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“I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.” -Montesquieu

Updated: 2018-03-06T03:09:52.058-08:00


On a Western Jag


I was brought up on Western movies. Growing up in post-war Arizona, I don't think any young kid could avoid them.We were all glued to the TV in the 50's and 60's. All the best stuff happened on TV (and in the comic books). Vietnam war, man on the moon, civil rights, peace demonstrations, late night talk shows (Alan Berg blew me away) and a million westerns played endlessly on that flickering box. And because my family could have cared less about me, I put most of my time learning about the world through the magic box (the Glass Teat, as Harlan Ellison called it).My grandfather, Harry Fanter, spent the winter with us. He was from Nebraska, so Arizona winters were like summertime to him. With my fathers help, Harry built a little one-room cabin out of a big parking garage we had on our one and half acre lot. It was nice and cozy with a bed, a propane tank, a table and a nice porch looking over our big backyard. He had Black Jack Pershings picture over his bed and when things got too much for me (as they did practically every day), I'd go and sleep on an army cot next to his bed. And, of course, he had a little black n' white TV which we watched all the time. And Harry was a big western fan.Gunsmoke, Palladin, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rebel, Bonanza, Wagon Train; you name it and we watched it, many times. And I loved the simple stories of courage, bravery and betrayal. You always knew where you stood in a TV western. They made them to the simpilist common denominator. Grandpa and I spent many hours enjoying westerns together. In fact, I can watch a western now and memories of him come flooding back. He died many years ago, but is alive in my mind especially when an old fashioned western is on.Funny thing is, I never enjoyed reading westerns. Even though comics and then the cheap paperbacks obsessed me from the moment I could read English. Probably due to the fact that my Dad (oh, yes, that wonderful role model) always seemed to have a copy of either Louis Lamour or Mickey Spillane in his back pocket. And I wanted no part of anything he was interested in. So, no westerns in paperback for me.Imagine my surprise then when I picked up a copy of William Heuman's "Heller From Texas" on a boring weeknight and found myself pulled in to a sharply written, intelligent western that impressed me so much I went out and bought half a dozen more of his books (not to mention all of the ones we had at the Iliad Bookshop where I work).I've always admired Gold Medal paperbacks and found the publisher's stable of authors to be very high.  But I remember them making their mark mostly with hard-boiled detective and mystery stories. After finishing several of Heuman's books (they take about 2 days to read if you stay in the saddle for long periods), I had the thought that maybe these Gold Medal westerns are written to the same hard-boiled formula as the mysteries were. And after some research, I am convinced that this is the case. Quick action, clearly defined characters in a dramatic environment; liquor, the sheriff (law) and a big, bad heavy surrounded by tough guys that the hero (usually an outsider) has to fight through to get to the secret of the town. Not the perfect hard-boiled format, but close enough. Love to actually research this fully and find out if any of the editors (are they still alive) at Gold Medal shaped the westerns this way intentionally.Then Heuman led to Lewis B. Patten which led to A.B. Guthrie, Jr and then on to Gordon D. Shirreffs, Richard Meade and Elmer Kelton. In the last month, I seem to have made up for missing all of these great western writers in my youth. Kelton, in particular, is an author that stands above the rest. While most of the writers I've mentioned tend to use western tropes and cliches in a variety of ways, Elmer Kelton does not. He is truly and original; thoughtful, unique characters in a plot that is drawn from their weakness and strengths as people. Insightful writing about the historical period and a wonderfully drawn background. Elmer Kelton is the first western writer I've read who also br[...]

A Gallery of Book Covers for the Southern Reach Trilogy


I've always enjoyed good book design. Covers, in particular, have interested me every since I bought a stack of Ace scifi paperbacks because I was thrilled with the cover imagery back when I was working at my first bookstore job in the late 1960's. As I grew older and understood more of what went into designing and publishing a book, I began to understand that sometimes the designers were only creating a cover image that they thought would sell the book regardless of whether the image had anything to do with the story.The covers for Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy of books (Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) have caught my attention because they really do reflect the story that the author has written. Published by a literary publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) who rarely venture into genre publishing, the designs for the American covers are vibrant and strange using a single thematic image for each book. Created by noted artist Eric Nyquist, they get several things right: the size of the story/theme, the color palette for all three books is spot on with the mood and the single image represents a telling moment in each individual novel Mr. Vandermeer has put together a Flickr gallery of cover's from different countries (U.S., UK, Spain, etc). I am particularly fond of the UK covers as I think they capture some of the idea of structure in each of the books. Couldn't find the name of the designer, but if anyone who is reading this knows, please email me so I can update this post.The Japanese covers are fabulous with just the right mix of lurid/strange and formal design. They are my favorites of all of the cover designs.   frameborder="0" id="iframe" scrolling="no" src="" style="height: 100%; left: 0; position: absolute; top: 0; width: 100%;">[...]

Oh, How They Love to Hate the Craft of Lovecraft


front cover of the New Annotated HP LovecraftI've been anxiously awaiting Les Klinger's The New Annotated Lovecraft, which I'll dive into as soon as my Vandermeerism wears off.  Happened to catch the modern novelist, Charles Baxter's, screed on Lovecraft disguised as a "review" in the very intellectual New York Review of Books (12/4/2014).  Among other predictable complaints about Lovecraft (terrible writer with no sense of style, appeals only to adolescents, a racist, shut in, et al) Baxter tries to understand why Lovecraft is still so popular and comes up with the partronizing notion that Lovecraft only appeals to like-minded people (morbid, paranoid, suspicious).  Oh, brother... Here are few "gems" from this so-called review (little mention of Les Klinger's annotations; no mention of Alan Moore's introduction). "His narrators cannot calm down; the fever never breaks. Accordingly, simple human decency, kindness, and generosity have no place anywhere in the stories. Their emotional range is limited to dread on one end of the spectrum and hysteria on the other"."In my judgment, Lovecraft’s true staying power as a writer can be attributed to his chilling depictions of death-in-life, the one subject in which he could claim genuine expertise". "After both world wars and the atrocities of recent history, Lovecraft’s horrors seem like quaint, construction-paper toys created by someone who did not get outside much—he never went to Europe—and who built his puppet theaters out of whatever was lying around."  Thankfully, we have S.T. Joshi's brilliant reply to Charles Baxter's review. Joshi is a Lovecraft authority and has written extensively on the "Weird Tale" tradition that Lovecraft drew on as a writer. He's also written the definitive biography of Lovecraft (I Am Providence).   front page of STJoshi.orgHere are some lovely quotes from this well-written riposte to Baxter's awful review. I chose comments that focused on racism, the adolescent claim and his (Lovecraft's) connection to the Weird Tale tradition in American Literature: "Charles Baxter appears determined to pigeonhole Lovecraft as a writer of interest only to “adolescents.” While it is true that a substantial number of Lovecraft devotees initially read him as adolescents, a fair number of these fans grow up to be reasonably mature writers in their own right who continue to draw upon Lovecraft’s writings for aesthetic inspiration""Baxter goes on to assume—based on a stray comment made early in his career (“Adulthood is hell”)—that Lovecraft himself remained an arrested adolescent. In fact, he was largely successful in overcoming the severe psychological damage resulting from his early upbringing (he was raised by two parents who were borderline psychotics) and became a surprisingly well-adjusted and outgoing individual, and one who exhibited a keen interest in the world around him."  "There is also the question of exactly how much racism enters into Lovecraft’s fiction. Baxter maintains that it is central. Another reviewer of the Klinger book—John Gray, writing in the New Republic—offers a different opinion: “Fortunately, the core of his work has nothing to do with his social and racial resentments.”[7] I am inclined to agree with Gray. Such things as atheism,[1] devotion to science, and love of the past are all far more central to both his philosophy and to his fiction than racism." "The upshot of all this is that Lovecraft developed, in the course of a relatively short career spanning less than twenty years, a highly coherent aesthetic of the weird and developed a prose style that he believed was appropriate to its expression. Whatever one may think of Lovecraft’s prose, I would suggest to Mr. Baxter that he be a little less intolerant when assessing work that doesn’t accord with his own presuppositions." [...]

The Collected Stories by Nikolai Gogol. Superb Folio Society Edition


I've just picked up a gorgeous edition of Russian author Nikolai Gogol's The Collected Stories, published by the Folio Society and illustrated by Peter Stuart. I'm always impressed with Folio Society publications, but with this one they seem to have out done themselves. My only complaint is that they use the old Constance Garnet translation. A good article on her various flaws as a translater can be found at the New Yorker. It would have been marvelous if the Folio Society had comissioned a new translation from that genius team: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have completed changed our notion of Russian writers like Tolstoy, Dostoevesky and Bulgakov. In any event, the Garnet translation is certainly readable, so it's not a deal breaker. Where the Folio Society have scored is in choosing Peter Stuart to illustrate the volume. Amazing work by a remarkable artist. Here are some examples of his illustrations from Gogol's The Collected Stories: Peter has also illustrated several other books for the Folio Society, most notably Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Robertson Davie's The Deptford Trilogy. For more of this brilliant animator's work, try is website You can purchase Gogol's Collected Stories via the Folio Society website or any good indie bookseller. I recommend Tattered Cover in Denver, CO. or Powell's Books in Portland, Or. Of course, if you have a great indie store near you, go there![...]

Ross MacDonald Vintage Paperback Covers


I recently acquired four new Ross MacDonald vintage paperbacks and wanted to share them. Ross MacDonald is one of my favorite American mystery writers. He was the first mystery author to receive a front page review in the New York Times Book Review (Underground Man, reviewed by Eudora Welty) and he was instrumental in taking the mystery genre out of the pulps and into literature. I still think he tops Chandler and Hammett in his writing skills. You will be richly rewarded if you venture into your local used bookstore and pick up one of his Lew Archer novels.

You can find more about Ross MacDonald here

Caught in the Spell of Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy


I can't seem to stop reading the remarkable trilogy of novels by Jeff Vandemeer collectively titled The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance). The one volume hardback edition came out last week and I've dived into it with no lack of enthusiasm considering it's my third reading.

That's how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.
― Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

What makes these books so fascinating? They are beautifully written for one thing and a pleasure to read. The depictions of nature (the southern Florida landscape/seashore) are remarkable and crystal clear. Plus, the story is so involving/moving that the characters and situations are becoming part of my own life memory. 

There are scenes in these three novels that will shock you, creep you out, amuse you, move you and anger you (among only a few reactions to the characters/story). And the characters are like Lovecraft channeling Henry James: they are characters with many levels and a complex inner life. 

The books are about death, obsession, how our modern culture is despoiling nature, first encounter with aliens, obsession and abuse by government. And the monsters...ah, well, you have never encountered anything like it.

These are novels whose stories make the hair stand up on your neck. I urge you to pick up the one-volume hardback, or the first volume in the trilogy: Annihilation. You will not regret it. The journey in these novels is unlike anything you have ever read.

Some Recent Paperback Book Covers


I enjoy browsing in the Iliad Bookshops paperback section because you find so many interesting covers. Here are four recent covers that caught my eye. The SATYR cover is pretty strange. That smudge at the right of the satyr character part of the actual cover. I like the design of A TOWN OF MASKS and the lurid colors make me want to find out what the story is behind the cover. Be sure to click the thumbnail for the larger image.

A Century of Books Challenge


Although December is not one of my favorite months (too involved a story to tell you why), I do like looking through end-of-the-year lists, especially of books. One of my favorite book blogs is "Stuck in a Book". I love the fact that not one of the books listed on the blog comes from 2013. Not that there aren't good books published this last year (I'll be listing mine soon), but the list at Stuck in a Book is more personal favorites of the year. That's how I like to look at the "Best of" lists that come out at the end of the year.I'd love to read all of the books on the list, but I decided to pick one: Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet. I've always been fascinated with people who have large book collections and this book looks like a delight. the challengeI also decided to take up the "A Century of Books" challenge that Stuck in a Book issued to readers. The goal is to read a single book from each year of the 20th century. I'm going to try to do it in a year, but with all of the other reading interests I have it may take a little longer. So far here is my list for the years 1900 to 1010. See my complete list on the side panel "My Century of Books" page.My Century of Books list (first decade):1900     The Wallet of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah1901     The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud1902     The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar1903     Ideas of Good and Evil by W.B. Yeats1904     Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton1905     The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle1906     Botchan by Natsume Soseki 1907     Dead Love Has Chains by Mary Elizabeth Braddon1908     Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame1909     Three Lives by Gertrude Stein1910     Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma GoldmanMost of these titles I'll be reading in the e-book format, but a couple I already have in my library. My sources will be and for the e-books and primarily the Iliad Bookshop for the p-books.The wikipedia has a very nice page on events and book releases for each year of the century. It was fascinating to follow the links and read up on authors and titles. Difficult to decide which book to choose for some years, which is why there are two titles listed for 1905 and 1907.Thanks to Stuck in a Book for the idea. Look for my reviews here of each title and we'll see if I'm up to the challenge![...]

More Cool Vintage Paperback Covers


We just got in several boxes of vintage paperbacks at the Iliad Bookshop today. As I was boxing them up, I photographed the most interesting covers. I'll be adding these to my "Book Covers" page (actually a link to my Flickr set of book covers) as well. I really like the Enderby and City of a Thousand Suns covers (Stoned is pretty amazing, too). Like a dope, I didn't check the cover artists listed in the books, so if anyone knows, please post in the comments section. Click the thumbnail for a larger version to download. [...]

Poetic and Strange: The CRAPALACHIA Book Trailer


Book trailers are mostly pretty bad, but this one for Scott McClanahan's CRAPALACHIA is remarkable in many ways. It's poetic, creepy, gritty and very, very personal. Caught this originally on Twitter which took me to the Vimeo post of the trailer. Two Dollar Radio is a favorite publisher of mine (see The Orange Eats Creeps review I did here), so the combination of this weird/wonderful trailer and the publisher pulled money out of my wallet like a magnet.

I'll be doing a review as soon as I get the book from the publisher and have a chance to read it. In the meantime, here's the amazing trailer:

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Scott McClanahan CRAPALACHIA Book Trailer from Holler Presents on Vimeo.
Scott McClanahan's book, CRAPALACHIA, available from Two Dollar Radio.

Some Recent Book Purchases: Radiohead to Silent Cinema


I buy both printed books and digital ebooks regularly. Every so often I'll share what books I've recently purchased with Booklad readers. I'll include links to each edition so you can find out more on any specific title and make a few comments on the book. I almost always read the introductions or first chapters of books I purchase. It's like sneaking a little bit of the frosting from a birthday cake.Most of these books were purchased at the used bookstore where I work during the day: the Iliad Bookshop. A couple titles I ordered off of the internet (primarily Assistant by Bernard Malamud, Farrar, Straus & Giroux,reprint 2003. Introduction by Jonathan Rosen.  I've been enchanted with Malamud ever since I read his first collection of stories last year, The Magic Barrel, but have never read one of his novels. I sneaked a read of the first chapter and, God, it's good. I can't wait to read this novel.My Struggle, Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Archipeligo Books, 2012. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.  Not sure where I came across this author, but I'm half-way through reading and it's a brilliant autobiography written as fiction (roman a clef?). The writing is so good and the scenes are so poetic and alive. I'll be doing a full review of this book when I'm done.Silent Cinema by Brian J. Robb. Kamera Books, 2007. DVD included. Found this little gem in our silent film section. Enjoyed the introduction, so I'm going to add it to my growing library of silent cinema books. DVD has 193 minutes of extracts from classic silent films. Kamera Books, a UK publisher, has got a lot of interesting titles they are publishing.The Music and Art of Radiohead, edited by Joseph Tate. Ashgate Publishing, UK. 2005. I've become addicted to the music of Radiohead (again) having listened to OK Computer and Hail to the Thief a dozen times during the last month. I'm half-way through the 12 essays in the book and they range from overly academic to very insightful (Mark B.N. Hansen's "Deforming Rock: Radiohead's Plunge into the Sonic Continuum"). The introduction, by Joseph Tate, is quite good, too.A Writer's Companion, 4th Edition, by Richard Marius. McGraw-Hill College, 1995. I read a few pages of this book every night before I go to sleep. Richard Marius is a very good teacher of effective writing. Not only does he teach the subject well, but he's an incredibly good writer himself. I'm not big on "how-to" books on writing, but this one is inspiring and very practical.Silent Cinema: An Introduction by Paolo Cherchi Usai. Palgrave Macmillan, Revised and expanded edition, 2010. This is a classic work on Silent Cinema. Originally titled "Burning Passions", it originated in a lecture Mr. Usai gave regarding the importance of preserving and studying silent films. This edition (beautifully designed and produced) has an excellent preface by David Robinson, himself a noted silent film historian. I'll be writing up a full review of this book once I have finished reading it. [...]

Broken April by Ismail Kadare


I'm always looking through articles and bibliographies on books; searching for new authors and new reading experiences. So when Caustic Cover Critic recommended Broken April in his Best-Books-of-the-Year (2009), I was intrigued."It's very well written, which helps, but the underlying idea is even more  fascinating.   The setting is Kadare’s native Albania, where the hill-dwelling people have this mad system of honour and code of behaviour called the 'Kanun'".After reading these lines from CCC, I immediately thought of the sequence in Huckleberry Finn where Huck hides in a tree and watches two families (the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons) murder each other in revenge for even earlier killings and slights of honor. That scene and Twain's masterfully simple prose, is a lot of what Broken April is about. The difference is that rather than being an outsider looking in at this mad code of family honor, Kadare gives you the perspective of an insider, one of the family members who is questioning the code even as he is driven to honor it.  The story is simple. The central character, 26 year old Gjorg Berisha, is returning to his country village in Albania. He is forced, through the 'Kanun" code, to murder someone in another family in revenge for a previous killing in his own family. The results of his actions, which come as a surprise, places him inside of the very code he wishes he could break out of.  Ismail Kadare Kadare's theme of how the past influences the present, is so beautifully wound into the story, that you find yourself wondering about your own life; your own family traditions. Blind belief, honor, codes of conduct without compassion, these are the things that make up Broken April. That and compelling characters who the author manages to create empathy for even as they are committing acts of evil.  "A pale young man sits down to an important meal. His brother has been murdered and he waits for a discussion about blood-compensation to be over. If it fails, his life will be forfeit, gathered into the cycle of bloodshed as soon as he avenges (as he must) his brother. The provisions of the meal are complicated: eaten at noon with the murderer, it must conclude with the agreement of a blood price and a tour of the house, the male guests stamping their feet in every room to drive out the fued's shadow. Then the young man's father with carve a cross on the murderer's door and exchange a final reconciling drop of blood. The price is settled, and the stamping begins". The clarity and simplicity of Kadare's writing is what makes the above passage so ominous and frightening. The thoughts and feelings of these characters caught in a murderous web of their own making, are always just barely suppressed. No wonder the Shakespearean play Macbeth was a favorite of Ismail's when he was a child. Broken April is suffused with this kind of barely controlled terror which both frightens and enthralls the reader at the same time.This is a writer with a profound sense of the past/present and a very deep understanding of human psychology. Although the word is over-used, I think Broken April is a masterpiece that belongs alongside Kafka and Tolstoy and other writers who look sadly upon humanity at it's worst in order to free us all to become our best.I urge you to find a copy of Broken April by Ismail Kadare, or any other works by this remarkable Albanian author.Notes and links:Full bibliographyFine forum discussion of Broken AprilEssay on translating Kadare into EnglishMy thanks to for the cover picture of Broken April.  [...]

Favorite Book Links


This page lists several BOOK LINKS to websites I visit weekly for information and news on books, bookstores and reading. I'll be updating this list frequently as I discover new sites that interest and inspire me.Kayo Books is the absolute best bookstore for vintage paperbacks and pulps. Located in San Francisco, the store is a gold mine. Plus the site is full over covers and links to all kinds of vintage paperback goodness. You'll find books here that you won't find anywhere else.Bookslut is a unique and opinionated booksite. The reviewers always come up with interesting books I haven't heard of or provide essays/articles that you won't find elsewhere. Updated pretty much every day.Project Gutenberg is a non-profit organization that digitizes books that are in the public domain. They provide their 42,000 books for free in a variety of formats including pdf, epub and Kindle. It's like a virtual library that you can browse. Love it!Google Books is heaven to researchers. My partner, Lisa, introduced me to this incredible site/tool and I visit it several times a week. Beautifully designed and very easy to use.Locus Online is the web version of the famous scifi magazine of the same name. I know of no other site that covers scifi and fantasy so thoroughly. I love the reviews and the just published sections.Book Riot a sight I visit daily. The articles and reviews are current and often challenging. You won't find a lot of main stream puffery here. I Highly recommend this book site.Librivox is the audio version of Project Gutenberg. Thousands of audio books are listed here. I've contributed to several projects myself.My partner, Lisa Morton, is a six-time Stoker award winning horror author. She's edgy, contemporary and unafraid to mix genres and deliver some good solid scares. I love her work.NPR books covers all kinds of books in all kinds of genres. I like their podcasts and their website is very well designed.Dark Delicacies is the only bookstore I know of that deals exclusively in horror. Located in Burbank, CA., they have an amazing amount of signings and horror-related books, perfumes (yes!), toys and clothing.Two Dollar Radio is a co-op publisher of some of the most interesting new fiction you'll find anywhere. I've discovered many remarkable authors here. Their books are beautiful,too.Although it's gotten some bad raps recently, I still find the reviews at Kirkus Reviews very interesting. Found a lot of good books browsing this site. This is a well-designed website with excellent writing.I've been following Kate's interesting book blog for years. Always well-written articles and reviews. Smart and funny.Lynn Munroe issues regular catalogs of vintage paperbacks + a good dose of history and author/artist profiles. His contributions to the history of the vintage paperback are huge. AND his prices are reasonable. Lynn is an unsung hero in my book. Highly recommend his website[...]

Cattch 22 and the Classic American Novel


"In Catch-22, Joseph Heller invented a motif for the modern world. The book shaped everything that came after it, establishing Heller's reputation as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century"                  -back of paperback edition of Hellers short stories "It became enormously poplular, particularly among younger readers during the Vietnam War era, and it's title became a catch phrase"       -Oxford Companion to American Literature Somewhere between these two quotes lies the real Joseph Heller and the real Catch-22. I've spent the better part of the last month reading this wonderful novel and pondering all of the puffery surrounding it (along with it's author), and I have some ideas and observations that I'd like to share. I've been a focused and obsessed reader going on 40 years now. Ever since I walked into Humphrey's Family Paperbacks in Glendale, AZ., and picked out a book to read (Reality Forbidden by Philip E. High), I've been consumed with books and reading. Now, I read other books at school and enjoyed them, but this was the first book I chose myself because it interested me (rather, the cover interested me). This simple book started a life-style than has me surrounded by books for most of my day working at the Iliad Bookshop. Then I go home to read for several hours usually before I go to sleep. Now, I'm not a finicky reader. My reading moto has been honed over the years to a sharp, clean edge: "I'll read any book on any subject as long as it's interesting". And that's true. I'll read the worst kind of sleaze novel from the 50's and turn right around and start on an aesthetic analysis of the Quay Bros. films. I don't believe in the accepted notions of highbrow, middlebrow and low brow culture. That's all crap created by obsessive-compulsives and passed on by people who should know better. W.H. Auden taught me in his great book, The Dyer's Hand, that everything you read becomes part of your imagination, so take in all kinds of books (paraphrased a bit here). And he's right. So, what the hell does all of this have to do with Heller's Catch-22? Well, I'll tell you: even though I read Catch-22 back in my first year of college, I never really READ it, you know what I mean? Being forced to read an "important" novel, a "significant" work of art" by "on of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century" just kills the book for me. I read it, sure, but only to cull information to write up a pretty much bullshit essay on... something. I think I probably got more out of the Cliff Notes to Catch-22 than I did anything from the book. Although, I did remember being impressed with the "Dante" sequence near the end of Catch-22 where Yossarian is walking through the sleazy streets of wartime Rome and it seems like hell. After college, I never thought about Catch-22 again and certainly avoided the damn movie version of it (rather stick a rail road tie in my.. well, you get the idea). And, of course, there's the bookstore puffery that comes with the "classics". Listening to people tell me that Catch-22 is a great work of art or that Joseph Heller is under-appreciated..blah blah blah. Sure, I respected the book because of it's place in the literary canon, but to me it was just a book I was forced to read and got nothing out of. Until this last month.... I think it was the cover that forced me to read Catch-22 as an adult (see above). Here I am, 56 years old and I'm still doing the same thing I did at 16: buying a book because of it's cover. Well, that's not entirely true as I have a lifetime of reading books and reading about books behind me now. But, I mean, who could resist this[...]

University of Chicago Library: something lost with innovation?


I've been a library hound for most of my life, but never more than I was as a graduate student at Yale University from 1979 to 1983. Yale has some of the most incredible libraries on the planet, especially the Beinecke rare book library. Graduate students are entitled to their own study carol at the main library, installed in an old Gothic style church on campus with ceilings so low that there were "sub-floors" (two floors instead of the traditional one floor) of books. Even when I wasn't doing research, I'd roam the floors just looking for interesting book designs or titles I've never heard of before. In fact, every year while I was attending the University, a student would discover a rare book that had been donated, but not cataloged yet. Unfortunately all of that is going to change if the University of Chicago's new Mansueto Library becomes the model for future library architecture. The student/researcher's interaction with books will be narrowed and the serendipity of finding books by accident will be a thing of the past. From a Chicago Tribune article on cityscapes by Blair Kamin, the University needed to solve the problem of keeping their entire book collection on-campus while at the same time providing an appealing and practical atmosphere for students to study and research. Architect Helmet Jahn's startling sci-fi design is based on the idea that book storage is separate from the student research area. As you can see in the picture above, the giant "bubble" is where the students study and the large blocky building to the right is where the books are stored and then delivered by a fully automated system to the waiting students next door. Here is a description of how it works from the Tribune article:"Patrons can request materials at a computer terminal in the library or via the Internet. It works like this: You request the book, then a high-speed robotic crane zooms down a tiny railroad track and stops at the right bin. It pulls out the bin, and delivers it upstairs to the circulation desk, where a real person picks out your book. The process, which has been used for industrial storage, Internet retailers, and smaller academic libraries, is supposed to take 5 minutes — as opposed to at least a day for getting materials from a remote storage facility."The advantages are obvious: ideal conditions to store books (temperature, handling, power saving, space saving, protection) and a wonderful, open space with lots of natural light for students to work in. And although they've encountered minor problems (students climbing to the top of the big bubble for one), the response by students has been very positive. The bright, open space with pleasing Scandanavian-style furniture looks like a wonderful place to study and to think (the 360 degree view must be wonderful). Still, I can't help but wonder if something has been lost by separating the books from the students. Oh, I don't mean that students don't have the actual books to handle and use, it's the serendipity I was talking about earlier: the ability to 'browse' the library is effectively gone with this design. Students order the exact book they want and it's retrieved by a robot: no accidents, no finding a book mis-filed and it turns out to be a great book you would have otherwise never seen. I suppose the advantages outweigh the loss of "browsing", as the books are kept in great shape and will last a lot longer (I don't think that rare book libraries will be adopting this method though), but I hope this new design doesn't become the norm. I'd like to think there is still some student wandering the aisles looking for something interesting to read or finding a book they would never have fou[...]

First Paragraphs From Paperback Show Purchases


Looking over my vintage paperback loot from the recent 32nd Annual Paperback Show, I found myself reading the first paragraphs of each book in succession just to get a taste of the writers style. They were surprisingly different. In fact, the one book that I bought on a whim (The Mark of Pak San Ri) with little expectation of the book being any good or not, actually turned out to have the best opening of all six books (see below) I did cheat a bit with Nobody Dies in Paris as the picture makes more sense with the first two paragraphs (sue me). All of the books are interesting and I hope to read them in one big jag over some lazy weekend. McGivern is probably the most accomplished of the writers listed (justifiably so) with Odds Against Tomorrow being made into a fine movie with Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan. I'm also intrigued with the Jack Ehrlich title (Parole) as his name keeps popping up in lists by other writers and booksellers of paperback crime. I was also attracted to the covers of the books. All of them are colorful and striking. I love the old graphic/painted design style of fifties and sixties cover design. Something I think publishers like Penguin are getting back to (thank God). Gunman's Harvest front cover is particularly interesting with a great dramatic pose and use of muted greens and golds. Even the back cover is nicely done. The front cover painting is by Mal Thompson. From The Mark of Pak San Ri by William StroupPublished in 1965 by Book Company of America, #10No cover artist listed "The taxi careened out of nowhere. The little man crossing the street with the bundleunder his arm never saw it. It caught him dead center and flung him a good  twenty feet. The bundle flew from the man's arms and broke open. then the hit and run taxi, a rattling monstrosity which looked like it had been  built out of a hundred junkers, sped on, screeched around a corner and was gone". From Nobody Dies in Paris by Jerry WeilPublished by Signet, #1449. 1967No cover artist listed"The late afternoon June sunlight streamed in through the small, unwashed window of the hotel room. It found its way into the corners of the tiny room. It warmed the room.     There was a girl lying on the bed midst a pile of undone sheets and blankets. She was wearing green silk pajamas that were faded by too many washings. She was smoking a cigarette."From Stop Time by Frank ConroyPublished by Dell, #8211, 1969Cover art by James Bama     "When we were in England I worked well. Four or five hundred words every afternoon. We lived in a small house in the countryside about twenty miles south of London. It was quiet, and because we were strangers, there were no visitors. My wife had been in bed for five months with hepatitis but stayed remarkably cheerful and spent most of her time reading. Life was good, conditions were perfect for my work" From Gunman's Harvest by James KeenePublished by Dell, #A205, 1960Cover artist Mal Thompson "As ranchers went in South Texas, Jim Asher's place was small, only four thousand acres, but he liked it because he was the kind of man who held dear the things he had to work hard for. Six of his thirty-two years had gone into the place, and four years of that at a loss or barely breaking even. These last two, there had been some profit, but the scent of trouble was on the wind, a whisper in the warning venters of his mind." front coverback coverFrom By-Line for Murder by Andrew GarvePublished by Dell, #765, 1961Cover artist Robert Stanley "At the wetter end of Fleet Street, close by the Crown Inn and not far from the famous Cheshire Cheese, there is a five-story, r[...]

32nd Annual Paperback Collectors Show


Although Lisa and I were still depressed over the lost of our much-loved store cat, Zola, we decided to stop by the 32nd Annual Paperback Collectors Show in Mission Hills on Sunday, March 27th. Run primarily by Tom Lesser, a great promoter and collector of paperbacks himself, along with Rose Idlet, owner of Black Ace Books in Los Angeles.    "The show began as part of my collecting hobby but gradually developed into          a large show which is now held for collectors and members of the public who          just want to come, walk  around, maybe get some books signed and meet the         authors"                                                                                                                    -Tom LesserWe've been going to the show for over a decade now and have always enjoyed meeting collectors and pouring over the tables and stacks of paperbacks. However, this year we just didn't feel the spirit of the show all that much and only came away with a handful of books. Nothing to do with the show (which was active and actually crowded a bit this year), it was more to do with our somber mood. Still, we got to see a lot of friends including author Christa Faust, who was excited about the show and seemed to be spending way too much money.The Paperback Show takes up three rooms at the Mission Hills, CA., Valley Inn and Conference Center. The main room is where you enter and pay the 5 bucks to get in. Then there is a smaller room off to the side and another large room where most of the authors appear to promote and sign their books.Most dealers display their books face up or spine up on long tables. Some dealers have additional boxes of books underneath the tables which makes for a lot of people on their knees browsing and going through endless stacks of paperbacks. The more organized sellers list books by publisher or have selections of authors works all together. And, of course, there are related paper ephemera like pulp magazines, posters and magazines.  I got a chance to see three or four of my favorite paperback people. James Madison who sells via Ebay and via mail/email, always has the best organized table with lots of good vintage paperback bargains. He's such a great guy and a top-notch paperback dealer, too. Also got to see Lynn Munroe, who is a primarily a private dealer and historian. He has done so much for vintage paperback history and I've enjoyed every book he's ever recommended.Ron Blum of Kayo Books always has some of the rarest and most interesting paperbacks. He had a sleaze paperback with the original painting used for the cover on display (see pix below).  His San Fran store is a must see if you visit that town. The store website is pretty cool, too. Ron's wife, Maria, is always at their large dealer table while Ron's out looking for deals. It was  pleasure to see her again and chat a bit. Their store is doing well,[...]

Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda Akinari (tr. by Kengi Hamada)


Ugetsu Monogatori 1953 (picnic scene) I first came across Tales of Moonlight and Rain after viewing Mizoguchi's brilliant film Ugetsu Monogatori (1953) which adapts two stories ( Homecoming and Bewitched) from a collection of 16th century Japanese Gothic tales written by Ueda Akinari.  Since I was deeply impressed with the Mizoguchi film, I wanted to read the two original stories from the collection. So when Criterion released their wonderful 2-disc set of Ugetsu (the name was shortened to one word for American audiences) they also included the two stories in a small booklet and I was finally able to read them. I was entranced and immediately wanted to find a good edition of the full collection. And thanks to working in a great bookstore, I found an excellent collection published by Columbia University Press in 1972. It reprints the University of Tokyo Press edition which came out the year before.  I've scanned the front, rear and spine of the book for you and posted it below.This hardback edition is beautifully designed featuring an inked version of an old woodblock print from, presumably an early edition of the book. Several other b&w versions of the original prints are included as accompanying illustrations for the 9 stories that comprise Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Click on the image above to see a larger version. It's from "Bewitched", one of the stories Mizoguchi adapted for his film.And here's another woodblock illustration from "Bewitched". In this scene, you see the two vengeful spirits disappearing in the waves.Ueda Akinari (1734-1809) is a highly regarded writer and scholar whose life ran the gamut of experience. He was born to an Osaka prostitute never knowing who his father was. Adopted by a wealthy merchant at a young age. His father cared for him and gave him a good education which set Ueda with an inquiring mind for the rest of his life. He survived a small-pox infection as a young man and felt that his parents prayers to the god of the Kashima Inari Shrine are what saved him. This, perhaps, is what fixed a live-long fascination with the supernatural and the occult.Ueda AkinariTales of Moonlight and Rain (1776) was a departure for Ueda, who was primarily known for light comic sketches of contemporary life. His movement towards these supernatural stories reflected his increasing knowledge and love of Chinese literature which is rich in other-worldly tales. According to the translator, Kengi Hamada, who also wrote the fine "About the author" for this edition, Ueda the source material came from "ancient vintages". He states that Ueda "adapted, reshaped, and retold his stories in his own peculiar settings, representing interactions of history, mores, maxims, superstitious beliefs, and personality conflicts of an altogether different milieu".The modern reader of Tales of Moonlight and Rain might miss some of the originality of this work since it's central to Japanese literature and has influenced world literature, but is not as well know in America. We so see some of the tropes re-produced in these stories in our own horror/gothic fiction of the present day. Somehow, the social conscience of the original tales is missed in our re-telling of the story-tropes. What struck me in reading Tales of Moonlight and Rain (aside from the wonderful poetry and characterizations) is how masterfully the tales are woven into a moral and social construct. It's as if Ueda is saying "people are always going to mis-understand the supernatural; always going to be a victim because of their lack of knowledge of history". I'd al[...]

Cities of the Red Night by William Burroughs


Cover by Thomi Wroblewski      "The days seem to flash by like a speeded-up chase scene in a 1920s comedy.......        patrols always behind them, bullets thudding into flesh, bombs in Middletown bars         and theaters and restaurants. A wake of glass, blood and brains and the hot meaty         smell of entrails remind Audrey of a rabbit he had once seen dissected in biology         class. A girl had fainted. He could see her slump to the floor with a soft plop.            Shatter Day always closer..."                                                                                                                   page 255Before I jumped feet first into the kaleidescope of drugs, piracy, private eyes, homo-erotic sex, hangings and boys adventure pulp parodies that is Cities of the Red Night, I read a terrific short biography of Burroughs written by Phil Baker and published by a very cool British publisher Reaktion Press. Part of their "Critical Lives" series (I've read their books on Gertrude Stein and John Luis Borges...excellent books), William S. Burroughs packs as much biographical/critical information as you can in 192 pages. I like how Phil Baker writes and he, for the most part, is pretty even-handed and objective about wild boy Bill. Some parts struck me as new even though I read the huge (and probably definitive) bio of Burroughs by Ted Morgan years ago. Burroughs infatuation with Scientology, his continuous search for alternate reality/possession systems and theories (including attending a weekend seminar on "out of body" travel) and his discovery of the deep joy of living with cats late in life, all added dimensions to his personality that made reading Cities such an interesting, but frustrating experience.Cities of the Red Night is the first book of a trilogy of novels Burroughs started writing in the early 80s (the other two books are The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands) while living in "The Bunker" in New York which, years before, had been the locker room of the YMCA building at 222 Bowery. Windowless and without any natural light, Burroughs liked the vast space and entertained a growing coterie of punk followers given celebrity status as a Beat icon. He also became addicted to heroin again, which he found preferable to the curse of alcohol.One fellow who showed up at the Bunker was James Grauerholz, who after a short affair with Burroughs, became his amanuensis and eventual literary executor of the Burroughs estate. One of the dedications in Cities of the Red Night is "to James Graueholz, who edited this book into present time". How much James actually kept and/or cut from this novel is anyone's guess. It's an already fragmented novel, so you can't really tell. Certainly it's not easy to write when you are stoned, although Burroughs had learned to manage his habit over many, many years of his addiction. Still, it's important to remember he wrote it in the Bunker while living the life of a cult figure and coping with renewed heroin addiction. That sex, drugs, youth, addiction and disease figure prominently is no coincidence. Burroughs was w[...]

Vintage Paperback Covers


Here are a few recent additions to my growing vintage paperback collection. These came into the Iliad Bookshop today and caught my eye. (Note: you can click on the image for the original size which is quite large). All of my book covers are available on the Booklad "Book Covers" page.Lancer Books 74627-075 (1970)Airmont (1964)Pyramid Books R-1170 (1965)Cover painting by Jack Gaughan Lancer Books 75346-095 (1968)Pyramid Books F-794 (1962)Daw Books No. 206 (1976) Cover art by Deane CateMonarch Books 297 (1963) Cover by Ralph BrillhartZenith Books ZB-14 (1959)[...]

Jim Tierney Cover Designs


From Mark Frauenfelder at a very cool post on designer Jim Tierney's designs for Jules Verne book covers. Here's the link (and pix below):

Jim Tierney Book Covers

I love the strong contrast in colors matched with the whimsical design. Perfect for Verne's books. Unfortunately, as the blog post states they are design projects and not commercially available. You can see more of his work at his main website here:

Jim Tierney Website

I also follow a wonderful book blog on cover design called:

The Caustic Cover Critic

From this blog comes an interesting Edwardian take on HP Lovecraft designed by Travis Louie.

Short Spoken Word Selection from "The Orange Eats Creeps" by Grace Krilanovich


I recorded a very short piece from Grace Krilanovich's wonderful novel The Orange Eats Creeps reviewed here at Bookland. Published last year by Two Dollar Radio, I urge you to buy this very unusual and imaginative novel.

I hope my reading will give you a taste of the novel's style. Definitely check out the novel's page at the publisher's site.

(object) (embed) Short Reading of "The Orange Eats Creeps" by Grace Krilanovich by rickygrove

Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks


The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction............................................................... from Iain-Banks.netIain Banks first novel Wasp Factory knocked me out when it first came out in 1984. Dark, poetic and sharp-edged prose made the book so powerful it lingered for years (literally). Read it and you'll see what I mean as it's one of my favorite first novels. Hell, it's one of my favorite novels. What I can't explain is why I never read any more of his novels. Certainly, I had many of them in my library and even on my bedside table, but just never started them. Even when Mr. Banks began a series of SciFi novels that received thundering reviews, I still waited and waited. "What for", I ask myself. Just too many other books that demanded my attention. Well, all of that's changed with Consider Phlebas, the first of Mr. Banks "Culture" novels. Determined to get back to reading Mr. Banks, I spent last week enthralled by his imagination and ideas. Described as "space opera" in the blurbs on the back of the book (it's not), this intelligent novel follow an unusual man, Horza, who comes from a race of "changers" and can adjust their bodies to look like other races. He is a perfect spy and the bulk of the novel follows his efforts to retrieve a "Mind" (sentient AI) who has isolated itself on a "Planet of the Dead" (world where all life has been destroyed due to war). Horza is in competition with Balveda, an agent from the Culture, a race dominated by technology and artificial life. There is a strange respect and attraction between these two diametrically opposed characters. The story that Mr. Banks weaves with them is the real heart of the book. The climax of the story is the last line of the book (sans the brilliant Appendices). The book is filled with striking visual imagery and fascinating (and at times horrifying) situations that keep you glued to page. It's one of those books where everything goes silent around you and your mind is filled with the world of the book. Mr. Banks take on traditional SciFi themes like war, race and nationalism is fresh and, at times, moving. This is first of the Culture novels. I've got all of the others coming in the mail. I'll be writing more as I progress in the series. Be sure to check out for lots of interesting info. Here is the first part of a recent interview with Iain Banks (it's a radio interview) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="510" src="" title="YouTube video player" width="640">[...]

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich


The title: working title was "Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies", but as the author began to see the book was "transcending it's Roger Corman-esque origins" a song from a forgotten lo-fi band named Unicornface popped up called "Woof Eats Creeps" then a friend suggest "Sun Eats Creeps" which the author thought too obvious and riffed to "The Orange Eats Creeps".          "When a sleeping cats paws twitch it's dreaming of running away from you           You know, these are weird times, marked by a non-specific dread that rests           in nights of brown fog at the center of my bones. Everything in life is determined           a machine fueled by the tones emitted by digging a fresh grave. Horrific events           are set in motion in this occupied territory, activated by movement, but I can't           stop moving."                                                                                                           -page 105The author: according to the wikipedia entry on Grace Krilanovich she "moved to the Los Angeles area from Santa Cruz, California in 2003. She attended San Francisco State University for her undergraduate studies, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies. She then went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the California Institute of the Arts, where she graduated in 2005. She currently works at The Los Angeles Times"               "These were antique thoughts, marked by a non-specific dread...My first impulse         is to go to sleep. My second impulse is to have sex with it and  my third impulse         is to eat it. That's how my mind works. But the three are not quite as fixed as         you might think; they've been boiled down, chiseled out, and  refined,         painstakingly handcrafted over three centuries resting at the bottom         of my brain. The three are like the finest three-line poem chiseled in gold at the         foot of a roaring majestic waterfall and I'm sure as hell not giving them up, not        for the world. I need them."                                                                                                             -page 131The publisher: Two Dollar Radio is an indie publishing house established in 2005 by Brian Obenauf, Eliza Jane Wood, Eric Obenauf and Emil Pullen to "publish books that if I stumbled upon as a re[...]

The Toy Collector by James Gunn


"I believe all of THE TOY COLLECTOR is emotionally true, however only part of it is based on my real life or people I know. It is, in essence, a work of fiction"                                                                                                                                                              -JamesGunn.comThe Toy Collector  is the first novel by the well-known screenwriter and filmmaker James Gunn. Published in 2000 by Bloomsbury, US, it's become quite a cult novel and is currently available new trade paperback (with a crappy "oh, I'll get it done in an afternoon" cover/ see bottom image) and at good used bookstores in hard-back (with a much better cover above).I've been flirting with this book for years. Initially drawn to the cover art, I had built up an idea of what the book was about long before I cracked the covers and dug in. Boy, was I way off. Thinking I was sitting down to the story of the toy-collecting racket in new your, what I got was much, much better. Didn't take more than the first 10 pages to kick my preconceptions out the window. Instead of a cute, funny little novel like I imagined, what I got was a blistering portrait of lost childhood, desperate addiction to toys/sex and masochism set alternatively in the 70's and in present day New York City.The narrator (called "James" in the book) is selling pharma stolen from the hospital where he works as an orderly. His life is desperate, funny and violent. He is suffering from some sort of trauma and collecting toys (sp. 70's toys and toy in particular) is one way he has of covering over the pain. Remembering is another way of coping. Half of the novel is a portrait of the author as a young boy with his brother, Tar, his non-existent and hapless father/mother, and a close circle of misfit friends whom he comes to love. In fact, it's these friends that give him his only true sense of love and belonging. One friend in particular, Gary, is the focus of the small group because he just can't seem to fend for himself at school and is troubled with fears and phobias. It's Gary who the narrator truly loves and protects.But a terrible tragedy occurs in the past. One that cripples the narrator and all of his friends. An event so violent and tragic that they are all scarred for life. This chapter in particular has some of the finest writing I've read in years. My hands were literally trembling as I read it. And I couldn't come back to the book for a day or two; it's that powerful.The book is darkly comic. Jet black, in fact. The early scenes of the two brothers and their friends playing with their toys is told realistically, like the adventures are actually happening. The fate of their heroes is often sadistic and horrifying (as are their enemies). The "Bob and Oscar" section early in the book is laugh-aloud funny and sick at the same time. I found myself nodding in agreement with the playing, like I'd been there myself. Any boy who played with toys will pick up on the mix of humor and cruelty. It's [...]