Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Friday, May 19, 2006

They Shoot Book Collectors, Don't They?

At the conclusion of this past Friday's dollar book free-for-all at the Strand, I remarked to an employee that several of the usual suspects were conspicuously missing. It was my impression that, like the mob, once you were in this select group, there was no getting out, that we were in a marathon of sorts, not unlike the marathon dancers of yesteryear, and that graceful retreat was not possible. Nothing short of dropping in your book hunting tracks right on the Strand floor was acceptable. The lesser number of participants (four were missing) meant that we all scored a few more choice books (well, at least choice in our eyes).

My best find that day was Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage (Coffee House Press, 2006). "A tale of exile, unrequited love, and the redemptive power of literature", Fermin is the story of a most unusual hero: Firmin, a rat, resides in the basement of a bookstore in Boston's Scollay Square during that area's bygone bookstore/burlesque era. No ordinary rat he, Firmin can read and he soon becomes friends with the owner of the bookstore and a down-on-his-luck science fiction writer.

Another interesting find was Haiku Guy (possibly the first novel whose subject is the writing of haiku) by David G. Lanoue (Red Moon Press, 2000), but hands down the most bizarre title was By the Time You Finish This Book You Might Be Dead by Aaron Zimmerman (Spuyten Duyvil, 2003): "Eliot Greebee, a lonely, overweight, middle age Certified Public Accountant is the creator of CUTLAS, a mathematically based system designed to justify a purely hedonistic lifestyle. Practioners can do whatever they want whenever they want." Oh, and let me not forget Wheeler Dealer: The Rip Roaring Adventures of My Uncle Gordon, a Quadriplegic in Hollywood by Chip Jacobs (First Person Press, 2006)which (I think) is the true story of the author's grandfather, Lee Zahler. It probably sounds like I'm making these books up, but they're all REAL! I wish I could figure out how to post pictures here because if I wasn't such an idler, I'd have pictures of these books accompanying this entry just to convince the doubters among you.

Once upon a time I had the brilliant idea that I would read all of the Dan Turner pulp stories of Robert Leslie Bellem. A silly idea to be sure which didn't get very far before I abandoned it. A far better idea was my recent thought to start reading the Nebula award winning stories. The first story I read was not even the winner but was one of the nominated stories which you can find in Nebula Awards Showcase 2006: The Year's Best SF and Fantasy edited by Gardner Dozois (ROC, 2006). The story is Travels With My Cats by Mike Resnick, a story that Resnick feels is one of his best. Instead of a Tarzan or a Mickey Spillane novel, an eleven year old boy is resigned to buy the only book he can afford at a garage sale -- Travels With My Cats by Miss Priscilla Wallace. After initially fascinating him,the book sits unwanted and unloved until the young boy, now forty years old and leading a life of quiet desperation, returns to it and finds his life totally transformed by this obscure little book. Look for this one -- you'll love this story!

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Million and One Little Lies

Although it has evidently been out since March, I just noticed the James Frey parody A Million Little Lies by James Pinocchio in my local drug den, er .... bookstore. I'm pleased to report that I'm immune to the charms of this little book and have no intention of reading (or acquiring) it. I do however have another little lie to report.

In the area of creative nonfiction, this is a real beaut. In the April 3, 2006 New Yorker there's a letter from Allen and Wallace Shawn, sons of the legendary New Yorker editor, William Shawn. It seems that they wrote in to shed light on a few inconsistencies in the movie version of Capote. Well, maybe more than a few.

Their dispensing of the real truth about their father's role in the Capote saga is skillfully and subtly delivered.

Here's the film version contrasted with the real unvarnished Shawn version:

Film: Shawn speaks of "building interest" in Capote's piece (In Cold Blood)
Real Shawn: he didn't believe that articles or their authors should be publicized

Film: Shawn organizes a book reading at which he personally introduces Capote
Real Shawn: he never organized a reading and he never addressed one -- not just for Capote but for any writer. Moreover, they add, he never spoke in public on any occasion

Film: Shawn arranges to have Richard Avedon go to Kansas to photograph Capote and the two killers
Real Shawn: he never published any photographs by Richard Avedon in the magazine and he didn't think the New Yorker should run photographs

Film: Shawn flies out to Kansas to visit Capote
Real Shawn: this is the best one of all -- Shawn never went to Kansas to visit Capote -- the sons end the letter with this indisputable piece of truth -- "in fact he
never had the experience of flying on an airplane."

Who's the real legend here? I only hope that in some future age when the do the movie version of Shawn they get at least some of this stuff right!

Monday, May 01, 2006

One True Pure Thing

I’m not exactly sure at what point I began to hate Richard Bach. Bach, you might remember, is the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and several other soul searching books. It’s probably pretty hard for Bach to get a fair shake these days owing primarily to the bad feelings that little bird still seems to be engendering. Although he claims to rarely walk out of movies, Roger Ebert reportedly walked out of Jonathan Livinston Seagull and came up with this classic quote: “The Little Engine That Could, is, by comparison, a work of some depth and ambition.” I doubt that even after thirty five years, few people have changed their assessment.

My latter day encounter with Bach occurred when I chanced upon a copy of another of his books, The Bridge Across Forever (William Morrow, 1984) in the Newark Public Library. The book has a pretty wretched looking cover and would by itself be enough to scare off a current potential reader in the event their local library hasn’t already discarded this title.

When I read the jacket copy though, I was hooked. Bridge is Bach’s recounting of his search for his soulmate. It quickly became evident that Bach is a pretty nice guy. Bach obviously didn’t write Seagull as a “get rich quick” scheme; he was evidently as surprised as everybody else that the book was so successful.

One of the most curious things about The Bridge Across Forever is that it describes the success (monetary and otherwise) that Jonathan Livingston Seagull created for Bach, but although he alludes to the book in numerous places, he never mentions the book by title. Quote the Seagull, nevermore seems to be the operating plan here (and a good plan it probably is).

Bach's search for his soulmate makes fascinating reading, and, likeable guy that he seems to be, you can’t help but cheer him on. Just when it seems that he’s probably never going to find her, he meets the actress Leslie Parrish. The reader pretty quickly senses that she’s the one, even if Bach himself isn’t quite so sure. It was at this point that I had to skip ahead and consult the internet to see how it all worked out. As it turned out, Bach did marry her but they were later divorced.

I was pretty much on neutral ground at this point but as the pages flew by, it was pretty easy to start to hate Bach. This man of many metaphysical musings seems to be positively lost in comparison to Ms Parrish, who if even half of the portrait he paints of her is true, is certainly as enlightened a human being as is possible. When Bach has to declare bankruptcy after his investments sour, it is Parrish who comes up with her own money to buy the copyrights on his backlist. You can’t help but feel that although Parrish might be his soulmate, she somehow deserves better.

Sadly, they are no longer together and Bach has evidently remarried again. I get the impression that she preferred a life of quiet and he a more active life. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have created anything since then that is as interesting as The Bridge Across Tomorrow which I can certainly recommend. I think I'm going to have to ransack the tv archives to find some of Ms Parrish's guest appearances to see if any of that enlightenment is visible onscreen.