…Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber.”
I had read a couple of reviews of a recently published biography of Carter, and the strangeness of her life had intrigued me. The New Yorker’s called this her best book, and Moe’s had a used copy.
TBC is a collection of fairy tales, reimagined by a wild feminist consciousness and retold in a fever-dreamed style. (For those tales I did not recognize or for which I required a refresher to recognize the changes, Wikipedia helped.) The tales feature humor and homicide, twisted endings and sex that will make any kid who shivered and chuckled at EC Comics’ “Grim Fairy Tales” nod with special pleasure at this goof’s ascension into High Art. But the writing, the word linkage, the thought processes that coined the sentences and motivated the actions’ movement… Well, this is something unfathomably beyond Al Feldstein — or just about any of the rest of us.
Here, for example, is one sentence, the book’s final one, in fact:
“Little by little, there appeared… like the image on photographic paper that emerges first, a formless web of tracery, like prey caught in its own fishing net, then a firmer yet still shadowed outline, until at last as vivid as real life itself, as if brought into being by her soft, moist, gentle tongue, finally, the face of the Duke.”
What an ability! What a triumph!
Sold zero books. But…
…through the efforts of my semi-volunteer publicist, two of my books, maybe three, are now for sale in a Manhattan bookstore, and stores in Manayunk and Dobbs Ferry have said, “Well, maybe…” And the announcement of this surge has led one FB Friend to offer to swap his (unpublished) novel for one of my published ones. (He turns out not to have an actual copy of his book but will e-mail me a couple chapters.)
Then while I was writing that very paragraph, M (not her actual initial), a heretofore unknown-to-me regular at the café, eyed my display and suggested I sell books at the Ashby Flea Market, where, she said, many writers did, including one who had spent 30 years wrongfully imprisoned because of evil perpetrated by the FBI. This led to a 20-to-30 minute conversation, in which I learned she was in her 60s, a free-lance tour guide (Bay Area locales and parks), and which touched upon such matters as holographic wills, her travels along the Silk Road, Plymouth-Whitemarsh, Simmons College, her unfair firing from her position at the UN 30 or 40-years ago, the commune she joined in Berkeley (sex, drugs, and one phone for eight people), and concluded, when she asked “So why did you come to Berkeley?” with my handing her a copy of “Cheesesteak” and saying “If you promise to read this…”
In other news, our pitch of “Heart” to a mid-western publisher resulted in an a response two-hours later, which, tellingly perhaps, asked not to see sample chapters, but to hear our thoughts about our audience, organizational contacts, and sales program.
… “Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes, which I picked off the Free Books shelf in the café and, for which, I left “Masters of Sex” in exchange. (It went quickly too.)
Hughes is a fine writer and a smart guy. He seems to have read everything written about and visited every place relevant to his history of Australia, which begins about 1787. with its colonization by England, and ends about 1868, when it stopped dumping its criminals there.
That was the original idea. (The French liked it so much, they followed suit with Devil’s Island.) Take a (to the beholder) desolate chunk of land in the middle of nowhere, with weird plants, weird birds, weird mammals, some beings that barely qualified as human, and ship your bad guys (and gals) there. (You didn’t even have to be that bad. Petty theft got you seven years. Political agitation got you 14.)
Send a few guards, (where could they escape too?); barely house or feed them; work then till they dropped; scrimp on medical treatment or any other amenities; beat them bloody when you wanted. (Insolence got you 50 lashes; something worse 150 — or 500.) It was cheaper than building prisons.
Do me a favor. Don’t let Jeff Sessions hear about this.
Sold a “Schiz” and a “Fully Armed” to an old friend/retired psychologist in Philadelphia. Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a stranger (contractor) in the café. Sent a “Schiz” and a “Cheesesteak” to a recently resurfaced fellow who’d helped me a lot on my Air Pirates book. (He send me a pdf of his new book on Darwin.) Sent a “Cheesesteak” to a rock guitarist who’d given me a copy of his CD when I visited him in the hospital on my Mended Hearts rounds.
In other news, a woman with whom I attended 4th through 12th grade has offered to pitch “Best Ride” and “Cheesesteak” to bookstores in Manhattan, where she lives, Brooklyn, and Philly. (She expressed discomfort with “The Schiz” but is willing to look at it.) Her other activities include playing the harp at and singing in the chorus of her church (Episcopalian)and being an on-again, off-again booking agent for a chamber music group so this endeavor sounds adventurous and amusing to us both.
And the Berkeley indie author/publisher said he would do “Heart,” except he wasn’t publishing anything for the time being. But maybe when he secured his next grant… So pitches to agents and publishers continue there.
[Bob’s books remain available from this very web site.]
“You must be the food critic for the ‘East Bay Express,'” the fellow said as he sat down at the next table. He was about my age, a straw fedora and string tie. The morning before he had made his presence known by loud, angry declarations to an audience sized somewhere between himself alone and the world at large. So this showed an improvement in, if not mood, medication.
But how he had arrived at my assignment in life was unclear. True, I was marking yellow pad with ballpoint pen, but I had no vittles within reach. And my black leather motorcycle cap and Kelly green Penn Relays t-shirt did not scream, I would have thought, “Taste buds!”
It took me a couple hours to figure it out. “‘Cheesesteak,'” I told Adele, “was one of the books I had out for sale.”
“And the other was ‘The Schiz,'” she said, “so he must have thought you spoke his language.”
…a few books, two of which I have thought about reviewing at length but haven’t, so let’s see what I can encapsulate in the meantime.
The first of these is “We Told You So” (ed. by Tom Spurgeon, with Michael Dean), an oral history of Fantagraphics Books. The best part is the first third or two which provides the near-plot tension of “Will this plucky band of outsiders” survive, and dramatizes it thru warts-and-all depictions of colorful characters. (Among the partially blemished — believe it or not — is your humble reporter who — FULL DISCLOSURE — has had three books published by Fanta — all available from this very web site — and continues to be a contributor to its “Comics Journal”) The weakest part is the rest which settles into a sea of self-congratulatory pats on the back by those still employed or published by the company in question. Not that I begrudge them a single pat. Not that I don’t still proudly wear my “Fuck You I’m With Fantagraphics” t-shirt. But from a pacing/
variety/gratification of one’s baser desires POV, this seems lacking.
Part of the problem may be that the café where I do most of my business is closed for renovations. But part may be I have exhausted my pool of buyers.
But I gave away a copy of “Fully Armed.”
In other (related) news, Adele and I queried an agent, whom, we had been told, was actively seeking authors to represent. Aside from being young enough to be our granddaughter, she seemed a perfect match for “Heart.” She wanted “illness,” “survival,” “humor.” We had all that. But our e-mail received an auto-reply that her seeking was at an end. Her client list was full. (The duplicious swine.)
The manuscript itself received one of the nicest rejections in my history of rejections. An acquisitions editor in North Carolina praised everything about our content but its bulk, which was too scanty to carry the price his company would have to apply to reap the rewards it desired. (Oh well, with his state’s Bathroom Bill and all…)
So the book is now with someone local, incorporated as a non-profit
where, hopefully, commerce will be less important than our art.
Adele and I struck out trying to get an agent for our jointly-written account of our adventures in cardio-vascular land. Half the time we got a form rejection; half the time they ignored us. “You don’t have a national platform,” one agent we met informally warned us before we began looking.
The next step was to query publishers who didn’t require authors to approach them through agents. The first — no, second one — we queried, on the basis of our proposal and two chapters, he would publish our book if we met one of two conditions. Get an endorsement from a celebrity he could splash on the cover. Get a five-star review from Kirkus. (The way Kirkus works now, he explained, is if you pay it $500, it will give you a review you can publicize or keep quiet, like the College Boards. The odds on five-stars, though, are 99:1 against.)
We liked that he believed works judged meritorious deserved publication. But unlike, say, James Laughlin or Barney Rosset, he didn’t rely on his own judgment. He left it up to celebrities or Kirkus. (I should add there were other enthusiasm-dampeners about his operation as well.)
We decided to continue looking.
Sold one copy of “The Schiz.”
The buyer was a 40-something UC employee. Something in computers.
He is a fan — and unpublished writer — of sci-fi, who had previously bought and, he now told me, been delighted by “Cheesesteak.” It was, he said, “Like a vanished time that will never come again. Did you see the movie ‘Blade Runner’? That was the future, and yours was the past, but, like it, you captured this entire world.”
I, of course, had never seen it that way. The West Philadelphia of “Cheesesteak” was — and is — pretty real and living to me. But I welcomed his enthusiasm.
“This new one,” I said, “is different.”
Sold zero books.
A former journalist stopped by my café table, where my books were on display, to say “Cheesesteak” had “inspired” her to write her own memoir and she already had 200 pages.
I thought, That would be five memoirs out of this café alone, plus a one-woman show about her abortion.
A composer of jazz operas called “Cheesesteak” “fabulous.
I told him “Stage and screen rights remain available.”
A man in a plaid flannel shirt said of my “Buy Bob’s Books” sign, “The Checkered Demon. The Checkered Demon. I haven’t seen the Checkered Demon in a long time.”
I complimented him on his eye.
A Doctor of Oriental Medicine told me he had self-published two books about “brain health.”
I told him I would swap him one of mine for one of his.
A 50-something, part-time substitute school teacher told me about bicycling from D.C. to Philadelphia (site of “Cheesesteak”) in the 1970s and staying at a youth hostel in Fairmount Park.
I recommended he visit the Barnes Museum the next time.
It all adds up.