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east bay revisited
journal #11 - East Bay basement REVISITED - Oct. 6, 2011 to Jan. 2, 2012

 also: journal #7 - #8 - #9 - #10  

The big differences when I don't own, or work in a bookstore—is where I get my books. I keep up on what's out through many print and online sources. But the number of ARCs in my life goes way down and I'm out there buying books at all these other bookstores. Civilian life.

    more book journals
     what's John reading NOW?      Vicky's Page
crowingbook to crow about    not the best or the worst    special type of book special creative design    p no enjoyment, but no warts




notes from a small island


Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson (NF/282p) 1.2.12

This was a funny way to start a new year. Bryson released this back in 1995, and I just came across a used copy to enjoy. His material is golden and he knows what he's talking about, as he lived on the that isle for years.


"Bryson is first and foremost a storyteller—and a supremely comic and original one at that." — Winnipeg Free Press


I didn't find this book as funny as some of his others, but it is full of so many gems about the Brits and the Scots. When he first travelled there he did not know much about their customs, "I was positively radiant with ignorance." He was working for a newspaper on Fleet Street in London, at the same time (January of 1986) that Rupert Murdoch was firing 5,250 union members at The Times. There were many changes going on and Bryson can easily make you laugh, and then turn around a move you in other ways. On the decline of the port of Liverpool from being the second busiest, he puts it in very human terms. While pre-container-shipping it sometimes took hundreds of men to unload a single ship, "Today you go to a waterfront and all you find is an endless expanse of battered containers and one guy in an elevated cabin shunting them about." Then, he will turn around and relate his impressions about moving about. "If you travel much by public transport in Britain these days you soon come to feel like a member of some unwanted sub-class, like the handicapped or unemployed, and that everyone essentially wishes you would just go away." And while traveling in Manchester, he comments, "...a queue of travelers asking a BR (British Rail) guard for directions to various places. It was unfortunate for him that there were no stations in Britain called FUCK OFF because that was clearly what he wanted to tell people." He speaks of a "... golden quality that characterizes the British ... an innate sense of good manners and you defy it at your peril." He also points out that so many times a conversation will start with, "I'm terribly sorry but" and then go on to so many standard questions. It continues, "...they invariably offer a hesitant apologetic smile and say sorry again, begging forgiveness for taking up your time or carelessly leaving their foot where your steamer trunk clearly needed to go. I just love that."

This entire book offered a fascinating set of eyes to view a foreign land through, a land that became his new dis-functional home. I have never been to England, but I would love to...could I go with Bryson?

Here's one last Bryson quote from what has become a mas of quotes.

"What a wondrous place this was—crazy as fuck, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree."           


Now, on to 2012.




We have come to the end of another year—2011.

Let me release my numbers, as I am a number geek.
During this last year, my book journals tell me that I have read:
118 books, 76 works of fiction, 42 nonfiction works, and a total of  34,281 pages, for an average length of 291 pages.


the naive and the sentimental novelistdime-store

The Naive and Sentimental Novelist: Understanding What Happens When We Write and Read Novels by Orhan Pamuk (NF/190p) 12.29.11

This extremely well-done work is taken from a series of lectures that Pamuk gave at Harvard University as part of the Norton Lecture series. The title comes from a distinction about novelists made by Friedrick Schiller: naive writers are those who write spontaneously, and sentimental writers create more in a reflective and aware manner. There is a great deal of information in this book, but it was Pamuk's excitement and wonder about the two processes, writing and reading, that struck me the most...what it takes to make the words sing. As Pamuk puts it, "The real pleasure of reading a novel starts with the ability to see the world not from the outside but through the eyes of the protagonists living in that world. When we read a novel, we oscillate between the long view and fleeting moments, general thoughts and specific events...." At another point, he quotes E.M. Forster, "The final test of a novel will be our affection for it."

This is a rich book, one that explains a great deal about the creative process of the novel, from Pamuk's own personal experiences as well as many fellow novelists, and it also delves into how readers get so much out of a well-written novel. The book itself is certainly well put together and clearly reveals the author's enthusiasm for his subject. If you have an interest in novels from either end, writing or reading, this book is a splendid place to learn more about a rewarding interest ... the rewards are endless.

"A full-fledged theory of the novel...this exploration of the time and plot, words and objects, and the convolutions of the reader's mind as he seeks the center of the novel are incomparable." — Huffington Post ( when previously named One of the Ten Best Books of the Year)


Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic (F/76p) 12.29.11

There are some color plates of Cornell's imaginative work in the center of this collection. Surrounding them are Charles Simic prose reflections on Cornell's art. This is a rare prize of a book. I found myself rereading and rereading Simic's words. Give yourself a late holiday present—pick up this slim treasure.


sex, drugs and cocoa puffsblowin' in the windrunning the booksjust my typethe family fangcat's table

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman (NF/246p) 12.27.11

I've been searching around for this essay collection and I have now just finished it. It's GOLDEN. He's really in his element when he's writing on current music, but it a treat to be in his mind wherever it goes.


Blowin' in the Wind by Bob Dylan / Jon T. Muth (F/26p) 12.25.11

This was a Christmas present that brought a bid smile to this long-time Dylan fan. Yes, it's a kids book...don't let that stop you from taking a look. It's wonderful to have Jon Muth putting his art talents to play alongside this classic lyrics. 


Running the Books by Avi Steinberg (NF/399p) 12.24.11

A young man in his twenties lands a job as a librarian in a prison. The subtitle is, The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. Seems like a good hook. The book really shines once Steinberg is finished lays the groundwork, and gets down to the real people that are being held in these cells. He's funny, not a laugh riot, but he really gets to the heart of the inmates and brings them to life on the page.



crowing special type of book  Just My Type by Simon Garfield (NF/331p) 12.19.11

Well, while there is plenty of humor in this book, it's of a different type. (sorry) This was a book we were both originally hoping to get an ARC copy of, but finding it at 50% off on a sale table, works just about as well AND it's a well-designed and attractive book. It's also a wonderful description of the world of fonts. There is a great deal of history included, and it's richly illustrated with people, photos and letters. When a different font is mentioned, they show some class...by always showing an example.


The type designer's world has changed a great deal from the designing, carving, casting, printing days, to today's technology-driven world. It's rather amazing, once you become aware of how many fonts there are out there, that any new fonts are being created, and to still have people called font designers. Designers, and others in this world of font design, can be a very special breed of nerd/artist—but we are all the richer for it. If you have any interest in the subject, this is a must book to have.


The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (F/309p) 12.17.11

If you're looking for a very funny and bizarre novel, this is a great one to pick up. If you're a fan of Wes Anderson (think - The Royal Tenenbaums) films, this is a great one to pick up. Yes, I'm telling you to pick the damn book up.


I haven't looked up the artist yet, but I am seriously wondering if there is anything in his background, anything autobiographical from him in this very interesting plotline. Possibly something about art-obsessed family members. The parents, Caleb and Camille are very odd performance artists, as in their entire life could be becoming a large performance piece. Their two children, many times referred to as Child A and Child B, have grown up and have moved away...away from being any part of the family's continual performance works. Annie and Buster are worried about their parents, but they can't stand to be around them any longer. There is a lot of discussion about WHAT IS ART? and Caleb thinks that all paintings, music and the rest are dead and non-changing, and that performance works are the one true, living art. The bizarre nature of the family kept me laughing all the way through it. Or almost all the way...the ending is not quite as satisfying. Truly bizarre.


"A comedy, a tragedy, and a tour-de-force examination of what it means to make art and survive your family. The best single-word description would be genius." — Ann Patchett


"A bizarre, mirthful debut novel." — Publishers Weekly


The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (F/265p) 12.15.11

This is a story of an Atlantic crossing via ocean liner in 1954, by an eleven-year-old boy named Michael and the people that filled his days onboard. I really warmed to this book closer to the end, as the characters look back on their experiences from the long trip from Ceylon to England. It was fascinating as to how facts were revealed and what had really been happening onboard, that because of their young age, the boys didn't fully understand. Because this boy and his two young companions, Cassius and Ramadhin, were free to have many adventures together, the huge ship became their entire world. There are also several other very richly-written characters, including Michael's older cousin Emily, who play important roles in the story. Because of the characters' ages, there's a sweetness to this book that was a pleasure to be around. Ondaatje includes plenty of misadventures onboard for the young boys and there is a certain level of intrigue watching the actions of the more mysterious adults onboard. The setting of an old, ocean liner taking many of its passengers to their new lives, made for a unique present, an excitement for everyone's future, and the plot made it a very clever look into the main character's past.


The Cat's Table was a very different ocean journey than my last book, Thunderstruck, but it is one that the characters and the feel of the writing happily lingers in my mind. Much has been made about how close this novel mirrors events in Ondaatje's own life. Maybe that's why the novel feels so rich, believable and true, maybe he's just a master at creating good fiction, but whatever the reason, all readers are rewarded for opening The Cat's Table.       


thunderstruckwho's writing thisbudding prospects420 charactersstoriesbel canto

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (NF/392) 12.9.11

   Never picked this one up before...so I've corrected my oversight now. Just read the other day that his last book, In the Garden of Beasts, has now sold over 500,000 copies. It is one of my 2011 favorite reads.

   Thunderstruck was another of his parallel stories (like his fine book, The Devil in the White City) that follows, in this case, Guglielmo Marconi's development of the wireless, and the tale of a quiet man, Dr. Hawley Crippen, who may have done horrible things to his dead wife. I wasn't drawn into this book that quickly. It took a while to get me reading faster and flipping the pages. Marconi wasn't always honest and forthcoming with his "invention" and its abilities, but he certainly became rich and world famous. Crippen's story, while not well-known now, was front-page news at the time, with the world impatiently waiting for the latest wireless news about a bizarre ocean liner chase across the Atlantic. Larson packs another book with interesting facts, but this was not my favorite of his books. He seemed to not be able to keep the excitement building through so much of the first half of the book, as he alternately built each man's story. You can't fault the hard-charging ending...he finished strongly. Not every chapter can be a winner.


Thunderstruck TRIVIA

—page 55

When they moved to the New Scotland Yard building, they left behind 14,212 orphaned umbrellas in the old building. Only in reference to Great Britain, could you think of using a term like orphaned umbrellas.

—page 62
Marconi was up against the British Postal Service, who was delivering more than 2,186,800,000 letters at the time, and delivering to London homes, twelve times a day!

—page 371
When Crippen was hung, the hangman (a moonlighting hairdresser) used the standard reference work of the time, the Table of Drops, to determine how long to make the rope, to kill him, and to not take his head off.

—page 384
When Marconi was at death's door, he called a servant and told him, "I am very sorry, but I am going to put you and my friends to considerable trouble." Forty-five minutes later he was dead, and Mussolini came to pray at his bedside.



Who's Writing This ? Fifty-five Writers on Humor, Courage-Self-Loathing, and the Creative Process edited by Daniel Halprin (NF/185p) 12.7.11

I would love to see what was said, or sent to, each of these writers to elicit these responses. They use the short essay, Borges and I, as a jumping off point and some of them are golden. Jorge Luis Borges himself wrote "I cannot tell which one of us is writing this page." Just some of the many writers included are: Ackerman, Albee, Atwood, Russell Banks, Paul Bowles, John Fowles, Gass, Gail Godwin, Edward Gorey, Jim Harrison, John Hawkes, Alice Hoffman, Edward P Jones, Peter Mayle, Michener, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Smiley, Susan Sontag, Paul Theroux, Scott Turow, and John Updike. It a fun trip into the minds of these writers, as they try to sort out who is the writer, the author's persona, and where and what the writing constitutes. 


"A browse-worthy book for literary fans." — Publishers Weekly
"A coffee table book for literary aficionados and scholars." — Library Journal


Budding Prospects by T.C. Boyle (F/326p) 12.5.11

This Boyle book was written back in 1984, and it happens to be on one of my favorite topics, growing marijuana. It's a Boyle book, so that means there's: some clever writing, a bizarre and funny plot, and some real messed up people. It takes place up in that beautiful, green country around Willits, California. Three guys fall into a great opportunity to make some big money ($500,00) with some hard work for three months, or so, of their time. While nothing is a sure thing, this proposition looked pretty sweet, until they got where they were going and the reality of the world smacked them around in a big swirl of strange neighbors, crooked cops, dishonest partners, pot-eating bears, heavy rain and a sea of mud ... and, oh, love.


420 Characters by Lou Beach (F/176p) 12.4.11

Here's a special little book, that's a clever little package. The title comes from the fact that Beach started writing these brief bits as his Facebook updates, and they limit one to 420 characters. In my book, that wasn't a good come-on for me, but upon reading a few of the stories, I was taken. Every word has earned its way onto the page after a great deal of editing. There are some fine twists and turns in theses short pieces, and you never know where he may lead you. You just KNOW, that every story will be over in a few sentences. It's a most interesting exercise in writing. For some reason, I found myself reading each story twice, and it was good. The man has been doing clever artwork for some time...I remember the hat and the sky from the Heavy Weather album cover (1997) he did for the musical group, Weather Report. You can see much more art, find out a little more about the man, and even hear some of his stories read on his website - hit the link below.


Here's what some other people had to say.



"Holy shit! Those are great! ... May they last a thousand years and be chiseled in stone." — Jonathan Lethem

"Lou Beach uses words with no sympathy for the reader. He beats us senseless with his brilliance." — Terry Gilliam


"A dreamy collection of mini stories and illustrations..." — New York Magazine

"Beach injects these tidy depictions with...boundless, mischievous imagination... Unforced, thoughtful, occasionally profound...sly, surprising, playful, puzzling--and great fun." — Publishers Weekly

"Eclectic, vivid moments in time, delivered in the exacting limits of social media...bold, impulsive flash fiction... These moments are...theatrical, instantly recognizable and slide off the tongue with the cacophony of a Tom Waits riff. An adroit experiment that marries linguistic restraint to literary cool." — Kirkus Reviews

"Bizarre and awesome." — Bookslut


"The art of Lou Beach is probably smarter than you." — Matt Groening

"Very precise hallucinations ... taking your breath away." — George Saunders

"Original, provocative, definitely outside the box." — Jeff Bridges


             Check out the author's website for stories, artwork & people like Jeff Bridges reading Lou's stories - 420characters.com


Stories by Anton Chekhov (F/454p) 12.1.11

All my adult reading life, I've been hearing about the great short stories by Chekhov. Here I am, well into my fifties, and I've just stepped up to the plate—to check Chekhov out. My reaction is that just about every one of the 30 stories collected here, is wonderful and seemingly timeless. The writing is surprising, in that, but for a few very words and actions described, the stories seem modern. He was one of the very first to write using a stream-of-consciousness style. Raymond Carver was a Chekhov fan, and it's easy to see why. Some have referred to Chekhov as the "poet of hopelessness." And hopelessness, pessimism and resignation seem to fine their way into most of his work here. These tales are often about people who have not been free long (the Russian serfs were freed around 1861) and life still wasn't easy. Heartache, hunger, cruelty were running freely over the landscape. Yet, it's so good to be experienced in matters Chekhov.

Here's a fine passage from Rothschild's Fiddle.
"The town was small, worse than a village, and in it lived almost none but old people, who died so rarely it was even annoying. And in the hospital and jail there was very little demand for coffins. In short, business was bad."
He practiced medicine for many years, and was quoted saying: "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress." Chekhov's wife Olga, described his death from his long time aliment, TB, following being injected by the doctor with campher, as follows: "Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: 'It's a long time since I drank champagne.' He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping as a child."


  Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (F/318p) 11.28.11

It has taken me some time to read what many consider Patchett's best work. This is without a doubt a romantic tale...this being the reason many love it. But it works on many levels. As always, Patchett knows how to write, how to make you care about her characters. The story takes place somewhere in a South American country. I had just begun the book, when the men with the guns burst into a birthday party. A powerful man is being honored and the country's president is expected to show up. That was enough for a band of three generals and a group of young men (and women it turns out) to take everyone hostage. A negotiator for the government (the vice-president is being held...the president is a no-show...along with important business men and a famous opera singer) comes to take their demands and relay the government's reactions. Nothing moves anywhere, it's a standoff for months. This is where the magic happens. The heart of the novel is what happens to the hearts of the holders and the held...the relationships that form. Tolerance, friendship, opera music and romance create a new society, and a new way for people to interact. It is a very special world that I found enchanting and didn't want to end. End it does. Read it and find out the whole story. You're sure to appreciate how well she puts people together with feelings they may not even expect they have. 


unstuck in timedowntown owl  and so it goes     1Q84braindead megaphonemagician's assistant


Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels by Gregory D. Sumner (NF/329p) 11.22.11

Another book on Vonnegut, a volume the great Walden Pond Books staff could put into my needy, little hands. The Vonnegut biography that I just finished, And So It Goes, also came from WP—they're my Vonnegut dealer.


Unstuck proved to be as interesting as And So It Goes, but in a very different way. Interestingly enough, there are factual differences between the two on basic things in the Vonnegut legend. I'm thinking that as And So It Goes involved so much more research, and the book was going against the public image that Kurt (the former GE PR man) put out there, it is closer to the truth. Unstuck in Time (the title comes from a concept in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five) goes much more into the writing of 14 of his novels. The book isn't getting as much attention as And So It Goes —which is taking up most of the Vonnegut oxygen in the public review room. They are strikingly different. Unstuck does seem to me to be as well-written, but its focus on Kurt's words and books is much more intense. Sometimes I felt my interest drifting away from Sumner's words, and it only returned when there were passages of Vonnegut's words from the book being described. There is a chapter for each of 14 of Kurt's novels, but you learn much about his nonfiction works, as they refer to his novels and his life. The plots are followed and explained, sometimes with too great a detail that the life seems to have leaked out of them. It's a great companion to his books.
"An excellent reading guide to Kurt's work." - Mark Vonnegut


Now it's time for some Kurt one-liners.
"You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed."
"The insane, on occasion, are not without their charms."
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
"If you do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind."
"We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial about to face cold turkey."
"Humor is an almost physiological response to fear."
"Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it and finds himself no wiser than before."
"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center."
 "Before you kill somebody make absolutely sure he isn't well-connected."
"Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the universe."
"Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance."
"The main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings, not to serve as appendages to machines, institutions, and systems."
"So it goes."


 Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman (F/271p) 11.18.11

Until I read Downtown Owl, I was a Klosterman virgin...no novels...no essays...no nothing. Now I'm experienced, and I found the experience splendid. He can turn a twisted phrase with the best of them. His feel for the small town, rural mindset was spot on. The plot was a real trip, with a powerful ending that gave him the opportunity to show off all of his talents. I'm on the prowl for some of his essay collections, yet even though he has a new hardcover out, it's looking like I will need to order anything else. Bookstores need more Klosterman on their shelves.


crowing And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields (NF/424p) 11.15.11
    I knew that I could rely on Walden Pond Books to have the Vonnegut biography ON the release date. All it takes—is to find a great independent bookstore—and give them a simple phone call to hold something. They are a class act. I've just finished reading it and it's well put together, very complete, and paints a warts-and-all portrait of one of my favorite writers. In many ways he was a real SOB and so very different from the public persona that he created for himself. He was a one-time public relations man who sold America on the wonders of General Electric—and then sold that same public Kurt Vonnegut.


crowing1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (F/925p) 11.8.11

This is a stunner of a read. It's a 900 page-plus international bestseller and it's got so much in it—I am still fitting parts together in my mind as I write it up in my journal. Oh please, let me ponder this so more...there is so much running around in my head. It one long, strange trip.


The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders (NF/257p) 10.31.11

You should never be too sure what George's writing will be like, he likes to take people in unexpected directions. But you can count on the unique, the strange, and the funny.


The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett (F/357p) 10.25.11

It is always a pleasure to settle into another fine Patchett novel and this was a real keeper.



used and rarethe faster I walk the smaller I ambeginnerslos angeles storiesthe great leaderfloating worlds

Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (NF/215p) 10.23.11

This is about a couple, and couple of writers, learning about the used and rare book market.


The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skomsvold (F/147p) 10.21.11

This was a quirky Norwegian novel about an elderly widower looking back at her life (a very common theme for novel's I read) and wondering if she had EVER done anything that cause ANYONE to remember her.


crowing Beginners by Raymond Carver (F/203p) 10.16.11

This is a British edition that I found at Pegasus in Berkeley, and these are the stories that were in his short story collection,  What We Talk About when We Talk About Love, before they were edited down (some by 50%) by his editor Gordon Lish. I've read the first four or five and they are just wonderful. If only my original copy of What We Talk About wasn't packed away in a box in the far back of a storage unit, I would be able to compare, but for now it was just so good to be read them with all of Carver's words.


Los Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder (F/232p) 10.12.11

Over the years I've listened to many hours of Ry Cooder music and now I've discovered that the man has another talent—he can write a damn good short story.


The Great Leader by Jim Harrison (F/329p) 10.9.11

One of my favorite writers has a new novel out and I got on it quickly. As I began the book, I was wondering if The Great Leader will seem to me as lecherous as Vicky felt it was when she read it. Yeah, I must admit that Harrison often falls into a large company of older-male-authors-writing-about-older-men-lusting-after-sexy-young-women. Yet, there is a large difference, Jim can write. With great style and feeling, he can write the pants of these women characters in this novel. The connection that his writing makes with place, with his novel's natural settings is spot on and feels so right to me. Though I don't feel that his last two novels have been his strongest, I will always come back for more. A gem of writing by Harrison is worth as much, if not more than, chapters by many other writers.


Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer (NF/251p) 10.6.11

Vicky and I are both enormous Gorey fans, so when I found this striking new hardcover on display at Moe's—it had to come home with us.
Here are a few delicious quotes contained in the book that have struck me:


"We often imagine we are being educated, while we are only being amused."

   — Samuel Smiles


"Life is a drama written by madmen and played by drunken actors."

   — Shakespeare


"The handwriting on the wall may be a forgery."
   — Ralph Hodgson


"Yet the human heart is an invisible and dreadful being."
   — Lady Muraski


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