Michael Dirda’s Favorite New Books About Book Life

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Marius Kociejowski opens his fascinating memoirs, “A factotum in the book trade‘, observing that bookstores have begun to follow record stores into non-existence. “With every store that closes, so does the serendipity that fuels the human spirit.” While there may be “infinitely more choice” in buying from online retailers, “being spoiled for choice extinguishes desire.” As he says, “I want land; I want chaos; Above all, I want mystery. I want to be able to enter a place and have the feeling that I will find a book there, which is still unknown to me, which will change my life somewhat.

An accomplished poet and glamorous essayist (try “The Pebble Chance”), Kociejowski also enjoyed a long career at various antique London bookshops, beginning with the once venerable business of Bertram Rota. Although a self-proclaimed “factotum” – which my dictionary defines as “a clerk who does all kinds of work” – he nevertheless specialized in cataloging modern first editions, even handling books from James’s library on one occasion. Joyce. Over the years, Kociejowski befriended poet and translator Christopher Middleton, travel writer Bruce Chatwin, “arguably the greatest prose stylist of his generation”, and Spanish novelist Javier Marías, who, as reigning monarch of the joking Kingdom of Redonda, names him the English Poet Laureate of that small uninhabited island.

I like unusual books. Here is what I would read — if I had the time.

While authors can be colorful, booksellers are often particularly grumpy and eccentric. A man who ran a business in trendy Cecil Court put up a sign that read: ‘Do not confuse courtesy on my part with an invitation to stay all day. A freelance book scout known only as Mr. Howlett “invariably wore a greasy old, weathered brown trilby all year round, an aged raincoat in the summer, and a worn overcoat (two sizes too big) in the winter”. Moreover, “he carried his ‘stock’ in a series of boxes”, the latter secured with sisal twine until they collapsed.

Spiky and blunt in his opinions, Kociejowski calls Witold Gombrowicz “literature’s most horrible man”, finds something wrong with Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, and is seriously suspicious of the factuality of Robert Graves’ famous memoirs. on the First World War, “Goodbye to it all.” Summarizing our culture of “cancellation”, he writes quite simply that “the revisionist is, most often, the enemy of literature”. His excellent taste led him to embrace the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, the short stories of Bruno Schulz, the essays of Robert Louis Stevenson and Rose Macaulay’s novel “The Towers of Trebizond”.

Contrary to his cover blurbs, Jeff Deutsch “Tribute to good bookstores” is perhaps too noble to please only a few readers. Not only slightly academic in tone and devoid of amusing anecdotes, Deutsch constantly dresses his prose in borrowed adornments: he can’t write a paragraph without quoting someone. Yet he provides a detailed memoir of the cooperative bookstores of the Chicago Seminary, of which he is director, coupled with admirable reflections on the value of a bookstore to a community. Along the way, he stresses the importance of organizing stock to maximize satisfying “navigation,” noting, “All classifications result in evocative adjacencies. I admit that the “evocative contiguities” are delightfully Henry Jamesian.

However, William M. Breiding’s films are more entertaining.portable storage seven“and Chris Mikul”Biblio-Curiosa.” Breiding’s zine provides 228 pages of lively commentary on classic science fiction, including Christina Lake’s insight into tales in which a sleeper awakens in the distant future, Bruce Gillespie on the rambling “shaggy dog” fantasies of the inimitable Avram Davidson, Gregory Benford’s reminiscences of fellow sci-fi giant Brian Aldiss, Darrell Schweitzer on the underrated “Watch the North Wind Rise” of Robert Graves and Cheryl Cline on ‘Weird’ Westerns. I particularly enjoyed the story of the scholar Dale Nelson’s personal library, which ends with a list of his most frequently re-read books, headed by the book by C.S. Lewis”Off the Silent Planet(16 times).

As you can guess, Mikul’s “Biblio-Curiosa” – available direct from its Australian author-publisher – specializes in sloppy, weird and terribly kitschy books. One essay – of the five in the last issue – features Roland Puccetti’s 1972 novel, “The Death of the Führer,” in which Hitler’s brain is surgically removed, kept alive in a vat, and ultimately implanted into… well, I shouldn’t say more. Ok, I’ll add one more detail: Mikul says that this novel has “the most ridiculous sex scene” he’s ever read. I look forward to acquiring a copy.

Yet the highlight of this issue is a substantial introduction to Guyanese novelist Edgar Mittelholzer, who in the 1940s and 1950s was almost a major writer. Usually set in Guyana, his books frequently draw on that country’s bloody history of slavery, feature intensely observed depictions of time and nature, and are often tinged or steeped in the supernatural. Mittelholzer once described his most famous novel, “My bones and my fluteas “an old-fashioned ghost story.” A sawmill owner acquires an old document that reads, “Whoever touches this parchment seals himself into a pact with me, Jan Pieter Voorman, to listen to my music, and, later…to join me in death.” Soon, four people have touched the document, causing severe personality changes even as they desperately try to avert the curse by locating Voorman’s grave.

Poetry matters. Two new books remind us why.

Let me end by recommending two more books on books I’ve only just started. by Leslie McFarlaneGhost of the Hardy Boys— a 1976 memoir that will be in print again in June — is an insider’s account of the writer who, as Franklin W. Dixon, produced 21 of the mysteries solved by brothers Frank and Joe Hardy. Finally, the “The mysterious romance of murder» questions « crime, detection and the Spirit of the Black » in fiction, cinema, poetry and music. As you would expect from this distinguished poet and versatile man of letters, his light-hearted new book is not only very knowledgeable, it is also very entertaining.

Michael Dirda reviews books for Style every Thursday.

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