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Tuesday
Jun272017

Journalism: a one-act play

Scene: Early morning. Two people, a man and a woman, sitting in a room. One is reading the newspaper, the other is stretching, preparing to do yoga.

Woman: What are you reading?

Man: O, The New York Times.

Woman:  Anything interesting?

Man, reading directly from newspaper: "Today, a growing number of people are buying their groceries online."

Woman:  O, that's kind of interesting.

Man: I had this thought this morning before reading The New York Times: considering the way things are going in this country, journalists, and the news organizations they work for, may soon have only two alternatives: 1) to act as spies once acted during The Cold War by moving around surreptiously and 2) to work out of offices with unregistered addresses and phone numbers.

Woman:  That's a frightening thought.

(At this point, the man reading The New York Times hands the newspaper to the woman who'd asked, "what are you reading?")

A few minutes pass.

Woman: Wow! Canada does not have a bona fide populist movement. Minorities are absorbed into the social and political fabric of the nation in a pretty intelligent, inclusive manner which discourages the racial and economic tensions populist's prey on...

Man: I had this thought four or five years ago: when the history books are written, Canada may well be seen as a greater nation than the USA.

The woman folds the newspaper back to its original configuration.

Sunday
Jun252017

Bill Knott

Whatever it was I liked in the poems of Bill Knott when I first read them is what I like about them still: that I can read one of his poems, very often the shorter Knott poem the better, and feel so filled up with poetry that I don't have to read any more of them.

 

Pebbles 

I never try to do what those in the other arts do,

composers, painters, and them,

I only try to do what other poets do,

except when other poets try to do

what those in the other arts do,

in which case I don't.

 

From "I Am Flying Into Myself: Bill Knott, Selected Poems, 1960-2014" (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017).

Friday
Jun232017

Popular novelists of the 1970s

The real left, is there is such a thing, better soon admit Trump's not as stupid as they, or he, claim he is, and get really busy to make sure he doesn't get elected again. If there is a real left, that is, the left, for the most part, now being as intoxicated by big money as the right and are now more than less prisoners of their own manufactured despair.

The left, such as it is, reminds me of the widow woman who used to patronize the small public library I supervised in a small, beachside coastal town on the central coast of California in the mid-1970s. A prodigious reader of fiction--every week filling a paper sack full of books she borrowed from the library--she loved to roundly condemn a book she'd read by a writer like Sidney Sheldon or Irwin Shaw as being, dirty, salacious cheap, tawdry, a book that shouldn't be in the public library system, and then ask to see other books by the same author.

So come on left, stop being so shocked all the time, so mortified by the President of the United Staes, Donald Trump. Please express some gratitude for the man who's exposing, step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter, the cynical little realities of our current political realm. Please you on the left, find some other way of resisting this small, mean-spirited potboiler of a president, perhaps by praising anything and everything that's better than you are, and asking for more.

Wednesday
Jun212017

Naomi Klein

Two things of interest from Naomi Klein's talk last night in Berkeley: 1) the Trump victory should not be seen as a shock but as a culmination and 2) the left still can't start anything on time, reassuring those of us in the audience who've lived long enough and survived the politically dreadful late 1960s/early 70s, when independent journalist I.F. Stone said of Abbie Hoffman that "he couldn't even organize a luncheon," that not all that much has changed.

Naomi Klein's a likeable crusading journalist, whose take on the corporatization of our social and political systems was novel ten years ago but now reads as slightly old news, at least to this reader. The most astonishing thing I heard her say last night is that her new book--No is Not Enough--is the first she's published with an independent publisher. 

Sunday
Jun182017

The achievement of Renate Stendhal

Renate Stendhal has written a completely original book--a memoir of a time in her life when sexuality was almost everything--Kiss Me Again, Paris. 

It's a book a reader can walk around and admire from all sides, cover, back-cover, and spine, and as its publisher I do walk around it over and over, each time happy with how well-made Renate's book is, how good it feels in my hands. You'd think a publisher of books would have this feeling more often, but honestly this feeling is not always the case, rare enough, I can tell you as a publisher, that when it is felt the feeling is sublime.

Because the book business requires books, even books of the imagination as Renate Stendhal's new book is, to have classifications, Renate chose to classify the book as, a memoir. And I guess it is a memoir, those words are right below the title, Kiss Me Again, Paris, on the front cover. And on the back cover is some descriptive copy that would tend to back up that claim:

"From Paris's famous opera house to its gossip-rich salons, Kiss Me Again, Paris celebrates youth at the end of the 1970s, when women were in fashion, and every woman, gay or straight, fell in love with women. Illustrated with more than one hundred vintage photographs by the author."

The photos are black & white, all from Ms. Stendhal's personal collection, and are by themselves worth the price of the book if you ask me; I'm thinking here most particularly of the panoramic of Paris from the vantage point of the Eiffel Tower taken by the author's father in 1935, and the other quieter photo montages and snapshot masterpieces. I can't think of another book where image & text commingle so seductively to recreate both time and place; Sebald comes to mind I suppose, but even that's too convenient a comparison, since I've honestly never seen a book like Kiss Me Again, Paris, either as a publisher or a writer. There's a Cultural Glossary in the back of the book, providing a chapter-by-chapter gloss on references Ms. Stendhal makes in her text, that's also worth the price of admission, far more practical, for instance, than Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas that the great Frenchman appended to the end of what would be his final novel, Bouvard and Pecuchet.

I told a friend who asked the other day, what are you up to, that my small press had just published a book about Paris in the 1970s. She seemed to get the drift, but to amplify I added, it's a book that drinks a bit and still smokes cigarettes for the fun of it.

The writer Thomas Fuller has contributed a blurb--another book business requirement it seems is to have as many blurbs as possible on the back cover of a book--that reads, "Meret Oppenhein, friend and mentor to Ms. Stendhal, would certainly admire this book, and pass it on to others so others could make their own art from it. It's the Fur Teacup of memoir."

As to the spirit of Kiss Me Again, Paris, Fuller may be on to something, though I think his words tend to bring the book down to earth with a trifle too much gravity. Renate Stendhal's real achievement is singular: not only does she write very well about one of the most exciting times in recent history, lived in one of the world's great cities, she's written the most ambitious kind of book a writer can write--an honest memoir. And what's more, she's enough of an artist to have made her memoir read also as a real mystery.