Heartwood 5:3 – Adventures in Immediate Irreality

BlecherFor a moment I had the feeling of existing only in the photograph.

To read this book is to put yourself into the hands of a writer of uncommon sensitivity, insight and intelligence.

Structurally, Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality is composed of short, episodic chapters chronicling events in the life of the narrator from his boyhood to his years as a young man. They explore childhood haunts, early experiences of sexuality, his fascination with the cinema, fairs, waxworks, and things to be found in dusty attics. There are weddings and funerals, fever dreams and moments of equilibrium, and through it all an extraordinary perceptiveness.

Blecher’s primary concern is with the subjective mind and body confronting a world of everyday objects and matter amid places so vividly experienced as to seem somehow unsettled or even cursed. Attention to sensory perception abounds as sights and smells and sounds and textures are distilled in the many potent images and scenes. Sex and death commingle, waxwork figures take on a greater reality than living people, and the intricate webs that Blecher carefully spins he just as brilliantly collapses upon themselves. Hypersensitivity and melancholy rule the day and create for the narrator a sense of crisis arising from nothing more than living among things in the sensible world. Dust, mold, muck, blood. Sunlight. An uncanny interchangeability between subject and object; the mere membrane that separates certitude from incertitude. For Blecher, it’s as if Proust’s madeleine moments result not in wonder and fascination, but in vertiginous existential crises of dissociated identity, of being inexorably in the world but also separated from it.

The notion of life as stage and stage-set are everywhere in Blecher. As mentioned earlier, the wax museum especially captivates him, but also the cinema, and fairs, with their side-show spectacles. The artificial blossoms into reality while the real world around him flounders, meaningless as the drift of stars. Most remarkable to me is the concentrated attention Blecher gives his experiences, deftly weaving their sensory fullness into the particular scenes and the fluctuating waves of his agitation.

Blecher has been compared with Kafka and Salvador Dali, but the writer most closely associated with him may be Bruno Schulz, with his similar images of moldering objects, dust and heat, dress-maker’s dummies in stifling fabric shops, and the irreality of particular places.

Maybe it’s best, at this point, to let this most interesting book speak for itself. Here are a couple of passages in which the narrator finds himself immersed in the powerful aura of everyday things:

We could find additional melancholy antiques in another abandoned upstairs room, this one in my grandfather’s house. Its walls were lined with strange paintings in large gilt wooden frames or smaller pink plush ones. There were also frames made of tiny seashells assembled with meticulous care. I could gaze on them for hours. Who had pasted the shells? Who had made the tiny, agile movements that brought them together? Dead works like these gave instant rebirth to whole existences lost in the mist of time like images in parallel mirrors sunken in the greenish depths of dream.

All at once the surfaces of things surrounding me took to shimmering strangely or turning vaguely opaque like curtains, which when lit from behind go from opaque to transparent and give a room a sudden depth. But there was nothing to light these objects from behind, and they remained sealed by their density, which only rarely dissipated enough to let their true meaning shine through.

____________

Max Blecher was born in 1909 and spent most of his life in Roman, Romania.  He was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis at nineteen and died at the age of twenty-eight. He corresponded with such 20th-century figures as André Breton, André Gide and Martin Heidegger.

Further reading:
Max Blecher’s Adventures – The Paris Review
The Immediate Unreality – Dialogue on the Threshold
Beyond the Visible Plane – 3 a.m. Magazine
Brute Matter: Max Blecher’s “Adventures in Immediate Irreality” – Michigan Quarterly Review

‘What’s the Point of This Story’ Girl Strikes Again

I know what my super power would be. Not invisibility. Not speed. Not flying. I would be called ‘What’s the Point of This Story’ Girl or ‘Could You Wrap This Story Up’ Girl. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a co-worker and I’ll see that glaze come over their eyes. You know what glaze I’m talking about. It’s the one where they appear to be listening to you but what they’re really doing is thinking about what they’re going to have for lunch. That flusters me as much as someone rolling their hand in the air in a “Jesus, will you finish talking already?” So I usually end up tripping over my words or my gum falls out of my mouth and I might blurt “That’s why I’m not allowed to eat oatmeal in Target anymore.” I sometimes panic in the middle of talking. Much like this entire paragraph.

lessthanheroG. Browne’s Less than Hero focuses on a group of men who are professional guinea pigs for pharmaceutical companies. They enroll in drug test trials. Everything from Viagra to blood pressure medicines. You know those pharmaceutical commercials on TV, the ones where they mumble the drug’s possible side effects that sound worse than the ailment? Those are the drugs tested on Less Than Hero’s leading man, Lloyd Prescott and his friends. Need an antidepressant? This pill may cause suicidal thoughts. Bladder control problems? This pill might send you into renal failure. Did your son take an anti-convulsing drug? He might grow boobs. Need to lose weight? This pill will make your IQ drop 20 points.

Lloyd Prescott isn’t a slacker. (On second thought, he is a slacker. I identified with him and didn’t want to call myself a slacker but hey, if the shoe fits…I probably won’t put it on because I’m too lazy to bend down to tie the laces). He’s been to college and has a marketing degree, but he’s nearly disabled by his own inertia. Being a guinea pig is easy money, even with all the horrendous side effects. Lloyd also pan handles in New York City’s well-traveled parks. But it’s clever pan handling. He holds up a sign that says ‘Will Take Verbal Abuse for Money.’

So would I. The junk food in the vending machine at work is getting more expensive.

When Lloyd isn’t being a guinea pig or panhandling he’s hanging out with other guinea pigs. There’s Charlie who is young and naïve, Randy who fancies himself as a ladies man (whether in his own head or for real, I don’t know), Frank who is a sturdily built dude who fights his weight constantly, and Vic who used to be a public school teacher and got fired. Vic doesn’t care for people much. There are a couple other guinea pigs they hang out with once in a while, but for the most part it’s Lloyd, Charlie, Vic, Frank, and Randy.

Life starts getting really weird really fast.

Lloyd is yawning one day, just idly staring at a girl as he opens his mouth wide. Next thing he knows the girl is out cold in the street, taking a hard nap. He asks himself did he do that or was it a bizarre coincidence?

One day while riding the subway with Randy, Lloyd notices a group of punks that have gotten on and are harassing people. And by punks I mean pants hanging halfway down to their ankles, wife beaters, and a meanness that gets people beaten to death. Randy stares at the punks, stares so hard that they begin to itch and claw at their skin which begins to erupt into welts and hives.

Lloyd begins to suspect that he and the other guinea pigs are manifesting the side effects of the drug trials.When they confess to one another that they’ve each been experiencing supernatural side effects they decide they’re going to use their powers for good and not evil. They go out at night and save homeless people from being beaten up and threatened by street kids. They don’t do it for the recognition but soon enough the media starts following their exploits.

Lloyd can make people spontaneously nap. The media nicknames him ‘Dr. Lullaby.’ Randy can give rashes. He’s called ‘the Rash.’ Vic can make people vomit.  He’s ‘Captain Vomit.’ Charlie can cause seizures. He’s dubbed ‘Convulsion Boy.’ Frank causes people to bloat until their clothes pop off. He’s known as ‘Big Fatty.’ Their real identities are safe….for a bit. But are there other guinea pigs out there who aren’t super heroes? News reports pop up about people having amnesia that lasts for a few hours. They come to find their wallets and valuables gone. There is definitely someone out there not fighting for justice.

What seems to give their lives purpose and meaning in the beginning begins to take its toll on the group. There are heavy physical and mental dues to pay. Relationships begin to break down. Panic begins to sweep the city as supervillains rise. Lloyd starts to think being a professional guinea pig and panhandling in parks isn’t the way to spend his life. He doesn’t just want to settle down. He wants to be happy. That’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Less Than Hero is a book for all of us who feel like losers, who feel like we haven’t found our way yet in life while everyone else has their lives together and you’re just sitting there thinking ‘I’ve been at the same job for almost 20 years. Didn’t I have dreams? Didn’t I have plans?’ Oops. Sorry. That got personal. Less Than Hero is about the everyday small things in life and how we treat one another while we’re here.

And it’s about making assholes vomit until someone screams for an exorcist.

Locally Grown Music

For years we’ve heard a lot of noise from the music industry about the death of CDs and other physical media, and how downloadable media has doomed the CD and vinyl pressing business. Guess what? Much like the rumors of the obsolescence of libraries, this is patently untrue.

Happily this is amazingly awesome news for library users like you. Don’t want to commit to purchasing an album by an artist you haven’t yet heard? Can’t spare the cash to order in a CD you are dying to hear? The library must be your BFF and, if not, we’re looking to change that.

localmusicStarting like, right now, I’m knee-deep in relabeling and reorganizing a small but mighty subsection of our music collection. And our music buyer? She’s been doing her utmost, tirelessly contacting local bands and artists and gathering as many CDs as she can for this collection. By the time you read this there should be a choice selection of CDs by bands local to the Puget Sound area, finally grouped together and just waiting for you to discover them.

For those of you in a local band, now would be the time to let us know you’ve got an album that you’d like to see in our collection. That can be done by shooting an email to libref@everettwa.gov with your band name, contact info, and, if possible, a link to where we can hear and order your music online.

We’re naming our brainchild Local, and we’re adding some names you’ve heard (Hey Marseilles!) and some you may have not yet had the pleasure of hearing (Jason Webley). The bulk of these CDs will be available just in time for Fisherman’s Village Music Festival, another Everett brainchild that we think has achieved gifted genius status.

And as we look toward the future? Well, we’re going to keep growing this amazingly diverse and charming collection. And a little birdie told me that summer may bring some big news for local bands collaborating with us bibliophiles here at the library. Stay tuned, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.

Spot-Lit for May 2015

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, emerging, and under-the-radar authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases based on a consensus of advance reviews, publisher interest, and bookish social media. Click the montage below and then the Full Display button beside each title to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

montage

Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

lemonWhen I think of this quote, it is spoken in the voice of a dear friend who has suffered the loss of a marriage, the pain of adult children with drug and mental health issues, physical disabilities, and recently the loss of her mother and the subsequent rejection of her elderly father. She holds to the attitude ‘when life offers lemons, make lemonade.’ Her strength and faith inspire me and bring to mind one of my favorite inspirational author’s, Anne Lamott.

lemonadeMs. Lamott needs little introduction, but I didn’t discover her writing until a few years ago. I like the grittiness with which Lamott writes and her ability to dial in on the subjects of life, death, grace, hope, and prayer. She doesn’t claim to know “all the answers or even that much about God,” yet she somehow manages to strike a chord of truth. In a world where there exists a myriad of belief systems, Lamott is able to tap into the things that tether us together in our humanness: feelings of pain, sorrow, excitement, and joy. Whether you’re inspired by a beautiful sunrise, an unexpected blessing, or the written word, you will find a few touch points in one of these three books.

helpthankswowIn Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Lamott describes ‘Help’ as the prayer when hope seems hopeless: the admission we’re stuck, can’t fix it, throwing up our white surrender flag. She concludes this may be the miracle in itself; realizing you’re lost, but that in surrendering you’ve won… which may lead you to give ‘thanks.’ ‘Thanks’ prayers, Lamott continues, may be as simple as the relief and gratitude of dodging a bullet, and the ‘Wow’ prayers she sums up can be spring. Spring being hope, beauty and glory all wrapped up to awaken our winter dulled senses to new life.

stichesIn her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair she describes the book as “a patchwork of moments, memories, connections and stories.” Drawing from her personal life, she poses the question: how do you make sense out of the curve balls life throws. She echoes the cry of many by asking the tough questions, questions that arise as we go through life. Lamott writes with an openness and transparency providing insight by illustrating our humanity.

smallvictoriesLamott’s latest inspirational book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace is summarized this way: the author offers a new message of hope that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness… Our victories over hardship and pain may seem small (she writes) but they change us. Lamott writes of forgiveness, restoration, and transformation and how we can turn to love even in the most hopeless situations. Theology aside, Anne Lamott speaks the language of the heart which is hard to deny. It is why I’ve come to respect this author.

I read for pleasure, for knowledge, and for inspiration. Anne Lamott is just one of many inspiring and encouraging authors that I read. The library has been a great resource for meeting my need to be encouraged and helped along the way.

Historical Photos Come to Life

Brue Building

Amongst the many treasures here at Everett Public Library are the historical digital photo collections maintained by the Northwest History staff. We are currently highlighting the King & Baskerville Studio photos which were taken in a short period in 1892. These amazing pictures offer some insight into what the lay of the land used to be in and around Everett, and what day-to-day life looked like. I would sum up this world with one word: mud.

Historian David Dilgard will make a presentation on this collection, Saturday, May 2 at 2pm in the Main Library Auditorium. This is your opportunity to experience early Everett in a unique and personal manner.

But if you want to sit in your own home and examine early Everett at your leisure, go to the Northwest History digital collections and prepare to be transported to a time when rough and tumble scalawags perambulated wooden planked streets and punched the occasional bovine. And enjoyed it.

Best of the (Half) Decade

Today I saw a list of the top 100 books written in the past half-decade. We were not amused. Items chosen were limited almost exclusively to adult fiction, and the fiction itself seemed to be fairly narrow in scope. So quite obviously it’s time for a better list. Created by me.

Books chosen have all been read by yours truly, which skews the list’s contents, confining it to items I find attractive. Obviously some wonderful books will be absent. But of the 80 or so books written since 2010 that I’ve read, diverse genres including autobiographies, humor, YA, juvenile, graphic novels, mystery, supernatural fiction, travel, historical fiction, and true crime have been explored. Allowing for a potentially well-rounded list.

And now I give you: The Top 13 Books Written Since 2010!

  1. Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson (2012) Perhaps the funniest book I’ve ever read. Written by the Bloggess, a woman who recounts pant-wettingly hilarious scenarios whilst openly discussing her severe coping issues, this book is guaranteed to shock, perhaps revolt, and leave you aching from unquenchable laughter.
  1. Insane City by Dave Barry (2013)
    I have a soft spot for ridiculously complex, filled-with-coincidences plots. In a way, it doesn’t even matter what the story is about as long as the screwball comedy aspect is well done. Dave Barry is always enjoyable and this is perhaps his greatest effort. The plot is not even remotely describable in less than 10,000 words, so suffice to say: Florida, wedding, Russian gangsters, angry strippers, and pythons. Standard issue Dave Barry.
  1. At Home by Bill Bryson (2010)
    Bill Bryson has become my guru. Don’t understand science? Read Bryson. Need a better handle on the English language? Bryson. In At Home he explains how dwellings evolved and where names of house parts came from, all while imparting abundant information about western civilization. Funny, understandable, a compelling read.

Set 1

  1. The World’s Greatest Sleuth by Steve Hockensmith (2010)
    The Holmes on the Range mystery-solving series is durned brilliant. In this installment, the Amlingmeyer brothers travel from their usual Western climes to the 1893 Columbian Exposition and compete with famous detectives in the field of detecting. Murder, of course, ensues. Outstanding evocation of the Chicago fair.
  1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)
    Of all the autobiography/memoirs I’ve read, this was my favorite. Written in a personable, conversational yet well-crafted style, Ms. Poehler recounts life stories and shares bits of her wise personal philosophy, creating a sort of charming, amusing self-help manual.
  1. Bye Bye, Baby by Max Allan Collins (2011)
    Brilliant historical fiction that examines the circumstances of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Through Collins we get to know Marilyn, the powerful people she mingled with, and the potential truths behind her death. After reading this book I was moved to learn more about her life and death, which indicates to me that Collins did a superlative job.

Set 2

  1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (2011)
    A plane crash, abundant death, struggles to survive, nefarious politicians and Miss Texas all mix poetically in this waggish disembowelment of the beauty pageant industry.
  1. Who Could That Be At This Hour? By Lemony Snicket (2012)
    For a fabulous description of this fabulous book, read Carol’s fabulous post here. I’m not a huge fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I was blown away by this new mysterious series. Written for kids but equally intriguing for adults.
  1. The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion (2014)
    In this follow up to The Rosie Project, Don and Rosie are married and expecting. Don (who I suspect is on the extremely high-functioning end of the autism spectrum) approaches fatherhood as a problem to be solved, but Rosie is not sure if his lack of emotion will allow him to be a good father. Tension follows, communications break down, and the couple struggles to maintain their couplehood. A powerful, magical romance that shows how people of all kinds can enrich the lives of others.

Set 3

  1. The Yard by Alex Grecian (2012)
    Fascinating fictional look at the beginnings of Scotland Yard, the ridiculous caseload piled on the pitiful handful of detectives, and the ease with which murder could be successfully committed in the 19th century.
  1. The Dangerous Animals Club by Stephen Tobolowsky (2012)
    Stephen Tobolowsky is an incredibly versatile and prolific actor, perhaps most remembered as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. This memoir tells tales of his intriguing life, but is also filled with philosophical musings and complex ideas. Funny and thought provoking.
  1. Deep Creek by Dana Hand (2010)
    Historical fiction based on a true story. When Chinese gold miners are murdered along the Idaho-Oregon border, white settlers don’t really care. The Sam Yup Company, a powerful Chinese firm, hires a local man to solve the mystery. Elegant, descriptive writing clearly depicts an unjust time.
  1. Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel (2011)
    This is one of the few graphic novels that has truly engaged me, featuring beautiful charcoal drawings and a fantastical tale of love, riverboat travel, and mermaids. Memorable, alluring and ultimately disturbing.

Set 4

So there you have it, 13 books, one for each month of the year! Read, enjoy, enrich and prepare for the next half-decade.