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east bay revisited 

journal #9 - East Bay basement REVISITED - Jun. 7 to Aug. 12, 2011  
also: journal #7 & journal #8 & journal #10 & journal #11  

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.

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jamrach's menageriecomplete poems philip larkinsex and the river styxeverything beautiful began afterisecond reading


Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (F/293p) 8.12.11

It's a wild tale of young Jaffy Brown , who's rescued from a tiger's mouth, only to set off on a search for a dragon on a whaling ship. After finishing the book, I'm not sure about what I have to say on it...so far. Let me ponder.



Collected Poems by Philip Larkin (P/198p) 8.11.11

I have always found some poems by Philip Larkin that really hit home. They can be wonderfully quirky and strange, like The Mower which we included in our bookstore's Poem-A-Day program for National Poetry Month.


   The Mower


   The mower stalled, twice; kneeling I found

   A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,

   Killed. It had been in the long grass 

   I had seen it before, and even feed it, once.

   Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world

   Unmendably. Burial was no help:


    Next morning I got up and it did not.

   The first day after a death, the new absence

   Is always the same; we should be careful


   Of each other, we should be kind

    While there is still time.


Reading so many of his poems together in the span of a day, may have done them a disservice. I didn't find as many that jumped out and amused me. Could be it just wasn't my time for poetry. Another reading, at another time, evidently is what's called for here.



Sex and the River Styx by Edward Hoagland (NF/247p) 8.9.11

Here's a entertaining, educational, and emotional collection of widely-diverse and always interesting essays from a fine writer. But I'm not the only one to praise Hoagland for his essays.


"The best essayist of his generation." - John Updike


"He is, as far as I know, the best essayist working in our perishing republic." - Edward Abbey


"Edward Hoagland is a natural. His essays flow like running water, pure and clean". - Studs Terkel

                    (What a great blurb about a naturist. - John)


Using Thoreau's words from Walden

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."

Howard Frank Mosher says, "Edward Hoagland has spent his entire life doing just that."


Hoagland has reached his seventies—he has an essay for that. He's such a fine writer, and his love of nature and his appreciation of wild things is so pure—and he has many essays on that. He has a way of looking at quality of life issues, of measuring them in personal terms, that makes much of our society, our civilization, seems so cold and detached. What have you got if your primary connection is online electronically, and you're not familiar with your surrounding landscape, or your neighbors? It may be a little despair creeping in, or his age, but it seems that there is a little more sadness in some of this work. In one essay he tells of traveling to Uganda, to visit a family he's been sending cash to for some time. But his concern isn't about being some well-off westerner being taken advantage of—he's simply incredibly curious about what their lives are like, and what else he could do to help this family and their community. This is a man who has traveled to much of the world, and has always learned something everywhere, about the human condition. You should discover for yourself the diversity of his topics when his essays are collected. I just want to leave you with why a Hoagland essay is often so moving to me. The man cares, he's personal, intelligent and always curious. Reader, put yourself in his caring hands. Learn. Feel.     



Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy (F/404p) 8.7.11

This was a very well-written love story between some damaged people, told against the beauty of Greece. Now I think about it...I guess you would have to say almost everyone is damaged, in one way or another. Henry has fallen hard and deep for Rebecca, but he also continues to stumble through parts of his life with his long-time companion, alcohol. His French lover, Rebecca has a past that drives her present (who's past doesn't create in some way their present?) and causes her to become cautious and withdrawn at times. I think most anyone reading this engaging novel, will find themselves wanting these two together and happy. Another well-developed character who our lovers share, is George, who has a very interesting relationship with each of them. The three have some very good times together...they're a lovely threesome. The plot has a powerful turn (no, I'm not telling) and Henry puts off dealing with the consequences for a long time. That delaying part of the story is very unique, and one begins wonders how the author will move the story on. I haven't read a good love story in some time—don't normally even think of novels as ever BEING love stories—but whatever one chooses to call this novel, it is one fine bit of writing. The characters are well-developed, the dialogue and plotline are clever, and the setting are so seemingly beautiful—how could this not be a stunning movie.     


The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death edited by David Shields & Bradford Morrow (NF/328p) 8.4.1

Many of these essays are quite moving, some are gut-wrenching. For many this is not an easy topic to ponder, but it happens to be centered on one of my favorite topics—death. This subject has been a fascination for me from an early age. Because of my personal experience during my mother's death, the detailed stories of death in a modern hospital, hit home brutally. There is not a lot of humor within these covers, just a wry comment here or there, but there is that fascinating oddness in the strange way many people relate to the end of living here on our planet. Certainly not every writing here is for everyone, but this is a thought-provoking selection and gives a wide variety of voices a chance to write on a subject that many people try to completely avoid. I'm an old atheist myself. So to me, the end of life looks like the end of all—seems straight forward enough. You cannot dip into this book without being moved, and it's always good to be moved—before you're moved into the ground.


       Here are some of my favorite bits from the book:


Kyoki Mori writes about her personal feelings about religion as she grew up.

"By the time I went to college, though, I knew that Jesus was real in the same way as Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, or the Makioka Sisters. I'm not saying he was fake or insubstantial. I was beginning to understand life through the lens of literature, not the other way around."
"When I die, I must part with all the people I loved—even those who have spent centuries inside books and attained eternal life. They will live on, but I won't."

Mori relates her only bush with death, when her mother swam out to save her when she thought she was drowning. " I propelled myself toward her and clasped my arms around her neck. As another wave crested over us, I held on with all my strength. When we resurfaced, my arms and legs tangled around her neck and waist, my mother was coughing. 'You have to let go,' she gasped. 'Otherwise, we'll both drown."

Her mother committed suicide two years later.


Sallie Tisdale writes about flies.
"I really mean that; we eat flies every day. The FDA permits thirty-five fruit-fly eggs in every eight ounces of golden raisins; up to twenty maggots 'of any size' in a hundred grams of canned mushrooms, and a fair number of both eggs and maggots in tomato products."


Lynne Tillman shares last words of some of the famous.

"I'm Perplexed." - Aleister Crowley
"Tell them I've had a wonderful life." - Ludwig Wittenstein
"Let's go in. The fog is rising." - Emily Dickinson
"Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! When will this end!" - Washington Irving

"So this is Death—Well!" - Thomas Caryle

"Lord help my poor soul...." - Edgar Allan Poe

"What is the question?" - Gertrude Stein


Lance Olsen's piece included.

"There is hope, Franz Kafka once wrote, but not for us."

"Blessed is he who expects nothing, Alexander Pope once wrote, for he shall never be disappointed."

"Death is so terrifying, Susan Cheever once wrote, because it is so ordinary."

"When we speak of 'seriousness' in art, Thomas Pynchon once wrote, ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death.

How, shortly before his in 1631, John Donne obtained an urn, his own burial shroud, and the services of an artist. He wrapped himself in said shroud, posed atop said urn, and had said artist render a charcoal sketch of him, which the poet kept by his bedside throughout his final illness."

"Eighty-three, less than a year before he died, Kurt Vonnegut: "I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"

"On a large enough time line, Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero."

"In that race which daily hastens us toward death, Camus once wrote, the bod maintains its irreparable lead."

"I want to enjoy my death, Beckett once wrote."

"To hope, E.M. Cioran once wrote, is to contradict the future."

Olsen also related how: Sherwood Anderson choked to death on a toothpick at a party, Tennessee Williams accidently swallowed the cap of his nasal spray and suffocated, and Maupassant, Manet, Gauguin, Scubert, Nietzsche and Scott Joplin all died of syphilis. Eva Braun eats cyanide, Abbie Hoffman phenobarbital, both Diane Arbus and Mark Rothko swallow barbiturates and slash their wrists, Jerzy Kosinski and Michael Dorris swallow barbiturates and put a bag over their heads, And on and on.


Geoff Dyer shares his writing on bicycle deaths and gives the link to the international website - ghostbikes.org
We drive by one of the white bikes just about every day on Powell Street, here in Oakland.


Looking back at my most recent books, I find that of the last nine books I've read, eight are non-fiction titles. At times it just runs that way, I just keep getting drawn to subject after subject, and fiction simply doesn't seem as interesting.


crowing Second Reading: Notable and Neglected Books Revisited by Jonathan Yardley (NF/351p) 8.1.11

I really enjoyed theses excellent reviews. First I dove here and there for his thoughts on some of my favorite titles, and then I steamed through the entire book for the wonderful enthusiasm that Yardley, the famous Washington Post book critic, brought to these titles. This volume is a collection of reviews on books that he had previously read, enjoyed, and has returned to so as to remind people about these forgotten delights. (That's forgotten delights, NOT frozen delights...yet, a frozen delight sounds delightful right now.)

I'll bring more thoughts about this book to this page soon.



the natural mysticscheerful moneythe zeroseedsyou are not a gadgetthinking with type

The Natural Mystics by Colin Grant (NF/270p) 7.29.11

This was a birthday gift from a loved one, my main squeeze, Vicky, about some of my favorite musicians. It turned out to be so much more than some standard factual book on a musical group. Grant brings all types of cultural, political and religious facts and feelings into this book on the The Wailers—Bob, Peter and Bunny. Coming out of the Trench Town slums of Jamaica, these very distinctive personalities united for a time around the hopeful message of their roots reggae music and their Rastafarian beliefs...before many different pressures pulled them apart.

   Looking at the three men now, is a look at only one survivor in some-time-performing Bunny Wailer living in a secluded Jamaican retreat, while Bob Marley died of cancer (melanoma) in 1981, and Peter Tosh was tortured and murdered in his home by an associate looking for the big money in 1987. Grant does an excellent job of bringing out the small things, right beside the larger movements and issues that swirled around these some-time "rude boys" that made it to the top of the world music market...before we knew there was anything called world music, and what size of a market it might have. Marley was singled out by different Obeah witch doctors, Rastafarians, and most significantly music promoters throughout his career. Chris Blackwell of Island Records pulled him away from his band mates and made Bob Marley the face of reggae music to the world.

   At one point, Grant sums the three up as very different role models for black males of their time—Bob as accommodate and succeed, Peter as fight and die, and Bunny as retreat and live. I don't see it that simply, but it's an interesting viewpoint. Even after reading so much on the group, and on the individuals, I learned a great deal from this book, about small personal details and the importance of Marcus Garvey to the Jamaicans. Grant has also written a well-regarded book on Garvey, titled Negro With a Hat.

   One different look on things that I'll leave you with, happened at the One Love Peace Concert in 1978. Marley had been convinced to return to Jamaica to headline the concert, after holding up in London for 18 months after being shot in his Jamaican home. The concert had heavy political overtones to the whole thing, and was held during an election between Michael Manley (socialist) and Edward Seaga of the conservative Jamaica Labour Party. Marley was not very political in the traditional way, but the concert's big moment, always held up high, was when he got the two none-to-friendly contenders to link hands on stage. Grant, on the other hand, writes that the crowd had cheered much more wildly for what Tosh had done 30 minutes earlier. First, he lite up and smoked from a huge spliff on stage in front of the two party leaders, and then he berated them for half an hour on how important marijuana legalization was to the people, and especially the Rastafarians.  
   The book is a treat for fans, an education for most, and a far-reaching look at the power of music and cultural figures. And the killer is that I'm quietly sit here, while all my reggae music is packed away (silently) in distant storage units. Sad man. Good book.      



Cheerful Money by Tad Friend (NF/344p) 7.26.11

A review is coming. This is a funny look at the decline in the power of the country's Wasp ruling elite and Tad's family in particular.


It was a fabulous piece of irony that Vicky and I were taking our granddaughter to swimming lessons at a private swim and tennis club in the plush Oakland Hills at the time I was reading this. This was part of a swim camp open to nonmembers, but to read of the wealthy, privileged folks of Cheerful Money while surrounded by the idle club members, looking down at the city streets so far below, seem most appropriate.


The Zero by Jess Walter (F/345p) 7.23.11

An older novel by the author of the very clever book, The Financial Lives of the Poets. In this work he's writing around and through the happenings at ground zero.


Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers by Richard Horan (NF/347p) 7.22.11

Times change, my opinions change. I first read about this book and thought that it sounded so lame, just some writer in search of—a hook for a book. Then, I saw the book for the first time, gave it a quick look, and thought LAME. Then, on another visit to Mrs. Dalloway's bookstore, I read more, and I was hooked.


You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier (NF/207p) 7.18.11

The pieces of life can sometimes fall together so quickly. Sunday I pick up the New York Times and read about this Berkeley man—and I'm fascinated. Next day we do some banking, and then wander over to the Berkeley Books Inc. and browsing down a shelf, I find his book. the book gods are active.


crowing Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton (NF/219p) 7.16.11

This is the second edition of a fine book on the use and abuse of type, on paper and online. It a joy to look at a book designed so clearly about design. I have been designing newsletters (paper & online) and advertising and marketing materials of all kinds for years, and this is one book that brings it all together excellently.



a writer's san franciscoten thousand saintsthe safety of objectsblues citymiss peregrine's home for peculiar childrenyou don't love me yet

crowing A Writer's San Francisco by by Eric Maisel & illustrated by Paul Madonna (NF/130p) 7.13.11

Still writing my review for what was a grand experience.

This small volume was a birthday gift from a special lady, who knows me and knows books. It is just such a perfect package of a book—good writing surrounded by great drawings of the city, all on high quality paper in a smaller sized hardcover.


In all the talk about ebooks and true books, the experience of the smell of the paper, look of the type and illustrations, feel of the page, heft of the book, the whole tactile thrill that is a book, versus a no-delayed-gratification-instant-happening light plastic toy I have a moment to describe. I've been immersed in books all my adult life, so a night with a good book is a common occurrence, but one night lately was special in a different way. There I sat with my fine gift, enjoying the look, feel and the smell of paper, ink, binding and glue, the writing and the perfectly reproduced art—while ten feet away, a younger man sat swiping his fingers this way and that, up, down, together and apart, on the plastic screen of first his electronic tablet, and then his smartphone. It became so clear to me that the distance between our experiences was far greater than a mere ten feet.  



Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson (F/385p) 7.11.11

Still pondering this book. There's some good writing between these covers!



The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes (F/173p) 7.10.11

This is a collection of short stories published back in 1990 and I've been looking at two different used editions Walden Pond Books had on their shelves for a few weeks. Last time we were there...it was time to take the plunge. It was worth waiting for, as the last story A Real Doll was the price of admission alone. Homes can be very perverse, and this young boy's "relationship" with his sister's Barbie doll is perverted and funny in so many ways. Oh, and Ken is involved as well. When it comes to sexuality, her writing captures young children, teens, and adults quite well. She's one very funny writer—one that doesn't take the regular route, she's inventive and twisted. A.M. Homes is a real treat for those that appreciate skillful writing and heavily-twisted treats.



Blues City: A Walk in Oakland by Ishmael Reed (NF/191p) 7.8.11

This is part of an interesting series of books on different places. I had looked at one by Michael Cunningham, titled Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown that looked very good, but I didn't pick it up. But when I saw this one—Hell, I'm living in Oakland, maybe I should get a little more local knowledge for this place. It definitely worked for giving me an appreciation of the flavor of Oakland.


special type of book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (F/352p) 7.4.11

I just had to take this book out for a spin. The author is a visual man who does films and collects thousands of photos of people he doesn't know. There are over 40 fascinating photos in the book that work off the writing in a special way. Make sure to check out the book trailer for Peculiar Children (it only makes sense that the book trailer is done by Riggs, as he does them for other authors) and Riggs website is really a treat—make sure to watch the clip titled - Trespassing in Time Capsules: Making the Miss Peregrine Trailer



p You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem (F/224p) 7.1.11

Disappointment. Here's a title published in 2007 - that I had missed entirely. Now that I've read it, I can see why it didn't get much notice. There was excitement when I spied it on a bargain table at the Berkeley Books Inc, but that's been replaced by a disappointing book by a normally fine writer. It's a story from the New York City music scene that gets you somewhat involved with the members of a nameless band that ends up playing only one gig, and then for seemingly countless reasons, the band breaks up. All the relationships between the band members are evolving. Oh, I just didn't get involved with any of the characters and the writing didn't do much for me either. It was like some rather forgettable book by some first time author. I kept thinking that maybe there was something going on in the novel that was escaping me. I guess it escaped completely and I'm glad to have made my own great escape - to another book.



the late american novelthe town that food savedcrooked letter crooked letterstate of wonderit can't happen herefun with problems

The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books edited by Jeff Martin & C. Max Magee  (NF/164p) 6.28.11
Go ahead, give a group of modern writers a topic like—what's the future of the American novel?—and just see what they come up with. Some stay in the normal "let me answer that question" and others let their creative juices run free and create something unique. There is hardly ever a dull moment and it's one of those wonderful books that gets you thinking and pondering.


The Town That Food Saved by Ben Hewitt (NF/223p) 6.22.11
Another book that jumped out at me. This time it was from the Copperfield's Books in Healdsburg. Yes, I've traveled decades in time and thousands of miles since my youth in Vermont, to find a fascinating book on the economy of local food in Hardwick, Vermont - just a few miles down the road from my hometown.


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (F/274p) 6.16.11
This was another recommendation from Vicky and I'm glad I listened. The cast of fabulous southern characters made for a great town full of people to be spending time with. 


crowing  State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (F/353p) 6.12.11
The wonder in the title carries over into the writing of this book. As fine a book as her previous title Run was, I feel this was even better. We have both been waiting months for this to come out, and as soon as Vicky was done, I started her up. I've finished now, and while I'm so much richer for the experience, I'm wish it wasn't over. Couldn't there be more pages to explore?

   This is one of those delectable books that captures you from page one and keeps you involved through to the very last page. The cast of characters is a fine collection, and Patchett takes them and the reader into the dark jungles of Brazil. We're talking remote pharmaceutical research. We're not going the route of dangerous men with guns, as in The Constant Gardener by John le Carré, but there could be death at any time from the insects and wildlife of this Brazilian jungle...oh, and there are cannibals nearby. Put away any pulsing, death-defying adventure plot, and travel with the curious and apprehensive Marina Singh from an American lab, to the hidden research facility run by her former college professor. There, Dr. Swensen has been working in the jungle for many years, and the head of her company, Mr. Fox, wants to know how the research is coming - the research that he's paying the monstrous bills for. Swensen doesn't communicate with Fox, and the last person sent to check her progress, never returned. Once again, I'll tell you, this is not THAT kind of an adventure story. These are real, thinking, caring people, watching and studying the native tribes and foliage. What can they learn? What benefits for the rest of the world can be extracted from the depths of this distant site?

   The story is clever, moral, and exciting, but the characters like Milton, Marina, Dr. Swensen, Anders, the other scientists there, and the deaf native boy Easter, MAKE the book. Another one of my favorite characters is the entire local tribe that they live with and study. How they communicate and learn about each other is fascinating.

   I'm going to stop now, because you need to simply pick this book up and read. Don't read reviews. Don't ask questions of friends who've read it. Don't look for snippets and interviews online. This is such a good book, just read. Let Patchett's talent take you places. Isn't this why we read? Who wants to know what's around the bend when you could discover it for yourself and really experience it in your own way? 


It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (F/380p) 6.10.11

In fact, Lewis is writing that IT, a Fascist takeover, CAN happen here. I have much to say about what isn't a well-written novel, but one that has so much juicy politics in the plot. I'll be back with more words soon.  


Fun with Problems by Robert Stone (F/195p) 6.7.11
Time for some short stories, and really, how can you go wrong with anything by Robert Stone?




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