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 soufflé 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]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unhealthy Mental Excitement

For whatever annoying reason I can't locate the exact blurb that Donald Barthelme gave for Nog upon its original publication, though I do recall it being something to the tune of ". . . full of unhealthy mental excitement."

Bud Parr recently pointed out to me that Barthelme included Nog in a list he made of books he'd recommend reading, which he passed on to his class at the time at the University of Houston. I haven't read most of the books Barthelme lists, but those I have read I genuinely loved.

In particular, I've been reading Max Frisch recently. I loved Homo Faber, which I finished a short while back. I was inspired to read Homo Faber knowing that Rudy Wurlitzer had adapted the book into the screenplay for Voyager, a film directed by Volker Schlondorff and starring Sam Shepard. And I've started I'm Not Stiller, a used copy of which I picked up at Spoonbill and Sugartown, though recently reissued by Dalkey Archive. So far, I think its incredibly brilliant.

I'm looking forward to reading more Frisch, as well as the rest of those recommendations made by Barthelme. It is wonderful that his list survived.

Friday, November 06, 2009

If I Was in NYC I'd be at Philoctetes

Francis Levy, author of Erotomania: A Romance, is one of the co-directors of the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination. They host truly valuable panels, films, and discussions on a wide range of topics.
Here are some upcoming events:
Nov. 7 - The Future of Healthcare, with participants: Robert Doar, Jonathan Jacobs, Diane Meier, Helen Morik, Gregory Nersessian.
Nov. 8 - The Wingdale Community Singers (band that Rick Moody is in).
Nov. 12 - Poetry and Microgenesis, poetry reading and discussion with Jason W. Brown and Steven Meyer.
Nov. 14 - Mathematics and Beauty, with participants: Eva Brann, Brian Greene, Mario Livio, Barry Mazur, Elaine Scarry.
Nov. 15 - The Inventions of Bob Dylan, with participants: Christopher Ricks, Matthew von Unwerth, Sean Wilentz.
The Philoctetes Center is located at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, at 247 East 82nd Street in NYC.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Is It Contagious?

from Amy Koppelman:

I started a company called Is It Contagious? Books. We publish children's books designed to explain and answer questions about the most common diseases. Our first titles are "Is Cancer Contagious?" and "Is Epilepsy Contagious?" Our next title, "Is Diabetes Contagious?," will be available in December. While these topics may sound depressing, many families will face them at some point.

The book idea started several years ago, when a close family member got cancer. [My children] asked [my husband] and I so many questions, most of which we couldn't answer: "What is cancer?" " Why does it happen?" "How is it diagnosed?" "How is it treated?" "Is it Contagious?"... Later that night, I began looking for cancer books for children. There were several on the market, but they are either very childish (a story about a dinasaur's mother) and/or scary (pictures of tumors and children with bald heads). Our books are different.

Please visit us at: There you will see sample pages of the books. I think you'll agree that the books are well written and Vern Kousky's illustrations are both engaging and informative. [from Eric O.: Vern Kousky is also responsible for the cover design for I Smile Back.]

This is more than just a business to me. My mother-in-law died a little over a year ago. Walking through the hospital hallways and seeing both children and adults stricken by cancer and various other diseases made me realize that I had to do more with my life than just write novels about unhappy women. My hope is that these books will help dispel fear and enable better dialogue between family members, doctors, and friends. In truth, there is no explaining the inexplicable. My mother-in-law was a vibrant, loving, devoted mother and grandmother. Is Cancer Contagious? couldn't explain her death, but it certainly would have made it easier to answer some of the complicated questions my children asked.

Please know that while Is It Contagious? is set up as a business, a substantial percentage of each sale goes to a like-minded charity.


Amy Koppelman is the author of I Smile Back.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Real Darkness

I'm really proud to be publishing a novel by Xiaoda Xiao called The Cave Man. I believe that his voice and his story are incredibly important. Plenty of books feel necessary to me, but this one seems essential.

It was disturbing to see China positioned as the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair. One good thing that came out of it, though, were the voices of dissent in the press, from writers, and from publishers. (I imagine that if the officials of the fair had any interest other than China as an emerging market, the jist of the event would have focused upon the country's censorship.)

I enjoyed some of the coverage by Publishing Perspectives from the fair, one piece called "Dissidents Have Their Day" and another called "The Red Piano Won't Play in China." The latter is by Australian publisher Andrew Wilkins about a Chinese printer refusing to print his children's book for censorship reasons.

Wilkins says, "Even as I share the excitement of seeing China as this year’s Guest of Honour, I’m also concerned that we have a Guest that still seems interested in censoring not only its own people, but the rest of the world as well when it can."

Publishers Weekly reviewed The Cave Man a month or so back, called it "excellent and moving," and in their most recent issue they've published an interview with Xiao, in which he talks about his own time spent in solitary confinement (for reading banned literature smuggled under the cover of one of Mao's red books), his sentiments toward Chinese prison literature of the '80s, and what he hopes to accomplish with his first novel.

Xiao says: "I hope to make people understand what we went through collectively, the terror in its daily and hourly incarnation. Just like Kafka, you know? It's a danger for us all when a society accepts this as normal. I was arrested and accused of attacking "the great leader's image" in 1971, and they sentenced me to a five-year prison term. I stayed in prison for seven years, five as a prisoner and two more as a laborer. This is what is happening in China right now. This is the real world, the real darkness that I've experienced. Not what they say, or people from the outside see, not the propaganda that's talked about."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

He Was the Man For His Time and Place.

I wrote a rather nostalgic piece on The Rumpus cataloging my lethargy towards e-books. In it, I mention Larry Shainberg (author of Crust) telling me a story about being with Samuel Beckett when he received his author-copies of one of his books. As I was writing the piece, I asked Larry to tell me the story again and this is what he wrote:
"I've forgotten which of Beckett's books I told you about. It was one he published when about 78 years old. After a cast party for the London production of Endgame (the one I wrote about, for which he invited me to watch rehearsals), I walked him -- across Hyde Park -- back to his hotel because he was a bit drunk and I was worried to see he'd make it. At the front desk, they presented him with a hand-delivered copy, the first he'd seen, and as we rode up in the elevator together (I wasn't about to leave him before he got to his room), he showed off the book to me as if it were his first... "'What do you think? Nice cover, isn't it?'"

"His enthusiasm, I should say, was in no way unusual. In general, he always seemed like a beginner in his work."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Aubrey Rhodes

Aubrey Rhodes is a pretty amazing collage artist out of San Francisco. Above is her collage-painting of Superman, called "The Enemy Within."

I'm having trouble downloading more pictures of her work from her website, but you can just skidaddle on over there yourself to check out the rest.

She also did the cover for Joshua Mohr's second novel, Termite Parade, which we're incredibly excited about.

flOOk Books

I used to keep these Moleskine notebooks that everybody else had, which were black and generic. I'd throw stickers on them to spice them up. After a month, I'd tear off the stickers and try to put new ones on. It was fairly redundant. And messy and unattractive.

I found these incredibly rad notebooks - Fluke Books - that are made from letterpress scraps from the Tara Books workshop. Each notebook I've seen has been gorgeous and unique. I prefer the one I have to the pics I could scrounge up online, but you can catch the drift from this picture.

Also, peep this video on Tara's process of making books:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making the Case for Technology: A Younger Generation’s Perspective on the Present Publishing Predicament

by JK Evanczuk

One of the most fascinating things about the technological revolution sweeping over the publishing industry is not the products of the revolution itself—that is, digital readers, hybrid books, and the evolution of the Internet—but rather all the speculation that all this new technology has inspired. I don’t think there’s ever been a revolution before with so much real-time commentary.

I can’t count how many articles I’ve read decrying technology—online articles, mind you, and let’s not ignore the irony inherent in that. People aren’t reading anymore, they say. They’re too busy playing digital Scrabble or Tweeting about what they ate for breakfast. It’s the end for the publishing industry! We’re doomed! And all the doomsaying is to be expected, of course, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned during this technological revolution, it’s that People Don’t Like Change. Furthermore, people are reacting to incomplete information, and making wild conjecture based on a digital-literary climate that hasn’t been seen through yet.

That said, let me make some wild conjecture of my own.

The way I see it, technology is a wonderful, wonderful thing for literature. Thanks to the Internet we can discover new books and publishers and discuss our favorite stories with interesting people outside our own literary circles, whom we’ve perhaps never met in person. Thanks to the Kindle and the iPhone we can take our favorite books with us—we can take entire libraries with us—and even download new novels on-the-go. Technology makes it exceedingly easy to discover and enjoy literature.

I understand why technology is causing such a mighty ruckus right now—why mess around with something so ancient and sacred as the printed word?—but I think what all the hubbub ultimately comes down to is this: are people still reading? And they are, more than ever before. Emerging technological formats and shifting consumer preferences are forcing publishers to restructure their operations accordingly, but that’s all it is. Restructuring. Which is markedly different than “the end of publishing.”

Like the music and movie industries are currently re-examining their operations in the face of new formats and digital piracy, the publishing industry will have to take a good hard look at itself and figure out how to make itself sustainable, whether that’s by charging higher prices for e-books or with less conventional methods, such as including advertisements in their books or turning their authors into rock stars and charging fans steep prices to see them on tour, stadium-style.

These ideas might seem a little outlandish, sure. But then again, maybe that’s what we need, because the old methods aren’t working anymore. The publishing industry isn’t what it used to be. But I don’t think that’s anything to worry about, in the long-term anyway. Things change. That’s the way of the world. The only difference about what’s happening now is that the change in question is big and abrupt, and because of that People Don’t Like It.

While I’m just beginning the heyday of my own generation and therefore cannot personally attest to the struggles of the publishing industry during earlier generations, as far as I can tell literature has always had to contend with The Next Big Thing. First it was the radio, then the film, then television. Now it’s technology, manifest in a medley of forms. But literature prevailed then. It will prevail now.
JK Evanczuk is the founter of LitDrift, a blog about storytelling in the 21st century.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

This Made Me Break Out the Camera and...

The UPS guy made my day when he delivered our copies of Rudolph Wurlitzer's second and third novels, Flats and Quake, which we're reissuing this month in a back-to-back or 69ed edition.

Similar to both Nog and The Drop Edge of Yonder, this edition of the two novels features original photographs by Rudy's wife, the celebrated photographer Lynn Davis. It's been really incredible to couple their work like this and I've been pleased with the enthusiastic feedback we've received. (In particular, the cover to Flats makes my spine tingle.)

And in my excitement, I'm also posting Michael Greenberg's truly marvelous introduction, which, after I first read it, inspired me to revisit immediately both of these novels, which I devoured as if for the first time. Which is more than you can ask for in an introduction.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This Kid Is Like...

I've enjoyed reading which authors and books Joshua Mohr's first novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me have been compared to. There's been Denis Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Haruki Murakami, and Franz Kafka.

I really enjoyed Darby Dixon III's well-written review in The Collagist, which brings up Michel Gondry:

Joshua Mohr’s debut novel, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, is where Michael Gondry would go if he went down a few too many miles of bad desert road. Replace the director’s Science of Sleep-style clouds-of-cotton whimsy with harsh whiskey and hot sand and you get a sense for the dark world Mohr constructs. Dark, yet not pitch black: he pits his vision of ugly realities against one of basic human kindness. It is this tension that gives his engaging novel its emotional power."

And, today, Some Things got another truly awesome write-up in Fiction Writers Review, by Tyler McMahon, who, in one review, brought up Bright Lights, Big City, Fight Club, Less Than Zero, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, and Jesus' Son. Oh, and Nirvana's Nevermind. Peep this:

"If you’re one of those anachronistic thirty-somethings that still quaintly reads books then you may know the rare and exquisite pleasure of stumbling across one that seems to be written by, for, and about your contemporaries. I had that experience recently when I read Joshua Mohr’s debut novel. Imagine Fight Club if you were told about the schizophrenia on the first page, none of the personalities were as pretty as Brad Pitt, and the narrator spent the rest of the book with the gun in his mouth. The energetic prose [...] will likely draw comparisons to Bright Lights, Big City or perhaps Less Than Zero."

New Fall / Winter Catalog

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Better For You Than Spinach

Over at The Millions they got together a slew of folks and compiled a list of their favorite reads of the new millennium, in a post they dubbed "The Best of the Millennium." Most of the predictable big dogs are represented on the list (either in The Millions poll or that of their readers), which isn't a bad thing -- there's a reason writers win Pulitzers and other such awards -- and there are some pleasant surprises, like Kelly Link and Lynne Tillman.

Whenever I see a list I have to make my own. Rather than proclaim it to be my own favorite books of the new millennium, I'll say that it's simply comprised of those books published this century that I know I'll recommend far into the future. And, I'll refrain from listing any Two Dollar Radio titles, since my decision to publish them should be a recommendation on its own.

Here are some of my favorite reads published since 2000:

Zeroville, by Steve Erickson
I'm in awe of Erickson's creativity and imagination.

Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, by Wayne Koestenbaum
This is a brilliant and hilarious book, original and outrageously quirky.

Chinese Takeout, by Arthur Nersesian
My second favorite Nersesian novel (behind Manhattan Loverboy).

Do Everything in the Dark, by Gary Indiana
I frequently re-read the first several chapters of this novel repeatedly for inspiration. It's so beautiful it gives me chills.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Outer Dark is in my top-five list. I genuinely love McCarthy.

Southland, by Nina Revoyr
A safe bet to recommend to high-schoolers, aunts, etc.
All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman
This book is sweet, poetic, creative, and tender.
God Jr, by Dennis Cooper
Dennis Cooper, Dennis Cooper, Dennis Cooper. (That's me chanting.)
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
She's good.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Amazon for Indies x 100

I met the founder of Tubuk, Andreas Freitag, at BEA last May. He presented Tubuk to me as "an Amazon for indies." I think what they've created is amazing -- it's an Amazon for Indies x 100 -- and genuinely believe that this format will be the greatest game-changer for independent publishers online in the future.

Tubuk is an internet marketplace that only sells independently published titles from those presses they've invited to take part. But in addition, they've also created a forum where users create profiles and discuss books, authors, and literature in general. Think of it more as a Facebook-Amazon-Goodreads hybrid.

Presently, there are a tremendous number of venues for books to be sold online, but none of them cater strictly to indies and most of them rely heavily upon paid-placement, which means that unless you're searching for a specific book or author you may have trouble finding it. And once you do, they'll try to cajole you into buying a "similar" title by saying "if you like this, you might like...", which isn't based on similarity but rather on whether someone paid them to say that they're related.

Indiebound services independent bookstores. In recent memory, nearly all Indiebound Picks have come from corporate houses. Believe me, I'm not complaining since I imagine that this is at least partly due to the fact that it is somewhat expensive for publishers after their title has been selected to actually take part in the program. And also because there are great books published by big presses., I believe, is the most level playing field for indie presses online and I love what they've managed to create, which feels like an online extension of their inspiring store. But it's in their best interest to serve all publishers, large or small. Again, I'm not complaining.

Amazon accounts for less than 3% of our total sales (which is why I don't feel nervous saying they're big and evil and unhealthy for society at large) while sales directly to independent bookstores make up over 35%. That's a truly huge difference. And indie bookstores don't charge us mysterious marketing fees.

I don't believe that there can be a replacement for an authentic corner bookshop, but for those of us stranded in areas of the country without many options apart from box stores, the idea of forging an online community akin to the experience of shopping at an indie bookstore is inspiring.

Now, what we need is for Tubuk to bring their model to the U.S.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Books I Paid Green Money For (or got for free).

Had a blast, as always, at the Brooklyn Book Festival. In speaking with some other publishers present, we seem to be of agreement that Brooklyn is the most fun, casual, and amusing fair we attend.

Here are some books I bought, traded for, or had given to me over the course of the long weekend:

Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada
The Open Curtain, by Brian Evenson
Ray of the Star, by Laird Hunt
Meet Me in the Moon Room, by Ray Vukcevich
Hiding Out, by Jonathan Messinger
Scorch Atlas, by Blake Butler
Eleutheria, by Samuel Beckett
Big in Japan, by Thomas Gammarino
April 1908 Bill Daniel's Mostly True, The West's Most Popular Hobo Graffiti Magazine

Joshua Mohr Reading Dates.

Joshua Mohr, author of Some Things That Meant the World to Me and the forthcoming Termite Parade, has added some additional reading dates in the Bay Area.

Sept. 24 - Dog Eared Books, 8:00, Babble On reading series

Oct. 6 - University of San Francisco (MFA reading series), 7:30

Oct. 17 - Litquake's Litcrawl event, Artillery Gallery, 8:30

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Brooklyn Book Festival

We're getting amped up for the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend, at Brooklyn Borough Hall. We'll be in booth #8, which is somewhere in the thick of it, arm's-length from the Small Beer (#6) and the Coffee House (#5) tables.

We're also pretty excited to have a handful of titles to display from our pals at Chin Music Press and Featherproof Books. Both are killer presses with excellent titles, so it should be nice to have us all under one . . . canopy.

You'll be able to check out some Two Dollar Radio titles at future fair, festivals, or book-related happenings that Chin Music or Featherproof are at, including Portland's Wordstock, Seattle's new book fair, and AWP.

(Speaking of awesome-ness, we saw the guy with the fun tattoo at a posh hotel/bar in Chelsea where we were killing time before our distributor's open bar during sales conference. I forget the name of the place, but I'll remember that tattoo anywhere. I did a Google image search for "fun" and his pic showed up.)


by Francis Levy

Big German compound words radiate authority. They’re verbal weapons guaranteed to neutralize your opponent.

Vergangenheitsbewältigung (reckoning with the past) and Gesellschaftsgeschichte (the history of society) are the big guns. But even smaller ones can be quite useful, like Fehlleistung (Freudian slip), Wissenschaft (knowledge), and Leidenschaft (a passion of the kind that engulfs Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde). It’s truly wonderful how these German compounds produce meaning in the manner of a Hegelian dialectic. Gemeinschaft (society) carries a certain weight, especially when offered up as part of a double barrel, as in the classic sociological text Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.

Vergangenheit means the past, but it sounds like something the Hells Angels might do, or perhaps that’s Vergangenbang.

Then of course there’s Latin. Lucretius wrote De Rorem Naturae, which is translated as The Order of Things, and Seneca’s only comedy is Apocolocyntosis, or The Pumpkinification of the Emperor Claudius on His Way to Heaven (a long-winded translation if there ever was one). Another favorite is apologia pro vita sua, which means defense of one’s life.

As for the French, only faute de mieux (for want of something better) or the overused plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose (the more things change, the more they are the same) and Louis XV’s famous après moi le déluge come to mind.

Latin has mystique and French is pithy, but the German compound words convey entire ideologies and philosophical systems. Who can ever forget the Nazi’s infamous Lebensborn (fount of life).

In 1066, when William the Conqueror invaded England, he made French the language of the upper classes, leaving the Anglo Saxon of Chaucer, with its German roots, as an indigenous language whose most famous word is still fuck. In Bohemia, the Slavic language that became modern Czech was relegated to the demotic culture, while German became the cosmopolitan language of writers like Franz Kafka. Peter the Great attempted unsuccessfully to Europeanize Russia by adopting French as the language of the aristocracy, though neither Pushkin nor Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy or Gogol were ever tempted to write their masterpieces in French.

Still, there is nothing like the roar of a German howitzer to perk up someone's ears. It’s like answering “Harvard” when someone asks where you went to school. When conversation drags, a well placed Weltanschauung or Verfremdungseffekt can get things rolling again. The late Pina Bausch founded Tanzteatre Wurpertal—the very name inspires reverence. Then there was the Princess von Thurn und Taxis, whom some people referred to simply as the Princess von buses and taxis.

Several years back, in the TLS, the critic George Steiner breathlessly invoked the Festschrift, commemorating the work of Mircea Eliade, the famed historian of religion. Festschriften are real conversation stoppers in otherwise mundane sentences. One can almost hear some vested scholar with pince-nez at Marburg, Freiburg, Heidelberg or one of the other great German universities whispering somberly, "Und jetzt kommen die Festschriften."
Francis Levy is the author of Erotomania: A Romance.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Spade's a Spade

I've had a bone to pick with HarperStudio since their inception. Or maybe it's their presentation in the media, which has been rather naively portrayed as being something more original and grand than it truly is.

It all began for me -- my itch, shall we call it? -- after reading an article in the April 3, 2008 edition of the Business section of the New York Times by Mokoto Rich. The article was dubbed "Book Unit to Skip Advances and Share Profits." For anyone aware of independent publishing on even a marginal scale, this headline alone is worthy of The Onion.

It felt as though Rich re-typed the press release, which was annoying. At no point did she challenge her subjects when they were referring to their project as "experimental" or "revolutionary."

Other venues, such as New York Magazine, in an article entitled "The End," seemed to pick up the thread and accept this misperception of HarperStudio as unique and/or newsworthy. Shelf Awareness, the industry e-newsletter, devoted an entire issue to HarperStudio (I certainly hope they billed them).

I don't mean to imply that I believe this practice began with independent publishing. (I seem to recall a story of Tom Hanks in his prime accepting a lesser fee in exchange for profit-sharing.)

But I do think that if there is room for news in this charade -- especially for the Business section of the Times! -- it would be that a corporate publisher is mimicking the business practices of their smaller counterparts.
There, I've said it.

Dark Music

by Francis Levy.

I just saw a revival of Carol Reed’s 1949 The Third Man at Manhattan’s Film Forum as part of their Brit Noir series. The Third Man was made from the Graham Greene novel with a screenplay by the author. With so many recent headline stories about fraud and con artists, Greene’s Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is the ultimate con man. A figure of consummate evil, he’s diluted supplies of penicillin exacerbating an outbreak of childhood meningitis. But like all great con artists he’s also capable of creating faith and great allegiance in those who love him. The figure of Harry looms over the movie, like the discredited ideologies of fascism and Stalinism. It’s no coincidence that the famed collection of essays by disillusioned Communists Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Ignazio Silone, Richard Wright, Louis Fischer and Stephen Spender entitled The God That Failed was published the same year the movie was released. Harry is a creature who inhabits the infernal regions of Vienna (the sewers) and who at the same time is resurrected or brought back to life when he is thought to be dead. And the title of the movie both mocks and pays to another great belief system: the Catholicism that is a recurring theme in all of Greene’s work.

There are many iconic moments in the movie, in particular a scene recollecting Eisenstein’s famed Odessa Steps sequence from Potemkin in this case a child leading an angry lynch mob down a majestic flight of steps; there’s a referencing of Hitchcock’s Thirty Nine Steps where the figure of conscience the writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) finds himself on stage and brought up short by provocative questions from an audience member. The leitmotif of Harry’s shadow in the streets hearkens back to great German Expressionist films like Fritz Lang’s M.

But the greatest take is the famed Ferris wheel sequence where Harry offers the fourth rate metaphysics high above the Prater, the legendary Viennese amusement park.“Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?” The world is evil and Harry makes himself out to be not so bad by comparison “Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about suckers and the mugs - it’s the same thing. They have their five-year plan, so have I.”

The famed zither theme of The Third Man makes music out of darkness and accords with the black humor that runs throughout The Third Man, illustrated by Harry’s pithy view of human destiny, “…in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

The final sequence is essentially a déjà vu: a recapitulation of an earlier tracking shot in a cemetery. As the French say “tout ca change, tout c’est la meme chose.” Even with truth revealed, death and betrayal win out. Greene sardonic to the end posits conscience in the form of a writer of Westerns who has never heard of Joyce. And Holly’s final gesture of love and sacrifice is met with scorn from a woman who will walk out of his life forever.

Francis Levy is the author of Erotomania: A Romance.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Just Press the De-Frost Button.

An article in this past week's New York Times stuck out to me about teenagers' disinterest in Twitter. The article goes on to discuss the latest technological and internet crazes that have not been influenced by the younger generation, such as YouTube or iPhones or electronic readers. Which is interesting, because a lot of the fuel for the e-reader fire is driven by the concept that younger generations are growing up reading -- books, news, etc -- on screens of varying shape and size.

Most teenagers I know don't know what a Kindle is and the idea of purchasing their college textbooks as an electronic file is repugnant to them. (I'm sure, for their parents who most likely are responsible for footing the bill for the purchase of these textbooks, it's a different story.)

Of all my friends and family I know only one person who owns an e-reader and who is excited about it. That's my father-in-law, a recently retired school teacher who is an obsessive reader of the New York Times and the New Yorker, who has spent probably ninety percent of these last two years since his retirement travelling the world. An e-reader for him makes absolute sense and if I were in his position I would most likely own one as well (although, probably not for book reading).

In an interesting post on the new lit-site, the discussion of the younger generation's e-reader malaise is boiled down to this snippet: "[Technology is] so much a part of our lives that we feel comfortable finding new ways to use it -- like Twitter or Facebook. But our parents can only understand it if they use technology to replace something else that they're already familiar with. So they feel comfortable reading books on a Kindle, but we don't."

I guess it's kind of like the microwave: you can heat food up faster but it will be tough to chew around the edges and still frozen in the center, which makes for an uncomfortable experience.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Blame It on The Wire.

I was really looking forward to reading Richard Price's Lush Life, having set it aside for several weeks as a reward for finishing work. I couldn't help but be disappointed. Nearly all of the characters felt flat and lifeless or resembled rehashed composites from any other book in the genre.

On the upside: it's a breeze to read.

It might also be that all of the tremendously positive praise the book received set my expectations way too high, or simply that The Wire raised the bar as to what a story of crime fiction could entail. I think I'll stick with the latter.

This is Rad.

My experience with reading Dave Eggers is such: I was nonplussed by the last 350 pages of Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, thought How We Are Hungry was just okay, and loved everything about You Shall Know Our Velocity from the writing to the Scorpions song lyrics to the title to the stripped, skeletal cover design (McSweeney's edition). My point being, I'm not that well versed in the man's writing.
Eggers has become a weirdly polarized figure, probably because he's so likeable. LA Weekly ripped him a new one for the script he co-wrote for Away We Go, and he got a lot of gaff for his optimistic remarks concerning the state of print.
I can't help but think that irregardless of whether he's actually a good writer (which according to every new review of Zeitoun, he most certainly is), he's a really important cultural figure. He releases his hardcover editions through the indie press he founded and helped set up centers for disadvantaged inner-city youth. I mean, the guy has film reviewers giving top-billing to the screenwriter (do I just not read film reviews or does that not happen very often?). And, his readings (see above pic from LA's Skylight Books) incite the type of turn-out ordinarily reserved for Jodi Picoult or Stephanie Meyers.
Pretty rad.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Termite Parade Cover

Big thanks to the super-talented Aubrey Rhodes for designing the cover to Joshua Mohr's second novel, Termite Parade (due out June 2010). [Click on the image for a closer look at the detail.]

I encourage you to check out more of the artist's work at her website.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Joshua Mohr Reading.

Joshua Mohr, author of Some Things That Meant the World to Me and the forthcoming Termite Parade, reading as part of The Rumpus Reading Series in San Francisco:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Uniquely Calibrated Cultural Noise Filters

By Emily Pullen

After a somewhat frustrating week where it seemed like computers and databases and websites were crashing at every turn, it was refreshing to open a book and have it still work. There is something to be said for a technology that has been pretty reliable for the last 500 years or so. (RIP 8-track players and virtual reality.)

But it also got me thinking about the relationship between art and technology, and how there seems to be a certain proto-phase of development where the vision for the art is there, but the technology is still being honed by scientists. I'd like to look back, way back, to photography as an example, and then forward to digital as a literary medium.

In the early 19th century, polymaths who wanted to use technology to improve their art (like Louis Daguerre) partnered with inventors and chemists to attempt to create lasting photographic images. Fine artists probably thought the scientific tinkering was more akin to alchemy than art, and it took several decades for the technology to develop into something easily utilized by artists. Even today, photography hasn't lost its technical roots -- after framing the shot and clicking the shutter, you still have to develop the film properly, expose the paper to the right amount of light, and chemically develop the photograph itself: art and technology swirling together. Digital photography offers the same swirling, but the chemicals have been swapped for pixels, and now pretty much anyone can do it.Just as chemists and inventors developed the technology that allowed photography to become an art, programmers and tech geeks are developing the technology that will allow digital to evolve from a format to a literary medium. When treating digital as a format, programmers simply take the text a writer has created and make it available digitally -- almost like translating the text. However, creating digital literature and harnessing the medium's unique capabilities requires a specialized knowledge of programming languages. As such, it is software engineers and computer programmers (the techies) who are best suited to use this new literary medium, not the traditional Writer. The only area where digital technology seems to be democratizing literature is in print-on-demand self-publishing (which I'm not yet convinced is a positive development). And this is still very much on the level of format, not medium. In a perfect world, developers will continue to hone the technology, the public will continue to gain knowledge, and they will eventually meet somewhere in the middle.

I think what the photography analogy suggests, more than anything else, is that we may be expecting too much too soon, digitally. In New Media Poetics (due in paperback from MIT Press in October 2009), the editor Adalaide Morris brings up an interesting visionary from the early years of the 20th century: Gertrude Stein. Morris writes, "For Stein, we are, each and every one of us, nimble citizens of an always newly technologized, mediated world that hasn't yet entered, much less altered, our categories of thought" (Morris 2). Now, as then, we're living IN the technology even as we're developing the categories and language to conceptualize its significance. Merriam-Webster added the phrase "personal computer" to their dictionary in 1976. "E-mail" in 1982, "internet" in 1985, "e-book" in 1988 (surprisingly), "blog" in 1999, and "google" as a verb in 2001. We're talking IN MY LIFETIME, people, and we all know how quick Merriam-Webster is to allow new words into its fold.

A huge difference, however, between this new century and the last, is the exponentially growing beast called consumer culture. We've been conditioned to expect huge speed, both in the development of technologies and in their dissemination over the last few decades. At the LA Festival of Books in April, Richard Nash asserted that publishers perfected the art of supply in the 20th century, but to survive the transition to the 21st, they will have to turn their attention to consumer demand. More specifically, I think he's suggesting that large publishers try to learn something from the scrappy way independent presses and bookstores have been surviving for decades: by acting as cultural noise filters that are uniquely calibrated to what their readers want. In a lot of ways, I believe the public is ready to consume digital literature. But the technology is still, quite obviously, developing. If fact, as publishers strive to fulfill consumers' growing desire to read digitally, they may complicate things by trying to get it done themselves rather than encouraging broader, more unified development of the technology itself. That's why we have so many formats and so many devices, and none of them can do as much as we imagine they should.

In an artistic time continuum that, in the past, went from technological development to creative production to public appreciation, where will consumer demand figure in? And is digital technology ready to become a popular literary medium (rather than an experimental one)?

EMILY PULLEN grew up, went to college, and cultivated her love for books and corn in Iowa. She discovered her love of bookstores in Boston, and currently works at Skylight Books in Los Angeles. She believes strongly in the symbiotic relationship between indie bookstores and indie publishers, and one day she hopes to be involved in some sort of hybrid of the two. She is also currently serving on the Bookseller Advisory Council of the ABA and the Emerging Leaders Council of young booksellers. Her favorite authors include William Faulkner, Don DeLillo, and Jeanette Winterson.

Friday, August 07, 2009

OH! A Mystery of Mono No Aware, by Todd Shimoda

OH! is a novel by Todd Shimoda. The subtitle is A Mystery of Mono No Aware. NPR said the book was "a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books."

OH! is about an emotionally dysfunctional technical writer named Zack Hara, who abruptly quits his job and quasi-girlfriend and splits for Japan. Once there, Zack searches for his grandfather's mysterious origins, falls in with a cryptic professor who takes to counseling him on mono no aware, and becomes obsessed with Japanese suicide clubs.

The book itself is gorgeous. Interspersed amongst the chapters are notes from Zack's research on the concept of mono no aware, along with wonderful artwork by LJ Shimoda, which all goes a long way toward creating a very atmospheric reading experience.

'Mono no aware' is loosely defined in Zack's notes in the novel as "embod[ying] the essence of human nature - how we think and feel, as well as how we express those thoughts and feelings, particularly through the arts."

Todd Shimoda took a few moments to explain how he crafted the novel, mono no aware, and how the puzzle of the book was fitted together:

Todd: "I first heard about the concept of ‘mono no aware’ when I was working on my second novel The Fourth Treasure. It seemed like what writers, really any artist, was trying to do: get across some emotional reaction through their works. I researched the idea some more and found there wasn’t much written about it, at least in English. So I put together a non-fiction monograph on the subject and tried to get it published. That didn’t work out and I realized I wasn’t fully capturing the feeling of the idea. So I wrote a short story to illustrate the concept which got published (it’s the cherry blossom viewing party scene in OH!). I gradually expanded on the short story into three chapters of a novel, built around Zack Hara’s search for an emotionally fulfilling life. I submitted the chapters and a synopsis to Bruce Rutledge at Chin Music Press. He was very enthusiastic about it from the start and helped me shape the story.

"The art is really a separate project of Linda’s, giving her interpretation of ‘mono no aware’ in the form of visual haiku, small works showing an expressionistic reaction to objects. The text exhibits are “excerpts” from Zack’s research and attempt to understand the concept in a more didactic way. The art and the exhibits don’t literally illustrate the story, but rather supplement it. To integrate the story, art, and text exhibits, Linda selected a piece of her art that went best with a chapter and I dispersed the exhibits based on what Zack was experiencing. But it was Chin Music’s book designer, Josh Powell, who put them together so well. His design made the whole greater than the sum of the parts."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sorry Entertainer, An Interview with Daniel Johnston by Joe O'Brien

By Joe O'Brien.
It’s hard to try to sum up Daniel Johnston in the intro to an interview and I don’t want to embarrass myself by attempting to pontificate on mental illness and tortured genius and all of the things that people usually say. There is a documentary out, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which provides an in-depth look at the man’s life and times. There’s also the catalog of hundreds of songs and drawings that he’s created in the past 20 plus years. Ever since I heard Daniel Johnston’s music for the first time, I’ve wanted to talk to him. I was excited to finally get the chance to do it.

You’re known to tell a joke on stage once in a while.
Some jokes, yeah. But I have some jokes that I was asked not to tell. I have one joke where I said, “Tonight the Jews are having a pajama party at the concentration camp.” And it didn’t go over very well.

Yeah, holocaust humor is always a risk.
I mean, the audience laughed but the record company president came backstage after the show and said, “Don’t say that joke, I’m a Jew.” So I was criticized for that joke. And then my other joke was “I had a dream that this guy was sentenced to death for attempting to commit suicide.” But that was an actual dream that I really had.

Are you happy with the way The Devil and Daniel Johnston documentary came out?
Yeah. The movie is sort of a comedy too, in a way. It does seem to have a little bit of a sense of humor. I wanted to tell them that maybe they should add a laugh track. It might help it a bit, you know. Because it’s sort of serious too much I think.

How long was the process of putting the film together?
They took forever to do it. They came over, the first time, for five days. Then they kept coming again and again with different ideas, you know, and they’d meet us in England, New York, Los Angeles, places like that.

You live just outside of Austin, right?
Just outside of Austin, towards Houston. Out in the countryside. There’s a lot of countryside towns all through the countryside here. We’re just another small town. I’m buying a house now. I’m really excited to have a house of my own. Right here, next door to my parents. So I’m really happy about that.

I go through moods where your songs get stuck in my head for days on end and I play them over and over again. Lately it’s been “Living Life.” It cheers me up. When did you write that?
It was one night when I had my birthday and my mother wouldn’t let me play my piano for some reason. So I left my house and went down to my cousin’s house and wrote the song. That’s an old one. I was probably 18 or 19.

Do you listen to your own songs a lot?
I do, occasionally, just for something to do when I’m bored, you know. I do listen to some. The one I listen to the most is the Fear Yourself album. That one really entertains me the most and I have listened to that one more than others. So when I’m smoking or taking it easy sometimes I put some of them on.

I’ve never really tried to quit smoking, have you?
Oh, no. I love to smoke. I love to smoke. I’m a chain-smoker, you know.

How did you end up collaborating with Mark Linkus from Sparklehorse on the Fear Yourself album?
They sent me Sparklehorse singles and they were so excellent. And it was really scary music, you know. And I got some of their CDs and really enjoyed the music a lot. It’s very Beatle-ish. And I really love the Beatles. And then the president of Gammon records called and asked, ‘Would you like to make an album with Sparklehorse?’ And it was so cool because I had a notebook with enough songs for an album that I had no idea what to do with. So it worked out perfectly. We really want to get together again. We talk on the phone and every time I get a really good song I save it for him.

You always say how much you like the Beatles. What do you think of the Rolling Stones?
I was just thinking about them the other day. How great their music really is, you know. I was thinking about “You Don’t Know What You Got” and that choir of angels and stuff. I mean, their music is exceptionally great, there’s no denying. One time, years ago, at an antique store, someone brought in like a complete collection of Rolling Stones albums. And I got them all.

What’s the story about you being scared of Metallica?
Well I was in the mental hospital and my manager kept visiting me trying to get me to sign with Elektra. And Metallica was on Elektra. And I was thinking about it and then I thought, “Metallica will kill me.” I was so stupid, I could have been on Elektra, you know? I didn’t have any money. I could’ve been a millionaire. And then Steven Spielberg tried to sign me. And I turned him down. I told him, “I don’t want to be another E.T.” My own decision, my own brain.

So you just want to do it on your own terms?
Well, I was on Atlantic for a while. I hope to be on a major label again.

I was just listening to your new song “Rock This Town.” I couldn’t find a lyric sheet, but there’s this line I love where I think you say, “I took my guitar to heavy metal school.” Is that what it is?
Yeah, “I took my guitar to heavy metal school and told them all about the golden rule. They just laughed in my face and said I was a space case. The last of the human race.”

Would you rather be a dwarf or a giant?
A giant, for sure. Any dwarf would agree they’d rather be a giant.

I always think so too. You figure a giant is looked at with awe but a dwarf deals with being mocked so much.
Of course a giant might think, “I’m too big, there’s nowhere to be.”

Yeah, driving a car, flying in an airplane.
Exactly. Everything’s too small. But when you’re a dwarf everyone always says, “Hey, you’re a dwarf.” I guess I’d rather be just like I am.”

[This interview originally appeared in the great Flop Sweat Magazine and is posted here with permission.]

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hello, Sexy Models

This is a call to all of our Two Dollar Radio t-shirt wearers. Yes, all of you!

We're exceptionally bored with cropped pictures of Eliza and myself on our website donning our tees, and so we're hoping that those of you who have ordered shirts from us in the past might be willing to snap a picture of yourselves rocking the shirt (or your kids or your dogs or your grandparents) -- in any which way you'd like, as long as the shirt is visible --and email it to us at for use as glamour shots on our website. Multiple pictures are welcome.

PS--There will not be compensation for this modeling service, unless of course offers come pouring in from modeling agencies around the world.

Rudolph Wurlitzer at Pop Matters

The reissue of Rudolph Wurlitzer's first novel, Nog, officially drops tomorrow, August 1.

Today, in his Deconstruction Zone column at PopMatters, Rodger Jacobs has an incredibly rich article called 'Rudy Wurlitzer, Bob Dylan, Bloody Sam, and the Jornado del Muerto' that draws on a wide variety of influences while orbiting the Wurlitzer myth. Touching on Joan Didion and Robert Stone, how Bob Dylan became involved in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and the subsequent chaos that nearly destroyed that film, Jacobs has some nice praise for "a true American master of literary form."

"If all art is at once surface and symbol, as Oscar Wilde suggests in the preface to Picture of Dorian Gray, then Wurlitzer's 1969 debut novel is the ultimate expression of that statement, a writhing copperhead snake that is difficult to hold onto but spellbinding to observe in its raw, natural beauty."

Monday, July 27, 2009

People Who Watched Her Pass By - Cover

We have a cover design for Scott Bradfield's fifth novel, The People Who Watched Her Pass By, which we will be publishing April 2010.
For those interested, the first chapter is excerpted in the most recent issue of Black Clock.
Comments welcome...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Now Say It Like You Mean It

Amazon CEO & Founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos issued a succinct apology for Amazon's handling of their Orwell e-book fiasco:

"This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

As I Lay Down, story by Francis Levy

Short story by Francis Levy. Illustration by Hallie Cohen.
Fred was so devoid of ideas he couldn’t get up in the morning. He’d sleep until eleven or twelve. When he was finally able to get himself up, he’d drink so much coffee—as he slowly perused his morning paper—he couldn’t sit still.

Then one morning, he awoke from a dream which was the plot of a wonderful short story. It even had a title, As I Lay Down. His muse had finally spoken to him. Staring at his clock, which read six thirty, he felt like an enormous burden had been lifted from him. It couldn’t possibly slip through his hands. Not now. He had the whole day ahead of him, more than enough time to get it all on paper. Finally his life was about to begin.

Usually Fred wrote the few ideas he had down on the little pad he kept beside his bed. But I don’t need to, he thought. I’ll be up in a jiffy.

The moments lingering in bed just before he intended to get up were the nicest he’d spent in years. Realizing how artful his dream was, he saw himself receiving awards, leading to contracts, fame and fortune. He was quickly wafted away from the little rent stabilized studio apartment in the dirty white brick building—with its ugly fire escapes blocking the window light. The bed was warm and cozy, the radiator just beginning to clank as the steam came up to warm the chill autumn air. He’d just lie in bed with his thoughts a few minutes more, until the nippiness had left the air. He’d luxuriate in the anticipation of the smooth path to success that lay ahead. How seldomly he’d felt this way! But there had been times, and each of them had led to some minor accomplishment. Though he’d never made any killings, he had the kind of small encouragements which kept his appetite whetted. As he lay in bed looking forward to his new life, he fell back to sleep.

When he awoke again, it was twelve thirty. He couldn’t believe his eyes. If he’d only gotten to work right away, he would have been so far into As I Lay Down, the story would have been a fait accompli. But now, having gotten his usual surfeit of sleep, his head felt heavy. Every time he tried to pick it up, he plocked it back down saying to himself, “Just five minutes more, I’ve got my idea.” After several bouts of falling back to sleep for five, ten and fifteen minutes, he awakened with a start. About to reassure himself he had located his ore, he realized he couldn’t remember anything more about his story than its title, which itself seemed horribly obvious. “As I Lay Down, I should have known. It’s just what I’ve been doing, lying down again and again, hoping something will come to me in my sleep, only to awaken to this living death of being a writer without inspiration, without ideas.”
Fred began to think his imagination had played a dirty trick on him. Perhaps he’d only been dreaming when he thought he’d gotten up at six thirty with a wonderful idea. Perhaps the dream he’d come up with a grand idea had been his wish fulfillment—like dreaming a beautiful woman was about to make love to him. His pad was as empty as his bed. That was the proof. There was no story. He didn’t know whether to feel relieved he hadn’t lost anything or hopeless about his continuing inability to come up with new ideas.

In his despair he kept falling back to sleep and by dusk with the setting sun sending the shadow of the fire escape shooting across the floor, the day seemed like one long frustrating dream from which he had yet to awaken.

Despite all his attempts to tear it apart as juvenile, he couldn’t get the title As I Lay Down out of his mind. Scholars are always seeking to discover the lost works of great writers. As I Lay Down became his great lost story, the work which would one day redeem him; at the very least, it was a perfect title for the story he was never able to write.
Francis Levy is the author of Erotomania: A Romance and co-director of the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination.

Betcha Can't Do This, Kindle.

Though I haven't read his writing, I'm assuming that Blake Butler is the new shit because he has a book out from two of my favorite presses, Featherproof and Calamari. His book, Ever, is one of Dennis Cooper's favorites of 2009... so far. And, he edits HTML Giant.

You can now pre-order his newest book, Scorch Atlas, direct from Featherproof either "hand-destroyed" or "non-destroyed." (They allege that "both are fully readable.")

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First Chapters, Take 2

Thanks to the tip from our guardian angel, Bud Parr, we re-posted the first chapters of all our available books using Issuu, which should make the experience that much more readable.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Random Musings and Relevent Links.

As of yesterday, we have the first chapter from each of our available books free to read or download as a PDF. You can find each of these on the individual web-page of each book title.
Richard Nash and I share our comments with John Mesjak at his My3Books blog: Nash and Mesjak feel that "the real world of digital download reading is far more indie and personal than it is corporate and impersonal"; I disagree.

Advertising Age examines how
Amazon will develop advertising on their Kindle readers.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Richard Pryor's War on Terror

By Lawrence Shainberg.
I can’t believe I’m unusual, as a writer, in feeling the loss of Richard Pryor as of a crucial ally, a man whose work I turned to, year in and year out, as if to an intimate friend or, more to the point, the best medicine available for the various illnesses that bring a writer down – self-absorption, self consciousness and the illness he treated as no one else could, those inexplicable departures of humor that leave one’s work solemn and moralistic.
I was an unlikely disciple, for sure – a middle class southern white who grew up in the days before Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and others came along to show Whites how arrogant and ignorant we were, how much we lost by condescending to the Blacks who surrounded us. But it diminishes Pryor, in my view, to speak of him only as a black man. He was a man who’s work attests to what Jean Genet said, when someone suggested, during the days of the French-Algerian crisis, that he write a play about Blacks: “I’d love to do so, but first I have to know what color they are.”
Pryor used his blackness, for sure, and our whiteness, but he wiped away all color except that of life itself and the suffering it entails and our mysterious capacity to laugh at anything, even pain, when it’s fully inhabited. See him as a deer in the concert tape, consumed with thirst and leaning over water but afraid to drink because the woods are full of sound and every one an enemy approaching. See him as a heart attack victim, whose seized up heart has him literally by the throat, sinking to the ground and pleading, “Please let go! I’ll be good! I swear I’ll be good!” and hear his heart answer, “Good? What about all that pork you been eatin?” Finally, in the climactic scene from his concert tape, Live on Sunset Strip, see him as a burn victim, elated to hear that he’s about to be bathed for the first time since his accident until he feels the excruciation of a hand on his raw body: “don’t you… ever… touch me again.”
It’s important to remember that Richard Pryor, though he might be one of America’s greatest novelists, was writing non-fiction. His riffs came out of his own pain, fear or humiliation. His life had taught him everything about fear so great and unrelenting that it blocks your need to quench a thirst when water’s inches from your mouth. It was his own heart attack and his own catastrophic burns he re-lived on stage. He made us squirm as he made us laugh because we felt the pain he was laughing at as if it were our own.

Comedy, as we all know, can be undone by familiarity. Often as I’ve watched his tapes, there are often long stretches when, even if I continue to enjoy him, I do not laugh because I know what’s coming. Even so, there is one riff in the first concert tape that never fails to dissolve me. As a macho character from the old school of street fighting, he is confronted by a new breed young tough who’s trained in the Martial Arts. Brash and confident, dancing around him like Muhammad Ali, he bellows “bring it on!” or some such until a swift kick to the groin makes him double over slowly, and he sinks to the ground still bellowing, only now in a voice a couple of octaves higher. Why does this riff, unlike equally funny ones that don’t, make me laugh every time as if I’ve never seen it before?
It’s an insult to Pryor to treat of him intellectually or impute didactic purpose to him, but I think it’s because his fight in this case is topical and urgent. I never watch it without thinking of what’s come to be called “The War on Terror.” Pryor’s macho man is fighting the war we’re fighting today. His adversary, like ours, not only doesn’t play by his rules but is trained to use his aggression and power against him. But pause a moment before you see this riff as anti-machismo, anti-left, right, liberal or conservative. Remember that Pryor’s riffs came out of his life. It’s hard to doubt that he knew his share of this sort of street fights as well as the arrogant bluster that leads his Macho Man to defeat and humiliation. Such humiliation, however, doesn’t make him come back for more, with weapons or allies, but to take the sort of hard, painful look at himself that makes it possible to see his own shortcoming and absurdity. That’s the recipe for his comedy, the hard painful look, the honest appraisal of his own absurdity and the humility which allows him to treat of it with compassion. One does not walk away from his street fight thinking about the malice or power of the Martial Artist anymore than one walks away from the heart attack riff thinking about the malice and power of the heart. If one thinks about anything it is two human beings trapped in their own absurdity, facing off in a way that will ultimately bring the both of them down.
Pryor was always fighting a War on Terror but his terror wasn’t other people or an idea of evil he attached to them. It was the fear that paralyzed you in the woods, the aggression and pride and ignorance and egoism that got you into fights from which nobody benefited and everyone got hurt. In other words, his terror was the human condition itself – the body and the pain to which it’s vulnerable, aggression and pride and paranoia, fear and habit and danger so vividly imagined that you’d sooner die of thirst than ignore it. For Pryor, life is the terrorist, and blacks and whites, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, terrorists of every sort, suffer its threat alike. The ultimate protection will not be found in fists but in the magical purification we experience when we find our way to the humility and compassion that makes it possible to laugh at ourselves.
Here’s how Pryor found his way to it when after his heart attack he woke up in the ambulance taking him to the hospital and found himself surrounded by white attendants: “Goddamn! I done died and wound up in the wrong heaven. Now I got to listen to Lawrence Welk the rest of my days.”
Lawrence Shainberg is the author of Crust.