Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is Your Opinion of the Human Species?

I had planned to read Guns, Germs, and Steel over the holidays. (Appropriate, right?) I guess I imagined it as a quiet time to relax over a sprawling non-fiction book. I stopped mid-way through the first thirty pages, after Jared Diamond was busily pointing out for the millionth time why his book was important (and how it wasn't racist).

This is something that annoys me to no end, and seems to happen fairly often with non-fiction: authors feel the need to preface the actual book with a declaration of relevance. Why? Isn't it really just an extended cover letter or jacket copy? I'm assuming because the book made it into print (and won the Pulitzer) that it is relevant, necessary, and not racist - you don't have to beat me over the head with it. And I've already started to read the book, you don't need to sell me on it.

Moving on:

I recommend reading this interview that John Yau did with Rosalyn Drexler published by The Brooklyn Rail in the summer of 2007. Something I love about the Rail is that their interviews come off as conversational, they allow their subjects space to digress, to tell stories about their friends and their lifestyles. In a world where most media boil down interviews to the most pungent five questions, and then even further for a single blocked stand-out quote, flipping through the Rail comes across as incredibly honest and relaxing.

"I don’t know what the right thing means? Nothing is right and nothing is wrong in art. Maybe it’s a bad thing to be open. (laughs) Maybe you should not reveal too much. However there’s almost nothing left to reveal. Every recipe has been imitated. People don’t even care if the soufflĂ© has fallen, or who first made it. Or even if the information is true or false. Or the art is true or false. What is the answer? What is the question? Ask me later. Right now I’m busy dying." -Rosalyn Drexler (her painting, The Dream, is above)

[See also, The Brooklyn Rail's interview with Sherman Drexler.]

For Christmas Eve we went to my cousin's house where her three daughters seemed to migrate from one electronic device to the next. It made me think of this recording that Studs Terkel did with StoryCorps in Chicago before he passed away, that lingers with me. It begins with Terkel asking, "What has happened to the human voice, vox humana, hollering, shouting, quiet talking, buzz?"

I recommend reading the transcript of the recording, or better yet, listening to it. What he says makes me feel sane.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Seattle's Antidote to the Kindle

I recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post talking about why I felt independent presses should accessorize more and how this could help to subsidize their publishing efforts. I mentioned a couple of presses that I felt did a good job of this, carelessly omitting one of my favorite indies, our good friends at Chin Music (and they probably have the coolest shirts of all!). Their shirts are perfectly in line with my belief that they are the best designed press making books today.
While I'm on the topic, I may as well recommend a couple of their books:
Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, is a moving depiction of Katrina, made all the more soul-stirring because of the knee-jerk emotive pull evident in the writing (it was written, edited, and produced within the first few months following the catastrophe).
Goodbye Madame Butterfly is my favorite book they've published. Written by Sumie Kawakami, the book delves into the sex lives, marriages, and relationships of modern Japanese women. Most interesting to me, is the story of the youngest female interviewee, whose view of marriage and sex is the most traditional of all, perhaps indicating the cyclical nature of generational trends.
Their newest book is Big in Japan, by M. Thomas Gammarino, which I haven't yet read. Gammarino will be reading at KGB Bar in NYC on December 21 with our own Xiaoda Xiao.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The People Who Watched Her Pass By - Chapter 1

Scott Bradfield's fifth novel, The People Who Watched Her Pass By, is due out April 2010 in the U.S. and May 2010 in Europe. Here is the first chapter:

Interested media or booksellers can request a galley by writing to brian[at]