Common Good Books

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“Poems infatuated with their own smarts and detached from any emotional grounding can leave the reader feeling lonely, empty and ashamed for having expected more.”

—   Tracy K. Smith, The New York Times, July 21, 2014
Read The Hernandez Brothers 

Good Books of Late

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Make that Good Books of Early. Two releases we can’t wait to talk about are Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04 (Available 9/2) and John Williams’ Augustus (8/19). As I said half-jokingly via email earlier this month, Lerner’s novel serves as something of a meta-sequel to his critically-adored debut—and CGB favorite—Leaving the Atocha Station. There are no shortage of sequels in the summertime and readers may understandably frown at the thought of opening a book only to find droll callbacks and bigger explosions. The good news is that Ben Lerner is probably in the top five best writers under 40 category and the only big bang in 10:04 is the sound of Ben Lerner, a poet by trade, tearing the heart out of the contemporary lyric novel and leaving its skeleton, cold and accountable. What we get is not quite Adam from Leaving the Atocha Station but a similarly fraudulent young writer whose first novel was a conspicuously critical success, but 35 and with a book contract. Both Lerner and Williams (1922-94) contemplate the making and side-effects of American individualism, but Williams, over the course of three novels, envisioned its source, namely solitude, from three periods in Western history, working his way back to Ancient Rome in Augustus. The epistolary novel won the National Book Award in 1973 and has now been brought back into print by NYRB. That’s right, a book that won the National Book Award has been harder to find for some 10 years than Jedi Search, book one of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, presumably also in print.

Also expelled from the riptide of obscurity comes Don Carpenter’s (1932-95) The Hollywood Trilogy. Less of a trilogy, really, than three novels set in Hollywood by a screenwriter who redefined Western grit. Carpenter’s characters are acidicly ambitious and his take on their twisted and sundry pursuits of despair comes as close to an insider’s confession as any celebrity memoir, without, miraculously, sacrificing humanity. Plus, where else can you find three bracing, intelligent novels together for $19? It’s meant not to be answered. Please stop saying Costco. 

You know, before Monday night, I would have referred to Saint Paul as A great city to get coffee in! Or A great city to read about! But ever since we threw our first midnight release party in honor of Haruki Murakami, my apparent sarcasm has changed its inflection. Saint Paul? Try great city to stay up like a GANGSTER and… read in, still quietly. Approximately 40 people stayed up late for Lit Up Late to eat, drink, perhaps meet their neighbors, I’m not sure, I was in charge of drinks, and get their hands on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage the second it went on sale. We had a blast and thank everyone for coming and not dressing up. 

Speaking of parties. There ain’t no party like a paperback party cause a paperback party don’t Shhh! Our most anticipated paperbacks of late include Very Recent History by Choire Sicha, which Sarah calls “detached, deceptive,” and one of her “top five” books of the year; The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy, which I call “a concise and compassionate summer read, with staccato prose and fleeting, cross-stitched chapters,” and White Girls by Hilton Als, which several members of our staff are “very excited” to read, eventually.

Common Good Books celebrates the release of Haruki Murakami’s novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and the launch of Lit Up Late, a literary mini-series of late night events, with a cover of Peter and Gordon’s “I Go to Pieces.”

Reading Room

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"Discoveries" at Elliot Bay Book Company, in Seattle, WA

Roughly three days into my trip to Seattle, the irony of objects in my carry-on occurred to me like weather must to birds mid-flight. By my side, altogether, were two notebooks, a pen, iPod, dates, four granola bars and a copy of the following: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, Am I a Redundant Human Being? by Mela Hartwig, Pam Rehm’s rather slim third book of poems, The Larger NatureThe Chairs Are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, C.J. Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss (hardcover), Picasso’s Tears: Poems 1978-2013 by Wong May (hardcover), The Joshua Book by Zachary Schomburg (hardcover), Laughter in Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (to my count, that’s four hardcovers), A Short Introduction to the Ancient Greek Theater by Graham Ley, Virginia Woolf’s (best book) The Waves, Geoff Dyer’s magnificent Out of Sheer Rage, Daybook by Anne Truitt, The Event of Literature by Terry Eagleton and, wait for it, Wayne Muller’s A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough. I know, I know. I had the same reaction. 

What brought me to Seattle, you ask: A six month residence? To build a useless dam? No, in fact, vacation; a time intended to reduce stress, to lighten the supposedly proverbial load. To be fair, I began the trip with five books on my person, an acceptable—if not exactly frugal—number for the socially-inept traveler, stuck on stage two of Erikson’s hierarchy of development. For readers, time away—any time away—from home represents what I imagine a low fire came to stand for to our Hominidae ancestors: fear; stress; some early form of existential dread. Yes, there’s the Kindle, which I’ve given up not using to refer to all “devices” made for “users,” as if reading was analogous to plugging in one’s cell-phone. But books are different; books require attention like a country does one’s passport. Attention I was determined and defiantly ill-prepared to give as I sat onboard the plane like a one-man band quite literally adjusting to life “on the road.” And then I went to The Elliot Bay Book Company. 

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This just in from Univocal. Judith Balso’s Affirmation of Poetry, a philosophy of poetry through works by Wallace Stevens, Osip Mandelstam, Giacomo Leopardi, Fernando Pessoa and others. 

One Plus One

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At a recent store meeting, the staff of Common Good Books set sail on the topic of how best to sell more new books. “I could stand by the door with my shirt off,” said Joe. “We could trade books for coffee, or donuts,” I said, before reminding everyone in the group of what Joe had said. And before long we had our idea: spruce up the titles of densely nontransparent novels with subtitles culled from nonfiction books! For example, Jo Jo Moyes’ new book, One Plus One (more like One Plus Boring…), becomes One Plus One: My Year in a Woman’s Prison. You get the idea. Unless, of course, you have the donuts on you…

  1. If It Is Your Life: One American Mother Learns the Wisdom of French Parenting by James Kelman 
  2. 10:04: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Ben Lerner 
  3. Panic in a Suitcase: America’s First Woman in Space by Yelena Akhtiorskaya 
  4. Can’t and Won’t: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting: Stories by Lydia Davis 
  5. Lookaway, Lookaway: America’s First Tornado Chasers by Wilton Barnhardt
  6. Tigerman: What He Knew and When He Knew It by Nick Harkaway
  7. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: An Essay on Free Will by Haruki Murakami 
  8. Not That Kind of Girl: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Lena Dunham 
  9. Next Life Might Be Kinder: The Art and Science of Spontaneity by Howard Norman
  10. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, Probably by Dave Eggers

If You Liked “Sweetness #9”…

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Edan Lepucki, author of California, recently gave Stephan Eirik Clark’s debut novel, Sweetness #9, the “Lepucki Lift” on The Colbert Report, calling it, appropriately, “so good.” Here Clark recommends a few addictively good books of his own. Catch Clark in person on August 19th at Common Good Books.

The strange thing about book recommendations is that you have to rely on your memory to give them, and when you last read a book twenty years ago, you might have reason to doubt that memory. All the same, I can’t help but suggest you pick up Nude Men by Amanda Filipacchi, because with the exception of maybe Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I can’t remember another book making me laugh so hard. That the source of Fliipacchi’s humor is a relationship between a sexually-precocious 11-year-old girl and the flummoxed man who tries to fend off her advances is all the more astounding. The first paragraph should be enough to hook you: 

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Milan’s Top Fives

Bookseller and Patisserer…er

Top Five Books 

  1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith 
  2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  3. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides 
  4. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams 
  5. Corduroy by Don Freeman

Top Five Desserts 

  1. Bailey’s Cheesecake 
  2. Peach Cobbler 
  3. Chile-Chocolate Brownies
  4. Glazed Lemon Lavender Cake
  5. Dark Chocolate Mousse 

Hillary Rodham Clinton at Common Good Books, July 20th, 2014

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Good Books of Late

imageMost important things first: the blurbs on the back of James Kelman’s new book, If It Is Your Life (Other Press, 2014), are, omg, so funny. Don’t believe me? One of them says “Boobs”—The Good Times. Indeed. Kelman visited Common Good Books in 2013 to read from Mo Said She Was Quirky, a novel set in underclass London in a period of 24 hours. If It Is Your Life, a collection of short stories, takes place similarly inside the heads of Scotland’s destitute, but no less alive working poor. Kelman and his characters are casual, hysterical and moving all at once. And fans of his say that they feel healthier, more relaxed and ready to “enjoy life again.” 

An author who needs no introduction is back and would like your attention, please. At least, his estate would. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is now available in hardcover, which seems like an odd thing to say until you consider that the new Hemingway Library edition includes early drafts and deletions designed to show you what a giant pain in the ass it was for old Hemmy to revise and stitch together what many consider the greatest (and Papa Hem the hardest) work of his career. Hemingstein. Bumby. Oinboines. I’m done. What? I’m done. 

An author who needs a little introduction, hailed by Susan Sontag as “indisputably one of the half-dozen or so living American writers worth taking seriously,” James Purdy’s (1914-2009) short stories are collected for the first time in The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy (Liveright, 2014), after the response of focus groups to the alternative titles Purdy Good Short Stories and Purdy Does BejingPurdy’s work holds to the light a different sort of down and out, that of the American psyche. His early work, in fact, was deemed “disturbed” and printed privately in the United States. I imagine inside of a darkroom or seedy hotel. Which must have been hugely embarrassing and time-intensive. As if publishing wasn’t hard enough. 

Two books that wouldn’t be but are, or wouldn’t be if not for books, or something along those lines. are now in print: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s unfilmed screenplay St Paul (Verso Books, 2014), which adapts Paul’s text and legacy to the 20th century, and I Could See Everything (Coach House Books, 2014), a catalog of 46 paintings, with accompanying essays, by Canadian-bound artist and filmmaker Margaux Williamson, in honor of the 10th anniversary of a museum and show there that never took place. Its consequent publication means to all but blur the lines between contemporary modes of exhibition. Readers may recall that Margaux Williamson appeared once inauthentically before in Sheila Heti’s breakout novel “based on life” How Should A Person Be? But whether you couldn’t stop reading or rolling your eyes at Heti’s remembrances of things daft, Williamson’s art is that rare combination of intellectual, inviting and FREE! Just kidding. It’s not that imaginary. 

Deborah Harkness’s decidely awaited third book in her All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, is finally, conclusively here. So is Deborah Harness on August 5th. Click here for more information. That’s all for now. And remember, it’s not what you read, but who you are, based on what you read.

“My relationship to the unknown is in peril”

—   From Sorrow Arrow by Emily Kendal Frey (Octopus Books, 2014)
The “end” of the line for tickets to meet Hillary Clinton at Common Good Books on July 20th, 2014.

The “end” of the line for tickets to meet Hillary Clinton at Common Good Books on July 20th, 2014.

Art Books: Faster, Cleaner, The Same

And this is Common Good Books’ Art Section, newly trimmed in time for bikini season (practical how-to guides aren’t the only books with body image stuff). In honor of our “new and improved” Art Section, we take a look back on today’s date in 2012, when Joe, Georgia and I gave our Nonfiction Section a similar makeover with embitteredly different results, making every book inside it somehow harder to track down, to the point that it became a kind of game that no one talks about.

Correspondences: Interview with Laura Kasischke

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Laura Kasischke (pronounced Ka-ZISS-kee) was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for her collection Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). She has published nine novels and eight books of poetry, most recently The Infinitesimals (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She has also published the short story collection If a Stranger Approaches You. Kasischke is Allan Seager Colleagiate Professor of English Language & Literature at the University of Michigan. Our conversation took place over email between May-June, 2014. Learn more at laurakasischke.com

CGB: The Infinitesimals is full of concern for others: fathers and sons, “invisible passengers,” “the Annoyed, the Tired. / The Disturbed.” And yet the language of these poems accords to what the poet Amanda Nadelberg has called a “private logic.” How do you experience your language then enabling (or prohibiting) you to be in conversation as opposed to writing only for yourself?  

LK: I’m not sure, honestly, that I’m ever writing for anyone other than myself—except perhaps when I’m revising (which I don’t actually consider to be “writing”). I feel like I’m composing the poems mostly with music in mind—the sound of the words, and trying to make whatever needs to happen to link events or images in a poem sound as natural as possible. I hate that this sounds mystical and pretentious, but, well, it is a little mystical. I hope it’s not pretentious… I like, myself, poems that have the private logic you mention here. I like to be an eavesdropper when I’m reading a poem, and to have it work on me with atmosphere and suggestion and impression rather than to have the sense that the poet has written this for my benefit. So, either I like to read poems like that because it’s how I write, or I write poems like that because that’s what I like to read. But, really, I write first drafts of poems quickly, and because something is interesting to me, or a little urgent and strange, and I’m not thinking about logic, or a reader. As I’ve said, I do think about a poem more as a shared thing when I revise, but revision isn’t really where the real writing process takes place for me.

I don’t think that sounds pretentious at all. To linger for a moment on that urgency or “real process” of writing—or maybe ask a question about revision, I’m not sure—what is the work like of shaping or expecting every poem, every suddenness to turn into a book? Does the weight of comprehension or cohesion slow you down at any point? I’m thinking of the poem “For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike,” in which you write, I imagine her telling her friends, “It // hardly grazed me, but / this lady who saw it went crazy…” What’s the waiting like, in other words, from capturing, committing to that strangeness to seeing how it makes sense in a collection. 

I really never set out to write a book of poems, but am just writing individual poems. There isn’t, for me, ever a time when I think of a poem as being part of a collection until I start to assemble a collection—and then it’s more a matter of sorting and arranging. I don’t revise poems, or reconsider them, in context—I just jettison them if they don’t belong. I’ve usually simply written a great many new poems before I start thinking of putting them together, and if there are correspondences, it’s because, well, because I’m the only person who wrote them, and I wrote them over a period of time during which correspondences would occur because of my preoccupations. But, no, the Whole of the book has to do with the gathering and arranging, and isn’t something that ever crosses my mind when I’m writing a particular poem. 

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