Shelf Life: July 2011

So, I started this little section called Shelf Life, where I write brief comments about the books I’ve read in a given month. June was the first month I did this, where I read eleven books and two graphic novels.

I’m a little late in getting this up for July’s books. I’d planned to write it up as I went along, but it got by the wayside as other deadlines and commitments took greater priority. But it’s done now, so for your (and, often, my) reading pleasure, I offer the following:

68. Psychogeography, by Merlin Coverley

I got interested in the idea of psychogeography after reading a little about it online, and there was a bit of buzz about it because of Will Self’s column in the Independent of the same name. The columns were collected and published in book form, and I read the first volume in May. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but it sufficed to pique my interest further, and I wanted to learn more about where it comes from.

Enter Coverley. Psychogeography is intended to serve as a small introduction to the subject, and it does that to a certain extent, but in the dullest prose possible for what should be a fascinating subject.

I’ll keep looking for new books on the subject, and if anyone knows a good book on the history and practice of psychogeography I’d love a recommendation.

69. The Stone Skippers, by Ian Burgham

Burgham’s first collection of poetry, The Stone Skippers, was published in a lovely hardback edition by Tightrope Books.

I interned with Tightrope briefly earlier this year, and they’re a great little publishing company, and when I left I was given much of their backlist, among them this gem.

70. The Day’s You’ve Spent, by Susan Bowness

Another Tightrope title, this is the first collection from Susan Bowness, and it sparkles.

Many of the poems are very short, some fewer than ten lines, and deal with themes of self-reflection, city life, and art.

71. The Paris Review Interviews, Volume III

I actually came to The Paris Review, first through these collections of interviews. I bought the first one, and from then on I’ve been hooked. And now, of course, I also subscribe to the journal itself.

This third collection of interviews from authors, poets, critics – writers of all types – is again, of course, excellent.

With an introduction by Margaret Atwood, we find interviews with William Carlos Williams, Chinua Achebe, Ted Hughes, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, among others. For an excerpt from an interview with Norman Mailer, see “A little evil”.

It makes me sad that I only have one volume left to read.

72. The Essential Tales of Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

I initially picked this up because so many of the interviews in the Paris Review cited Chekhov as a major influence. That, and because Chip Kidd’s cover is absolutely gorgeous.

Perhaps, like the editor the first time he read Chekhov, I’m too young to appreciate what was so special to them. Or, perhaps it’s that I’ve already absorbed what would have been unique through the writes who have come after him.

They were good stories, most of them, but I don’t get the fuss.

73. Apropos Rodin, by Jennifer Gough-Cooper

When we went to Paris last May we stopped in the Musee de Rodin, though just the gardens, where the casts were on display. Museum entry was too dear for us that trip, so I was pleased to find this book to take me inside, where we couldn’t afford to go.

The introductory essay was written by Geoff Dyer, exploring his introduction to Rodin, and Gough-Cooper’s photography. Her photographs capture the space as well as the work, and the interplay between the two.

A beautiful book.

74. Digital Barbarism, by Mark Helprin

Amusing for all the wrong reasons, Digital Barbarism is Helprin’s angsty old man’s against technological advancement.

His actual argument comes in early in the second chapter, through a rehash of an oped piece he wrote for The New York Times, but instead of approaching his arguments logically, as a sane person might, he froths hyperbole and comes across as a luddite nutter. Which is unfortunate, as his original article made some good points.

However, Helprin’s flashes of insight are drowned out by a frothing rage which utterly consumes his arguments until he can do nothing by insult all those who may be in his path. Including myself. As a tattooed, pierced and blue haired person, I find myself classed as a “cannibal” in Helprin’s rather limited view of things. You see? Hilarious, but for the wrong reason.

I haven’t read Helprin’s fiction, but if the prose in his indignant rage is anything to go by, I bet they’re a riot. A new author for my reading list.

75. Zen: Simply Sitting, by Philippe Coupey

For such a slim book, many hands went into compiling it. It contains a forward by Lee Lozowick, a translator’s preface by Marc Shaver, the text of the Fukanzazengi, by Master Dogen, and a commentary (which makes up the bulk of the book), by Philippe Coupey.

Master Dogen’s  brief essay describes with crystal clarity the way to practice zazen, the art of seated meditation, with detailed instructions on posture and frame of mind. Coupey’s commentary imparts the history of that lineage, and explains allusions made by Master Dogen through anecdotes which expand one’s understanding of the text. A great little book.

For more, see my review on Spiral Nature.

76. The Light of Sex, by Maria de Naglowska

Maria de Naglowska (1883-1936) was a Russian journalist and author who founded two esoteric orders which preached a form of sexual liberation.

The Light of Sex, published earlier this year, is the first translation of her work to appear in English. It describes some of her philosophy, including a unique retelling of the Christian myth of original sin, and outlines two of the initiation rituals she devised for her order.

A flawed philosophy, but a deeply interesting read. For more, see my review on Spiral Nature.

77. The Brave Never Write Poetry, by Jones

I read a commentary on Jones by Liz Worth in a recent issue of Broken Pencil, and had to pick this up.

The Brave was under appreciated at the time of its original publication in 1985 – the Globe called Jones “the poet laureate of puking” – but seems to be enjoying a revival in this new reissue.

I adored it for its humour, its bitter commentary, its unflinching sneer, its rawness and its truth. The Brave is, in a word,  brilliant.

78. The Grammar of Distance, by Ian Burgham

Burgham’s second collection of poetry, published by Tightrope Books.

It’s funny, reading this immediately after The Brave, these lines from a poem on writing poetry in the face of beauty:

Now from a lack of courage —
no poem ever came from a coward —

Seemingly a complete contradiction to what Jones wrote in his title poem:

…It takes guts to know some happiness
& not make a poem of it

Intentional or not, it struck me. Another beautiful collection.

79. Best Tarot Practices, by Maria Masino

It’s nice to see a book aimed at intermediate students of tarot – they’re rare enough. And Masino takes a unique approach to teaching the subject.

Best Tarot Practices is focused on exercises, practice, as the title suggests, and is generally a great guide for a beginner or intermediate practitioner who wants to deepen hir practice.

A mini-review indeed, for someone who wrote five pages of notes. For more, see my review forthcoming on Spiral Nature.

And that’s it for July’s reading, kids.

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