…”A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler. (Disclosure: Back in the 1970’s Tyler gave a short story of mine an Honorable Mention in a contest she was judging and, 20 years later, when I gave a reading of “Fully Armed” at Barnes & Noble it gave me a tote bag with her picture on it, in which I carry my work out clothes still.)
Anyway, way back when, I read and enjoyed several of Tyler’s novels. (“Celestial Navigations” was, I think, my favorite, but that may have been because I read it first and they all had a certain similarity.) But for reasons I don’t recall, I stopped reading her, and Adele, who continued on after I stopped, soon stopped reading her too. But Tyler kept writing, adding another dozen or so novels to her credit.
I came across “Spool” on the free shelf at Berkeley Espresso (and left Michael Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue,” a pick-up of Adele’s, in exchange). We both enjoyed it. Tyler is still in Baltimore and still writing about families, but no character is as whacky as the ones I recall her featuring in the past. These all seem normalish folks with normalish problems tripping them up. It is funny and serious and becomes inventive toward the end. It’s a fine way to pass several hours.
“My wife liked it,” my health club friend (Penn ’65) said, “and she didn’t know anything you were talking about.” “What about you?” I said. “I liked it. Good title,” he said. Well, that won’t make my list of quotable reviews. I thought.
Sold two “Cheesesteaks.” One to a fellow from the Philly suburbs (high school classmate of one friend/med school classmate of another). One to strangers. Regular customers at the French they had eyed my book once, then broke down and bought it. No responses as yet.
In other news, I received a pdf of the fully laid-out “Schiz” from Milo. For the first time I saw the illustrations in place I laughed out loud at three of the first four. The text impressed me too. I think we have a hit, I told him, and opted for the higher of the optional print runs we’d discussed. On the downside, my line editing has caught some troubles. The big one is that between conversions from Word Perfect to Word and formattings and divine intervention portions of multiple, multi-party conversations have been lumped into single paragraphs rather than standing apart speaker-by-speaker. Who-said-what is clear, but you must pay attention.
Clarity suffers. Readers are inconvenienced. On the other hand…
If I had been concerned about “inconvenienced” readers, I wouldn’t have written this book. Plus, Cormac McCarthy left out quotation marks entirely, and William Gaddis went with –s, so I can be said to be striking my own blow for avant guarde individualization. Plus it adds an improvisatory jazz feel, altering the reader’s rhythm. Plus it’s like a tip-of-the-hat to John Cage’s openness to randomness. Plus Milo says he found it Altmanesq.
That’s quite a pedigree, but I’m waiting to hear from Adele.
Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a woman at the health club who lived in Philadelphia in the late ’50s, early ’60s as a teenager. (Having come from California, she found it racist and uptight.) Sold a “Cheesesteak” and a “Pirates and Mouse” to a friend who is giving both as gifts. Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a woman at the French (from Ambler) who is giving it as a gift to a friend whose father was a chef at Bookbinder’s. (She says she will give more as gifts for Xmas — WHICH IS A REMINDER TO THE REST OF YOU.)
I am also taking note of the expanded world into which my writer persona has led me. This week I received an e-mail from the Serbian artist, who’d learned from his publisher I was writing about him, offering to provide any background information I needed. And a woman in Atlanta, who’d sought me out after reading my BSR piece about Peggy Manley of whom she was a fan, sent me a link to the Christian Domestic Discipline novel she’d written. And I’m nearly finished the senior citizen-porn novel by the retired architect whom I met at Berkeley Espresso.
Plus just the other day, this fellow wandered into the French, wearing an Eat Fruits and Vegetables baseball cap, and, attracted by my sign and display, announced he was assembling an anthology of writing by students of all ages from local school district, “Pieces for Peace.” I waited for his pitch, weighing what I would give him; but the bite never came. All he asked was for me to read and judge submissions. “Sure,” I said.
We exchanged cards.
…”White Noise” by Don DeLillo, the third novel of his I’ve read, follo wing “Libra,” which I didn’t care for, (or may not have been ready for) and “Underwater,” which I thought was terrific. (I must have gotten smarter by then.) “White Noise” is not as rrific — it’s central character is an academic for one thing, and I’m ill-disposed tempermentally toward novels set among academics — but it is very good. (It’s also funny.)
DeLillo is a major novelist. No question about it. He deals with the largest of matters in original and engrossing fashion. (This one’s about Death, for one thing. Also lesser stuff of consequence.) I let it wash over me without being able to claim I absorbed more than the slightest weight of DeLillo’s thinking. (My Viking paperback — acquired at Moe’s — came appended, as if in documentation of DeLillo’s major-ness, with interview snippets, reviews, and articles from classy quarterlies. I skipped them all. I didn’t want a seminar. I took what I had and moved on to the next book on my stack. One has, speaking of large matters, only so much time.)
My latest is up at http://www.broadstreetreview.com/film-tv/showtimes-ray-donovan-packs-an-unexpected-punch.
It begins: So I’ve been watching “Ray Donovan,” this Showtime series which sets a lot of scenes inside a family-owned boxing gym in Los Angeles. (It’s been running four years, but I’m on Season Two.) It’s a good show, but not so good it keeps my attention from the fight posters on the gym’s walls. The posters look real. They are the right size, the right red and black print, the right yellow (seemingly) heavy cardboard, fit for tacking to telephone polls or standing in store windows to promote the card, solid but tacky, like boxing itself.
Sold a “Most Outrageous” to a fellow at the health club, who is now one shy of a complete collection of my work and says he will bind them in leather. Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a fellow at the café I’d about given up on, even though I’d given him a “New Yorker,” which I’d thought would’ve cemented our relationship. (He claimed he gets so into his iPad each morning, he’d never noticed my sign.)
In the Notable Reaction Department, there were: the café acquaintance who said he only read books about Buddhism but would offer me “spiritual support.” (Fuck you,” I’d thought. Which suggested I could use some.); the voc. rehab. counselor, and ex-Philly gal, to whom I’d thrown plenty of business when I was in practice, who said she still had my notice of “Chessesteak” on her desk and was planning to buy one. (Hasn’t happened yet); a lovely note from a defense attorney relating how much she’d enjoyed having her own recollections jolted. When she’d been at Barnard, she reported, attending an Odetta concert was tantamount to declaring yourself a Communist. And she had a friend who broke off her affair with Jim Kweskin (the second of those reported) after her mother “swooped down from Greenwich CT, draped in her minks and trailing the scent of Chanel #5” and threatened her.
IN OTHER NEWS
The front and back covers of “The Schiz” are done. Our focus group has responded “WOW!” and “WOW! WOW! WOW! WOW!” A final line editing from Milo (I will keep my hands off it, so I don’t rewrite anything), and it’s off to the printer.
Oh yeah, we’ve raised the price a nickel.
As for “Heart,” having finally overcome the trauma from the rejections and silence when I sought an agent some months ago, I am trying again. First query has gone out; others to follow.
The morning after Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, I was having my post-exercise, semi-meditative sit beside the health club pool when this little girl toddled by. Wow! I thought. You can be president. Then I looked at the wading pool. There was little black girl and this little brown girl and this little white girl. Wow! I thought. You can all be president.
It was an amazing feeling.
(Did you know that New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote, in 1893? They could not vote in France until 1944, Italy until 1946, Switzerland until 1971 (national elections only), and not until 1991 in local elections.)
The next morning I was at the café when Liz introduced me to her 9-year-old granddaughter, the charming — and, it turned out, tri-lingual — Lydia. “Congratulations,” I said, “on being able to become president.”
“Lydia lives in Vienna,” Liz said.
“Well, then,” I said, “you can’t become president after all.”
Then to recover any ground I had lost, I whipped out my iPhone and found Groucho Marx performing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” on YouTube.
“I bet you never heard ‘Lydia’ rhymed with ‘encyclopedia’ before,” I said.
I’ll have to check with Liz to see what sort of impression I made.
Only one sale, a “Best Ride.” It went to a Claremont member who’d bought three books, week-by-week, earlier. He says he feels like a fan of Dickens, waiting at the port for the ship to arrive with the latest installment.
A couple nice reactions from college pals who’d finally read “Cheesesteak.” One claimed it was the first book he’d finished since Ted Williams’s biography in second grade. One college semi-pal sent me notice of his new collection of poems and since I’d already bought the last collection of poems he’d sent me notice of, I replied he might consider buying a copy of “Cheesesteak,” a notice of which I’d sent him. And the woman who’d taught at Swarthomre but didn’t know where West Philadelphia was and had begged off buying a copy because she didn;t have cash with her has been in the café twice and avoided eye contact with me.
Meanwhile, I’ve been experiencing these shifts in perception. For one, I’d been hoping that “Cheesesteak” would lead to deeper relationships with people from my past (and present). That hasn’t happened but it has helped me see some relationships more clearly. It used to be that I would spend much time in my head in discussions with friends or myself about why these dissatisfactions. Now I see, well Mr. A is excellent on a particular area, which is of interest to him, but difficult to engage about anything else (unless he initiates the discussion) and Mr. B is excellent on many subjects but will not discuss them with anyone who does not share his opinion about one of them (which I don’t). I can live with these realities.
Another thing is how comfortable I have settled into this person who writes quirkily about this ‘n’ that and sits in a café peddling his work. The lawyer-me is practically gone (though he can be recalled swiftly, like when someone makes a crack about workers’ compensation fraud). Even the recovering-heart patient me, who I want to hold onto, is fading.
And now the writer-me has to get back to boning up on Serbia. Which is a different story.
Sold three CHEESESTEAKs, one to a second cousin of Adele’s/former Berkeley/present Philly suburb resident, one to a niece, and one to a Berkeley pal as a gift (his second — they make wonderful gifts) for an ex-Philadelphian in Oregon (where that Shakespeare festival is) for a fellow whose name he couldn’t recall, so he couldn’t have it personally signed. Also sold a BEST RIDE to the same niece, who overpaid and elected to take that rather than a refund.
Best reaction came from an ex-Philadelphian pal/high school basketball star, a few years younger than me, now living in LA. “Loved it. It’s GREAT!” and was reminded to recount how he had scored 30 points against Pickles Kennedy in a summer camp league game, and made an underhand layup against Trooper (“You remember Trooper Washington?” “Yeah, I remember Trooper Washington”) Washington. Meanwhile, his wife stood beside him, rolling her eyes.
In related news, Spruce Hill Press has successfully paid on-line the Board of Equalization for the sales tax due for its first fiscal year.
And THE SCHIZ, Spruce Hill’s next release, has had its back cover approved by its author (me) and passed on to its cover illustrator (someone else) for his final touches. To pre-order, send $25 to Spruce Hill Press POB 9492 Berkeley 94709 (me, again).
I am watching Roger Federer play a tennis match. The match is occurring in the ground floor plaza of a multi-level shopping mall. Roger’s opponent (screen left) is at the baseline, but his shots are sending Roger up and down to the different levels. Up three flights to return one, down two flights to return the next, and so on, one amazing shot after another.
I am surprised by this dream. What is Roger Federer doing in it. He seems much more suitable for a dream of Adele’s. I mean, I like him, but she is a fanatic. I let go off the dream once I tell her but she chews and rechews it. Finally she has an interpretation. “You, as a writer, are an old guy. Roger, for a tennis player, is an old guy. And you both are still pulling off amazing shit.”
I liked that interpretation. In fact, Roger running up and down between floors, returning shot after shot, felt like my brain, firing off shot after shot to solve each problem presented by each approaching sentence.