Books I Should’ve Written About in 2016

Unsurprisingly, there are considerably more books for which I didn’t write formal blurbs. This, however, does not mean that several did not merit it. On quite the contrary! Here is a list of a few books that came out in 2016 that I very highly suggest you check out, or perhaps give as a gift (if that is your wont this time, or any time, of year).


** Daniel Borzutzky, The Performance of Being Human

** Tyehimba Jess, Olio

** Douglas Kearney, Buck Studies

** Alice Oswald, Falling Awake

** Solmaz Sharif, Look

** Ocean Vuong, Night Sky With Exit Wounds




** László Krasznahorkai, The Last Wolf / Herman [trans by John Batki & George Szirtes]

** Halldor Laxness, Wayward Heroes [trans. by Phillip Roughton]

** Lina Meruane, Seeing Red [trans. by Megan McDowell]

** Daniel Saldaña Paris, Among Strange Victims [trans. by Christina Macsweeney]

** Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers

**  Guillermo Saccomanno, Gesell Dome [trans. by Andrea G. Labinger]



** Brian Blanchfield, Proxies: Essays Near Knowing

** Renee Gladman, Calamities

** Lily Hoang, A Bestiary

** Óscar Martínez, A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America [trans. by John B. Washington]

**  Philippe Soupault, Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada & Surrealism [trans. by Alan Bernheimer]

** Eliot Weinberger, The Ghosts of Birds


Books I Blurbed in 2016

As I did last year, as a sort of alternative to a “Best of” list, I thought I’d give you a run-down of the books I blurbed over the course of 2016. If I have time, I follow it up later with books I never got around to formally blurbing, but should have.

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1) Sudden Death, by Alvaro Enrigue (trans. by Natasha Wimmer)

Sudden Death is going to be a revelation for a whole lot of people this year. (It was already my favorite book of 2016 when I read an advance copy in 2015!)

We are in the midst of a new golden age of Mexican literature, and Sudden Death has opened even more audacious paths for this most cosmopolitan storytelling. To retell the plot does the novel very little service — which isn’t to say it is plot-less or even particularly difficult to follow. Rather, it is tightly wound (not unlike the balls used in the epic duel of a tennis match that functions simultaneously as the novel’s centerpiece and frame) and bounds expertly between centuries from Old World to New.

Sudden Death is, at its core, a very angry book – specifically, at the insipid successes of the world’s colonizers – but it is an anger born of play and the censure of comedy. The bad guy may always win in the end, Enrigue seems resigned to say, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the losers’ little victories along the way.

* * * Continue reading “Books I Blurbed in 2016”

The fiction you’re not able read right now builds worlds; poetry breathes.

I’ve been hearing & reading a recurring sentiment since the election: I can’t read fiction right now. That I hear it most commonly from those I consider “serious readers” (those who don’t read fiction strictly for entertainment or diversion), is cause for concern — as I understand both the importance they place on reading and the mournful loss they’re experiencing at not being able to do so.

I have a suggestion. It will sound so pithy that some of you will stop reading. But here goes: try poetry.

Let me stop you at the first all-too-common, immediate objection: “But I don’t know how to read poetry.” Nonsense. You’re not dead. If you’re this far into this post, you’re obviously still breathing: that’s all it takes. The rest is negotiable.  Continue reading “The fiction you’re not able read right now builds worlds; poetry breathes.”

Broadly in the remit of An und für sich

I don’t pretend that many of you are particularly interested in my non-academic world of bookselling. This is one of the reasons (but definitely not the only one) I don’t post around too much. I’m going to make an exception today, though. (a) It’s a rainy week in Oakland — which over the past few years has become so exceptional that it must be a sign of something, doom or glory (the difference probably being negligible, if we’re honest). (b) I wrote something broadly in the remit of An und für sich, and I’m duty-bound as one with administrative rights to post it. Such was the strict wording of the contract Adam made me sign in those heady days of pre- & un-employment when we started this thing.

Literary Hub published a piece of mine this week in their Bookselling in the 21st Century series, “From the Seminary to the Bookstore.” I feared what I’d submitted was overly confessional / personal. You who know me are maybe wondering: “Do you write anything else?” That’d be a fair question. White, post-angsty white guy. I check all the narcissist boxes. (This is one of the reasons I don’t write much, period, btw — but, as above, definitely not the only one.) The response, however, has been as surprising as it has been moving. Readers, mostly fellow booksellers and publishing sorts, seem (happily!) mostly to be looking past all the me in the story I tell, and are finding parts of themselves and their stories . . . whether traditional confessions still slip their tongues or have long done so between their fingers. Its publication coincided with a trade show in San Francisco, which occasioned people I barely knew — some not at all — to thank me for having written it. I’m rarely touched, but the clear emotional (or whatever) connection some have found in the piece has prompted me to throw braggadocio caution to the wind and tell others about it.

Let us assume, shall we, the ubiquity of now.

Apparently, Jack Chick, of Chick Tract infamy, is dead. He passed quietly, it seems. No chariots or such. The internet perked up for a moment, which seems mostly to have passed. Just like Jack Chick.

Jack Chick was neither David Bowie or Prince, it should go without saying.

Mind you, I’m not a fan. I don’t imagine any of you are either. And yet, for we who grew up within the world he informed, if even only its margins, he would menace his way into occasional, odd remembrance.

Even today.

I’m reposting something I wrote quite a while ago now — four or five years ago. It is, I hope it’s clear, neither an ode nor an homage.

But Jack Chick is dead . . . and remembrances keep happening.

This afternoon I read for the first time since high school C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. As it turns out, it is a lot better read when you believe in letters more than you do devils. I somehow had completely forgotten the random bit where Wormwood turns into a caterpillar and requires a secretary to dictate the rest of his letter.

I got it in my head that I wanted to write my own evangelistic tract, but from the perspective of Lucifer. Using Lewis and the weird world of free tracts available online as my guide, I came up with the following.

On the cover is a comic-book style illustration of Satan–Van Dyke as sharp as horns, crimson cloak wrapped inhumanly tight by a black belt, dijon mustard green cape billowing without any apparent wind, pitchfork out of hand but within arm’s reach—hunched at work over a writing desk, pen to paper, semi-circled by an orange and red inferno that had presumably also ignited the contents of the waste basket at his feet and the drawers near his elbows. Below this was written, in a jagged flame-like font:

Lucifer Writes A Letter.

Dear God Damned If You Do,

You may not realize it, but I like watching you. I’m doing so now, actually. I see you stopped reading for a second there—did a little double-take and glance over your shoulder? No, I’m just kidding. I’m not watching you read this letter. Well, I am, but not while I’m writing it. I may not be human, but I’m still pretty much as bound by time as you. I guess you could say I’m a little god damned that way myself. Ha Ha Ha.

No . . . when I say I’m watching you now, as I’m writing, it’s best to not get too pedantic. What with reprints, revisions, and subsequent editions of this letter, who can say when “now” is, right? I mean, let’s face it, I could just as well be referring to any old peeping Tom, Dick or Harry in the past or the future. Let’s just assume, shall we, the ubiquity of now, and take for granted, get our cards all on the table, that I’m always watching. From beginning to end. Period.

I have to say, my friend, I like what I see. You have a lot of damned potential. Ha Ha Ha. I couldn’t resist. But seriously, you have a way about you that makes a fella like me perk up and pay attention. You and I, we like the same movies and jokes. The dirtier the better, am I right? And who can cuss people out better than we? No-fucking-body, I say. Ha Ha Ha. What else? Oh yeah . . . petty theft that stops short of felonious grand larceny. Check! Telling lies so well and often that we eventually believe them ourselves? Check! Guess that makes us hypocrites too, huh! You’re my kind of sinner, my friend. Why, we’ll stab you kin in the back and claim the knife was there for as long as we knew you — don’t blame us for your own lack of attention. Losers.

The only thing that worries me is that I’m hearing word that you’re thinking about giving all this up. Tell me this isn’t so, my friend! I mean, thanks for the memories and all, but there’s so much more we could do. There’s a whole eternity of torment and toil waiting for you with me down here. All you have to do is just keep on doing what you’re doing.

No matter what you do, don’t you dare pray, don’t even think it, stop reading now, ‘Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner, forgive all my sins and set me free from the bondages of sin. I believe you died on the cross for my sins, and I now confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that God raised you from the dead. Forgive me and come into my heart, and fill me with joy everlasting.’ And God help you if you keep praying and you find words of your own to truthfully say, ‘By faith I accept you as my Savior and Lord, and I will serve you forever.

Never forget . . .

Eternally Damned If You Don’t,


The Rotten Carcass Economy

My bookstore takes National Poetry Month pretty seriously. One of our traditions is a daily poetry reading throughout April. I’m linking to this one in particular not simply because I’m reading or that the reading itself is particularly good (though, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not like these aren’t factoring into my decision), but because I think a good many of you would really like the work of Daniel Borzutzky. Give him a look.

Books I Blurbed in 2015

This may not be only bookish post before the end of 2015, but I thought I might do at least one a bit earlier than normal. As many of you may know, I manage a bookshop in Oakland, and occasionally write here & elsewhere about bookshop sort of things.

In addition to begging & pleading my coworkers for blurb-length reviews of new books for our monthly newsletter, I write them. Looking through this year’s collection, I was quite happy with my selections, if less so the write-up itself. Below you will find them all, along with a link to a fine bookstore that will happily (& affordably) send you or a loved one a copy. Alternatively, I’m sure that many of you live near a bookstore, independent or otherwise, and they would be happy to sell you a copy. Continue reading “Books I Blurbed in 2015”

Some Suggested Reading for the Summer of 2015

The bookseller in me felt compelled to use what forum I have here at AUFS not simply for self-indulgent evil (e.g., my serialized short stories), but for greater cultural good! To that end, I present a few books I heartily recommend for you, the educated and/or curious, who frequent these parts.

First … and this is the only time sequence matters in this list … is John Keene’s magnificent Counternarratives. I’ve cannot stop telling people about this book. Halfway through the year, it is my book of 2015, and very confident its demands for our attention will endure for considerably longer. Of it I’ve written:

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I trust a good many of you already about the next book, but it bears repeating. If you’re not talking to somebody this summer about Maggie Nelson’s latest essayistic poetry, The Argonauts, I’m not sure what it is you have to talk about.

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Next up … and, yes, I know, all of these so far have been hardcover, but I think this is the last one such … is Nell Zink’s Mislaid. Suffice it to say, it’s been a good year for Nell. There is bound to be a backlash — maybe there already is — what for all the hype and such. But, who cares, she’s funny & smart as hell. What’s more, she knows it. I will defy the inevitable defiance and encourage you to read along. My blurb review made its way to an industry newsletter.

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Poetry! Everybody reads it during the summer, right? Maybe not . . . but if, so, find yourself a copy of Nathaniel Mackey’s Blue Fasa. Don’t be surprised when you begin, and it seems as though you’ve entered a concert mid-program. Mackey’s poetic project has spanned several books now, each one introducing a new movement, all of them influenced by a variety of rhythms and instruments. This kind of description is often attended by poetry workshop eyeball . . . but, if you just go with it, and you keep close at hand Kevin Coval &c.’s The BreakBeat Poetsping-ponging your eyes back & forth from Mackey to it, you’ll find one of the few unrestrained joys you’re likely to have this summer.

Valeria Luiselli’s Story of My Teeth is not out in the States until September, but if you’re in & about Europe you already have access to it. Whenever you should get your hands on it, you’re in for a pleasure. Her debut (in English) Faces in the Crowd was feted with attention and praise, and I suspect Story of My Teeth will introduce her to a wider audience still. I wrote a blurb for her American publisher
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Finally — and I recommend you just keep this one around you all summer, in a bag, to punctuate whatever else you might be reading, from this list or others — it’s much better than Twitter, I promise — I implore you to get a copy of Sergio Pitol’s classic (in nearly every language but, until now, English!), The Art of Flight. In an age where everybody it seems is writing an autobiographical essay, Pitol is, I think, the master. Memory curves into anticipation, always rounding back into one another, and through it all PItol is the multi-cultural maestro, never so much guiding you along as two steps further, hopping over the names that he’s dropped into puddles.

Serialized Short Story, Conclusion: “I count myself as lucky if even this letter should find its destination.”

He: Accidental harm & love are not unlike time. We can look back & ahead only so far or so wide. Pleading anything more, successfully or not, is pretense, unavoidable though it may be.

* * *

I originally read your note in the dead of night, having awakened at 3 or 3.30 in search of a glass of water, and have ever since been toying with the notion of what happens to silent compliments — the ones stowed for later in the pocket, or under the hat for safe-keeping, or even under the ground for memorialized forgetting. The words not said, don’t the poets & mystics talk about how they’re the ones with the most power? But do words need to have power to act? I’m not sure.

Clumsiness, awkwardness, trains of thought that’ve skipped the tracks and emptied their cargo — compliments regrettably given, praise painfully accepted — these are the moments, the silences that aren’t the terminal sort for which poets & mystics clamor or yearn — that occur along the way … to what, exactly? … frustrating all our noblest intentions and greatest efforts — such as when you excitedly read aloud the most ‘beautiful thing ever’, whatever it is, to a kindred, and hear their coldness & inattention as you do; and, oh, you’re loathe to continue, but you do, and somewhere within (but not identifiably because) the persistence something happens — perhaps to neither of you — for you may remain disappointed and she bored — that redeems the frustration and inattention — that doesn’t change a person or circumstance so much as affirm and allow both — doors thrown open and welcomes met with wine — and upon reflection, maybe, sometimes, one of you, maybe neither, maybe somebody sitting nearby watching, is pleased to have bore witness.

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Continue reading “Serialized Short Story, Conclusion: “I count myself as lucky if even this letter should find its destination.””

Serialized Short Story, Part 4: “I oblige, with needlessly reserved happiness.”

It began, this game of ours, innocently –
Did it not?
A private humiliation,
This, our affair, it lacked reciprocity.
Only the give, never the take, shall we say –
Of erotic provocation.

This was not ours.
We inhabited our little injustices, our fears and fucks,
Like they were bodies –
Never so much piled high, these,  as they were flung low –
To the dingy proud and impoverished gluttons waiting to set upon
And devour them.

You say –
I left you alone.
I say –
I let you be.
The distinction, you claim, is more sadistic than a slap,
And this, I agree, may be so –

But no less true.

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Continue reading “Serialized Short Story, Part 4: “I oblige, with needlessly reserved happiness.””