Bookseller and Patisserer…er
Top Five Books
Top Five Desserts
Most 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 Bejing. Purdy’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.
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.
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.
I have a soft spot for books that are difficult to categorize. In part, because I don’t have to shelve them. But also because it would seem that their authors are taking the trip along with me. That before it became a “memoir” or “biography” or fancy word for essay, the book—if written honestly—remained a mystery. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff isn’t a mystery. It is, pretty plainly, a memoir; a personal history, in fact, of a year in New York spent answering phones and eschewing form letters in favor of writing more measured responses to the infamous author’s legion of literal followers; a year that may strike readers as novel yet leaves one nostalgic for the very reason that “the agency” (the book’s main, ship-like setting) for which Rakoff is employed, if not the mid-nineties in general, is tugged like a rope between eras upset by technology. At least insofar as technology’s charms, its Dictaphones and fax machines, pertain to the office environment (see “ship-like”). And here is where the hiccups begin, the dice refuse to roll. Here is where I take back what I said, or at least add to it the caveat that if My Salinger Year isn’t mysterious, its simplicity is difficult to grasp. Here is where the book reveals itself to be unsure of how what happens when we’re young informs the people we become. Here is where Joanna Rakoff writes, while strolling the city on her lunch hour, “Of course, I thought, a grand hotel in New York—the cultural capital of the country—would have a bookshop.” And spotting in the window of said bookshop a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye, on sale for $25,000, compares its “brilliant red” and whiter white to that of the edition that sits across from her at the nameless “agency.” In fact, she writes, “… a few copies of this first edition, with its raging horse, sat across from my desk. I had memorized the fonts on their spines. I saw them in my sleep.”
Recently, Bookseller Nina and I attended an advance screening of The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s wildly popular book for young adults. What follows is a transcript of our conversation about the film, recorded in front of Joe.
Colin: As booksellers, we’re expected to have read at least mostly everything. From Atkinson to Hiaasen to books by Nancy Carlson first published in the ’80s (a few of which I actually have read and liked), which is why I love films based on books. I like audiobooks, too. But you can’t listen to your opinion of an audiobook in less than two hours. Plus, there’s something about maybe getting it wrong, you know? And then having a conversation about it? Anyway, what did you think of the film adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars? Did it meet your expectations? Did you have any?
Nina: Well, let me start by saying that I reject the expectation that I should read everything. I read whatever I feel like reading at the moment, and I only read one book at a time. Maybe that makes me an anomaly of a bookseller, but it’s what makes me a happy reader. That said, I am good at tracking what people buy and making recommendations based on those purchases. I’m like a card-counter, for books.
Now: I had no expectations for The Fault In Our Stars because I didn’t read it. Oops. As a staunch read-before-you-watch advocate, I am ashamed of myself. But I’m also proud of myself for the spontaneity with which I bought my advance screening tickets for the film. I’ve been trying to be more spontaneous.