Saturday, July 31, 2010

Finally, a bit of sunshine!

And no, I'm not talking about the Giants and their dramatic back to back victories against the Dodgers...

Earlier this week, The San Francisco Bay Guardian published their annual 'Best of the Bay' award issue, and indeed, Green Apple Books emerged victorious in two separate categories!

Thanks to all those who voted for us in the 'Best Used Bookstore' and 'Best Independent Bookstore' categories in the readers' poll. While it's true that we have enjoyed string of 12 or 15 years as the winner in these areas, it's always a great honor, and I hope our streak extends well into the decades to come.

So SFBG Editors and SFBG readers: open your arms for a giant hug from your favorite, appreciative, local booksellers!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A year of Bernhard

I first attempted to read Thomas Bernhard four years ago. In early 2006, Vintage Books published a paperback edition of his novel Gargoyles, which told the story of a doctor's rounds through a desolate mountainous countryside in Austria. Accompanied by his idealistic son, a post-graduate medical student, the doctor makes several stops, each grimmer and more despairing than the last, culminating with a visit to the insomniac Prince Sarau, a character who would be one of the most singular in all of modern fiction if Bernhard hadn't outdone himself in several other of his novels.

Prince Sarau - hysterical, hypersensitive, and above all overflowing with words - is given free reign to rant for upwards of a hundred pages. He is, as I would learn last summer when I (finally) found myself able to return to Bernhard's work, the prototypical Bernhard character. His venom and world weariness consume him, his anguish is of the most universal type, casting Life under the pall of Death: "The catastrophe," he says, "begins with getting out of bed." And yet... what redeems this novel from being nothing more than angst-ridden railing at the injustices of the world is, among other things, Bernhard's adroit manipulation of tragedy and comedy. This oscillation - comparable to that of an alternating current - effects a great pathos in Bernhard's work: a character you want more than anything to hate can become, in the turn of a phrase, one with whom you sympathize. Because you understand what has wounded him.

As alluded to, it took me a couple of years to navigate my way back into Bernhard's work. This was for reasons practical - most of his novels were out-of-print (more on that in a moment) - and personal: it takes an iron-willed constitution to be able to withstand the emotion onslaught of these books. So, I waited. I was certain the time would ripen.

It did, and with beautiful coincidence it seems I've stepped into a Bernhard renaissance: Vintage has reprinted several of these long out-of-print works (Wittgenstein's Nephew, Correction, The Lime Works so far with Concrete and Woodcutters to be released on August 10); Seagull World Books, an impressive newcomer, just released the previously untranslated story collection Prose (pictured above) and will be publishing another of Bernhard's early (decidedly twisted) fairytale-like stories, Victor Halfwit, later this year; and Knopf is releasing a slim volume of Bernhard's account of his attendance at award functions, My Prizes. (For a taste of the scandalous fun of My Prizes, see the Complete Review's take on the book.)

All of this is by way of saying, urgently, IN ALL CAPS, &c.: if you are a serious reader, if you are interested in what it means to be human in an imperfect world, if you are at all curious as to how anguish can be transformed into art, you NEED to read Thomas Bernhard. And now, gratefully, you have no excuse not to.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Come to Papa

With our usual Wednesday blogger Clark out sick, here's a photo and a link that caught our proverbial eye at Green Apple this week.  Yes, it's a Hemingway look-alike contest.  Looks like good times in Key West, huh?

Photo and story from here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Our Fair Gnome

We received an email in our catch-all "query" mailbox last week, and it was a real blast from the past. We need not add anything further, as the note says it all.

My name is Richard Mansfield, I carved the Punccinello that stands outside your door. (The one you guy guys continually abuse with your idiotic paint schemes.) (And, somewhere around there, there is a hand with an extra finger--that's mine as well--and a baseball player with an articulated arm--that's my work.)
Also, at one time I created every goddamned sign in that place.

Let me tell you something about that:

I walked into Richard Savoy's little hole in the wall bookstore (best guess 1973 or 4) and asked him if he needed any signs. He said, "No, we don't use signs."

He assured me that his customers enjoyed stumbling around through the place with the hope of eventually discovering some order in the apparent madness. While I was there, maybe eight, maybe ten people interrupted him to ask where they might find one thing or another.

"Maybe I could just do a chart, you know a floor plan." "No, thank you. I really don't want signs in here," he said just as if he owned the goddamned place--which he did of course.

So, I went down the block a bit to a bookstore--not yet then called The Jabberwock (and I wish I could remember that guy's name...Bob, I think...had a house on 2nd Avenue, bird watcher.) But that guy, whatever his name, looked at my work and said, "Yeah, give me some large signs for each section and some shelf-size signs. He made up a long list.

So, I made the signs and sold them to the guy and he put them to use and, after a couple days, called me, declared the signs effective, and asked for more.
With that encouragement I stopped in at The Green Apple on my way home and hit Savoy again. I told him that the guy down the street was using my work and he said, "Really...? From the way he said it I got the idea that other had shattered some kind of sacred trust by using signs in his joint.

Couple days later, I deliver the signs to Robert (I'm beginning to think that was his name) and he tells me that (his) competition down the street wants to see me.
So, I stop in and Richard Savoy tells me that he's seen what I'd done down the street and he ordered a few small signs. From that moment on Savoy was sign crazed: I didn't stop making signs for him for almost a year..steady employment, filling up that entire goddamned place with signs.

And I guess that's all I have to say about that.

richard mansfield

P.S. We've always known him as Mergatroid. I don't know why.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Poem of the Week by Timothy Liu

After a brief hiatus, the Poem of the Week returns.  This poem is from Bending the Mind Around the Dream's Blown Fuse (Talisman' House, 2009).


Cistercian chants floating free across a trash-blown sky.

Briefs rolled down mid-thigh tethered to some dream.

Eternal flame steadily sinking towards the alcove's base.

Five nails driven through a column of melting wax.

A desert crossed at century's end a pair of cellular phones.

Topographies of tumbleweed snagged on rusted barbs. 

Along the highway's endless fuse the dashboard lit drive on.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Return...

Roberto Bolaño's The Return is a dark and twisted collection of stories. . .great, but definitely twisted.

Once again New Directions gives us a Chris Andrews' translation of the Chilean novelist.

These stories are some of the darkest I've read by Bolaño.  They include themes of murder, pornography, prison camps, prostitutes, politics, ghosts, soccer, necrophilia, and other haunting themes. They are Bolaño's short stories, so they're both easy to read and highly insightful as to his idea of "the secret story." Here is an excerpt of Stacy D'Erasmo's interview in The New York Times Book Review:

"That's what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It's the only thing that really is particular and personal. It's the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said, "What I mean is the secret story.... The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every damn thing matters! It's just that we don't realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don't even realize that's a lie."