Last Ten Books Read — XV

(In Order of Completion)

1. Simon Blackburn. THINK. A handy history of philosophy to which I was tipped by my philosopher emeritus neighbor.

2. Vladimir Sorokin. DAY OF THE OPRICHNIK. The fourth novel I have read by this guy. (I had forgotten I had already done two.) Now I am – I hope – finished with him. For a scabrous, offensive novelist, I prefer Houllebecq.

3. Marcus Aurelius. MEDITATIONS. About the only book I held onto from my Soc. Sci. I course. It impressed me then and I liked it now. Surprisingly similar to some Buddhist-think.

4. R.V. Jones. MOST SECRET WAR. Recommended by a friend. He said JFK liked it. A complete waste of time for me.

5. Thich Nhat Hanh. HOW TO CONNECT. It’s always good to have a little Buddhism around. This is a shirt-pocket size volume I found of the “Free Books” shelf of the café, where pickings have been slim recently.

6. Joshua Cohen. THE NETANYAHUS. I was impressed by how he began and ended and how he delivered the historical stuff fictionally, but much of the middle was weak tea. It must have been a weak year, fiction-wise, for the Pulitzer committee.

7. William Goldman. THE PRINCESS BRIDE. (Second time.) Previously discussed in this very space.

8 & 10. Ryszard Kapusinski. ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE and SHAH OF SHAWS. Kapusinski had been about my favorite political journalist but I had forgotten about him until I spotted the first of these, about the war in Angola, in Moe’s when I was looking for a Kawabata novel. I then ordered the second, about the fall of the Shah and one more, which completes my collection of all of his books translated into English. SHAW is brilliant, concise, powerful – and I wonder what K would think about what is happening in Iran now. Optimism is not his default position.

9. James Joyce. ULYSSES. (Second time.) A friend had sent me a link to a celebration of Bloomsday in Brattleboro, VT, led by a friend of his. I only watched a few minutes but his joy encouraged me to give the book a try. With the help of two guides, I may have understood ten-to-
twenty percent but I did get a kick out of Joyce’s mastery of language and literary form.

The Princess Bride

A friend expressed delight that her granddaughters were now old enough to enjoy the movie.

“Did we see it?” Adele said.

“The book is better,” I said.

“Did I read it?”

“I don’t think so.”

So every night before sleep I read some to her.

“Princess Bride is a wonderful book. The writing — the actual word-by-word sentences — is pedestrian, even off-putting; but William Goldman knew how to tell a story. He knew what his readers knew and what they expected based on this knowledge and he played with this knowledge and these expectations. He was a ju-jitsu master, using his readers’ strengths to flip them — and leave them laughing at how he did it — and at themselves and the magic of story-telling.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 340

Swapped one book and sold three – a package deal.
For a few months, an elderly couple, emigres from Panama, have been living in the hotel of which the café is part. Her grandfather had come from Denmark in the 18th century to help drill for drinking water. Her husband was in the US military in the Canal Zone after two tours in Vietnam. When the current dictatorship took over their home, they left to join a daughter and grandchild here.
Her book about their experiences, “Gringo Cabron,” sold well in Panama. The English translation, “Deported Colonel,” is available at Amazon. I traded an “I Will Keep You Alive” for it, and since she wanted the others I had on display too (“The Schiz,” “Lollipop,” “Cheesesteak”), I gave her a bulk-purchase discount.

In other news…
1.) As expected, my article on “Strange Death of Alex Raymond” drew more comments than my usual at They ran from “great review of an incredible book” and “it’s always a pleasure to read your work” to “masturbatory writing… it’s like, dude, you can write for OTHER WRITERS or you can write for a GENERAL AUDIENCE, always go with pick #2, jeez.” (All capitalizations of INDIGNATION in the original.)
I think the lesson here is clear.
2.) A few weeks ago, my S. Clay Wilson “Buy Bob’s Books” sign caught the eye of a lanky, long-haired fellow, late 30s/early 40s. He didn’t buy but the couple times he’s been in the café since, he’s given me a “How’s it going, man?” He’s usually with an older, balding man, and they seem to bounce back and forth between Berkeley and L.A. The other morning, we talked.
The older man knew Terry Zwigoff through The Cheap Suit Serenaders so we opened with the Crumbs and old record collecting – having to explain to the younger fellow what .78s were. I didn’t learn more about him, but the younger guy is a surfer/graffiti artist/fine artist (or as he put it, “mantlepiece” artist). He seems most serious about graffiti art, about which he has significant thoughts, but which he has given up because of the danger. (One practitioner was shot by an aggrieved property owner.) He circulates around the Pacific, spending what money he has, living “wild.” (The one painting he showed me a photo of – a mix of psychedelia and Javanese batik patterns was splendid.)
We talked graffiti artists I didn’t know and Banksy, whom I did, and whom he reveres. I offered Vaughn Bode, which gained me no traction. Big Daddy Roth came along, whom I grabbed hold off, but I was in real danger of falling out of the conversation entirely when I tossed out Rick Griffin. “The G!!!” he exclaimed. We connected on Robert Williams too.
Then they were off on a six-hour drive south.
I am hoping to resume.

A Fig in Winter

My latest piece has gone up at
It begins:

On September 6, 1956, the newspaper strip cartoonist Alex (“Rip Kirby”) Raymond was killed when the Corvette he was driving crashed into a tree. The car’s owner, Stan (“The Heart of Juliet Jones”) Drake, who had been riding shotgun, had an ear nearly torn off and a shoulder dislocated. The two had been speeding uphill when Raymond attempted to brake for a crossroad, hit the accelerator instead, and launched them airborne. Or so Dave Sim writes early in “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond,” Leonard (“On Stage”) Starr said in an interview in the October 2012 issue of Alter Ego magazine, Drake, who’d died in 1997, told him. This double hearsay explanation set Sim speculating about what “strange metaphysical undercurrents” may have been at play.

Bruce Dern Loves Last Ride

Above is the link to my most recently published article. Actually it was published in 1983 as “Me and Hollywood” (or was it “Hollywood and Me”?) in a mag a printer-friend put out in Eugene, but it’s been long enough — and its circulation small enough — that I — and, fortunately, FOM’s editor, the esteemed Benj DeMott — thought it deserved a second look. It begins:

There are three things to understand first. My red phone. My second cousin Irving Sussman. My position in American letters.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 339

Sold a “Cheesesteak.”
The buyer wore a dark baseball cap, bill to the front. His couple days black-grey stubble made him eligible for slotting anywhere on the café’s socio-economic spectrum. He asked about each of my books and remarked on my jacket quotes from Crumb and Ram Dass, which narrowed nothing.
Turned out he had been born in Alameda, attended UC, lives in Berkeley, and has two kids at Berkeley High. Said he worked in “software,” “website design,” “product management.”
Successfully, was my impression.
He said he had been coming to the café for 30 years, but I had never seen him before. Leonard who comes nearly every day said he had never seen him either.
FBI? CIA? Operative for a state too deep below the surface to be known?
A sale is a sale.

In other news…
1.) Neither of my pieces that were about to come out have come out and the one that has come out is in a volume that has not yet reached me, though presumably it was mailed a month ago. (Meanwhile I am putting final tweaks on two more pieces – one a “poem” – and accepted a request from a collector/connoisseur of weird cartoonists to look at/review a graphic novel by someone he knows – and I don’t.
2.) As for our anthology, we have (1) figured out how to number its pages, which means (2) we can finalize our Table of Contents; but (3) our first attempt (a) omitted one piece entirely and (b) transitioned an “Alan” into an “Ann.” We still don’t know how to format; our printer is up in the air; and we are (good-spiritedly) squabbling about back cover content, the masthead, attrributions of the previously published, word limits on contributors’ notes, and distribution through Amazon.
It occasionally causes lost sleep.

Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 337 – 338

Sold a “Cheesesteak”; gave away a “Cheesesteak,” “Lollipop,” “Schiz,” and “Most Outrageous.”
The sale was to a 40ish couple – husband and wife, I presume – from Mexico City but 25-years in the US. They operate a commercial cleaning company.
The gift – a package deal – went to my brother’s visiting twins, whom Adele and I last saw at their bar mitzvah about 20-years ago. One lives in Bed-Stuy and consults with hedge funds on where and how to invest. The other lives in Morgantown, having recently completed a tour of duty with an ultra-elite Navy SEAL unit. It would be difficult to say with whom we felt we had less in common going in.
But we had a nice visit. (It was, I remarked to Adele, the most time we had spent with people their age since… Well, when we were that age.) We sat in and outside the café. We drove up and down the North Berkeley hills, into Tilden Park. We walked across campus, down Telegraph, through People’s Park, lunched at Bateau Ivre, and walked back. (8000 steps). They asked questions it was fun to answer and provided answer to questions we asked that were fun to hear.

In other news…
1.) It looks like FOM will run a story of mine soon. When I pitched it, the editor recalled having seen it three-years ago. He had lost it, and I had forgotten I had submitted it. So I sent it again.
2.) It looks like TCJ will be running a piece of mine too. It had asked my opinion of a controversial book and I submitted it. “Fantastic, Bob” I was told. “You’ve still got it.” That registered well – until I envisioned an editorial meeting with “Has Levin lost it?” on the agenda.
3.) Our anthology rolls along: (a) we have figured out how to pay the printer. (All Board members will chip in); (b) contributors have been asked to submit 30-word descriptions of themselves. (A limit determined by how many I needed); and (c) unasked – and with some chutzpah – I line-edited four submissions. Three authors expressed thanks and accepted all or many of my suggestions, (including a woman who first “lost” them). The fourth called me a “jackass.” He told me that people on two continents (Australia and North America) had loved his story without finding a single nit to pick. When I suggested he dump, oh, two-dozen metaphors as quickly – speaking metaphorically – as Friday’s fish on Wednesday, he pronounced them examples of the “lyrical/poetic infusion” he brought to his work.
. An infusion, alas, he had arrived at after abandoning Raymond Chandler’s stylistic influence for Mickey Spillane’s – which strikes me – Australians not withstanding – as a classic inversion of the Buddhist maxim that from garbage comes the rose.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 335

No sales. No swaps. But I received a gift.
The flip-flop-shod, maximalist poet/assemblage artist/Merry Prankster associate (See “Adventures… 332″), who had purchased “Best Ride,” re-appeared. “A book for a book,” he said. I thought it would be a chapbook of his but no. It was a 57-year-old ($1.95) paperback anthology: “The Philosophy of Time.” What in “Best Ride” had led him to conclude this would be of interest to me was a mystery.
But on the other hand, at the very moment he had bestowed it, I was in the midst of an e-mail to my philosopny professor emeritus neighbor (See “Adventures…” I forget) reporting my thoughts on a book he had loaned me where I had been particularly intrigued by the question of how we know something is a dog. Is there something within both “Dahlia,” the Habanese, and “Fido,” the Alsatian, that when either or both of them enters the cafe, owner-in-tow, we think “Dog,” or does something within us that occasion this conclusion? (Philosophers have been pondering this question for centuries.)

In other news…
1.) A pleasant woman in a blue suit and short gray hair stopped at my table. She said she was visiting from the east.
“What part?” I said, hoping to place a “Cheesesteak” with her.
“North Carolina,” she said.
“That’s the south,” I said.
“Right,” she said. She picked up “Fully Armed.” “I’m not familiar with you… Or Jimmy Don Polk.”
“No reason you should be,” I said.
She worked in the therapeutic court system, so I should have pushed that one. But I wasn’t thinking quick enough. I gave her my card instead.
2.) A young woman in glittery blouse, pedal pushers, and chunk-heeled sandals stopped. “Dragana.” I identified her accent as Middle-European but she said “Minnesota.” She was in “J” School and had come to the café to interview someone about People’s Park. “Harvey Smith. Do you know him?”
“I knew a Harvey Smith. He pitched for West Philly in 1959. I doubt it’s the same fellow.”
When her Harvey Smith arrived, he was skinny with a long, grey pony tail, so “No.”
As she turned to sit down with him, I said, “Wanna buy a book?”
“I’m a broke grad student,” she said. “But I support your efforts.”
I gave her a card too.
That’s 4,721 distributed in vain – or thereabouts.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 334

Sold an “Outlaws, Rebels…” Usually, I don’t even display a copy because I don’t expect it to move. (Based on its success, I’ve brought “Fully Armed out. It’s drawn some looks but price has not been discussed.)
The “Outlaws” buyer was maybe 30. A fellow of Mexican heritage, slim and dressed in black slacks, black zipper jacket, black baseball cap. He wore a silver necklace with a wing-pendant. His field is, of all things, marketing. He must be good since it takes him all over the country. He was in the neighborhood this particular morning dropping his son off at school.

In other news…
1.) The long, long awaited anthology “Speaking of Atlantic City: Recollections & Memories,” in which I will have a piece, will be available in stores and on-line October 3. For those of you in the area, there will be a signing October 14 at the Noyes Art Garage Museum in A.C., 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. (Exact address available on request. I will not be there.)
2.) Some folks outside the café were kicking around the idea of putting out a journal of work by regulars, and George said, “Wendy, you do it.” Wendy told me the next morning and I said, “Great idea!” and she said, “You’re on the Board of Directors.”
We had our first meeting Wednesday. (It’s sort of a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show” thing so far.) We made some important decisions like (1) inclusion will be by invitation-only; and (2) we will charge something for it. We also recognized important problems like (1) since the “kids” in this case are pretty old, none of us know how to format the material we collect into a form a printer can work with and (2) we don’t know how we will pay the printer’s bill if we solve problem one.
Details, details.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 333

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” and gave away a “Cheesesteak.” And had a couple brief book-related encounters.
So read on.

The sale was to a definitely-under-40, maybe under-30 – fellow with dark curly hair and dark curly beard. He’s a mathematician – that’s five I’ve now met, for those keeping count – in Berkeley for a just-concluded 10-day conference, on his way to New Mexico where a friend has started an alternative university – or was it an alternative universe?; with New Mexico you can’t be sure. I asked why he had chosen IWKYA since it usually appealed to older readers. Health issues of his own, he said.
Payment became a problem. He did not have cash and I had not hooked Square up to my new bank account. Since he was about to leave town, I offered to give him a copy and trust him to send me a check, and then he remembered he had his check book in his car and went out to get it. It’s on a Bloomington, Indiana bank but my ATM took it.

The gift was to an ex-Philadelphia newspaperman who runs a valuable on-lite site about Philadelphia high school basketball, a research tool I have used on more than once, most recently in connection with a mock epic poem I’d written in 12th grade and was sprucing up. That’s a different story, but it led to a friend putting a question to me, which I put to the site-runner, whose reply led to me sending him my book. Every ex- or current Philadelphian should have one.

In other news…
1.) Conversation (a) was with an engineering student from India, who is working on a non-privacy invasive AI system which could, for example, tell him the average age of everyone in the café, but before he could explain why anyone would need to know this, he had to rush off to class. (You know how engineering students are about classes.) (B) was with a UPS driver, who said he liked to read books and had grandkids who liked to read them; but before I could think which, if any, of my books were grandkid-friendly, he had to rush back to his truck. (You know how UPS is about schedules.) I gave both men my card which, as frequent readers know, is my way of insuring I will never hear from people again.
2.) I received an email from a fellow in Indonesia who had read an article I had published three-years ago in a magazine in New Zealand about a cartoonist from Toronto. This fellow wanted to contact this cartoonist. I replied I would see what I could do – and my computer immediately informed me my message was “Undeliverable.” Since all I had done was hit “Reply” to the email which had come from him, I was mystified. I forwarded his email anyway to the cartoonist and he emailed the fellow without difficulty.
So I don’t know. Is this fellow in Indonesia on some CIA terrorist list making communications to him from America impossible? I asked the cartoonist to let me know if buildings in Toronto started blowing up.
3.) Just as an aside, I noted that my previous “Adventure” received four “Like”s at FB, which is about the median, whereas my latest “Dream” about having sex with Sally Fields and Jane Russell received 18, which leads me to conclude my dream-life is of much more interest to people than my actual one.
Or that people prefer reading about sex to commerce.