Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2009 Man Booker Prize Longlist

Yesterday afternoon, the 2009 Man Booker Prize longlist was announced. For those of you who are not yet familiar with the prize, here goes: the Booker is awarded to the best fiction novel of the year and is geographically limited to citizens of the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland. It needs to be a work originally in English and cannot be self-published. Just no US authors! The Booker prize is first announced in longlist: this is the thirteen-or-so books that the judges narrowed their massive contestant pool down to. On September 8, these thirteen books will be further narrowed down to just six, and on October 6 the winner will be announced. Once a book gets to the shortlist, many publishers will tweak their book's dustjackets to advertise their potential to win. Sure, it all seems very commercial, but its a gas to watch these developments from the US. Chances are, 3/4 the longlist will be books you've never heard of! In my opinion there's no better way to keep informed of overseas authors as a US reader than to track the Booker list.

And now, for you collectors, the Booker is an amazing opportunity to make some quick investments and have a two-month literary gambling session. Your first step is to read some summaries and reviews and start to track down UK 1sts of the titles that interest you. Next, plan your eBay auctions as book interest picks up Last year, I was able to find a signed US 1st of Adiga's The White Tiger at McNally Jackson on Prince Street in Manhattan for around $22. I also found a copy of the rare hardback of Linda Grant's The Clothes on the Their Backs on or something closer to $50 (plus shipping). Grant's book was favored to win. As I wasn't a big fan of her book, I sold it on eBay for around $200 right before the winners were announced. The award ultimately went to The White Tiger, boosting the value of my signed first about ten times its list. I then sold that online--made a bit of money and evened out the cost of the rest of the '08 longlsit. I got to read some great books, including one of my favorites of 2008, Philip Hensher's The Northern Clemency.

So, you can do this to! The longlist is below:

A.S. Byatt: The Children's Book
J.M Coetzee: Summertime
Adam Foulds: The Quickening Maze
Sarah Hall: How to Paint a Dead Man
Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness
James Lever: Me Cheeta
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer: The Glass Room
Ed O'Loughlin: Not Untrue & Not Unkind
James Scudamore: Heliopolis
Colm Toibin: Brooklyn
William Trevor: Love and Summer
Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger

So far I've already read the Waters and the Toibin. Both were really lovely--The Little Stranger was a bit baggy in the middle but she did a splendid job presenting the fading era of the English Manor lifestyle. Brooklyn is just a great read in itself. It's a very delicate novel and perhaps not ambitious enough make it into the shortlist, but it certainly gets my recommendation.

I've got a great feeling about Wolf Hall and the Glass Room, and feeling a little uncertain about The Wilderness and Me Cheeta. A chimp "autobiography"? Really? Sounds more like something from Ricky Gervais's Monkey News than a Booker contender. We'll see how that goes!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel by Henry Miller and the Loujon Press

As if I need another reason to love New Orleans! I recently discovered a rare Henry Miller book from the Loujon Press. Founded in the early 1960s by Louise "Gypsy Lou" Webb and her husband Jon, the Loujon Press was responsible for publishing some of the first works of Charles Bukowski. The couple printed a literary magazine called "The Outsider" from their apartment in the French Quarter, hand-pressing the magazine themselves. The Outsider ran for only five issues in four books (four and five were bound together). From what I gather, these were meticulously bound in a way that ensured they would be treasured. A listing I've found on says that the last issue included one of 500 "sealed-in-by-hand still life of flora, picked inside a mile of Geronimo's grave, and bound reverently by Gypsy Lou".

Reverently is right. Let's take a look.

This is a book by Henry Miller called Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel. This is the numbered "Cork" edition, originally priced at $14.00 in an edition of 1399 copies. There were a number of different editions done, including lettered copies, leather-bound copies, orange-stained cork slipcased editions, and so on. Flipping through the cork edition, I'm shocked that this was essentially the cheap, trade edition. The amount of detail and precision that went into this book surpasses any other book I've seen. The introduction is in a rainbow of heavy handmade colored paper. Each colored page is printed in different colored ink. There's a laid-in photograph over the front end-papers. The limitation page is printed on thinly sliced cork! After about ten of these vibrant pages, we reach the meat of the book--quintessential Miller presented in diary format, full of poems, songs, and other Miller-esque passions. I'll reprint the forward that Karl Shapiro wrote:

The magnum opus of Miller is a single anti-novel, not yet finished, which will run seven or ten or twelve novels. The rest of his books, uncountable, are footnotes, ornaments, offshoots, cartouches, belonging to the main book. His work will never be able to enter a canon; it will always defy the traditional; it is sabotage to all that still stands of the museum of culture. Yet it is the farthest thing from negation. What really shocks people about Miller is that he is happy. Happiness is obscene.



I moved apartments about two months ago and decided it was time to get rid of some old books. Over the course of a few years I'd managed to pick up a lot of titles that I discovered I wasn't especially into. So, instead of hauling them to the Strand to be cherry-picked, I found that has a new way to buy used books on the web. I HIGHLY recommend this. It's amazing how easy and lucrative the whole process is. You type in a book's ISBN and they'll offer a decent amount to your paypal account or a better amount in virtual credit. They send you a pre-paid shipping label, and when they receive your books the process the money due. I went the route for virtual credit and was able to get my hands on some really special pieces. I noticed they've got another copy of this gem up there right now.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Charles Burns rarities and the Buenaventura Press

Charles Burns is an artist/graphic novelist who has a devastatingly small collection of widely available works. His opus Black Hole was released in 12 issues between 1993 and 2004 and is now available as a collection by Pantheon Books. Black Hole is the story of a group of teens in a small town who contract a strange STD they call "the bug" or "the teen plague". It causes these kids to mutate in very slight and troubling ways. What's incredible is Burns's ability to make you look past these startling mutations and see that deep down these are just kids in love, kids growing up. If you've not read Black Hole, I strongly urge you to do so. He manages to tap into the nightmare-side of your subconscious and shows you that its perfectly okay (and even healthy) to explore its depths.

Maybe you've already read Black Hole and think that's the extent of Charles Burns's works. Not so! His pre-Black Hole short stories have been anthologized by Fantagraphics and can be found at a number of book shops. Wikipedia tells me that a final volume of early stories called Bad Vibes is on its way as well.

Burns had an animated piece included in a french film called PEUR(S) DU NOIR. Check it out:

Peur(s) du noir Teaser

And finally, I'd like to point you towards the estimable Buenaventura Press. Buenaventura is responsible for the finest comics art publications I've ever encountered, namely the Kramer's Ergot anthologies. Not only does Buenaventura put out some flawless publications on their own, they manage to track down rare works from publishers around the world and sell them through their webshop. I've been able to pick up some obscure Charles Burns pieces through Buenaventura Press, including the limited edition, letter-pressed Swipe File.

These are still available, but won't be for long. I've wanted an original piece by Burns for a long time and Swipe File is a perfect compromise for those of us with a modest budget.

I was able to meet Charles Burns at the Buenaventura booth at the MoCCA fair last month. It was also great to talk with Alvin Buenaventura--he's hugely passionate about the work he does and I'm very eager to see what's to come from BP. Hearing that I was a big fan of Charles Burns, Alvin told me to ask Burns for some "free shit", like it was some sort of secret code word. Turns out Burns often prints a home-made mini-comic called "Free Shit" that he hands out to friends and fans at these fairs! Free Shit #14 is the little blue thing in the picture below:

Also included in these photos are Le Muscle Carabine #1 (which Burns did a cover for), Close Your Eyes (a collection of early work), Plague Boy (two staple-bound minis of early work), and Permagel (a collection of new and existing work finally printed in a high-quality format).

WHERE TO FIND THESE PIECES: Buenaventura Press is the place to go!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Imperial and The Humbling

Somehow we're already well into July, which means we've made some progress through my recent post of summer releases. Living in New York certainly has its perks for the casual reader as the publishing world is all around us. Many great bookshops in Manhattan manage to get new books early and they can be yours if you know where to look. Although I'm not the biggest fan of the store, the first place to check for new releases is the basement of the Strand. It's packed to the gills with preview copies of many new titles; everything is half off the list price and often you'll find cute PR letters from the publishing house tucked into the book's flaps. Even though it’s not due out until the end of the month, I found a copy of Imperial down there.
The book looks to be just as amazing as I had hoped--a quick skim through the 10 or so pages of contents will make you dizzy with the scope of this tome. But, it's all very organized and seems to be actually quite a focused book. It's not like Vollmann's going to ramble aimlessly about how crazy life is down by the border--similar to the McSweeney's edition of Rising Up and Rising Down, Imperial follows a very calculated outline and while I'm only about 25 pages in at this point I am blown away with how good this one is.

Coincidentally, the same week I get one of the biggest books ever published I was able to get my hands on what might be the smallest new release: Philip Roth's The Humbling.

Just over 140 pages, I started this on the train home from work one day and it was done by the time I got in the next morning. I don't want to give anything away as far as the story is concerned, but Roth's done it again. You may already know The Humbling follows the breakdown of an old actor who "loses his magic", but Roth's actually composed the book into three acts and kind of follows a theatrical structure. Chock full of soliloquies, It's the closest thing we'll get to an actual play written by Roth. It's a powerful little book and fascinating in structure.