Last 10 Books (More of Less) Read: VI

Three were by authors I know: Gene Clements (café buddy) “Tillie & Elmer’s Carnal Calendar”; Elizabeth Pozen (cousin) “Salami”; and Ron Kemper (college friend) “Sink or Swim, Brooklyn.” In Liz’s poetry collection, I was more drawn to the poems of her childhood, about which I know quite a bit than of her adulthood, about which I know less. To Ron’s (presumably) autobiographical novel about a boy growing up in Brownsville, I had a contrary reaction. There, I was more drawn to the protagonist’s experiences before he was ten, years about which I recall little myself, than I was to those from ten to 13, where mine are more clearly in mind. Gene’s newest collection of “seniors erotica,” where (presumably) imagination was fully at play, kept me continually distanced – and amused.
A second “group” consisted of novels set in the Old West: Hernan Diaz “In the Distance”; Cormac McCarthy “Blood Meridian”; and Phillip Meyers “The Son.” That one I couldn’t finish, though the Comanche parts held my interest. The Diaz was okay, but the best thing to come out of it was the desire to pick up the McCarthy, which I’d read during an everything-he’s-written phase 30 years ago. That book is not for everyone, but, boy, is it something. Fierce, terrifying, original, and unrelentingly, edifyingly dark.
Then there were “Transit” and “Kudos,” the final two novels in Rachel Cusk’s trilogy. (See: “Last 10…V.”) I don’t remember much about them, except I liked the middle one best. It seemed like she had got her feet under her, in terms of what she was up to, since the first and before she went scurrying off sideways in the third. (Since less happens to the central character in the books than what happens before or between them, maybe readers the “not-remembering” is intended or, at least, understandable.) They certainly expanded my idea of what a “novel” may consists, influencing my own work-in-progress.
Standing by itself is Janet Malcom’s “Nobody’s Looking At You.” I believe I’d read all these essays, profiles, and reviews when they’d previously appeared in the NYRB and “New Yorker,” but she and Joan Didion are my two favorite writers. I admire their minds and styles, and I’ve read nearly everything both have written, sometimes multiple times. That said, in this collection, while finding all Malcolm’s longer pieces terrific, her shorter ones jazzed me less.
This leaves two great finds: Francis Paudras “Dance of the Infidels” and Dasa Drndic “EEG.” Paudras’s is a fascinating account of his years as friend/guardian of the bop pianist Bud Powell. Powell, who may have sustained brain damage as a young man in a beating by police, had also suffered abuse as a child and was later abused by his “wife.” He was an alcoholic and diagnosed schizophrenic, who’d been treated with electro-shock and anti-psychotic meds to the point he was often non-communicative. But when he sat down at the piano, genius came out.
Drndic was a Croatian writer, and her book is replete with names of places and persons unknown to me. (Often I needed Google to tell if they were real or fictional.) Her book, which is set in a present enveloped by the Nazi/Soviet/Yugoslav break-up past, reminded me of Beckett and Sebald (and back-cover quotes added Bolanos and Homer). It is dense and slow-going, but I’ve already started the novel which preceded it.

This Writing Life (3.)

The concentrated direction of positive energy toward my distributer fellow – plus the threat of litigation – finally produced the sales figures for my books. That’s the good news. The bad news is the figures themselves. The weird news is that “The Schiz” outsold “Cheesesteak” and “I Will Keep You Alive.”
Also, Ivana Armanini credits my article at www.tcj.com about her and Komikaze with earning her an invitation to exhibit work from the French Institute Zagreb. Personally, I doubt my influence (or that of tcj) in Zagreb, but I am happy for her regardless.
The article also received several posted comments. An artist/cartoonist, whose work I highly admire, called it “Great.” Another fellow, whom I don’t know, called it “typical Levin,” probably not in a good way. My favorite response came from someone named “chi-go-go,” who wrote, “who the hell is [Name of Character]?… that seems like an important detail that is completely absent from the article,” allowing me to cheekily reply, “Who are you? That seems an important element that is completely absent from your comment.”
This delighted me because, in 1967/68, I had tacked to the wall of my apartment at 47th & Michigan, in Chicago, when I was in VISTA, a clipping from the Sunday NYT of an exchange of letters between a woman, who had seen “The Homecoming,” and Harold Pinter. The woman had posed three questions, the first of which was “Who is [Name of Character]?” and Pinter’s first answer, which I had found cheekily brilliant, was “Who are you?”. Now here I was, more than a half-century later, maybe the only person in America who remembered this exchange, getting to lay it on “chi-go-go.”
Ain’t life grand?

From Croatia With Love

My latest piece is up at:

From Croatia With Love

It begins like this:

In the 1980s, when Goshkin had begun writing about comics, there were those who objected he knew nothing about them. This objection was not entirely unfounded, and while he had filled in some gaps in his knowledge, another generation or two of cartoonists had come along with whom he had not kept up, so, proportionately, 30-years down the road, he probably knew less.
Still, when a Croatian woman contacted him because of their shared “love” of comics and offered to send him samples of her work, he did not explain that he did not apply the word “love” much beyond what he felt for his wife Ruth, or that he barely read any comics. He said, “Sure.”

I have nothing else in the pipeline, so that should be it for a while.

The Return of Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 206-13

No sales.
The café put up a half-dozen outside tables, making possible the vending of my wares, but before I could figure out how to keep six-feet from customers (and decide whether to have wipes handy for any books or money that exchanged hands), someone complaimed to the authorities that they were too close together, and most were taken away.
However, my application for a Small Business Disaster Relief Loan has been granted. The first year is interest free, after which I am to repay it at $5/month, plus 3.5% interest, which, I figure, given tje actuarial tables, a good chunk of which is likely to be coming out of my estate. All I had to do for final approval was answer some bruising multiple-choice, identity-confirming questions (“In what year were you born?” “In what city is Shattuck Avenue?”), have my credit rating approved (a snap), and agree, among other things, to make my best effort to use American-made products and equipment. (Does that mean I can’t have my next book printed in Canada – or China – without getting a call from Attorney General Barr?)

In other news…
1.) The link to my latest “First of the Month” article went up at Facebook, where it garnered 26 fewer “Like”s than photos of my second-cousin’s cat and 56 fewer than photos of someone else’s tomato plants – not even Jerseys.

Sympathy — and Respect — for the Bedeviled

My latest article has gone up at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/sympathy-and-respect-for-the-bedeviled/

It begins:
Allow me to introduce Casanova Nobody Frankenstein.
Whose Tears of the Leather-Bound Saints has just issued.
And that is his real name.
Legally, since 2013.
In homage to the evil genius of Mystery Men comics.
(Forgive me if you knew this.)

He was born Alfred Martin Frank, III, in 1967. His father was a physically abusive Chicago cop and his mother emotionally frozen. He grew up near a municipal incinerator whose calcium and lead-based emissions, he has said, endowed him with the “dual super powers of drawing ability and sickness.”
Near-sighted, un-athletic, small, he was bullied by white classmates (“Nigger”) and black ones (“Oreo”). He found comfort in comics, horror movies, and sitcoms. (“Weird Al,” they called him.) He found it in art. (He began to draw at three and to study art at eight.) He thought of killing himself every day, but each pain “(chipped) off another slab of hardened grime from my soul.” By the end of high school, he had a scholarship to Texas Tech.

The Lst 10 Books I’ve read v.

1. David Grann. “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
Selected from the “Free Books” shelves of the café. The beginning was informative. The remainder was… Bleh!
2. Bob Cherry. “Wilt.”
A swap for a “Cheesesteak” (with a “Best Ride” added). Fun trip to the past for a Philly guy of my age. Besides being an incomparable athlete, Wilt was such a nice guy, I could even forgive his vote for Nixon.
3. J.D. Salinger. “Franny & Zooey.”
Free Book Shelf #2. I figured God was signaling it was time for a re-read. Salinger really could do what Salinger did, but wonder what kids today (or of the last 40 years would make of him).
4. Thomas Pynchon. “Vineland.”
Recommended by a guy at the health club. Real good, esp. when I figured out what was going on (about 80% through) and started over from the beginning.
5. William T. Vollman. “Imperial.”
Recommended by a guy at the café. 1200 pp. and could have cut 400? 600? 800? But V. Knows what he wants to do and does it, torpedoes be damned.
6. Rachael Cusk. “Outline.”
Read a magazine article by her and decided to check out her fiction. Now that I know what she’s about, I can’t wait to check out the next two volumes in the trilogy, which Adele, who also becamed a fan, already has in the house.
7. Ed McClanahan. “Not Even Immortality Lasts Forever.”
Ed’s an on-line buddy and a fun writer with lots of killer-lines.
8. Emanuel Carrere, “97,196 Words.”
Bought it after a great review in the NYTBR. Some good pieces, but let’s be real. Either of the collections I have in progress is more interesting.
9. Masha Gessen. “The Man Without a Face.”
Free Book #3. I’ve liked listening to her on tv so… It makes me wonder if Trump, while less competent than Putin, could do as much evil if he had as few restraints on his impulses.
10. David Chelsea. “Everybody Gets It Wrong.”
A bonus for Patreon support. A series of 24-hour comix by a leading creator/theoretician.
Solid Surrealist stuff.

Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 200-205

For new “friends, new readers, and old ones with hazy memories, here’s the deal. For nearly four years, most mornings, I sit in a café, selling my books. Then I report on the goings-on. As you can imagine, sheltering-in-place has snuffed that. But in response to public demand – well, one public anyway – I’m resuming the reports if not the selling. Consider it my contribution to Making America Great Again.

No sales.
In light of which, I applied for a small business “COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan.” Who could be a smaller business than me, I figured. Plus I seemed to qualify.
“Currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.” Check.
Less than 500 employees. You betcha.
Not engaged in illegal activities, under indictment or barred from federal contracts. Not a gambler or lobbyist. Check, check, check, check, and check.
If I got anything besides a visit from the FBI, I was coming out ahead.

In other news…
1.) I used my increased free time to finish two articles and a draft of a neither-this-not-that m.s.
2.) My most recent Royalty Statement from my most recent (non-self) publisher arrived. One print and one electronic copy of “Most Outrageous” sold. Three “Pirates/Mouse” e-books. My check broke into four figures. (Counting both-sides of-the-decimal-point.)
3.) Received an e-mail from a previously-unknown-to-me reader, impeccably Philly- connected, namely first-hand knowledge of Pat’s Steaks, Willie Reddish, and Ira Einhorn. Over- looking my “leftist rants and… Anti-Trump Screeds,” he wished Adele and me a “Happy and Healthy Pesach.”
Stay safe – and thanks for reading.
All books available from www.theboblevin.com. Skip stores and Amazon until my “distributor” stops screwing me.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 199

Sold one “I Will Keep You Alive.”
The buyer was a fellow Mended Hearts Visitor. (MH, as some of you may know, is an organization for people who’ve had heart surgery, and Visitors are members who see post-surgery patients in hospitals to answer their questions or address their concerns as someone who’s been through it.) Since doctors have recommended that visiting be suspended for a while, this fellow, a 60-something financial adviser, has free time he can spend reading.
My doctor has also recommended I stop hanging out in cafes, so my reports of adventures may be suspended for a while as well. My friend Budd, a noted public health expert, has opined my shift in habits may allow me access to new and enriching experiences; but, so far that has been limited to catching up on the dozen recorded-but-unwatched episodes of “Better Call Saul” I have at my disposal.

In other news…
1.) I have learned of four indie cartoonist/self-publishers who’ve also been duped by “Bernie.” (See last week’s Adventure.) If anyone knows an investigative reporter looking for a story and an anonymous source…
2.) I repeat myself perhaps, but University of Kentucky Press has published J.T. Dockery’s graphic adaptation of Ed McClanahan’s “Juanita & the Frog Prince,” to which I have contributed a 3500-word introduction. If you don’t want to spring for the $25 cover price, ask your library to order it. “Looks great – and smells great,” Adele says.
3.) Among my FB birthday wishes came praise for IWKYA from (1) a noted East Bay lefty journalist (and basketball buddy) “Extraordinary”; and (2) a celebrated Big Apple musician/ composer “LOVED IT!!! LOVED IT!!!” (All exclamation points in the original.)

Adventures in Marketing: Week 198

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to an 80-ish poet at the health club, we have known for a couple decades. She had read “Cheesesteak,” and, I guess, wanted to catch up on Bob and Adele: The Golden Years.
Anyway, with her $15 in my pocket, the coronavirus has not impacted negatively upon my economy yet.

In other news…
1.) Faithful readers will recall that Spruce Hill Press (me) had the benefit of a distribution deal with Ingram/Consortium through a Bay Area guy (Let’s call him “Bernie” – as in “Madoff,” not “Sanders”) who bundled together several small, indie publishers to make a package big ernough for I/C to handle. This went well for a minute. Then Bernie stopped sending checks. His excuses had not quite reached “The dog ate my homework,” when he announced he was broke and Ingram was dropping him. So now I’m trying to figure out (a) how much Spruce Hill has been shorted; (b) how to keep Ingram from sending more of my money to Bernie; and( c) how to get my books still in the a=warehouse returned to me, not him.
2.) Remember how last week I got the nicest fan letter I ever received? Well this week I received the nastiest. (The first was about a collection of essays about transgressive cartoonists I’d published in 2005. The second was about an article about Frank Frazetta in 2011.)
“Bizarre,” she called it. “Disjointed,” “incohesive (sic),” “nearly unreadable,” “distorted,” “unskilled,” absurd,” the product of “a bad batch of peyote” or “LSD addled.” “It is readily apparent,” she concluded, “you have always been considered a bad joke, poor critic, and a lousy writer.”
It felt like the universe had felt the need to restore some balance. Did I hear someone say “yin” and “yang”?