january 16–31, 2016

Books

  • Kamel Daoud, The Mersault Investigation, trans. John Cullen
  • Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing
  • Erin Hogan, Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip Through the Land Art of the American West
  • Tove Jannson, Sculptor’s Daughter: A Childhood Memoir, trans. Kingsley Hart
  • Olaf Stapledon, Odd John
  • Multatuli, Max Havelaar, trans. Roy Edwards

Films

  • The King of Comedy, directed by Martin Scorsese

january 1–15, 2016

Books

  • Eka Kurniawan, Beauty Is a Wound, translated by Annie Tucker
  • Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
  • Ellery Queen, Q.E.D.: Queen’s Experiments in Detection
  • Ellery Queen, The Last Woman in His Life
  • Ellery Queen, A Fine and Private Place

Films

  • The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay
  • Kramer vs. Kramer, dir. Robert Benton
  • Cartel Land, dir. Matthew Heineman

december 16–31, 2015

Books

  • James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore
  • Ellery Queen (Avram Davidson), And on the Eighth Day
  • Ellery Queen (Richard Deming), Wife or Death
  • Elena Ferrante, Troubling Love, translated by Ann Goldstein
  • Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter, trans. Ann Goldstein
  • Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities, trans. Eithne Wilkins & Ernst Kaiser

Films

  • Sudden Fear, directed by David Miller
  • Ex Machina, dir. Alex Garland

Exhibits

  • “Cory Williams/Allyson Ansusinha: Bend/Altered Space,” Bridge Art Space, Bangkok
  • National Museum of Singapore, Singapore
  • Penang State Museum, George Town, Malaysia
  • Pinang Pernakan Mansion/Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, George Town, Malaysia

december 1–15, 2015

Books

  • Maurice Collis, The Land of the Great Image: Being Experiences of Friar Manrique in Arakan
  • Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, translated by Ann Goldstein
  • Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name, trans. Ann Goldstein
  • Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, trans. Ann Goldstein
  • Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child, trans. Ann Goldstein

Films

  • Mediterraneo, directed by Gabriele Salvatores
  • The Immortal Story, dir. Orson Welles
  • Čovek nije tica (Man Is Not a Bird), dir. Dušan Makavejev
  • The Bad and the Beautiful, dir. Vicente Minnelli
  • Fallen Angel, dir. Otto Preminger
  • The End of the Tour, dir. James Ponsoldt

a kind of television with a keyboard

“We locked our­selves in her of­fice and sat at the com­puter, a kind of tele­vi­sion with a key­board, very dif­fer­ent from what she had showed me and the chil­dren some time be­fore. She pressed the power but­ton, she slid dark rec­tan­gles into gray blocks. I waited, be­wil­dered. On the screen lu­mi­nous tremors ap­peared. Lila began to type on the key­board, I was speech­less. It was in no way com­pa­ra­ble to a type­writer, even an elec­tric one. With her fin­ger­tips she ca­ressed gray keys, and the writ­ing ap­peared silently on the screen, green like newly sprouted grass. What was in her head, at­tached to who knows what cor­tex of the brain, seemed to pour out mirac­u­lously and fix it­self on the void of the screen. It was power that, al­though pass­ing for act, re­mained power, an elec­tro­chem­i­cal stim­u­lus that was in­stantly trans­formed into light. It seemed to me like the writ­ing of God as it must have been on Sinai at the time of the Com­mand­ments, im­pal­pa­ble and tremen­dous, but with a con­crete ef­fect of pu­rity. Mag­nif­i­cent, I said.”

(Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child, trans. Ann Goldstein, chapter 101, p. 289.)

november 16–30, 2015

Books

  • Chester Himes, The Big Gold Dream
  • Chester Himes, The Real Cool Killers
  • Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, translated by John Ciardi
  • Chester Himes, The Heat’s On
  • Henry James, The Awkward Age
  • Chester Himes, Blind Man with a Pistol

Films

  • Arabian Nights: Volume 3 – The Enchanted One, directed by Miguel Gomes
  • Vanishing Point,dir. Jakrawal Nilthamrong
  • Historias de Cronopios y de Famas, dir. Julio César Ludueña
  • Остров (Islands), dir. Ruben Gevorkyants)
  • Pulp, dir. Mike Hodges
  • Hammett, dir. Wim Wenders
  • Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, dir. Sam Peckinpah

and yet

“And yet as someone will say, did not Rome progress and advance thanks to war? This is a question which would require a long response for some people who reckon progress in terms of money, luxury, and in supremacy rather than in security, kindness, independence from others and justice towards others.”

(Plutarch’s life of Numa, seemingly rather freely quoted by Corrado Augias in The Secrets of Rome, p. 4, trans. A. Lawrence Jenkens.)

the man who lies asleep

“Up on your feet! This is no time to tire!”

my Master cried. “ The man who lies asleep

will never waken fame, and his desire

and all his life drift past him like a dream,

and the traces of his memory fade from time

like smoke in air, or ripples on a stream.

Now, therefore, rise. Control your breath, and call

upon the strength of soul that wins all battles

unless it sink in the gross body’s fall.

There is a longer ladder yet to climb:

this much is not enough. If you understand me,

show that you mean to profit from your time.”

(Dante, Inferno, canto XXIV, trans. John Ciardi.)

november 1–15, 2015

Books

  • Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, translated by Isabel Quigley
  • Umberto Eco, Numero Zero, trans. Richard Dixon
  • Chester Himes, All Shot Up
  • Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem
  • Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk
  • Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment, trans. Ann Goldstein

Films

  • Red Dust, directed by Victor Fleming
  • 悲情城市 (A City of Sadness), dir. Hou Hisao-Hsien
  • Medea, dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini
  • Le Mépris (Contempt), dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  • Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One, dir. Miguel Gomes
  • Duck Soup, dir. Leo McCarey
  • Arabian Nights: Volume 2 – The Desolate One, dir. Miguel Gomes

Exhibits

  • National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Astrological Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Beitou Hot Springs Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

michael allen zell, “run baby run”

cover250Michael Allen Zell
Run Baby Run
(Lavender Ink, 2015)

The trajectory of Michael Allen Zell’s career is an interesting one; three books in, it’s still not clear what to make of him. I enjoyed 2012’s Errara, a short, sharp reworking of Bruno Schulz and Cabrera Infante set in New Orleans that might have been something the Dalkey Archive published in the 1990s. It was a happy surprise when his followup, The Oblivion Atlas, turned up in the mail here; while one might have expected a more conventionally sized novel as a followup. Zell confounded with a collaboration with News Orleans artists Louviere + Vanessa, who have provided book design and illustration to a book of short stories. That book might be seen as a reworking of Georges Rodenbach’s 1892 Bruges-la-Morte transposed to New Orleans.

Like Rodenbach’s illustrated book, The Oblivion Atlas was hard to classify, falling somewhere between Wisconsin Death Trip and Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife: the illustrations and design were integral to the reading experience; like in Gass’s book (and Errata), this was a major subject. The first story, “Port Saints,” reflects usefully on the place of reading and writing today: the narrator, Benjamin Sender, describes a bookshop where the books are stacked in helices; the shopper who pulls out a book risks causing a disaster. This might serve as an oblique commentary on the endlessly proliferating “ten bookstores you have to see” slideshows on the Internet: there’s a fetishization of the object of the book, though one wonders if looking at bookstores is too often a substitute for the act of reading itself. Everyone likes the idea of books (and the idea of writing books); but a decorative book functions differently than a read book. The proprietor makes this understood:

. . . each time the proprietor calmly stating the same gentlemanly good-bye he imparted to me many times, Remember, like Faulkner said, Nobody down here has time for reading because they’re all too busy writing. (p. 14)

The Faulkner quote is from an exchange with students at the University of Virginia in 1958:

Q: Why are you not as well read in the South as in the North?
A: Everyone in the South has no time for reading because they are all too busy writing. (M. Thomas Inge, ed., Conversations with William Faulkner, p. 167.)

When said by a writer, this is a petty complaint, or an attempt to get a laugh. When said by a bookseller, it’s something different. (We learn in the author’s note for Run Baby Run that Zell has “worked as a bookseller since 2001,” which isn’t particularly surprising.) And placed in Zell’s book, it seems significant: these are readerly books, books made from a lifetime of reading for an audience who will appreciate that. This isn’t to say that they’re academic or especially formal at all: they’re not. Rather, they’re books for a small audience.

At the same time, another thread through his books cuts against their readerliness: their determined engagement with the city of New Orleans. New Orleans is never far from the surface in Zell’s books; and that continues with Run Baby Run, which might otherwise be seen as a wild swerve in Zell’s writing. Run Baby Run is crime fiction: it’s obviously the same writer (there is a scene in this one where the protagonist has a pure moment of happiness visiting a bookstore, a moment that promises a future), but it’s consciously aimed at a different sort of audience than Zell’s previous two books. Zell’s avant-garde antecedents aren’t displayed as prominently as in his previous books, though that influence is still there: if ever there was a Schulzian detective story, it’s this one.

But what Zell has set himself to this time is not just a difference in audience, it’s a difference in focus. Zell isn’t only interested in the problems of the artist: he’s also interested in the world and how one must live in it, especially in a world as radically broken as the present moment. (Not being in New Orleans, I haven’t seen any of Zell’s theatrical work, though I suspect it might be a connecting link between his focuses on the reader and the world.) The avant garde isn’t always especially helpful in that regard: the characters populating Run Baby Run are by and large not readers (which is true of most Americans, of course). This doesn’t make Zell less interested in them, though it’s abundantly clear which side he’s on. But his interest now is trying to make sense of a broken world, and fiction’s capacity for empathy is important.

Run Baby Run is a short crime novel; the cover proclaims it part of “The Bobby Delery Series,” which suggests that this is a prelude to more. Bobby Delery is a criminologist from Chicago who returns to New Orleans; for reasons that aren’t clear, he’s asked to join the New Orleans police in an investigation into the unreported theft of a club’s unreported profits. The police, it is clear from the beginning, are corrupt; a world of other criminals circle the theft. Zell’s narration moves easily from person to person; and it becomes clear that he’s interested in how different people lead wildly different lives in post-Katrina New Orleans. There are points of light, in this book at least: in the day that we are with Delery, he appears to be spotless, and a couple of other people come off as well. Some groups (the attendants of a black church) come across better than others (drunken out-of-town partiers). One imagines that this will not continue to be the case with Delery: there are hints of a past that’s not quite finished with him left hanging. The book’s shortness is frustrating: one can imagine more to come.

Zell’s used his shift in genre to start thinking seriously about race in America, and about how it plays out in New Orleans. It’s an important subject and a fine setting; again, it’s a relief to me to see someone putting out serious American fiction that’s not set in the gentrified parts of New York. I can’t say how accurately he portrays the city, though it comes off as real, as do most of his characters and their voices. There’s a similarity to Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity, if not quite in form at least in strategy; as ever, I’m interested to see where he goes.