April 22, 2014

Book Review: "Wasteland Blues" by Scott Christian Carr and Andrew Conry-Murray

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Wasteland Blues, by Scott Christian Carr and Andrew Conry-Murray

Wasteland Blues
By Scott Christian Carr and Andrew Conry-Murray
Dog Star Books/Raw Dog Screaming Press
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar

For me to find a post-apocalyptic yarn to be a successfully executed one, there are just a few requirements that I need to be satisfied, namely a uniquely fabricated world of end-times horrors; conversely, there are numerous mainstays of the genre that I take great delight in seeing turned on their heads, disregarded altogether or swapped for new takes on a literary genus of seemingly infinite permutations.

Wasteland Blues is another answer lobbed at the question of how exactly society would fall apart in the wake of mass devastation and how its survivors would forge ahead with limited assets and mounting adversity. It begins with a band of four men--Derek, the hotheaded, self-proclaimed leader; his mostly genial brick wall of a brother, Teddy; John, their pious friend; and Derek's captive, a grizzled old man, Leggy, whose moniker mocks his halved gams and whose town-drunk persona hides lifetimes of experience in battling the elements in this wasted world that keeps trudging on decades after the ruinous, toxic final war that dismantled civilization as we know it--who set out for whatever remains of New York City from San Muyamo, their blasted West Coast refuge cobbled together from the broken relics of a time none of them ever knew.

The basic need to carve out a habitable place in a poisoned world is no longer an immediate struggle. The story begins in the refugee village where the four men have been living for years, and it's clear that there are outposts dotting an otherwise ravaged country where nascent societies offer glimmers of hope about rebuilding the world and establishing cohesive communities. It is, however, that fledgling sense of safety in numbers that force Derek and Teddy to flee their home in the first place: One of Teddy's lapses into a blind, destructive rage resulted in the accidental death of their father, and Derek knows all too well that their fellow residents would never tolerate a murderer living among them. The cross-country trek that ensues allows for the true point of this story--self-realization in times that test an individual's breaking point and determination--to slowly emerge against a landscape comprising the very stuff of which nightmares are made.

There's the standard menu of life-after-the-end-of-life-as-we-know-it fare, like the ongoing struggles against both an unforgiving environment and all the other living things that could prove inimical for any number of reasons, never knowing who can be trusted, and conjuring up and clinging to a vision of the future that's worth fighting for. To prove that it's something looking to enrich the genre rather than listlessly regurgitate its hallmarks, Wasteland Blues has to serve as more than just another story told from the other side of a world-changing catastrophe, which, gratefully, it does with aplomb. The novel focuses not on what greets this growing band of misfits when it reaches the city Derek sees in his dreams (and conflates into a heavenly vision to coax the reluctant John along) by following the group as it makes its way across the Wasteland of post-nuclear fallout America. This is a story about a journey and the lessons it imparts about not just surviving but thriving to those who are receptive to a perspective-widening education.

What begins as a ragtag quartet with little chance of survival given three of its members' nearly lifelong isolation in San Muyamo slowly grows to include both human and animal allies, some of whom stick around for the long haul and others who tag along 'til they get to their intended destinations. As the story progresses, the caricatures that Derek, Teddy, John and Leggy began as blossom into more realized characters who possess something integral to not only their own survival but also that of their roving companions. It is that flourishing humanism that sets Wasteland Blues apart from its end-times-lit brethren, as it shows how the same set of circumstances impacts different personalities, and how each character both serves and is the product of the story and its world in their own ways.

Perhaps the most effective element within this book's 200-some pages is the present state of the world itself. While there isn't a definitely given time in which Wasteland Blues takes place, there are casual references to the last World War taking place during 2085, or nearly a century ago. In that time, any recognizable traces of the world the reader knows are lost, ruined or misremembered, and that sense of chronological discombobulation is a difficult reality to face. What we know to be astronauts have become almost mythological moon men dwelling on the lunar surface, and our satellites are now likened to angels and "tin houses floating around in the sky." Having to face not only a mass extinction by way of radioactive fire but also a dissolution of the world in which the reader is safely encountering this post-apocalyptic world makes for uncomfortable reminders of one's mortality every time those sensitive spots are cruelly but effectively poked throughout the unfolding of this story.

The lack of a neatly wrapped ending would feel like a frustrating cop-out if weren't such a fitting continuation of the harrowing disorientation permeating through these pages. As Leggy ruminates toward the end of the novel, "(w)e're all heroes of our own stories... and heroes are supposed to live happily ever after, at least in the story books. But the Wasteland keeps its own book, and writes its own ending." This story, in keeping with the uncertainty of a world ambling toward some hopeful rebirth, deserves more than a forced conclusion tacked on for the sake of a "real" ending, as if there's anything the Wasteland teaches those who dare to traverse it, it's that endings are sudden, messy things that come of their own accord and that closure is a promise no man has a right to demand.

Out of 10: 8.9

Read even more about Wasteland Blues: Publisher's site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 12:40 PM, April 22, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Madeleine Maccar | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

Rare Book Roundup: 22 April 2014

In an effort to get more titles from our rare book collection listed and for sale online this year, CCLaP is now doing smaller descriptions and posting auctions more often. Here below is a round-up of the latest. Remember, if you're coming across this in the future and the eBay auction has ended, you can always contact us directly at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com for more on the book's current sale status, and to place an order.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, First Edition First Printing

Fear of Flying (1973)
By Erica Jong
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: It can't be denied, sex took a large lead role in even the mainstream arts in the 1970s, as first the barriers regarding obscenity laws were all shattered a decade previous, then the culture at large grew into the countercultural era it was now in. And there are few better snapshot examples of this than Erica Jong's still titillating Fear of Flying from 1973, sneakily more game-changing to the entire literary industry than you might suspect at first, because this also ushered in the age of "smart trashy" thrillers from people like Danielle Steele, which arguably morphed into the so-called "chick lit" of our own age, a 20-million-copy bestseller that had a large hand in shaping the sex-positive side of second-wave feminism. Not bad for someone who got their degree in 18th-century English literature and who had only published two books of poetry before this; but then, that's what made it such a huge hit, was by being so heartfelt and charmingly self-deprecatory (a complex fictionalizing of Jong's own youth as a confused yet sexually aggressive "with-it chick"), and it's no wonder that it got described many times in those years as the horny hippie girl's version of Portnoy's Complaint. The book that coined the idea of the "Mile High Club," as well as other sundry sayings that can't be repeated in a family-friendly atmosphere, this light book has had a weighty impact on the 40 years of popular culture that's come after it, and at its inexpensive price is a must-have for the serious collector of Postmodernist first editions.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good Minus (VG-). In general still in great shape, but with significant sunning on its top and spine. Dust jacket: Very Good Minus (VG-). In general still in very good shape, but with an unfortunate one-inch missing piece on the back flap, as well as a certain amount of sunning and small staining on its back white cover. Stated "First Edition" on copyright page; lack of additional printing notices makes this a first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at Ravenswood Books in Chicago, 2013.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, First Edition First Printing

The Prisoner of Sex (1971)
By Norman Mailer
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: I suppose it should come as no surprise that notorious man's-man Norman Mailer took to second-wave feminism in the countercultural years rather badly, and especially the radical form of feminism practiced by such groups as S.C.U.M.; and in the spirit of those "anything goes" times, he wrote this as a response, a vindictive yet urbane and well-spoken defense of traditional gender roles and their importance in our cultural heritage, virtually laying the blueprint for the "Iron John" so-called "men's movement" a decade later. One of many nonfiction essay collections this "New Journalist" put out in the '60s and '70s, it's a perfect acquisition for those collecting a broad sampling of the gender politics that took place in those years, as well as any fan of Mailer in particular or the countercultural age in general.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good Plus (VG+). Very similar to how the book appeared brand-new, minus just the beginnings of yellowing on the pages. Dust jacket: Very Good Minus (VG-). Still in great condition, with virtually no tears, nonetheless there is unfortunately a series of scrapes along the front and back covers, which brings its overall condition down a few ratings. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a printer's mark of "T05/71" on the copyright page marks this as a first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Oak Park Book Fair, September 2013.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle, First Edition First Printing

The Road to Wellville (1993)
By T.C. Boyle
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: A prolific contemporary author like T.C. Boyle is still putting out a new book each year like clockwork these days, and that can make it hard to determine which of his 15 novels is financially most worth collecting; but a good argument can be made for this fifth title of his, the first hugely popular book of his career and that was made into an equally popular Hollywood movie starring Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, Matthew Broderick, John Cusack and more. A notorious example of Boyle's particular blend of historical fiction, in which he takes real people and events and builds deliciously strange made-up stories around them, Wellville mostly concerns itself with the first "health craze" that swept America at the beginning of the 20th century, with our story largely taking place at the Michigan sanitarium of actual physician, cereal inventor (and all-around crazy person) John Harvey Kellogg. In reality a pretty scathing indictment of the quack-like pseudo-science fads that seize the middle-class on a regular basis, like all of Boyle's scathing indictments you'll hardly realize that you're actually being lectured to about a social issue, because of laughing so much at the same time; and although it's by no means a guarantee, it's this particular collector's opinion that Boyle will eventually be held up as one of the premiere populist authors of the late 20th and early 21st century, with this book having a good chance of being better remembered than any of the others. A fantastic inexpensive acquisition for the serious collector with the long-term view in mind.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good Plus (VG+). Nearly identical to how the book appeared brand-new, except for an owner's address embossed on the inner front endpaper. Dust jacket: Fine. Identical to how it appeared brand-new. Stated "First Viking Edition" on the copyright page; lack of additional printing notices makes this a first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at Ravenswood Books, 2013.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, April 22, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Profiles | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 21, 2014

Rare Book Roundup: 21 April 2014

In an effort to get more titles from our rare book collection listed and for sale online this year, CCLaP is now doing smaller descriptions and posting auctions more often. Here below is a round-up of the latest. Remember, if you're coming across this in the future and the eBay auction has ended, you can always contact us directly at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com for more on the book's current sale status, and to place an order.

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples by John Updike, First Edition First Printing

Couples (1968)
By John Updike
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Like many of the writers we now consider masters of the Postmodernist era, John Updike actually got his start in the Mid-Century Modernist years, building a serious and sober reputation for himself through academically approved short stories in places like The New Yorker; but also like many other Postmodernist masters, it was a saucy and scandalous book in the middle of the hippie years that broke Updike through into the general popular culture, in his case the 1968 black comedy about dysfunctional relationships known as Couples. Based partly on the drama-filled escapades of his true-life countercultural upper-class neighbors in Ipswich, Massachusetts (and the subject of town gossip for years afterwards), it's still hotly debated among Updike fans how this particular title should be seen in the context of his overall career, as far as quality of writing; but what can't be debated is the impact this titillating volume had on the culture at large, in that this was one of the projects of the late '60s to almost singlehandedly usher in the national obsession for suburban swinging and sex parties that took place in those years, in reality a small part of this book's episodic look at ten various romantic partnerships but certainly the one thing that most captured the public's imagination, and that turned this book into a massive national bestseller. A must-have for any collector of first editions from the Postmodernist era, being sold at a modest price today because of a few condition issues with the dust jacket (but see below for more).

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG+). In almost all aspects, this is very close to how it appeared when brand-new, but with a bit of sunning along its top, which knocks its condition down a rating. Dust jacket: Good Plus (G+). Although in general this cover is in great shape, there are unfortunately several large one-inch tears in the upper and lower right corners of the front flap, as well as chipping along the top and bottom spines, which lowers its quality considerably. Stated "First Edition" on copyright page; lack of additional printing notices makes this a first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the 2012 Newberry Library Book Fair, Chicago.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Bullet Park by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Bullet Park by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Bullet Park by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Bullet Park by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Bullet Park by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Bullet Park (1969)
By John Cheever
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Matthew Weiner recently admitted in an interview in The Paris Review that his television show Mad Men is essentially supposed to be seen as seven years of John Cheever stories, which should give you an idea of what Cheever's actual stories are like: masterfully dark and subtle tales about the rotting interior of pleasant post-war suburbs, which his contemporary fans in the 1950s mistook for tales about individual messed-up people, but only with historical hindsight can be seen as an indictment of the entire "Leave It To Beaver" lifestyle so prevalent in these decades. And these types of stories reach their apex with 1969's Bullet Park; mostly famous up to then for a series of standalone short pieces in places like The New Yorker, and for two previous novels that were similarly episodic in nature, this was his first truly mature, truly complex full-length novel (and only one of two he would ever write, along with 1977's Falconer). Written while in the deepest part of his lifelong battle with alcohol, it's no surprise that this is the darkest, most bitter book of his career; but it's also one of his most lyrical, painting one beautiful New England visual portrait after another even while examining the broken core underneath. Cheever only published four novels in his career, making it easy to be a completist collector of them all; and this is a great inexpensive one to start with, often overshadowed by his other work but just as worthy of praise as anything else.

CONDITION: Text: Fine. Nearly identical to how it appeared brand-new. Dust jacket: Very Good Plus (VG+). In almost perfect shape, except for significant yellowing. Stated "First Edition" on copyright page; lack of additional printing notices makes this a first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Gallery Bookstore in Chicago, 2013.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Falconer by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Falconer by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Falconer by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Falconer by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Falconer by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Falconer by John Cheever, First Edition First Printing

Falconer (1977)
By John Cheever
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: By the 1970s, author John Cheever had already been called the "Chekhov of the Suburbs," for his masterfully dark and subtle tales about the rotting interior of pleasant post-war New England, which his contemporary fans in the 1950s mistook for tales about individual people, but only with historical hindsight can be seen as an indictment of the entire "Leave It To Beaver" lifestyle so prevalent in those decades; and he had already been considered a has-been, as a new generation of daring hippies quickly turned his "angry white guys with bourbon" milieu into tired shtick; and he had already had a bottoming-out, sinking so far into his alcoholism by the late '60s as to be hospitalized and live through a suicide attempt; and he had already had his redemption, discovering both AA and psychotherapy in the early '70s, and having the culture around him change enough that he could finally be the proud public homosexual he had secretly and shamefully been for decades. So now it was time for his comeback; and come back with a roar he did with 1977's Falconer, an unleashed Cheever for the very first time who was finally writing about the intersection of gay sex and Christian upbringing in the complicated, insightful way he had been waiting all his life to do. A metaphorical story about a man in prison for murder, who ironically only discovers true happiness for the first time through a furtive gay relationship there with a fellow prisoner, this is a novel truly ahead of its time (just perfect now for our gay-marriage age); and future historians may very well judge this to actually be the best book of Cheever's career, a synthesis of all the themes and subjects he played with over a long and varied life of subsumed and symbolic work. Cheever only published four novels in his career, making it easy to be a completist collector of them all; and this is a great inexpensive one to start with, nearly guaranteed to go up in value as the history of modern gay literature becomes more and more important with age.

CONDITION: Text: Fine. Nearly identical to how it appeared brand-new. Dust jacket: Very Good Plus (VG+). In almost perfect shape, except for significant yellowing. Stated "First Edition" on copyright page; lack of additional printing notices makes this a first printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at Bookworks in Chicago, 2013.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, April 21, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 18, 2014

Book Review: "Singapore Noir," edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Singapore Noir, by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
 
Singapore Noir
By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Akashic Books
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
Singapore is a small city-state and island in Southeast Asia. Malaysia borders it to the north and Indonesia to the south. It had been a British colony and Japanese occupation followed during the Second World War. The postwar socioeconomic scene included rapid industrialization and authoritarian rule. Singapore came into the headlines for the US during the caning fracas of Michael Fay in 1994. And in an magazine article, author William Gibson described Singapore as "Disneyland with the death penalty." How can one write compelling noir stories in a city-state that is authoritarian, industrious, workaholic, and clean? That is the challenge for Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, editor of Akashic's latest in their long-running Noir series, Singapore Noir. Just as the cuisine of Singapore is a melange of traditional Malay and imported Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and British tastes, so one sees in the international criminal class. It is a nation of contradictions and violence, where prostitution is legal but not spitting on the pavement. There are corrupt Party bosses from the People's Republic of China, Chinese triads, Japanese yakuza, and the errant Russian mafiya kingpin.

"I am a detective in a city that, they say, has no crime. I am a lover in a city that--let's not pretend--has no art." So says the narrator in Simon Tay's "Detective in a City with No Crime."

This is the third Noir anthology and, as usual, I'm impressed by its selection of authors. The Akashic Noir series is also a great way to educate yourself on the noir genre. On a basic level, noir is about gumshoes and heavies, femme fatales and dames with gams that go on forever. But noir is also about dreams and desires. "Mother," by Monica Bhide, is about Eddie and his mother, a washerwoman at a school. Without spoiling the plot, the story is about Eddie's desperate fight with his own personal demons and living with the wrong, albeit well-intentioned, decision he made.

"The Strangler Fig" by Philip Jeyaretnam is a darkly poetic meditation on self-delusion and living up to everyone's expectations. Bernard grew up being a good student and a model husband to his wife Evelyn, but her constant demands on Bernard turn her into a Lady Macbeth-type. He becomes a minister in the Singapore government, but finds himself happier when his party isn't in power. He has an affair with a woman he meets on the campaign and thinks a divorce will be a painless affair. But then he realizes he's been betrayed and blackmailed by this woman. Throughout his life, he sought to avoid getting strangled, seeing the strangler fig, a parasitic tree that slowly kills the host.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's "Reel" tells a story in Singapore's unique patois, Singlish. It is the story of Ah Meng's desperate attempt to find love, or at least some casual sex. Ah Meng works on a kelong, a kind of fishing shack of stilts. When he befriends two young girls, he thinks he will have a fun afternoon. "If he wanted to see chio girls he usually had to take the bus to the Bedok town center. If he felt in the mood for atas girls then go Clarke Quay where the high-class clubs were, lah." Unlike the other stories where the protagonist gets killed, "Reel" leaves no explanation. The violence is random, bloody, and ambiguous. He didn't piss off a mob boss or a money-laundering Communist Party member. And the only dialogue the girls speak to each other regarding the murder makes it sound like an initiation of sorts. The conclusion remains murky and primordial.

Singapore Noir is another fine addition to the Akashic's Noir series. Under Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's tutelage, the stories puncture the stereotypes associated with Singapore and push the genre in new directions.
 
Out of 10/9.5
 
Read even more about Singapore Noir: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, April 18, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 17, 2014

CCLaP Rare: All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

All nine 'Nathan Zuckerman' novels by Philip Roth, First Editions First Printings

(CCLaP is now selling rare and unusual books through the main website, shipped to customers through USPS Priority Mail and with full refunds always guaranteed. To see the latest full list of volumes for sale, please click here).

The Ghost Writer (1979)
Zuckerman Unbound (1981)
The Anatomy Lesson (1983)
The Prague Orgy (1985)
The Counterlife (1986)
American Pastoral (1997)
I Married a Communist (1998)
The Human Stain (2000)
Exit Ghost (2007)
By Philip Roth
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Few projects will ever give us a better view of the entire Postmodernist era of the arts (being defined here as the 40-year period between Kennedy's assassination and 9/11) than Philip Roth's remarkable nine-book "Nathan Zuckerman" series, a trail of connected autobiographical stories that just happen by coincidence to tell the story of America's entire history between Vietnam and the War On Terror. Started in the late 1970s as a way for Roth to look back at his own start as a writer, the first four titles of this series are more historical fiction than anything else, which like Roth's own life follow the adventures of a young Jewish intellectual in the post-war years, as he first develops a serious academic reputation in the early '60s among such prestige locations as The New Yorker, then explodes into the popular culture during the hippie years for his scandalous portrait of a sexy, nebbish, overly onanistic young countercultural urban Jew, and his troubles with both the opposite sex and his oppressive Holocaust-surviving relatives, essentially laying the groundwork for the mainstream popularity decades later of Seinfeld.

After a decade-long break from the books in the '80s, then, Roth returned to Zuckerman's life with 1997's American Pastoral, but now with Zuckerman mostly as the framing character for his friends' contemporary tales, thus entering us into the most successful period of Roth the author's career; Pastoral won the Pulitzer Prize, 2000's The Human Stain won the PEN/Faulkner, and basically all the Zuckerman books he wrote in these years were each massive bestsellers, even while Roth won such overall career accolades in these years as the National Medal of Arts, an honorary doctorate from Harvard, and the gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A shining highlight of any book collector's library, and especially those who concentrate in modern first editions, this complete collection of all nine Zuckerman novels is priced today at the premium it deserves, excitedly awaiting its new home.

CONDITION: Texts: Very Good (VG) to Like New. Essentially all nine are in a condition similar to how they appeared brand new, with the following exceptions (see photos for more): A glue stain on the front inside endpaper of The Ghost Writer, from where a bookplate was forcibly removed; and a previous owner's signature in ink on the front inside endpaper of The Human Stain. Dust jackets: Very Good (VG) to Like New. Again, most of these dust jackets are very similar to how they appeared brand new, except for a few small tears in American Pastoral and Exit Ghost, and with the dust jacket of The Ghost Writer clearly starting to show its age. PLEASE NOTE BEFORE BIDDING that this collection's copy of the ultra-scarce The Prague Orgy is actually the first edition, first printing of the paperback; all other eight books are the first edition, first printing of the hardback.

MINIMUM BID: US$450 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $900 To the eBay auction

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, April 17, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Profiles |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 16, 2014

Rare Book Roundup: 16 April 2014

In an effort to get more titles from our rare book collection listed and for sale online this year, CCLaP is now doing smaller descriptions and posting auctions more often. Here below is a round-up of the latest. Remember, if you're coming across this in the future and the eBay auction has ended, you can always contact us directly at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com for more on the book's current sale status, and to place an order.

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'..., by Mike Royko, First Edition First Printing

Like I Was Sayin'...
By Mike Royko (1985)
First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: It seems almost like a relic of a bygone age by now, but there was still a point even up to the 1990s when the hard-hitting, truth-at-all-costs newspaper journalist was a revered archetype among a large swath of the population; and not only did Chicago eventually come to typify the place for such gritty truth-tellers, but within Chicago it was Mike Royko who came to virtually define the archetype, a Pulitzer winner thought of in almost godlike terms by his blue-collar, union-liberal fans, and whose many columns were eventually republished as standalone books over the course of his career. This one from 1985 was his sixth, a continuation of sorts from his popular previous title, 1983's Sez Who? Sez Me, and covers various columns written from 1967 to 1984 at a total of three different papers, including his odes to the then-recently deceased Nelson Algren and John Belushi. A nice title at an inexpensive price which is perfect for any Royko fan, or fans of newspaper journalism in general.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). In general still in great shape, except for a bit of yellowing to the top spine fabric, and the corner cut off the front inside endpaper. Dust jacket: Very Good (VG). In great shape from the standpoint of condition, but now with all edges starting to turn yellow, and "200" written in ballpoint ink in the front inside flap. Stated "First Edition" on copyright page; inclusion of "1" in printing record confirms this as a First Printing as well.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP in February 2014, at the Beecher Book Fair in Illinois.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L, by Scott Turow

One L
By Scott Turow (1977)
First Edition, Third Printing

DESCRIPTION: Long before he become a popular author of legal-themed fictional thrillers, Scott Turow wrote this 1977 nonfiction title, a memoir of his turbulent first year at Harvard Law School that still sells thousands of copies a year, and is considered an insider's must-read for any young lawyer. Published in the same years as The Paper Chase, and one of the books that started the craze for human-interest law stories in those years among the general population, this scarce title continues to become harder and harder to secure with each passing year, a great inexpensive investment for the serious collector with the long-term view in mind.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good Plus (VG+). Very similar to how it appeared new, except for some light spotting along the top edges (not on the inside), and a gift inscription from the previous owner written in ink on the front inside endpaper. Dust jacket: Very Good Minus (VG-). The condition of the dust jacket is still great; but since this is a colored cover printed on white paper, the small creases along its edges are extra noticeable, plus with a quarter-inch tear on the top front, a clipped pricetag on the front inside flap, and a white back cover that is slightly dirty. As stated on the copyright page, this is from the third printing of the book's first edition.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP in February 2014, at the Beecher Book Fair in Illinois.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me, by Bennett Cerf, First Edition First Printing SIGNED

Try and Stop Me
By Bennett Cerf (1944)
SIGNED, First Edition, First Printing

DESCRIPTION: Bennett Cerf was known for many things in his time--the founder of Random House, a regular on both the talk-show and quiz-show circuits, a globetrotting bad boy who only got into publishing in the first place so to hang out with hard-drinking artists--but one of the things he was most known for among the larger population was his love of corny humor, and for using the power at his disposal as a publisher to release a whole series of joke books over the course of his life. And this one from 1944 was his very first, with illustrations by his buddy Carl Rose, often groan-inducing by definition but a wonderful historical snapshot of Modernism as it morphed from its early stages into the Mid-Century blend, and of what people were finding funny while in the middle of World War Two. In more delicate shape than normal, because of the restrictions in paper quality during the war, this signed volume is nonetheless a great addition to any humorist's library, especially at the inexpensive price it's being sold for today.

CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). Clean covers and a tight spine, but in general showing the kind of yellowing and other signs of aging you would expect from a book this old, as well as a small puncture in the fabric on the spine. Dust jacket: Fair. As mentioned, severe restrictions in paper thickness and quality were placed on publishers during World War Two, and this book's dust jacket is in the same delicate condition as most other books from these years are as well, with large chunks missing along the top edges and general small holes throughout, although at least with all panels still solidly connected. Now protected by a Demco mylar sheet. SIGNED on the front inside endpaper, just above a bookplate for previous owner John D. Fleming. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, an agreement of date on the title page and copyright page, plus a lack of further printing notices, makes this a first edition, first printing.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP in September 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair in Illinois.

MINIMUM BID: US$20 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $40 To the eBay auction

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:05 PM, April 16, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Profiles |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 15, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 110: Author Justin Kramon

CCLaP Podcast 110: Author Justin Kramon

It's Monday Tuesday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, it's a one-hour talk with New England author Justin Kramon, his second time on the podcast, talking this time about his new crime thriller, The Preservationist. Also featuring the music of Moon Boots and Blondfire.

Links to the things and people mentioned in today's episode:
Justin Kramon
The Preservationist
Justin's first appearance on the podcast
Moon Boots
Blondfire

[RSS]Subscribe via RSS
[Subscribe via iTunes]
Download the MP3
Download the iOS-enhanced MP4

Continue reading "CCLaP Podcast 110: Author Justin Kramon" »

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:17 PM, April 15, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | Literature | Profiles |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

Book Review: "Leningrad" by Igor Vishnevetsky

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Leningrad, by Igor Vishnevetsky

Leningrad
By Igor Vishnevetsky
Dalkey Archive Press
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar

Igor Vishnevetsky's Leningrad combines poetry and prose, newspaper articles and personal journals, publicized tallies and top-secret communiques to paint a complete (and completely bleak) image of Leningrad Blockage-era Russia and the full scope of horrors that can rain down on a war-pummeled city while its residents try to hold their lives together throughout an increasingly turbulent period.

As history is reduced to numbers and outcomes and notable skirmishes with the ever-widening distance separating then from now, it's easy to forget that people did their best to live through times of far-reaching upheaval and misery that encroached most disastrously on their smaller worlds. Here, Vishnevetsky presents us with Gleb Alfani, a composer, and his lover, Vera, as the intimate connection between a ravaged city and its residents' desperate attempts to preserve the humanity that they need to survive in a brutal environment. Gleb distracts himself from both a hopeless world and the barrage of ammunition disfiguring his home by drowning out the cacophony of ceaseless fire with the opera he superstitiously believes will keep him and his beloved safe as long as he's composing it. Vera's safety becomes a paramount concern when she divulges her pregnancy, already a complication in turbulent times where death far outpaces births but an even more daunting hurdle since Vera's husband is both a naval officer in the war effort and very obviously not the child's father. She flees Leningrad in the hopes of finding refuge, instructing Gleb to follow her once he receives her next letter, but his emaciated body and weakened spirit soon fall victim to a flu that leaves him delirious and split from reality. Spring eventually returns to Leningrad and health finally returns to Gleb, but the world he is reborn to is nothing like the one he once knew.

Aside from their roles as the beating heart in the political history of war, Gleb and Vera, as well as their friends and family orbiting the periphery of the plot, are witnesses who provide their own personal narratives about struggling through another day, clinging to the things that gave their life meaning before, and how those things become frivolous necessities as the life rafts keeping their rapidly deflating morale afloat. The continuation and preservation of art is a recurring theme throughout this short book: A minor character retrieves rare books from bombed-out buildings; Vera's husband writes of how he feels that the time he once spent painting now seems "absolutely ludicrous in comparison with the immense, unifying cause propelling us all forward," though the painting to which he refers is the lone item in Vera's apartment that glimmers with hope when Gleb goes looking for her and finds only a long-empty residence; Gleb slips into poesy in some of his journal entries, finding dark beauty in a devastated world and imposing metered order on a time when chaos ruled, and later mourns the books he sacrificed to the fire that kept him warm throughout the unforgiving winter. The aesthetic value of artistic pursuits aside, holding tight to one's appreciation of art is how these characters preserved elements of pre-war life, fighting impending death and coping with persistent uncertainty by remembering the things that gave beauty to the world and brought them happiness.

The importance of bearing witness to the unenviable epoch in which they lived and to which they had front-row seats is among the primary functions Vishnevetsky's characters serve. One of Gleb's first journal entries talks of how a friend confessed that being confronted with death leaves him in a state of arousal; rather than being a deviant's admission, it highlights how the triumph of living when thousands die each month is an understandably muddled, confused thing. Some characters find themselves almost gloating to the corpses they've stepped over in the streets, so giddy they are with life--hard as it is--while others try not to take in too much (if any) of their squalid environment. But no judgement is imparted to make one reaction seem more honorable than the other: Vishnevetsky merely uses each character's response to meteoric body counts to color their personalities, demonstrating how the coping mechanisms of the living are as varied as their methods of survival. While some characters need to record the loss and desolation of the times, especially once discrepancies arise between what they've seen and what official documents claim, others merely want to survive, and looking too closely at the carnage surrounding them would only deliver the final blow of emotional defeat. Self-denial looks an awful lot like self-preservation in the right circumstances and, as accounts of cannibalism rise and Gleb's instructions to himself about what does and doesn't prove to be edible betray the desperate edges of madness, it is increasingly clear that each individual must decide for themselves what desperation looks like and how they must harness it to see another day.

Since the world has a cruel way of moving on despite the sufferings of its inhabitants, the first spring of the siege finally comes and is wholly incongruent with the winter that still clutches at the hearts of those who have lost and suffered through so much. But it is proof that all things will pass and that time always shuffles onward, and the most we can do is learn from the past and remember its harsh imperatives. While time does not heal all wounds, hindsight is a stern teacher that is keen to remind its students that life goes on for those who are strong enough to forge ahead with it. It is in this truth that the crux of Leningrad's lesson dwells, the affirmation of life's ability to take root in the most hard-scrabble, inconceivably hostile elements as long as there is something to live for.

Out of 10: 9.0

Read even more about Leningrad: Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 10:19 AM, April 15, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Madeleine Maccar | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 14, 2014

Announcing the release of Scott Abraham's "Turtle and Dam!"

Turtle and Dam, by Scott Abrahams

Hooray! Time for another official release of a CCLaP book to the general public, for your downloading and ordering pleasure! This time it's the really charming and insightful comedy about contemporary China, Turtle and Dam by Washington DC analyst Scott Abrahams; a book we've been working on for about half a year now, I'm delighted that this is finally out for wide public release, and I'm convinced that you will be as won over by this as we were when it first came in. As always, the official synopsis does the book more justice than I could off the top of my head right this moment, so let me just paste it in below...

Like millions of other only-child Chinese twenty-somethings, Turtle Chen is graduating college and vicariously desperate (via parental pressure) to find a job, though he would probably settle for a girlfriend. He speaks English. He studied abroad in America. Employers, ladies, what's not to love? With a bit of bravado and some hometown luck, this engineering grad lands himself an entry level position working for the state news agency; not that he particularly cares about politics or journalism, not that they particularly want him to. Through a class assignment, Turtle learns that his grandmother's village will soon be inundated to make way for a dam construction project. His parents tell him not to worry about it. His bosses tell him not to worry about it. He would be only too happy to oblige, and yet despite his best efforts not to care he finds himself on the front lines fighting bulldozers, next to what some villagers claim to be the ghost of Chairman Mao. There's bribery, corruption, computer games, and text messages imbued with uncertainty. Air pollution, censorship, and a job fair where students attack employers with paper basketballs. And it's all told through the eyes of a young man with impeccable English ('impeccable English,' that's correct, yes?), who's right there in the middle of it all. Welcome to the delightful world of Turtle and Dam, the literary debut of Washington DC analyst Scott Abrahams.

As always, the ebook version of this novel is completely free if you so choose (technically 'pay what you want,' although the vast majority of you choose the free version), in PDF editions for both American laserprinters (8.5 x 11) and European (A4), as well as an EPUB for most types of mobile devices, and a MOBI file specifically and only for Amazon Kindles; and for the third time so far this year, I'm happy to say that this is also available as a 200-page trade paperback book with full-color covers, for just $14.99 plus shipping. (And coming later this year, a deluxe handmade hardback edition, featuring high-end material such as cotton pages and a faux-leather spine, for the special price of $49.99.) And don't forget, there's a Goodreads page for this book too, so if you're a member over there like I am, I highly encourage you to add it to your library there and especially to post a few words about it. Word-of-mouth is easily the number-one way that we generate new customers and readers, so your kind thoughts at Goodreads and Amazon really make a profound difference in how many copies our books sell. There will be more to announce about Turtle and Dam as the weeks continue, including details about the coming release party in Washington DC; but for now, I hope you'll have a chance to stop by its web headquarters and procure a copy yourself, and see why this is not only a highly entertaining story about career versus family, but an incredibly astute look at the young generation in China right now, being turned by the tens of millions from rural youths into suburban white-collar office workers.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:44 AM, April 14, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 11, 2014

Book Review: "Sutro's Glass Palace," by John A. Martini

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
 
Sutro's Glass Palace, by John A. Martini
 
Sutro's Glass Palace: The Story of Sutro Baths*
By John A. Martini, Illustrated by Lawrence Ormsby
Hole in the Head Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
 
The Sutro Baths were a spectacular San Francisco landmark no one has heard of. Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, and Alcatraz, the Sutro Baths exist now only as a series of ruins. John A. Martini, a San Francisco-based researcher and lecturer, has written Sutro's Glass Palace: the Story of Sutro Baths for Hole in the Head Press. Lavishly illustrated by Lawrence Orsmby, the book includes architectural renderings of the Sutro Baths, along with archival photographs and other ephemera. The Sutro Baths occupied the San Francisco coastline from 1894 to 1966. Built by mining mogul Adolph Sutro, it was meant as an example of his noblesse oblige. Sutro himself has a biography that sounds too crazy to be real. Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro immigrated from Aachen, Germany, to the United States during the Gold Rush. He worked at various mines, engineered the deep shafts that de-watered and ventilated the Comstock Lode, and was the Mayor of San Francisco on the Populist ticket.

One of his many dreams involved building a monumental series of baths for San Francisco. Looking at the ruins and the architectural renderings, many historical associations come to mind. With its massive expanse of glass windows, an immediate parallel might be The Crystal Palace associated with The Great Exhibition of 1851. Since the Sutro Baths were meant for amusement, a geographically close counterpart is The Saltair Pavilion in Saltair, Utah. The ruins of the large-scale Victorian-era amusement park were hauntingly captured in the 1962 horror film, Carnival of Souls. (Saltair was built in 1893, one year before the Sutro Baths. Like the Baths, Saltair met a fiery demise in 1925.) Adolph Sutro also had grandiose ideas about the Baths, likening them to the Baths of Caracalla. In order to fully comprehend the scale of the Sutro Baths, Martini includes some phenomenal statistics. Here are a few: "Length of Baths: 499.5 feet." "Amount of glass used: 100,000 superficial ft." "Iron in roof columns: 600 tons." "Lumber: 3,500,000 feet." "Concrete: 270,000 cubic feet." "Capacity of tanks: 1,804,962 gallons."

The Sutro Baths encompassed more than just the large swimming pools. The complex included a museum and a promenade. One could see the Sutro Baths as an early antecedent to big city sports stadiums that also function as concert venues. Sutro snatched up museum exhibits from the Midwinter Exhibition, a smaller-scale West Coast version of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exhibition. Unfortunately, the Baths never lived up to Sutro's ideals. Plagued by safety concerns and constant pummeling from the Pacific Ocean, the glass constantly needed replacing. Low attendance numbers also didn't help. After his death, his daughter, Dr. Emma Sutro Everett, California's first female physician, tried in earnest to sell the Baths.

The Baths weren't sold until 1952, when George Whitney, a local real estate magnate, bought them for cheap. Throughout the years and change of ownership, the large swimming pools became burdensome to operate. Whitney shuttered the baths and focused more on making the Sutro Baths an amusement park of sorts. Like The House on the Rock, he packed the facility with his "collection of collections." The Sutro Baths hobbled on until it was slated for demolition. Amidst the demolition process, a fire broke out and the entire grand edifice collapsed into a heap of molten glass and twisted iron. Today the ruins face depredation from the elements, so this book has done a notable public service by raising awareness for the site's historic significance.

Martini's book is also notable for its unflinching depiction of the Sutro Baths in operation. This includes peppering the account with reprints from San Francisco newspapers recounting safety accidents and an alleged murder at the Baths. (The murder soon proved anticlimactic when it was revealed the victim had a weak heart and got sucked into one of the drainage pipes.) There was also a case of the Sutro Baths turning away an African-American patron. Despite its monumental footprint and Adolph Sutro's good intentions, the rigid racial codes of Jim Crow still persisted, even in a city as progressive and forward-thinking as San Francisco.

Martini's book is a wonderful example of local history, interspersing documentary accounts with architectural rendering and examples of Baths-related ephemera. It also fits well with the program Hole in the Head Press has established. Like its other titles, Sutro's Glass Palace is a locally relevant history that is spectacular and a just a little bit odd. Other odd local history books Hole in the Head Press has published include Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1979 and The Last Missile Site: An Operational and Physical History of Nike Site SF-88, Fort Barry, California.

Out of 10/9.0

*Note: Amazon.com lists Sutro's Glass Palace as Out of Print. It is not. Go to Hole in the Head Press (official site link below) and it will list venues where it is sold.
 
Read even more about Sutro's Glass Palace: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Karl Wolff at 9:00 AM, April 11, 2014. Filed under: Karl Wolff | Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 10, 2014

Book Review: "Worst. Person. Ever." by Douglas Coupland

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 18 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Worst. Person. Ever.
By Douglas Coupland
Blue Rider Press/ Penguin Publishing Group
Reviewed by Travis Fortney

Maybe I'm stepping too far out on a limb here, but I'm going start this review by trying to describe a feeling. You see, I spend about an hour every afternoon walking the streets of Chicago. I've done this for years, because I live to serve an active black lab named Monte, who likes about a five mile walk in the afternoon. For the last couple years, we've walked in a loop that covers the southern part of Rogers Park and a large swath of Edgewater. It's fair to say that on this daily walk I've encountered more than my fair share of wretched humanity. I've seen more men than I can count duck into alleyways to pee. I've also seen a woman taking an actual dump, witnessed a shooting, observed countless drug transactions, and seen every kind of human decay, sickness and intoxication. Just yesterday, for example, two nearly toothless women who looked to be in their early sixties managed to corner me. One of the women talked, while the other looked at me openly, with large, glistening eyes. The speaker was having a difficult time making words, probably due to the copious amounts of substances she had spent the afternoon consuming. After she had spent ten or fifteen seconds stuttering in my direction, I deduced that she wanted money. Which is fine. I'm kind of a panhandler magnet, due to the fact that I was raised on a Christmas Tree farm in Ohio and have never fully mastered the urban art of walking right past a person with eyes fixed straight ahead. I should also mention that my dog is somewhat skittish. He tends to bark and lunge at people who act erratically. So when these two women cornered me, I was mostly concerned with escaping before my dog perceived a threat. I begged off, saying I didn't have any cash on me, which happened to be true. When I do have cash, I almost always give it up. I have let myself be conned out of amounts as large as twenty dollars, if the person who's doing the asking has a particularly good story. But yesterday, just as I had lowered my shoulder and managed to make a space between the two women, I was able to parse another string of words from the gibberish. "This is my baby." And I noticed that the woman was holding onto a rounded belly with two hands. I was shocked. She wasn't sixty, apparently, but rather was young enough to be of childbearing age. My instinct was to tell her that she needed to get to a hospital immediately, but I had just finally pushed through them and I wasn't about to stop. When I was twenty feet or so past them, I turned around and called back that I was sorry.

But let me gracefully retreat from our two toothless panhandlers to the somewhat safer territory of the alleyway pisser. I've seen this enough that I've come to a few broad judgments. First, the people you see aren't the only people who pee in alleyways. After all, I get it. You're far away from home, you're in an unfamiliar neighborhood, you don't feel like ducking into a store or restaurant and having them hassle you about buying something, you have a weak bladder, etc., etc. There are myriad reasons why a person might pee in an alley, and whatever the reason is, I'm down with it. And so I'm certain that I've born witness to only a small fraction of Edgewater's alleyway pissers. The behavior I'm judging isn't really peeing in an alleyway, though. It's peeing in an alleyway with witnesses around, without even bothering to step behind a dumpster for privacy.

The precise feeling I'm trying to describe occurs just after the pisser has whipped it out and loosed a steady stream, while you walk briskly away and try to erase the image of his penis from your mind's eye. In moments like this, you might find, if you're at all like me, that your expectations for all of humanity are suddenly knocked down a few pegs. And you might notice that your internal monologue has become a steady stream of invectives that you could never, under any circumstances, say to a living, breathing human being.

The reason Douglas Coupland's new novel The. Worst. Person. Ever. is my favorite read of the year so far is that there are moments in the book when narrator Raymond Gunt, an unemployed B-unit cameraman and lecherous creep whom Coupland calls a "walking, talking, hot steaming pile of pure id," bears a striking resemblance to my inner self in those rare moments when I see something that makes my kale-eating, grain-free dog-food-purchasing, tea-drinking persona give way to the total asshole who apparently exists at my core.

I won't go into too much detail describing the plot, but it's what you might call Coupland-esque and manages to combine a Survivor-style reality television show, nuclear holocaust, the Pacific Trash Vortex, SPAM-like Chinese canned meats, a severe allergy to Macadamia nuts, and a t-shirt featuring the band The Cure.

Sure, Raymond Gunt is a terrible person. He treats his mother, his ex-wife, homeless people, goats, skin tags and Cameron Diaz with the same casual cruelty. And this book is filthy. There's inventive profanity in practically every sentence. I'm not saying it's for everyone, but the fact remains that I haven't laughed out loud so often at a novel of this type since reading Martin Amis's Money several years ago, and I haven't been so thoroughly entertained by another book this year.


Out of 10: 10

Read even more about Worst. Person. Ever.: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | Wikipedia

Filed by Travis Fortney at 10:20 AM, April 10, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews | Travis Fortney |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 9, 2014

Book Review: "Palmerino" by Melissa Pritchard

(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)

Palmerino, by Melissa Pritchard

Palmerino
By Melissa Pritchard
Bellevue Literary Press
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar

Of all the successes contained within Palmerino's deceptively slim form, chief among them is its sound example of why Melissa Pritchard should be everyone's factually based but fictionally rendered introduction to coarse, easily misunderstood and half-forgotten writers. WIth a sensitive touch, lush descriptions and a richly evocative narrative triptych, Pritchard's exhaustive research into Violet Paget--perhaps better known as her nome de plume and masculine alter ego, Vernon Lee, the grandiloquent feminist and penner of supernatural tales, aesthetic studies and travel essays--flawlessly blends the late-nineteenth century writer's life with that of her fictional modern-day biographer.

Sylvia Casey, also a writer who has fallen on hard times (namely her marriage's demise as signaled by her husband absconding with another man, not to mention the faltering critical and commercial reception of her two most recent books placing her career in precarious uncertainty), has retreated to Palmerino, an Italian villa not far from Florence where Violet had spent much of her life, to slip away and throw herself into writing a novel inspired by Violet's life. Through research and walking the same grounds Violet once did, Sylvia immerses herself in the life of her spirited muse, mostly unaware that her subject has become her possessor in an unintended bit of method biographing.

The triumvirate of narration is an effective collision of past and present: Sylvia's quest to alternately lose herself in and hide from Italian life as she learns about the tempestuous Violet and writes of her discoveries; snapshots of Violet's life ranging from girlhood to brief mentions of her parents' and beloved Clementina's deaths; and ethereal interjections from Violet herself, as not even death could silence such an indomitable spirit, watching (and becoming gradually besotted with) her biographer, guiding the still-corporeal writer to clarify the truths about a life that has grown tarnished by assumptions: Violet is not a figure to be pigeonholed into easy descriptions, and she is irritated by history's posthumous efforts to reduce her to flat absolutes.

Though Violet is the linchpin holding the trio of perspectives together, the commingling of biographer and subject is present in each section to increasing degrees as Violet breathes her own essence into Sylvia by gradual possession. Sylvia's own writings are the most obvious interplay between the two, with Violet's resurrection flowing from her fingers onto pages both typed and intimately scribbled. Violet herself has been observing her biographer since the latter's arrival, a benign watchfulness yielding to a ghostly seduction that becomes ever more apparent in the chapters that follow Sylvia's pursuits. As the present-day writer encounters relics and writings from Violet's life, Sylvia withdraws more into herself and her work, at first wondering almost wryly if Violet is guiding her and eventually shirking her own rigid writing methods to scrawl pages in a hand nearly as illegible as Violet's, certain that a female presence draws ever closer until "hearing her name, she understands who is calling her" and finally flees to Violet's secret garden in the book's final pages.

It is Pritchard's sympathetic but honest rendering of a woman some found tyrannical, some found charming and almost all found terrifyingly learned that urge her ghostly heroine into genial illumination. By preserving Violet's intellectual intensity as well as capturing the softness of her romantic pursuits, the hard-edged scribe becomes a fully realized figure rather than the wanly uneven caricature such a divisive female figure can so easily be written off as. It is this careful balance that lends so much female empowerment to the novel, as Violet publicly shuns all the social niceties that she believes exist "principally to defang" a woman but extends the compassionate sensitivity stereotypically attributed to the so-called fairer to those she feels most deserving of her affections, selectively embracing her femininity when she finds it necessary. It is easy to reduce a strong woman from a repressed era to the limited and scandalously taboo "lesbian" label but Violet was volumes more than her attraction to other women. She recognized the disadvantages of her gender the moment she was pitied for her ugliness and turned an unfair liability into an asset, which led her to adopt the mannerisms, dress and persona of a man, denying the world a chance to thwart her ascent, both as an intellectual and a human being, by seizing an opportunity to turn biology's lousy hand into something she could take control of and claim as her own.

If Violet's off-putting bravado and ferocity are pleasingly mitigated by inclusion of both her past and her first-person chapters, then her actions are justified by the more submissive Sylvia, who can't catch a break and shrinks from people in direct opposition to the way Violet sought to dominate them. Sylvia has merely inherited the equality for which her female predecessors have won and quietly moves through life, never questioning the path she has chosen until she begins to wonder what would have happened if she ever sought the pleasure of another woman's company, while Violet has struggled to assert herself in a male-dominated world, wrestling her way into commanding respect where she could get it and striking fear where she could not. The opposing trajectories of their writing lives--Sylvia chronicling the rise of Violet's career while her own is in rapid decline--and the sense of novelty with which each regards her near-perfect foil is a subtle affirmation that expression of one's sexuality can be a thing constricted by the absence of that perfect half, lying in wait for its cue to finally rise from dormancy.

The achingly gorgeous prose in which Palmerino is written strikes pitch-perfect harmony with its equally strong expression of humanity, promising that the hidden beauty within is always worth the time it takes to discover it.

Out of 10: 9.6

Read even more about Palmerino: Author's site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Madeleine Maccar at 11:39 AM, April 9, 2014. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Madeleine Maccar | Reviews |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 7, 2014

It's April, so it must be time for the March "CCLaP Journal!"

CCLaP Journal #5

Missed deadlines? What missed deadlines? As always, overwhelming demand here in 2014 for our original novels is unfortunately keeping our new monthly magazine, The CCLaP Journal, significantly delayed; but I'm happy to say that the March issue is now finally out (and it only took until April 7th!), 186 pages of ad-free goodness just waiting for your free downloading pleasure. This newest issue features a reprint of a 2012 podcast interview we did with Chicago author Joe Meno; new fiction by Peter Anderson, Matt Rowan, and Alec Moran; an exclusive excerpt from our newest original book, the story collection Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1 by Fernando A. Flores; photo features by Meryl Olah, Jaime Boddorff, Vasya Gavrilov and Lindsey Fast; and the usual reprints of the book reviews we run here at the blog on a daily basis, including looks at new books by Haruki Murakami, William H. Gass, Brian Alan Ellis and a dozen more. Just stop by [cclapcenter.com/journal] to download the free PDF for yourself; or if you like the tireless work being done here at the website by our critics Travis Fortney, Madeleine Maccar and Karl Wolff, and would like to see them get paid a little money for their efforts, I encourage you to order a copy of the full-color paperback version for only $9.99 plus shipping, again 186 pages and with no ads...

Country

I'm happy to say as well that the April issue is almost complete as we speak, and will be going out the door and headed to the printers soon; so go ahead and read up on this issue now, because it'll only be another week or so before a brand-new 200-page issue will be ready as well! And then starting in May, we'll have some exciting news about the magazine, tied in to some developments taking place here in Chicago as we speak; but more on that when the time comes. For now, I hope you enjoy this fifth issue of our poor always-delayed publication, and we look forward to getting these cranked out on a more regular basis as things start calming down a little with our original books.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:16 AM, April 7, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Karl Wolff | Literature | Madeleine Maccar | Travis Fortney |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

April 4, 2014

CCLaP Podcast 109: Author Giano Cromley

CCLaP Podcast 109: Author Giano Cromley

It's Monday Friday, which means it's time for another episode of the CCLaP Podcast. Today, we kick off the eighth year of the podcast with a talk with Chicago author Giano Cromley, a former political speechwriter whose debut novel, the darkly comic coming-of-age tale The Last Good Halloween, came out last year. Also featuring the music of Samo Sound Boy and The Honey Trees.

Links to the things and people mentioned in today's episode:
Giano Cromley
The Last Good Halloween
Tortoise Books
Kennedy-King College
Samo Sound Boy / Motions
The Honey Trees

[RSS]Subscribe via RSS
[Subscribe via iTunes]
Download the MP3
Download the iOS-enhanced MP4

Continue reading "CCLaP Podcast 109: Author Giano Cromley" »

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:57 AM, April 4, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP Podcast | Chicago news | Literature | Profiles |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.

Wowee! It's the big 'Bullshit Artists' update!

Release party for Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1, at Farewell Books in Austin

Release party for Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1, at Farewell Books in Austin

Release party for Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1, at Farewell Books in Austin

Wow, has there been a lot of developments recently with CCLaP's newest book, Austinite Fernando A. Flores' ode to failed punk bands and small-town music scenes, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, Vol. 1! The book has surprisingly become a legitimate mainstream success in Flores' home state of Texas, and we've been struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand for this handmade hardback. (And speaking of which, thanks to all you mail-order customers who keep staying patient about your shipment! They will all be in the mail by next week, my promise to you!) First up recently was the book's release party, at the great Farewell Books in Austin; as you can see in the above photos sent along by Fernando, the event was packed and fun, and a bunch of Fernando's musician friends came out to help celebrate this long-germinating story collection.

San Antonio Book Festival

And now? Well, now Fernando is hitting the road a little! First up, he will be one of the guests of honor at this year's San Antonio Book Festival, taking place at the city's main public library all day tomorrow, April 5th. Fernando will be featured on a panel at 4:15 called "A Celebration of Emerging Voices," moderated by the revered Texas author Carmen Tafolla; it takes place in the West Terrace (third floor), and is free to attend. Barnes & Noble will have plenty of copies of the book on sale that day, so I hope all you locals will get a chance to stop by!

WordSpace, Dallas

And then on April 17th, Fernando will be in the fantastic city of Dallas, performing through the busy local literary organization WordSpace. The reading itself will be at CentralTrak in that city (800 Exposition Avenue), at 7pm, and again this is a free event and with copies of Fernando's book being sold that night. We've been humbled and awed by the vast amount of interest all of you have shown to Bullshit Artists (in fact, it is quickly on its way to becoming the biggest selling title in CCLaP's history, just one month after its release), and we look forward to finally getting caught up with all these handmade books that are still owed to so many of you. If you're a Texas resident, I hope you'll have a chance to go out and see Fernando live on stage soon!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:38 AM, April 4, 2014. Filed under: CCLaP news | Events | Literature |
Go to Facebook Have a comment about this entry? Join the conversation at CCLaP's Facebook group.