Friday, April 30, 2010
Friday's "Forgotten" Books: Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, THIS LIFE SHE'S CHOSEN: STORIES; R. A. Lafferty, THE MAN WHO MADE MODELS AND OTHER STORIES
It's almost too easy, the contrast between these two collections, which I can recommend with a few reservations (and both are essentially out of print, though available, the Lafferty in this form only at collector's prices). Two writers with clearly not enough names nor ethinicity implied in those names between them, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, born 1979, has been a creature of the MFA programs and the AWP (the Associatio of Writers and Writer's Programs, which like the SFWA [now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America] used to fit its acronym better); Raphael Aloysius Lafferty was an eventually retired engineer who began writing fiction as a form of therapy and distraction from alcoholism, and began publishing in 1959 and 1960 in New Mexico Quarterly Review and Science Fiction Stories magazines. This Life She's Chosen is Lunstrum's first collection; she's since published another, which was met with less praise (a particularly harsh review from Publisher's Weekly sits on the Amazon page); The Man Who Made Models was one of Lafferty's last, a chapbook in a series of booklets published by bookseller Chris Drumm in the 1980s and '90s, after the larger commercial publishers and Lafferty had largely parted ways. Both are collections of stories that were, as far as I can tell, never previously published.
The Lunstrum is a collection of tales of mostly young and middle-aged women enmeshed unhappily in family relations, with mothers, sisters, husbands; there are deft descriptions of small slights and continuing minor cruelties which alienate the characters from each other, while also rarely being enough to allow for clean breaks, nor does it occur to most of the characters to try to tell their family members how they are being chivvied, until explosions of rage or sublimation into cold resentment occurs. They are well-written, but clearly the work of a talented but young writer--she paints delicately, but in all primary colors, and certain tropes are too much in evidence--people are always smelling strongly of the air and leaves and other outdoor scents as they are greeted or (often grudgingly) embraced; the horizon is forever merging into a gray or gray-like haze in the distance, from story to story (that latter not too surprising given that the stories take place almost exclusive in the Pacific Northwest, from Juneau to the SF Bay Area, locus of Lunstrum's primary residence up through the time of publication). The single biggest factor in my picking up this remaindered paperback edition was Karen Joy Fowler's largely correct blurb, that these are "Deft [so apt I steal it above], rich, moving, and memorable"...and they are rich in detail, and can be moving, even given the delimitations Lunstrum places on her characters, who lead sexless lives (perhaps not so oddly, but the consistency of the sexlessness of the protagonists' lives, and indeed the consistency with which sexuality is seen only in terms of threat does encourage a certain vest-pocket humming, particularly in the work of a writer who seems to have married rather young). While most of the characters are almost stereotypically Norwegianly closed off emotionally, they do tend to be industrious (her portrayals of work life and other busy-ness are also rather good for a writer who seems to have been in academe so thoroughly throughout her adult life), and there are nice touches of wit to alleviate the gloom.
While R. A. Lafferty was all wit and invention and the constant questioning of received wisdom and of the limits we accept in ourselves. He, more than any other writer I can think of, was a brilliant teller of tall tales, delivered in raucous and yet elegant prose. Patti Abbott was lamenting recently the dearth of new fair-play detective fiction that she sees; Lafferty responds, in these stories originally written in the mid 1970s but slightly revised by Lafferty for their 1984 publication here, with "Two for Four Ninety Nine," offers a detective agency featuring two ridiculously perceptive geniuses, putting Holmes to shame, one a Homo sapiens named Roy Mega, the other an Australopithecus named Austro (who is also a popular cartoonist)...who are joined in their efforts by the disembodied soul of a young woman, who serves as their in-house oracle. (This kinf of thing had not been done to death when Lafferty was writing it, and it still is fresh in his hands.) You'll have to read the story for how the grackle fits in. In fact, all of the stories here are at least borderline criminous, as well as mostly fantasticated, instructive, and funny as hell. It is genuinely difficult to find people to compare Lafferty to...Avram Davidson in his more antic moods is similar, Robert Benchley if he tackled matters with a serious subtexts might be somewhat comparable, Peter De Vries if he was willing to take more risks with form and structure and admitted more fantasticated content into his work...neither Kingsley Amis nor even Bruce Jay Friedman have quite matched the joyful liberties, the Tall-Taleness, of what Lafferty regularly does (Donald Barthelme in his more arch way also came close at times, and fellow-traveler Carol Emshwiller also comes close in certain moods), and one of the stories here, the utterly unfantasticated "Of Laughter and the Love of Friends," is even a tale of not so small cruelties between a husband and wife that the manic flipside to Lunstrum's work.
There's more to say, but so little time...here's the Locus Index for the Lafferty (I believe thes Drumm Booklet short stories have been since recollected, shall look around for that volume if so):
The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories, R. A. Lafferty (Chris Drumm, Sep ’84, $2.50, 51pp, ph) Original collection of five stories. Drumm Booklet #18.
3 · The Man Who Made Models · ss *
14 · I’ll See It Done and Then I’ll Die · ss *
22 · The Effigy Histories · ss *
31 · Of Laughter and the Love of Friends · ss *
41 · Two for Four Ninety-Nine · ss *
For more of this week's special short-fiction edition of FFB, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
My radio show over three stations was also called Sweet Freedom, and the original recording of this suite, composed by Max Roach and Oscar Brown, Jr., was played either on the first or early spisodes of the show on all three stations. It's available, in the original Candid Records packaging (I have the 1980 CBS reissue), thoughs it has been intermmittently out of print over the years.
Above is a link to a (rather oddly edited, at first, with a snippet of "Love for Sale" abruptly cut off) Belgian tv performance of the suite, which is an interesting alternate take, for me, and not quite up to the album, but still eminently worth hearing (and seeing). Clifford Jordan here is excellent, but Coleman Hawkins on the original recording of "Driva' Man" is necessary listening. (It might be tough for this to dislodge my loyalty to the album after thirty years of affection for that version.)
See Scott Parker's blog for more of this month's "Forgotten" Music.
And, for a bonus for some interesting Lost (or at least floating-about) music aggregated, check this blog: http://grrlbandgeek.blogspot.com/. At least this Bangs/Bangles and Jane Wiedlin fan was happified.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
At right, at top, the new cover, sans typeface, for Kate Laity's fantasy novel Pelzmantel, in its (I believe slightly revised, or perhaps just tweaked) new edition, forthcoming soon, and the cover, at left, for the currently (barely) in print edition. Kate likes the new one a bit better, and I think you can see why.
Monday, April 26, 2010
From the back pages of DB's new collection and memoirs, Climbing Mount Implausible: The Evolution of a Science Fiction Writer
Where To Next?
Here I am, then, exactly half a century after I fled my family in search
of purpose and God and found science fiction instead. I've been thought
retarded or at least slow, and a prodigy. My first extended stint of
writing, done when I was 17, researched in the university library, was a
short history of St. Joseph--husband of Mary, and about whom almost
nothing is known except his cuckoldry by the Creator--that I wrote
hoping it would be published as a slender pamphlet by the
wonderfully-named Catholic Truth Society. It was my whimsy to title it
The Man God Called Dad, and to nobody's surprise it was declined.
Four years earlier I had auditioned for a role in a serial broadcast in
the early evening as part of a children's show from the Melbourne AM
radio station 3DB (no FM back then). I was terrible, but they allowed me
into the studio to watch the rehearsal and then the five or 10 minute
live-to-air reading, sound effects done by rustling paper or hitting
gongs or blowing across a microphone to mimic a storm, and I kept coming
back night after night, as my parents worried frantically. I carried
home with me as many of the discarded scripts as possible, like
passports to a finer world of the imagination. I was besotted by the
lovely young middleclass girl actors in their expensive school uniforms,
and envious of the strapping boys. The serial had a bizarre title "the
Fakermagangees," named for the fictional kid adventurers' club. How I
wished to join such a club! At 13 or so, horny for the first time, how I
wished to frolic with those juicy girlets on their expeditions around
the world, into space (if only in an extended dream sequence) and
through time! Instead, I rode home to the outer suburbs on the jolting
train through the winter night and turned for consolation to the lurid
sf comics and magazines my parents deplored, sublimating my envy into
dreams of, you know, voyages to other worlds, time travel to more exotic
epochs, mental communion with welcoming gestalt super-beings. And in
time I turned all this to advantage, making up stories of my own, even a
few radio plays that I attended during rehearsal and performance,
knowing that the words these actors mouthed (brilliantly or clumsily)
were finally, truly, my own, come back to me, transformed and audible
across the whole continent.
Friday, April 23, 2010
As a young reader in the 1970s, particularly one who began 1st grade in 1970 and was reading essentially only adult materials by the end of the '70s, it both is and isn't remarkable how much of my reading in the earlier years of the decade was driven by Scholastic Book Services and in a strong second place, by Dell Books, particularly with their Yearling and Laurel Leaf lines...these were the default sources of books in grade-school classrooms and the other not-quite libraries that dotted the suburban public schools I attented in that decade (the Enfield, Connecticut school had a bathtub full of cushions among more conventional chairs in its own nook in a hallway, that kids, wild dreams of freedom for elementary school kids today I gather, could be excused from class to go crash in and read books from spinner racks (a few Harper Trophy titles and similar items mixed in with the Dells and Scholastics there).
And while I was introduced to poetry by my earliest reading, Seuss and Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses, in its odd Little Golden Book edition, among others, and certainly would come across poetry in my reading texts and in my recreational reading (not least Poe, of course, but also the likes of Stephen Vincent Benet), the first four poetry anthologies I owned were three from Scholastic (their edition of Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle, pictured above, a collection of modern verse; the largely but not exclusively older work in The Charge of the Light Brigade and Other Story Poems, and one which I have buried in storage but can't find a reference to online, with a title very like 100 Great American Poems) and one Dell Yearling edition (I Heard a Scream in the Street, a collection of poems by children, mostly urban kids, illustrated with photos by students, edited by Nancy Larrick). They gave me a grounding in the art, and a good sense of the range of what was possible in the form...and more Benet, and among my first exposures to William Stafford's work, among others.
I have to wonder if anyone else remembers that 100 American title better than I do...
For more Friday Forgotten Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog for a list of all the participants in this weekly review.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Seriously Funny is a book that did its job well, not perfectly, but well—pop culture historian Gerald Nachman’s survey of the “new comedians” (not solely in nightclubs, though nearly all did some time in those venues) of the US in the latter ‘50s and ‘60s, ranging from Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl and Shelley Berman (of course) to Nichols & May to Tom Lehrer to Jean Shepherd to Godfrey Cambridge to Stan Freberg to Vaughn Meader to Joan Rivers. Chapters devoted to Jonathan Winters, Dick Gregory, Bob Newhart, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Bob & Ray, the Smothers Bros. Fleeting or extended references to Redd Foxx, Allen Sherman, Mad magazine and its extensions, Second City and its extensions, Lord Buckley, David Steinberg (folks who might’ve warranted chapters, but Nachman gives chapters essentially to the folks he’s interviewed over the years). Unlike, say, Albert Goldman, Nachman’s not looking for all the tawdry he can find, but it’s hard to deal with Bruce, Winters, and many of the others without going into their hard times…and the obsessions that pulled Gregory and Sahl (among others, but they most obviously) out of comedy to one extent or another, among the interplay of other events that these “rebel” comedians helped spark and those which messed them over—as Lenny Bruce reportedly announced from the stage on the day after John Kennedy’s assassination, “Vaughn Meader is screwed.” (The First Family album JFK impressionist didn’t quite lose his career overnight, but close.) Well-written, not exhaustive but inspirational (a number of books, particularly about chapter subjects here or the next generation of innovative comedians, soon followed and continue to appear) and out of print in both hardcover and paperback, though available secondhand and electronically from a number of vendors…how things go in publishing today, despite respectable sales (even with the paperback edition coming from a shortlived house, and Pantheon having its own problems not long after this book’s release). Worth having.
For more "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Friday's Forgotten Books: THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR edited by Amy Wallace, Del Howison and Scott Bradley (Harper, 2008)
Another rare instance of my introducing into this series of reviews a book that is still in print, but has been pretty widely ignored, in part because it's not first-rate, and in part because if falls between stools...it's not exlusively about horror films and television, sadly a much more popular topic for a nonfictional book than is horror fiction (for horror films tend on average to be more popular than horror fiction), and it's not a scholarly tome at all (though some scholarship is behhind it), nor is it quite as useful or amusing to go through as the 100 BEST HORROR BOOKS essay collections Kim Newman and Stephen Jones have put together. It's instead another of the recent spurt of Wallace Family attempts to expand the brand of THE BOOK OF LISTS volumes that they were so successful with in the mid-late 1970s, as a spinoff from Irving Wallace's onngoing THE PEOPLE'S ALMANAC project. I certainly dug THE BOOK OF LISTS back when, a product of the Wallaces and Amy's brother, Irving's son David Wallechinsky (he reclaimed the name stolen from the family at Ellis Island), who was also the coauthor of the interesting WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE CLASS OF '65? (written with classmate Michael Medved, he of the whining about the downfall of our culture and often justifiable derision of bad films, who with his brother Harry had another family/publishing industry brand with THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS).
So, this book, produced by sincere horror fan Amy Wallace with actor and bookseller (and now celebrity anthologist) Del Howison and writer Scott Bradley, leans too hard in the direction of easy top-of-the-head lists from too many redundant lightweights, but also allows a few contributors to dig a little deeper into various canons. It leads off with 217 pages of film lists, followed by less than a hundred of literary lists...and so on...all told, fine bathroom reading, and excellent bus or airplane reading (the disruptive circumstances of travel won't distract you from much subtext here!), but not quite as engaging as the wide-ranging (if similarly uneven) original BOOK OF LISTS, nor quite as much of a consistent joy as the two science-fictional Books of Lists produced circa 1979 by more "insider" folks and for more "insider" audiences. However, this book seems to have passed through the literary/commercial mills with even fewer reviews and less attention than most non-books, and it's good enough to deserve better than that.
For more (and more prompt, and less flu-addled!) "forgotten" book reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Friday's "Forgotten" Books: THE MASSES: ECHOES OF REVOLT 1911-1917 ed. William O'Neill; THE SMART SET: A HISTORY AND ANTHOLOGY ed. Carl Dolmetsch
Phil Stephensen-Payne's index from the Miscellaneous Anthologies site he hosts:
The Smart Set: A History and Anthology ed. Carl R. Dolmetsch (Dial Press, The LC:66-27392, 1966, $17.50, xxv+262pp, hc, cover by Paul Bacon);
Massive celebration of Mencken’s famous magazines, mixing a history of the magazine with reprints of some classic pieces published therein, with a scattering of full colour cover reproductions. [PSP]
ix · “Something Personal” · Carl R. Dolmetsch · fw
xix · An Introductory Reminiscence · S. N. Behrman · in
1 · Part One: The History
3 · Caviar for Dilettantes · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
13 · The Colonel versus Mrs. Grundy · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
23 · “For Minds That Are Not Primitive” · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
32 · Owen Hatteras in Eruption · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
43 · “Good Lord, Deliver Us!” · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
52 · Pistols for Two · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
67 · “The Aristocrat Among Magazines” · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
84 · The Costs of Cleverness · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
92 · Ringing the Changes · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ar
95 · Part Two: The Anthology
97 · A Cycle of Manhattan · Thyra Samter Winslow · ss The Smart Set Mar ’19; abridged
121 · Americanization: A Movie · William Gropper · ct The Smart Set Aug ’22
122 · The Three Infernal Jokes · Lord Dunsany · ss The Smart Set Jul ’15
127 · Union Square · Witter Bynner · pm The Smart Set May ’13
128 · Later · Willard Huntington Wright · pm The Smart Set May ’13
129 · The Education of Paul Gant · Howard Mumford Jones · ss The Smart Set Feb ’19
137 · Cats · Morris Gilbert · pm The Smart Set Oct ’16
138 · The Librarian · Mark Van Doren · pm The Smart Set Oct ’15
139 · Roses of a Dream: The Ballad of a Beach-Comber · Alfred Damon Runyon · pm The Smart Set Jun ’08
141 · Répétition Générale · George Jean Nathan & H. L. Mencken · ed The Smart Set Jun ’23; selections
144 · From the Journal of Madame Leandre · Helen Woljeska · ms The Smart Set Aug ’06
145 · A Ghost of a Chance · O. Henry · ss The Smart Set Jan ’03
150 · As Played Before His Highness · James Branch Cabell · ss The Smart Set Mar ’02
160 · How the Twelve Best Sellers Ended · Carl Van Vechten · ms The Smart Set Mar ’08
162 · Mirrors · Robinson Jeffers · vi The Smart Set Aug ’13
165 · That Second Man · S. N. Behrman · ss The Smart Set Nov ’19
178 · A Persian Love Song · John Hall Wheelock · pm The Smart Set Jun ’12
179 · Too Bad · Dorothy Parker · ss The Smart Set Jul ’23
186 · Pan Is Dead · Ezra Pound · pm The Smart Set Sep ’13
187 · Nina · Muna Lee · pm The Smart Set Sep ’16
188 · Violets · D. H. Lawrence · pm The Smart Set Sep ’13
190 · Barbara on the Beach · Edna St. Vincent Millay · ss The Smart Set Nov ’14
194 · The Needy Poet Invoketh the Gods · John McClure · pm The Smart Set May ’15
195 · Riot · John V. A. Weaver · pm The Smart Set Mar ’20
197 · A Little Cloud · James Joyce · ss The Smart Set May ’15
206 · From a Book of Familiar American Phrases · Hans Stengel · ct The Smart Set Mar ’23
207 · Ile · Eugene O’Neill · pl The Smart Set May ’18
217 · In the Subway · Louis Untermeyer · pm The Smart Set Sep ’11
218 · The Beggar-Woman Sings · Padraic Colum · pm The Smart Set May ’15
219 · “Ashes to Ashes” · James Gardner Sanderson · ss The Smart Set Jan ’15
224 · The Débutanté · F. Scott Fitzgerald · pl The Smart Set Nov ’19
237 · La Dame a L’Eventail · Anatole France · ss The Smart Set Aug ’02
240 · The Seventh Veil · George Jean Nathan · ar The Smart Set Sep ’23; abridged
243 · Si Mutare Potest Aethiops Pellum Suam · H. L. Mencken · br The Smart Set Sep ’17; abridged
249 · Leaves · Luis Muñoz Marin · pm The Smart Set May ’20
250 · After Reading Keats · Charles Hanson Towne · pm The Smart Set Jul ’07
251 · Shopping for The Smart Set · Marion C. Taylor · cl The Smart Set Feb ’11; abridged
256 · Afterword · Carl R. Dolmetsch · aw
258 · Notes to the History · Carl R. Dolmetsch · ms
(Phil, or his source, has broken the chapters of Dolmetsch's long essay on the history of The Smart Set magazine into individual essays here.)
The 9x12 format beautifully displays the contributions of Sherwood Anderson, Stuart Davis, Jack London, Emma Goldman, Louis Untermeyer, George Bellows, Floyd Dell, Art Young, Boardman Robinson, Upton Sinclair, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, John Reed, Pablo Picasso, Randolph Bourne, John Sloan, Dorothy Day, and many others.
These are two coffee-table books, both oddly first published in 1966 (a good year for ct books from epochal early-century magazines, clearly), that I discoverd in 1979, the first in the Hawaii State Library and the second in my high-school library...in recent years I've picked up copies of both, though they are in one of the many boxes, or I'd try to make time to get the index and image in now.
But reading these in nearly immediate succession was pretty mind-blowing, to say the least...while both feature material that seemed a bit quaint fifty years later (and now nearly a century), both also give a sense of the ferment around The Smart Set, "The Magazine of Cleverness" and the first joint publishing project of H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, and the eclectic radical magazine The Masses, edited by Max Eastman and Floyd Dell.
Both duos were ready to take on the world, and were fortunate and industrious enough to draw to them much of the literary (and larger cultural) ferment of the time; even if they might've published only a token piece by some important figures (while nurturing others, and inspiring even more that they didn't publish), in their magazines that reached only a fraction of the circulation of the well-established literary and political magazines that were less interested in the new and freely ranging work that appeared here. While such more sober and limited magazines as The American Mercury and The New Masses were in a sense the children of these, they weren't up to the best of the earlier magazines, one cut down by financial troubles (despite The Smart Set spinning off eventually legendary crime-fiction magazine Black Mask to help bring in some funds; SS contributor Dashiell Hammett made a bit of a splash in the new magazine), the other put out of business by the iron hand of the Woodrow Wilson Administration for its antiwar critique (among others).
They are fine anthologies that vividly give a sense of why their magazines are still important in understanding the history of (at least) literature of the time, and since, and good reading experiences (even given the slight disadvantages of propping a coffee table book on one's belly while reading in bed).
More, I suspect, later. (Sorry, other work, the paying kind, calls rather impatiently.)