Saturday, January 24, 2009

SJH + HWS 4-ever

This note was taped to the bookshop front window sometime during the night. To think that SJH ventured out into the near-zero temperatures, bundled up tight to ward off frostbite, all for the love of a bookstore.

Dearest Harry,

I love you. I do. Truly I do. It makes me sad to think I've never told you this before. I guess it's too late now that you are leaving. Sometimes I think, if I would have only told you earlier you might not be leaving me now.

Maybe Saturday we can hang out one more time. I know, you want to be alone now. But I think it would be good for closure. We haven't had a chance to end things properly...Maybe we can visit St. Petersburg one last time or anywhere, I don't mind.

God Harry, now I'm crying. I'm sorry, I can't help it. Harry! We used to be so alive. We used to care about things. Remember when you introduced me J.D.S.? You would have thought I just discovered Jesus Christ. What happened to us? Why did everything have to get so messed up? Harry, I love you! Doesn't that mean anything?

I'm sorry Harry. I don't mean to be like this. I know you must move on. This is how things work - I understand. And I have to move on too. I just wish I were moving on with you.

I love you Harry-


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In the spirit of LOST

I know Justin and I are looking forward to the LOST premier tonight (anyone else out there?)...

In that spirit, I'm "finding*" and reposting a review of one of my all-time favorite books - and the best book I read last year - The Invention of Morel. You'll find me masquerading around the network as "dr_morel" or "dr.morel".

Though I really dislike the whole "if you like ____, you'll like ____" review methodology (inherent flaws of comparisons and categories being part of the reason), it is often helpful and effective. Thus, I will claim that:

if you like LOST, you will indeed love The Invention of Morel.

And, to further the format, I'd love to see some fellow LOST fans take up the charge and give similar simple recs in the comments. (Our Mutual Friend, Turn of the Screw, and that "Gary Troupe" book need not apply.)

So enjoy the repost and stay tuned for more Flapiness.

*shamless cream city review self-plug: new "found" theme issue should be hitting shelves shortly

Fiction Machine: Alfredo Bioy Casare's The Invention of Morel

By Jay Johnson

If you're in search of a tight, little novella to kick-off you're summer reading season, I must recommend Alfredo Bioy Casare's enigmatic The Invention of Morel. Written in 1940, this book may be short and a quick read, but imagery, text and questions will pleasantly linger for weeks after you've read it for the second or third time. As always, The New York Review Books presents an informed, stylish and durable edition of a work that is important to several areas of writing: science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, adventure and Latin American literature, in general.

Bioy, a contemporary and friend of Borges, weaves a trance-like confession of an obsessed fugitive into a search to discover the devices behind the bizarre actions of the deserted island's mysterious visitors and their leader, Dr. Morel. Science fiction and adventure readers, admirers of fantasies like The Island of Dr. Moreau and the television series Lost, and fans of Alain Resnais' film L'année dernière à Marienbad - the film, written by Alain Robbe-Grillet, author of The Erasers, is influenced by Morel - would thoroughly enjoy this brilliant and overlooked work.

In the introduction to The Invention of Morel, Suzanne Jill Levine writes, “for Borges and Bioy, the fantastic was a far richer medium compared to what they then considered the impoverished artifices of nineteenth-century realism” (vii). This sentiment certainly plays out in the novella through multiple layers of discourse.

Perhaps the most interesting and rich example of fantasy coming into conversation with the “impoverished artifices” of realism is centered on the climax of the novella, when Morel delivers his speech.[1] The narrator, whose is writing is posed as that of a diarist, writes that he had grabbed the notes that Morel read off of to deliver his address to the guests on the island. At this time, the reader is given the fourth footnote of the novella, which states:

“For the sake of clarity we have enclosed the material on the yellow pages in quotation marks; the marginal notes, written in pencil and in the same handwriting as the rest of the diary, are not set off by quotes. (Editor’s Note.)” (65).

First, it is important to note that the Editor is clearly a construction of the novel; there is no true Editor to the New York Review Books’ edition. One of the functions of the Editor, in this footnote, is to reinforce the artifice of the narrator as diarist. If there is an actual sheaf of yellow pages, ostensibly there is a narrator, who introduced us to this yellow sheaf. By extension, there is a Morel, who delivers a speech and invents a machine that captures perfect representations of its subjects—and all the other repercussions of Morel’s invention. In this respect, the existence of an editor’s footnote supports the artifice of realism.

While the existence of an Editor perpetuates the conceit of the novella, the actual text of the note achieves the opposite. The voice of this footnoted section is the same voice found throughout the novella, without exception. Moreover, the form of the text in this section casts serious doubt on the reality of the rest of the work. Morel’s speech takes the form of a scene, as prescribed by the footnote. His speech appears in quotes, while the narrators marginalia appear as narrative observation. The physical existence of Morel’s speech is differentiated from the diary conceit maintained throughout the remainder. If the appearance of this special section is indistinguishable from the other sections, however, how is the reader to believe in this artifice of realism? That two differentiated mediums are ultimately indistinguishable undermines the conceit of realism in The Invention of Morel.

Given the initial sentiment of the introduction, this destabilization of realism is ultimately not surprising. On a tertiary level, the “Editor’s Note” further problematizes notions of realism, as well as the boundary of where a text ends (in the sense of author-editor-reader relationship) as well as authority of narrators and editors. In the eighth footnote of the novella, the Editor refutes the narrator’s citation of his own text, declaring that the excerpt the narrator states to appear at the beginning of the text does not exist (95). Examining the text itself, the narrator is vindicated: the exact text does appear near the beginning of the book. Thus, the Editor has failed a basic condition of her position: that of existing outside of the text, in a position of reference to the artifact itself.

Entering The Invention of Morel through the instance of Editor’s Note to the climax—Morel’s speech—points to a reading supported by the introduction: “In Bioy’s paradoxical universe the symbol turns upon itself: his texts are filled with tantalizing allusions which are no longer keys but rather enigmatic ciphers” (xi). Rather than providing the reader with clues, the Editor undermines the possibility of a literal, realistic interpretation of the text.


[1] This is certainly one reason why Borges considers The Invention of Morel to be an example in excellent plotting. Morel’s speech is not only centrally important to understanding the text on the most basic level; it also holds many insights into a variety of interpretive avenues.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Harry W. Schwartz to close all stores

Here are a couple of links to the full story:

Publishers Weekly
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

And from two brilliant booksellers:

Justin Riley
Daniel Goldin

Very sad news, indeed.


And the excellent Jack Pendarvis (who knows and has met Tom Franklin! In person!)

What I don't need to say,

because Justin just wrote it far better than I can.

(Also, an answer to the "what next?" question involving non-hobo hook-hands.)

PS SCREW OFF GOOGLE! and take your darn ads with you, since they're *disabled* for this site...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Downer Avenue Bestsellers, 2008 Edition

as we here at the Inside Flap are so obsessed with lists, it is fitting to sum up the whole of the year 2008 in a single, simple fashion. with that end in mind, we now present to you our 25 bestselling books of 2008:


  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
"Beautiful, sparse and unforgettable."
-Stacie Williams
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
"The shock and viscera presented in The Road is made all the more striking when contrasted with the quiet desperation and deep bond between a man and his young son facing the end of the world. Fear and love are rarely presented in tandem with such class."
-Justin Riley
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut
"These short stories blur and break the line between fiction and memoir, between criticism and submission to human barbarism."
-Jordan Gower
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
"Beautifully written. Stunningly so, considering the circumstances of its writing."
-Conrad Silverberg
  • Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • Gathering by Anne Enright
  • Lamb by Christopher Moore
"The funniest book you'll ever read."
-Conrad Silverberg
  • Chicago Way by Michael Harvey
  • No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
"Miranda July's interpretation of everyday situations culminate in these grand stories of most appropriate misunderstandings. Through her art of romanticizing the ridiculous she has brought the reader close to the page and left them thinking about chlorine smells and swimming lessons for days."
-Sarah Marine
  • Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret
"Keret is a master of everyday language, yet his plots are always fresh, brilliant, wild and inventive. His characters go crashing through life, facing love, facing death, facing confusion, and often getting lost in the most wonderful and unimaginable blunders."
-Joe Lisberg
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
"Delivering a buddy story that is really about great acts of humanity during times of evil, this novel is the true definition of 'unputdownable'."
-Stacie Williams
  • Best American Short Stories 2008 Edited by Salman Rushdie
  • Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
"This tightly woven novel sings with a clear & beautiful voice, it deserves to be heard by all."
-Carl Hoffman

  • This I Believe by Jay Allison
  • Milwaukee’s Brady Street Neighborhood by Frank D Alioto
  • Goodnight Bush: A Parody by Gan Golan & Erich Origen
  • Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
  • Art of Living by Epictetus
"This book saved my life, and brought me back to the bookstore."
-Doug James
  • The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
  • Milwaukee at Mid-Century by Lyle Oberwise
  • Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
"When opportunism knocks, Klien is there to knock some sense into us - and, in a perfect world, into the filthy lucre mongers."
-Myra Poe
  • Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft & Design by Faythe Levine
"This book is invaluable in its presentation of some of the hardest working crafters in the nation. Faythe is our own renaissance lady; co-owner of Paper Boat, organizer of the righteous Art vs. Craft, and overall champion and supporter of all things indy creative."
-Sarah Marine
  • Nixonland by Rick Perlstein

there you have it, folks.

tune in next year for our followup segment.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who *reads* fiction on teh internetz, anyway?

or, Two More Meaty Ways in Which the Platform Changes, but the Song Remains the Same.

by digi-jay < partially x-posted from impoverished artifices >



BBC's Digital Planet discusses a South African mobile web app story serialization project.

NPR's All Things Considered compiled a story about the "wovel", which is, in essence, a roughly interactive serialization of a novel on a blog or on the web (web + novel = wovel).


How interactive does interactivity have to be?

Are physical spaces that sell books doomed?


Listening to the very good Digital Planet podcast from the BBC World Service on the iPhone at the grocery store, I heard about a South African story project, Novel Idea. It's sent to subscribers over mobile texts, but it is not like the Japanese mobile text novels that the NYT had a feature on in January 2008. Rather than being a story in a text message, the text delivers a link to a WAP site that hosts the stories. There are several authors working on the project, with a variety of types of work (I *so* resist the word "genre" here...).

The form mimics serialization, as it condenses the space of composition into a word limit. The WAP rather than SMS, though, increases the amount of text that can be published per installment. "Punchy" was one term used to describe the mode of creative composition, as the author needs to hook the reader in a small space.

The manager of the project, Emma Kaye, mentioned that mobile technology in South Africa is more prolific than internet access. According to Kaye, mobile phones have a penetration rate of 90% in South Africa. One reason for this could be that, again according to Kaye, SMS is cheaper than voice rates. Thus, this form of literature can have a greater reach than the form that I'll discuss next.

The form, while not interactive, is certainly portable and a result of adaptation to new technologies. It can also be shared with friends, by forwarding the text link - though a believe the R$1.50 charge for establishing a subscription. It's also a competition: readers vote on the best story, until only one author remains. So, I suppose, in a way it is interactive--readers can end stories.

The "wovel" First World, as featured on NPR's All Things Considered is a similar development of writing meeting new modes of reading. Published in blog format--though, really, one could say published on the web, with abilities for comments; blog is just a catch word--this serialization offers readers a collective interactivity. They are allowed to vote for a binary option of how the story unfolds in the next installment. Through comments, they are given the opportunity for a digital rhetorical discourse on how the story should unfold.

The most interesting aspect of Novel Idea and the wovel to me, as an author, is how the act of writing is being adapted to fit new methods of reading and publishing media. Neither of these styles of publishing are necessarily new, as the serialization of fiction has a very long history and has been far more interesting. For instance, sensation fiction publications in Victorian England purposely blended fiction and nonfiction to break down lines of categorization. These tehno-forms are just plain storytelling--on a new platform that may require some new limitations on length, predominantly.

I'm interested in the interactivity offered by the wovel, in that it is collective rather than individual. I would tend to prefer the individual choose your own adventure style of reading, rather than being offered a binary decision in which I only have a small say. Reading has traditionally (to me and in "Western" culture, I'd venture) been an individual act. Thus, this collective is both interesting and limiting. The limiting almost makes it identical to authorial decision-making, though that power is spread out. Again, I'd be interested in seeing that power dissolve, by offering infinite outcomes.

Why not paper? If we're talking about brevity, there are plenty of excellent flash fiction collections out there, such as Flash Fiction Forward (< /bayard_plug >). With paper, you do lose the technological convergence of the hand-held: voice, data, network -- and everything that accompanies these. Paper does have the advantage of the brain's mode of memory, however, in that the rigid layer of paper offers a static spatial sequence that can be internalized -- the paragraph at the top, the sentence on the left-hand page.

As bookseller, electronic distribution of texts is usually a generally threatening proposition. What happens when War & Peace is available for download on my iPhone or your Curve? OMG, we're all going to disappear!!1!

And, while this *is* slowly happening -- indies closing, chains starting down that road, Project Gutenberg delivers War & Peace to my phone for free, what I'm sure is a majority of reading now being done online (Lessig says so...) -- I don't think it's because I've actually read or would prefer to read The Society of the Spectacle or even Free Culture on my mobile, rather than in bound paper form. (For starters, I can't highlight my touch screen and write marginalia.) Rather, one giant reason is that readers are individually living online and letting the evil A and their superior algorithm tell readers what they might like. It isn't e-texts that are being distributed to problematize paper and bricks-and-mortar, it's paper being distributed from an electronic source that endangers your neighborhood bookshop.

Does that mean that the "real" is doomed to succumb to the "virtual"? I don't think so, and not just because I think that binary isn't accurate ("real" and "virtual" overlap and bleed and are much more porous than a binary realtionship allows -- see this blog and the bookshop we all happen to work at where we talk about this blog).

My hope lies in the fact that the evil A doesn't really offer a place for readers to organize or form commnunity. They are very much about commerce and have not been able to hide or complement that with a social aspect. In fact, there isn't a predominant or set of predominant social networks for readers -- at least that I've found. They all seem partial or don't offer the community we come to expect from more popular social networking experiences, like Facebook.

One speculation for this might sound something like the long tail of media consumption. TV and film have limited programming options to offer, due to methods of distribution (networks, basic cable, expanded cable, web-only, in a descending manner for TV). While this has grown with Web 2.0/RW/remix culture, the number of offerings for TV and film must be dwarved by the number of books published yearly by major houses. Add in small presses and academic publishers and that number probably doubles. (And that's not including self-publication outfits, as the RW culture has not crossed into the book world. "Self-published" and "vanity press" are very dirty words.)

So what, dude? you're asking. My point here is that it's easier to form community around a show like Lost, as so many more people view it, as their viewing options are intrinsicly less on TV than they are in a bookshop. Where's that message board for Gone Away World, Jordan? It's harder to find people who want to talk about the same books that you've read, as, not only is reading ficiton less common than watching TV, the number of ficticious books you can choose to read is far greater than the number of TV series you can choose to watch.

What's this have to do with bookshops with front doors, that pay local taxes to support schools and infrastructure and employ members of your community? In theory, it should hurt them, as ecnomies of scale and the long tail should make it easier and cheaper for small groups to connect online. (I'm sure there is a group of three people talking about Gone Away World somewhere in some corner of the internetz -- and I'd like you to give me the names of the other two folks, Jordan, so I can properly cite them.) But -- and here's the turn -- there's a difference between talking about and selling things, no matter how closely they're related. And, personally, this is where I see the advantage of the community bookseller over the evil A or equivalent.

The bookseller(s) is better than the algorithm.

The good bookseller can tell you what people enjoy, what's new to the shelf, what people who read are enjoying -- and why.

The algorithm can tell you what other people bought.

Pick up your mobile and find out where your nearest (indie) bookseller is and start a conversation with anyone: a bookseller, that girl in the "science fiction" section or that weird guy over in the corner by magazines.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

call me copy cat

i think we're a bit late for the 2008 lists, we're behind the vogue. but here they are, my lists for the past year.

my top five (in no exact order) of...

... books i read and loved, from 2008:

1) machine by peter adolphsen
2) little brother by cory doctorow
3) the gone away world by nick harkaway
4) armageddon in retrospect by kurt vonnegut
5) the view from the seventh layer by kevin brockmeier

... books i wanted to read, but never accomplished, from 2008

1) milk & melancholy by kenneth hayes
2) ringolevio: a life played for keeps by emmett grogan
3) userlands: new fiction writers from the blogging underground edited by dennis cooper
4) content by cory doctorow
5) girl on the fridge by etgar keret

... books i read (and loved) in 2008, returning from the past

1) the mayor of castro street by randy shilts
2) the passion by jeanette winterson
3) i am not myself these days by josh kilmer-purcell
4) exploits & adventures of brigadier gerard by sir arthur conan doyle
5) willful creatures by aimee bender

that's as far as i go. it's a new year, suddenly, and countless prospects are already appearing on the horizon. this'll be a good year for the bookish types, i can feel it.

until next time, friends.

"read that book!"

Monday, January 12, 2009

2008 Pages (list version)

In honor of end of year lists, here are a few 2008 lists about books.

Five Books I...

...Read & Loved (Newly Published in 2008)

  1. The Tsar's Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtdal
  2. The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier
  3. Serena by Ron Rash
  4. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  5. Outlander by Gil Adamson

...Read & Loved (published prior to 2008)
  1. Selected Poems (1945-2005) by Robert Creeley
  2. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
  3. Poachers by Tom Franklin
  4. No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs
  5. Herland by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman

...Intended To Read, Really Wanted To, But Didn't
  1. 2666 by Roberto Bolano
  2. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  3. Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter
  4. Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk
  5. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

...Think Look Good That Other People Read
  1. Machine by Peter Adolphsen
  2. As a Friend by Forrest Gander
  3. Farther Along by Donald Harrington
  4. The Invention of Morel by Alfredo Bioy Casare
  5. A Better Angel by Chris Adrian

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Blog Influence

by Sarah Marine

The latter part of 2008 was an ongoing conscious incorporation of more and more technology in my life. For starters, I started watching TV. Secondly, the online presence of our bookshop became a cornerstone for immediate conversation and anticipated reviews from co-workers. I feel that the Inside Flap has worked to create a shop vibe in which we all know what we’re losing our minds over, what we’re lukewarm about and created more frequent avenues for excited discussion. It has also inspired in us the desire to explore the greater possibilities for booktalk online. We’ve discussed an online lit mag.(which I predict may be forever doomed to idea stage), expanded onto Facebook and developed relationships with others who have found the blog medium to be a revolutionary tool for cross-country networking and reading recommendations. Overall, we may have been late to the scene, but nonetheless are embracing it. With all that’s going on in the publishing world, in the economy, it has added a dimension to the bookshop that has pumped SUPERBOOKLOVE into every day.

The blog has also influenced some interesting reading of my own- including the fantastic Becoming Beside Ourselves: The Alphabet, Ghosts and Distributed Human Being by Brian Rotman- inspiring some personal lit-quilting ventures- which explores the invention of the alphabet, the suppression of gestural communication and the rise of internet communication as parallel in the ongoing evolution of communication. This in turn led to a sturdy throwback: Antonin Artaud’s The Theatre and Its Double which cries for the abandonment of language and the assumption of our irrational natural selves. Next came the X-Men extravaganza, heaving me into the abstract obsession with Warlock from the New Mutants. What most attracted me were his unique techno origins and his mutation, which made him more human as opposed to unhuman. In becoming aware of his mutation refers to fellow New Mutants as “self-friend”.

I have now begun a new thread of reading which deals specifically with early childhood reading and comprehension. John Holt’s Learning All the Time discusses how children learn to read and understand numbers without instruction and the Opie’s The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren has become an obsession with its sobering objectivity in analyzing the origins and purpose of children’s sayings, songs and rhymes. It is also complete with regional maps of The United Kingdom wherein boundaries are layed out to illustrate the distinct difference in popularity of phrases geographically. The most interesting factor in the evolution of these schoolyard sayings is how they mirror the wars and economic climates of the times. For example, they sure sang more about ice cream during peacetime.

I’m down with robots and computers and reading and stuff.