Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Required Reading: Philly Fanatic Edition

Our findings these days continue to take a decidedly naughty slant, as subversive, dark or complicated tales dominate the shelves. 

It makes sense in many ways. The founding of a new venture always requires a side-step into uncharted territory – explored here with a rather lengthy reading list from Philadelphia (after the image), where a recent business trip was bookended by visits to the best in thrift, book and comic book stores. 

We scored so much that FedEx had to assist in the transport home. On the way out of town, this exhibit at Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, about Philly's Prohibition-era radical press The Centaur Book Shop, closed another memorable chapter. 

"Up on my back, and I will take you thither."

The Breast
(1973, Jonathan Cape, London)
Tweaking Kafka’s foibles, Roth pens this odd and funny yarn of a man who suddenly turns into a giant female breast. “Sightless in his hospital hammock, Kepesh ponders on possible causes for his monstrous metamorphosis.” 

Dorothy Allison
(1998, Plume)
Extraordinary. Incantory. Fragile. Tangled. Indomitable. Heartbreaking. Brilliant. Allison.

Sexing the Cherry
(1989, Vintage International)
“The marvelous and the horrific,” according to The New York Times, “… fuses history, fairy tale and metafiction into a fruit of a memorably startling flavor.” 
Notice a theme appearing here? 

The Acid House
(1994, W.W. Norton & Company)
An anthology of shorts from the Trainspotting author, this caustic volume specializes particularly in “cosmic reversals … [with] a corrosive wit.”

Last Exit to Brooklyn (1957, Grove Press)
The Demon (1976, 1998, Marion Boyars)
Both by Hubert Selby, Jr.
It’s hard to find the right words. We’ve been searching for Selby, and found a bounty. So far Last Exit to Brooklyn feels like the precipice of a roller coaster: excitement and anxiety at gravity’s edge. We’re ready for more, and it can’t be taken in gentle doses. The Demon is almost fear-inducing,  a “devastating, dark, perfect novel” (Chicago Sun-Times).

Cock & Bull
Will Self
(1992, Vintage Books)
A gender-bending pair of novelettes by Brit darling Will Self, described by New York Magazine as “deliciously funny comic fantasy [that] offers pointed comments on the bewildering and sometimes terrifying forms of contemporary sexual expression.”

Jeffrey Brown
(2002, sixth edition, Top Shelf Productions)  
This diminutive graphic novel out of Marietta, Georgia, is filled with darling, painful comic vignettes “for everyone who has ever loved and lost.”  Check.

Hot Water Music
(1984, Black Sparrow Press)
Thanks again, Black Sparrow, for a torrent of gritty poetic prose, brief glimpses of L.A.’s underbelly provided by one of our favorite dirty old men.

We also bought Bukowski’s novel ‘Factotum’ (1975, rep. 1980, Black Sparrow), a classic edition with a simple geometric cover design fringed by a microscopic spattering of wax drops – accidental candle deposits from the previous owner. How charming are the touches that remind us of other hands and other eyes.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Gertrude Stein
(1933, 1990, Vintage Books)
This irreverent, conjoined-twin kind-of biography about the infamous pot-brownie-baking lesbian is an unexpected trip.

Kaleidoscope: A Variety of Short Stories
Ed., Ralph E. West, Jr., William Penn Charter School
(1970, Independent School Press)
Took a chance on this one, in part for sentimental reasons. It was edited by a professor from our kindergarten school in Philadelphia – albeit 13 or so years before we attended. This looks like a good teaching text, with short stories both classic and new by the likes of Poe, Twain, Jack London and E.M. Forster.

(1964, 1970 E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.)
The most personal of books by a masterful figure in contemporary literature, crammed with poems, stories and sketches best described by John Updike of The New Yorker: “He represents the skeptical mind that is fascinated by an unending compulsion to isolate and define moments of experience in which the presumed identity of self, of here and now, can be fathomed and recognized as a tragic illusion.”
We expected nothing less.

Granta: The Magazine of New Writing
Issue 115: The F Word
(Spring 2011 issue, ed., John Freeman and others)
Sometimes we find great new books. And this, with its beautifully tactile cover, entices us to explore new feminist writings by Gillian Allnutt, Laura Bell, Clarisse d’Arcimoles, Maja Hrgovic, Caroline Moorehead, Eudora Welty, Jeanette Winterson and many others.

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