attention." - Duckie

Joyce Elbrecht & Lydia Fakundiny

The Restorationist Text One: A Collaborative Fiction by Jael B. Juba - Joyce Elbrecht & Lydia Fakundiny

"This witty, labyrinthine postmodernist kaleidoscope is, among other things, a complex murder mystery, a feminist discourse and a metafictional riff on the possibilities of language and imagination. Elizabeth Harding, a strong-willed, divorced professor from upstate New York, buys a run-down historic house on Florida's Gulf Coast, planning to renovate it over the summer of 1977. On the day she takes possession, she stumbles on the corpse of the previous tenant. An old Creole woman rumored to practice voodoo is a suspect; her grandmother was the original owner of the house now believed to be haunted. The plot thickens when the body of a private eye dressed in a KKK robe is discovered--impaled on the fence surrounding Harding's property. Retired philosophy professor Elbrecht and Cornell English professor Fakundiny have created a fictive authorial persona, "Jael B. Juba," who interjects comments on the unfolding action. With referents ranging from Freud to Foucault to Greek myth and Hamlet , the text, a dazzling riot of exfoliating prose, deconstructs eros, selves and archetypes as it probes such themes as the trivialization of desire in a consumerist culture and the loss of individuality within a group." - Publisher's Weekly

Mircea Eliade

Two Strange Tales (2001) - Mircea Eliade


"This book contains two extraordinarily vivid and dramatic stories. The first one, "Night at Serampore", describes an episode (probably containing some amount of autobiographical experience) involving some strange kind of time travel or "fall into the past" whereby one night while staying as a guest in an old rural indian mansion the main protagonist becomes in most misterious circumstances an involuntary witness to long past events. This extraordinary experience could seemingly be due, as the story tends to suggest, to the influence of advanced tantric meditators who presumably had been involved that same night in some kind of secret powerful yogic-tantric rituals in a nearby area...

The second story, "The Secret of Dr. Honigsberger" is based on a real character, an indologist scholar who dissappeared in somewhat mysterious circumstances quite a long time ago. Eliade takes this fact as a starting point for a most thrilling story narrating the experience of a student that is called by Dr. Honigsberger's widow in order to review and order the personal notes and papers left by her late husband in the hope of finding some clues regarding his dissapearance. The facts given by the story indicate that the dissapearance had taken place quite some time ago in the scholar's own house and in unexplainable circumstances. ...The rest is a masterful narration of a most exciting investigation dealing with occult yogic practices in a haunting environment... As to the real Dr. Honigsberger, there are some hints about this most curious event in a book containing a long interview to Eliade whose exact title in the english version I can't recall but that probably goes as "The Test of the Labyrinth",...or something close to this.

It is important to note that both stories contain serious and authoritative information and details concerning yogic practices. After all, we must keep in mind that Mircea Eliade was a top world authority in the History of Religions and a most knowledgeable expert in Indian Religion. Must be read by those who search for the mysterious and extraordinary,...and for good and well documented literature as well." - Marcos A. Gallardo

Stanley Ellin

The Specialty of the House - Stanley Ellin

Carol Emshwiller

Carmen Dog - Carol Emshwiller


"Something strange is going on as the psychiatrist explains to his new patient Pooch the dog that "the beast changes to a woman and the woman changes to a beast". Pooch the dog turned woman worries about the baby as the mother has become a snapping turtle while the father seems mystified about the changes, but not overly concerned. Things come to a head or perhaps a bite when the turtle-mother bites the baby and refuses to let go until Pooch takes a lit match to the neo-beast's neck. Since the father remains uninvolved, pooch decides to flee with the baby for the infant's sake.

However, pooch has to reconsider her decision when they arrive in New York City when the Central Park Wolverine gang threatens them and the scientists at the Academy of Motherhood want to test her and throw away the baby. Men do what they do best; ignore the goings-on as dogs make better companions than women.

Using personification to satirize relationships, especially gender stereotypes, Carol Emshwiller provides an amusing look at acceptable societal roles that stifle people. The story line is at its best when it skewers how humans behave and how we assume "beasts" behave. When it spins into mad scientists on the loose conspiracy, CARMAN DOG loses some of its acerbic bite as the bark becomes louder not keener. Still this is a deep swift satire that will have the audience laughing yet also thinking about its underlying warning that labeling and classifying negatively oversimplifies everyone." - Harriet Klausner

H. C. Engelbrecht

Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Armament Industry - H. C. Engelbrecht

online version

Anti-Imperialist's Reading List - Joseph Stromberg

War, Peace and the State - Joseph Stromberg

Manual for Apprentice Book Burners - James J. Martin

Venedikt Erofeev

Moscow to the End of the Line - Venedikt Erofeev

"Moskva-Petushki, which is translated in English as Moscow to the End of the Line, is Venedikt Erofeev's greatest work, one drunken man's (Venichka's) journey on the Moskovskaia-Gor'skovskaia train line to visit his lover and child in the Petushki. En route, Venichka talks with other travelers in dialogue and he also speaks in monologue about various themes such as drinking, Russian literature and philosophy and the sad, poetic soul of the Russian peasant. As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly dark, disoriented, hallucinogenic and surrealistic, in proportion to the narrator's alcohol intake.

Moscow to the End of the Line was written in 1970. During this time, Erofeev, himself, was traveling around the Soviet Union working as a telephone cable layer. Erofeev's friends have said the author made the story up in order to entertain his fellow workers as they traveled, and that many of these fellow workers were later incorporated as characters in the book.

The text of the novel began to be circulated in samizdat within the Soviet Union and then it was smuggled to the West where it was eventually translated into English. The official Russian language publication took place in Paris in 1977. With glasnost, Moscow to the End of the Line was able to be circulated freely within Russia, but, rather than stick to the original form, the novel was abridged in the government pamphlet Sobriety and Culture, ostensibly as a campaign against alcoholism. Finally, in 1995, it was officially published, together with all the formerly edited obscenities and without censorship.

Although he is an alcoholic, Venichka never comes across to the reader as despicable. Venichka is not a man who drinks because he wants to drink; he drinks to escape a reality that has gone beyond miserable and veered off into the absurd. He is not a stupid or pitiable character, but rather one who has no outlet for his considerable intelligence. That Venichka is very educated is obvious; he makes intelligent and well-read references to both literature and religion. However, in the restrictive Soviet Union of his time, there was no outlet for this kind of intelligent creativity; Venichka is forced to channel his creative instincts into bizarre drink recipes and visions of sphinxes, angels and devils.

Although many will see Moscow to the End of the Line as satire, it really is not. Instead, it is Erofeev's anguished and heartfelt cry, a cry that demanded change. Venichka is not a hopeless character, however, the situation in which he is living is a hopeless one.

A semi-autobiographical work, Moscow to the End of the Line was never meant as a denunciation of alcoholism but rather an explanation of why alcohol was so tragically necessary in the day-to-day life of citizens living under Soviet rule.

Moscow to the End of the Line is a highly entertaining book and it is a book that is very important in understanding the Russia of both yesterday and today as well. This book is really a classic of world literature and it is a shame that more people do not read Moscow to the End of the Line rather than relying on the standard "bestseller." This book deserves to be more widely read and appreciated." - A Customer

Tim Etchells

The Dream Dictionary for the Modern Dreamer - Tim Etchells

"First - a caveat. This is decidedly not one of those books where charlatans who have studied Freud for a fortnight exploit either the credulous or the sleep-deprived by 'explaining' their dreams. In a way, it could be seen as a parody of them, but it's much more (and much stranger) than that.

It's a peculiar meditation on the fractured, troubled, celebrity and material-obsessed society we live in, always thought-provoking and puzzling. It reminds me most of Ben Marcus's 'Age of Wire and String' in its efforts to take debased symbols and make them new and strange.It is almost perfectly judged - you keep thinking he'll never keep it up over a whole book, but somehow he does. Probably more likely to give you puzzling dreams than explain them, it's not for everyone, but well worth a look for the enquiring soul." - ocfc

Percival Everett

God's Country - Percival Everett


"It is this reviewer's opinion that Percival Everett's God's Country is nothing short of a mini-masterpiece. Set in 1871 and narrated by a very unlucky cowpoke, Curt Marder, the book shows the good, bad, and ugly aspects of life in God's Country (the proverbial Wild West).

The story opens with marauders burning Curt's ranch, kidnapping his wife, Sadie, and committing the ultimate indiscretion of shooting his beloved dog. Curt, a spineless coward and ardent racist, does nothing to stop them and watches from a distance as his home is destroyed. He hires Bubba, the best tracker in the area (who happens to be African American), to lead him to the culprits (and subsequently Sadie) in exchange for half the ranch. It is in the journey to save Sadie that Curt constantly witnesses and benefits from Bubba's selfless acts of benevolence and humanity, but is blinded by racism, stupidity, and ignorance to realize the errors of his ways. Instead, he consistently lies, steals, and cheats, largely driven by greed and his own self-interests.

Mr. Everett is an excellent writer having pulled off such a spoofy odyssey. Through his words, the reader experiences the sights, sounds, and smells of hard living in hard times. It is a relatively short novel that is richly saturated with dark humor and unforgettable, wonderfully imagined characters with names like Wide Clyde McBride, Pickle Cheeseboro, and Taharry whose speech impediment causes him to preface every word with "ta," thus earning him his unusual name. The book even includes a "cameo" appearance of "Injun killin'" George Cluster and bank robbers reminiscent of the James/Younger Gang.

This book touched on so many issues (the "isms") on a number of levels. Through the misadventures of Curt and Bubba, the author covers the institutionalized racism and social injustices that Native, Asian, and African Americans endured. There are painful scenes of an Indian tribe massacre and a lynching of an innocent black boy. The sexism exhibited against women in the West was evidenced in the Jake and Loretta storylines, and the emerging socio-economic strata (classism) between western landowners was touched upon as well. However, for me, the most powerful messages were saved in the last few pages of the novel's surprise ending. Without revealing too much, I thought it was clever in the way that the author paralleled Bubba's "dream" to live freely without fear or judgment to MLK's desire to be judged by the content of one's character and not by skin color. Curt comments that Bubba's dream did not sound like much of a dream summed up the underlying arrogance and indifference toward his fellow man that resonated throughout the story.

This is the second book I have read by this author and I have not been disappointed yet. I am looking forward to picking up his other works as time permits." - Phyllis Rhodes


Philip Jose Farmer

Venus on the Half-Shell - Philip Jose Farmer

"The following is excerpted from Edger Chapman, The Magic Labyrinth of Philip Jose Farmer, (San Bernardino: Borgo Press, 1984) 64-65.

Farmer's most important parody and fictional author story is Venus On The Half-Shell (1975), published by Dell books under the byline "Kilgore Trout." Trout is Vonnegut's itinerant, impoverished science fiction author, a prophet despised and without honor in his own country. A strong admirer of Vonnegut, Farmer has also confessed to a deep identification with Trout (who was actually suggested by Theodore Sturgeon). The identification was strengthened by many things: Farmer's own years as a struggling science fiction author in the early and middle stages of his career; Farmer's experience as a misunderstood social critic; and Farmer's identification with pornography as an Essex House author, a fate that plagued Trout. Finally, not long after Farmer had returned to Peoria, he was accused in 1970 of having written a letter signed "Trout" in the Peoria Journal Star criticizing President Nixon's Vietnam policy-another ironic identification of Farmer and Trout. (The letter is believed to have actually been penned by a college student.)

At any rate, Farmer, when afflicted with a temporary writer's block, conceived the idea of writing one of Trout's nonexistent novels and publishing it under Trout's name. He obtained Vonnegut's permission and went to work. When Venus on the Half-Shell was published by Dell, with Farmer wearing a false beard and a Confederate hat as a disguise on the back cover, the book was a ninety-day wonder, until Farmer's authorship, which Farmer made little effort to conceal, became known. Although the novel brought Farmer some unaccustomed notoriety (and made Vonnegut regret giving his permission to the project), the revelation of Farmer's authorship created a tendency to dismiss the work as simply an amusing parody and literary hoax. An additional irony in this episode has been Vonnegut's claim in a recent interview with Charles Platt (recorded in a book published in 1980) that Farmer failed to avow his authorship of Venus for a long period, presumably in the hope that sales would be increased by association with Vonnegut's reputation. This allegation, however, is not borne out by fact: Farmer told numerous friends, colleagues, and fans of his authorship; in fact, he informed the present writer of it when Venus was appearing as a serial in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Vonnegut's reaction is perhaps not surprising, since Trout is his invention. But when Vonnegut professes to feel anxiety that Farmer's book may somehow have harmed his literary reputation, it is hard to take him seriously. Such concern might have been better devoted to the effect of Vonnegut's self-indulgent seventies novels, Breakfast of Champions and Slapstick.

Divorced from topicality and controversy, Venus On The Half-Shell can be read as a lively satirical anatomy, an absurdist novel that manages to parody Vonnegut while ridiculing human pretentiousness and our persistent search for metaphysical answers in an irrational universe. . .

As a satire, Venus On The Half-Shell has many excellent moments, but it contrasts sharply with Vonnegut's work. Whereas Vonnegut is Juvenalian or Swiftian in his tone, his work suggesting genuine misanthropy, Farmer is a genial Horatian satirist here. There seems to be more readiness to accept the limitations of human life in Farmer, more hopefulness about the human capacity to enjoy life, even if dreams and ideals are for the most part doomed to not to be realized completely." - A Customer

Lord Tyger - Philip Jose Farmer

"Now that Philip Jose Farmer's wild books from the late 1960's-mid 1970's that are being reprinted, the reintroduction of "Lord Tyger" to the world appears overdue. It is the best Farmer book of this period. The title character is a Tarzan-like individual who is raised by people he doesn't believe to be human, attains mastery of the jungle and its animal denizens, and torments the local tribe of primitives (the Wantso). The descriptions of LT's encounters with the Wantso and the chieftain of a rival tribe are entertaining and frequently hilarious. No SF writer has more fun with the science of anthropology than Farmer.

The entire novel is a fast read and packed with adventure. At his best, Farmer's adventures seem to contain as many ideas, plot turns and dramatic action sequences as entire series by more mediocre authors. I had the misfortune of trying to read two volumes of the "Decology" by "L Ron Hubbard" many years ago, and it's plain to me that average SF adventure writers do not have what Farmer had, especially around the time of "Lord Tyger."

Farmer is a dedicated fan of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and books like "Lord Tyger" make Farmer appear to be a more informed and (much) less restrained Burroughs. This is a pastiche of what I consider to be the best of the Tarzan books (I, VI and VII), which I recommend. The idea of the "noble savage" by Rousseau gets ill treatment here, especially if one's idea of "noble" is based on civilized ideals. In fact, the presence of Tyger's insane benefactor Boygur speaks to the rather sick consequences of trying to make monsters out of men.

"Lord Tyger," like all of Farmer's Tarzan-inspired fiction, is worth seeking out and buying. It is excellent, but clearly not for younger readers." - P. Kufahl

Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke - Philip Jose Farmer

"Far too long out of print, TARZAN ALIVE: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF LORD GREYSTOKE is a postmodern classic that will appeal to readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Philip José Farmer, as well as those interested in parascholarship, fictional biographies, and literature in general. This is the book that launched the concept of the Wold Newton family, the genetic lineage exposed to a radioactive meteorite in 1795, thus spawning a number of great detectives, scientists, explorers, and adventurers, some of whom border on the superhuman. Farmer's addendums, expanding this concept to include a multitude of literary characters (such as those from Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and Jack London's THE SEA WOLF, to name only a couple), alone make the cost of this book worth it.

This is truly the definitive edition of TARZAN ALIVE, and Bison Books has wisely added a number of extras that will make this edition worth owning even if one already has a Doubleday, Popular Library, or Playboy Paperbacks copy of the book. Collected here, but missing from the older versions of the book, are two gems: 1) "Extracts from the Memoirs of `Lord Greystoke' (previously only available in the hard to find anthology MOTHER WAS A LOVELY BEAST); and 2) "Tarzan Lives: An Exclusive Interview with the Eighth Duke of Greystoke" (in which Farmer himself interviews the Jungle Lord). Further, the Bison Books edition includes an insightful new foreword by Win Scott Eckert (editor of MYTHS FOR THE MODERN AGE: PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER'S WOLD NEWTON UNIVERSE), which places TARZAN ALIVE in the context of "Sherlockian biographical scholarship," showing how Farmer's book is truly exemplary (and also transcendent) in the field of fictional biography. This is followed by a new introduction by science fiction author Mike Resnick discussing Farmer's other Tarzan pastiches.

The book itself is a compelling read. Farmer treats the subject of his "biography" as a living person about whom Edgar Rice Burroughs chronicled in fictionalized form. This livens up what otherwise would be a dry summary of ERB's Tarzan series, as Farmer often interjects with persuasive comments, conjectures, and elaborations in the brilliant style that is unique to him. In TARZAN ALIVE, Farmer breaths new life into the legend of Tarzan, all out of a respectful love for the character which pours from every word on every page of this delightfully wonderful work." - Christopher Carey

Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life - Philip Jose Farmer

Adams Farr

The Fangs of Suet Pudding - Adams Farr

"The Fangs of Suet Pudding may be the most unusual book you read this year. It was written during WWII by "Adams Farr" who may or may not be the narrator of the tale, a teenage girl. Through her eyes we see what it was like to live in France when the Germans were marching through at the beginning of the war. But Loreley is no ordinary girl and the adventures she encounters when she allows a thief in the night to share her bedroom are not like any other war story you've ever heard. Although she has nothing in common with Lisbeth Salander, the super-girl from Stieg Larsson's popular thrillers of 2011, she has as much gumption and charming wiles as Lisbeth. And she can tell a story better than almost anyone writing today. Your library of oddities will not be complete until you have a brand-new edition of this very obscure and hard-to-find book in it. Chris Mikul introduces it and Gavin L. O'Keefe provides the cover art. It's a book you won't forget for a long time." - boilerplate

J. G. Farrell

The Siege of Krishnapur - J. G. Farrell


For those seeking greater insights into Britain's imperial ethos, I urge you to read THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR, by the late(and great)Anglo-Irish writer J.G. Farrell. It's about the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, when thousands of native Indian Army troops (know as Sepoys) rose up against their English masters. The bloody mutiny began in Meerut barracks in May of '57 and quickly spread along a 500-mile string of cities and villages in northern India. It was finally put down five months later. Marked by appalling atrocities on both sides, thousands of Indians and hundreds of Europeans were slaughtered. The proximal cause of the uprising was the introduction of rifle cartridges greased with animal fat, which was unacceptable on religious grounds to both Hindus and Muslims. The underlying (if at the time unarticulated) cause of course rested in dissatisfaction on the part of Indians, the inhabitants of an ancient and sophisticated civilization, over their subjugation by foreigners.

In the 18th century, the presence of the British in India, most of whom were men, was generally benign and not much noticed. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the behavior of the British toward Indians had become increasingly oppressive and arrogant, in large part due to the presence of English wives, who ghettoized the English communities and regarded all native Indians with fear and contempt. After the rebellion, such attitudes hardened and became pervasive; this in turn fed the resolve of Indians to expel the British from their country - which they did 92 years later. Although there is no record of it, at the time, a few thoughtful Englishmen must have recognized that the rebellion was an indelible sign of what would inevitably follow.

The centerpiece, if you will, of the Sepoy Rebellion was the four-month siege by the rebels of the Residency at Lucknow. The "residency" was in fact a large, walled compound which served as the British administrative center of an area consisting of thousand of square miles and millions of inhabitants. It was also the social center of the British community and the home of the "Collector", the region's chief administrative officer. THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR, first published in 1973 and winner of the Booker Prize that year, is a fictionalized account of the Lucknow siege - although most of the incidents related in the book actually occurred and most of the characters are based on real people.

THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR is, bar none, my favorite 20th century novel. It is a sublime book that has everything - elegant, crystalline writing, vividness, tight novelistic structure, tremendous scope and depth, action, excitement, moving, convincing sentiment, comedy and tragedy, uproarious savage satire and searing irony. Supporting these virtues is a serious philosophical discourse about the nature of human progress as it is reflected in the efforts of Westerners to "civilize" the rest of the world. For all of that, although KRISHNAPUR demands close attention, for the literate, it is a highly accessible, highly satisfying "read". I know that you'll enjoy it, and in reading it will, I believe, learn a bit more about the human condition.

Should you be inspired to learn more about the Sepoy Rebellion, I recommend Christopher Hibbert's THE GREAT MUTINY, Viking, l978. And for a trenchant, entertaining examination of day-to-day life during the Raj (from the British perspective), see PLAIN TALES FROM THE RAJ, edited by Charles Allen (Holt, Rinehart, l985)

Absurdly, J.G. Farrell died in a fishing accident in 1979. Among his other works are: TROUBLES (1970), set in Dublin in l919, THE SINGAPORE GRIP (1978), set in Singapore in the weeks immediately before the Japanese invasion of the city in 1940, and the unfinished THE HILL STATION, set in Simla in pre-independence days.

Troubles - J. G. Farrell

Raymond Federman

The Twofold Vibration - Raymond Federman

"The Twofold Vibration is a book that has yet to find an audience. It situates itself somewhere between a few different genres; between fact and fiction, history and futuricity, autobiograpy and science ficiton, pastiche and kitsch. Most importantly, i t situates itself inbetween the Holocaust and a departure from the planet which is a hybrid of science fiction and biblical messianism. The focus of the novel, the "old man" is investigated by two narrators (Namredef and Moinous: translated as Federman spelled backwards and "my mind" respectively) and one writer who makes an assemblage out of their information/ficitonal information (and perhaps misinformation) about the old man. The major task of these three is to find out why the old man is being deported to another planet. But with all the information we get about him we still don't get an answer. What we do get is a rich collage that includes both a missed encounter and a quasi-real encounter with the Nazis, as well as a narrative about how the old man returns to the camps later in his life (albeit accidentally). The accidentlal return to the camps begins when he meets a Jane Fonda type of woman of the 60s, a woman who is a film star slash political activist. The narrative itself is entirely borrowed from film which brings out its kitcshiness and a scence of non-reality. His involvement with this woman leads to taking risk after risk, and eventually gets him onto a plane for Europe where they go to gamble have sex etc. At some point, we are not sure, this "story" ends and another begins, this time with the two narrators. In this new plot line, in which we learn about the friendship and travels of these three, ther is another mad flight from caisno to casino. Eventually this leads them into Germany. One of the highlights of the journey is a Wagner opera out of which the old man attempts to make some obesrvations about the German people and Nazis, this proves futile. At some point, after this opera, he disspaears from his friends for a reason that is seemingly arbitrary: He had to "think" so he left. In the meantime they don't know if he is dead. After he departs from them, he accidentally meets other people whom bring out how, in the aftermath of the holocast (in a an age of media and mass efficiency) fiction and reality overlap. He meets a Jewish film producer from Holloywood who wants to make a film about the Holocast (though he never went through it) and his non-Jewish Grilfriend who is more a reflex than a person. She exerts a mechanical pity and has a likewise mechincal form of sex with the old man. At some point he leaves the couple and this branches off into another story of how he loses all his money and ends up in Paris, where they meet up with him again. At this point, the narrative takes a turn toward sci-fi and the detective novel. The narrators and the writer realize that the old man will depart very soon, therefore they make it their task to find out what he did wrong to get deported, and then perhaps they could make things right and save him. I won't tell what ends up happening in the end of the book, that is left to the reader to discern. But for now, I can say that the end of the book inter-weaves a messianic plot with epistmeological and exigetical questions concerning the meaning of existence and the search for meaning in general (and its diversions). Its a cross between Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, eastern messianism, a sci-fi nightmare, and a Beckett Play where a plot is interrupted by a form of existential absurdity. The greatness of this ending has less to do with how it brings all of these genres together into a configuration, but in how it invents a discourse after the Holocaust that is concerned not just with the past, but with a future that is not just situated in a realistic manner, but in a fictional manner. It is for this reason that Federman should be reconsidered by Holocast critics like Hartman and Felman whom have taken such an interest in testimony that they have (unfortunatley) discounted work such as Federman's as promoting a form of "amnesia" (Hartman) and diversion that goes nowhere in contrast to Video testimony (at Yale for Hartman, Felman, and Langer) that has something to give to the next generation (what Langer calls "collected memory" a la James Young vs- "collective memory", that is public memory which, for Hartman, vulgarizes the Holocaust.) Hartman argues that Federman's work, like Video Testimony, challenges the notion of "false memory" ("collective memory") but falls short of testimony becase this is all it does. This bias does an injustice to Federman's work. Anyone who takes time to read this book will realize the injustice that has been done. At one point in this book, Federman (the first person narrator) writes that the Holocaust has become a concern for everyone, it is not just an event that Jews and Germans need to work through. This implies that this book should be read as a work of the imagination, the historical imagination. Federman shows us that the historical imagination can and should deal with the Holocast in way that figures out how it will travel into the future by way of a world where fact and fiction overlap, a world where Hollywood producers make films on the Holocast and where the old man is about to be deported for something no one knows about, a deportation that is like the deportation to Aushwitz (and not like it), a deportation that is at the same time thoroughly fictional and at the same time quite real. This book should be read in the sence that it meditates on a departure/deportation that hasn't yet happened, just as another great book of Federman's To Whom it May Concern is about an arrival that hasn't happened but is in the process of happening." - menachem feuer

Double or Nothing - Raymond Federman

"Double or Nothing" is a concrete novel in which the words become physical materials on the page. Federman gives each of these pages a shape or structure, most often a diagram or picture. The words move, cluster, jostle, and collide in a tour de force full of puns, parodies, and imitations. Within these startling and playful structures Federman develops two characters and two narratives. These stories are simultaneous and not chronological. The first deals with the narrator and his effort to make the book itself; the second, the story the narrator intends to tell, presents a young man's arrival in America. The narrator obsesses over making his narrative to the point of not making it. All of his choices for the story are made and remade. He tallies his accounts and checks his provisions. His questioning and indecision force the reader into another radical sense of the novel. The young man, whose story is to be told, also emerges from his obsessions. Madly transfixing details-- noodles, toilet paper, toothpaste, a first subway ride, a sock full of dollars-- become milestones in a discovery of America. These details, combined with Federman's feel for the desperation of his characters, create a book that is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. The concrete play of its language, its use of found materials, give the viewer/reader a sense of constant and strange discovery. To turn these pages is to turn the corners of a world of words as full as any novel or literary discourse ever presented. "Double or Nothing" challenges the way we read fiction and the way we see words, and in the process, gives us back more of our own world and our real dilemmas than we are used to getting. "Invention of this quality ranks the book among the fictional masterpieces of our age..." - Richard Kostelanetz

"This is a terrific book, clever and rollicking and inventive and funny and haunting and all those good adjectives. But this edition is terribly disappointing; the text is set in a proportional font, which makes all the "concrete" games and shapes look cheesy. The pages (spoiler alert?) where the text is run together with no spaces between the words, for instance, are significantly easier to read in this edition, and a great deal is lost because of it. Try to hunt down a copy of the first (1971) edition if you can; this edition is a dim shadow of that one. (Hence the 4 stars -- really I'd give this edition much less but it is a five star book and a poor job of keeping it in print is better than none at all.)" - Chris Pluma

Jules Feiffer

Ackroyd: A Mystery of Identity - Jules Feiffer

"Whodunnit? Who's Who? And, more importantly, "who the hell am I?" He solved the case of the missing parakeets. Now if he could only figure out who he was... Jules Feiffer works his easy-going wit and biting social satire into his second novel "Ackroyd," which begins as a parody of the Raymond Chandler school of detective fiction, but ultimately asks the age-old question: Is identity merely a metaphysical conceit? A shamus who may or may not be a sham, Roger Ackroyd (named after the victim in Agatha Christie's most shocking novel) is hired to investigate a case of writer's block by sports writer Oscar Plante. Over the course of five years, in between the bonhomie of Elaine's and tangling with unconventional femmes fatales, Ackroyd's personality begins to merge with his client's as he acquires his ex-wife, his mistress and, eventually, his craft. In "Ackroyd," Feiffer uses the detective genre to further his investigations into human neuroses, and to re-imagine the artist as a young sleuth forced to cope with a corrupt world. Originally published in 1977." - jacket copy

Jean Ferry

The Conductor and Other Tales (1950) - Jean Ferry

"First published in French in 1950 in a limited edition of 100 copies, then republished in 1953 (and enthusiastically praised by Andre Breton), The Conductor and Other Tales is Jean Ferry's only published book of fiction. It is a collection of short prose narratives that offer a blend of pataphysical humor and surreal nightmare: secret societies so secret that one cannot know if one is a member or not, music-hall acts that walk a tightrope from humor to horror, childhood memories of a man never born, and correspondence from countries that are more states of mind than geographical locales. Lying somewhere between Kafka's parables and the prose poems of Henri Michaux, Ferry's tales read like pages from the journal of a stranger in a familiar land. Though extracts have appeared regularly in Surrealist anthologies over the decades, The Conductor has never been fully translated into English until now. This edition includes four stories not included in the original French edition and is illustrated throughout with collages by Claude Ballare.

Jean Ferry (1906-1974) made his living as a screenwriter for such filmmakers as Luis Bunuel and Louis Malle, cowriting such classics as Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Quai des orfevres and script-doctoring Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du paradis. He was the first serious scholar and exegete of the work of Raymond Roussel (on whom he published three books) and a member of the College de Pataphysique." - Wakefield Press

Michael Fessier

Clovis - Michael Fessier

Juan Filloy

Op Oloop - Juan Filloy

"The first time I heard of Juan Filloy was during an editorial trip to Germany, organized by the German Book Office and including a day of 'speed dating' with other publishers. It was at one of my first 'dates' that I met the very hip editors from Tropen Verlag who, after finding out that I worked at Dalkey Archive, the publisher of David Markson's best works, suggested that instead of doing any of the German authors they might recommend, the one author that Dalkey absolutely had to publish was the Argentine writer Juan Filloy, especially his Op Oloop.

Before even getting to his actual novels, there's a lot Filloy had going for him:

Who wouldn't want to publish someone like this? And thankfully, six years later, Op Oloop is finally available to English readers. (Hopefully it won't take another six years for Caterva to come out.)

The plot of Op Oloop is pretty simple: it chronicles the final day and night in the life of its titular character, Op Oloop, a Finnish transplant in Buenos Aires who is recently engaged to Franziska, the Finnish consul's niece. As he likes to state, Op Oloop is a 'man of method,' a statistician who lives his life in a very orderly, pre-arranged way.

Thus, Op Oloop was convinced yet again that it was simply impossible for him to act contrary to his nature. 'SUNDAY: WRITING, BETWEEN 7:00 AND 10:00 A.M.' That was the rule. When life is as ordered as a mathematical equation, you can't just skip a digit whenever you feel like it. Op Oloop was entirely incapable of any impromptu act that might violate the pre-established norms of his routine; even such a trivial, graphical set such as addressing an envelope he'd already begun while still within the allotted time.

It's clear from the start that Op Oloop isn't all there - his speech to the employees at his local spa about the need to unite on tipping and form a 'Gratuity International' is proof enough - but on this particular day, things go from bad to worse, as Op's 'method' is thwarted and he can't regain his sense of order.

Filloy's protagonist is a step beyond eccentric, and Lisa Dillman's ability to capture his peculiar speech, wordplay, and insanity is quite impressive. This is especially true in the lengthy section detailing Op Oloop's special dinner with his friends (in preparation for him to sleep with his 1,000th prostitute - a situation that doesn't go according to plan and is the final nail that breaks Op's mind). This dinner is the section of the book that seems most Cortazar-like (Hopscotch is filthy with groups of characters bantering and making statements about Argentina and its people), although Filloy's not quite as tight and witty and fluid as Cortazar (who is?).

"In Hollywood, everyone knows the caloric value of everything. Just as they all aspire unanimously to stardom, they're all equally fanatical about being tres mince rather than overweight. Truly, there's a veritable obsession with fat. Dieting forces them all to undertake endless calculations and combinations. All portions are measured on a basis of one-hundred-calorie units. For example, one hundred calories equals: a tablespoon of honey, or two mandarin oranges, or four dates, or twenty asparagus tips, or a quarter-inch thick steak measuring five inches long and two and a half inches wide . . ."

"So you must've gone round with tape measures, eyedroppers, and scales . . ."

"It's not a joke. You know, I've noticed that Argentines in general tend to be quite sarcastic, yet they're entirely lacking in humor deep down. They make fun of everything in particular, and yet as a nation are all unanimously dull. It's truly incongruous!"

As the novel lurches from scene to scene, Filloy creates an interesting account of one man's mental breakdown. With the exception of what happens at the whorehouse, most of the underlying motivations for his breakdown are mysterious, summed up by the idea that he's 'method personified.' A more conventional book would delve into this issue, maybe explain how the hell he ended up with Franziska in the first place, etc., etc., but this isn't a conventional book. It's a more daring, playful novel, that, while not perfect, is one of the most fun novels I've read this year. I only wish the graph of Op Oloop's day that's in the Spanish edition was also included in this galley." - Three Percent

Timothy Findley

Not Wanted on the Voyage - Timothy Findley

"Findley set himself an ambitious task in writing this novel. He takes the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark and reinterprets it. This represents a new trend in late 20th century literature; the rewriting of traditional stories, often in the attempt to undermine the intended purpose of the story. Aside from this work, this idea can be seen in Gardner's "Grendel" (based upon the thousand year old English epic poem "Beowulf") and the "Politically Correct" series: Bedtime stories, Parables, and the Politically Correct Guide to the Bible. It is interesting to see how post-modernism is changing (if not corrupting) literature. Post-modernism asserts that there is no meta-narrative, no authoritative version of events, no absolute truth and so forth. Of course, it is almost immediately obvious that such a philosophy is riddled with contradiction (see "Relativism: Feet planted firmly in mid-air," by Frank Beckwith and Gregory Koukl for more; I've also reviewed this book) and as such should not be taken as serious philosophy.

"Not wanted on the voyage" strikes me as a much better novel than Findley's "The Wars" (which I have reviewed), a tale about a Canadian soldier in World War 1. I would not say there is a substantive difference in terms of writing style, but I simply found the happenings of World War 1 uninteresting to read in a fictional setting. My main criticism of this novel is the pace; the first part is almost painfully slow. The reader has to wait about 60 pages to meet Yahweh (God, who is described an ancient man, strained with exhaustion) and then, another 140 pages for the Ark to be finished and the Flood to begin. I consider the Ark and the Flood to be the main events of the story, however it may be told, and those events should be the most prominent. Despite the pace, there are several things about the novel that I enjoyed.

The depiction of Yahweh (i.e. the God of Christianity/Judaism) is without a doubt theologically wrong in most respects, but as a character, Findley paints him well. Yahweh is shown to be exhausted, depressed and very human. When Yahweh arrives in Doctor Noyes' home (Findley substitutes Noyes for Noah), there is a sense that it is God's last refuge. Unfortunately, after this one meeting, Yahweh is not seen again.

The portrayal of the various supernatural characters is both amusing and fresh. Lucifer is depicted as the woman Lucy who marries one of Noyes sons and boards the ark. One of my favorite passages from the novel reveals Lucy as the the Dissenter of Heaven, the one who disturbed the peace:

"A long time ago," she said; "in a place I have almost forgotten - I heard a rumour of another world. With all my heart - because I could not abide the place I was in - I wanted to see that world. I wanted to go there and to be there and to live there. Where I was born - the trees were always in the sun... The merciless light. It never rained - though we never lacked for water. Always fair weather! Dull. I wanted difference. And I wondered - does it rain there? Are there clouds, perhaps, and there shade in that other world? I wanted somewhere to stand, you see, that would give me a view of deserts and of snow. I wanted that desperately. I wanted, too, someone I could argue with. Someone - just once - with whom I could disagree.... Who say that dry is wet - and black is white? and if I were to say; `I am not I - but whoever I wish to be.'" (page 282)

This quote is one of the more insightful observations that Findley makes in the novel (i.e. besides such ideas as religion when mixed with power, tends to corrupt). It is ironic that someone would desire foul weather, dissent and trouble instead of bliss.

The Archangel Michael is Michael Archangelis who might be best described as a holy warrior. In the novel, Michael is the well-armed and experienced protector of Yahweh who never sleeps and the brother of the fallen Lucifer. Oddly enough, demons are among the "animals" included in the ark. Demons are described in the novel as fiery, roughly dog-sized animals that are playful. I somehow found this bizarre for I tend to consider such beings immaterial, similar to angels. There are also strange beings called Faeries which are some sort of small, bright beings. Nothing is really said about them, other than the fact that they are frightened easily and live in the forest.

Noyes' family is a mixed bunch; some loyal to the father and some to the mother. They are hardly saints, yet they could not really be called fully corrupt either. Noah (or Doctor Noyes) is an oppressive father whose passion for God leads him to be a negligent husband and father; further, there are hints that he is some sort of scientist (there is mention made of him experimenting with animals and attempting alchemy). This realistic showing of family life is one of the endearing qualities of the novel. On the other hand, the fact that all the animals can talk is quite strange. Mrs. Noyes cat, Mottyl, has quite a role throughout the novel and one wonders why this is the case. Is there some sort of subtle symbolism intended here or is it simply a device to let the reader know what the animals think about the Ark, the Flood, and the people aboard it?

A word of warning to some readers that there is a rather violent sex scene in the novel, it lasts about two pages and some readers may want to skip this section." - Bruce H

Stephen Fine

Molly Dear: The Autobiography of an Android - Stephen Fine

"Molly Dear is an amazing long-duration adventure on the scale of Isaac Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man", but with far more words and detail. The author seems willing to give great detail on Molly's evolution into a person equivalent to any human and of her desires to remain so despite the exploitation she often faced. Humorous at times, often with its extrapolation of well-known brands into the future, it's touching and poignant at others, and sexy on occasion. In that regard it's much like life. While it would be hard to recommend this to someone who didn't have an interest in the evolution of self-willed sentient and independent robots, and certain some minor items are a product of it's being written 26 years ago as of this review, Molly Dear remains a fine addition to the robot/fembot genre that some of us may live to see realized. As a first novel by this author, this reader's disappointment is that it also seems to have also been his only novel to date." - D. Barber

Charles G. Finney

The Circus of Dr. Lao - Charles G. Finney

"I don't recall my hometown even having a bookstore. Books did occur, of course - at Shaffer's News and the two drugstores, mainly. These were useless to me, except as shoplifting sites. I didn't have the disposable income for books.

My parents' reading was limited. My father read trade journals and news weeklies (he was an educator), and my mother mysteries. As far as I know, my father only read two novels in his life: "Lord of the Flies" and "From Here to Eternity." He consumed the latter in paperback and I remember his process with amazement; the spine had broken about halfway through his reading, and he would throw away chapters as he finished with them. When he'd finally tossed the final yellowed pages into the trash, he declared his opinion: "Prewitt just wouldn't conform. The idiot just wouldn't conform."

I haven't read the novel myself (saw the movie though!), but I suspect this is not the point James Jones was hammering. This experience taught me my most important lesson as a writer: readers will take what they take; there's only so much you can do. Be thankful if somebody reads your goddam thing. Let it go. Thanks Dad.

My sources for fiction were our public library and semi-annual charitable book sales, hosted by grim, blue-haired ladies who viewed my presence with suspicion. For a buck, a kid could pick up a dozen Shell Scott mysteries, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch collections, and still have enough left over for a couple of James Bonds.

It was at one such book sale that I first picked up "The Circus of Dr. Lao." I was twelve when I first read it. I no longer have my original (I lost it when we moved from that bleak little town), but in the years since, whenever I come across an edition, I buy it. (I have found three different editions of it over the years. For all I know, it may have always appeared only in second hand book stores.)

"The Circus of Dr. Lao" was made into a major motion picture in 1960. It was probably the viewing of this movie ("Seven Faces of Dr. Lao," Tony Randall and Barbara Eden; a George Pal picture, heavy on make-up and stop-motion animation) that provided the impulse for me to buy the book in the first place.

There was little resemblance between the movie and the book. Well, let me put that another way - there was more resemblance than usual between the movie and the book, but the movie managed to subvert the book entirely. I'm sure the author was amused by that (if still alive), took the Hollywood money, and ran.

The movie is about a mysterious guy, Dr. Lao, who shows up at a bleak Arizona town and transforms its inhabitants with magic. The book, on the other hand, is about this mysterious guy, Dr. Lao, who shows up at a bleak Arizona town and doesn't change anything. The 1960 movie's monsters are glistening, state-of-the-art and all played by Tony Randall. The 1934 book's monsters are mangy, out-of-date, and slightly out of focus.

I have reread this book every few years or so since, and it still thrills me. I can't call it a good novel really (if you want a good novel, read "Pale Fire"), but it has a world-weary tone that appealed to me mightily when I was a pre-teen boy on the Dakota prairies. Why I still like it now is a question only therapy could answer.

Maybe it's the theme: people wouldn't know a miracle if it bit them on the behind. So what good are miracles? Did they save guys from getting "adobe walled by Pancho Villa." And what is a "miracle" in a skeptical yet superstitious world? Did miracles save the ancient gods and monsters from extinction? Who is Dr. Lao? Curator, pulp fiction "Chinaman," or the last of the gods? The relentlessly laconic author doesn't seem to care about these questions one way or another, beyond framing them.

His Circus features the original Apollonius (b/w Golden Ass), Satan, a satyr, Medusa and the Great God Yottle. The people of Abalone, Arizona, where The Circus has landed, are impatient, by and large, with these apparitions - they only want a sideshow.

Even the clumsiness of the novel is endearing. The entire final section (a virgin sacrifice to a defunct god), for example, is written in an overwrought pulp style that might be parody, and might be heartfelt. Who knows?

It's even post-modern! It has lists, in other words, of pretty much everything contained in the novel. This index is labelled "THE CATALOGUE," which the author calls "An explanation of the obvious which must be read to be appreciated." A typical entry, in its entirety:

THE DEAD MAN APOLLONIUS BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE: Arnold R. Todhunter. A homesteader. Later on, when a Tribune reporter interviewed him about the hours he spent in the arms of death, he testified he was just on the point of being issued a harp and a gown when Apollonius reclaimed his clay. He said Heaven reminded him more than anything else of an advertisement he had once read of Southern California.

It's certainly an interesting artifact. If you ever find a copy, I urge you to spend your nickel (seven bucks in today's dollars), and check it out. Finney has written other books ("Magician of Manchuria," e.g.), which I bought, but couldn't finish. You'll find Dr. Lao in the fantasy section, if you find him at all." - Ian Shoales

A mysterious circus rolls into town by means of neither roads nor train. Its advertisement promises sights and wonders as yet unseen by mortal man. Its owner is a chameleonic Asian man of uncertain age and origin. Though at first unimpressed with its run-down appearance (heck, it doesn't even have an elephant!), the mundane citizens of Abalone, Arizona are soon to learn that the circus contains a bizarre collection of myths, oddities, fables and lore that will challenge the very nature of their lives and beliefs.

Charles G. Finney's 1935 classic The Circus of Dr. Lao is a difficult book to describe. Although he wrote a handful of books in his career, this is the only one with lasting power. It was made into a film in 1964 (under the name The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao) in which Tony Randall played all the strange denizens of the circus. But while the film took a straightforward approach with the message of enjoying the miracles of life all around us, the book is much more obtuse.

Engaging and intriguing, it follows no regular conventions, has no chapter breaks, no central character and is really just a collection of events that happen throughout the circus in a semi-linear fashion. Even the book's introduction by John Marco (writer of the critically acclaimed Tyrants and Kings trilogy) states quite clearly:

"The Circus of Dr. Lao defies convenient explanation; it must be read to be understood, even though questions may linger. It puzzles and provokes."

The prose draws the reader into the fantastic circus emphasizing the strangeness with the original illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff. Finney vividly captures the time period of the 30s, bringing the rural, rustic Arizona town with its dusty streets to life, then injects the wonders of mythic creatures.

There is a very sensual and erotic undercurrent to the novel which was probably rather shocking at the time. However there is no real "climax" to any of the scenes, be it the Satyr's seduction of Miss Agnes Birdsong or African god Mumbo Jumbo and his Nordic "bride" at the peepshow. Finney was trying to use Dr. Lao to pique the townspeople's interests without giving them a pay-off, so they are left wanting more.

Dr. Lao himself changes between wise mentor, learned master and stereotypical "Chinaman." His adventures have spanned the globe yet he accepts the wonder of all he has seen, from the chimera to ancient magician Apollonius, as common place. Could he be the last remnant of the Age of Fable, overlooked when the Age of Reason wiped out such dreamers like Baron Munchausen and Gulliver?

Finney himself left the book as a pondering. In fact there are so many "Questions, Contradictions and Obscurities" that he actually lists them at the back of the book causing further speculation from the reader. He didn't want to confuse, but rather inspire readers to feel part of the surreal world the townspeople experienced.

The Circus of Dr. Lao is an attempt to expand the limits of people's imaginations. It's a thought-provoking read and, like Dr. Lao's circus, contains far more depth than its humble surface appears to offer." - David Maddox

"Charles G. Finney's The Circus of Dr. Lao regularly shows up on various best-of lists and has remained in print fairly consistently since it was first published in 1935. The University of Nebraska Press reissued the book in April 2002 as part of their Bison Frontiers of Imagination series to the benefit of each and every reader of imaginative fiction.

The story covers a day in the life of Abalone, Arizona, during the Great Depression. It is not a normal day. A strange Chinese man has placed a flamboyant ad in the local paper promising a wondrous circus. No one knows how this man and his magnificent retinue have landed in Abalone.

But before the morning ends, citizens of the town are treated to a baffling parade featuring a sample of Dr. Lao's "unbiological" bestiary: Lao rides a wagon containing a sea serpent and pulled by a unicorn, and is joined by the mage Apollonius of Tyana, a bear that might be a Russian, an old satyr, the Golden Ass of Apuleius, and a "hound of the hedges" that is a perfect blend of flora and fauna.

But this is nothing. Despite the initial disappointment of the parade, Lao has told the town to expect a circus midway "replete with sideshows wherein were curious beings of the netherworld on display, macabre trophies of ancient conquests, resurrected supermen of antiquity." Lao has also promised a main event that would be beyond belief:

Before your eyes would be erected the long-dead city of Woldercan and the terrible temple of its fearful god Yottle. And before your eyes the ceremony of the living sacrifice to Yottle would be enacted: a virgin would be sanctified and slain to propitiate this deity who had endured before Bel-Marduk even, and was the first and mightiest and least forgiving of all the gods. Eleven thousand people would take part in the spectacle, all of them dressed in the garb of ancient Woldercan. Yottle himself would appear, while his worshippers sang the music of the spheres. Thunder and lightning would attend the ceremonies, and perhaps a slight earthquake would be felt. All in all it was the most tremendous thing ever to be staged under canvas.

This would not play well at Madison Square Garden. Indeed, it out-Barnums old P.T. himself.

Their curiosity stirred, and having very little else to do, the townspeople patronize the circus in the afternoon. Various citizens are teamed up with mythical creatures from diverse traditions -- chimera, werewolf, medusa, mermaid, sphinx, satyr -- in a series of vastly different encounters. A mere summary of the plot cannot do this book justice. The book is not about plot, not in the traditional sense -- climaxes are interrupted and desires left unconsummated, as when the satyr awakens the desires of a prudish schoolteacher. Most people are unchanged (with the exception, perhaps, of the one who gets turned to stone) and remain impudent, deceitful, and deceived. We are not privileged to judge what effect the wonders of the circus have on the town of Abalone. Finney does not allow for a moral analysis during the story and stops short of resolution.

The book may be faulted for its uneven pacing, though Finney builds on this effect to his great advantage by imbuing the speech of Dr. Lao and his serpent with jarring, shocking moments of comic (but not funny) patois in order to parlay the more provincial citizens of Abalone with their own expectations. But often readers are introduced to events with a great rush or a complacent reticence that feels awkward in a story too short and rooted to be labeled episodic or picaresque. Nonetheless, this unnatural narrative rhythm is entirely appropriate for a story in which magic assaults complacency. Perhaps most telling is the late revelation of the true nature of one Frank Tull, lawyer, the ultimate patchwork man of a type that has never been so well portrayed with the written word -- not by Mary Shelley, nor by William Gibson -- as by Finney.

The University of Nebraska Press is to be commended for reprinting the original surrealistic art of Russian-born (or bear?) Boris Artzybasheff. In Artzybasheff's smooth drawings are studies of chiaroscuro and grotesque, phantasmagoric ruminations on the text. An uninspired and utilitarian foreward by John Marco replaces that of Edward Hoagland in an earlier printing (Vintage, 1983), which is a shame, since Hoagland was an eloquent naturalist. In general, Finney's writing abounds with lizards, toads, brush, water -- as much of the natural as the supernatural.

The crowning achievement of The Circus of Dr. Lao is the catalogue. It is a parade of minutiae, explanations, and additional stories. It proves that good fantasy, like the devil, is in the details. The catalogue's coy moralism turns the book around and contextualizes the story. And it's great fun.

The catalogue is also a triumph of form. Why shouldn't speculative fiction have extra-textual experiments? Important books, full of substance and controversy, have always produced creative commentary, like the Talmud. Finney's catalogue helps preserve a tradition and forms a bridge to contemporary efforts such as J.G. Ballard's masterful index in War Fever and Jeff VanderMeer's "The Ambergris Glossary" in City of Saints and Madmen.

The influence of The Circus of Dr. Lao, however, has been wide, from Ray Bradbury's dark midwestern fantasies, to Tom Reamy's posthumous novel Blind Voices, published in 1979. There was even a movie in 1964, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, starring Tony Randall. The book holds its own today, as it blends in with the exciting changes taking place in imaginative writing. Like Dr. Lao's circus, it is full of magic, and exists outside the boundaries of time." - Mike Simanoff

"Just as, in a menagerie, some people will pause to marvel before the cage of an exotic creature from another hemisphere while others haul their children past, scarcely permitting them a glimpse, so, at the circus, some of us gasp at the trapezists' and the tumblers' feats, and other paying customers move restlessly in their seats and check their fingernails. In a circus we see mostly what we are ready to see. There is no script but chance and hope and spontaneity, and thus it is appropriate that this masterpiece of circus literature describes an imaginary circus, not a real one. No circus ought to be too "real."

Dr. Lao's stupendous show, which arrives abruptly in the Depression town of Abalone, Arizona, one hot August morning, introduces us to a hermaphrodite sphinx, a 2,300-year-old satyr, a lion-lizard-eagle dragon, and a gentle green hound, "less carnal than a tiger lily," with chlorophyll in its veins and a plait of ferns for a tail. Also, an angry sea serpent eighty feet long, whose one soft spot is for the circus mermaid; an ancient, intellectual magician who can bring men back from the dead; and a beautiful medusa who, with a glance, kills them.

Dr. Lao, the Chinese proprietor, travels with only three wagons and no roustabouts. Yet his numerous tents, black and glossy, stand about like darkened hard-boiled eggs on end. For such miraculous transformations he is indebted to his indispensable thaumaturge, Apollonius, who walks about "drowned in thought." Dr. Lao himself is energetic, impulsive, irascible, and resourceful¿an impresario who, according to the emergencies of the moment, switches from the language of a poet-professor to the stock-comedy dialect of a Chinese laundryman "washing the smells out of shirttails," as two college boys, Slick Bromiezchski and Paul Conrad Gordon, put it to him.

The good doctor does have his troubles. The men in the crowd complain because the werewolf has turned into a woman three hundred years old, not the hot young dish they claim they were promised. A scientist who has examined his fearsome, enigmatic, phlegmatic medusa only wanted to identify the several species of snakes that constitute her hair (for which separate diets must be gathered). Circuses carry "a taint of evil or hysteria," Dr. Lao admits with regret. "Life sings a song of sex. Sex is the scream of life....Breed, breed, breed....Tumescence and ejaculation." One cause of his friend Apollonius's melancholy exhaustion is that things on the circus lot are forever getting out of hand¿between the sea serpent and the dragon; between Satan and the witches who appear in the finale, some of them airsick from their flight to perform; between the bear (or is it a "Russian"?) and the mermaid it carries around the hippodrome; and between the satyr and Miss Agnes Birdsong, a high school English teacher who has come early in order to see the "Pan" that she observed driving a wagon during the opening parade through town.

Charles G. Finney, our cheerful author, was only thirty in 1935, when his Circus was published, so that his reactions are not the same as those of Apollonius, or even the "old-like, wealthy-looking party in golf pants" who represents Abalone's solidest citizens. At the time, Mr. Finney, a great-grandson of a famous Congregational divine who founded Oberlin College, was the veteran of a Missouri country boyhood, a year at the University of Missouri, and three years of garrison duty with Company E, Fifteenth U.S. Infantry Division, in Tientsin, China. An autodidact and intellectual rebel, he counted as his favorite twentieth-century writers Conrad, Kipling, Joyce, Proust, and Anatole France (but included no Americans). He had started the manuscript there in the army barracks in the American compound, writing in longhand, then laid it aside till he got home, because it had turned too lecturey. Later, he dedicated the book to a soldier buddy in Tientsin, with whom he never crossed paths again.

Mr. Finney's sympathy for humdrum people and ordinary lives had a short fuse. Perhaps partly as a result, his book ran out of steam after ninety pages or so. When the delight and spontaneity begin to wane, we know the performance is almost over¿not because of some inner novelistic logic but because, just as at a circus, the acts that he has brought to town have now all appeared, and it is simply over. In fact, the book's shortness probably explains why it is not better known, compared to bulkier underground classics, and why it needs reviving.

Wonders were what interested Finney¿"real honest-to-goodness freaks that had been born of hysterical brains rather than diseased wombs," "the sports, the offthrows of the lust of the spheres," foaled from the earth, suggests the good doctor, the way the Surinam toad bears its offspring, through the skin of its back. Dr. Lao's perpetual, exasperated dither, the lassitude and the boredom of Apollonius, and the pell-mell terror of much of the show are the price of having a performance at all¿which, for reasons unstated, of course must go on." - Edward Hoagland

"Finney writes as though he had been possessed by the spirit of Ambrose Bierce, and to me, that's a GOOD thing. More of a short story than a novel (I last read it in the space of a single afternoon), "The Circus" shines light in many directions and is best appreciated after more than a single reading. Frankly, I'm astonished that it got published in the first place, and even more surprised that it here receives what amounts to a "Criterion Collection" sort of treatment, including reproductions of the illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff from the first edition.

The citizens of Abalone (plus a few visitors) are scathingly protrayed in amazingly understated passages. Presented with actual unicorns, satyrs, sea serpents, mermaids, and other "fabulous" creatures and miracles, hardly any of the townspeople can muster more than a yawn and a shrug. The ultimate spectacle, the sacrifice of a virgin to the giant bronze god of the rotten-to-the-core city of Woldercan, is absolutely a gem.

The use of several racial epithets does nothing to reflect on Finney - it doesn't take a super-astute reader to understand Finney is reflecting on his *characters*, yes, even in 1935.

As most reviewers have noted - this is NOT a children's book. And while the Tony Randall film of 1960 has some of its own charm (thank you, Barbara Eden!!), it is a kiddy-fied, watered-down version of this story. It was probably Finney's experience as a newspaperman that soured him on human nature - it must be an occpational hazard, since he shares that experience with the afore-mentioned Bierce as well as with another arch-cynic, Cyril Kornbluth of "Marching Morons" fame. The writing style varies (intentionally) from pulp to inspired to crisp and concise, sometimes all on a single page. Obviously not a book for everyone, but I find it refreshing, enlightening, and supremely entertaining." - Mark Shanks

Unholy City - Charles Finney

"City is a parody of the fantastic adventure novel of the Edgar Rice Burroughs school -- but it's more than just parody, and plenty weird besides. Finney's stuff is very unusual, but oddly satisfying. Finney is also the author of "The Circus of Doctor Lao."

The Unholy City: one of the most remarkable novels of fantastic adventure ever written. The nightmare City of Heilar-Wey, with its ghoulish pleasures, its zany riots, and a giant tiger ravening in its streets, is not a nice place to visit - but it's a delight to read about! - from the cover.

This book actually holds 2 short novels: The Unholy City (an update of a 1937 novel) and The Magician out of Manchuria: an exotic saga of the travels of the Magician, a lost Queen of remarkable talents, and their very odd companions, in search of a far land where magic may still live-a story of perils, pratfalls, and pure enchantment." - A Customer

The Ghosts of Manacle - Charles Finney

"The stories (and one novella) are set in and around Finney's invented township of Manacle, Arizona.

Finney covers such topics as a local manifestation of the "Black Dog" motif familiar in England's folklore; the bizarre offspring of a Gila Monster and a shrike; a curse on good-deed-doers; and a quest for buried treasure, wherein just about every character is related, and very few don;t want to kill each other.

Finney's craft is such that the possible preciousness of his style is outweighed by his creativity and good humor. These are fun stories to be read with one eyebrow cocked, for they were doubtless written tongue-in-cheek.

The cover blurb of the 1964 paperback is "The damndest book you ever read." I might not go THAT far, but it's a fun read, and comes from a guy whose creative net stretches across the Arizona horizon." - Mark Alfred

Ronald Firbank

Five Novels - Ronald Firbank

"Ronald Firbank, whose forty-year lifespan (1886-1926) covers a particularly bountiful era of English prose artistry, is so eccentrically individual an author he almost seems to be a creature invented by Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. His five short novels, collected in this New Directions Paperback edition, are utterly unclassifiable; no genre suggests itself when they are being read. His prose, as fastidiously styled as a coiffured poodle, as twee as an afternoon tea, is bewilderingly florid even beyond the standards of his contemporaries. With the descriptive proclivities of an interior decorator, he paints with all the colors on the palette; an orchid is not just an orchid but a "rose-lipped" orchid with a "lilac beard." England had not seen lyrical flamboyance like this since Oscar Wilde a quarter century before, and would not see it again until the ascendance of Freddie Mercury a half century later.

But Firbank's writing is not just fancy window dressing. His stories may look like fairy tales because of the whimsical characters and settings, but his narrative technique fractures the linearity of the plots by focusing on external details. In "The Flower Beneath the Foot," for example, the subject of the conversation in the first few pages is not immediately apparent, but disclosure gradually occurs over the course of the following chapters: His Weariness the Prince Yousef's mother, the Queen of some mythical Arabesque realm called the Land of Dates, disapproves of her son's desire to marry the humble convent-dwelling Mademoiselle de Nazianzi instead of Princess Elsie of England. Not until the final paragraph does Firbank dispel the story's genteel facade to reveal a passionately beating, and broken, heart.

Firbank's characters are garish works of art, most of them either impossibly frivolous nobles of theatrically exaggerated primness or paupers with pride and dignity. As in "The Flower Beneath the Foot," a common theme is star-crossed love, a romance between two people of different social stations. This love can be interracial, as it is in "Valmouth," a British colony with a climate so salubrious that the inhabitants live well over a hundred years, as well as in another novel with an evidently Caribbean setting and a controversial title which I refrain from typing so as not to have to wrestle with the Amazon censorship filter. Infatuation can also be grotesque, as it is in "The Artificial Princess," whose heroine, reluctantly betrothed to a foreign Crown Prince, unwittingly encounters the Devil on the night of her debut.

Firbank, one of the first of many English Catholic writers to emerge in the twentieth century, is comfortable setting one of his novels in Spain. "Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli" is self-explanatory, as the good cardinal, who allows aristocratic dogs to be baptized as a favor to wealthy patrons and disguises himself in the street as laity of either gender, risks being defrocked by the Roman church for his perceived sacrileges.

This is humor, but of a less obvious sort; unlike P.G. Wodehouse, who made a handsome living with his comical portraits of the upper class, Firbank doesn't target a specific group of people or stratum of society, nor does he seem interested in such petty substantiality. His fiction, insulated in a world unscarred by war and populated by dainty animated dolls, is an idyllic extension of reality, somehow a reminder of the limitless expanse of literature where formulas lose their validity and time stands still. Toss aside all your preconceptions, because these novellas will surprise you." - A. J.

Tibor Fischer

The Thought Gang - Tibor Fischer

"Middle-aged layabout Eddie Coffin wakes up naked & groggy in an apartment full of child-pornography just as the police break in. If you ever find yourself in similar circumstances, Eddie advises "try to be good-humoured and polite" because "it makes the police fret about having got something wrong."

So begins this hilarious tale of a tenured philosopher at Cambridge who absconds with departmental funds to France, where he meets up with a deranged(?) one-armed robber named Hubert, a psychopath with "a gluttony for erudition." Soon the two of them are on an increasingly improbable crime-spree, rifling bank-vaults & schools of thought with equal aplomb.

As the loot mounts and the police circle ever closer, Eddie & Hubert decide to make one last, climactic heist, to put the capper on their caper career and to put their philosophical conclusions (which include contributions from the Ancient Greeks to Nietzche) to the ultimate practical test.

Tibor Fischer has created a side-splitting narrative that is as full of deep intelligence as it is full of belly-rending guffaws. This is a novel whose pace puts the average potboiler to shame and whose implications stretch the envelope for literary fiction. Eddie & Hubert are characters you will love to hate and vice-versa. If you have an appetite for Felony and Philosophy, then this book is a must-read, a re-read, and a keeper." - jjwylie

Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore - Penelope Fitzgerald


"Offshore possesses perfect, very odd pitch. In just over 130 pages of the wittiest and most melancholy prose, Penelope Fitzgerald limns the lives of "creatures neither of firm land nor water"--a group of barge-dwellers in London's Battersea Reach, circa 1961. One man, a marine artist whose commissions have dropped off since the war, is attempting to sell his decrepit craft before it sinks. Another, a dutiful businessman with a bored, mutinous wife, knows he should be landlocked but remains drawn to the muddy Thames. A third, Maurice, a male prostitute, doesn't even protest when a criminal acquaintance begins to use his barge as a depot for stolen goods: "The dangerous and the ridiculous were necessary to his life, otherwise tenderness would overwhelm him."

At the center of the novel--winner of the 1979 Booker Prize--are Nenna and her truant six- and 11-year-old daughters. The younger sibling "cared nothing for the future, and had, as a result, a great capacity for happiness." But the older girl is considerably less blithe. "Small and thin, with dark eyes which already showed an acceptance of the world's shortcomings," Fitzgerald writes, she "was not like her mother and even less like her father. The crucial moment when children realise that their parents are younger than they are had long since been passed by Martha."

Their father is farther afield. Unable to bear the prospect of living on the Grace, he's staying in Stoke Newington, part of London but a lost world to his wife and daughters. Meanwhile, Nenna spends her time going over incidents that seem to have led to her current situation, and the matter of some missing squash racquets becomes of increasing import. Though she is peaceful by nature, experience and poverty are wearing Nenna down. Her confidante Maurice, after a momentary spell of optimism, also returns to his life of little expectation and quiet acceptance: "Tenderly responsive to the self-deceptions of others, he was unfortunately too well able to understand his own."

Penelope Fitzgerald views her creations with deep but wry compassion. Having lived on a barge herself, she offers her expert spin on the dangers, graces, and whimsies of river life. Nenna, too, has become a savant, instantly recognizing on one occasion that the mud encasing the family cat is not from the Reach. This "sagacious brute" is almost as complex as his human counterparts, constantly forced to adjust her notions of vermin and authority. Though Stripey is capable of catching and killing very young rats, the older ones chase her. "The resulting uncertainty as to whether she was coming or going had made her, to some extent, mentally unstable."

As always, Fitzgerald is a master of the initially bizarre juxtaposition. Adjacent sentences often seem like delightful non sequiturs--until they flash together in an effortless evocation of character, era, and human absurdity. Nenna recalls, for instance, how the buds had dropped off the plant her husband rushed to the hospital when Martha was born. She "had never criticized the bloomless azalea. It was the other young mothers in the beds each side of her who had laughed at it. That had been 1951. Two of the new babies in the ward had been christened Festival." Tiny comical epiphanies such as these have caused the author to be dubbed a "British miniaturist." Yet the phrase utterly misses the risks Fitzgerald's novellas take, the discoveries they make, and the endless pleasures they provide." - Kerry Fried

Richard Flanagan

Gould's Book of Fish - Richard Flanagan

"In the reviews that are printed in the Grove Press Trade edition, I counted 22 renowned authors the critics cite with whom to compare Flanagan. The list is rather impressive and includes Joyce, Melville, Conrad, Rabelais, Borges, Hemingway, Marquez, Swift, Morrison, Pynchon, Sterne, Dante, Ovid, de Quincey, Heller, Dickens, Camus, Faulkner, Fielding, Smollet, Dostoevsky and, by inference, Peter Carey (the reference is to Carey's character, Ned Kelly in The True History of the Kelly Gang). Throw in a reference to Wuthering Heights (in terms of the book's lingering effect upon the reader's imagination) and you see the sort of playing field Flannagan is occupying. In terms of critical acclaim, the guy has arrived.

The praise is justified. Great novels introduce us to fully realized worlds, which burst forth from singular imaginations. This is just such a work. As T.S. Elliot noted, great literature also connotes, contains and reexpresses the great literature of the past. As you can infer from the number of references cited, this book acomplishes that.

Great works also contain great characters and William Buelow Gould, "sloe-souled, green-eyed, gap-toothed, shaggy-haired & grizzle-gutted" is as large and expressive a character as has been penned in recent literature. He's witty, expansive, loveable, colorful and as dimensional as they come. He's unforgettable, as are several of the other characters in the novel, most notably the penitentiary surgeon, Mr. Lempriere, in his passionate quest to become another Linnaeus, fellow convict Capois Death, who represents the life-force irrepressible. Towering over them all is the most surreal Commandant, once himself a convict, who through luck and subterfuge has assumed the identity of a British officer who perished in a shipwreck off the coast of Tasmania. He is rescued and taken back to the nearby penal colony, where he again lucks out when the old Commandant dies and there is no one else to replace him. He ultimately assumes absolute power and control over every guard, soldier and inmate in the colony and proceeds to engage all these unfortunate inhabitants in fullfilling his grandiose schemes. To accentuate his god-like stature, he has a gold mask fashioned for him, behind which his old identity disappears. His history and his fate, becomes inextricably linked with Gould's.

One word of warning, and it is the sort of warning that small children would be powerless to obey, but I know that I am writing to intelligent, mature readers here. Do not look at the final page of the book!! It will ruin the read for you, I assure you, and it is such a great read, you really don't want that to happen, do you? Remember the old adage about Curiosity and the fate of the cat!! Don't be led by your feline instincts!! Save the surprise for the right time! I know that I've just made that difficult for you, but it's just not worth it, I assure you! OK, now that that's settled, go get a copy of this treasure and prepare for a marvelous voyage." - Bruce Kendall

Gustavo Flaubert

Dictionary of Accepted Ideas - Gustavo Flaubert

""Darwin? Descending from the monkey." You can find many laconical statements like this in the 950 entries of the "Dictionary of Accepted Ideas (commonplaces)". The "Dictionaire de Idées Reçues" has been published as an appendix of Flaubert's final novel "Bouvard et Pécuchet", 1881, one year after the death of Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880).

To the same (Darwinism-) topic the ironical German author Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) noticed: "After the human being comes the monkey (in the system of zoology) - after a broad ravine. But if one should want to organize the animals with regards not on their intellect's but on their bliss and cosiness -- then some people would reach a position under the miller donkeys and hounds."

Lichtenberg's sentences needed more words than Flaubert's. Lichtenberg wrote a little bit didactically and cordially: "The health prefers to see the body dancing more than writing". Flaubert noticed with sarkasm on dancing: "One does not dance today any more; one marches, winds himself etc. "

To the topic "NOVEL" Flaubert made the comment: "Novels ruin the masses. However there are novels for example which are written with the top of a scalpel: Madam Bovary." Here Flaubert becomes trivial, his point of view becomes dull, because he tries to support his own major work. - Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) wrote in his comparable "Devil's Dictionary", 1906: "The former art of the novel is everywhere dead already -- unless in Russia where this art is still new. Peace to his ashes -- it still sells well."

Flaubert's (1821-1880) sarcasm in this respect occupies between Lichtenberg (1742-1799) and Bierce (1842-1914) a kind of middle consciousness.

This dictionary makes a parody on the tone of some pompous omniscience other works of his time.

Flaubert probably died of syphilis which he had contracted at his Orient journeys. His satirical statement (with a hidden sort of double irony - back-fighting against the author): "Syphilis? Everyone is more or less affected by..." -- not a quite correct medicine sociologically definition - but one with a high self comfort effect, straightly consoling.

Flaubert makes his jokes on the usual medical dictionaries - and on the fear to die.

Flaubert liked to mock against himself permanently: "ARTISTS. All charlatans. Boast of their disinterestedness (old-fashioned). Express astonishment that they dress like everybody else (old-fashioned). They earn insane amounts, but fritter it all away. Often asked to dine out. A woman artist cannot be anything but a whore."

If you read Flaubert quietly and stopping sometimes to think it over, you have the chance to learn how to make relative your own opinions..." - FrizzText

Martyn J. Fogg

Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments - Martyn J. Fogg

Brian L. Davis on Amazon:

"While terraforming has been talked about for a long time in science fiction, it seems technical information about it is scarce. Martyn Fogg has compiled here the handbook of this diverse subject. Starting out by describing what terraforming is about (and what sort of grand engineering has been done to date), it then covers "engineering" Earth, Mars, Venus, and even the outer planets. How could you live "on" Jupiter? What would it take to make Io habitable? Spin up Venus? Shift the orbits of entire plants? It's here, and more. Rich in data, references, and calculations, it also covers both the planetary and biological aspects of the subject. Not for the math-phobic, but if you ever wondered "can you really do that?" about a science fiction terraforming idea, this will answer your question."

Terraforming Information Pages

Gabriel De Foigny

The Southern Land, Known (1676) - Gabriel De Foigny

"Gabriel de Foigny was a French Franciscan monk who was defrocked at about age 36 for licentious behavior. He fled to Calvinist Geneva where he renounced Catholicism and took up a career teaching and writing. But his expectation that Protestant authorities would be more open-minded than Catholics was disappointed when he was persecuted for heretical ideas, drunkenness, and sexual misbehavior. His response to this was to write The Southern Land, Known, which is a very strange combination of utopia, dystopia, and religious allegory.

The story is told by Nicholas Sadeur, who was born at sea to French parents but shipwrecked and orphaned by a storm off the Spanish coast. Sadeur is an hermaphrodite, with both male and female organs, but he self-identifies as a man (and I will follow the author's lead in using the male pronoun). As a young man, Sadeur is kidnapped by pirates. Their ship is wrecked, and he is rescued by merchants bound for the East Indies. After visits to the Congo and Madagascar, the merchant vessel is driven south and westward across the Indian Ocean. It, it turn, is wrecked not far from the shore of the rumored great southern continent, the Terra Australis, or Australia. Sadeur is the only survivor, and after battling giant carnivorous birds, he is taken in by the natives of this exotic land.

The Australians are manlike, but eight feet tall with six fingers and toes and an occasional extra set of arms. Like Sadeur himself, they are all hermaphrodites--a fact easily ascertained because they wear no clothing. He later learns that his intersexuality, as well as the fact that he was washed ashore naked, saved his life. The Australians despise "half men" and consider clothing a form of blasphemy. They don't even need coats because Australia is a land of perfectly mild climate where it never even rains. Fruit is so plentiful (notwithstanding the lack of rain!) that the natives never need to work. They don't even have houses, since they sleep just fine on the open ground. Nor are they bothered by pests, since insects and disease are unknown in Australia.

When it comes to the social, political and religious institutions of the Australians, it is difficult to tell at times whether Foigny wants us to admire the Australians for their peaceful efficiency, or laugh at them as parodies of Calvinism. In religion, for example, the Australians practice a form of pantheism that holds all life sacred, yet they make it a crime to discuss their religious beliefs, and they make desperate war against the neighboring kingdom of non-hermaphrodites. They hate their carefree lives so much that they almost always end them in ritual suicide--a practice so compelling that the law requires them to produce at least one offspring before they are allowed to kill themselves, otherwise the race would have long ago destroyed itself.

Exactly how the Australians reproduce is another forbidden topic, and Sadeur never learns the answer even though he lives among them for 35 years. When Sadeur shows signs of sexual arousal, his hosts threaten to put him to death. There is a suggestion that the hermaphrodite condition of the narrator and the Australians may be a commentary on the poor treatment of women in Europe at that time. Sadeur "was forced to admit that the great empire that the male had usurped over the female was rather a form of tyranny than a just cause."

Foigny's Australia is a carefree communist utopia, yet it is made carefree largely by impossibly benevolent surroundings and the absence of sexual tension. The inhabitants' response to their seemingly perfect existence is to despise it, yet by censorship and xenophobia they prevent any possible new ideas or challenges that might make life bearable. It is a strange world indeed. Like most utopian fiction, the bulk of the novel is devoted to description and debate, but there are some fine action scenes in the opening and closing chapters.

A final note: In 1692 a second edition of The Southern Land, Known appeared in French. It was severely abridged to remove sexually explicit passages, some of the more extreme violence, and potentially heretical religious ideas (whether the bowdlerization was by Foigny himself or someone else is unknown). This edition was translated into English and was the only English edition available until David Fausett's 1993 translation. The 1692 edition is also still being published in French. If you want to read the author's uncensored work, be sure to get the original 1676 version." - Steven Davis

Walton Ford

Pancha Tantra - Walton Ford

"This collection of Ford's large-scale paintings covers most of his work from the past 20 years. It is amazing how consistent his vision has remained over this period, owing not to artistic stagnancy, but instead to a passionate vision that is both unique and powerful. The comparison made by one reviewer is that Walton Ford's large-scale watercolors resemble a meeting of J.J. Audubon and Hieronymus Bosch, and I would say it's very apt. In the world of modern contemporary art Ford is something of a pleasant anomaly, making art that is accessible and thought-provoking, incorporating elements from the masters of the Renaissance, the Baroque period, the Surrealists and, of course, Audubon, to make something that still feels very original. Thankfully, Taschen has released a book that is worthy of the art it depicts; It a huge tome, weighing in around 3.5 kg, 350 pages long, about 12" wide by 16" tall, and is printed on a thick, semi-glossy paper stock. 'Pancha Tantra' is the perfect showcase for one of the world's best living artists, at a price that is shockingly affordable... I've paid literally three times as much for books of this quality.

Compared with his last monograph, the well-designed but slim 'Tigers of Wrath, Horses of Instruction' -- which is only about 80 pages long and features much smaller reproductions, making details hard to examine -- 'Pancha Tantra' feels like a treasure trove of art, every page revealing another incredible, stunning work. As the paintings are presented in chronological order, the reader becomes a kind of naturalist, following the evolutionary development of Ford's vision, as various birds and mammals take on complex metaphorical significance. The European Starling becomes his favorite ornithological avatar, taking on it's tiny wings the weight of English colonialism in the 18th and 19th century. It reappears again and again, in oriental and African locales it doesn't belong, singing in a Rhino's ear, harassing an elephant already in a frenzied state of must, and blown up to fantastic dimensions, fed ridiculous amounts by dozens of other species, all indentured to it's oppressive bulk, dedicated entirely to further fattening a bloated empire.

His newer works move away from predominantly depicting birds, just as Audubon moved on to his less famous 'Quadrupeds of North America' after completing the 'Birds of America'. His scope becomes wider, taking in the entire history of humanity's relationship with the animal kingdom. They have been our nightmares, hunting us in the darkness before we discovered the Promethean qualities of flint, and mastered both fire and spear-point. They've also been our gods -- the Egyptian pantheon in particular, with the cat-headed Bast, jackal-headed Anubis, and falcon-headed Horus perhaps being indicative of our earliest deities, as are the totem-gods of the Native American peoples. And then they became a living resource around which our lives revolved, depending on cattle as the Masai tribe still does, or as the Huns and Mongols and the other Steppe nomads once relied on the horse (worshiping a primitive horse-god, making alcoholic beverages from fermented horse-milk, hunting and conquering on horseback, going so far as to drink their mounts' blood and urine when water was unavailable; and when they died, eating them, using their skins for warmth and finding purpose for every part of their anatomy). Dogs and cats have been loved as family members for thousands of years, even as their wild cousins, wolves and tigers, have been cursed as mankillers and pests that slaughter livestock, hunted to near extinction.

There are few artists who are so clear-eyed in their vision, and whose talent and intrinsic value is so evident. His ambitious course is charted in great detail, but besides a brief introduction, critical essays are omitted, are perhaps unnecessary. What is included is a fascinating appendix which provides annotations by the artist on various paintings, as well as some of the many texts that Ford uses as starting points, providing factual, historical and mythical foundations to build upon. 'Pancha Tantra' is essential and endlessly rewarding; I don't know how many times I've gone back to it, and will continue to go back to it. Among the hundreds of art-books in my collection, this is certainly my favorite." - Corey Lidster

John Fortune & John Wells

A Melon for Ecstasy (1971) - John Fortune & John Wells

"Even hardcore readers will scratch their heads in wonderment at the sheer audacity of "A Melon for Ecstasy." It is like nothing else floating around out there. Sure, there are plenty of offbeat black comedy books waiting to be found, but this book takes the cake. Written in the 1970's by two Brits, John Fortune and John Wells, "A Melon for Ecstasy" deals with a very special man and his love for the wilderness. While many of us love the countryside and all of its intimate charms, it is a safe bet to say that none of us take our affinity for nature as far as Humphrey Mackevoy, the main character of the book.

You see, dear old Humphrey has a different outlook on nature than most people. Humphrey loves trees, literally. It is the type of love that involves a drill and splinters in a very private area of the human anatomy. Climbing trees is not enough for good old Hump; he lives up to his name by making nightly excursions into the neighborhood or a nearby forest and getting to know oaks, maples, elms, and assorted other classifications of the old wood on a first name basis. Of course, whenever Humphrey rises to the occasion, he must watch carefully for his neighbors. One would not want to be caught with one's pants down when the local constabulary strolls by. Humphrey's biggest problem is not his proclivity for tree lovin'; it is the fact that the people in town are noticing his little hobby because Humphrey leaves evidence of his amorous adventures.

Fortune and Wells tell the story of Humphrey entirely through newspaper clippings, letters, and other sorts of two-way communications. This clinical detachment serves to bring out a lot of the humor in the situation. We not only see Humphrey's thoughts through his diary entries, but also the reaction of neighbors and townspeople to the rapidly increasing number of tree holes. Humphrey's activities sets off a whole chain of events, bringing in the local bird watching society, a conflict between two powerful members of the community, an oversexed teenager, and Humphrey's mother (one of the oddest birds to appear in the literary canon).

Initially, the police are dumbfounded over these seemingly random appearing holes. One inspector posits the theory that it must be an orangutan drilling the holes. The local bird watching society believes a rare woodpecker is responsible (and in a way, it is). When the town clerk begins to spray the local trees to keep the woodpecker away, he touches off a war with the entire town, especially with Alderman Strangeways. In a series of escalating confrontations, Humphrey's main squeeze is chopped down and the local beverage ends up with a rather unwelcome embellishment. Humphrey ends up going on a rampage and is caught in a compromising position. His subsequent arrest, trial, and conviction round out the book. The book does have a happy ending, although it is as strange as the rest of the story.

It is a tad difficult to read any type of deep meaning into "A Melon for Ecstasy." At times, the book is so dark as to defy description. When Humphrey spends pages of his diary discussing every type of tree and his desires for them, J.G. Ballard's "Crash" swiftly comes to mind. If "Crash" attempted to reveal a future psychology, one where men and machine became united, "A Melon for Ecstasy" outlines a primitive psychology, where man and nature seek union. Then again, maybe that is just reading too much into the whole thing. It is classified as humor and there are certainly enough chuckles in the book to merit that moniker.

"A Melon for Ecstasy" is funny, although compared to heavyweight British humorists like Jerome K. Jerome, Fortune and Wells cannot compare. Rose Hopkins, the teenager with nothing but indecent thoughts on her mind, is always worth a chortle, as is the running battle between Smart and Strangeways. Especially noteworthy is the prison chaplain who attempts to reach his less educated flock by reworking the gospel narratives into a western novel (involving Sheriff Jesus and his posse) and a science fiction novel (an even more outlandish tale beginning with "Space Hostess Mary").

You need to be in the right mood for this slim book. Even if you do not pick up much of the humor, the book is still worth reading because it is so darn weird. Be sure and pass it along to friends; not only will they think the book is strange; they will look at you in a different light, and that can only be to the good." - Jeffrey Leach

Christopher Fowler

Full Dark House: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery - Christopher Fowler

"Christopher Fowler has had a long and distinguished literary career. FULL DARK HOUSE is the tenth of his published novels. He has also written and published over 100 works of shorter fiction, most of which appear in nine different collections, as well as MENZ INSANA, a fine graphic novel. Fowler's work is quite diverse; while it may stray into the mystery, suspense or even dark fantasy genres, he is impossible to pigeonhole.

FULL DARK HOUSE is an excellent example of this. There are elements of mystery (ala Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie), police procedurals, horror, history and suspense aplenty here. There is also Fowler's trademark quirkiness. One never knows what to expect. So it is that while FULL DARK HOUSE is the first of a projected series of mysteries featuring Arthur Bryant and John May, it deals with their first, and last, case.

We learn over the course of FULL DARK HOUSE that Bryant and May have a long history together. They met up as the result of the establishment of the London Peculiar Crimes Unit in 1940, at the height of the German bombing of London. The founding of PCU occurred partly from necessity and partly for publicity. Given the frequency of the bombing to which the London populace was subjected, the actions of some of its citizenry became more and more bizarre, resulting in what was referred to with British understatement as "peculiar crimes." Bryant and May, assigned to the unit, became friends; their personal and professional relationship has lasted over 60 years, with Bryant's unorthodox methodology and May's more traditional police work complementing each other nicely.

Fowler begins FULL DARK HOUSE in modern London with ... well, a bang, literally, when the headquarters of the London Peculiar Crimes Unit explodes with Arthur Bryant in it. May is aware that his partner, in the days preceding his demise, had been poking around in the files of their very first case and that somehow he apparently awakened the spirit of a murderer who has now eliminated one of them and seems determined to take the life of the other. May begins retracing Bryant's movements in the few days preceding the explosion, examining Bryant's cryptic, almost indecipherable notes and recalling the events of their first active case in November 1940.

Bryant and May were brought to London's Palace Theater to investigate the bizarre death of a dancer on the eve of the presentation of a controversial production of "Orpheus in Hell." There was initially the possibility that the death might have been an accident; yet, as more deaths occur, by increasingly violent means, the two men were drawn to the conclusion that they are dealing with a cunning, unknown killer with a diabolical motive. As May reviews the events that occurred decades before against the backdrop of war-torn London, he gradually comes to realize that an individual from that investigation has unexpectedly and inexplicably reappeared to wreak havoc once again.

Fowler does a breathtaking job of recreating war-torn London from without and within the Palace Theater, capturing not only the stoic resignation of the public to the horrific bombing but also the theatrical elements of the era. Fowler's descriptions of the theater, from the staging areas, the offices and the costumes to the actors themselves, are simply incredible. While he obviously conducted an incredible amount of research in the writing of this book, that fact does not fully credit Fowler's almost magical ability to transport the reader back in time, to make the passages in the novel read as if they were diary entries written as the bombs fell.

The conclusion of FULL DARK HOUSE is also nothing less than wonderful. I had to take a bit of license here not to reveal it, but I doubt anyone reading FULL DARK HOUSE will object; the journey here is the equal of the destination. Fowler also liberally sprinkles cryptic references to other historical Peculiar Crimes Unit cases, enough so that his readership can expect several more volumes of Bryant and May mysteries in the future.

FULL DARK HOUSE is an ambitious and challenging beginning to what will hopefully be a long-running series." - Bookreporter

Anatole France

Penguin Island - Anatole France

"A pious monk discovers a previously unknown island. He is half deaf and more than half blind with age. Even so, he can see that the diminutive people here are gentle, serious, and not yet Christian. He performs a mass baptism, not realizing that he has created Christian penguins.

So begins France's straight-faced satire of the church, the state, and anything else he can think of. First, the innocents must clothe their nakedness. This creates modesty for them, but also creates immodesty, lust-inducing arts of skirt and bodice, and avarice for finer clothes and baubles. Next, they develop property law, proven by disputes over farmland. They create a noble class, when one demonstrates his nobility by killing another penguin and taking his land. They create a royalty, by means of fraud and extortion. They even create their first saint, the miraculous virgin Ste. Orberosia. She seemed best known for her miraculous virginity, which she proclaimed until her dying day (and we don't argue with saints). In fact, she was able to proclaim her virginity even after dozens or hundreds of encounters that would have destroyed it in less holy a woman - miraculous indeed. Perhaps the penguins weren't born subject to Original Sin, but they're mighty quick with the imitation.

The History of Penguinia moves forward, through ages of avarice, adultery, elaboarate scams, false accusations, and all the usual goings-on of the political world. The events are painfully funny, right down to the cynical, cyclical view of modern times, locked into an historical rhythm. The views are painful only because they're so very true.

I imagine they would have been even more true for me if I knew more about the political current events of France and Europe circa 1900, when this book was being written. I also suspect some wordplay in characters' names that would have been amusing if I knew French. It is a measure of Anatole France's genuius that now, nearly a hundred years later, it's still true enough for a modern reader, and one unfamiliar with the book's original milieu. I imagine this book will reward the prepared reader even more richly.

This is satire at its finest - funny, but with an edge, and funny because it's so very true." - wiredweird

Max Frisch

I'm Not Stiller - Max Frisch

""I'm Not Stiller," by the Swiss writer Max Frisch exudes postwar high seriousness; it cannot wait to show off its many layers of meaning. First, "A Note to the Reader" informs us that we are being permitted to study "The strange history of Anatol Ludwig Stiller, sculptor, husband, lover . . . prisoner": the notebooks he wrote while in prison and his prosecutor's postscript. Then come several august lines from Kirkegaard on man's passion for freedom: the need to "choose oneself," rule out every possibility of becoming something else and, in that difficult choice, find happiness. Then comes the voice of Stiller himself: treacherous, evasive and compelling as an Edgar Allan Poe murderer or a Raymond Chandler detective.

He is a prisoner in Switzerland (a country "so clean one can hardly breathe for hygiene") and the Swiss officers who arrest him are convinced he is a certain Anatol Stiller, who disappeared six years ago, leaving behind a wife, a mistress, a moderately successful career and a few minor political scandals. But he insists he is Jim White, an American with a past that includes Mexican peasants, Texas cowboys, the docks and back alleys of Northern California, and three murders, as yet untraced.

Murders are committed, as it turns out, but as Stiller is brought face to face with the woman who says she is his wife and with the prosecutor who says Stiller has had an affair with his wife, it becomes clear that the murders in question are emotional, metaphorical and discreetly bourgeois. What binds Stiller and his strong-willed but long-suffering wife, Julika? A vacuum: the fact that they have never felt happy together or complete apart. What sets his dream of being another man in motion? A failure of nerve while fighting the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. And his homeland, economically secure, politically neutral Switzerland is "incapable of suffering in any way over a spiritual compromise," he says.

Mr. Frisch is not really a novelist of ideas; he's a dramatist of ideas. We live out our ideas through our daily lives, after all, and he grasps every nuance of those daily habits and compulsions. It is the tension between these details and the larger ambitions -- so grandly imagined, so absurdly lived out -- that makes the novel work." - fmeursault

Carlos Fuentes

Christopher Unborn - Carlos Fuentes

"This book was written on the eve of the 500th year anniversary marking the fateful encounter between the Spanish Euoropeans and the various indigenous groups of the Americas. Not so coincidently, the prolific, briliant writer Carlos Fuentes sets the circumstances to this novel to coincide with the event. The premise for the book is a contest being held in Mexico with a great prize offered for the first born child on the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival. The child is Christopher, the narrator of the novel who makes shrewd observations about the world he will be born into, all from the comfort of inside his mother. This allows Fuentes, the author, to rip into all of the ills of modern Mexico with his usually witty and sharp use of lanuage. A master at manipulation of common laguage, he changes the words to fit his vision. Several examples of how he changes words are Mexico City to Makesicko City, Kafkapulco, Quasimodo City, Samsaville, Huitzilopochtliburg or President Dangerous Dickson before the Watergate Waterloo, blockabulary for vocabulary,Califurnace, PornoCorno, Coca-Culo and Acapukelco(or did I make this last one up?). However this is nothing compared to the daggers Christopher throws at everything from the devastation of the earthquake and the aftermath, the PRI, Mexican history and all it's tragic consequences including the massacre at Tlateloco, the narco-polices ties to the narco traffickers themselves and in short, all is fair game for Fuentes via his narrator Christopher. His observations on popular culture include everything from Lennon to Lenin to Boy George. It is a scathing, passionate view of the world Chistopher will enter. Christopher contends his nine months inside his mother are when his life began and this comfort and fear of what is out there make the narration a brutal, wry, cynical commentary. The satirical view is enhanced by a cast of characters who all are part of the make up of a world Christopher will inherit. The action of the novel is a backdrop for a political campaign and all it's cast of characters both for and against.Some of the names of these politicos and associates are Deng Chopin, Hipi Toltec, Fagoaga, Matamoros Moreno, Robles Chacon and D.C Buckley just to name a few. Coming in at over five hundered pages it is no easy read but totally enjoyable. The literature flows beautifully, creating images as only Carlos Fuentes can. As one of the preeminent writers of our times, Fuentes unleashes a novel for the times that will be reflected upon years from now as a masterpiece marking the collision of worlds that occurred five hundred years ago. This is an excellent book for educators at the AP level in high school or college to use for a literature class or to supplement a history course. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Mexico and it's contemporary literature." - Enrique Torres


William Gaddis

JR - William Gaddis

"I've now read three articles (two of them introductions to Gaddis' own books) on this author that concern the purported difficulty of his work: one by Rick Moody, one by Jonathan Franzen, and my personal favorite, William H. Gass' intro to The Recognitions. Rick Moody wants us to believe that this, widely seen as one of the hardest novels ever written, is actually a fun time, and he's not too far off the mark. Franzen wants us to believe that reading Gaddis is a brain-destroyingly difficult task, fit only for the bravest of readers, and he's not too far off the mark, either. And Gass? Gass thinks that Gaddis is hard, but that you'd be a complete moron to hold it against him. Of course, Gass probably thinks you're a moron either way.

"Ah," you probably didn't think (but you're getting my opinion anyway! Ha! You're trapped, you're trapped, you're oh who am I kidding you can just scroll down), "but what is your opinion, random schlub on the internet nobody's heard of?" As such things often go, both sides have a point. The trick to JR, the novel with no dialog tags or scene transitions, is this: once you've gotten past the point where every character is established and the whole novel sets itself in, it's pretty easy to work out who's talking and therefore easy to follow the novel's lurching progress as our eponymous hero exploits legal loophole after legal loophole to become a corporate tycoon at age eleven. It's not just JR you hear from, either, but his friends, family, business associates, and schoolteachers, as well as plenty of people within his friends', family's, business associates' and schoolteachers' circles. Much more difficult than sorting out what the hell's going on is sorting out what's important and what's not. As he did with his first novel, Gaddis throws subplot after subplot at you. If you pick up on them, great. If not, he's not too concerned.

How is it as a novel? Well, it's excellent. Gaddis' polyphony is beautiful, varied, often hilarious, and always a torrent of sheer words. For language lovers like me, that makes this book a sort of gift from god. Those rare moments where he sticks some descriptive prose in are almost as a rule beautiful, but Gaddis is more interested in how communication functions and where it breaks down than he is in painting pretty pictures for the reader. This is going to inevitably drive some readers crazy, but it works just fine for me. Also of interest are the characters and their elaborate relationships with money. Some of them seek to transcend it (Bast, the arguable Gaddis stand-in Gibbs), some seek to micromanage it (Whiteback and his crew), some seek to make as much of it as possible (JR), but no one can escape it. Everyone finds themselves defined by money, which is after all the first word in this novel, spoken in a voice that rustled.

Before I wrap things up, I feel a little discussion of JR himself is necessary, because he's such a charming character. True, he's a little lacking in ethics, being eleven and therefore selfish, but he's also, by far, the most convincing preteen genius-type character I've ever come across, in that he actually seems like a goddamn eleven-year-old. I work with kids, so I see a whole slew of JRs for five hours a day: nose-pickers and butt-scratchers who yell instead of talking, who never let anyone get a word in edgewise, who are capable of rambling for hours about their interests and their crazy dreams if you let them (and I'm being paid to let them, so yeah, I hear a lot of crazy dreams), who are often pretty clever with the books but can send a whole social situation straight down the drain with a comment along the lines of "your shirt's ugly." I appreciate the fact that Gaddis made his kid seem like a kid, because JR's quirks, especially his interactions with reluctant business partner Edward Bast, add so much fun to this novel.

So I mean, don't let it scare you or anything, but go in with eyes wide open: there's a lot to take in here, and in typical Gaddis fashion, there isn't really a skeleton key to unlocking which of the subplots are important to understanding the novel, which are important to understanding the themes, and which are important to understanding the overwhelming nature of the modern world. It moves at a slow pace but reads quickly, and you'll find there's a lot to laugh about by the time it's done. I still prefer the Recognitions because I love books loaded with arcane references, but I didn't just sort of hand this one its five star score, you know?" - Sentimental Surrealist

Patrick Gale

Facing the Tank - Patrick Gale

"This could just be a late 1980s AIDS novel, but it decides to take as its main theme a black comedy of religious experience and small town life, and applies several hard twists to the plot.

First twist, the people that have AIDS are not the gay interior design couple - Fergus' partner died of cancer even though Fergus tried shocking the relatives with an alternative `truth'. The people who recklessly disregard `safe' sex are Tobit the celibate `ex-gay' who has got the `booby prize' from a one night stand and his new highly sexed female lover Gloire who is a medical student who ought to know better than say ridiculous things like `the lady does not like latex'.

Second twist, the location is not urban but a place combining Trollope's Barchester and Gale's public school - everything happens around the Cathedral close.

Third twist, miracles really do happen (much to the shock of the sceptical bishop); the local saint really did have wings, and has come back to collect a few souls and has asked for a room at the local B&B; the cleaning lady is a witch and she is summoning her child from the grave. None of the worst and most startling things that happen require explanation or resolution. They are simply piled on to a plot full of events in a world of fantastical happenings and the arrival of the Angel/ blond Norse patron saint against a backdrop of evensong, arcane school rules, tourists, a gift shop, the cathedral's failing foundations and a nursing home.

The novel initially claims to be about two people - Evan and his research, and Madeleine who has accidentally seduced a Cardinal and become pregnant and who arrives fleeing from the paparazzi. But in the end these two characters almost seem like a picture frame for a wide canvas where witches and devils have taken over the Cathedral rebuilding works and mayhem is working its way through small streets." - Emily

Eduardo Galeano

Memory of Fire Trilogy:

1 - Genesis

"Here is a typical complete chapter from surely the strangest book of history I've ever read.

"1927: San Gabriel de Jalisco: A Child Looks On "The mother covers his eyes so he cannot see his grandfather hanging by the feet. And then the mother's hands prevent his seeing his father's body riddled by the bandits' bullets, or his uncle's twisting in the wind over there on the telegraph posts. "Now the mother too has died, or perhaps has just tired of defending her child's eyes. Sitting on the stone fence that snakes over the slopes, Juan Rulfo contemplates his harsh land with a naked eye. He sees horsemen -- federal police or Cristeros, it makes no difference -- emerging from smoke, and behind them, in the distance, a fire. He sees bodies hanging in a row, nothing now but ragged clothing emptied by the vultures. He sees a procession of women dressed in black. "Juan Rulfo, a child of nine, is surrounded by ghosts who look like him. "Here there is nothing alive -- the only voices those of howling coyotes, the only air the black wind that rises in gusts from the plains of Jalisco, where the survivors are only dead people pretending."

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano's trilogy Memory of Fire contains the books Genesis, Faces and Masks, and Century of the Wind, from the last of which this chapter comes. Taken together, the books make up a compendious and riveting history of the Americas (mostly Central and South America). But this is no academic history. It does follow a chronological timeline through the last five centuries or so. But each chapter tells a small story, like the one above. Hundreds of historical figures wander, curse, pray, converse, make love, die, are transformed or obliterated in these pages. And each story is an anecdotal parable that contributes to a single long history of almost total cruelty.

And the history of The Americas is one of cruelty. Starting with the creation myths of several American Indian peoples, Memory of Fire continues through the history of those Indians prior to the invasions of their lands by Europeans, almost the only sanguine section of the entire trilogy. Then, Galeano proceeds to the invasions themselves, which include stories of myriad individual Indian headmen, priests and women warriors, mystic Indian truth tellers, those who would tell of future disasters, and tribal chiefs misled by their own oracles... as well as the thousands of adventurers, holy men fanatics, pirates, crazy dictators, soldiers, mercenaries, prostitutes and treasure seekers that came with the conquerors.

The single constant theme in all this is that of the crushing defeat and murder of the defenseless by the powerful. Prior to the nineteenth century, the defenseless were all the Indians from both The Americas, and the Blacks who were brought to the American continents as slaves. Later the defenseless were made up of peons, indentured servants, peasants rendered landless by oligarchs and self-serving governments, Jews, socialists, communists and syndicalists, as well as those poor, ragged few Indians and Blacks still left standing.

So... the nine year-old Juan Rulfo is witnessing the horror of an event during the Mexican Civil War of The Cristeros in the 1920s that was fought between conservative Catholic peasants and the leftist government of the president Plutarco Calles. Calles had disenfranchised The Church, taken away Church lands and basically banned the public display of almost every Church activity.

I personally think that some version of this was a good idea, given the general treatment of Indians and peasants by the Church in South America for hundreds of years. It's a story of wholesale genocide justified by the prayerful murmurings of self-serving Catholic priests, beginning with those who accompanied Hernan Cortes. Someone like Bartolome De Las Casas, a Spaniard who was the first bishop of Oaxaca, Mexico, and who defended the rights of the Indians before the Spanish court, was a distinct rarity. Most other priests victimized the Indians in the same way the secular conquistadores did, though with the direct approval of the Christian God, which made it even more shameful a history.

What made The War of The Cristeros so strange was that it was fought by Mexican Catholic peasants in God's name against Calles's government, in order to maintain the ascendancy of established religion in Mexican society. That the majority of Mexican Church fathers stood to the side, caring little for the peasants, seems to have been lost on the peasants themselves. Thousands of them died horribly in this war.

The rage of The Cristeros had been enflamed by official Church umbrage at anti-clerical government policies, and a few years later The Cristeros were hung out to dry when that official Church colluded with the government in a very cynical agreement to end the war. The peasants were used, they died in droves and then they were abandoned.

Juan Rulfo himself went on to become a major Mexican literary figure, the man who wrote the novel Pedro Paramo, which is frequently cited as central to the South American "Boom" of such later writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa and so many others. The spectral figures that Galeano writes about in the passage above are very like those that Rulfo himself describes in his story of a man's search through a heat-blasted Mexican countryside for the truth about his father Pedro Paramo.

The Memory of Fire trilogy is made up of hundreds of such stories, and each gives a view of history that would almost never be found in the usual kinds of history books. Galeano was trained as a journalist, but it is my belief that he is a kind of inspired novelist/poet who, as it happens, found the vein for his work in the themes of history.

You may need a more traditionally written history of South America to make complete sense of all the people of whom Galeano writes. But I think everything you'll need can actually be found in the amazingly encyclopedic bibliography that Galeano provides. Each chapter is punctuated with references to the books that he's read, in which he's found the stories he tells. Taken together, the books in his bibliography form a complete guide to the history of every country in The Americas, or at least of Central and South America.

But Galeano's own interpretation of all this is, for me, the most emotionally truthful take on the history of South America that's ever been written." - Terence Clarke

2 - Faces and Masks

3 - Century of the Wind

Angel Ganivet

The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya (1895) - Angel Ganivet

"The pachyderm in question in Ángel Ganivet¿s hugely entertaining and disquieting 1897 novel, The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya (La conquista del reino de Maya, por el último conquistador español, Pío Cid), is a hippopotamus. More precisely, it¿s a sacred hippopotamus allegedly capable of flight, and astride it rides the intrepid Spanish entrepreneur Pío Cid into the hidden heart of Africa to be welcomed as a divinity by the tribe named in the title. If the name Maya and the story (minus its pachyderm and African setting) sound familiar, it¿s because Ganivet¿s picaresque novel is also a lancing, Swiftian satire of Spain¿s colonial enterprises, with allusions to the conquest of Mesoamerica (the ghost of Hernán Cortés even makes an appearance) as well as a broader view of colonialist exploits, given that Ganivet began the novel while assigned to the Spanish consulate in Antwerp as Belgium was conducting its genocidal conquest of the Congo. The Sanskrit meaning of ¿Maya¿ as ¿illusion¿ holds perhaps greater significance (as a student, the polylingual Ganivet wrote a thesis on Sanskrit), since the illusions of Europeans¿ aspirations regarding those they colonized form the novel¿s center of gravity.

Given the protagonist¿s name and his self-identification as ¿the most original of knights errant,¿ The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya also consciously addresses itself to its great predecessors in Spanish literature, most evidently The Poem of the Cid and Cervantes¿ Don Quixote, situating itself firmly in the tradition of the chivalric and picaresque. But in its mixture of acidic irony; absurd, surrealistic elements; and presciently modern themes, Ganivet¿s novel looks towards the future of literature. The ¿magical realism¿ of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez begins to look a bit threadworn after plunging into Ganivet¿s world of hippopotami-borne chevaliers, oracles who interpret parrot songs, velocipede-peddling pygmies and a spiritual mythos in which worlds are stacked one upon the other like a layer cake, the terrestrial tier awaiting a rapture when a race of half-human/half-monkey slaves will descend to liberate humankind from toil." - Seraillon

John C. Gardner

Grendel (1971) - John C. Gardner

John Gardner Chronology

Grendel's Lair

"I'm amused by the angst of Gardner's critics. Many of them seem as misanthropic as Gardner's Grendel, and though many of the critics are respected colleagues, I find their review of Gardner's masterpiece to be skewed by their own prejudices, political leanings, or disbelief that any one would ever poke fun at a classical piece of literature. (Oh,what shameful disregard!)

Some have claimed that Grendel whines like a modern teenager. How do we know that wasn't Gardner's intent? As the artist, isn't it his prerogative to create his fictional landscape? And yes, the Dragon comes across like Timothy Leary on LSD but of course, that may exactly be the way Gardner wanted it to appear. One critique repines that Grendel's mother plays such a minor role in Grendel, and that unlike her revengeful and powerful character in Beowulf, she is reduced to a sleepy, unfit, and uncaring mother. So what! If Gardner portrayed her as a soccer mom whistling around Hrothgar's castle in a mini-van would that make you feel any better? Get over it! If he wanted, Gardner could have depicted Grendel's mother as a Dominatrix, outfitted in five inch stilettos and a Madonna cone bra, whipping the Danes senselessly, but appreciatively, in the dark dank corners of her cave.

What's important is this: Gardner is able to take a fairly dull minor literary character, breathe life into it, and make the character witty, funny, irreverent, and continually entertaining. The prose is clear and fluid like fountain water, and unlike the epic poem, the scenes flow quickly from paragraph to paragraph. For all its satire and macabre humor, the book is a quick and enjoyable read.

And yes, Grendel is a descendant of Cain, and the enemy of Christianity, but who amongst us hasn't seen an Unferth revealed in a Christian congregation? Like a lucid dissenting opinion, whereby the truth of an argument is clearly divulged, the hypocrisy of the Danes is exposed through the thoughts and utterances of Grendel, a creature supposedly incapable of even having a brain cell. His killing is cruel but how different are his murders from those of Hrothgar, his men, and the men of their enemies? Seems to me all the men did at the mead hall was eat, drink, and spray platitudes all through the air while plotting the destruction of those they feared and hated.

In Grendel's case, at least he thinks about what he does and questions it, mourns it, tries to seek a higher form of intelligence so he can understand it. The dim-witted men marching around the Hrothgar's castle do nothing of the sort. Regimented by the mores of their culture, they simply follow their senseless leader until a day comes forth where they all must bathe in their own blood.

As an aside, you would have thought, by the amount of leftists in this forum, that more than a handful or so of the reviewers would have drawn parallels to the Bush Administration. Certainly no liberal, even I can see Donald Rumsfeld cast as Hrothgar.

With regard to Gardner, there's no doubt he earned this masterpiece. This literary gem sits high on the bookrack at my home." - gary mack

"Grendel has a sarcastic and cynical mind, which serves to entertain both him and the reader. Through his expositions of situations, we see humor where others would simply see violence, and irony where others only fact. These others are the humans, the Danes, unwitting neighbors of Grendel, forced to stand night after night of slaughter. What is a traumatic and terrifying experience for them, is simply a game to Grendel, and the reader. Grendel bursts in on the Danes, ready to kill, and they squeak. They are funny in their fear, laughable in their drunken fighting. The reader is focused on Grendel's perception of the Danes. The deaths go by easily, because of the humor involved. It does not cross the reader's mind that these are people Grendle is killing. The humor allows the reader to sympathize with Grendel's position, that of the predator. The prey is not meaningful, only nutritious and entertaining. It is a macabre humor, which accentuates how no death is noble, it is simply death. By making the Danes un-heroic and un-ideal, cowards and drunkards, the author is presenting the reality through the humor.

In contrast to the drunken lurching of the others, Unferth comes toward Grendel with speeches and bravery. He is a puffed up as a peacock, proud and ready to die for his king, his people, his ideal. Grendel simply states, "He was one of those." Grendel sees Unferth with a clear and unbiased mind. He is ridiculous. His exaggerated heroism, his words, even his first move, to scuttle sideways like a crab from thirty feet away, is laughable. Grendle does with him what he does with no other Dane in the story, he talks.

Unferth offers Grendle death, and Grendle sends back taunts. The reason this scene is funny is because the taunts are sharply accurate. The self-sacrificing hero is shown to be a spotlight loving fool, serving only his own reputation. Grendel continues talking to Unferth, making the poor wretch angrier by the moment. At one point, he compares Unferth to a harvest virgin. Unferth attempts to begin his own speeches, but is always cut off by Grendel, who has another barb to throw at him. Finally, Unferth screams and charges, his voice breaking.

This scene, of escalating argument, presents a different type of humor. While the first was a slapstick, exaggerated and dark humor, the argument is more sarcastic, intelligent and cutting. It exposes the cruel reality of the hero; he serves only himself and his fame when helping others.

When Unferth charges him, Grendel does the unthinkable. He throws an apple at him. Unferth is astonished, and even loses his heroic vocabulary. He continues charging, and Grendel continues the barrage of apples. This scene is pure humiliation for Unferth, pure delight for Grendel, and entertaining for the reader. Grendel, murderer and monster, is hitting the hero with simple red apples. By doing this, he is breaking any type of significance the battle could ever have. The bards cannot sing of how the monster threw apples. It is symbolically important that Grendel throws apples. Unferth symbolizes a virgin, pure in ideal and purpose. The apple brought down the first virgin, Eve, as these apples bring him down. They represent the truth, the knowledge that Grendle is pelting him with. The hero ends up on the floor crying, and Grendel remarks to him "Such is life...such is dignity." This remark holds no pity, only scorn, and is funny in its viciousness.

Most of the humor in the novel is followed by some of the most chilling and melancholic pieces of prose. This contrast of the humoristic with the somber makes the despair Grendel feels a more striking emotion. Before being completely exposed to nihilism and solitude by the Dragon, Grendel is compared to a bunny rabbit because he was startled. The monster that terrified the Danes is terrified by the Dragon, who continues poking fun at him and his fear. The reader is presented with the impotent figure of Grendel, trying desperately to react in some way to the dragon's laughter, and not knowing how. He gets angry, which immediately makes the dragon deadly serious. What follows is the dragon stating in turn his truths about life and snide side remarks on humanity. The humor allows the reader to connect slightly with Grendel's feelings as they transition from the comedy to the drama, sometimes in a jarring fashion.

This same transition occurs in the interaction of Grendel and Unferth. The Dane is a broken man, both physically and mentally. He cries. He has a broken nose. The humor is lost as the reader begins to feel pity for him. Once we feel connected to the being suffering, the humor evaporates, leaving behind the message, ideals are false. The humor sets up the atmosphere and the elements of the message, but it is only in the alternate tone that the message is truly established.

Grendel's humor is the truth in some aspects and a farce in others. It contrasts sharply with the Dane's views but it is a valid view. At the same time, the humor in Grendel hides a deep despair and the root messages. Grendel makes fun of Unferth, but is more like Unferth that he could possibly guess. Unferth represents the hero brought down by the monster, and the shattering of his own beliefs. Grendel is a monster who has no beliefs, and is brought down by an unnamed hero. The dragon spares Grendel, while Unferth is by Grendel. Unferth is a cast out among the men, and Grendle is a cast out to all human society. Unferth seeks desperately to die in the fight, and regain some type of honor. Grendel seeks the fight for some type of recognition from the Danes. In a way, when Grendel makes fun of Unferth, he is hurting that part of himself he dislikes. He, through Unferth, is hitting at the pretensions." - A Reader

The Wreckage of Agathon - John Gardner

"This very modern novel of a down and out pre-Socratic philosopher, self-exiled from Athens to Sparta, has stayed vivid in my memory for 35 years and more. It combines razor sharp satire, low comedy, a philosphical playfulness that reminds you of Borges, and an aching, bittersweet recollection of a life firecely lived. I can't think of a more continuously entertaining book. What is amazing is that it also draws the reader into a deep and uncompromising confrontation with the most serious questions of loyalty and love." - Brian C. Holly

Alan Garner

Red Shift - Alan Garner

"I am amazed that Alan Garner's "Red Shift" is out of print, and also that I am the first reviewer of it on Amamzon.com

Garner's "Red Shift" is a culmination of his development as a novelist, starting with the fantasy adventure "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen", before he completely changed, and wrote his "Stone Book" quartet, stories of his ancestors, stonemason, blacksmith, and others. Increasingly, from "Weirdstone" to "Red Shift", Garner's use of fantasy moves from overt to inner. In his first books ancient forces, old gods and creatures, co-exist in our own modern world. Although Garner was not entirely original in writing such stories, it seems that his were the first that spawned many similar stories for children and adults. But the Merlin-like magician in "Weirdstone" develops into the psychological presence, a form of possession, in the modern characters of "The Owl Service" (the novel immediately before "Red Shift") who find themselves repeating the actions of love, lust, murder and revenge which are told in the Welsh myth of Llew Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebwyr in "The Mabingogion".

In "red Shift" the move from outer fantasy of "Weirdstone" to inner possession of modern characters in "Owl Service" becomes the shared consciousness, at moments of trancelike crisis for sets of characters living in three separate eras: post-Roman Britain, the English Civil War, and modern Manchester. An ancient Stone Age axe head is the focus of this possession-like shared consciousness.

Through "Red Shift" Garner tells three stories, each from a different time, but each set in the shared location, and each mirroring the pattern of relationships of the others. Through this book, a fourth relationship is demanded by Garner, namely the reader piecing together what is happening, and how each story connects with the others.

Few other writers attempt such complex, powerful narratives. Perhaps Robert Cormier, another difficult Young Adult writer, or William Mayne, come closest, with stories of similar narrative tangling, and emotional intensity: "I Am the Cheese" and "After the First Death" by Cormier, or "A Game of Dark" and "The Jersey Shore" by Mayne.

The experience of reading Garner, in "Red Shift", and later through the "Stone Quartet", is like that of reading poetry, or listening to music, where images, words, feelings and experiences resonate and connect, an event in one story chiming like an echo of another, forcing the reader to reconsider what has already been experenced in the light of new facets of similar actions. Neil Philip's study of Garner "A Fine Anger" is an excellent introduction to Garner's work, and his fascinating use of literary and mythic sources.

What is "Red Shift" about? Imagine a story of a boy and girl, on the edge of falling in love, each trapped in their own cage made of different family background, tormented by the differences between one another, and by their mutual betrayals. Meanwhile in post-Roman Britain, a lost patrol of Roman soldiers, surrounded by pagan tribes, decides to go tribal - descending into their own hearts of darkness, madness, rape and murder. And, at the same time, a simple-minded lad watches his adored girlfriend raped by soldiers in the English Civil War. Flashes of epileptic insight enable each of the central male characters to see through one another's eyes, hardly comprehending what is happening. The "red shift" itself is many things - a red petticoat, a bloody recourse to action, the hurtling apart of distant galazies, and the corresponding rushing apart of lonely people.

Very subtle. Undoubtedly difficult. But deeply rewarding!" - A Customer

Romain Gary

The Dance of Genghis Cohn - Romain Gary

Peter Gault

Knucklehead: A Journey Out of the Mind (1996) - Peter Gault

"Back in the mid-1990s on a warm July morning Peter Gault set up a bookstand on Sixth Avenue Greenwich Village New York City with a sign reading `Meet the Author' and copies aplenty of Knucklehead, his out-of-the-mind autobiographical journey. With bald head, coral shell earring, blazing blue eyes, bare arms and leather vest, Peter was quite a sight; he reminded me of the harpooner Queequeg from Moby Dick. I introduced myself, purchased Knucklehead, and asked Peter to sign my book. Although I only met Peter that once, I felt I made a connection to a kindred soul.

Knucklehead is the hilarious, hallucinogenic odyssey of a man who makes a radical mid-life switch from being a married, paunchy, boring lawyer to being a single, robust, super-charged adventurer. After leaving his wife, Anna, and after a fierce verbal attack against the counsel of an experienced sailor he calls a rather nasty name, our hero ignores the maritime storm warnings and belligerently takes his boat he names `Knucklehead' (after his own sense of self) out on Lake Ontario. We read: "The VHF radio was persistent in its repetition of the words "a small craft advisory." Eagerly, I awaited the advice that was to be given for small crafts; what ensured was a mindboggling string of seemingly contradictory info that left me thoroughly befuddled. . . . But the announcer didn't know how to issue a clear, unequivocal, impassioned directive. He didn't say, "STAY OFF THE LAKE!" He said, `southeasterly winds 35 knots." I had never quite mastered the metric system, let alone this esoteric "knots" nonsense." What happens next during the raging storm is one of the most intense experiences the former lawyer has in his life -- a section of the novel worth reading again and again.

Our hero docks `Knucklehead' and wanders the streets of New York City in a chapter aptly titled `City of Fire'. The author captures the raw energy popping off in a thousand blasts every minute as his reborn kaleidoscopic eyes take it all in. Walking down the street, he halts and reflects, "Right then a miracle happened, another confounding miracle. My reaction to witnessing the impossible . . . What I saw was a reflection of myself in the mirror of a display window - the first peek since the journey commenced. It was me but it wasn't me. My appearance had undergone a radical transformation. My hair was thicker and blonder and wilder. The laugh lines and chalky complexion were gone, replaced by a youthful ruddiness, even the bone structure of my face had altered. . . . To see that I was capable of physically reconstructing myself, that I had unwittingly reversed the aging process of ten, fifteen years, that by changing my thought patterns I was changing my physiology, was in my mind material prof of a supernatural event."

The thrills and wonders keep coming and coming as the journey continues. With an odyssey this fantastic, is it any wonder the last chapter, `The Realm Of The Unfathomable' explodes in mind-expanding visions? I'm reminded of The Magic Theatre at the end of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf. A one point there is a snatch of dialogue: ""Language isn't reality. Language is an abstraction, an illusion. Illusion traps us in misery and fear. Words are the jailer. The verbal tape repeating in our minds - naming, labeling, opinionating - completely blinding us to Reality. That's why, as animals, without the barrier of language, we are aware of Truth . . . """ - Glenn Russell

Leon Genonceaux

The Tutu: Morals of the Fin de Siecle (1891) - Leon Genonceaux

"The nineteenth-century French writer and publisher Léon Genonceaux (1856¿?) is as much of an enigma as those two legendary enfants terribles whom he was the first to publish: Arthur Rimbaud and the Comte de Lautréamont. After he had done so, a conviction for publishing indecent literature followed, and Genonceaux fled to London, returning to Paris around 1900 and then disappearing forever around 1905, leaving behind a wild, stupefying masterpiece called The Tutu. The Tutu is one of those mythical beasts¿a great lost book; a book that, if it had been published when it was written (in 1891), would have been one of the defining works of late nineteenth-century French literature. In fact it was published, but was never distributed to bookstores, and today only six copies of the original edition survive. Willfully scatological, erotic and gleefully Nietzschean in its dismemberment of fin-de-siecle morality, The Tutu is at once a sort of ultimate Decadent delirium and also a proto-modernist novel in the vein of Ulysses. Its existence was first posited in 1966 by a famous literary hoaxer, and until a handful of copies turned up some years later, in the early 1990s, it was presumed to be a fabrication. This is the first English translation." - artbook

Mary Gentle

Grunts - Mary Gentle

"Opinions on this book seem to fall into two camps. The first are those who "get it", and have probably reccomended this book to everyone they thought was at all interested in a related genre. The second is the camp of those who don't get it, and who mercilessly rip every fabric of the work to shreds for its every tiny defect.

I'm in the first camp, and I hope you'll join me. At the very least, heed my opinion on the second camp- too many people try to take this book seriously. A quote on the cover says it all, "moves at a good clip and delivers plenty of gags". And that's what this book is all about- a nice quick story with lots of gags.

And they're great gags at that. Sure, the story isn't particularly solid. And there's nothing in the book that'll have people pulling out comparisons to Tolkein-esque visuals or Salvatore-esque characterizations... but that's sort of the point. Think of this book as the "Three Stooges" of the Fantasy genre, and you're on the right track.

I particularly reccomend this book to anyone who's ever played Dungoens and Dragons, known someone who played it, or laughed at someone who was playing it. So many elements here seem to be ripped right from late-night, caffiene-enhanced, power-gaming D&D scenarios that I'm surprised the Roleplaying community hasn't adopted this work.

Grab this book if you're a Fantasy fan who wants a truly lighter take on the genre- complete with lots of cursing, sex, and gore just for flair. Grab it if you're a D&D fanatic who's taken part in one too many sour campaigns. But mostly, just grab it. It's a great twist on the genre, it's a terribly fun read, and at least a few of the gags are going to be worth the price of admission alone." - Michigoon

"Just as in every military campaign, in the Final Battle between the Dark and the Light, it's the ordinary soldiers who get the short end of the stick. On the Dark side, that means the orcs. Ashnak is a minion of the nameless necromancer, who in turn is lackey to the Dark Lord. When he and his orcs are sent on a secret mission in preparation for the Final Battle, he has no idea that it will turn his life and the lives of hundreds of orcs in an entirely new direction.

The nameless necromancer instructs Ashnak and Co. to act as a protective guard to Ned and Will Brandiman, two extremely nasty and murderous halfling thieves sent by the Dark Lord to steal special weapons from a dragon's hoard. But the dragon, Dagurashibanipal, has cursed the hoard with the following curse: What you steal, you shall become. Now, it just so happens that the dragon has accumulated some of its booty from other worlds... including ours. And what they steal from the dragon happens to be weaponry and uniforms courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. So the effect of the curse is to transform the orcs into MARINES, in all of their disciplined, well-trained glory. Or at least as disciplined and well-trained as bloodthirsty wild creatures can be...

Grunts is a satire, poking not so much at Tolkien as at his numerous formulaic imitators, and not so much at the United States Marines as at the body of blood-and-guts action films made in the '70's and '80's (think Rambo, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, etc.). It's also a parody of modern politics, and of alien invasion books/films (Starship Troopers REALLY takes a hit in Grunts). I won't encapsulate the entire plot -- there are too many nifty twists and I hate to put in too many spoilers -- but I will say that Mary Gentle is a delightfully twisted soul with a sharp eye for the ridiculous, and she pulls no punches here. ..." - Maria Nutick

Noel B. Gerson

Sad Swashbuckler: The Life of William Walker - Noel B. Gerson

Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

"The humor of this glorious funny book resides mainly in Gibbons' masterly control of prose style; if you have only seen the movie, you know less than half of what the author has to offer. Yes, she creates a wonderful gallery of extraordinary characters, and the story clips along nicely if rather predictably, but it is the author's language that really gets you laughing out loud. Written in 1932, the book is a parody of a certain kind of rural melodrama popular at the time, but of the authors mentioned by the Oxford Companion to English Literature as models only D. H. Lawrence is still read today. But no matter; there are strong echoes of Hardy and the Brontes as well, and anyway the language works just fine on its own. It ranges from gothic descriptions of a landscape primeval and stark, throbbing with the fecund sap of plant and beast, to gnomic sayings delivered in a rural dialect so thick as to be incomprehensible if one did not realize that half the words in it were probably made up by the author. And, as an added incentive, Gibbons has helpfully marked her most purple passages with two or three stars, "according to the method perfected by the late Herr Baedecker."

Flora Poste, twenty, fashionable, well educated, and recently orphaned, decides against working for a living so writes around to various distant relatives asking them to take her in. She decides to go to live with the Starkadders, some distant cousins whose alarming address is Cold Comfort Farm, Howling, Sussex. (This will seem less odd if you know English place-names, and throughout the book Gibbons' choice of names is both almost plausible and brilliantly absurd.) The farm is described in the first of the starred passages, beginning thus:

"Dawn crept over the Downs like a sinister white animal, followed by the snarling cries of a wind eating its way between the black boughs of the thorns. The wind was the furious voice of this sluggish animal light that was baring the dormers and mullions and scullions of Cold Comfort Farm. The farm was crouched on a bleak hill-side, whence its fields, fanged with flints, dropped steeply to the village of Howling a mile away . . . ".

The extended family she meets there, all with short biblical names of Old Testament force, is equally dour, and the living conditions are primitive to say the least. The household is presided over by the matriarch, Great Aunt Ada Doom, who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" as a child and has barely emerged from her room since, but terrifies the others into submission for fear of completing her descent into total insanity. But Flora determines to take the farm and the family in hand, beginning with the youngest, the nature spirit Elfine, and working up to the old woman. The manner in which she does so forms the plot of the rest of the book.

The gothic style which the author handles so well depends upon the ability to evoke impending doom, and Gibbons virtually redefines the verb "impend." So the first half of the novel at least is superb. However, as light and warmth are brought into Cold Comfort Farm, the doom begins to dissipate. In nineteenth-century terms, Gibbons' influence changes from Bronte to Jane Austen, whom she can certainly match in witty observation, though at the loss of the gothic elemental power. The plot, too, lacks suspense; everything that Flora undertakes to do works out with few surprises; the main parody element at the end is the neatness with which it all does work out, even including the resolution of Flora's own romantic needs. But in exchange, as others on this site have mentioned, Stella Gibbons achieves a transformation of a different kind: the forbidding cast of caricatures to whom we are first introduced has become a family of real people, whom Flora finds herself caring about quite a lot. And the reader too. Skill of this sort takes Stella Gibbons beyond the ranks of a mere parodist and reveals her as a true novelist. - Roger Brunyate

"Published in 1932, this novel is a hysterically funny, tongue in cheek parody of the heavy handed, gloomy novels of some early twentieth century English writers who had previously been so popular. Tremendously successful when first published, "Cold Comfort Farm" caused quite a stir in its time.

The novel starts out innocuosly enough, when well educated Flora Poste finds herself orphaned at the age of twenty. Discovering that her father was not the wealthy man she believed him to be, she is resigned to the fate of having to live on a hundred pounds a year. Opting to live with relatives, rather than earn her bread, she seeks out a most unlikely set of relations, the odd Starkadder family who live in Howling, Sussex.

Therein begins what is certainly one of the funniest novels ever written. When Flora arrives in Howling, she meets her odd relatives, who live in neglected, ramshackle "Cold Comfort Farm", where they still wash the dishes with twigs, and have cows named Graceless, Pointless, Feckless, and Aimless. Headed by a seventy nine year old matriarch, Flora's aunt, Ada Doom Starkadder, who has not been right in the head since she "saw something nasty happen in the woodshed" nearly seventy years ago, they are a motley and strange crew indeed. Confronted with their dismal and gloomy existence, Flora sets about trying to put things to right.

Peppered with eccentric, memorable characters, this book will take the reader on a journey not easily forgotten. It is one that is sure to make the reader revisit this novel yet again, like an old friend who is missed too soon." - Lawyeraau

Andre Gide

Lafcadio's Adventures - Andre Gide


"Gide, the novelist's novelist, tends to his wicked garden of amoral flowers in this multi-leveled satire. Defying the formulaic strictures of his day, Gide skewers the pomposity of the French and Italian gentry while soaring above them with gleeful snobbery. My parents forbade me to read Gide, and so of course I did, in secret, only to have "Lafcadio" snatched from my precocious twelve-year-old hands before I could finish the novel--but memories of Lafcadio lay buried for years until they ultimately emerged to flower anew in the mystery/ adventure: "Into the Deep--The Haven" . . . both a companion and handshake to Gide's examination of the motiveless crime." - V.E. Rosswell

Oliverio Girondo

Scarecrow & Other Anomalies (2002) - Oliverio Girondo

"A bilingual edition and first-time English translation of outrageous and hilarious phantasmagorias by the Argentine genius (or madman) that inspired the acclaimed film "The Dark Side of the Heart" (1994, directed by Eliseo Subiela).

"Scarecrow" is indescribable. It is so spectacularly original that even though alerted by advance notice, the reader will still be surprised by it more than anything else he or she might have ever read. Also included are "Invitation to Vomit," "It's all Drool," and "Lunarlude."

Consuming all of the most fantastic symbolist, futurist, cubist, surrealist, expressionist, anarchist, dadaist, existentialist, post-modernist and every other -ist compositions that can be had, Girondo's "Scarecrow" stands alone as a one-of-a-kind, bug-eyed creation." - Amazon blurb

Paul Glennon

The Dodecahedron: Or a Frame for Frames - Paul Glennon

V. V. Swigferd Gloume

Freaksome Tales: Ten Hitherto Uncollected Stories of V. V. Swigferd Gloume - V. V. Swigferd Gloume

"Freaksome Tales purports to be a collection of previously unpublished works by V. V. Swigferd Gloume, called in the introduction the most "uneasily regarded author of macabre fiction of the Edwardian era." By the end of the introduction, you've learned about Gloume's overbearing and Amazonian mother, his sickness that kept him often immobilized, his recurring characters, his deep hatred and loathing of every non-British race on the planet (but especially the French) and some of the critical acclaim and analysis of his work. And as you start to read his stories, you're going to start to understand how his background and biases influenced his work and affected the subject matter he wrote about. But here's the thing: Gloume doesn't exist. Everything in the book is false, a mixture of homage and parody of writers like H.P. Lovecraft, all created by author William Rosencrans. But among the many, many brilliant aspects of Freaksome Tales - and let me tell you, this is a thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable, and brilliant book - is the way that Rosencrans never winks or lets on that it's all a joke. From the footnotes to the family history, from the photos to the citations, Rosencrans has created a truly rich and fascinating character, and gone a step further by writing stories in a voice that reads as though it was lifted verbatim from Edwardian times. The resulting stories are often hilarious (particularly if you're a fan of Lovecraft), but also surprisingly effective; look, for instance, as an insane tale of reincarnation gone horribly wrong gradually becomes more and more disturbing as it develops, or how the fear of women that permeates the first tale suddenly becomes horrifyingly literal. It's hard for me to know how to classify Freaksome Tales. It's often hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny - Rosencrans has perfectly mimicked the Lovecraftian world, and in exaggerating everything to extremes, he creates a funny, gleefully odd tribute to the man and his work. But it's to his credit that the stories can often become menacing and unsettling without you expecting it, and without ever losing their comic edge. And if that's not enough, there's the astonishing prose that truly reinforces the illusion that this is a lost author. Freaksome Tales is the kind of book that I love to find - something wholly unique and utterly wonderful, and something that left me entertained, excited, and eager to pass it along to others who can have the joy of discovering so off the wall and wonderful. I can't possibly recommend this strange, weird, and hilarious book enough." - Josh Mauthe

Nikolai Gogol

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol - Nikolai Gogol (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, tr.)


"This collection brings together almost all of Gogol's notable short stories, from his first surviving piece, St. John's Eve, to his last and most acclaimed short piece, The Overcoat. The first seven stories come from Gogol's earlier period (1830-1835) during which he set his tales in the Ukraine, while the last six, written between 1835 and 1842, are all set in Petersburg.

Critics still disagree to some extent over the quality of Gogol's Ukrainian tales and the extent to which they reflect the artistic vision found in his later, most famous pieces. I would acknowledge that there aren't any absolute masterpieces among these stories, but the world he creates through the lot of them, with the constant presence of the supernatural (probably best seen in "The Night Before Christmas" and "Viy") and a charming provincial sense of humor (at its height in "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich"), is really quite memorable. Also, it's very interesting to see how the simple country folk of the Ukrainian tales evolve into the often equally naive clerks found in the Petersburg tales, and how the demons and ghosts of Gogol's earlier pieces anticipate the haunted portraits and phantoms of departed eternal titular councillors that would later win Gogol lasting fame.

It is, however, the Petersburg tales that are really the centerpiece of the collection. Though it would be a mistake (one that has tempted many a socially-minded critic over the years) to portray these stories as representing a profound sympathy on Gogol's part for plight of the little man, Gogol uses humble copying clerks, struggling artists, and their ilk to paint a wondrously alive picture of the bustling imperial capital. In each of the stories (among which I should mention "Nevsky Prospect" and "The Portrait," neither of which appears in anthologies nearly as often as it should), Gogol infuses the experiences of a seemingly undistinguished individual with something extraordinary, sometimes using the supernatural and other times exploring the protagonist's dreams or his madness. Though Gogol's contemporaries (like Pushkin and Lermontov) were producing a number of excellent works at the same time, those works tended to focus more heavily on the privileged few, and, innovative though they were in various ways, they were written somewhat more in the spirit of the works of foreign authors like Byron and Scott. In Gogol's Petersburg Tales we see Russian masterpieces written for almost the first time in a relatively non-Western European style about the masses who were not lucky enough to belong to the high nobility, and these works (though Gogol surely had no intention of things turning out this way) would go far to influence the social realism developed by later Russian authors.

Gogol's prose is known among Russians for its beautiful lyricism, which sometimes fails to come through in translation. This translation is (unsurprisingly, given how widely praised Pevear and Volokhonsky are) an exception to that; each of the four stories in the volume that I had previously read in other translations improved substantially under the influence of Pevear and Volokhonsky, and throughout the volume I often marvelled at the elegance of the narrative. The one complaint I might have about the collection is the omission of the historical romance Taras Bulba, which is probably the best known of Gogol's Ukrainian tales and is substantively different from any other story he wrote. However, since (at about 120 pages) it might better be described as a novella that a short story, and since the volume is already slightly Ukraine-heavy, it's understandable that Tara Bulba didn't make it in. Other than that issue, I can't think of a single weakness in the collection, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in Russian literature or in the development of the short story as an art form." - mikeu3

Witold Gombrowicz

"Witold Gombrowicz (pronounced VEE-told gom-BROH-veetch) was the author of novels, plays, an early collection of short stories, and autobiographical works (see Bibliography). He was born on August 4, 1904 in Maloszyci, Poland to Jan-Onufry and Antonina Marcela. The elder Gombrowicz was a wealthy lawyer, land-owner and chairman of an industrial association; his wife was the daughter of Ignacy Kotkowski, also a land-owner.

Witold was raised Catholic and studied with private tutors and at an aristocratic Catholic school in Warsaw. The son followed the father as far as law studies (he attended Warsaw University from 1922 to 1927 and graduated as master of law) but later admitted to having no interest: "I didn't go to the lectures. My valet, who was more distinguished than I, went instead." From 1927 to 1929 he studied philosophy and economics at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Paris. But he neglected his studies and, when his father cut off his allowance, Witold reluctantly began training to become a lawyer in Warsaw. Here he began frequenting literary cafes and writing short stories -- the first writings he did not destroy.

The collected stories were published as Memoirs of a Time of Immaturity (1933) and met with harsh criticism and faint praise that made Gombrowicz regret the title. Ferdydurke, in fact, seemed to deal with the author's sudden self-consciousness as a public entity; and while self-consciousness is often detrimental to a writer's craft Gombrowicz wielded it as a weapon to separate the outer layer of the persona from the nameless inner depth of the person. Susan Sontag has called Ferdydurke "one of the most important overlooked books of the 20th Century."

Gombrowicz's principal works were written in Argentina, to which fate transported him virtually the day before the outbreak of WWII in 1939, and where he remained for 24 years. His struggle with identity now assumed new ferocity as he was branded a Polish émigré writer; the story of these first years in exile is "documented" in the hilarious Trans-Atlantyk, written while filling a sinecure position at the Polish Bank in Buenos Aires.

After eight years in Argentina, Gombrowicz collaborated (in 1947) with a team of South American writers to translate Ferdydurke into Spanish, but the resulting work was ignored. In fact, apart from publications in the émigré review Kultura, issued by the Polish Literary Institute in Paris, Gombrowicz was virtually unknown until 1957 -- when the Communist regime in Poland briefly lifted its ban on his work (in place since the Nazi invasion of 1939) and Ferdydurke was reissued. It was interpreted as an insightful premonition of totalitarianism and became an overnight success. Other publications followed, as did stage performances of his plays -- which were compared to Beckett and Ionesco. A new ban in 1958 removed his work from Polish shelves, but not before they gained notice in the west.

Though his works have been translated into 30 languages, he remains largely unknown outside of Europe. A Ford Foundation grant in 1963 permitted Gombrowicz to leave Argentina at last to spend a year in Berlin. A return to unfriendly Poland was out of the question and after a brief visit to Paris his asthma drove him to the south of France, where he lived his few remaining years in Vence. He won the prestigious International Prize for Literature in 1967 for Cosmos (his novel Pornografia previously missed the prize in 1960 by one vote) and was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in 1968. The asthma reduced him to near speechlessness and also affected his heart. Though he survived the first heart attack, the second took his life at midnight on July 24, 1969.

Cosmos, considered Gombrowicz's best novel, is an absurdist mystery in which the instinctive human search for order and meaning becomes the "culprit," just as it had in Pornografia. Most of his writings, in fact, deal with the distorting power of Form over the human mind, the seductive allure of immaturity (formless yet imbued with the potential for form), and thus with the questions of identity and the possibility of relationship. His fiction hinges on moments in which the antithesis or incongruity of Form and reality becomes public and undeniable, and Gombrowicz is often as hilarious as he is revealing.

In his journals he was uncompromising in defrocking imposters and poseurs; every page of the Diaries contains some sparkling insight that transcends the cultural or historical particulars of which he wrote." - Alan Gullette

"Witold Gombrowicz is probably the most important twentieth-century novelist most Western readers have never heard of, which is to say that he is the kind of writer whose following consists largely of other writers, whose faith in Gombrowicz's under-recognized genius has led them to shower him with superlatives. Susan Sontag, in her introduction to the recent English translation of Ferdydurke, his ironic masterpiece, calls him brilliant. John Updike takes this praise one step further, noting that Gombrowicz is "one of the profoundest of late moderns." Milan Kundera ranks him among Joyce and Proust as one of the seminal figures in modern literature. His writings are beloved in France, where they have long been available in competent translations, and where Gombrowicz himself spent the last years of his life. And in his native Poland, Gombrowicz remains something of a cultural legend almost thirty-five years after his death; in a publishing market that frequently casts its best literature out of print, all Gombrowicz's books are easily available, as are any number of volumes about his life and work. The official website of Radom, a lackluster city in central Poland near the small town where Gombrowicz was born, proudly proclaims him alongside Jan Kochanowski (an excellent Renaissance poet) and director Andrzej Wajda as having lived there (or at least as having had some association with the area, which is important enough for the local cultural imagination). And the Polish Ministry of Culture has officially proclaimed 2004 "The Year of Gombrowicz," which will include a plethora of conferences and cultural events marking the one hundredth anniversary of the author's birth.

It's just the sort of thing that Gombrowicz - or a certain side of him - would abhor. From his very first book, a collection of short stories called Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity (1933; later entitled Bakakaj, and including the story "The Rat"), Gombrowicz raged against what he saw as the aristocratic conservatism of Polish culture, the formality of men bowing and kissing ladies' hands in greeting, the general insistence on how Poland's grand destiny had been sidetracked by a century of partition and occupation, and perhaps most of all the uncritical reverence for such cultural heroes as Copernicus (of questionable nationality), Mickiewicz (the national poet, actually born in Lithuania), and Chopin (half-Polish, who spent most of his life in France). Early in his three-volume Diary, itself an extraordinary record of an author at play, Gombrowicz asks, "What does Mrs. Smith have in common with Chopin?" Next to nothing, but that's not even the worst of it. What Gombrowicz found truly frustrating - even dangerous - is how his country's inferiority complex, its need to remind the world time and again how Polish culture is just as great - nay, greater - than that of the West, cripples the individual, forces him to memorize verses and dates and to behave in a manner befitting the great civilization that is Poland. Or at least this is the attitude represented in the preponderance of Gombrowicz's work, any treatment of which is obliged to bear the disclaimer that you can never fully trust an author so fond of irony and masks. Indeed, writing about Gombrowicz's attitude toward Polish culture is kind of like writing an obituary for someone who didn't believe in death.

That said, the individual's battle against the strictures of culture remained a lifelong obsession for Gombrowicz. In his early work in particular, this theme manifests itself as a battle between maturity - that is, the social expectation that the individual will behave according to a given code, a superego imposed from above - and "immaturity," the freedom to do as one will and, in general, not to give a damn. This is the central conflict in "The Rat": a retired judge captures a troublesome vagabond and does his best to rein in his "particularly massive nature," which offends the judge's sense of order and propriety. In "The Honorable Kraykowski's Dancer," the story that opens the same collection, the protagonist becomes so obsessed with the regal manners of an attorney and his wife that he does everything he can to subvert the lawyer's individuality, for example, by paying for his daily pastries in advance. "Imagine this," he addresses the reader conspiratorially. "A lawyer comes out of a public restroom, reaches for his fifteen cents, and learns that the bill has already been settled. How does he feel then?" And famously, in Ferdydurke (1937), a thirty-year-old man is enslaved by his old schoolmaster and thrown back into the classroom, where he finds it impossible to gain freedom without first enduring endless humiliations. In each of these instances, no one really needs to bother about the totalitarianism that will later occupy Poland and preoccupy so much of its literature. For Gombrowicz, culture itself, with its insistence on acceptable norms, is plenty totalitarian as it is, thank you very much.

Which brings us to the curious irony of the author’s fate. In 1939, following the publication of Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity, a play called Ivona, Princess of Burgundy, and Ferdydurke (plus, truth be told, a second novel, The Possessed, which appeared under a pseudonym and wasn’t acknowledged by its author for thirty years), Gombrowicz was invited to enjoy the maiden voyage of a cruise ship across the Atlantic. He set sail and arrived in Buenos Aires. Then the Nazis invaded Poland, followed by the Soviets, and that was that: Gombrowicz was in Argentina with no money and no Spanish. He remained there for over two decades, utterly impoverished, relying for his survival on a contingent of Polish expatriates who were, like most communities in emigration, more conservative than his critics back in Poland. This is the subject of his hilarious 1953 novel Trans-Atlantyk, which features a protagonist named Witold Gombrowicz and is written in a specialized narrative style of the old Polish nobility, a wholly appropriate medium for the stuffy circumstances in which the author found himself.

Yes, appropriate. In fact, Gombrowicz's prose has never been as absurd as journalistic reductions would have it, since it is always - both thematically and linguistically - a consistent, even systematic response to a set of cultural, philosophical, and psychological problems. "The Rat" provides an excellent case-in-point: it is the language of obsession and fetish, with its concatenated synonyms and spontaneous singing, its repetition and play. The writing is at once extremely poetic and anti-conventional, a stylistically "mature" prose expressing the lushness and buoyancy of immaturity. Gombrowicz's early critics attacked his lack of restraint, his sometimes childlike delight in language, his flirtation with excess and arbitrariness. (The collection's second title, Bakakaj, is itself arbitrarily chosen; Gombrowicz took the name from one of his streets in Buenos Aires, as he later explained, "the way we name dogs, simply in order to tell one from another.")

Gombrowicz's opponents took such games as an affront, an attack against all that was right and proper in Polish culture, as an assertion of the individual against his context, and perhaps a few of them still do. Just the other day in Kraków, I was enjoying a late dinner of beer and kielbasa when a Polish acquaintance (he actually grew up in Canada, but he's a hell of a lot more Polish than I'll ever be, as he kept reminding me) suggested that Czechs have no culture of their own. "Certainly they do," I insisted, and went on to praise their extraordinary literature, their rich heritage of music and language. "No," he said, "it's all Austro-Hungarian." I pointed out how the Austro-Hungarian Empire had occupied all of southern Poland, including Kraków, for well over a century, occasionally inciting the peasants to saw their Polish landlords in half. This, I suppose, is how a situation escalates. He started rattling off the standard roster of Polish cultural heroes, and that's when I began to channel Witold Gombrowicz. "What does Mrs. Smith have in common with Chopin?" I asked. My interlocutor bristled, became very solemn, and told me in no uncertain terms that making such remarks on the street would give me an opportunity to use my health insurance, which he hoped was comprehensive. And it is. And he's probably right" - Benjamin Paloff

Cosmos and Pornografia: Two Novels

"We have in Witold Gombrowicz a mind not unlike Kafka, though with more depth and originality. His Cosmos is potently real, as to have a life of its own. It is the most original book I have yet come across. With Pornographia, there is cleverness, wit, humour, and suspense. In it, two old men draw a fascination for a young boy and a young girl, whose apparent closeness implies possible seduction. They become obsessed by them, how they are, what they say, what they do. It tends to represent the VITALITY OF YOUTH as no other book does. The language is poetically sounder than Cosmos, and the scenery and discriptions are of a dark rural town admist Second World War Poland. As with Cosmos, the characters have mystical occurences of wonder, bewilderment, confusion, silence. The world becomes baffling, alive, and beyond reason. It hits you like a hammer. No other books have even come close to doing that to me (with the possible exceptions of Gurdjieff's or Dunne's thinking). In Cosmos, a series of happenings baffle a young man as he rents a boarding room with a friend. He notices the arrangement of objects, and the behaviours of persons without knowing why he is noticing them. He sees a bird, hung upon a wire, dangling from a tree. Then, he sees in the backyard a piece of wood likewise dangling from a tree. Other things follow, until his world is a confused existential dream. With Pornograpfia, there is less beautiful strangeness. It tends to represent the vitality of youth as no other book does. I feel that Mr. Gombrowicz was among the most starting and absorbing writers of this century, and, sadly, he is almost unknown. His work should vibrate you as an emotionally driven song. It has an uncanny mold of realism that other authors have not hit on, as for instance moments where the protagonist of both novels have fragmented thoughts (and sentence fragments!) rather than long sentencing, or when the dialogue of other characters are seen as droning on and not being listened to. I value this work as being among the greatest I own, and having a mysticism the likes of which I can not begin to appreciate. The books are difficult and brilliant. I could read them 50 times over.

Read his diaries, and perhaps Kafka's THE CASTLE to see their world of meaning beyond words." - Clandestine

The Syntax of Chaos: Semiotics and Silence in Witold Gombrowicz's Cosmos - Glen Scott Allen

Ferdyduke - Witold Gombrowicz

""Ferdydurke" by Witold Gombrowicz has finally been properly translated into English. Not that this is an event worth mentioning in general, but the point to be made is that the world of translation offers room for all kinds of mischief and sloppiness. Who would have thought that it were perfectly acceptable for publishers to allow translation from a second, and not native tongue? Imagine, for purposes of illustration, that a work of a classic British author translated into German not directly, but from Suahili, for this was the language the book was first translated into. Would you be satisfied with a product of this type? This was the fate of Gombrowicz, his native tongue was done away with, and the Anglo-Saxon world of bibliophiles had had no other choice but to read a lemon. Perhaps this is the revenge of the Heavens on the author himself, for never was there any other Polish author who had his native country in such a low regard as he did. In his "Trans-Atlantyk", Gombrowicz dared to ridicule everything a Pole holds dear, together with the whole idea of a nation as such. Were he to live today, he would embrace the idea of convergence and the global village of consumptionism, as opposed to Europe of Nations. That was one of the main reasons for Gombrowicz's emigration to Argentina, where he spent almost all of his literary career.

"Ferdydurke" is an early novel by this author, and it's never as crass as the aforementioned "Trans-Atlantyk". In fact, it constitutes part of a literary canon in Poland to this very day, and there is no educated Pole who hasn't read or at least heard of "Ferdydurke". Scenes from this book, gestures, and neologisms entered the mass vocabulary, and once you learn some of these expressions, you cannot unlearn them, for then there is no better way to express yourself, but to use the phrases coined by Gombrowicz. Whatever issues Poles have with this author, one thing is certain: we are grateful to him for augmenting our language. Gombrowicz created an archetype of a confused man, whose karma is to move back in time, back to school, with the mentality of an adult. I will even risk a claim that this fact alone lies at the very heart of science fiction - for how might that be possible, and what would happen if such occurence took place? How would that affect the object in queestion? Perhaps my perception of this problem is a bit skewed due to my occupational hazard of a scientist, but for me, "Ferdydurke" is a laboratory novel, where with a literary set of tools we analyze both the situation, and the object, in the vein of the medieval alchemist. This novel, hardly known in the English-speaking world, will be an exhilarating reading experience for you, provided that you will trust me and pick it up. The amusing analysis of the immature world the protagonist found himself in, mixed with elements from all literary forms, from plain mystery, via comedy, to sophisticated analysis of society, makes Ferdydurke an experimental novel of potential interest for all bibliophiles and lovers of the nonstandard." - Amazon

Translating Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdyduke - Danuta Borchardt

Edward Gorey

The Unstrung Harp - Edward Gorey

""Mr Earbrass belongs to the straying, rather than the sedentary, type of author. He is never to be found at his desk unless actually writing down a sentence. Before this happens he broods over it indefinately while picking up and putting down again small, loose objects...He frequently hums more in his mind than anywhere else, themes from the Poddington `Te Deum'."

Gorey is strange. Not weird strange. Just strange. His glib verbosity is a fantastic challenge. He takes the absurd and the stark into a play-acting of 1920s (I choose this era only because it is a feeling I get from his drawings) melodrama with a twist. I suppose his writing wouldn't have the same impact without his illustrations. His unblinking faces and penguin bodies are black comedy parodies of our over-rated catalogue of mannerisms and expressions. I laugh when I realize how serious Gorey is about taking his characters down a seriously mad path.

In the `Unstrung Harp', Mr Earbrass' boredom and inability to write are a bizarre focus. Gorey finds so much humor and psychology in our seemingly empty, drifting moments. Makes me realize that boredom really is a thing in itself to appreciate. Mr. Earbrass, after all, gets more from his "straying" than his actually writing, enjoying the "about to happen" rather than the "happening".

Start your collection. His books are tricky to come by, but even more difficult to part with." - JR31

Angélica Gorodischer

Trafalgar - Angélica Gorodischer

""Trafalgar" is one of those extraordinarily rare books is that is actually something special. Not just in its storytelling structure, which encourages the reader to relax and take a step back from the well-grounded world, but also in its crisp writing, its perfectly balanced pacing, and its interesting ideas. All told, I loved reading "Trafalgar" and it's exactly the sort of book I can easily recommend to lovers of almost all genres.

"Trafalgar" has that magic - these are sci-fi stories each, but Gorodischer writes them as though they're perfectly plausible (even as frame characters within the book comment on the titular Trafalgar's honest storytelling when it comes to his journeys to other worlds). Each world has a slightly different twist to it - some are very similar to Earth, others are foreign and bizarre and utterly terrifying in their newness. These are not swashbuckling adventure sci-fi tales, but they take the best aspects of sci-fi and work with them nicely.

Gorodischer's writing and book-structure are what make "Trafalgar" truly remarkable. By framing the stories as actual tales told to our various narrators by Trafalgar, we get a very relaxed, conversationally clear writing style. Gorodischer doesn't get bogged down with the technical side of world building, instead giving us the casual and believable glimpses of a world through the eyes of a traveler passing through. These glimpses, set the pace of the odd occurrence that happen during Trafalgar's various business trips, fulfilled my need for each world, though I suppose readers who like lush, over-detailed worlds might come away a bit disappointed. At no point does Gorodischer over-describe, leading in large part to the wonderful clarity and conciseness of her writing. This also applies to her characters, who are sketched exactly as you would expect side-characters in a friend's story to be. It might not suit everyone, but I personally enjoyed it greatly.

Overall, a wonderful collection of rather magical sci-fi short stories. Gorodischer's writing is excellent (as is the clean translation), and the structure and style of this collection clearly set it apart from others of its ilk. Highly recommended!" - Biblibio

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was - Angélica Gorodischer

"If Italo Calvino,Ursula Leguin (the translator), and Fritz Leiber collaborated on a collection, you might get something like Kalpa Imperial, a set of eleven stories dipping in and out of the grand and lengthy history of the Empire. This is not a narrative fantasy--the stories, though some may refer to others, mostly stand on their own, and they can skip entire ages of the Empire's life. Nor is it "fantasy" as often meant in today's publishing world. There is little actual magic, few quests, no single epic story, and the world building is more quietly delightful than immensely detailed.

The stories are all told by a storyteller (also an important character in one of the later stories) who often interjects his own comments on the tale, on tale-telling, on history, or even on the thick-headedness of those listening. The storyteller's voice and the oral history feel of the book are two of the better aspects of the work.

Style is another. The language is simply delightful, poetic in places, simple in others, spare in others. It's always hard to tell with a translation, of course, but one has the feel that Le Guin and Gorodischer could have been separated at birth since there is an ease and naturalness to the language that often is lacking in translated works.

The stories themselves, as mentioned, work independently while also conveying the cyclical rise and fall of the Empire and its wide variety of emperors and empresses. The stories cover all sorts--good and bad and a mixture of both (and even better, bad who did good and good who did bad), old and young, male and female, lusty and prudish, wise and foolish. They're all here, sitting on their throne deservedly or not.

Many of the tales deal with power, acquisition of, use and sometimes abuse of, loss of. Some work nicely as fables or moral tales, some as allegory, some as political/social commentary.

It's hard to fault any particular story, but read in a single sitting, they do tend to blur a bit toward the end, feel a bit too similar. And the book starts to lose its sense of delight. My guess is that this is as much a factor of reading style as writing style, and that if one read the book over a longer period of time, dipping in to taste a few stories then putting it down, it would go down much better.

It's an unusual work, not as strange as Calvino, but it has a nice echo of Invisible Cities to it. It's not as magical as Le Guin's better known work, but it has a similar style and voice to her quieter, more anthropological works, such as Orsinian Tales. And if the Empire isn't stalked by demons and sorcerers as in Leiber, it has the same feel of heavy history to it. And the writing, as mentioned, is first rate. Recommended, but with the advise not to rush through it. Maybe read it concurrently with something else so the stories have time to linger then fade just a little." - B. Capossere

Edmund Gosse

Father and Son - Edmund Gosse


Edmund Gosse's FATHER AND SON is legitimately considered one of the highpoints of Victorian autobiography. As has been noted by others, the book recounts the relationship between Edmund Gosse and his father, a member of the Christian sect generally known as Plymouth Brethren, but who was also a member of the Royal Society and one of the foremost marine biologists of his time. The narrative tends to break down into a number of definite segments: the author's birth until the death of his mother; life with his father until the time of the publishing of Darwin's THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES; the move of the Gosses to the coast of England; and young Gosse's schooling and gradual growth away from the religious teachings and expectations he had received from his parents.

A number of powerful impressions evolve over the course of the telling. First and foremost, one is left with an impression of how overwhelmingly Gosse's childhood was stripped of nearly all fun by his parents' puritanical and stern religion. Gosse's father is presented not as a cruel, vicious, and hypocritical. Instead, he is shown as a caring parent, a completely earnest practitioner of his religion, but fanatically concerned to eliminate all activities that do not lead to increased religious devotion and moral seriousness. Unfortunately, this resulted for Gosse in a childhood from which all possibility of play and fun and delight had been eliminated. Near the end of the book, I was left wondering if Gosse would have been inclined to leave Christianity if he had just had more fun as a kid.

The section of the book dealing with his father's reaction to Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES was for me the most interesting part of the book. His father's scientific standing was such that Darwin actually contacted him before the publication of his theories, and asked his response. Gosse notes that his father instantly understood that the scientific evidence clearly supported Darwin's theory. His reading of Genesis, however, indicated to him that the world was created in six days, which precluded the scenario articulated by Darwin. He therefore concluded that god created the earth in six days, but in so doing implanted fossils and geologic strata into the earth. In this way, his father was able to explain both the apparent evidence for eons long development of the earth and homo sapiens and yet retain his belief in the belief that Genesis taught a six day literal creation.

There are any of a number of reasons to read this work. It is a classic autobiography, an important source for one response to the reception of Darwin, and a magnificent evocation of puritanical religious life during the Victorian age. Most of all, it is a disturbing account of the distortive effect that intolerant and narrow-minded religious upbringing can have on an individual.

Jeremias Gotthelf

The Black Spider - Jeremias Gotthelf

"The shades of night were falling fast,
The rain was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed
An Alpine village pastor.

Sorry, I couldn't resist! This opening quatrain of AE Housman's marvelous parody of Longfellow's "Excelsior" popped to my mind unbidden at one point in Jeremias Gotthelf's 1842 novella, when the Alpine pastor (or rather priest) is indeed on his way through the Swiss village to save the villagers from the Devil, ravaging the community in the form of a black spider. Though Gotthelf (real name Albert Bitzius) was himself a pastor, and deadly serious in his vision of the battle between Good and Evil. Really, there are only two reactions to such high-mindedness: to laugh and to admire. I did both, and my admiration is considerable.

As I said recently about the Peirine Press, I would also pick up almost anything published by New York Review Books if it looked intriguing, and here the 18th-century cover of a woman's face split to show the skull beneath, complete with colonizing spider, both attracted and repelled me. The clincher was the translator's name: Susan Bernofsky, who has done such wonderful work with Jenny Erpenbeck, not to mention Robert Walser, Hermann Hesse, and Franz Kafka. But her skills are not confined to modernist authors. How perfectly she captures the pastoral perfectionism of the opening section, the verbal equivalent of German Nazarene painting: "From the forest's gilded edge the blackbird trilled its aubade while the amorous quail intoned monotonous Minnelieder from amid the flowers sparkling in the dew-bespangled grass, and high above the dark firs, lusty crows danced nuptial roundelays or else cawed tender lullabies above the thorny little beds of their unfledged chicks."* It doesn't go on quite so lushly, but Gotthelf takes his time building up this perfect picture of a village baptism in the Emmenthal as a vision of what life can be like when "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world," as Robert Browning put it. It is quite a lovely picture, actually, like some of the happier passages in Dickens. Sentimental, yes, but absolutely necessary as a prelude to showing its opposite.

In the midst of the baptismal feast, an old grandfather tells a story dating back to the Middle Ages, when the castle on the hill above them was inhabited by a debauched order of knights whose feudal master, Hans von Stoffen, forces the villagers into a task that they can complete only by striking a bargain with the Green Huntsman, a.k.a. Satan. This is a baptismal tale too, for all the Devil wants in return is an unbaptized child. What follows is a horror story that might almost come from Gotthelf's contemporary, Edgar Allan Poe, except that Poe was never so explicitly moralizing. I found myself reading with fascination, and with gratitude to Bernofsky and NYRB for unearthing this period gem. You can almost measure the strength of a religious belief by the quality of the cautionary tales warning against its opposite, and this one's a doozy.

But then a strange thing began to happen, irreligious renegade that I have become. Instead of reading as Pastor Bitzius intended, with the fantastic tale set against an Eternal Truth, I began asking whether BOTH stories were not equally fantastic? Is there anything to choose between the story of a black spider growing on a woman's cheek where the Devil has kissed her, and the rituals of mystic names, sacred symbols, and holy water? So far from authenticating truth, does not this macabre tale show it up also as fantasy? Small wonder that I started giggling in church like a schoolboy! But I am very glad to know this novella nonetheless, whether as an historical document or simply as a colorfully tall tale." - Roger Brunyate

William Goyen

The House of Breath - William Goyen

"'The House Of Breath' reads like a sacred text, as they turn the pages the reader feels like they are blowing the dust from a casket of long hidden jewels.

Narrated by a man returning after a prolonged absence to his long abandoned family home in Charity (a small, river-bound Texas town) the book invokes the ghosts of the past to tell the tales of desire, loss & melancholy that make up the (largely secret) history of that family.

Weaving a dizzy spell over all is the richly evoked river delta landscape. Goyen uses the most mesmerizing, lush descriptive prose to magically and brilliantly conjour up a sense of time and place. The overall effect is like living through a waking dream. You choose to read slowly to soak up the atmosphere and prolong the poetic experience:

"(the river) was ornamented with big drowsy snapturtles sitting like figurines on rocks; had little jeweled perch in it and sliding cottenmouth water moccasins. It crawled, croaking with bullfrogs and ticking and sucking and clucking and shining..."

Comparable to Cormac McCarthy at his most lyrical, readers of Calvino, Banville, Flannery O'Connor & Faulkner amongst others, will swoon over this southern masterpiece." - T. Branney

Juan Goytisolo

The Marx Family Saga (2001) - Juan Goytisolo

"after the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union, Spain's greatest novelist sat down and wrote his greatest novel.

Juan Goytisolo left Spain in 1956 in opposition to the regime of Generalissimo Franco, guaranteeing the banning of nearly all his works in his native land. "For decades, my name was more popular in police stations than bookshops, and I do not mean to compliment the literary awareness of Spanish policemen."

in Count Julian, reflecting a somewhat angry exile in Tangier, Goytisolo becomes the angry Moor once again defeating Catholic Spain, crushing beneath the hooves of his invading hoards everything that has been falsified in Spain, especially its berber heritage.

now, alone of his generation ! , standing, looking, as the statues fall across the eastern expanses of europe, trying to understand what the end of marxism really signifies. this second Moor, who has raised the specter of revolution in all the capitals of Europe, works each day at the Brit library on his books, wife Jenny (nee Baroness) faithfully transcribing them. what must this later Moor feel and think, watching the statues topple, the whole marxist enterprise liquidated and sold at auction?

accepting faithfully his investigation, our author visits the Marxs at their various abodes in London. he visits Bakunin for his take. meanwhile, this ragtag spanish anarchist or that displaced russian proletarian stops by the Marx house, the offices of our author's publisher or the set of the TV mocumentary being simultaneously filmed on the Marxs, just to help our author understand.

did Marx grease Stalin's skids? did history pass him by in 1872 without telling him? did the faithful Lenchen have and hide the Moor's baby out of devotion to the family and the cause of the world revolution?

these City Lights productions of Juan Goytisolo's novels are nicely done. I have their edition of A Cock-Eyed Comedy, Goytisolo's whimsical look at the "one-syllable monster," the Spanish Church and the tearooms of Paris. yum!

anyone who has ever loved or loathed Marxism should have a chuckle with this book, for which the author most assuredly deserves a much-delayed Nobel Prize." - simpcity

A Cock-Eyed Comedy (2005) - Juan Goytisolo

"For a number of years I lost sight of good Father Trennes.I discovered he'd gone to Cuba to salute Fidel Castro's Revolution. By all accounts he sang the praises of its portents and marvels. Perhaps he liked mulattos? Wagging tongues reckoned he did: 'Like the real saint he is, he goes after the all-healing whey of the Lucumi. On l'appelle deja l'Abbesse de Castro!'Back in Europe, he set up in Paris. I'd already sent him the address on the rue Poissonniere and supposed he was in contact with Juan though neither made mention of it. The almost painful, whole-hearted energy I seek in bed no longer galvanised me as before. Was I getting old? Yes, I probably was. Fortunately, greater mental strength and also greater calm and confidence accompany that process. Marguerite Yourcenar, whose work I plunged into after shelving la Beauvoir, expresses it very well in a quotation, taken like the Verlaine, from Robert Liddell's excellent biography of Cavafy which the Father lent me:L'angoisse, en matiere sensuelle, est presque tonjours un phenomene de jeunesse; ou elle detruit un etre, ou elle diminue progressivement dufait de l'experience, d'une plus juste connaissance du monde, et plus simplement de l'habitude.But to return to Father Trennes. He occasionally phoned me at the office: 'Oh, I can see you so happy breathing in the air of the Ramblas! Ici, il pleut dans la ville, et il pleut dans mon coeur, comme dit Brassens. Send me a little ray of sunshine: a poem, a letter, a photo of you with a pretty boy!' After his rash of Castroism subsided, he prudently steered away from politics and revolutionary ideals. Nor did he tramp the calle de Vitrubio, or, very exceptionally, the Via Bruno Buozzi. According to Juan, he lived a life dedicated to his apostolic endeavours in places of very dubious sanctity. One day he turned up at my flat in Turo Park: untouched by the passage of time, long-haired and dressed with an elegant insouciance, very sixty-eightish. (A few weeks before he'd called me excitedly from Cairo: he'd just opened his heart to a traffic cop in the busiest square in the city! What had been his response? 'Oh he was perfect! He went on with his whistle but agreed to meet me in front of the Egyptian Museum.' He sighed: so tall and strong, his feet like a grape-picker's out of Velazquez.)'You look as fresh as a daisy! Are you on a course of hormones in the fatherland of Ceaucescu?''I don't need to go to Romania like some television announcer. I try to live a healthy life while waiting for my next reincarnation.'He'd finally found his sense of humour. He told me about his new friends in Paris: Severo Sarduy, Roland Barthes, Francois Wahl. What about Genet? 'He worshipped him from afar but was intimidated by his rude ways.' As for his relationship with the rue Poissonniere he suffered from Juan's topsy-turvy moods, 'ever more engrossed in himself and his labyrinthine writing'.He was apparently preparing - or perpetrating - a novel that the author himself dubbed a door-stopper, tome or artefact - whose production required extensive reading and years of labour. A history of sexuality in the light of Catholic doctrine via a journey through the Spanish language from the Middle Ages to the present. He wanted to transcribe his cruising experiences in church language, including that of the author of the contemporary Kempis, in order to parody it from within and strip bare its hypocrisy: what, perhaps contaminated by his Tel Quel readings, he called 'textual libido'. We both laughed.'Is it an autobiography or a novel? Does it have plot, chapters, real people?'Plot is the least of his worries, Father Trennes argued at second remove. Our mutual friend is trying to train his ear to catch the voices from the past in order to appropriate them and become lord and master of his writing, forgetting those striving to do just that in relation to literature and the literary life. One could thus measure an artist's vitality by his ability to assimilate the different literary tendencies of the tradition in which he inscribes himself at the behest of a vast, ambitious and original project (didn't Eliot write something similar?). Whoever tried to bypass this substratum or digested library, jamais en rapport avec les combinaisons mercantiles (to quote Mallarme), was condemned to live and disappear with his era . . . Father Trennes doubted the viability of such a project and so did I. Forced to choose between Forster and Bakhtin, I always stick with Forster's reasonable precepts and parameters. But I awaited an opportunity to argue the toss with Juan.'Et vous, mon pere' (I always address him as vous in order to mortify him), 'how's life treating you round Barbes and the Gare du Nord?''I'm no longer Father Trennes!'I'd served him gin on the rocks which he savoured with relish.'I've changed my nom de guerre, like the whores of yesteryear! Now I'm Friar Bugeo. Doesn't the name ring any bells?'It did in fact, but I couldn't hit on which.'He wrote A Cock-eyed Comedy, a work of saintly shainelessness, a short, sharp exchange included in the Book of Burlesque Songs. Aren't you familiar with it?'The anachronisms of ex-Father Trennes and greenhorn Friar Bugeo delighted me. Had he, as I'd urged Juan, hitched up to the English literary tradition from Sterne to Swift? I remember we bantered about his longevity. A century and a half? From the Early Middle Ages! We lingered on Jehovah's fantastic computations and the earthly affections of the patriarchs in Genesis. But could one doubt the word of God? He quoted lines of Milton at me; I riposted with a reflection from Gracian. It ended in stale-mate.He poured himself another gin with lots of ice.'Let's go straight to the point,' he said quite seriously. 'Do you not believe in transmigration?'Years later, when I was recovering from the ritual, exhausting journey to the Antipodes (the filipinos bored me, no longer aroused me), I received by registered post the manuscript into which, cruel reader, you will now sink your teeth: tear it up if you feel that way. I don't mind and it doesn't reflect on me. I passed it on to the publisher just as it came. If there's anything to criticise, it's peeping-tommery. I wrote a poem on this practice in my youth. I was a poet once and, when the word left me, I left that blessed state." - Excerpt

Quarantine: A Novel - Juan Goytisolo

"Spanish experimental novelist Goytisolo (Landscapes After the Battle, 1987, etc.), the author of a two-volume memoir (Realms of Strife, 1990, and Forbidden Territory, 1988), explores the 40-day journey that souls, according to Islam, take from the moment of death to their final resting place and reflects on the creative writing process. For him, the journey is a quarantine of sorts, akin to the experience of a writer who must withdraw from the world so that his imagination can take flight. Indeed in Quarantine, Goytisolo's narrator is a writer in the process of composing a novel--in fact, the very novel we are reading. He is imagining his own death and journey as he meditates on the spiritual wandering of a woman friend who has recently died. The narrator, like the dead according to Islam, must account to Nakir and Munkar, the two angels who examine and, if necessary, punish the dead in their tombs. Meanwhile, it is the year of the Persian Gulf War, and all its wartime horrors become mingled with the torments of the underworld. At the end of the ``waiting'' period, the writer's novel is finished and his soul and the soul of his friend are released. ``Write, keep writing about me,'' she implores him. ``Only your interest and the interest of those who read you can continue to keep me alive!'' Quarantine is an intriguing multilayered novel, but one at times more powerful in concept than in execution. The writing itself is awash in a dreamlike quality that bestows on even the vivid descriptions of pain and torture a gauzy, and not always compelling, feel. Goytisolo's fans, however, should be pleased by this unique meditation on death and the creative process by a distinctly original voice." - Kirkus

Stefan Grabinski

The Dark Domain - Stefan Grabinski

Early in the last century, this shockingly underrated Polish writer saw the horror that haunted modernity. His ghosts and demons don't inhabit graveyard or ruins, but steam trains, electricity cables, and the rapidly growing cities. The antithesis of nostalgic fantasy. - China Mieville

"Great horror story writers have a unique imaginative inner vision that distinguishes them from other writers. Stories by Poe, Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and W. H. Hodgson could have come only from them. Stefan Grabinski is one of the great ones. His work reflects bizarre personal obsessions that recur throughout his tales: the metaphysical meaning of fire; trains as a symbol of the vast, implacable power that machines give man over his surroundings and also of man's relentless journey to who knows where; strange sexual phantoms that emerge from either unplumbed dimensions or from man's own twisted pshyche. These stories are gripping, haunting, and have the power to pull you into Grabinski's warped but somehow universal reality and to keep a part of you there long after you have turned the last page and read the last word. As with the other great horror story writers, Grabinski's inner demons make a connection with each of his reader's inner demons and create an indelible impression.

My favorite of the stories in the collection is "Fumes", but the others are all strangely great and compelling as well. Two other exquisite Grabinski tales are unfortunately not in this book. However, English translations of "The Dark Hamlet" can be found in "The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy", and "The White Wyrak" can be found in "100 Creepy Little Tales". I look forward to the day when all of Grabinski's horror shorts are available in English translation." - Gregg Zimmerman

Julien Gracq

The Opposing Shore

"Even in translation you can feel the lyrical intensity and beauty of this novel which creates an atmosphere of tension which no reader will forget easily: Aldo, a young nobleman, has had enough of the decadence of his native Vezzano, a fictitious republic modeled on Venice. He has himself posted to a navy base which was once built to defend Vezzano against Farghestan. The two powers are still officially at war, but nothing has actually happened for 300 years. Now, however, there is a growing tension, not just inside Aldo, who dreams of the unknown Farghestan. People in Vezzano seem to be tired of its eternal stability, they long for action...

Most of the novel's plot takes place near the old navy base, which is surrounded by a desert landscape which is described with mesmerizing intensity. Little incidents are building up towards an explosion which is only hinted at in the book. People waiting for something to happen in a more and more uncanny slience - that may remind the reader of the fact that the book was written before and during World War II. The decadence longing for action, danger and change, however, seems to me reminiscent of World War I. This is not a book of easy historical analogy. It is a unique work of art which stands completely on its own." - Manuel Haas

Gunter Grass

The Meeting at Telgte - Gunter Grass

"Or are you well informed about the history of the "Thirty Years War" in Germany? Do the following names mean anything at all to you: Jakob Boehme? Paul Fleming? Andreas Gryphius? Martin Opitz? and especially Paul Gerhardt? And then the really essential names: Heinrich Schuetz? Johann Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen? Those are just a few of the cast of historical personages that Guenter Grass assembles in his imagination in the village of Telgte in 1647, and if the names and places are utterly meaningless to you, you'll never get past the first chapter of this well-packed little book.

Still, there are reasons why you might want to try. It's a "quick read" if you have a running start, and drop-dead funny if you have any idea what the stakes are. It's also a vivid lesson in European political and religious history, a lesson that will pound the significance of the 17th Century for 20th Century Germany in your Anglophone head forevermore. And it's a pointed reprimand to the self-importance of writers and scholars of any era.

Here's the scene: Simon Dach, a professor of poetry at Koenigsberg, has invited all the most notable Protestant writers of war-torn Germany to gather and discuss the state of the German language and the vision of German intellectuals for a "new Germany" after the impending peace. The poets find themselves helplessly stranded until they are 'rescued' by the extravagant figure of Gelnhausen (Grimmelshausen), unbeknowst to them the most notorious free-booter in Germany. Gelnhausen is the pivotal character in this narrative, and his interface with the assorted literary bigwigs provides most of the humor. They regard him as a rogue and a buffoon, while he is eager to absorb what lessons he can from them. The 'punch line' is that, among all these preening, posing mediocrities, Gelnhausen will become the author of the greatest German novel of the epoch, the picaresque classic "Simplicius Simplicissimus." Quite frankly, if you've never read Simplicius, you'd be better off to start with that, and read Guenter Grass and Bertolt Brecht later. The problem, sad to say, is that Simplicius has never gotten much attention in the English world, and translations go out of print quickly. There's a simplified abridgement of the story available, titled "Adventures of a Simpleton," which I've also reviewed; it's adequate to prepare you for Telgte.

As a foil to the resourceful rascal Gelnhausen, Grass introduces the other greatest creative genius of baroque Germany - composer Heinrich Schuetz - into the Telgte 'parliament of fowls' as an uninvited guest. All the assembled 'intellectuals' are secretly uncomfortable with the austere composer, well aware that his opinion of their word-smithing is far from laudatory. Schuetz, in real history, lamented the failure of German writers to provide texts comparable to the Italian poets like Petrarch and Tasso. His own choices for texts to be set in music came chiefly from the Italians and from the German translation of the Bible. (If you are unfamiliar with Schuetz's music, this review will have supreme impact on your future life; you simply shouldn't spend another week without hearing it. Luckily for your wallet, Brilliant Classics has issued a three-box multi-CD edition of Schuetz's most sublime compositions, performed by Cappella Augustana.) Schuetz's grave presence dominates the assembly rather like that of Obi-Wan Kenobi dominated scenes in Star Wars. There is no historical probability than Schuetz and Grimmelshausen ever met, but in Grass's fantasy, Schuetz sees deep into the character of the brilliant rogue, and assigns him the task of writing rather than raiding.

Schuetz also confronts his musical mirror image, the pietist hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt, whose 'simple' strophic songs are still sung by Lutherans and Calvinists around the world. This confrontation is possibly the deepest and most ambiguous theme of the book, amounting to a question about the value of any art in the lives of ordinary people. You'll have to take The Meeting of Telgte on for yourself in order to learn what Grass concludes.

If indeed you decide to read this spectacular parable, here's what you need to do: read the "Afterword" by Leonard Forster first. Then, as you start the book, for the first three or four chapters, keep your finger in the "Dramatis Personae" at the back of the book, and look up each new character as he is introduced. Then, by the time Gelnhausen takes charge, you'll be having enough fun to keep reading despite any unfamiliarity with the flock of odd birds." - Giordano Bruno

Alasdair Gray

Lanark: A Life in Four Books - Alasdair Gray

How Lanark Grew - Alasdair Gray

Return to Unthank - William Boyd

Lanark 1982: An Unofficial Alasdair Gray Website:

"What can I say about Lanark that hasn't been said already? Anthony Burgess, in his list of the 99 greatest novels written in English since 1945, called it the "shattering work of fiction in the modern idiom" that Scotland needed, compared the book itself to James Joyce's Ulysses and proclaimed Alasdair Gray "the best Scottish novelist since Walter Scott". It is hard to understate its importance in the recent renaissance of writing in Scotland.

Worked upon, on and off, for 25 years (chapter 12, with very few differences to what was finally published, was runner-up in a short story competition organised by The Observer, an English newspaper, in 1958) Lanark was eventually published in 1981 by a small Edinburgh-based publisher called Canongate. A publisher to whom Gray has returned several times in his subsequent career. It was immediately seen as a great event in Scotland's literary life. The country's resurgence of literature as something to be proud of, can almost be dated from the moment this novel hit the bookshops. The New Yorker, in 1996, called Gray "the grand old man of the Scottish renaissance", and the editor of The Scottish Novel Since the Seventies says that the 1981 publication of Lanark "detonated a cultural time-bomb which had been ticking away patiently for years".

But enough of its reputation, what of the book itself?

First off, it's a BIG book. Big in ideas, big in reputation, big in ambition and big in weight. At close to 600 pages long, it's certainly the longest of Gray's works and it's not the easiest. Although, being his debut novel, Lanark was many people's introduction to Gray, it is not the one I recommend reading first. If you're the sort of person who isn't going to like Gray's writing, Lanark and 1982 Janine are the books that are most concentrated in their Grayishness. If you aren't sure you're going to like Gray, start with Poor Things or, the one I always lend people (I've lost several copies), the short story collection Unlikely Stories, Mostly.

But don't let this put you off Lanark. Like all mountains, you might need to prepare for the climb, but the view from the top takes your breath away.

Lanark defies description. Like Slaughterhouse Five it is both outlandish science-fiction and obvious autobiography, like The Third Policeman it makes use of lengthy footnotes that say absolutely nothing, it begins with book three, has a prologue halfway through, and it includes a long index of plagiarisms in the middle of a discussion between the author and his lead character. Like many difficult books it is probably better appreciated on subsequent readings, but it is likely to grab you from the off. Books 3 and 4 (which you read first and last) are about Lanark, a man who arrives by train in a strange town. Having no name, he takes one from a sepia-tinted tourist-photograph he saw on the compartment wall. The city has no daylight and the inhabitants do no work, living off subsistence-level grants from an unseen power. Many people suffer from oddly symbolic diseases. Lanark develops 'dragonhide', a physical manifestation of Wilhelm Reich's emotional armouring, which smothers his arm in thick heavy scales and claws where his fingers were, one of his friends develops 'mouths' the symptoms of which involves mouths opening like wounds over the body which then speak independently of the sufferer. Lanark commits suicide and comes round in 'The Institute'. The Institute is devoted to curing those it can, but uses the hopeless cases as fuel (dragonhide sufferers eventually 'go nova' if uncured, when their pent-up emotions cause their bodies to explode, which energy is harnessed to power generators) or as food (the glutinous 'softs' are turned into a processed blancmange-like substance which Lanark refuses to eat when he discovers its source). This is only part of the opening book. The novel later trips back to Glasgow just after the war, where we meet Thaw (who it would appear is Lanark in a previous incarnation) for books 2 and 3. I will stop the description here, because it cannot do the book justice.

In the USA, the novel was due to be published 6 months or so after the original UK issue, to use whatever promotion had been garnered. As it happened, management changes at Harpers and Row meant that they were issued at the same time, it was marketed as a straight science-fiction novel in the States and disappeared without trace. In the UK, it remained a cult classic, but began the career of 'Gray, the novelist' and meant that after just a few more books, Gray could live by doing what he wanted, and not what he had to. Along with Unlikely Stories, Mostly it is the only one of Gray's book never to have fallen out of print in the UK, and its status as 'cult classic' seems assured for a while yet. If only Danny Boyle could be pushed into directing the film version, staring Ewan McGregor as Lanark/Thaw, Gray could live a wealthy retirement."

The Book of Prefaces - Alasdair Gray


"After a decade and a bit of footling around with pleasant but whimsical novels and the occasional killer short story, Alasdair Gray has finally delivered his long-promised anthology of English-language prefaces. And what a treasure it is. Designed and presented with the author's characteristic loving care, it's a mighty selection of beginnings-of-books from Anglo-Saxon down to 1920 or so (more recent prefaces being excluded because of copyright laws.)

Besides the sheer wealth of Stuff To Read, there are dense, canny and wonderfully sure-footed essays on the progress-or-not of English culture'n'society courtesy of Mister Gray, plus marginal glosses by a variety of highly intelligent people and also Roger Scruton. Scruton (England's dimmest philosopher) provides the gloss on the preface to Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France", and offers up his customary brand of simple-minded conservatism, but it doesn't matter because Gray has already neatly undercut him several dozen pages earlier with his own reflections on the revolution.

A book to keep with you for the rest of your life and leave to someone in your will. There haven't been many such in the past 50 years. And while the errata slip isn't quite exhaustive (there are a few typos that it fails to credit), how can you resist it when it's written in rhyme?" - lexo-2

"For many years in catalogues of forthcoming publications Alsadair Gray's Anthology of Prefaces has been referred to. Some suspected a Gray type joke as the book failed to appear year on year. Was it a post modern joke? Gray after all was the man that had an erratum slip inserted in an earlier book reading "This erratum slip was inserted by mistake." The apparent joke was taken too far when one catalogue of second hand books published almost a decade ago suggested that the book had not appreciated in value and was worth roughly £20 second hand. This was not a bad sum for a non-existent text. Snippets of text appeared occasionally, and while the book remained unpublished it became apparent that Gray was beginnning to make serious progress on the work. It then became known that others were assisting Gray in his task of glossing the prefaces including crucially important Scottish writers such as Jim Kelman, Tom Leonard, Janice Galloway, and Alison Kennedy.

So now the book has arrived. The title has changed (now The Book of Prefaces, rather than an anthology). The price rather more than the suggested second hand value.

And it is well worth the wait. This will stand as a monument to Gray's achievements as an artist (of words and of pictures). His remit has been to produce a history of literature in English from the sixth century to the present day.

This is a book to revel in. Among prefaces to novels and poems (from the well known, such as Mary Shelley's genesis of Frankenstein to the less well known such as Trahern's poetry) there are prefaces (and prologues) to works of philosophy (e.g. Bentham and Franklin) and law (the introduction to Stair's Institutions, a crucially important work in the survival of Scots law as an independent legal system).

The book is beautifully illustrated, wonderfully designed, and contains a charming introduction by Gray detailing reasons for prefaces and for enjoying reading them (my favourite, enjoying watching authors in a huff).

This book will be an invaluable companion through life, and careful reading will have the desired effect of making an individual appear better read and more erudite than they really are.

Buy and enjoy this wonderful book." - scottish lawyer

Henry Green

Nothing - Henry Green

Linda Linguvic:

"The British writer Henry Green's literary skill went far beyond a comedy of manners, which this book appears to be on the surface. Dense with meaning, "Nothing" is a short literary gem, which forces the reader to read a million nuances into the witty and yet deeply dense conversations which make up the entirety of the book. The story is set in 1948 and follows John and Jane, now middle aged but still reminiscing about an affair they had many years before when they were still married. They both have new relationships, Liz and Richard, but still see each other frequently for meals or for tea. Their respective children, Mary and Philip, are now grown and want to marry. But of course there are complications.

The world that the author creates for the reader is a very British one. The dialogue is precise but filled with hidden meanings, as what is unsaid is often even more important than what is said. There's a wonderful symmetrical balance in each of the conversations as well as in the structure of the book. The characters speak for themselves, with very little description, and, through their words alone, the twists and turns of the story emerge, the sounds of their voices echoing on the pages. The question of what really happened and is happening is always just beyond our reach, and the even though the characters might be moved around like chess pieces at the author's whim, they never do change or gain insight into their behavior. Surprisingly, this is still an amazingly satisfying read, as if is the reader himself or herself who gets to experience their world and gain insight into the inevitability of the conclusion. This book is a delightful read and a real treat. I highly recommend it."

Malcolm Green

Black Letters Unleashed: 300 Years of Writing in German - Malcolm Green, ed.

A Journey Round My Skull - A list of the table of contents.

Malcolm Green - Foreword
Johannes Fischart - Introduction
Quirinus Kuhlmann - The Kiss of Love
Gottfried Burger - The Magnetic Mountain Range
G. C. Lichtenberg - Inventory of a Collection of Appliances
Jean Paul - The Dead Christ's Address from On High on the Non-existence of God
Novalis - The Apprentice
E. T. A. Hoffmann - Sister Monika
Franz Grillparzer - The Wild Hunter
Johann Nepomuk Nestroy - Tratschmiedl's Dream
Max Stirner -  I've Based My Affairs on Nothing
Arthur Schopenhauer - Conversation Anno 33
Friedrich Nietzsche - Letter to Jakob Burckhardt
Karl Marx - Digression on Productive Labour
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch  -  Drama-Dscheuti
Oskar Panizza - The Immaculate Conception of Popes
Stanislaw Przybyszewski - The Mass of the Dead
Franz Held - The Golden Bomb
Paul Scheerbart - The Stupid Ass
Gustav Meyrink - Just What Purpose Do White Dog Stools Actually Serve
Adolf Wolfli -  New York
Georg Heym - Sketches
Elsa Lasker-Schuler - Artists
Jakob von Hoddis - Doctor Hacker's End
Franz Jung - The Telepaths
Heinrich Schaefer - Creative Extension out of Darkness
Georg Trakl - Transmutation of the Evil One ¿ Revelation and Decline
Erna Kroner - 2 Poems
Ferdinand Hardekopf - Winter Garden
Albert Ehrenstein - Kimargouel
Wieland Herzefelde - The Soviet Cloud
Kurt Schwitters - A Gulp for the Whole of Life ¿ Horizontal  Story
Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando - The Masked Ball of the Genii
Alfred Doblin - Incomprehensible  Stories
Hans Henny Jahnn - Kebad Kenya
Ilse Aichinger - Ajax
Gerhard Ruhm - The Grotto
Unica Zurn - In Ambush
Paul Celan - 6 Poems from The No-One's Rose
Wolfgang Bauer - 3 Microdramas
H. C. Artmann - Lord Lister's Afternoon Letters
Imtraud Morgner - The Hotel
Christoph Meckel - Instructions to the House Guests
Gunter Brus - Jack O'Lantern
Peter Pongratz - Sunset
Oskar Pastior - 12 Poempoems
Ror Wolf - The Danger of the Great Plains
Ingomar Kieseritsky - The Fermail Method, or the Abolition of Music
Monica Tornow - Body Demons
Jean Paul Jacobs - Miss Lazybones
Gerhard Roth - Between Heaven and Earth
Heiner Muller - Description of a Picture
Gunter Brus - The Crystal Cistern

"Hard to imagine what the guys in his book were drinking or smoking, let alone the guy who chose all this stuff (and presumably waded thought miles of weird and obscure stuff to find it all:congratulations!). German letters are generally put on the dull, stodgy shelf (even if "serious" writers like Thomas Mann have their crazy moments - see Felix Krull), but suddenly a whole kaleidoscope of brilliant madness opens up here in this book. And I mean brilliant, and I mean mad. Fantastic! Forget all those books about mid-west teachers and tawdry relationships and stuff, this collection of short stories and excerpts opens up new worlds on every page. Black Letters is not a mere attempt to save the name of German writing, which it does with aces, but a phenomenal anthology of writing by any count. Beg, borrow, steal, the thing has it seems been out of print for ages, but sometimes you can find a copy at a reasonable price. Why hasn't the publisher reprinted? The very fact it is unavailable must say there is an audience for this stuff. It should be in every school and corner library." - Spacebo

Michael Green

Squire Haggard's Journal - Michael Green

Eileen Berdon Galen:

"This little journal is fine and funny little parody of the eighteenth-century journals of Boswell, and Pepys (earlier) - and many less famous English diarists and chroniclers. It is introduced by its creator, Michael Green. In one elegant paragraph he tell us a lot about the diaries he used: "What struck me was their fascination with food (dinner was usually described in great detail and many of the dishes were rather strange by modern standards). Death and illness were also subject to close scrutiny. There seemed a compulsion to record sexual adventures in high-flown language which contrasted with the sordid realities [...] And there was an obsession with small sums of money." Green's protagonist, Amos Haggard (soon to be joined by his son) stays within these parameters as he takes the reader on a tour of his world (London, and then a comic tour of Europe). His diary entries are in turns droll, hysterically funny, gently repulsive (mostly the menu items), bawdy, and shot through with very funny political commentary on the hypocrisy (and criminality, sometimes) of the upper classes.

The journal begins on September 16, 1777 with a deadpan report of a man, Jas. Soaper, having been hung for stealing a nail. By the next day, we learn that "Jas. Soaper found to be innocent." Amos Haggard is a man who knows his own mind; if not closed, it is narrow. "I make it an infallible rule while travellg. abroad to see as little of the scenery as possible; thus the mind is not unsettled and disturbed by the wild excesses of Nature and barren deserts such as the Scottish Highlands." But he does travel; he goes to France, landing on "the loathsome land of Toads and Pederasts" and then to Paris, where for sport he insults the French, and finds that is impressed by the Bastille. He admires the variety of punishments there, is impressed by the prison's architecture, and makes a quick sketch - "with a view to erctg. a smaller copy in England."

Squire Haggard knows that December 25th is "the most sacred feast in the Christian Calendar," and observes annually by setting out early in the morning to evict his tenants who are in arrears. The day proceeds. He reports on his misdeeds and lack of nominal ethics with an insouciance that is constantly ridiculously funny.

There is a slyly woven plot that offers ample satirical commentary on the historic English preoccupations of class and money. There are imagined and real insults, bad food and dyspepsia, gossip and civil intrigue, poisonings, outrageous behavior, and (in a wholly successful parody of Plague diaries) the ever-present Death. In addition there is romance, bawdy fun, much too much drinking and, at evening's end - Squire Haggard's inevitable reluctance to settle the bill.

I laughed my way through this very entertaining little book."

Stephen Gregory

Cormorant - Stephen Gregory


"Initially, I intended to criticize "The Cormorant" by Stephan Gregory for failing to be as compelling as I had expected a book touted as "Award-winning" to be. However, as I began writing this review, my opinion began to take another shape. Gregory does a masterful job of creating the landscape and atmosphere of the Wales countryside and the cozy cottage where the narrator and his wife take residence after the death of his uncle Ian. It is quite easy for the reader to become enveloped in the world the author has created: to cozy up to the fire and watch the pre-Christmas snow falling outside the slowly-fogging windows, all the while sensing the sulking, angry presence of the ugly joke, the cormorant, trapped in a cage in the back yard. Based on atmosphere alone, "The Cormorant" is a book whose images and emotions will linger in your mind. The ending of the story, the portion of the book with which I was going to find fault, is still unraveling itself in my mind. At first, I felt that the ending didn't create the kind of emotional impact that I felt the author had intended. I now believe that my feelings had more to do with the fact that I stayed up late reading and got little sleep, rather than any failings on the author's part. I feel a bit like a shock victim coming out of it: the emotions are rising up in me as I think back on the story, and plotlines that I felt were left unresolved are weaving themselves together. The sheer fact that a novel can leave this kind of lingering impression should be enough to recommend it. White Wolf publishing, under their Borealis line, has published a number of great books in recent years by authors who are not well know in the United States. After reading several of the titles published in this line, I now browse through bookstores in search of the Borealis imprint. Some other titles in the line include "The Immaculate" by Mark Morris, "Resume with Monsters" by William Browning Spencer, and "Virgins and Martyrs" by Simon Maginn. Check them out!!!" - A Reader

Russell Griffin

Russell Griffin

"Sci-fi writer Russell M. Griffin, after a succession of poorly-marketed novels, each from a less successful publisher than the one before it, last week devoured his own foot in order to stay alive. Griffin was unavailable for comment, but our sources conjectured, "How else is the poor b*st*rd supposed to live? Not on the piece-of-sh*t advances these people pay!"

What brought Griffin to this end? Inquiring minds want to know.

The seeds are visible in his first novel, THE MAKESHIFT GOD (Dell, 1979). Obviously some sort of effete intellectual snob, Griffin packs an otherwise well-written and fast-paced space adventure with all sorts of literary references and dead languages.

It is in CENTURY'S END (Bantam 1981), however, that Griffin begins to blatantly show his true colors. Not only does he mock organized religion, flying saucers (!), and politicians, he has a whole sci-fi novel with no time machines, space ships, or aliens. What's the point?

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT (Timescape, 1982) isn't even set in the future, for cripe's sake, and not only are there no aliens and no spaceships, the origin of the story's Elephant Man is so disgusting we dare not print it in a family newsmagazine!

THE TIME SERVERS (Avon, 1985) starts off promisingly enough, set in an embassy on an alien planet, a situation we are told resembles the "Retief" stories by fellow sci-fi'er Keith Laumer. But in the end Griffin resorts to sly accusations about the Vietnam War, and we know no one wants to hear about Vietnam any more.

These reasons all seemed sufficient to explain Griffin's lack of popularity. Still, because inquiring minds like yours want to know, we contacted Prominent Literary Critic SUE DENIM and asked her opinion on Griffin's work.

"I think the guy's a genius, but for G*d's sake don't quote me. Obviously the guy has f*ck*d up big somewhere to get his stuff buried like this. I mean, he should be getting hardcover deals and high five-figure advances and every award in the field.

"Take CENTURY'S END. Please. Apparently nobody noticed that this was the first really visionary book about the coming millenium. It's going to be crazy, and Griffin is the only writer I know of (other than maybe Jim Blaylock or Phil Dick -- and Dick wasn't as funny) who is good enough at both humor and pathos to really bring the craziness of it to life. In the next 15 years we're going to see pale imitations of this book make the best seller list. You'll see.

"THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT is cripplingly funny, the characters are so vivid and so fully realized that you forget you met them in a book, Griffin seems a complete expert in every field he even touches on, and the moral issues he raises are always complex and important. The book is about the news media, but more about taking responsibility for your actions -- the Elephant Man being a living symbol of Consequences.

"You almost feel guilty about laughing at THE TIME SERVERS because it's so brutal, but when you find out who the Depazians really are, when the whole Vietnam parallel starts taking shape, you just want to laugh and cry and jump up and down all at the same time.

"But obviously I'm not supposed to talk about this, or somebody else would already have been singing Griffin's praises. He's that good. So forget I even said anything, okay? And if you print a word of this I'll sue your *ss off."

THE TIME SERVERS is still available in a lot of bookstores, but the rest of Griffin's books are of course out of print. Sci-fi, as we all know, is meant to be cheap, lightweight, and disposable -- rather like a butane lighter -- and is not meant to appeal to Prominent Literary Critics. Inquiring minds don't need them." - Bruce Sterling

The Timeservers

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The Century's End

The Makeshift God

Hans Von Grimmelshausen

The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus (1689) - Hans Von Grimmelshausen

"Simplicius Simplicissimus is an artful and stunningly humorous account of the adventures of naive and utterly simple idiot boy who acquires a rich knowledge of life through a series of amazing adventures. This book was written in 1669 - nearly 100 years prior to Voltaire's Candide. Unfortunately, Amazon.com does not list the name of the translator of the offered edition. There are several English language translations available. The British translation by Walter Wallich is excellent and true to the original, preserving both the author's wit and creative prose. An American translation by George Schulz-Behrend is utterly lamentable and should be avoided at all costs - it completely sterilizes the author's humor and has the appearance of having been translated under the close and fastidious censorship of a puritan sect. It is not advisable to purchase the version offered by amazon.com, unless and until they can clearly specify the name of the translator." - A Customer

Project Gutenberg Edition (in German)

Newfound Press PDF Version (English)

PDF Version (English)

Vassily Grossman

Life and Fate - Vassily Grossman

Books to Seek Out - Jeff VanderMeer


"Vasily Grossman submitted his manuscript for Life and Fate in 1960 at the height of Khrushchev's post-Stalinist cultural thaw. Subsequent to a review of the manuscript Grossman was advised that the book was being arrested. The book could not be published for at least 200 years. All copies of the manuscript were rounded up and sent to party headquarters for safekeeping. The manuscript was arrested because it dared to imply that Hitlerism and Stalinism bore more similarities than differences. Grossman made this point obliquely by putting these words into the mouth of a despicable SS death camp commandant. Nevertheless this was too much for both Khrushchev and the apparatchiks at the National Union of Writers and the book was banned. Life and Fate was eventually published because a manuscript remained at large. The author Vladimir Voinovich helped smuggle a copy to Switzerland where it was published in 1980, 15 years after Grossman's death in 1965. The book was published in the USSR in 1989 to sensational results. Nevertheless, Grossman remains relatively obscure outside Russia and that is a great pity.

Grossman was born in 1905. Although Jewish by birth, Grossman was never particularly religious and his family supported the 1917 revolution. After receiving a degree in chemistry Grossman found work in the Donbass coal mines. Encouraged by Maxim Gorky, Grossman began writing short stories and plays. Grossman adopted Stalin's maxim that writers were engineers of human souls and his work was firmly rooted in the rather tedious school of socialist realism. Grossman's play "If You Believe the Pythagoreans" attacked the philosophical rants of intellectuals and argued that they were garbage not "worth a good worker's boot." For all intents and purposes, Grossman was a true believer. How and why did this change? Life and Fate begins to answer that question.

Grossman volunteered for the front after the German invasion in 1941 and worked as a reporter for Red Star, an army newspaper known for its forthright reports from the front lines. Grossman received national fame due to his reporting from the front lines. Grossman was the first reporter to write first hand accounts of German concentration camps and his experience there had a devastating impact on his world view. Grossman learned after the war that his mother, who he failed to move from Berdichev to Moscow after the invasion perished in Hitler's genocide. It was the death of his mother and the post war anti-Semitic campaigns of Stalin that may have led Grossman to challenge his own acceptance of Soviet orthodoxy and set him to work on Life and Fate and his other major work, Forever Flowing.

Life and Fate is a remarkable novel despite its occasional unremarkable prose that contains a trace of Grossman's earlier socialist realism style. The book's emotional core involves humanity's struggle for freedom in an unfree world. Josef Skvorecky put the central question of Life and Fate thusly: "Does man lose his innate yearning for freedom? The fate of both man and the totalitarian State depends on the answer to this question. If human nature does change, then the eternal and world wide triumph of the dictatorial state is assured; if his yearning for freedom remains constant, then the totalitarian state is doomed."

The scope of the story and the cast of characters are vast and in the tradition of both Tolstoy and Pasternak. This edition contains a list of characters and their geographic location during the story. The central characters include Viktor Shtrum, a scientist, and his extended family. Other central figures include Captain Grekov, the leader of a group of soldiers doing battle with the Nazi's in a bombed out apartment building in Stalingrad. Grekov is an iconoclast doing battle not only with the Nazis but the political commissars that spent more time concerned with political orthodoxy than fighting. Key scenes in the book also take place in a German concentration camp and a Russian labor camp.

Life and Fate is a wonderful book. Grossman's assertion towards the end of his work that we can be slaves by fate but not slaves by nature is an important concept to keep a hold of today." - Leonard Fleisig

George Grossmith

Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith

"This book must be the most nearly perfect piece of comic writing in English, its humour gentle and subtle, its depiction of character, class, time and location flawless. It fixes forever the late-Victorian world of the respectable Lower Middle Class, populated by clerks, petty merchants and tradesmen, observing it with both objectivity and affection. It is splendidly read on tape by Frederick Davidson, whose assumed accent is perfectly gauged to reflect the upwardly-mobile aspirations of the Mr.Charles Pooter, the self-confessed nobody of the title, and which slips down the social scale by several notches in moments of stress and frustration. Though superficially simple, the construction of the narrative is complex in the extreme, with comic situations often being built up over a long period, and with clues carefully planted in earlier sections, only to come to fruition later. It is particularly impressive how the main characters - Pooter himself, his long-suffering and often silly but supportive wife Carrie and his exasperating son Lupin - emerge as rounded characters from apparently simple diary entries and achieve a realism and familiarity as great as any in more serious literature. The situations in which they find themselves - or rather get themselves - are not only ludicrously amusing, but also close to the normality of life as many live it, and one can often, uncomfortably, recognise one's self or one's friends in their reactions to them. What makes the Diary an enduring masterpiece is however the gentle and affectionate treatment of human weakness - and greatness. Pooter may be pompous, foolish and sometimes sycophantic, but he is also loyal, decent and honourable and his life, and his family's, for all its pettiness, also has its dignity. I first read the Diary over forty years ago and it has never ceased to delight me since - it remains a treasured bedside book to be opened at random - and this splendid tape of it is an ideal companion for long or short automobile journeys. (An interesting footnote is that George Grossmith, as a singer and actor, created many of the best known Gilbert and Sullivan roles on stage)." - Donal A. O'Neill

Mainland Press

George Grossmith began his literary career as a police court reporter for The Times, but he was a talented actor, singer and dancer and was soon performing a one-man show, delivering his own comic monologues and songs at the piano. In 1877 he was offered a part in the D'Oyly Carte production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Sorcerer and he remained with the company for 12 years, creating many of Gilbert and Sullivan's major comic roles.

In 1888, Grossmith began writing a series of humorous articles for Punch magazine, illustrated by his brother Weedon. These articles parodied the books of memoirs then being inflicted on the reading public by self-important windbags whom nobody had ever heard of. Unlike these memoirs, however, The Diary of a Nobody recounts no meetings with the leading figures of the day nor does it tell of the author's involvement in important events - just the everyday happenings in the life of an ordinary office clerk, living in a quiet suburb of London, recorded in meticulous detail. The Punch articles were a great success, and in 1892 a slightly expanded version appeared as a book, which is now regarded as one of the classics of humor.

Project Gutenberg Edition

Davis Grubb

Ancient Lights - Davis Grubb

"Pleasure. Humility. Incest. Small furry dogs. All of this and more in the once in a lifetime publication from the late Mr. Grubb. Davis, as I am sure he would prefer to be known, is second to none in this epic, mind altering, sexalicious, hedonistic, sensory freefall into the world of Sweely Leech. The world is plenty organized in Sweely's world, truly, truly organized. Too organized, in fact. The surly, reptilian, quagmire that is New York satellites itself to the feral green wilderness that Sweely calls home. Thickets of rose petals, lavendar and comfrey litter the garden of the Gallimaufry, beds are alive with the sharing of ten bodies worth of love, mysterious heirloom clocks time travel, and little people relatives abound in this sumptuous story of Love with a capital L. Sweely celebrates the way of the world, and the evils of complicated living. Equally embracing badness with goodness makes him a very dangerous fellow. TRUCAD is forced to ask itself,what happens if everyone figures out how to be self directed, and fully understand God? How can the behavior of the government be explained then? Machines for heads, hearts and minds make for an unhappy alliance of bad boys looking to do Sweely in. He ascends beyond the mechanism of government known as TRUCAD, openly toying with the stability the modern world hallucinates. Heck, forget toying, Sweeley delivers outright blasphemous good doing! Leaving in his wake a progeny of enlightened daughters, Fifi Leech, his super star, finds herself the center of an immense and thoroughly earthshattering, teeth rattling and jawdropping escapade. Inexplicable coincidence lays itself at her feet, posing Lindy, her younger sister, as the other character in this amazing drama, and guides them all from the safe haven of home, to the writhing pit of Blake's New York. A full fledged miracle of a book, it examines everything in the known world as being connected to this amazing, potent and ridiculous dance we are doing on this spinning ball, and encourages you to remember that "dey's all debbil's beurre." I remind you that you cannot live without reading this masterpiece. Truly the most original and exciting thing I have read in my life. Well, you understand what I mean." - Lisa Barber

Robert Grudin

Book: A Novel - Robert Grudin

Michael Guinzburg

The Plumber of Souls - Michael Guinzburg

Top of the World, Ma! - Michael Guinzburg

Brion Gysin

The Process - Brion Gysin

"Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven, It was my hint to speak, such was the process... -Shakespeare.

This quote (partial) above is by way of Gysin's introduction to THE PROCESS---like all Gysin's works, greatly underrated, unacknowledged, and ignored, perhaps because of their metaphysical Occult ("hidden and rejected knowledge") origins periously perched as they are on the edge of an exquisitely unique literary absurdity difficult to comprehend without submitting to detailed, in-depth investigation. In other words, he deceptively appears an only half-sincere, sarcastic author writing pulp aimed at comic entertainment alone, when in fact his works (entire) upon further investigation reveal profound esoteric depths much like a Franz Kafka or Philip K. Dick. For a long while I have hoped for what will really be a first time proper evaluation of his masterful works; I can think of no author more deserving of a much-needed critical biography, and probably many will soon be produced. Of the brilliant novel THE PROCESS: The protagonist is Gysin himself, who appears in different colored skin due to the fact Brion suffered from what he called: "bad packaging!" It takes a lifetime to cross the desert and a childhood to do so at its narrowest point, explains one of the many mystical charcaters inhabiting the novel, whose names, like the lady "MAYA" ( literally sanskrit for "illusion") oftentimes reveal their signifigance. Gysin knew the sahara well, spending a good deal of his life in it, centered around expatriate Tangiers, where he owned and operated a resturant well reputed called "The 1001 Nights". The house musicians were none other than THE MASTER MUSICIANS OF JAJOUKA, whom Brion discovered in the "land of the little people" tucked far into the hills, and whom WSB called a "2000year old rock-n-roll band!" The 1001 Nights closed down directly due, Gysin feels (with firm evidence/proof) of Black Magic of a typically North African cursive.

Celebrated in THE PROCESS in a masterful narrative sequence is the yearly Ritual celebration involving the Great God Pan in the form of a man placed inside the actual skin of a recently sacraficed goat, who chases the Moroccan women about in a rite dating back to antiquity recalling the bacchanalia and Dionysian Rites and all Pagan fertility rites, still practised yearly with great festivity in Morocco.

The novel is, as WSB said of his own work, and's wholly applicable also to Gysin's ( whose influence and sway over WSB is immense, as WSB enthusiastically acknowledges)one where: "EVERY LINE IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FACT AND EVERY LINE IS BULLS**T!" "WRITING IS SUCCESSFUL WHEN IT MAKES THINGS HAPPEN!"---According to both Brion Gysin and William Seward Burroughs, this is the The supreme definition of "successful writing" as well as of "Magick". THE PROCESS, Brion Gysin's novel published first in 1969 was long involved in the "great work" of "writing itself"; for according to Gysin it's: A NOVEL IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING AND READING ITSELF! To a miraculous degree this cannot be properly communicated except by reading the novel yourself, which most of its readers agree they have done so several times; WSBurroughs rightly states besides being an esoteric masterpiece it is also "first-class entertainment", and like all Gysin's completely original works is absolutely hilarious! Noone, and I mean noone writes like he does, nor paints---for he was an early practitioner of surrealist techniques developed by Max Ernst, and Gysin exhibited his works with the surrealists, but was kicked out by Breton at his first exhibition, no doubt due more to his eccentric personality than to his artistic stylizations...he would go on to establish his own unique painterly style consisting of calligraphical overlain symbols resembling magical sigils and Chinese characters placed in grids reminiscent of the likewise magical origins found in the "Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin The Mage" which so influenced other Artists and Mages like Crowley and Mathers and Pessoa. And Like his painting, Gysin's literary origins likewise have their genesis and inspiration in Occultism, so permeating Gysin's life as to be essential in any contemplation aimed at an understanding of his works and life. His experiments and investigations are now legendary, especially those taken place at the Beat Hotel in Paris circa 1960 with Burroughs, Norse, Corso, sommerville, and a host of others where Gysin Established a quite scientific system for all literary history to applaude as the "Cut-Up technique", coined by WSBurroughs.

Brion Gysin will show you how THE PROCESS works, in the very process of "MAKING IT HAPPEN"! Such a magical feat before your very eyes without recourse to simply deeming such astounding miracles an "illusion" will if nothing else boggle your mind a good long while, and make you question the very fabric of the absolutely magical universe we live in. For the literary thrill-seeker as much as the mystically-minded, for the occult practitioner as for the philosophical scholar, THE PROCESS is one that is already a classic, and Gysin's works I feel are destined to outlive many other more famous works of its time; their endurance is miraculous in itself and they are essentially timeless. Aleister Crowley was correct in delineating a classic as defined by its ability to adapt and survive, and is in a sense: "a living being". THE PROCESS shows how such phenonema operate, as well as how it can also be, as everything is, Manipulated---whether to the writer's or the occultist's advantage; and regardless whether such things are called "Black Magick" or "Literature" is besides the point. Gysin often makes his point with a joke at humanity's expense, and it should be borne in mind that he is a great misanthrope; and as for his reputed misongyny goes, he truly believed women were a biological mistake---the irony is that a good many of his closest friend were women!

Brion Gysin is an enigma representative of NO race, religion, color, or creed. He truly is one of the Originals of the human species!" - Anita Fix


Richard Hakluyt

Voyages and Discoveries - Richard Hakluyt

"History is best not written by historians. In particular I mean the present day academic types who always have some 'politically correct' axe to grind or new theory purposely designed to shock and distort for the sole purpose of making a name for themselves. To really enjoy history, it is better to sidestep this self-aggrandizement of the historian and go straight to the source, reading genuine narratives written by those closest to the events and the period described. This is why I highly recommend this book which covers the period of Elizabethan exploration, trade, and piracy.

In terms of its effects on our modern World, this great impulse to cross oceans, to trade, fight, and colonize was of vital importance. Without the daring and ambition of a few hundred gentlemen and merchants and the toughness of the 'sea dogs' they employed, there would have been no British Empire and no United States, as we now know it.

During his life, Richard Hakluyt compiled an enormous collection of documents and narratives relating to this great outward impulse. This volume represents a selection of only about one tenth of the original work. Besides ocean voyages, Hakluyt also documented overland explorations, particularly the attempts by the Muscovy Company to establish trade routes from the Arctic Sea ports to Persia and Central Asia.

According to the sleeve notes, Hakluyt compiled this collection of narratives by seamen and traders to encourage further voyages of discovery and trade with distant lands, however, this is no sane man's impression. Apart from a few, most of the stories herein contained reveal such suffering and danger that reading this book would dampen the enthusiasm of even the most adventurous person today. We have terrible tales of shipwreck, cannibalism, starvation, scurvy, disease, betrayal, slavery, torture, fatigue, exposure, freezing and simple butchery that it seems miraculous that men could be found to fill ships such as these. But filled they were!

The more upbeat tales usually involve successful pirating expeditions such as Drake's incredibly successful foray around the World from 1577 to 1580, which broke in upon Spain's monopoly of plunder from the New World. The proceeds of this voyage effectively set Britain up as a capitalist power.

Whereas most of the expeditions had realistic objectives, that is to discover feasible routes to known places, there are occasionally misdirected attempts to discover El Dorados, most notably Sir Walter Raleigh's exploration of Guiana where he continuously talks about glittering rocks and shiny ores, and undiscovered cities stacked with gold greater than that of the Incas and Aztecs.

The pure, simple, unaffected way the voyagers and merchants describe the peoples and cultures they encounter is a real pleasure, and often very funny. I particularly enjoyed Sir Walter Raleigh's chaste lechery towards the native women of Guiana:

"I protest before the majesty of the living God, that I neither know nor believe, that any of our company, by violence or otherwise, ever knew any of their women, and yet we saw many hundreds, and had many in our power, and of those very young, and excellently favoured, which came among us without deceit, stark naked."

A very early case of 'No sex, please, we're English'!!!

The book has some drawbacks. The narratives by merchants often smell too much of the counting house, the focus being on the details of trade, therefore the reader shouldn't feel bad about skipping the occasional page or two. A more serious problem was the complete lack of maps, very surprising in a work of this nature. Also, I think a lot more could have been done with footnotes, as several of the narratives don't tell the full story and it would be interesting to hear what subsequently happened to the men and their ships." - Captain Cook

The Principall Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation, Made by Sea or Over-land to the Remote and Farthest Distant Quarters of the Earth at any Time Within the Compasse of These 1600 Years" (12 volumes, 1903-1905) - Richard Hakluyt

Vol. 1 (1903, 355)
Vol. 12 (1905, 470)

Vol. 1 (1907, 468 pp.)
Vol. 3 (1907, 387 pp.)
Vol. 4 (1907, 386 pp.)

Oakley Hall

Warlock - Oakley Hall

"The "horse opera"; an endearing but somehow pejorative term attached by critics and audiences alike to the spate of movies, television shows and, I suppose, Western-frontier themed books. Unfortunately, the cowboy book and movie have just about entered a period of total eclipse. A recent reprieve appeared on the Hollywood scene in the excellent, "3:10 to Yuma" and "True Grit" remakes, as well as a host of original films including "Shane", "The Searchers", "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", all of Clint Eastwood's movies and quite a few others. A few classic novels such as "The Oxbow Incident", A.B. Guthrie's "The Big Sky", Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" (I'm certain I've omitted a few) hang on and it is to these books that "Warlock" must be compared, as the literary pretensions of Oakley Hall suggest he is gunning for inclusion in the immortal pantheon. The book generally succeeds, but stylistic elements detract from the otherwise heroic effort.

Outside the "dime novel" circuit (maybe including Zane Gray, Louis Lamour and others of lesser note like Karl May), most Westerns use the frontier marshall, gunslinger, rancher or cowpoke as a symbol of the Knight Errant, "a man without armor in a savage land" to borrow a phrase from Richard Boone, the gunman for hire, the paladin of "Have Gun, Will Travel" fame. The dusty and violent frontier town represents the twisted aspect of the American soul and the usual goal is moral redemption through violence. Authors labor under the constraints imposed by the genre and often the films and novels fall flat when they overreach in the moral realm. Often, "less is more" both cinematically (e.g., the Sergio Leone films, John Huston's movies) and novelistically. Only a few Western novels have been unvarnished successes and I've listed my preferences in the first paragraph.

"Warlock" is written in three parts or perhaps better stated as three "episodes". Its formed from excerpts from a journal kept by a local shopkeeper and town notable, Henry Holmes Goodpasture, lengthy ruminations from the protagonists and author "voice overs". In fact, its structure suggests an extended screenplay. Major characters include Gannon (Deputy Sheriff, reprising the role of Festus of "Gunsmoke" fame); Jesse Marlow (the Miss Kitty stand-in); Kate (the sometimes prostitute and anguished love of Gannon) and her frequent foil (and past "romantic" interest), Tom Morgan (gambler and surrogate Bat Masterson); the bad man (McQuown and his gang); the Doc Charles Adams character ("Gunsmoke" again); the drunken Judge Roy Bean character and, of course, the nefarious and generally evil minded mine owners and their power-backers (starring the curiously named US Cavalry General, Peach). The mostly silent protagonist, Clay Blaisdell is the gunslinger-marshall and he sports twin gold-handled Colts, a trademark item like Lucas McCain's custom Winchester ("The Rifleman"). While Blaisdell seems to be modeled after Gary Cooper ("High Noon") Morgan and Clay play the roles of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay (of Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities"): their follies a deux and tragic interactions (which seem almost fated to occur) are the center of the tale.

With that background, Hall's book features occasionally beautiful prose and sometimes magnificent plotting but it sometimes staggers under pretentious, contrived and lame prose which slows the story and constrains character development. The pompous Goodpasture is insightfully portrayed through his diary entries, as this depiction of the consequences of the gunfight at the Acme Corral suggests: "There is one wicked rumor that sets me in a rage. It has obviously sprung from another that was current here before the Acme Corral fight. This was that it was not the 'innocents' who robbed the stage at all, but Morgan in company with unnamed accomplices. Now the accomplices have been named. They were Morgan's lookout, Murch, and Blaisedell! It seems that the Cowboys became, somehow, advised of this, had definite proof, and came into Warlock to establish their innocence by broadcasting it. Consequently, they had to be shot down immediately by Blaisedell and Morgan, so that the truth would not be known." Rumor, gossip and shifting loyalties are a theme in this book and the quicksand of public opinion is nicely summarized in this paragraph. Goodpasture (and Hall) use this as a vehicle for more profound commentary on American society to great effect.

Hall's evocation of the Western frontier milieu is first-rate. Here is an example: " Curly rode in from the river on his way back to San Pablo from Bright's City, blowing on his mouth organ. The music was pleasant to his ears in the silence around him, and the sun was pleasant upon his back as the gelding Dick plodded over the bare brown ridges and down the grassy draws. The Dinosaurs towered to the southwest with the sun on their slopes like honey, and from the elevation of the ridges he could see the irregular line of cottonwoods marking the river's course toward Rattlesnake Canyon." So is this description of Peach's office: "It is a great room with westward-looking windows, corded with the mementos of his career: an umbrella stand in which are tattered banners, bullet-torn regimental colors, a pair of confederate standards; on the wall a large painting of the Battle of the Snake River Crossing, the teepees beyond them; on the wall also a varnished plaque on which was the scalp of some vanquished foe, with long, dusty braids; and there were quivers of arrows, moth-eaten war bonnets, Apache shields, war clubs, peace pipes, and framed photographs of Peach shaking hands with various chieftains. Upon his desk was the leaether-wrapped stick he often carries, which is supposed to be the sharft of an arrow that almost killed him. The whole room seems a dusty and unkempt museum, or perhaps it is only a facsimile of his mind-a vacant space, inhabited by heroic memories." The stick and the vacant space metaphor brilliantly foreshadow the confrontation between the miners, Blaisedell and Peach near the story's end.

So, what's not to like? Here is an example of the leaden prose that sometimes makes the book fall flat: "Why, then it is none of your business after all," she said. There was an edge of anger to her voice, and as she went on it was more and more angry , and filled with hate. "You look up to him, don't you?"...You should know how men look up to him, since you do yourself. Because he is so fine. He is quick on the draw-does that make him fine" He is a hired killer! Morgan hire him to kill a man and Fort James hired him to kill men, and Warlock has. It must be fine and brave and manly to be a hired killer, but you can't expect a woman to understand why men will worship him like a saint because he-" "Stop it!" Exactly. Certainly, there must be a more elegant method of depicting Clay than this pompous prose. If the aim is to parody the style of the time, Charles Portis does it better ("True Grit").

"Warlock" did not leave the indelible impression of novelty, literary brilliance and sheer strangeness accomplished by McCarthy in "Blood Meridian" nor does it have the slightly sardonic and humerous tone of Portis' novel. It does not convey the atmospherics of "The Big Sky", nor does it have quite the tension of "Oxbow". What it evokes instead is the sort of hollow feeling, a kind of a sorrow or nostalgia evoked in the reader for a time gone by in the West, much like when Joey called after Shane as he rode away into the hills in the 1953 film, "Shane, come home!" because you know he never will and there will probably not be too many more novels of the old West like this one." - Keith A. Comess

Patrick Hamilton

Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton

"Set on the eve of WWII, "Hangover Square" is the story of a seriously disturbed man, George Harvey Bone, who's fallen in with a bad crowd. Bone is a solitary gloomy man who lives in a hotel in Earl's Court, London. He has no family--except for an elderly aunt in Hunstanton. George doesn't work--instead he lives off of a modest nest egg and spends his days and nights hanging around a small-time actress, Netta, and her set of male admirers. George is obsessed with Netta, and although he originally impressed her with his ready ability to stand for rounds of drinks, now he's relegated to the status of lowly 'hanger-on.' He is one of "the class of men who desired her, who sought her favours, and to whom she intended to give no favours." He's tolerated--barely--for his money alone.

George is subject to 'moods.' When exposed to an unbearable level of emotional distress, his damaged personality copes by mental escape. He hears a "click" in his head, and then he 'wakes' up with another personality. Whereas George is normally quiet, gentle, and unassuming, his other secret self is cunning and violent. George is aware he 'blacks out' but has no memory of exactly what he does. Once he hears the 'click' he emerges into his other, fractured self, and he's momentarily confused until he finds his bearings: "it was as though he had dived into a swimming-bath and hit his head on the bottom, and was floating about, bewildered and inaudible to himself in hushed green depths."

Netta and her unpleasant friends constantly humiliate George, and in retaliation, during one of his moods, he plots her murder. Netta is blissfully unaware of this, and treats George abominably--using him to bolster her non-existent career. The novel tracks George's existence as he pathetically hopes for a crumb of attention from Netta and also records the episodes in which he flips from one personality to another. Patrick Hamilton's novel is atmospheric and tense as the story reveals George's boozy social world in the grimy smoke filled pubs of London. Netta is a fascinatingly bad yet strikingly beautiful character--a woman who is "sinisterly, devoid of all those qualities which her face and body externally proclaimed her to have--pensiveness, grace, warmth." "Hangover Square" is a gripping story of one man's descent into madness, and the act he deems necessary to gain escape from the unbearable torture of loving a woman who has no conscience. If you like the novels of Patrick Mcgrath, then you'll enjoy "Hangover Square" and its sad, lonely and ultimately complex protagonist.: - anomie

"Hamilton addresses the diminishing importance of the individual in the face of the modern superstate. This novel resembles in atmosphere the 'film noir' genre of the contemporary cinema. George Harvey Bone's pathetic career is 'sensationalised', made lurid and larger than life, so that he becomes like a figure in a melodrama. Hamilton uses language that focus the reader's view through those of Bone, self-obsessedly viewing his own actions, his "great golfers hands" on the golf club for example, as he tries to invest himself with some feeling of worth while sub-consciously plotting murder. Bone's schizophrenic world threatens to explode throughout the book , just as the dark clouds of war with Europe gather threateningly in the background. The tiny tragedy of Bone' s demise is deliberately made to read like pulp fiction, in a sense, and the report of his death, forced off the front page by the breaking out of war, is likewise reduced to a tabloid headline.

The whole setting of the book is artificial; "the agony of Netta beneath the electric light"; the great wave of laughter (the world's laughter) that breaks over Bone as he enters the lime-lit Brighton theatre, are part of the harsh artificiality of the world that Bone inhabits. His friends are cynical and talk enthusiastically of fascism.

I am reminded by this book of the world described in Henry Miller's early work (Tropic of Capricorn etc) and of George Orwell's 'Coming up for Air' in which, once again, events build against the mounting threat of World War II, and the protagonists (George 'Fatty' Bowling) sense of personal history, values and identity are buried by the onslaught of suburban sprawl and its attendant advertising, materialism and the dislocation of community.

Hamilton predicts the present day world of media obsession with personal agony, which trivialises all human anguish and tribulation, reducing human experience and suffering to a commodity to be consumed, rather than a shared touchstone of communication, understanding and empathy.

Hamilton's brilliance lies in the clever contrivance of allowing us to feel Bone's pathetic agony, and yet to see it transformed into a trite, turgid melodrama, which is interchangeable in the daily press with a major international war. This is the kind of attitude, towards the small business of being human, that was necessary to prepare the world for the introduction of concentration camps and mass political executions.

Imagine George Harvey Bone as a character in a Thomas Hardy novel: (Bone could be transformed into a country rube quite easily!) His unfortunate story would be imbued with a sense of sanctity and respect that Hamilton deliberately defiles and destroys before our very eyes, using exactly the same means in achieving this end as the media of his day, and as the media of the present day does in a way that both Hamilton and Orwell could forsee, perhaps, but surely never appreciate the oppressive monstrous extent to which it has come.

This is one of the last novels, it seems to me, written before the obsession with the selfish concerns of the individual (the first article of faith of capitalism) became the only concern of the writer. Hamilton's book clearly indicates the coming of this self obsession. From here on, solipsism rules OK?" - A Customer

Knut Hamsen

Mysteries - Knut Hamsen


"This is a sketchy book to recommend. I've recommended it to friends who say it is among their favorites, others who say they don't get it, didn't like it. Arguably there is no plot to the story, yet something beckons you to keep turning the pages. For me it's the kind of book that I can open to any page and I'm into it. Hamsun has a tricky wit, his characters are quirky and unpredictable, and I guess that's the appeal -- you keep reading just to find out what the characters are capable of.

What I think is amazing about this book is that it had no forerunner (or so they say). Hamsun just decided he was going to sit down and change the course of fiction, and he did it. Basically, he was tired of the predictable course of Victorian literature, the predictable style, predictable endings, and wanted to shake it up, and in the process efforts like Mysteries became the forerunner of the Modern age in literature. The string of modern novelists that count Hamsun as one of their prime influences is too long to list here, and Mysteries (along with Hunger) are the classic favorites.

I don't know if this is my favorite novel of all time (it's close) but Johann Nilsson Nagel is my favorite character. I doubt you'll find a more tragically passionate character. And if you are a self-taught writer this is a tremendous book to learn from." - vandal101

Divers Hands

The Resurrected Holmes: New Cases from the Notes of John H. Watson, M.D. - Divers Hands, ed.

Amazon reviewer grreg:

'Resurrected Holmes' is a somewhat convoluted idea well-executed. It is a collection of short Sherlock Holmes stories supposedly written by other well-known authors. In other words, the actual authors who wrote the stories had to write them in the style of the purported authors, who were supposedly endeavouring to write in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Watsonian voice.

Now, that may or may not take your fancy. What is needs to be said is that, by and large, the stories in this volume are of an excellent quality, so even if the literary conceit that is the book's starting point fails to please you, the stories themselves should.

For true Holmes completists, each story is one of the unchronicled stories referred to by Watson in his accounts of Holmes' investigations (with the exception of the final story, which reveals the truth behind 'The Adventure of the Second Stain').

In some cases (for example, 'The Adventure of the Boulevard Assassin' and 'The Madness of Colonel Warburton', ascribed to Jack Kerouac and Dashiell Hammett respectively) the voice of the putative author occassionally overwhelms the Holmesian nature and may be a substantial distraction for those reading this book purely as a Sherlock Holmes collection.

However, some of the stories are good enough to warrant the price of admission alone. I particularly enjoyed 'The Adventure of Ricoletti of the Club Foot (and his abominable wife)', notionally written by P.G. Wodehouse, in that it managed to be both a convincing Holes story while also being a comedy of manners that its putative author might well have appreciated.

Marvin Kaye knows his Sherlock Holmes, and this volume plainly displays his (and the contributing authors) deep-felt love and admiration for the Holmesian canon.

Barry Hannah

Captain Maximus - Barry Hannah

"These were the very first Barry Hannah stories that I read--short, startlingly energetic bursts of comic misdirection that made me rummage round and pull on my big black boots in a species of ebulient triumph that I bet I'm not the only one out there who's ever experienced the likes of. I remember literally bouncing diagonally round my little apartment in kinks and frisks of laughter. It must have been somewhere in there roundabout the middle 1990s--a decade despite the well-publicised notoriety et cetera and ad bleeding nauseam that turned out to be for the discerning and retiring outer borough type a bit of a bleeding riot in more ways than one. My own story abbreviated and reduced gives the following: a fourteen-year stint in Astoria, Queens, beginning upon my arrival here on these shores in 1990, and lasting until I fled to the suburbs in 2004, where to this day day I mooch about on weekends doing the vacuum cleaning and pretending to garden but I still work on weekdays so nowadays with the economic climate and the outsourcing and what have you that means at least three hours total commuting time per day which turns out pleasantly enough to also mean many good books just gobbled up in no time. Astoria is a fine place to have had a hut in I must say, suited me in any case right down to my Frye boots, which I bought in the summer of 1988 in Flushing--I was here just for the summer that year, reconnoitering you might say, very bleeding hot it was I remember, that particular season. I worked in a fencing company based in Jamaica, Queens. Paradise Fence on Hillside Avenue. Six days a week too and in the 80s I used to wear these tiny little round tortoise-shell-like glasses with wire wraparound bits for the ears, belonged to some powdered old biddy from way the hell back in the Big Smoke, and everybody thought I was sort of slow and harmless on account of such alarming magnification tightly enclosed in what were really just ridiculously small plastic circles. Had me head shaved too that summer, on account of the heat, which added some to my image as some sort of loony on leave. During one sweltering domestic job in Rego Park a woman came outside and gave the crew lemonade--she found out where I was from and asked how long I'd been in New York. "Nearly three months now," I said. "You're English isn't bad for just three months," she said. "Thanks very much," I replied. "I really like it here. I think I'm going to come back someday and maybe stay a little longer." And I did. Three apartments I shacked up in between 1990 and 2004, the first lasting a little over eight months coz the utterly repulsive and money-grubbing super slash landlord there was this pasty-faced Romanian peasant who hated me from the get-go and tried to gouge me right, left and center until I snapped and told this cash-crazed tinker that he could stuff the security deposit right up his Bucharest coz I'm keeping this month's rent and oh yeah I'm moving to the next building too and you smell a lot like boiled cabbage and your wife, if indeed that is what the rump-fed ronyon is, wears combat boots, has a moustache and also smells a lot like boiled cabbage. And I did move right next door and the super in this building was a felly from Montenegro named Drasko and this dude with his little fambly were just the exact opposite of the ghastly and grasping Romanians: just honest-to-God good people. So happy indeed was I with me new digs that I painted a giant red rectangle on the wall of the bedroom and covered it perfectly with this huge gilt picture frame I'd found thrown out on the footpath and for some reason I associate this with Barry Hannah coz it was that same day I went still slightly splotched in red enamel paint to the book sale across the street in our local library. It was there in fact that I first clapped eyes on the little paperback that could, Captain Maximus. These dopey librarians, up to their unshaved eyebrows in that limitless stupidity of theirs, were selling off in a slack-jawed fundraiser this priceless comic gem for a dollar to just anyone who happened by. "Don't you even know," I asked, "who this dude is? And what this formidable book of short stories actually represents?" "Who and what would that be, dear?" said some tweedy and tiny bun-headed old biddy in huge spectacles and the posture of one still active in curling circles. Moreover, this wretched little woman bore a startling resemblance to Helen Thomas so I turned tail and bolted back to my hut lickety-split with me Maximus under me oxter. These stories cooked up a dense and all-encompassing fogbank of fanschmabulous fiction that it was absolutely a macaroon-inflected delight to get temporarily lost in. Still packs a punch all these years later coz now that the poor old Mississippian has just checked out for good I re-read Captain Maximus and the hard, clean lines are all still there, singled up and bold as bleeding brass. In Astoria all those years as I say I lived mostly on just one single street, 31st Street--no fooling, the same exact street that Rory Gallagher sings about in that song Alcohol on his Live Irish Tour. This whole double album is as live as live gets, recorded in 1974 from shows in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, with Rory repeatedly tearing up the joint, Rod D'Eath rock solid on drums--excellent name for a drummer I always thought--the great Strother Martin on keyboards sweetly swatting them electric ivories and last but not least, the ace of bass, Mister Gerry McEvoy. Otto in the Simpsons will one day when they finally get some good writers back on the show allude to some musical hairball who can play bass lines like McEvoy. There was a feature story in yesterday's Daily News about New York City in the 1990s, the crime and general berserkery they had thought they'd wiped out came back for a nostalgic little look see in this decade apparently, all the while I was there in Queens as a matter of fact. No one ever bothered me though, not one little bit and once when I went arse over teakettle after a shopping expedition in the snow at least two people rushed out to help me to my feet and one even ran after and re-captured my escaped oranges! I could see the entire New York City skyline from the rooftop of my building--I often sat up there through balmy summer nights smoking cheroots on the fire escape and re-reading good books. Much the most of Captain Maximus was re-read on or around that fire escape--sometimes I had to stand up after a particularly good sentence or paragraph and stomp round basically bagonghi with wonder and laughter. I seem to very distinctly remember doing this not infrequently. I think it was the opening story that made me stagger about helplessly the first time too, Getting Ready--what a larf Hannah is here telling of the travails of the fisherman Roger Laird. When this dude is firing on all four cylinders sparks start to fly. Read I Am Shaking to Death if you don't believe me and if you still don't believe me after you've read it then read Even Greenland and if you don't like that either well chop my got-danged suey, I doubt I can help you. I reckon to date I've read quite a lot of this Southerner's novels and stories--am halfway through a re-read of The Tennis Handsome at the minute, an odd and dementedly funny novel which I actually got to read some of while listening to Eric Clapton singing that great Cream song Anyone For Tennis? on the Wurlitzer in this juke joint I know. This comic gem from 1983 is so blame funny you won't even notice you're peeing in your pants half the time. Ray (1980) is a slap-happy little slice of cheese Danish too, don't miss that novella either on any account--whatever you might happen to hear about editor Gordon Lish's role in the publication--and the stories in Airships (1978) and High Lonesome (1996) just could not have been written by anyone other than the inimitable Mister Hannah. Even his first novel, Geronimo Rex (1972), is a rambunctious and grotesquely funny coming-of-age story. Rest in peace, dude." - Noddy Box

M. John Harrison

Viriconium - M. John Harrison

"Viriconium sits on the ruins of an ancient civilization that nobody remembers. The society that was technologically advanced enough to create crystal airships and lethal energy weapons is dead. These Afternoon Cultures depleted the world's metal ores, leaving mounds of inscrutable rusted infrastructure with only a few odds and ends that still work. The current citizens of Viriconium are baffled by what they've dug up, but they have no idea what any of it is for.

The Pastel City, published in 1971, is the first part of M. John Harrison's science fantasy epic VIRICONIUM which, according to sources, was inspired by Jack Vance's DYING EARTH and the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Characterization and pacing are sometimes a bit weak, but the scenery in The Pastel City is grand, and I enjoyed the story. In many ways it reminded me of THE LORD OF THE RINGS -- a group of comrades (including a dwarf) travel through beautiful and desolate landscapes (across rivers and marshes, through mountain tunnels, etc.) on a quest to destroy something so they can save the world. A major difference, and what saves the book from being simply another quest fantasy, is the post-apocalyptic vision of an unknown advanced civilization which died out mysteriously, leaving samples of their devastating handiwork behind. Thus, the dwarf arms himself with an 11-foot tall mechanical skeleton and carries some sort of laser. Cromis and his friends ride into one battle on horseback, but leave in a glass blimp. Cool.

A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison's VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult's nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium's peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.

A Storm of Wings was published in 1980 -- nine years after The Pastel City -- and M. John Harrison's writing style has evolved. In some ways it's better -- characterization is deeper and the imagery is more evocative. This world feels fragile and moribund and the reader gets the sense that, as the cult proclaims, it's hard to tell what's real and what's just a warped perception. Or perhaps Viriconium is slipping from reality into a dream. Or into a different reality altogether. The story is strange, outlandish, and blurry.

In the third part of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium), we visit the old artists' quarter of Viriconium -- a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists' patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored to be demi-gods.

This part is funny, witty, and brilliantly written with sharp humorous insights into disagreeable human behavior. As the plague crept closer, I could feel the beloved city of Viriconium decaying -- its fountains drying up and its gardens becoming unkempt and shabby. Like the previous book, A Storm of Wings, The Floating Gods is intensely atmospheric. This is a better book, though, because the atmosphere is balanced by humor and plot.

Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison's VIRICONIUM epic. It's a collection of seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium which contain some of the characters we've met in the previous VIRICONIUM books and include many allusions to recurring events and motifs: mechanical metal birds, tarot cards, locusts, the fish mask, big lizards, the Mari Lwyd, etc. Each story stands alone but focuses on the city of Viriconium and particularly the bohemian residents of the Artists' Quarter. All of Viriconium is decaying, but this part of the city feels especially bleak, probably because it's peopled with brooding artistic types whose desperation results in freakish hedonistic behavior.

Though there are recurring characters in the VIRICONIUM works, we never get to know any of them very well. The haunting, weird, incomprehensible city is the main character. M. John Harrison has explained at his blog that he didn't want Viriconium to be "tamed" or "controlled," so he has confused and disoriented the reader by making it impossible to understand what it would be like to live in his world: "I made that world increasingly shifting and complex. You can not learn its rules. More importantly, Viriconium is never the same place twice." I think this is more successful in the last three parts of VIRICONIUM -- the first novel, The Pastel City, is almost a traditional quest fantasy.

VIRICONIUM is one of those works that I feel like I should give 5 stars just because it's original and M. John Harrison's prose is brilliant. Harrison is a master of style and his writing is superior to most of what's offered on the SFF shelves. However, the truth is that though I recognize Harrison's genius, I can't say that I enjoyed every moment of VIRICONIUM, which may be a reflection on me more than on the work itself. Spending so much time in a city that's unknowable and decaying resulted, for me, in an overwhelming feeling of disorientation and hopelessness. The characters and the plot, which feel like they are there only to support the role of the city, don't make up for this. A month from now, I probably won't remember any of the plots in Viriconium Nights. But I will remember Viriconium.

I listened to the audiobook version of VIRICONIUM which was produced by Neil Gaiman Presents and is narrated by Simon Vance who is one of the absolute best in the business. This is a high-quality production and highly recommended for anyone who wants to read one of M. John Harrison's best-loved works." - Kat Hooper

Nova Swing - M. John Harrison

"Though Harrison himself admits that 'Nova Swing' can stand on it's own, it's best enjoyed if you've read his previous book 'Light', which introduces the legendary pilot Ed Chianese and the strange phenomenon known as 'The Kefahuchi Tract' - an area in space of alternate reality and strange physics. 'Nova Swing' uses this base with a new twist ... The Kefahuchi Tract has shifted, and part of it has fallen to earth in what is known as the Saudade Event Site.

'Nova Swing' is a complex novel, a generous novel; a character driven novel though it's still centered around an event that is slowly expanding. The characters are not only unique in their formation but also in the very naming of them - Harrison affectedly creating character in the very names of his protagonists.

Vic Serotonin is a travel agent; but not the sort you'd expect to run into booking a tour with one of the great space-cruise ships docked in the non-corporate port of Saudade. For the right price, Vic will take you into the Event Site. On his heels though, is police investigator Lens Aschemann who bears a striking resemblance to the elder Albert Einstein. With Lens is an "enhanced" assistant, data streams running down the inside of her arm, who transferred over from Sports Crime.

Vic can be seen at anytime in Liv Hula's bar called Black Cat White Cat, dangerously close to the Event Site, and named so after the streams of black and white cats that flow from the Event Site every morning. It's in Liv Hula's bar that Mrs. Elizabeth Kielar contracts Vic to take her into the site. Not only Vic but Liv is suspicious, due to the fact that Kielar - in her glamorous clothing and real fur coat - don't fit the stereotypical "traveler". She's an enigma, and why she insists on entering the site is a mystery.

Vic's ever-present sidekick, Fat Antoyne Messner, deserts him after Irene The Mona begins to pay attention to him. (A Mona is a woman who's undergone body redesign to become Barbie-like with peppermint smelling hair).

After Vic, in other ways, are Paulie DeRaad, a smuggler who paid good money for an artifact from the Event Site that is now changing him into something unthinkable. Emil Bonadventure, suffering his own side effects from years as a renegade pilot and expeditions into the Event Site, tries and fails to warn Vic, just as Emil's "daughter" (read to fully understand this) eventually writes off Vic and refuses to give him Emil's secret journal.

In a world of "smart tattoos", body redesign and re-engineering, space cruises along the Beach and Radio Bay - Vic continues his tours and Paulie continues to decay, Aschermann cruises Saudade's streets in his vintage pink Cadillac and Liv Hula runs her bar night and day - the Event Site continues to expand and pour forth ruinous people and things from the most unlikely locations. Does an ending really come to all things, or is an ending a beginning to some?

Despite its multifaceted and intricate plot, 'Nova Swing' is a very enjoyable read, though one you will have to pay attention to. This is not a light space opera to enjoy in brief spurts, this is a melding of SciFi and Fantasy that requires usage of your gray matter inside your skull. Not quite as fulfilling as Harrison's previous 'Viriconium', your palate will nonetheless be satisfied with it's characterizations and brief but puzzling forays into the Saudade Event Site. A solid five stars for lovers of a "thinking" SciFi/Space Fantasy. Enjoy!" - Schtinky

Max Harrison

The Essential Jazz Records, Volume I: Ragtime to Swing - Max Harrison, Charles Fox, Eric Thacker


"The first volume of the Essential Jazz Records (I'm not sure if the second volume ever appeared) is a very strong guide to early jazz on a number of accounts. Perhaps the most important reason for its succes is the fact that the three authors are sufficiently alike in their predilections for the book to be cohesive, but are sufficiently particular in their passions for their to be a wide net as they attempt to gather in "the essential jazz recordings." There are enough recordings here to support the title, and they are spread over a wide enough stylistic range (from African music, to field recordings of African American performers, to blues to the earliest jazz through swing to Charlie Parker's earliest recordings) so that no one will find any gaping holes. These three reviewers together probably present a better feel for the breadth and beauty of early jazz than any of the dozens of guides I have read. Anyone possessing all of these records would certainly feel satisfied they had captured the essence of early jazz. Another fine thing about this collection of reviews is the keen insights they offer into the recodings themselves. I have often found myself returning to recordings on my shelf and listening to them with new ears in response to something written in this book. I do not always share the views of these British jazz experts, but they do certainly inspire reevaluation. The fault that many will find with the book is that the particular recordings listed here are all long-since-disappeared LPs. Many of the major label recordings have reappeared in pretty much the same form on CD, but some have not. Nevertheless, almost all the music here is available somewhere. By using this book as a guide to the music one should be looking for, and another guide to help decide which reissue might have the best remastering, etc., the explorer of early jazz won't go wrong." - Eric Hines

The Essential Jazz Records, Volume II: Modernism to Postmodernism - Max Harrison, Charles Fox, Eric Thacker


"It has been 16 years since the publication of vol.1, 'Ratime to Swing' in 1984. At long last we can read the vol.2 . I obtained a copy in the Ginza, Tokyo. It cost me ..........! This was the case in Japan before the ............' in Japan.

During these 16 years the co-writer Charles fox regrettably deceased,to whom this volume is dedicated. The writing by three writers (the leader is Max Harrison) is as highbrow as in the previous one and they frequently mention classical music, which sometimes made me bored. However, rarely have I ever come across such high-grade criticism. The works equal to this brilliance of the two volumes are, arguably, Humphrey Lyttleton's 'The Best of Jazz' 2 vols. (the volume of modern jazz is unpublished), Gunther Schuller's 2 vols (the same as the former), Martin William's The Jazz Tradition, and the Japanese critic Masaaki Awamura's 'The History of Modern Jazz'(only in the Japanese language.

In the vol. 1, 250 records were analyzed and criticized, this time also 250 from Charlie Christian's Minton House Session to Peter Apfelbaum and the Hieroglyphic Ensemble's 'Sign of Life.' We can listen to our own records/CDs afresh from various new points of view and reexperience the process of jazz trend, if not development, from modern to postmodern age. I am sure the meaning/significance of our record collection will become manifold." - takenaka_ryuichi

"I also reviewed Volume One of the Essential Jazz Recordings for Amazon. The first volume impressed me for the breadth and fair-mindedness apparent in the 250 selections listed, but what really excited me was the passion and insightfulness of the individual reviews.

The authors faced an altogether more daunting task in selecting and reviewing the 250 discs included in volume two. The modernist and "postmodernist" (I don't really think there's a difference, but . . .) movements in jazz spawned a plethora of stylistic innovations, many of which demand some sort of representation here. And there are just many, many more jazz recording from the latter half of the century than there were in the first half.

So, where the selections and review essays in the first volume generally reflect the passion the authors felt for the music on the discs, the selections and reviews for the second volume generally seem to reflect a set of arbitrary standards the authors established to deal with the enormous amount of material potentially under consideration.

So, a lot of the inclusions seem to be here not because anyone thinks they are truly exciting recordings, but because they are though to best represent a particular stylist or stylistic movement or structural change in how jazz could be approached.

The thing I like most about the reviews in the first volume is the way it sent me back to the recordings it treats and gave me fresh ears to listen to them with. The thing I remember about the reviews in the second volume is Simon Nicholson's seeming obsession with song structure (A,B,B',A',C,A,A).

I am put in mind of William Youngren's review of Gunther Schuller's fine book Early Jazz. At the end of the day these sorts of books always come down to the subjective response of the author or authors to the experience of the music. Technicalia or any other stage props of purported fairness and objectivity tend to start getting in the way of that response pretty quickly if not used with care.

Schuller's work generally is a model for balancing the musical technicalia fine writing and good ears. While the second volume of The Essential Jazz Recordings is a quite useful book, it falls far short of the pleasures of the first volume, mostly because it fails to strike a good balance between these elements." - eric hines

M. John Harrison

Things That Never Happen - M. John Harrison

Jaroslav Hasek

The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War - Jaroslav Hasek

Top 10 Eastern European Novels - Tibor Fischer

What a novel. Hasek blew a lifetime's wit and wisdom in one splurge. Relentlessly funny and true; I read it every two years or so. But why did it have to be written by a Czech?


"I first read Hasek's masterpiece almost 30 years ago in a shorter and more Bowdlerized translation. The Cecil Parrot edition is, needless to say, far preferable (it even contains a wonderful introduction including a discussion of Czech profanity as compared to that in English) and I've read it again and again since it came out in 1974. Shelby Foote said somewhere that every year he reads Proust as a sort of literary vacation. About ever 2 or 3 years I reread Svejk to cleanse my literary palate and it's always as fresh and as enjoyable as it was the first time. The dialogue, the characters and the situations in Svejk are, stated simply, the funniest I've ever read. Many other books have many merits in this regard, but none has approached Hasek in the sustained hilarity over 500 pages or more. The secret policeman, Bretschneider, Chaplain Katz, Sergeant Major Vanek, Cadet Biegler, Balloun and Lt. Dub are all memorable characters in their own right, but when they interact the result surpasses anything I have ever read for comedy. The episode involving a character with writer's block during his drafting of a prayer to be recited while administering Mr. Kokoska's pharmaceutical powders for cow flatulence is a classic rivalling Aristophanes or Rabelais. [I realize that sentence is confusingly prolix, so please read the book; it will be worth your while.] The term "laugh out loud" is overused and abused these days, but The Good Soldier Svejk will have you disturbing family and friends with repeated guffawing any time you are reading it nearby. I can't give a text any higher recommendation." - Stephen M. Kerwick

Lafcadio Hearn

Hearn was born on the Greek island of Lefkas, on June 27, 1850, son of an Anglo-Irish surgeon major in the British army and a Greek mother. After his parents' divorce when he was six, he was brought up by a great-aunt in Dublin, Ireland. He lost the sight in his left eye at the age of 16, and soon after, his father died. A year later, due to his great-aunt's bankruptcy, he was forced to withdraw from school. At the age of nineteen he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where five years later he became a newspaper reporter. In 1877 Hearn went to New Orleans to write a series of articles, and remained there for ten years. Having achieved some success with his literary translations and other works, he was hired by Harper Publishing Co. He was in the West Indies on assignment from Harper from 1887-89, and wrote two novels on that period.

In 1889 he decided to go to Japan, and upon his arrival in Yokohama in the spring of 1890, was befriended by Basil Hall Chamberlain of Tokyo Imperial University, and officials at the Ministry of Education. At their encouragement, in the summer of 1890 he moved to Matsue, to teach English at Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School. There he got to know Governor Koteda Yasusada and Sentaro Nishida of Shimane, and later married Setsu Koizumi, the daughter of a local samurai family.

Hearn stayed fifteen months in Matsue, moving on to another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyushu, at the Fifth Higher Middle School, where he spent the next three years and completed his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). In October of 1894 he secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University, a post he held until 1903, and at Waseda University. On September 26, 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54.

Hearn's most famous work is a collection of lectures entitled Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904). His other books on Japan include Exotics and Retrospective (1898), In Ghostly Japan (1899), Shadowings (1900), A Japanese Miscellany (1901), and Kwaidan (1904)." - Lafcadio Hearn Site

Fantastics and Other Fancies


"The 19th-century writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) is now far better known in Japan than in the U.S., but he once had fame in America, chiefly for his 1887 collection Some Chinese Ghosts and 1904's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (the basis of the 1964 film Kwaidan). Fantastics and Other Fancies (1914) is a posthumous collection of 36 early works which, because of their brevity (the longest by far is 16 pages) and their lushly romantic style, might more accurately be described as prose poems. These often-supernatural short-shorts were written for New Orleans newspapers and rescued from obscurity by Hearn's friends and admirers; the majority are from the pages of the Daily Item, and six are from the Times-Democrat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of Hearn's short-shorts are dreams; in "The Idyl of a French Snuff-Box," the art on the box lid inspires a dream as fascinating and as sadly interrupted as Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," while "The One Pill-Box" presents the struggles of a man trapped in a fever dream. A few of Hearn's sketches are twice-told tales; "Aida" summarizes Verdi's opera with impressively rich brevity, while "The Devil's Carbuncle" retells a South American legend of greedy Spanish invaders and an accursed gem. Short-shorts like "Hereditary Memories," "When I Was a Flower," and "Metempsychosis" explore reincarnation. "The Fountain of Gold" is a fairy tale about a Spaniard who finds love and the fountain of youth, and still is not content. In "The Ghostly Kiss," a masterpiece of chilling horror, a man is mysteriously compelled to kiss a beautiful stranger at a vast theater and discovers he is in a quite different and far more dreadful place. "A River Reverie" was inspired by the New Orleans visit of a famous contemporary, Mark Twain. "Hiouen-Thsang," an example of the Orientalia for which Hearn would gain fame, follows a Buddhist's dangerous journey to distant India to revive the faith in his native China.

Melancholy, obsessed with the "twin-idea of Love and Death," and haunted by ghosts, classical gods, and beautiful, often dead or dying women, Hearn's "fantastics" and "fancies" are gothic in a sense far removed from black-leather-clad club-hoppers in vampire dentures, but it would not be surprising to learn these doom-laden, atmospheric pieces were an influence on New Orleans's modern-day queens of horror, Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite." - Cynthia Ward

Some Chinese Ghosts

PDF version at HorrorMasters

Eric Hebborn

Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger - Eric Hebborn

J. G. Heck

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Art and Architecture: Pictorial Archive of Art and Architecture v. 1

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Military Science, Geography and History v. 2

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science (Dover Pictorial Archive v. 3

Heinrich Heine

Journey to Italy - Heinrich Heine

From the foreword by Christopher Johnson:

How, then, did Heine's little book manage to provoke at once such antipathy and acclaim? Availing himself of the barest of narratives, Heine - now gently, now not so gently, but always ingeniously - satirizes Prussian nationalism, the Catholic liturgy, English tourists, educated Jews, Tyrolean peasants, professors of jurisprudence, Shakespeare enthusiasts, the pretensions of the aristocracy, the genre of travel literature and, above all, Count August von Platen-Hallermunde and his literary, political and sexual leanings. Employing the Italian setting and such characters as Signora Letitia to skewer in a more oblique fashion the manners, mores and aspirations of the intellectual, largely Jewish, circles of Berlin society in which he moved, Heine, paradoxically, also uses his travel narrative as a springboard for some of his most refined and idealistic reflections on the nature of man and human society. Still, by unleashing this scatter-shot barrage of satire and political radicalism in the reactionary atmosphere of Friedrich II's Prussia and the other nearly universally as conservative German-speaing lands, Heine also irretrievably wounded his own reputation and chances for advancement. Indeed, soon after the publication of "Reise nach Italien" and the subsequent fourth and final volume of the "Reisebilder" in 1830, Heine emigrated to Paris where he was to spend the rest of his life in uneasy exile. The stirring call to arms which concludes "The City of Lucca" can be heard, therefore, not only as his cri de coeur at the advent of the soon to be co-opted July Revolution, but also, more somberly, as signaling both the end of Heine's youth - he was nearly thirty-three - and his last attempt to revolutionize German life and letters from within his native land.

A. P. Herbert

The Topsy Omnibus - A. P. Herbert

"The charms of Topsy can only be described by quoting a typical passage in her inimitable style. I just open a page at random from Topsy MP (NB: _italics_)

"Well my dear _meanwhile_ the Rowland was being _rather_ a burden because the _whole_ time he talked of nothing but the _internal_ organs of his unalluring car and wondering _what_ was rattling and _why_, when of course the _entire_ machine was one _tautologous_ rattle because he will keep seeing if he can get sixty out of her on a bad road..."

There. That does a much better job than I ever could of explaining exactly who Topsy is... but I'll try anyways. Briefly, she was a character that A.P. Herbert featured in a Punch column during the 1920's up until, well, I'm not exactly sure when, but she's thoroughly a Modern Girl in the flapper mode. The Topsy books are written in first person in the form of letters to Topsy's friend Trix, and they detail an endless round of dinners, dances, and society hi-jinks, all in Topsy's stream-of-consciousness style, with the sentences running together and one idea overtaking another. What I find most remarkable is that the cadences of a certain type of English speech are rendered perfectly with the use of italics.

Topsy gets inside your head! I found myself writing and speaking like her for days, and truth to tell I still lapse into Topsy speak when I'm feeling a little giddy. What she does with the English language is rather a marvel, I think. Her malapropisms fall thick and fast, yet Topsy is no fool. She's a shrewd observer of society and human foibles, and Herbert consistently employs her as a humorous commentator on contemporary times.

For the life of me I can't figure out why these books have never been reprinted. They certainly deserve to be. I found it extremely difficult to come by the three Topsy books that (so far as I can tell) contain all of Topsy's adventures. I highly recommend Topsy to fans of humorous literature, anglophiles, those with an interest in the 1920's, and oh, just about anyone with a sense of humor, really." - Kay A. Douglas

Felisberto Hernandez

Piano Stories - Felisberto Hernandez

"The oddness of Felisberto Hernandez, the man, may perhaps eclipse the essential weirdness of his fictions. There is somewhat of a mystery surrounding him: he was a pianist who used to work accompanying silent movies. He traveled extensively, performing concerts. He took up writing somewhat later in life, remained more or less anonymous up to his death. Today, he is hardly known outside of Latin American literature and yet has inspired the so-called `magical realism' literary movement, made popular in the works of the Nobel-prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Piano Stories, so named by the publishers because nearly every single story incorporates a piano, is the first collection of Felisberto's work translated into English. It is meant to serve as a representative exhibition of the writer's career. It features fifteen pieces, two of them being short novellas (`The Stray Horse' and `The Daisy Dolls') and some others no more than a page and a half long. The introduction is penned by Italo Calvino - another major writer who was apparently influenced by Hernandez.

The adjectives befitting the overall `feel' of the Piano Stories would be: elegant, absurd, surreal and otherworldly. There are repeated motifs of the nature of memory, as explored in the story `Just Before Falling Asleep' and `The Green Heart', and more extensively in `The Stray Horse' where the narrator is aware of an impending attempt to distort a series of childhood memories, for if a person were capable of changing his memories, as one changes stage settings, would that not result in a different person inhabiting the present? In `The Flooded House' a widow has decided that water has the inherent quality required for nurturing memory: "water is the place to grow memories, because it transforms everything reflected in it and it's receptive to thought." (Hernandez, P.246)

In these short stories, inanimate objects acquire a life of their own when viewed in certain light - furniture is able to reveal secrets about a person and in the eerie novella, `The Daisy Dolls', a man has an affair with a life-like replica doll of his wife.

Eccentric characters abound: in `The Balcony' the reader makes the acquaintance of an agoraphobic who believes that individual parts of her house have a soul. In `The Usher' the narrator, having grown accustomed to dark surroundings, acquires a persistent glow in his eyes.

Many of the stories proceed as hypnagogic trances, surreal romps through exotic surroundings. The writing style is average on the whole: a few genuine lyrical waves are balanced out by a number of slumps now and then, owing perhaps to the work's translation from Spanish. There are instances when the reader feels as if Hernandez does not quite know how to express clearly the ideas he has or to fully develop a consistent flow, as in `The Two Stories' or the unbearable `The Woman Who Looked Like Me'.

This collection of stylish pieces is enjoyable for its atmospheric engagement but in the end, looking behind the screen, the reader may come out empty-handed." - Amazon Customer

Lands of Memory - Felisberto Hernandez

Wolfgang Hildesheimer

Collected Stories of Wolfgang Hildesheimer - Wolfgang Hildesheimer

The 19 pieces in this collection are less conventional stories than jeux d'esprit, after-dinner performances, fanciful jests told in a mocking tone. In "The End of the World," the guests at a soiree given on her artificial island by the Marchesa Montetristo (nee Waterman from Little Gidding, Ohio) are too engrossed in a recital of rococo music performed by musicians dressed in period costumes to notice that the island is sinking. Music and talk of music is a recurrent strain, jokey, sometimes amusing and always sophisticated, as one would expect of the author of a highly regarded biography of Mozart. The playful tone is that of a literary intellectual and man of wide culture who has no stomach for philistines and charlatans. The targets of the satiric barbs are perhaps too obvious, and the humor is often rather broad in the Teutonic manner, but these pieces are nothing if not civilized. - Publisher's Weekly

William Hjortsberg

Falling Angel - William Hjortsberg

Odd Corners: The Slip-Stream World of William Hjortsberg - William Hjortsberg

Edward Hoagland

On Nature - Edward Hoagland

Russell Hoban

Pilgermann - Russell Hoban

"Pilgermann is a complex and somewhat (purposefully) confused portrayal of death and theology. The story involves the final year (maybe two) in the life of a Jewish doctor--he names himself Pilgermann--during the early years of the First Crusade. Pilgermann's story involves sin, punishment (not for the sin of adultery, but for "the" Jewish sin of Christ's crucifixion), pilgrimage, near-death experiences, a significant theological/artistic undertaking, and final life-and-death encounters. Hoban delves deep into all three Abrahamic religions to provide the foundation for this book. His prose is dense and hard to read, but regularly shows brilliance and provides astonishing insights. The book is truly amazing in its depth of knowledge--I regularly stopped to read other material for sources--and in its base humanity. It resonates with anger for the injustices of life, and is blunt in the extreme in its portrayal of death. And yet, I found the story compelling and positive in its whole.

Pilgermann is a small character in spirit and accomplishment, a lonely man that seems to have no real past or future. Is he representative of humanity in general, or simply the more cynical and defeated among us? When he is not just passing unanimated through life, he is captured by the present. He is often overwhelmed by the huge universe about him. His only real interest in life seems to be a single encounter with a woman at the beginning of the book. As his story unfolds, it seems that Pilgermann comes to no significant clarity in his life, but is regularly filled with amazing insights and depth of knowledge. This is a book that asks very serious questions, and forces the reader to provide answers.

Pilgermann has very little in common with Hoban's Riddley Walker, a book that I have treasured since my youth. The English here is clear, but the story much more complex. Hoban has once again provided a very serious and signficant gem, but on a completely different plane of existence." - Amazon Customer

James Hogg

The Private Memoirs & Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg

"An editor writes a (supposedly factual) narrative of mysterious events about several deaths and murders, involving one character centrally, who is notably priggish religiously, confused (religiously and psychologically), and perhaps quite evil (religiously as well as civilly).

Next, that self-same central character writes his own (supposedly factual) narrative and journal of those same earlier-recounted mysterious events (with the goal of explaining the "holes" or mysteries in the events) and then writes even further accounts of what happened to him right up to the last minute before he expires - either by his own hand or by some other.

Finally, there is the editor's narrative of the exhumation of the grave of this confessing and justified sinner. All three narrative sections mentioned above, though each separately having its own unique mysteries or uncertainties, together have a drive and a force so very much like a lively and natural fresh water river, that even while the water (story) rushes over rocky terrain, crashes against natural hewn walls, splashing drops in a chaotic froth such that one feels one is about to drown or be thrown up on land - that feeling is strictly momentary and never final.

The course, that is, the writing, is clear (despite the Scottish vernacular used among the lower classes) and the rush (or narrative drive) is steady and enjoyably long, however uncertain are one's conclusions about the whole of the journey.

Is the author making fun of religious conviction? Is Hogg a psychological novelist noting early that phenomenon we now term multiple-personality disorder? What moral status do we -- or can we -- finally attribute to the central character whose memoirs we come to know intimately? Is this tale an ancient precursor of Harry Potter, one written, however, exclusively for adults? Or is this novel an early Gothic one, one meant to scare the beejeezus out of us and into beliefs of life beyond the grave? The profusion of views together with the growing preponderance of questions that arise about the events we witnessed as we contemplate the whole journey or novel crash just like the American and Russian space satellites recently did, leaving all sorts of fragments to observe and puzzles to examine.

I was viscerally moved by Wringham, the central character - from a feeling of deep irritation and frustration at the start (I really did want to wring at least his neck if not him entirely) to one of morbid pity by the finale. One discovers soon enough that it isn't the character so much who changes (although, without giving away too much of the story, he is "altered" by the end) as it is the reader. (And if that conclusion isn't enough to warrant reading this novel, the author helps the reader to grasp that she or he is not so very different from the central character -- at heart -- in regard to those deep impulses of righteousness, however secular or holy the source.) My personal take on the story is that I think Hogg was writing about pure, magnetic, palpable and real evil such that anyone, no matter how illiterate the being, can recognize it: a demon seed, without conscience, pathological, and inevitably damning to the body whose innocent (and even educated) soul it inhabits. (And what might be deemed or intended by the author as "supernatural," I took as psychological and metaphorical, naturally.)

***Note about this Penguin Edition: I think the Scottish brogue dialogic sections today require English translation (in small footnoted print) for full comprehension or clarification of what's being said, even though the complete grasp of the dialogue is never essential to grasping the story and can be skimmed without loss of content. The Glossary of Scottish vocabulary at the back of the book is both incomplete and difficult to use. The Scottish vocabulary, if footnoted on the page in which it appears, would have been more useful to the reader. The footnoted Notes at the very end of the novel did very little to improve or highlight one's understanding of the novel or meaning of certain phrases and, in some cases, confused one or detracted from one's understanding; the Introduction at the front of the book is all the supplemental material the reader needs for historical appreciation of the novel and its context." - G. Charles Steiner

Page-by-Page Books Online Edition

Lord Emsworth's Annotated Whiffle: The Care of the Pig - James Hogg, ed.

""Lord Emsworth's Annotated Whiffle: The Care of the Pig" is a book of legend familiar to anyone versed in P. G. Wodehouse's delightful "Blandings" series. James Hogg has edited the 756-page omnibus into a more tolerable treatise, along with Lord Emsworth's fictional commentary scrawled in the margins. All in all it's the most entertaining book on pig breeding and care I have ever read and will be respected, like the Berkshire pig, "wherever bacon finds favour." Between lessons on swine management, the notes about the entire Blandings crew and Emsworth's prized pig, The Empress, never fail to get a laugh from Wodehouse fans, though they will be difficult to decipher for those unfamiliar with the nuances and personalities of Blandings Castle.

The book also puts then contemporary history in perspective with illuminating narrative from England and the world. I was especially interested in two anecdotes, the first expounding on the pig keeping proclivities of Tolstoy: (p. 71) "It is a little-known fact that the late Count Tolstoy, the progressive landlord who was a novelist in his spare time, suffered great inconvenience while superintending the feeding of pigs. They ate several hundred pages in manuscript of a book he called 'War and Peace,' in the village of Bogorodovsk....It was the Count's habit, while touring his estate, to fill in the time by jotting down the light fiction for which he had discovered a talent." The second history lesson of note (p. 127) explains how a ban on Serbian pigs in Austria-Hungary in the tariff dispute of 1906 directly led to the outbreak of World War One.

If you have an interest in P.G. Wodehouse in general, Blandings Castle specifically, or pig keeping more specifically, I believe you will find the work of Whiffle as edited by Hogg is well worth your perusal." - Robert I. Hedges

E. T. A. Hoffman

The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr - E.T.A. Hoffman

Amazon reviewer Jeff Abell:

Hoffmann was one of the most influential writers of the early 19th cventury. A composer and critic as well as writer of often bizarre fiction, Hoffmann set the tone for much of Romantic literature (especially the combination of the bourgeois and the supernatural), and provided the plots for operas and ballets (including Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker). This novel, which intersperses the memoirs of a cat (appropriately named Murr) with the "random pieces of wastepaper" the cat shredded out of a biography of the composer Kreisler (Hoffmann's alter ego?). In the late 20th century, we came to take the idea of intercutting two unrelated narratives for granted as a Post-modern breakdown of narrative authority. Yet here is the same device, in 1820! Just when you're emotionally invested in one story, it abruptly shifts back to the other. Moreover, Murr's "cat's eye view" of human interaction turns the entire book into a sly critique of the declining aristocrats and rising bourgeois of Europe at the time. A brilliant, compelling, often hilarious read. You'll understand why Schumann, Brahms, and so many others thought of Hoffmann as their favorite writer.

Amazon reviewer Nina Hanan:

I learned about ETA Hoffman by reading some articles he had written on Mozart and Beethoven (the A in is name is for Amadeus, he idolized Mozart). Little did I know that he he was a brilliant and captivating writer of fiction as well. Although markedly less frightening than many of his short stories (such as the Sandman), this book is nevertheless exciting as well as thought provoking (Hoffman makes about 400 references to the literature and music of the his time and before). Additionally, it an example of literary bravado I have not seen elsewhere, namely, the writing of two books in one. In it, a bourgeois 'genius' of a tomcat (murr), creates a wonderful palimpset by writing on shreds of the biography of brooding romantic composer Johannes Kriesler. As such, interspersed betwee the cat's opinions are excepts of the rather odd story of Krieler and his friends, such as the magician Master Abraham. Each time either of the two stories begins building to a climax, Hoffman pulls the rug out from under you and changes narratives. The only fault I find with the book is that it is unfinished (Hoffman wanted to publish a third volume which would tie up loose ends), it even ends mid-sentence. Regardless, this is a wonderful book, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

Sherlock Holmes

Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes

Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes

Gaslight Grimoire: Fantastic Tales of Sherlock Holmes

Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles - Kim Newman

Bart Hopkin

Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments - Bart Hopkin

Ben Hopkins


"A terrible mountaindream I have had," said the King of Gwupygrubynudnyland, "all was wobblesome, and I wobbliest of all."

The 1820s, Central Europe. In the tiny, boring, pointless Kingdom of Gwupygrubynudnyland, nothing has happened for years.

But now Satan is coming to Gwupygrubynudnyland.

Soon the tiny nation will be the centre of the world. Soon the pocket-sized Kingdom will be the burning furnace at the heart of Industry, the motor of Progress and the counting house of Capitalism. In only three years, Satan's Gwupygrubynudnyland will propel the world into a whirlwind of chaos and change.

In a richly textured mix of lyricism, irony and vulgarity, Ben Hopkins' dark, comic satire speeds up the last two hundred years of European history into a hilarious, orgiastic and disturbing helter-skelter ride towards oblivion." - Amazon boilerplate of unknown origin

Bohumil Hrabal

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age


I Served the King of England - Bohumil Hrabal

""I Served the King of England" is not, as one might think, a novel about a devoted servant of the British Crown. Indeed, it is not about Britain at all. It is rather an account of the history of Czechoslovakia during the 1930s and 1940s as seen through the eyes of Jan Ditie, a hotel waiter. The title refers to another waiter, one of Ditie's colleagues, who is extremely proud of the fact that he did indeed once serve the King of England. Much of the first half of the novel deals with Ditie's rise from busboy to waiter to head waiter in a luxurious Prague hotel, where he too gets to serve royalty in the person of the Emperor of Ethiopia. (I use the Americanism "busboy", even though it is rarely heard in Britain, because it seems to me that we do not have any precisely equivalent term). I did not find this part of the book particularly interesting, as it consists of little more than a picaresque series of Ditie's moderately amusing anecdotes about his life in the catering trade, interspersed with some satirical passages at the expense of the gluttonous, avaricious and lustful Czech bourgeoisie of the pre-war years. It should be noted, however, that the proletarian Ditie fully shares their characteristics, especially lustfulness, as he spends most of his earnings on the services of prostitutes.

The novel becomes more interesting, and Hrabal's satire more biting, after the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia in 1938/39. Ditie does not allow this event to disturb his complacent lifestyle, but rather welcomes it because he has fallen in love with an attractive German woman named Lise, who is in good standing with the Nazi party, and he sees marriage to her as a way of helping himself to rise in the world. (he even justifies the invasion to himself on the grounds that it is necessary to protect the Sudeten Germans from the jingoism of the Czechs). His ultimate ambition is to own a hotel of his own, and briefly achieves this aim after the