Friday, October 24, 2008

The Manual of Detection - Jedediah Berry

Star detective Travis T. Sivart is missing. More Phillip Marlowe than Sherlock Holmes, Sivart has been responsible for unraveling the strange crimes of arch-villain, and master of disguise, Enoch Hoffman, ever since Hoffman and his Travels-No-More Carnival occupied the outskirts of the city. Now, with Sivart having disappeared, the city is sliding into chaos; citizens are trapped in fugue states and engaging in strange behavior; signs that Hoffman is making a play for control of more than just the ragged big top under his purview abound. Enter Charles Unwin; a lowly clerk in the employ of The Agency, the solvers of mystery and protectors of the public good. Unwin is, if not happy, then at least content to be the chronicler of Sivart’s cases; collating facts and compiling the exploits of derring-do that Unwin admired but never wanted to experience. Improbably, Unwin is whisked into the world of sensible hats and shoulder holsters in Sivart’s stead, given nothing more than the seventeen slim chapters that serve as the book’s title to go about finding his famed predecessor.

But even that resource is thrown into question, as a strange dream encounter with Sivart reveals the existence of an eighteenth chapter excised for field operatives. Unwin sets out reluctantly to find Sivart in the hopes of everything going back to normal, armed only with a head for detail and a sleepy secretary in love with the life of a detective. Normal falls by the wayside early on, as Unwin proceeds to uncover the actual status quo in the city; a strange balance between falsely resolved mystery and hidden connections whose exposure throws the work of both The Agency and The Carnival into question.

Most appreciated about The Manual of Detection is that, though it is a strange world we’re dropped into, there is no overt attempt to beat us over the head with explanatory exposition. The city is totally noir, phonographs are still en vogue, a giant steam-powered truck serves as conveyance for dead-eyed henchmen, and the gin joint next to the cemetery is the place to ask your questions. The standard detective story archetypes are well-represented but smartly tweaked adding a layer of the fantastic that enhances the story without hijacking the tone.

Jedediah Berry’s first full-length novel is wonderful. With boundless imagination and razor keen characterization, he has delivered a smart, fun story that appeals to the mystery lover and the magical realist fan all at once. The Manual of Detection is strange without being silly; intricate without being minutia-laden; whimsical while still keeping the reader riding the secret subway and plumbing the depths of the hidden catacombs in an attempt to stay one step ahead of gunmen and deranged puppet masters.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stacey D'erasmo in a Black Hole with a bunch of galleys.

I had a dream last night in which I am walking down a city block and about ten kittens are running towards me and what do I do? what do I do in this dreamy dream? I TURN AROUND AND WALK IN THE OTHER DIRECTION My evil, silly dream-self walks away from a bunch of eager kittens. gah.

1. Am currently reading Stacey D'erasmo's forthcoming novel with the unfortunate title The Sky Below. It's about a gay, Gabriel, and his best friend Sarah and their journey through college in Arizona to their life in NYC. The writing is kind of shallow and the time span so far (I'm halfway through) is so vast it doesn't allow much for exploration. There are some very lovely scenes from Gabe's childhood in Maine and swamp adventures with his sister in Florida, though. It came to mind that this book could be about my friendship with certain other bookseller whose name begins with a J and ends with an N, you know because he's of that gay persuasion and my name is Sarah, but then there's a situation with a platonic bath and it pretty much all went out the window. However, after sharing info with J----N on the plot development, I'm relatively certain that "the platonic bath" will remain a staple insult/inappropriate proposition for the indefinite future.

2. Also, on the current reading list is Black Hole by Charles Burns. Love it/can't read it before bed or all dreams become nightmares in which people have tails and these tails break off at the tip with an unsettling cracking noise. Godsave loves the drawings of the insides of the various apartments, also Burns' ability to portray kids smoking reefer in a real way. I like how he draws water and relating to the teenage girl who goes with the wrong guys and ends up sleeping in a tent in the woods. The depth of setting is the black hole. Walked down to the lake with Godsave and a thermos of saucy hot chocolate last night. I think this adventure was partly inspired by this novel and contained a grain of anticipation for running into some kids with "the bug" along the spookedy ravine trail.

3. Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill. I really enjoy these stories, but much like the Miranda July, it is difficult to read many in succession, at one time, for it leads to a bleeding together of plot and character. Also, her tendency to write dryly about sex and deviancy, is something to be taken in small doses and generally a style I disdain.

4. Current galley waiting list:
One DOA One on the Way by Mary Robison
Book of Clouds (title already one strike against it) by Chloe Aridjis
Invite by Glen Pourciau
the Art of the Commonplace: the Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry
not a galley but at the top of the pile is Starman: Night and Day.

Im gonna go make some bacon pancakes now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


by sarah marine


Taking bookselling very seriously, not in an uptight sense, but in that you seek out the highest quality of literature and share it with those around you, is what we do full-time at the Downer store. We know our customers by name, what they've read in the past and use that knowledge to recommend titles for them in the future. In turn, it isn't uncommon for someone to come in and basically have a meltdown if Stacie isn't around to tell them her opinion on a new title, it happens often that customers that have been supporting us for decades will, without fail, honestly ask every bookseller he sees what they are reading. In most cases each bookseller has their own personal book club. But it's not only these instore exchanges that keep the store alive- the vitality also comes from the collective conscious effort of every one of our booksellers to support other independent businesses in the neighborhood and Milwaukee, completely.

I've been reading some nonfiction as of late. A great friend Carl Hedman, with whom I worked last summer to establish the People's Books Co-op here in Milwaukee, has been steering me in the direction of a variety of superb pieces of work which deal with de-schooling, critical pedagogy and a variety of other educational philosophies which came to rise in the 1970's. He also informed me of his own venture with David Schwartz in establishing a free family school right here in Milwaukee some thirty years ago. I have never been a great student, I was quite the Max Fischer in my day, and these have really helped me to understand the downfalls of compulsory, competitive education and how today we should work to move away from these institutional practices toward a more personal and beneficial pedagogy aimed at creating positive student teacher relationships centered around a real education.

Here are a few of the books currently holding my attention:

Everywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader edited by Matt Hern
From Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Illich, and Emma Goldman to John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, and Grace Llewellyn, Matt Hern has compiled an impressive cast of educational pioneers to aid parents, kids, and teachers in the quest for effective learning strategies.

Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A.S. Neill
As American education lags behind the rest of the world, this new edition is more timely than ever. The children of today face struggles far greater than any previous generation and we, as parents and teachers, must teach them now to make choices for themselves and to learn from the outcome of their decisions.

Adventures in Steiner Education by Brien Masters
This book outlines the basic structure of the journey through the Upper School in the Waldorf Steiner tradition.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Crisis! (exclamation duly deserved)

Everyone has a right to his or her own religious beliefs. But we all have and equal duty to work for the dignity of all human beings. (Elke Kennedy)

Crisis, edited by Mitchell Gold, subtitled '40 stories revealing the personal, social, and religious pain and trauma of growing up gay in America', is my latest read. (9781929774104, Hardcover, $23.95)

This book takes the "confessions" of scores of people personally affected by the predominance of hateful teaching concerning homosexuality from churches and schools across america, stories spanning most of the past century and up to today.

Let me be clear: I suffered more fear and numbing anxiety from my "secret" as a teenager than I did from racism and segregation in Philadelphia in 1950. I can only imagine how my life would have been transformed and enhanced without the cloud of religion-based bigotry punishing me because I was born black and homosexual. (Rodney Powell)

Living in liberal Milwaukee, it may be hard for us to really understand the epidemic (and it really is one) that affects vast tracts of the country, but this book hopes to educate those of us who it doesn't immediately concern (as well as those who need to change their views). We should be concerned by the staggering numbers of LGBT people who fear, to their very cores, alienation, damnation and violence from their spiritual communities, peers, leaders and even their own families. Fearing their own parents' reactions should they come out.

To label as sin a person's sexual orientation is an act of spiritual violence. It defines the personal core, the very essence of a young person's identity, as sinful. Believing you're a sinner because you're LGBT creates a severe emotional and mental anguish, especially for young people. (Jimmy Creech)

From representatives of past generations who were unable to be themselves until decades of their lives had passed, to teens of today sharing their current woes, to reformed church leaders who've realized the error of their ways, to parents who've lost their children due to violence or suicidal depression - this book contains a plethora of evidence demanding only that something has to be done to evoke change.

Misinformation from a church that probably taught her she could somehow hate the sin but not the sinner... from an education system that never gave her accurate information about the nature of sexual orientation... from a community that made her intolerant of difference and afraid to accept her son as he truly was. In the end, it was not her fault alone. (Kevin Jennings)

The most poignant essays are those explaining the confusion when growing up of not being able to define ones feelings, for years (and still today in some areas) homosexuality was just NOT discussed, and as a result young people literally didn't understand their own thoughts. They were lost in their own heads.

The most harrowing stories detail the emotional and psychological torture caused by parents and religious leaders advocating "reparative therapy" and touting other "ex-gay" hate speech. I found my stomach turning just learning of what some people have had to go through.

For those of us who never had to face these situations, there is a duty owed our peers to prevent future infractions. I had the good fortune, despite 6 years of Catholic schooling, to avoid any real danger. I've known I liked boys since I was 5 years old, and as soon as I learned what that meant I had no problem with it as a fact, but I was still terrified of being alienated from everyone I had grown to love once they found out. Frequently even the most accepting parents are unprepared to have a gay child, simply because the possibility is never presented to them, this is another central point of Crisis.

What is often overlooked is that straight people also have conversations in which their attraction to the opposite sex is discussed, but in their case it is not called coming out - it's called talking. (Barney Frank)

At times the book sacrifices intelligent and commendable writing ability for the face value of the writers, but this is the only real fault I can find with it - and the sacrifice is absolutely justified if it causes wider recognition of the epidemic. Overall I found Crisis powerful and frightening, evoking fears I didn't know I had and passion I didn't expect.

Although this book isn't exciting or fantastic, and it certainly isn't a book for rainy weather, it is something to be passed around, and it is necessary to educate anyone who forgets that we are all created equal.

Since new parenthood is in the air lately, let's make sure to tell our loved ones (children, peers, whomever) that we love them no matter who they are, and encourage others to do the same.

I don't want parents to feel they must tell their children not to be who they are in order to keep them safe. I want them to know that the healthiest thing they can say is, "Be who you are, and we'll work to make the world safer together." (Tammy Baldwin)

Monday, October 6, 2008

diggers digging, fingers typing, pages turning, noun verb, etc.

by sarah marine

I'm sitting in my library contemplating silence whilst diggers and dumptrucks do their thing in the parking lot next door. Ah, construction. It makes for a very unfriendly reading environment. Therefore, you get a blogpost about what I'm thinking, which is quite lucky- because I know it's what you live for.

The past couple days have been those lovely Wisconsin ones involving the harshest transition from 80 degree days to 50 degree days. Thankfully, I LOVE WINTER...and, thankfully, nothing says winter like Ander Monson. However with the season still much too far away from warranting Other Electricities, I picked up assorted fire events by David Means. It is the perfect foreword to its Monson Michigan companion (who I guess is teaching in Arizona now, which boggles the mind).

Means' description: "the wet mulch stench of the forest floor and the vast emptiness that the Upper Peninsula offers, that stony wilderness scratching the back of the of the greatest freshwater body in the world, a lake deep enough to swallow whole freighters..." geez. Why anyone would want to live anywhere but the glorious midwest is beyond me. It's beyond.

If I could have dinner with any five writers, living or dead, writers whose conversations could veer from the personality of freight trains, to various sounds of walking on snow, to the year-round cold of the Great Lakes it would be these:

1. Richard Hugo
2. David Means
3. Ander Monson
4. John Ashbery
5. Mike Balisle
*6. Bayard Godsave, of course.

Together with Ashbery's April Galleons and Frank Miller's Daredevil series, I have been very very pleased with current literary companions. Thinking about the future, cant wait for new Sarah Vowell and Chris Ware! Have also been obsessively checking iPage and IBID and everywhere for The Art of Recklessness, which is supposedly a prose collection by Dean Young that was scheduled to come out this year- I mean, literally mentioned in the same breath as Primitive Mentor(January 2008).


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Timothy McSweeney's Vacation Video: v1

Timothy McSweeney sneaks his own Junior Mints and popcorn into the theatre.

Courtesy of our good friends at Vital Source.

(Stay tuned for the next installment.)