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.