Tag Archives: books

October mixture

I hope that you and your loved ones emerged from Sandy unscathed, and that you’re not reading this while plugged in to the first working street lamp or dangling set of twinkly lights you encountered in midtown. (I’ve heard those are popular sources of power for my fellow New Yorkers as of late). I’ve been high and dry in Lunar Camel Co. Towers the whole time, baking bread and watching nature documentaries and whatnot. Friends from Evacuation Zone A have been coming and going and will continue to be welcomed, even my friend Jim, who graciously informed me in advance that he “only sleep[s] in the nude.” Anyone who can’t squeeze in on the sofa with Jim and has to stay downtown will soon be on the receiving end of as many warm chocolate chip cookies as can fit in the storage compartments of a Vespa.

I hope you’re having a happy Halloween too, or will have a happy one whenever you get around to celebrating it. My neighborhood, as you can see below, has been getting ready for some time now, but the storm complicated things. If you’re in need of an extremely last-minute costume for a postponed or fashionably late-night party, I posted a few ideas last year, and if you’re in need of some candy-eating music, I posted some good stuff on my food blog a few years back, along with a vegetarian, pumpkin-centric dinner recipe.

Harlem's bikers are ready for Halloween.

Madison Ave. near 120th St., Oct. 5th.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger lately and I’ve scarcely had time to feel bad about how shabby my rattletrap urls were looking — I’ve been alternating between working sixty-hour weeks and getting out of town. I’ve also been preoccupied with a few little projects, one of which I’ll tell you about very soon.

Deep River-20121006-02100

Applemania is coming soon on my food blog, though it’s not the little project I meant.

sweater scan

I’ve also taken up knitting html sweaters for my blogs,
but that’s not the little project I meant either.

I’ve been reading a lot too, though far more fitfully than is usual for me. I’m generally a one- or two-books-at-a-time woman but there are five or six I’m dipping into at the moment. Among them:

Love is a Pie cover

Love is a Pie by Maude Hutchins has been on my shelf for many years and I’m just getting around to it now. I’m not deeply engaged with it at the moment such that I have a lot to say about it yet, but I wanted to show you the cover, which I love. It’s the New Directions 1952 edition designed by Andy Warhol. (There’s a tiny bit more about his work for them here). I think I paid about $7 for it, partly because hardly anyone knows who Hutchins is, and partly because Warhol isn’t credited for the illustration anywhere in it. The NYRB blog describes Hutchins as the author of “peculiar psycho-sexual novels,” among other things, but Love is a Pie is a collection of short stories and plays, eminently suitable for reading a few pages at a time. My experience with it so far is that it is also peculiar and psycho-sexual. Five of the stories (“The Missing Papers of an Extra Man”) are narrated from the point of view of a bachelor, who wonders, at one point, whether “there [are] gastric juices in the brain?” There’s an interesting essay about Hutchins over at the LRB here, by Terry Castle, whose essay collection Boss Ladies, Watch Out! is also on my bed-side table. I was moved to buy it after reading her review of Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives — a biography of three obscure and under-rated lesbians — and I’m really digging it.

I’ve also been haphazardly delving into vintage sci-fi. Doubtlessly this is influenced by an ex-boyfriend who often reads at random. Or what appears to be at random, but in actuality reflects a practiced and discerning eye for strangeness. He used to teach critical reading, actually, but (or “and”?) many of his books are ones he found on the street or in the cardboard box at his gym. After close observation I decided this is a worthwhile manner of reading, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten the hang of it yet. I’m still a bit too purposeful. I picked up the two below because both feature R. A. Lafferty and he was recommended to me years ago. I’ve never been a sci-fi person in the slightest but I sort of like the idea of becoming one. I could definitely get into the illustrations, at least, whether they’re good, terrible, or merely really weird. Plus it seems like a good time, with Singularity & Co., for example, pointing the way towards some of the more interesting bits of the genre, and the rest of the internet readily coughing up oddities.

Alpha 3 cover   Alpha 3 table of contents

Alpha Three (ed. Robert Silverberg, Ballantine Books 1972).
Click on either image to enlarge.
I don’t always buy books with no idea whether I’ll like them or not, but when they’re cheap and have interesting covers, sometimes I do.

if sci fi cover 1961   if table of contents

if Science Fiction (ed. H. L. Gold, Digest Productions, Jan. 1961),
with its table of contents apparently signed by Phyllis Gotlieb. And apparently she ranked all the other stories in order of . . . quality? Or suggested reading order?

Semi-relatedly, a selection of some of the titles I’ve seen on that ex-boyfriend’s shelves / floor / desk:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. I idly flipped through this one morning but there wasn’t much that held my attention. A few weeks later I happened to read a fascinating article in the Independent about a supposedly-elusive mafia tradition whereby two men in the same crime family will promise not to snitch on each other by sharing a passionate kiss. I asked D. whether this was covered in the Guide and he said yes of course, there is an entire chapter on it. So there you have it: Some of those idiotic-looking idiot guides are well-researched and worthwhile reads.

mafia kiss

a mafia-style kiss from the Independent, June 10, 2011

How to Draw Dynamic Hands. Actually I borrowed this one and now it’s sitting on my floor. I keep meaning to scan a few pages from it for a draft blog post that doesn’t really have anything to do with hands but needs some imagery. I’m hoping to learn something from it too because my drawing skills are not what anyone would call “dynamic.”

The Stain Bible. I remember we were both disappointed that this does not explain how to remove stains from that green kombucha that looks like pond scum. It’s one of the best flavors but also one of the most explosive, and its stains are not the same as grass stains.

Hide Your Assets and Disappear: A Step-by-Step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace. I realize that for some people, seeing this in a man’s bookcase might be a red flag. But aren’t you curious to read it too now that you know it exists? I should maybe point out that it was surrounded by some really good stuff, like Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

• Menander’s Dyskolos. Wikipedia tells me that this title is translated from Ancient Greek “as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous.” It’s a comedy, though.

Anyhow. Now that the storm has left us it’s a fine time for music from a wonky magic carpet, don’t you think? Here’s Manolo Sanlucar, “Diálogos.”

Michele Redolfi is perhaps more grounded: he’s been performing underwater concerts for years. Specifically, he composes, manipulates, and records experimental music and sounds under water, in pools and natural settings. The immersed participants listen through their bones, as explained by a knowledgable commenter over at Lunar Atrium. I was reminded of him recently when Connie Hockaday posted her underwater wrestling video. Here’s his “Grand Nocturne de Musique Subaquatique” at Grenoble in 2008.

In terms of everyday listening, I’m still pretty into wan and melancholic French synth pop / electro-yéyé. Long-time readers will remember that I was enthusing about Elli et Jacno in my very first post at Lunar Camel Co., and I still love them. (These days I only love them for about twenty minutes every three weeks or so, but still, it’s serious).

Main dans la main

Elli et Jacno “Main dans la main” single

Not related, but seasonally appropriate: the Mo-dettes cover of “Paint it Black”:

While we are on the subject of music, you should try to get to the Metropolitan Opera to see Thomas Adès’s adaptation of “The Tempest.” I’m basically poor people, but I know someone who knows someone and I managed to get in to a dress rehearsal. It was pretty spectacular! I used to go to the opera more often than I do now and it was lovely just to go again, but I came away thinking this was one of the more effective productions I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who made sure to get herself to that Peter Greenaway one about Vermeer with actual rain and live cows in it. I do love a spectacle, but “The Tempest” was compelling in a character-driven way as well, and the music possessed more subtleties than I could ever hope to intelligently discuss after a single performance. It’s gotten very mixed reviews (WQXR said “eh”, while the Times gave it at least two very positive write-ups), but I say you should go if you can.


Another recommendation, this one straight out of my superstorm playlists: The birds of Papua New Guinea are sublime. The mating dances they do are too bonkers for words, and there’s one that can make a sort of satellite dish with the feathers on his head and neck to pick up chicks, a satellite of bird love. Here, this short film from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some terrific-looking birds in it.

If you’ve got more time to devote to bird-viewing, seek out “Nature: Birds of the Gods.” It’s about the same birds but it’s with David Attenborough and it’s about an hour long.

some Sylvia for your pocket

I’ve been meaning to write about Sylvia Townsend Warner here for literally years now, but to really do her any justice I need to go back and re-read many things of hers I read fairly recently. Which is hard to make myself do when I’ve got such a large pile of other, new-to-me things I’d like to get to first. (Same problem with various films, which I’d never write about after having seen only once). I will indeed do it anyhow at some point because I think it’s important, but in the meantime I see no reason not to send you off about your business without a few enticing little scraps of Sylvia to tuck in your pocket.

This first one in the series is from the short story “Furnivall’s Hoopoe,” which appears in the collection The Music at Long Verney. If you’re a New Yorker subscriber you can read it in their archives here, as it was published in their Jan. 3, 1970 issue. They published a great many Sylvia Townsend Warner stories over the years — she became very good friends with her editor there, William Maxwell, and you can and should read some of their correspondence in The Element of Lavishness — and in my opinion being able to plunder their archives at one’s leisure for her alone is well worth the cost of a subscription.

Jan. 3, 1970 New Yorker cover

the Jan. 3, 1970 cover

There are plenty of other passages I might have opted to start off with, and loads of them where she’s doing something more dazzling in a writerly way, but this one captures some very true things about love and that’s been on my mind lately. Particularly the other day, when I found myself thinking about The Great Gatsby in connection with a food blog post (spoiler alert: it’s somehow just as depressing miniaturized and briefly outlined with clams as it is as a novel), and again just a couple of hours after I’d written it, when I found myself having a long talk with an unhappy friend about her married girlfriend. Maxwell wrote the foreword to The Music at Long Verney well after Townsend-Warner’s death in 1978 and briefly but rather heart-breakingly describes her own love troubles with her very long-term girlfriend Valentine Ackland:

Sylvia was not distressed by Valentine’s casual infidelities, but when she fell in love with a spoiled American woman who thought she might (and then again thought she might not) want to live permanently with Valentine, Sylvia suffered deeply and even made herself homeless until the crisis had passed. As she wrote a friend, ‘I was gray as a badger and never at any time a beauty but I was better at loving and being loved.”

Having read much of her work, I find her believable on this point. Fortunately the crisis did pass and they went on living together until Ackland’s death from breast cancer in 1969. Ackland opened an antiques shop in their home in 1952, which is an interesting background tidbit about The Music at Long Verney; five of its stories are set in the same (fictional) antiques shop. According to Wendy Mulford’s This Narrow Place: Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland Life, Letters and Politics, 1930-1951, Valentine and Sylvia had a routine worked out for dealing with annoying customers whereby Valentine would ring a little bell to summon Sylvia, who would then call her away for some important reason or other. Anyhow, on to the little scrap of Sylvia, which fortunately is far more economical and humorous than my introduction to it. I regret having to give it to you in two pieces but those are the breaks.



Lunar Camel Co. field guide to trees, chapter 2

I’ve blogged about trees kind of a lot. Some of my favorite specimens are here, here and here. My friend Jim asked if I’d seen any good ones lately and I said yes of course, the woods are full of them, and it is easier than ever to spot vague obscenities in the off-season, when there isn’t so much distracting greenery about.

treehole with stuff in it

We don’t have nearly enough trees in Manhattan so I’m thinking about doing something more public with my collection of them.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure B

I don’t mind showing them to you like this but they’d be much better big, 2′ by 3′ prints or somesuch.

trees of Harriman State Park, figure A

I’m recovering from surgery at the moment but looking forward to adding to my tree collection soon. It’s been a mild winter in my part of the world, so I haven’t really had to take a break from my observational field trips. I keep thinking every hike will be my last for the year, but there’s always another. I thought a November hike in CT would surely be my last until spring. The air smelled like snow, and with the dressing rooms closed for the season the little beach on the lake by the park’s entrance looked lonelier than ever.


The trees looked lonely too, or maybe just self-conscious about their nudity.

the trees have eyes


It was the time of year when allegedly pumpkin-flavored donuts come out. They seemed like an ideal post-hike snack but the actual flavor was closer to orange-colored holiday.


This famous beardo ice-scraping system I admired at a local discount store probably would’ve made a better souvenir. As Mr. Lunar Camel Co. noted, “it looks like he has the ice under control.”

famous beardo heated ice scraping system

There were strangely compelling breakfast systems on offer too. Plastic crap, yes, but if bears could take crap like this back to their caves and have it there when they awaken from hibernation, they probably would. I think that is the idea, to settle in for a very long nap, a nap so long your hands will tingle with pins and needles for days afterward, leaving you unable to prepare breakfast without these contraptions.

outlet shopping breakfast section

Later in the season, when I went for a hike at Harriman State Park, I found an ideal hibernation spot, a small cave protected by icicles.

icicles of Harriman State Park, figure D

There’s all sorts of exciting, twinkly bits like this in the woods in the winter. You just have to wear more layers to go look at it. Here is something I’d never seen before, because — I am guessing — it only happens at very particular temperatures, when the ground is a certain temperature in relation to the air: spindly strands of ice poking out of the dirt. They’re strong enough that I could easily pluck a few out and set them on a nearby rock for looking-at with minimal breakage.

weird ice

mystery ice specimen

I’m going to read up on weird things like this until I can get out into the woods again. In my cart right now:

Winter Tree Finder

Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter by May T. Watts and Tom Watts. I like leafsnap but one needs a book for leafless moments.

Forest Forensics

Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I always want to know what I’m looking at so I’m excited about this.

Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Not winter-specific; I just really like mosses.

Do you go hiking in the winter or do you prefer to look at trees on the internet until it’s warmer outside? Recommend any books or unusually cozy socks for me?

green and yellow books

Sometimes the easiest way to pluck things out of a ramshackle pile is this way.

The Woodlanders front cover

A 1961 Macmillan paperback copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders. I bought this from the guy who sometimes sells books on 2nd Ave. in front of St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. I haven’t started it yet; the only Hardy I’ve read is Jude The Obscure. The pheasants & etc. are meant to evoke a rustic English village but I like how the woman’s face is perfectly of its time, as fictional faces so often are. She could be in a girl group called the Woodlanders. All with bits of brush in their hair, preceded by a series of 7″ singles woodcut like so. I think there could be a way to prevent them being twee but then I’m idealistic.

The Times Deceas'd cover

The Times Deceas’d: The Rare Book Department of the Times Bookshop in the 1960s by Timothy d’Arch Smith. A stoned impulse buy. (Now you know what I do when I am not having my mellow harshed by the fire department or watching France Gall DVDs in Lunar Camel Co. Towers). Do you know the bookshop I linked to there, Weiser Antiquarian Books? Their catalogues are good for browsing. I’ve always managed to look without buying but the subject matter of this book — “the place to go for unusual, eccentric, and censured books in 1960s London” and its associated “literary luminaries and lowlifes” — is apparently not something I could resist. I’ve only skimmed it yet but I doubt I’ll be disappointed; there are interesting tidbits of gossip about “ardent Corvinists,” and I’ve learned that young Henry Green and his brother “used to play a dangerous game of hide-and-seek, each one armed with a loaded shotgun.”

Doting front cover

Which brings us to. A sense of relief that frère Green (Yorke, actually) was apparently not an expert marksman. This 1952 Viking edition of Doting has been removed my pile and shelved in a bookcase because I read it a couple months ago, and what now? It was my last Henry Green. He didn’t write a ton of books and I’ve run out. Doting was not my favorite — I think Loving is his best work and it’s also the one I, hmm, you know, the most — but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid Doting. It is almost entirely dialogue and it’s about the confusing and sometimes miserable differences between doting on someone and loving someone. If you are new to Green please don’t let the unfashionable titles put you off; he’s relentlessly stylish on the page in the best possible way. It isn’t about literary calisthenics though. He was as observant as can be and he got people and the things they do and say vividly correct. Yet he does not sound like anyone else at all.

Witch Dungeon front cover

Witch Dungeon! I was drawn to this book at Housing Works because I was taken to the Salem Witch Museum when I was very small, maybe 6 or 7 years old. I had a great time and somehow or other it made a huge impression on me. I suppose it put a sinister edge on the annual making-of-the-hand-turkeys. It’s very dark in there. Or was. I hope it still is. At that time visitors to the museum gathered in the entrance at certain appointed times, in a pitch-black room with a red pentagram on the floor, and a guide / narrator explained the exhibits, which were (are?) dioramas depicting the horribly nasty things the Puritans and Pilgrims did to one another. Sort of like the Natural History Museum, but instead of mountain goats perched on a cliff here were loutish-looking people tormenting each another with the full panoply of American colonial torture devices: people being stoned to death, dunked in water, burnt alive, and otherwise prosecuted by religious nutters. I’m about half-way through this slim little book and I haven’t come across anything to change my impression that my New England forebearers were extraordinarily cruel people who delighted in mangling one another for the most trivial offenses. The book was published in 1986, just a few years after my visit to the Witch Museum. Author Robert Cahill explains in the brief introduction that in 1973 he “was elected High Sheriff of Essex County, Massachusetts, with added duties as Master and Keeper of the Salem Jail & House of Correction,” a “decrepid bastile” built in 1813 to replace a wooden structure known as “the Witch Jail,” and his position prompted him to dig into the records. He wrote many other little gift shoppe books about New England history (please let me know if you spot New England’s Naughty Navy or New England’s Mountain Madness) but having been Sheriff seems to have inspired in him a commendable passion for researching and exposing the idiocies of his predecessors.

early New Yorkers in stocks

Print depicting early New Yorkers in stocks via the NYPL digital gallery.

Of which there are many, obviously. The one that impressed me the most is small but so telling: “In Boston, the first person to sit in the stocks as a punishment, was the carpenter who built them. When the magistrates saw Edward Palmer’s bill for material and labor of one pound 13 shillings, they fined him five pounds ‘and censured him to be set an hour in the stocks.'” They just couldn’t wait to use it. Apparently the populace was as excited about this stuff as the judges were; Cahill also reports that people standing in one of Boston’s first pillories — stocks are the feet-holders and pillories are the head and arm-holders — were “exposed to gross and cruel jeers from the multitude, who pelted them constantly with rotten eggs and every repulsive kind of garbage that could be collected.”

this and that No. 2

squat squat squat

how to dance, figure B

Squat squat squat from Harry Mathews’s My Life in CIA. How to dance instructions from my computer. The origin of the “Watergate Squat” dance is that the protagonist must prove himself to be a poet by making up a rhyming poem on the spot, a poem which must include words selected by the host and other guests of the party: swastika, haddock, jonquil, plectrum, gardenia and farthing. He chooses to perform a squatting dance at the same time because he wants to impress a woman at the party. I am telling you this because a rainy weekend is a good time to devise new party tricks.

This and that No. 1 is here.

loved-up poets : No. 2 in a series

It’s been ages since I’ve done one of these posts. This is only the second in the series; the first is here. Today we’re going to have a look at Ballade of Boys Bathing by Frederick Rolfe, who I love. This is not a favorite poem for me and I think Rolfe’s novels are far, far more interesting than his verse, but it is interesting in a curio sense — Rolfe’s painting of the scene he describes in the poem is the same painting he puts in a place of honor on George Arthur Rose’s mantle in Hadrian the Seventh — and it fits with the briny theme this blog has lately.

As far as I can tell it does not appear anywhere else on the internet. The poem as seen below comes from my 1974 copy of Rolfe’s Collected Poems. I suspected it would also appear in my copy of Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900 and sure enough, there it is on p. 226, right after Mark André Raffalovich’s “Put on that Languor.” There is a 1972 four-page edition of the poem privately printed by “an admirer” but it looks difficult to come by.

Click on any of the pages to see them larger on Flickr.

Collected Poems title page

Ballade of Boys Bathing

Eh, hmm. I suppose the painting is as fit as any for a future Pope to keep on his mantle. The boys are wearing swimsuits after all so it is very chaste.

Ballade of Boys Bathing painting

Ballade of Boys Bathing notes

Did you know that Stephen Fry used to belong to a “a most extraordinary circle of intellectuals who met regularly in the bar of a small hotel and discussed avidly the works of Frederick Rolfe, the infamous Baron Corvo”? Apparently he did, here, have a look at this Bookride post about it. (I am linking to the cached page because I sometimes have trouble reading that blog in the more usual manner). The circle produced a zine called The Failiure Press, to which young Fry contributed crosswood puzzles. Where are all the new Corvo zines, am I writing one? Who is responsible for the crossword section and why have they been so secretive about it?

An unrelated bonus for anyone who gets nervous about very gay poetry about bare boys, here is an old photo of the Penn State homophile club having a pro-homo parade, for you to tuck away in a special place. Photo via Vintage Lesbian.

Penn State homophiles

until then

a nice jellyfish sandwich

1962 Archie via If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger . . .

Hey people. I’m off to the beach and likely won’t say hello until Monday at the earliest.

at the beach

Beach reading to accompany your pink boombox:

The Element of Lavishness

The Element of Lavishness: Letters of William Maxwell and Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1938-1978. I’m going to do a post about this soon and I think you ought to read it in the meantime. A distinguished-looking English gentleman in a seersucker suit asked me about it on the subway the other day and I told him the same. I think I sold him on it because he told me I was “a precious source of information” about this sort of thing. Maxwell and Warner had tremendous affection for each other and were apparently never uninteresting.

Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard

Elinor Wylie, Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard. A 1928 novel about a summer in the life of a poet who — I am borrowing from the jacket here because I have got to go! — “is too liberal for the proper, prosperous England of his day.” I’m going to write something about Wylie soon-ish. Chapter titles include “Funeral of a Mouse,” “Ambush at the Breakfast Table,” “Camelopard at a Party,” “Reverie over an Apple-tart,” “Satan Finds Some Mischief Still,” “Unlacing of a Breastplate,” “Private View of the Invisible,” “A Deep Romantic Chasm,” “Unsubstantial Pageant Faded,” and “Crack of Doom in a Teacup.”

Singular Pleasures

Harry Mathews, Singular Pleasures. Literary people need sex books to bring to the beach just the same as anyone else. This one is about masturbation.

step 1 : find attractive paper

An inspiring quote from Sylvia Townsend Warner, who I can’t believe I haven’t written about here yet. She deserves a proper, wordier post and she’ll get one sooner or later, but in the meantime here is something to think about, from the dust jacket flap for The Flint Anchor (The Viking Press, 1954):

a quote from Sylvia Townsend Warner

She omitted to mention that it is essential to be brilliant. It’s nonetheless heartening to catch a glimpse of a writer saying “I’m a writer because I wrote something,” not “because I obtained a MFA,” not “because I’ve done time in workshops full of thunderingly insipid people who share my high regard for the consensus of People Who Are Into Consensus.” I’m surely a little excessive in my disdainful eye-rolling on this matter but sometimes it looks like the dominant school of thought has come to be that people ought to set about making prose the way they used to set about obtaining, say, a certificate in HVAC repair. Viva anti-professionalism!

The book itself is inspiring me too, to collect blue books and keep them all in one place. As in this photo from the lovely Bookride:

blue books! from Bookride

The Flint Anchor cover

In the comments on that post there’s a tantalizing mention of a collection of books with mirrored covers. It brings to mind — to my mind, anyhow — the idea that it would be a worthwhile pursuit to fill a room with such books, all four walls, floor to ceiling, like Andy Warhol’s Factory for the obsessively literary, a combination library / bar / installation where people could pull a random book off the shelves and browse, or just admire the room. A 100′ roll of mylar is only $53. Have you got a spare room and some amphetamines and nimble hands for folding, comrade?

somethin’ from my bookcase { No. 2 in a series }

I was simply going to start blogging again as if I’d been at it all along but suddenly I’m feeling sheepish, wondering whether I’m obligated to mention something about how long it’s been, how I am not dead after all, etc. If you must have something in the way of an explanation, I’ve moved house recently, I hope that will suffice. From the East Village to Harlem. Packing, unpacking, painting things International Klein Blue. (SMALL things; it is every bit as potent as one hopes). I was going to return with a post about what I’ve been reading lately but I started making a list, and if I try to write about that many books at once I’ll wear out myself and all of you too. So I’m just going to choose particular books to write about, one at a time, not in any sort of order.

Now then. We are going to have a look at Richard Marsh’s Curios: Some Strange Adventures of Two Bachelors, an insubstantial but attractive little book suitable for cozying up with at this time of year.

Richard Marsh, Curios

It’s a Victorian-era collection of short stories narrated alternately by one of two friends / rival collectors, Mr. Pugh and Mr. Tress. They continuously try to out-wit each other in their efforts to acquire various objects, such as The Great Auk’s Egg. They also solve certain mysteries with (or against) each other: The Adventure of the Ikon, The Adventure of the Pipe, The Adventure of Lady Wishaw’s Hand and so forth. Yes, the latter is about a hand that creeps around having a life of its own, the well-preserved hand of a woman long dead, very much like The Monkey’s Paw. (Not a particularly good episode in my opinion, I much prefer Where the Woodbine Twineth). Lady Wishaw’s Hand has perfect pink finger-nails and doesn’t behave itself. As is the case with the other curios the two collectors pursue, it provokes cold shivering, acute misery, and much solitary pondering and plotting while half-enjoying roast woodcock, champagne, and the smoking of meerschaum pipes.

I have a friend I can see myself doing this sort of thing with. We haven’t put murderous old lady hands into each other’s wardrobes, but we did once discover we were bidding against each other on the same vintage juicer on ebay, which he won, and which the same seller then tried to sell me another of, possibly missing a crucial part, a part which he coincidentally (hmm!) failed to deliver to my friend. The Adventure of the Citrus Squeezer, were there two complete units to be had or no? There was one. My victorious friend was sporting enough to invite me over for effortlessly fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, which we enjoyed while his new (old, and maddeningly discontinued) enameled juicer sat gleaming on the kitchen counter.

Anyhow, Curios is a fun read, although not as fun as I’d hoped it would be. It could use more humorous humor and scarier scary bits. I was amused that the protagonists, although billed as friends, don’t actually like each other at all, but their little digs at each other’s wan observational skills, loutish servants and shabby pipe collections aren’t enough to make up for narrative that otherwise too often lacks tension. Some genuine affection wouldn’t be out of place either, in a book meant to be taken to bed with a big glass of brandy. I should also probably mention that one of the stories prominently features “a nasty little Jew boy” — not entirely surprising for a book written in 1898, but even a reader determined to blithely skip over these bits can’t help feeling a little disheartened — he wears out his welcome for entirely different reasons than he was meant to.

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about what might belong in an updated version of Curios. While arranging my new apartment I’ve been distracted by all sorts of tantalizing objects. Or, more precisely, by daydreams of finding pristine incarnations of them in the most improbable places, for practically no money. I suppose I could make room for a Great Auk’s Egg, but I’d rather have a Sergio Mazza Bacco bar for my living room, you know? Here are a few suggestions, should any of you feel like writing a little something to amuse me this winter, although I’m feeling inspired to write it myself now that I’m more or less settled.

* * *

The Adventure of the Roadster. Being a Manhattan-dwelling person, I don’t think about cars much unless I happen to notice a spectacular one. Haven’t got one, don’t need one, but why pamper life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat. The buckles on the hood of the 1953 Allard K3 Roadster are of unsurpassable loveliness.

1953 Allard K3 Roadster

1953 Allard K3 Roadster

Discovered, somewhat indirectly, via Wary Meyers, who are always showing me something I never knew I wanted so badly. The fictional car will have to be haunted, won’t it? Possibly by the apparition of an eye-wateringly expensive mechanic seeking to collect on his final bill. Tragically decapitated in a garage accident, his gruesome ghost appears before the driver clutching his head in his hands, its eyes beseeching immediate payment in full.

* * *

The Adventure of the Crosby Library. I was thrilled by the descriptions, in Geoffrey Wolff’s Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby, of the books Crosby had printed by his vanity press. Mmm hmm hmm, naturally they were printed in very small quantities. It was called Black Sun Press and was founded in 1927:

Harry designed the bindings, boxes and ribbons in expensive materials—gold and red and gray and black—by Babout, whose work was then considered the state of the art. As time passed Harry alone came to select the titles the press would publish; Caresse would edit them, and usually perform the typographical design. The books of the Black Sun Press are clean, wonderfully easy and satisfying to read and touch, and even a dull poem takes some shine from its disposition on a page the Crosbys caused to have printed.

Many of the books were illustrated by the Baron Hans Henning von Voight, who went by the name of Alastair. He was “as peculiar as anyone Harry’s most vividly surreal drug dreams could command,” with a face “white as milk” and “a hypnotist’s eyes set theatrically deep beneath a skull that receded as though it had been operatically struck by it’s owner’s hand just before he repeatedly swooned.”

Alastair illustration for Red Skeletons

Alastair illustration for Red Skeletons

The books were printed in a little shop in Paris and I’d like to think there are still a few editions to be found in its environs, not yet having been offered at auction.

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The Adventure of the Radio. It’s tempting to have my protagonists scheming to acquire a Dieter Rams-designed Braun SK-4, which would also be an entirely appropriate choice given that Pugh and Tress had an Adventure with a phonograph one of them picked up from a pawnbroker in the Fulham Road. And yet I’ve become fixated on the idea of a Normende Spectra Futura radio instead, capable of being tuned to a mysterious, spooky, pirate radio station, spooky in entirely different ways than the ways Clear Channel stations are spooky.

Radio Nordmende Spectra Futura

Do you want to see one closed? Here.

* * *

The Adventure of the Dirty Magazines. I’ve never so much as flipped through a single copy of John Willie’s Bizarre but I’ve lately become convinced a stack of them would be very handsome on a coffee table.

Bizarre No. 6

Bizarre No. 6, from 0Traveler0's Flickr photostream

Bizarre No. 19

Bizarre No. 19, from 0Traveler0's Flickr photostream

They’re not impossible to come by — there are some here, if you want to get started on your holiday shopping right away — but something like this is best encountered unexpectedly, and in an unlikely place. Maybe one of my protagonists will find them in a shiny brass trunk, like the one Ms. Brick House picked up in Palm Springs.

* * *

The Adventure of the Synchronized Cats. Autonomous severed hands are passé, but cats, never.

redrum redrum!

I’m not sure how this bit will work but I rather like the idea of a pair of murderous cats skilled in hypnotic induction.

* * *

The Adventure of the Weed.

Humboldt County Humboldt County

I blame a neighbor I had freshman year of college for my lingering supposition that potheads might very well be tasteful collectors and not the lumpen, hairbrush-dodging Taco Bell-munchers I’d grown up with. She’d covered the entire surface of her dorm room floor with layered oriental rugs and was never without an ample stash of excellent quality Humboldt County weed, which she would share while reading W.S. Merwin poems. I would likely give her fictional counterpart a preference for Georges Allier tapestries and H.D. but you get the idea. Smuggling seems tedious, so I’d probably have her weed stashed away in her grannie’s LaGardo Tackett cookie jars, for my protagonists to merrily fight over at an estate sale, each wondering whether the other knows their contents. Shades of Pugh and Tress’s Adventure of the Cabinet, wherein Pugh sets out for the country in pursuit of a Louis Quatorze armoire, encounters Tress — whose “most generous critic would scarcely say that the pure, virtuous air of the country was suited to him” — and claims that he himself is there merely for innocent “straying beside the limpid waters” because he finds “rural simplicity a sympathetic atmosphere.” Pugh wastes little time knocking at a certain country door and notes that it “was opened by a shrivelled-up, middle-aged woman in rusty black, who looked as if she were in a continual state of tearfulness; just the kind of unprotected female whom Joseph Tress would delight in imposing on.”

* * *

Coming soon-ish in this series: Loads of Sylvia Townsend Warner, more Frederick Rolfe, a fair amount of Flann O’Brien, Harry Mathews, Stanley Crawford, Jane Bowles and Henry Green, and too much else to mention.

a good browse

I spent much of Thursday evening browsing the Spring 2010 D.A.P. catalog. I’d never seen their catalog before and found it nearly as engrossing as my perennial favorite at this time of year, the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, which has over 230 varieties of tomato for 2010, including the rare Russian Emerald Apple, the Barnes Mountain yellow, the Caspian pink, the Cherokee purple and the Henderson’s Crimson Cushion. I don’t have any space to grow tomatoes but I could make room for a couple of these books.

Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980

Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980. This is out at the end of April.

Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers

Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers. This one’s out at the end of May. It’s being published in connection with a Klein retrospective at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden. There hasn’t been a major Klein exhibit in the US in many years and I think it’ll be kind of a big deal.

Treatise on Elegant Living

Honoré de Balzac, Treatise on Elegant Living. I’ve read quite a few of Balzac’s novels but not anything in the way of essays or aphorisms. He’s great with villains, frauds, and all manner of people on the make so I’m guessing an epigrammatic style suited him nicely. This is the first English translation of this title and the catalog describes it as “marking an important shift from the early dandyism of the British Regency to the intellectual and artistic dandyism of nineteenth-century France.” The official date on it is Feb. 28 but you can get it from Amazon now.

Utopics: Systems and Landmarks

Utopics: Systems and Landmarks. A “glossary of utopian structures, zones and acts in art and beyond.” Edited by Simon Lamunière; text by Nicolas Bourriaud, Fabienne Bideau, Philippe Cuenat and Ildiko Dao. Out at the end of February. I was thinking it sounded like a good nightstand book even before I got to the part about it being “bound in a glittering night-sky cloth.”

Pedro Friedeberg

Pedro Friedeberg. Pop-surrealist artist and designer monograph, out in March. In the meantime there’s some interesting stuff on his site.

Sound in Z

Sound in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th-Century Russia. Edited by David Rogerson and Matt Price. I don’t really know anything about theremins and whatnot but but the intersection of science and music and kooky 20th century inventors is promising subject matter. (Exhibit A: a quick peek at Mr. Léon Theremin’s Wikipedia page reveals that he also invented a big wooden box called “The Thing,” which was presented to the US ambassador in Moscow by Soviet schoolkids and then used to eavesdrop on his office for the next five years or so, and a dance platform called the terpsitone that converted dance moves into tones). I’m also intrigued by the reference in the book’s description to “Avraamov’s ‘Symphony of Sirens,’ an open-air performance for factory whistles, foghorns and artillery fire first staged in 1922.” Out at the end of March.

Birgit Jürgenssen

Birgit Jürgenssen. Edited by Gabriele Schor. Text by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Elisabeth Bronfen and Sigrid Schade. Yes please, about time. I have saved several images of Jürgenssen’s work over the past few years with her name in the back of my mind, used them as desktops and that sort of thing, but without ever following up. The short story is that she is an Austrian artist, born 1949, died 2003, but stay tuned for a Birgit Jürgenssen blog art show here sometime soon. This monograph is out in the US at the end of March; it looks like the German edition was out in 2009.

A Stick of Green Candy: Stories by Jane Bowles and Denton Welch

A Stick of Green Candy. Stories by Jane Bowles and Denton Welch. I’ve been meaning to read some Jane Bowles for a while now and this illustrated collection of four of her stories seems like an interesting place to start. Out at the end of March.

Clicking on any of the images above will take you to more info about the books on D.A.P.’s site.