Thursday, February 26, 2009

Robison & HTML passageways & real life books

by Sarah Marine


O, stagnant blog!, idling Analogue,
week-long Blogroll fail!

End Poem.

I'm still obsessed with Mary Robison's new work 'One DOA, One on the Way'. Unfortunately, I seem to be alone in the universe as the only other mention of it on the web are some uninformed blurbs, synopses from it's planned/failed original pub date in 2006 and an excerpt on Paul Lisicky's blog. Therefore, someone needs to love it as much as me or, like I've warned in real life, I will splode.

Around the world wide web:
1. Two friends of mine were recently in Diagram (one internet friend and one real life friend). They are represented respectively here and here. The latter can also be read here.
2. Richard Nash is leaving Soft Skull/Counterpoint. Richard has been stupendous in sending us ARCs, reading this here blog and tending to our bookseller Facebook needs. He likes technology.
3. Daniel Goldin is deep into the new bookstore woods. It's very exciting.
4. I want this and this.
5. If I am not, sometime soon, able to click on The Available World here, I am going to click my computer to death.

At present I am immersed in 'Killing Mister Watson', the original first novel which makes up the National Book Award-winning 'Shadow Country' by Peter Matthiesen. It could be more violent. I love it mostly because it takes place in the Everglades- you know, backwoods, Mikasukis, crocodiles, plume-hunting Frenchmen. Also on the nightstand are 'The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous' by Ken Wells (thanks to John Elkund), 'Why Did I Ever' by Mary Robison (recommended by Jack Pendarvis) and FreeDarko's 'Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac'. I made the mistake of attempting Gertrude Stein's 'Ida' simultaneously with Jesse Ball's 'The Way Through Doors' and it only led to sleeplessness and indecisiveness; therefore, both have been put aside for the time being. In conclusion, I couldn't be more pleased with current literary endeavors.

Friday, February 13, 2009

One D.O.A., One on the Way

by Sarah Marine

One D.O.A., One on the Way
by Mary Robison

'One D.O.A., One on the Way' is a post-modern Southern Gothic, unable in form to decide on sweaty fictions or steel gray truths. With its humidity, its heavy green stillness and three generations of an old-money family, the book is temporally choppy and elusive. The characters, these mortal storms of all evolutionary stages, the still lull, the torrential rain, the high winds, are in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The narrator, Eve, bold-mouthed daughter-in-law of the haughty patriarch and matriarch, gives us a singular view of the physical landscape as a film location scout. Her telling of the debris-laden city, with its belching sewers and wandering inhabitants, is interspersed in the narrative between lists of stats about the hurricane choked area, thoughts on her ailing husband, his ne’er sober twin Saunders and Petal, her institutionalized sister-in-law. Reading 'One D.O.A., One on the Way' is like riding a train through the city, through a succession of tunnels. In the light, out the window you glimpse the heavy flora and flooded avenues, the red X’s just beyond the front lawn. In the dark, in the tunnel, as your senses refocus you become intuned to the passenger's conversation, grabbing breathy, hurried excerpts of the dialogue of survival, tales of ambulances that never come, city blocks dark for miles, madness and regeneration all braided together. Robison's demure brilliance seduced me into three complete read-throughs since November. I love this book.

an outside observation: Whilst reading this novel I was often left with an apocalyptic sense of vertigo. The narrative and setting are in a strange relationship which straddles a dance and a battle. I will offer an obscure comparison- that to the devastatingly short-lived, brilliant HBO surf series 'John from Cincinnati'- most specifically the scenes at the motel.

Captain Freedom - G. Xavier Robillard

You've got super strength, superhuman reflexes, blistering flight, weather forecasting ability par excellence and a devastating eye towards fashion. You are globally known and celebrated, have a smoking-hot villainess girlfriend and have a secret headquarters requiring Segway use to traverse comfortably. Never mind that you can't connect meaningfully with an archenemy or kick this pesky cocaine habit; you're still on top.

Until you're not.

You've hit the bottom of the barrel, picked up the barrel, and chucked it into the engine of your corporate jet. It's tailspin time, and not even your talk radio-powered sidekick can help you now. What's a super powered narcissist to do? How can you see your name in lights again? Where's the exit to easy street?

Captain Freedom, he of the repressed childhood and urge for a good Q rating, begins this first-time novel from G. Xavier Robillard at a crossroads. What better way to find where you're going than by examining where you've been? In this clever satire, our (quasi-)hero is heavily invested in a life coach's instruction to explore his origin story. We're brought along on the ride through spot-on characterizations of callous celebrity mentality and image-conscious heroics to quest for the acclaim that's eluded the Captain.

For fans who can appreciate the absurdity of superhero comics and the dangers of living a life unexamined, Captain Freedom is a worthy addition to the growing canon of meta-comic novels. With a background in writing for McSweeney's and Comedy Central, Robillard comes well-equiped to dish out the snark, sarcasm and ridiculousness that his protagonist traffics in to great effect. While exploring the behind-the-scenes of superheroics isn't a new concept, Robillard's marriage of that start point and the behemoth industry of celebrity is a fresh twist of the knife that rewards us all for the inanity we've unwittingly absorbed through cultural osmosis.

Captain Freedom is a hilarious critique of what our heroes are, what they need to be, and what they are driven to do to stay on top. Remember; it's not how many people you saved from the volcano, it's how long you can wait until the news crews get there before going into action.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

a note from your ex.

there exists a certain breed of person, someone with a plethora of stories to be told, someone who Booksellers greatly respect and consider our brothers and sisters. this person is the ex-Bookseller. 

of course, "ex-Bookseller" is somewhat inaccurate, for no Bookseller ever really stops selling. perhaps their target audience may shift from the community at large to a select group of friends & family, but they still sell.

so, in an effort to promote nostalgia, we'd like to present to you now a selection of remembrances from one of our favorite ex-s, Mr John Eklund. as i'm sure you all know, the number of "ex-Booksellers" in Milwaukee will soon be increasing dramatically.  fear not! we'll still be around, somewhere.

Schwartz Bookshop Memories

- I was a nerdy bookish fourteen year old and spent hours hanging around the downtown Schwartz Bookshop. One day an older guy cruised me as I looked at some remainders. It was spooky, unnerving, but memorable. I’d never registered the look of desire pointed at me before. Later, I managed that store!

- I was not a great manager. I was only in it for the books, I hated the business aspects.  And my staff management philosophy boiled down to Please Love Me. I could never really settle disputes, even the most petty. I thought making a grumpy face would just make people fall into line. But I was mostly good at picking people. They were good booksellers and I liked most of them and loved some of them. Of course, there were some bad decisions. Once I needed a receiver urgently so I just hired the first guy who showed up. An older gentleman, he had a good story about being a veteran and seemed super responsible. But within a couple days it was clear he was an alcoholic, couldn’t open a box, and would disappear for hours.  Later I found out that he had “borrowed” money from every bookseller, and booksellers didn’t generally have money to lend. I should have re-imbursed everybody, this was my fault.

- There was one customer who came in every single day and every single day asked the same two questions:  1) what time do you close?  2) is there a tax on magazines?  Mainly it was sort of comical but one day I lost it and screamed at him “Six o’clock!!!  We closed at six o’clock yesterday, we’re closing at six o’clock today, and we’ll be closing at six o’clock tomorrow!!!”  It wasn’t fair, I was taking out frustrations about other customers on him. But I don’t think I hurt him too much, he was in the next day to find out what time we closed and whether there was a tax on magazines.

- I miss the rhythms of those days. Phones ringing like crazy in the morning, the lunch crowd, the quieter afternoons. I miss the regulars. John Norquist, the nerdy bookish mayor!  Many others. Some customers knew every bookseller by name and made the rounds greeting them in a ritualized way. Others would come in day after day, week after week, and we’d never exchange a word with them. But a bookseller could mention she’d seen “pop culture guy” on the #15 and we’d all instantly know who she meant.
- Book reps from the publishers would parade through the store on their way to meetings with buyers. It was sort of an upstairs downstairs situation. Some would march right by all the booksellers on the way to these more important things. But others would go out of their way to talk to the staff, invite them out for pizza, find out what they’re reading. As a rep, I’ve tried to model myself on these schmoozers but it hasn’t always worked too well. Social networking of any kind feels unnatural to me.

- Bookselling: it always seemed like the one honorable profession. Maybe the last place in retail where authenticity could be profitable. Maybe that’s not the case any more.

- Most of our books were delivered by Leroy, the UPS man. He was the sweetest, nicest, most consistently upbeat person with a really hard job I’ve ever known.  When I get stuck in some road ragey jam, even now, so many years later, I think to myself, “Be Leroy.”

- We had a nerve-wracking, stone-age, 1.0 version computer system that broke down or fucked up constantly. Fixes were always quite elaborate and required late night stays and many floppy disks. Occasionally the genius behind this system would fly out from San Francisco and crawl under the front desk and would take our computer apart. He was sexy, looked a little like Richard Gere, and wore shades while he worked. He made me nervous.

- Once, we had an author signing for a book about local beers and microbrews. The publisher supplied cases of ale. For some reason, not a single person showed up.  So the staff got drunk.

- Once, Deeelite was in town at the Riverside and Lady Kier came in to peruse the magazine section. This caused a stir, but not as big a stir as the time Lara Flynn Boyle was spotted in the poetry section.

- Once, some anti-abortionists from Wichita converged on the clinic down the street.  For days it was under siege, and for days a bunch of booksellers got up at 4am to join the defenders, who were trying to keep a pathway to the clinic open amid the scary mobs. David Schwartz didn’t allow political expressions in the store - “express yourself with the books you sell,” he’d always say - but half the staff would be bleary-eyed and out of it for the rest of the day. I remember standing in front of that clinic, screaming over and over until we became the words, as if by the force of our collective will we could make it true: THIS CLINIC IS OPEN. THIS CLINIC IS OPEN. THIS CLINIC IS OPEN. 
In my dreams there’s a wicked mad defiant crowd like that in front of every great Schwartz-style store in America, screaming THIS BOOKSHOP IS OPEN.