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Saturday, January 16, 2016

I Think You Forgot Something: L.J. Davis

In an interview on KCRW's Bookworm, Lydia Millet says "humor is about objectification…I have to have the freedom to objectify because of the distancing that always happens when you objectify something. Distance is created that then can be brought back and telescoped into the too-closeness of communion. The idea that we can step out of ourselves and be with others in some fundamental way, the impossibility of that is also present." It's a balancing act few pull off well because, as Millet later goes on to say, "that kind of humor only works when the humorist loves the thing he/she objectifies, that if not handled lovingly, it is simply cruelty." In her inimitable style, Millet perfectly expresses what is so appealing to me in satire or subversive humor.       

This idea and the high-wire act it demands is present in all of L.J. Davis's fiction. The author of four novels first published between 1968 and 1974 (all but one of which, preposterously, is out of print), he was seemingly fascinated by the threat gentrification can pose to the working-class. Tossing well-intentioned, if somewhat self-indulgent, social misfits into the lion's den of  capitalism and alcoholism (synonymous conditions in his work), as well as grimace-inducing look at misogyny and perceptions of race. Davis's characters are men who drowsily saunter after the American dream, hellbent on the simplest of things: a nice place to hang their hat and an occasionally nice girl on whom to hang it. If this description paints the characters as a touch hypocritical, it's not by accident. Blithe can be charming but it is navel-gazing as well. Davis's characters tend to be overly sensitive but defensive men; they are victims but oftentimes that victimhood is borne of their own solipsistic demands. Lena Dunham with a John Wayne complex, perhaps.

Lowell Lake, the protagonist of A Meaningful Life (the one work still in
print), evaluating his marriage:
The old dim pleasantness had departed from their dealings as completely as if there'd never been any to begin with, but a peculiar side effect of this development was that Lowell found himself interested in his wife's personality. He couldn't remember a time when he'd been so interested in it, not even in college, when what had principally interested him had been her ass, if the truth be told, although he had also concerned himself with her personality at least to the extent of finding out whether she had a good one or a bad one. He'd decided she had a good one. Since then he'd thought about it very little except on the infrequent occasions when something seemed to go awry with it, but it always seemed to get fixed pretty quickly, and then it was all okay again, like a table whose wobble had been repaired. The rest of the time it just sort of stood there, a good and serviceable object whose height, width, length, shape color, and approximate density were assumed to be known. You could always count on it; it was exactly the same when you returned as when you left, never mind those phone calls to her mother and the midnight crying fits in the bathroom. It was a good little piece of furniture. For nine years Lowell had been married to a table.
His protagonists move through the novels with absolutely no impulse control, sometimes (mis)guided by a sense of do-goodery, their actions always to the detriment of everyone involved. They are little id-fueled narcissists who "disliked merry people and always suspected there was something wrong with their heads." This past reading of A Meaningful Life, my third, I found myself downright mortified twice but lost count of how many times I laughed out loud. I also found myself squirming through some of his startlingly dry social critique.

Not for everyone, to be sure. But as we move into a new year, the sleepiest time of year for new book releases, and Seattle's weather inflicts its worst on our collective Seasonal Affective Disorder, exploring Davis or one of his contemporaries (Percival Everett's novels, Joy Williams's stories, Michael Robbins's poetry)  could very well be your saving sardonic grace.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ryan's Favorite Books of 2015!!!!!

I've become better at starting early, and pestering my coworkers sooner, and thus producing the Bookseller Top Tens a little earlier with every passing year. Last year, I had them done on January 11th. The year before, on Jan 17th. And the year before that...February 26th. But this year, done on January first. Too good to be true!

And it was.

I forgot one. And this, after I berated and bullied people into getting me their lists on time. Ryan, in particular, asked me on the deadline day if he could write blurbs for his list. I said he could if he could get it to me by the end of the day, the end of the day being 15 minutes away.

He didn't write them.

But then I forgot his list.

So, here it is. Ryan's ten favorite books of 2015, complete with the blurbs I wouldn't let him write before.  Sorry, Ryan!

Ryan’s List of Books

Much like my life, there is no order to this list. So deep. And also, much like my life, this list is regrettably full of white men and very few women. There’s always next year.

  • In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje - Prose from a poet's mouth, this book feels shrouded in fog and sepia toned. Ondaatje, known best for The English Patient, writes with understated poetic language that seeps directly into you. 
  • Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. - One of the first and most powerful books to give a voice to the people. Selby has an unmistakable way of writing a dirtbag so that you emapthize with them and their struggle. 
  • The Soft Machine by William Burroughs - Madcap, grotesque, frustrating, and ultimately overly obtuse, Burroughs never fails to enrage. The Soft Machine is the first in his groundbreaking cut-up trilogy and while it may be inaccesible garbage to some, to the right reader it is somewhat accesible garbage. 
  • The Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda by Pablo Neruda - "Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets/ towards your oceanic eyes." The most influencial poet (and possibly writer) of South America, Neruda writes with the utmost emotional power. 
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn - Zinn rewrites the story of America, focusing on the laborers, women, slaves, natives, and all the "minorities" that were swept under the rug by the elite. This book should be required reading if only to get another narrative in the public consciousness. 
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion - In a quick series of essays Didion shines a light on her time in California in the early 60s. Didion quickly entrances the writer with her massive intelligence and piercing gaze, able to see through the flimsy disguises we as a nation erect. 
  • The World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic - Prose poetry at it's height, Simic takes the ordinary and tweaks it until it is surreal. Simic draws on his Eastern European upbringing to highlight the absurdity of the everyday. 
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit - In a world where we should all be feminists, Solnit has created a manifesto. At times devestating in what it sheds light on, Solnit is able to perfectly outline the series of powers that opress and malign the women of the world. Stomp the patriarchy!...or at least acknowledge that it is there.
  • David Boring by Daniel Clowes - This graphic novel is David Lynchian in its pace and plot and feels eerie in an indescribable way. Follow Boring as he floats through a nihilistic view of the world as a whole. Equal parts murder mystery and love story without the ethos of either. 
  • Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus - Can a myth tell its own story? Mingus attempts to, blending fact and fiction to an uncertain and satisfying conclusion in this memoir of his life. When it begins with the telling of his birth from his perspective, you know you may have a less-than-reliable narrator on your hands. Jazz fans rejoice. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Bookseller Top Tens!

I did it. The top tens before the end of January. And this year, in the format of one really, really, REALLY long post. We've got 28 lists of 280 (or so) great books for you. So, you have some reading to do.

Remember, our top tens do not have to be composed of books published only in the last year. If you read it this year, even if it was written and published 200 years ago, it can be on the list.

Also, new this year, I've consolidated all of our lists into one, giant, mega-top-ten list. The ten favorite books among all of us. Don't worry, all of our lists are available in their entirety after the jump.

The first four titles on the mega list had the most votes. The remaining six all had two votes each, as well as another nine titles. I chose the final six based on how much I heard coworkers talking about these books and what was said. For example, Ancillary Justice made the list over others based on the fact that I know two other booksellers who liked Ancillary Justice, just not quite enough to make their top ten. Negative comments overheard about books also factored in. It's a totally scientific, totally legit process. Trust me.

Third Place Books' Definitive Best Books of 2015 
Colossal Top Ten List
  1. Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates
  2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagahara
  3. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
  4. Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz Camacho
  5. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  6. Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh
  7. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
  8. Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso
  9. Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
  10. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Click through for all our other favorites!