Get Well, Kay!


We were saddened to learn recently about former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan's bike accident near her home in Fairfax, and all the more so by the extent of her injuries. While it sounds as though she is healing, we know all too well that the road to recovery requires its share of patience.


Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable --
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time's fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn't be
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.

(from Kay Ryan, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems)

Best (and patient!) wishes from all of us at Diesel as you mend.

Footnotes & End Notes

I know, I know . . . footnotes tend to be tedious and end notes annoying (all that flipping backing and forth!). Which is why we should celebrate the exceptions -- those not-so-few and exceedingly proud.

(1) Allen C. Shelton's bizarre book, Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, came out this fall with very little fanfare, but has over the winter knocked the socks off a few of our booksellers. A sociologist by trade, Shelton is a writer of Southern Gothic at heart. No summary would do justice to his baroque weaving of biography and cultural analysis. It simply must be experienced, likely in repeated readings. Those who are averse to end notes may at first squirm, his book nearly divided evenly between main text and notes, but the ping-ponging back and forth comes with its rewards. Here are two of my favorite examples from his copious notes, both about water:

43. A feral cat had wandered into the yard and the dogs had caught sight of the animal. One of the dogs was a hound called Smoky. He was a large blue tick. His bark was a low booming roar. There were at least two other dogs. Mom and I were outside. We saw the cat streaking across the grass with the dogs right behind it. How my mother was able to catch the cat is a miracle. She picked the animal up in her arms to save it from being torn apart. The cat bit her, leaving a deep cut on her forearm. She dropped it and the dogs were on it. In desperation, the cat jumped into the lake and tried to swim away. This lake had a hole in its deepest part through which all the water drained away every summer. The dogs jumped in and the cat was done for. They tore it to pieces. The barking stopped. The cat’s carcass half sank into the muddy water. My mother was treated for rabies. The shots were extremely painful. I have been terrified of these shots since I was a small child and read about Louis Pasteur in my child’s encyclopedia. My mother stepped in front of fate and she bore it.
70. [...] I’m not an especially religious man, though some would quibble with that. I’ve read the Bible. I used to be quite proficient in what Southern Baptists call sword drill. I could whip to any book and verse in the Bible called out. That was years ago. I still have several Bibles. I used to preach to the Pentecostals from a black lamb-leather New Jerusalem translation. It was a Catholic Bible and many were worried. At a church retreat in Panama City, Florida, I did a teaching from a translation of the New Testament by Richard Lattimore, the Greek scholar who translated the Iliad and the Odyssey. The cover had a close-up of a putrefying corpse’s face. The eyes were open. The cheeks were purple. He was looking for Jesus. The rawness of the translation caused confusion. As I read the familiar passage of Jesus walking on the sea’s surface, stripped of the King James English, hands went into the air grabbing for Jesus as if they, like Peter were sinking. Several began speaking in tongues. There was a liquidness to the sound that slowly covered their mouths as if they were now underwater.


(2) Mary Jo Bang's new translation of Dante's Inferno has been justifiably praised since it was released. Hers is an exquisite modern rendering of the masterpiece, and will for many beckon a return visit to Hell. Easily missed, though, at the reader's loss, are Bang's Translator Notes.


 (3) This one is cheating a little. Okay, it's cheating a lot. Need we, after all, an excuse to listen to Patty Smith recite, with musical accompaniment, Allen Ginsberg's "Footnote to Howl"? I think not. (Oh, and as it is Allen Ginsberg and all ... NSFW!)

Recommendations Abound

1) Is there anything better than recommending a poet you recently discovered? I'm leaning toward a sound and loud, "No, there is not."

E.g., I encourage you all, far and wide, to find yourself a copy of Tom Hennen's exquisite Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems (Copper Canyon, 2013).  Haunted by the rural plains of his Midwestern Minnesota, with its chilling winters and unsentimental summers, Hennen's poetry veers a bit dark but is rarely cynically so. I'm especially fond of his poem "Pick a World." Those final lines of each stanza, oh my!

One world
Includes airplanes and power plants,
All the machinery that surrounds us,
The metallic odor that has entered words.

The other world waits
In the cold rain
That soaks the hours one by one
All through the night
When the woods come so close

You can hear them breathing like wet dogs.



 2) Rebecca Solnit and Robert Macfarlane are two of our favorite authors interested in, for lack of a better term, place -- where we are and want to be, what it looks like, and why it's always in the process of changing. When they speak up, we listen. 

E.g., their conversation with Orion Magazine about the evolving state of nature writing. Don't have time for the full conversation? Then definitely check out their respective lists of recommended books and essays










3) Then there are recommendations we accept only a little begrudgingly.

E.g., those in Natasha Vargas-Cooper's piece, "Why We Should Stop Teaching Novels to High School Students." I confess, I find her logic here one-half maddening and the other half flat-out wrong. And yet . . . her list of recommended non-fiction fit for high school students is pretty fantastic. Don't let me jade you on the argument, though. Decide for yourself. We can argue about it in the store sometime. 

From the Internet's Many Worlds

1) From the world of the blogs . . .

Is there a better literary blog than the one put together by the Bay Area poet Tom Clark, Beyond the Pale? I'm not sure there is. Day in and day out, in his curated collection of photographs and excerpts, alongside his new poems and background notes set in the comments, something fresh and vital occurs. Very highly recommended you make this a regular stop. 




2) From the world of Twitter . . .

We've extolled the wonder of Teju Cole's Twitter feed before. Today, though, he managed to outdo himself. Over the course of 35 retweets he weaves together a story, complete with narrator and chorus, beginning and end. It is a thing to behold. It begins thus ... (oh, and remember, you have to read from the bottom up) ...



3) From the world of old media . . .

Michael Robbins waxes sonic about the joys of words made right -- you know the ones, that roll around the mouth and through the lips like Sam Beckett's pebbles -- in his gorgeous, rich contribution to the Chicago Tribune

"One can go too far. Many readers have felt that Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Swinburne and Stein do, although I am not among their number (or, rather, their going so far is precisely what I love about them). Samuel Johnson could not abide Shakespeare's fondness for 'quibbles,' or puns (a special case of sound's enhancement of referentiality): 'A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapors are to the traveler,' leading him astray. ... [Wallace] Stevens occasionally poked fun at his own tendency to sonic boisterousness — 'Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,' 'With his damned hoobla-hoobla-hoobla-how,' 'This trivial trope reveals a way of truth.'

"In the field of phonaesthetics, which exists, the phrase 'cellar door' is sometimes regarded as the most beautiful-sounding phrase in the English language, though no one can say by whom, exactly."

A Quorum of Quotes

1) Q & A with one of Diesel's favorites, George Saunders. (via BuzzFeed)

"I’ve sometimes felt, because of my background, a little under-informed about and under-engaged with contemporary political and intellectual issues. When I was young I didn’t live anywhere that had any real artistic life going on, and I’ve always regretted that, sort of — like, “I was never part of a movement.” And I think great works of art often come out of the sort of pressure-cooker environment that Miller describes NYC as being in the 1930s and 1940s. That’s where a person gets the deep immersion in certain ideas and artistic assumptions and then — if he’s lucky — he pushes those ideas and approaches forward, just a bit closer to the goal line. That’s called artistic progress. I’ve often felt a little vacant vis-à-vis the artistic movements of my time, and like the ideas that underlie my work are primarily emotional — they come out of my direct experience, but maybe not informed enough by bigger theoretical and political and critical ideas."


2) Orhan Pamuk writes beautifully about the poet C. P. Cavafy. (via the New York Times)

"There are some poets whose work we read with their lives in mind, and what we know of those lives ensures that their poetry leaves a more enduring impression. C. P. Cavafy is, for me, just such a poet. Like Edgar Allan Poe, like Franz Kafka, Cavafy makes no explicit reference to himself in his best and most stirring work; and yet, with every poem we read, we cannot help thinking of him. "


3) Michael Greenberg encourages you to read the lectures of Jorge Luis Borges (via the New YorK Review of Books)

"Professor Borges is an important addition to his work. These are not academic lectures but spoken essays. Borges’s students didn’t record these classes out of reverence for their teacher, but because it would help them prepare for exams. This messy, casual approach is one of the book’s great strengths. The editors have expertly tidied up the text, hunting down nearly indecipherable references that the students had phonetically transcribed—“Wado Thoube” was the poet Robert Southey, for instance, and “Bartle” was the philosopher George Berkeley. What we end up with is the flavor of Borges’s voice, with its spontaneous digressions and self-entertained ease—his deepest literary influences and concerns, unmediated by the polished and revised nature of the written word. "

Chockablock with Videos

(1) Stop the presses! This week New Directions released a new collection of Stevie Smith poems. If you're unfamiliar with her casual greatness, familiarize yourself. 


 (2) Readers of this space will know that this blogger is a fan of (okay, maybe a little obsessed with) Orson Welles. He also adores Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Put the two together . . . well, then it's a holiday miracle, is what it is!




(3) Last but not least, three years ago today the world lost one of its geniuses. Sing along with the Captain, "I may be hungry but I sure ain't weird." 


Links Within Links: Keep Clickin'

1) All of these are worth reading and discussing. ("Five Nelson Mandela tributes that will change how you think" -- via the Washington Post)




“Mourn the statesman and the revolutionary and the terrorist and the neoliberal and the ethicist and the pragmatist and the saint and don’t you dare try to discard or remove any part of that whole. Celebrate him? Sure, but then make sure you’re willing to consider emulating him.”








2) It's said that you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. I say, though, that's a loot of hooey. Exhibit A: this wonderful selection of fifty covers from the past year 


3) Every year -- and 2013 is no different -- you can't read a newspaper or listen to the radio without happening across a new "Best of" reading list. It's hard to keep track. Fortunately, there are people out there who are doing the keeping-track for us and collecting on a single, cheat-sheet page all the titles most often cited on these lists.

Point ... Counterpoint: Three Links

(1) Sure, the New York Times' "100 Notable Books of 2013" is a worthy list (as is their Top 10 list) . . . but it doesn't hold a candle to the Top 50 for the year at our locations in Brentwood and Malibu or the Top 100 in Oakland. I dunno, though. I'm biased here: you be the judge.


(2) Forget what you've heard or what the drone-dreaming loss-leaders of the internet want you to think: "How 'Indie' Bookstores Survived (and Thrived)" (via The Atlantic)

In 2012, with Fifty Shades (among other titles) driving their business, sales at the independents were up almost 8 percent. Now that the holiday season is underway, Teicher and his ABA colleagues have every hope of matching or exceeding that growth, not with soft porn, perhaps, but rather from expert book-selling . . .


(3) GPS devices are nice and all for helping you get from to A to C without always having to go through B, but I'm pretty sure they're never going to be this cool. (via The New York Review of Books)

"The more localized, practical maps come, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the Romans, concerned about assessing the extent of their empire, measuring plots of land for taxation, and keeping track of their many roads, among other things. It was with the Romans that the so called itinerary—the land based version of a periplus—began. The itinerary was, like the periplus, a written text, though perhaps the most fascinating map in the exhibit, the Peutinger Map, can be seen as a graphic itinerary. The Peutinger Map illustrates the Roman empire’s networks of roads from Spain and Britain in the west to India in the east. Displayed in a twenty-two-foot-long replica, it is a thirteenth-century copy of a fourth-century edition of an even older Roman map"


Maps are all the rage these days. Interested in reading (and seeing more)? Check out Jerry Brotton's A History of the World in 12 Maps and Simon Garfield's On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks.


Credit Where Credit is Due


 We agree with Laura Miller. Credit where credit is due this year: the National Book Award did a great job.

"I was surprised to learn that James McBride’s "The Good Lord Bird" was the “surprise” winner of the National Book Award for fiction last night. Then again, it’s hard to begrudge working journalists a decent angle on the prize during any year in which neither Jonathan Franzen nor Philip Roth has published a book that can be “snubbed” by the panel. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to learn that a novel can be characterized as “little-mentioned” even after it’s made the cover of the New York Times Book Review. "











This, That, & the Other: Links!

1) In December 1965 the editors of Holiday Magazine asked some of America's most distinguished authors and essayists to highlight some books that might otherwise go (or have gone) overlooked. The contributors did not let them down. 






"Before the agonized epic of Warlock is over with—the rebellion of the proto-Wobblies working in ­the mines, the struggling for political control of the area, the gunfighting, mob violence, the personal crises of those in power—the collective awareness that is Warlock must face its own inescapable Horror: that what is called society, with ­its law and order, is as frail, as precari­ous, as flesh and can be snuffed out and assimilated back into the desert a easily as a corpse can. It is the deep sensitivity to abysses that makes Warlock, I think, one of our best American novels. For we are a nation that can, many of us, toss with all aplomb our candy wrapper into the Grand Canyon itself, snap a color shot and drive away; and we need voices like Oakley Hall’s to remind us how far that piece of paper, still fluttering brightly behind us, has to fall."

-- Thomas Pynchon







2) Crowd-source your poetry-reading voice.  (via the Brooklyn Academy of Music blog)

In celebration of Tony Award nominee Fiona Shaw's upcoming performances of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic account of bird-related misadventures on the high seas, we're partnering with the Poetry Foundation's Record-a-Poem project to collect your interpretations of (an excerpt from) Coleridge’s classic rhyme.

Deadline for submissions is December 1, 2013 at midnight.

In a few weeks, we’ll edit together a single crowd-sourced reading featuring as many of your voices as possible and post to the blog. And if you participate through Soundcloud, your entire reading will be preserved as part of Record-a-Poem for poetry posterity.
3) Literary recipes for your holiday celebrations (via Biblioklept)