The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





last three

January - February 2013

Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!


Oct.-Dec. 12

Aug.-Sep. 12

Apr.-July 12

Jan.-Mar. 12

Nov.-Dec. 11

Sept.-Oct. 11

June-July 11

Apr.-May 11

Jan.-Mar. 11


11-13 February 2013


Poems by Ernest Hilbert and Henry Wessells

with etchings by Judith Clute

The book will be published on Friday 15 February in San Francisco at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. A few copies remain available for subcription. Details here.

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I will be in San Francisco this weekend (15-17 February) for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair, booth 708, James Cummins Bookseller. Come say hello (and please let me know if you would like a pass).

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recent reading :

— [Surtees, Robert Smith]. Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour. By the author of “Handley Cross”. With 13 hand colored engraved plates by John Leech and numerous woodcuts in text. Bradbury, Agnew, n.d.
Not so deft in plot or incident as Dickens, but as keen an observer of financial view of world (& marriage) in Victorian Britain and as Austen in Georgian. Sponge is a hilarious sendup of English propertied classes, of whom Wilde observed : they know the price if everything, the value of nothing. Surtees’ characters’ names —  even more than in Dickens’ novels —  are crunchy, revelatory, and (cumulatively) an absolute hoot. Not that I expect anyone to read Surtees, save for a bold and reckless few ; but I enjoyed Sponge and his freeloading Sporting Tour.
— Fuminori Nakamura. The Thief. Translated from the Japanese by Satoko Izuma and Stephen Coates. Soho Crime, [2012]. The “ thrilling sense of being out of place that comes with entering someone else’s house without taking your shoes off ” —  a very Japanese sense.
— Graham Joyce. Some Kind of Fairy Tale. A Novel. Doubleday, [2012]. “ . . .  everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does. ” I really enjoyed this.
— Myles na Gopaleen (Flann O’Brien). The Poor Mouth (An Béal Bocht). A bad story about the hard life. Translated from the Irish by Patrick C. Power, Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1973. Never a book so screamingly funny and so sly as The Poor Mouth, a comic critical fiction of yards of Irish literature : “ he understood that good Gaelic is difficult but that the best Gaelic of all is well-nigh unintelligible ”.
— Jon A. Jackson. Re-reading : Grootka (1990), Deadman (1994), Dead Folk (1995), etc. Detroit and Montana : deft, great cast of characters. Not : “ why didn’t he write more ” but : what a marvel, how delightful he wrote as much as he did, with such flair and color and evolving form.

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Far Away So Close

— (NEW JERSEY) Harlan Coben. Stay Close. A Signet Book, [2013]. Paperback reprint of 2012 novel. so this is what America knows of New Jersey : featureless suburbia, soccer moms with concealed pasts, crooked cops and crooked contractors, the sordid underbelly of Atlantic City, and a convenient ruin at the edge of the Pine Barrens ; the book is written in a flat, distant third-person voice (with gestures toward interiority as second-person asides that feel like voice-overs), and the sort of narrative evasions that keep the bland pages turning * until the stirring confessions and somersault ending are reached.

I am edified if not gladdened. I love the clichés about New Jersey, the more the merrier —  think of the mild-mannered protagonist of Robert Sheckley’s “ Cordle to Onion to Carrot ” : and when I return from my travels to cite sources exactly, I will include other choice examples —  it is the quality of the prose as much as the picture of New Jersey in Stay Close that pains me.

* (despite a couple of locomotive-stopping mechanical failures, such as cell phone caller ID function that presents the full name of the caller, previously unknown to the holder of the phone)

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So I got to thinking about a few good —  i.e., well-written —  novels of New Jersey. This is a preliminary list in alphabetical order, compiled in temporary exile (additional titles and annotations will be added) ; I know there must be an obvious title that I have overlooked. I invite readers to suggest which one of the novels of Philip Roth merits a place.

A short list of good Novels of New Jersey

— Tom DeHaven. Freaks’ Amour. Morrow, 1979.
— Paul Di Filippo. Spondulix. A Romance of Hoboken. Cambrian, 2004. The world tuned upside down by alternate currency (scrip) issued by a struggling sandwich store owner.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald. This Side of Paradise. Scribners, 1920
— Rick Moody. Garden State. A Novel. Pushcart Press, [1992]. The author’s first novel, exploring the anomie of exurban post-adolescence against the lure of the big city, with real characters and a memorable setting : he plays with names but the geography feels sold. And the disused Krakatoa decaffeination plant is a lovely touch.
— Richard Price. Clockers. Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
— William Carlos Williams. Paterson. 5 vols., New Directions, [1946-58]. A work in verse : do you have a problem with it being not formally a novel ?
—  F. Paul Wilson. The Barrens. Wildside, 1991 (collected in : The Barrens and Others. Forge, 1998).


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22 January 2013

Six years of the Endless Bookshelf !

Your correspondent recently spent some time filling bookshelves : transferring books from shelves and boxes in the attic (sometimes known as the Summer Reading Room) onto orderly shelves along a wall. It was meeting old friends, releasing innocent victims from prison, and, always, a perilous opportunity to look into the contents of whatever books I was carrying. A few pleasant surprises, and the knowledge that it is now that much easier to trace a citation to its source.
I will be in San Francisco in mid-February for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair, booth 708, James Cummins Bookseller. Come say hello (and let me know if you would like a pass).

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caught in a swelchie
— Grant, William, and David D. Murisom, Editors. The Scottish National Dictionary. Designed Partly on Regional Lines and Partly on Historical Principles, and Containing All the Scottish Words Known to Be in Use or to Have Been in Use Since c. 1700. 10 vols., Edinburgh : The Scottish National Dictionary Association, 1941-1976. A history of Scottish language and literature in dictionary form ; much more useful on an accessible shelf than in boxes.

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who says sf writers are no good at prediction ?

Ian Watson in 1980 : “ the Nicholls/Clute Encyclopedia rules OK from now to eternity ” (from a review in Foundation).

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from the attic

— John Sladek, Editor. Ronald Reagan. The Magazine of Poetry. Issue no. 1 (1968), in stapled pictorial wrappers by Sladek & Pamela Zoline. The original appearance of the notorious Ballard piece.

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current reading

— Graham Joyce. Some Kind of Fairy Tale. A Novel. Doubleday, [2012].

“ . . . everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does. ”

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recent reading

— Alberto Manguel. The Library at Night. Yale University Press, [2008]. Lovely resonant scrapbook of the reading experience, at once an intimately familiar tale and an utterly delightful new journey of discovery. Manguel is articulate on the amicable co-existence and interplay of screen and codex, while I am (merely) tolerant. When Flann O’Brien showed up in The Library at Night, it became clear that the book is a party : in celebration of reading and the republic of letters, as Hav is a celebration of the pantheon of literary travel writing.

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— Marek Krajewski. Death in Breslau. Translated [from the original Polish] by Danusia Stok. Melville House, [2012]. A dark, corrupt mire.
— Carlos Fuentes. Vlad. Translated by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger. Dalkey Archive Press, 2012. “ What else could a good lawyer do ? ”
— David Cecil. Early Victorian Novelists. Essays in Revaluation. 1934. On the protean imagination of Charlotte Brontë : “ governesses, clerics and manufacturers, the very children, loom up before us with the gigantic stature of Wagnerian demigods ”.

— Leonard Cline. The Dark Chamber. Viking, 1927. Good novel of thought experiment psycho-babble sf — “ The entire experience of biological life from its earliest manifestations is conserved and comprised in all its detail in the memory of every individual, and is accessible at any minute if the instrument ot reach it can be found. ” — in an excellent Palisades gothic Hudson river valley setting. “ Fifteen miles we had driven north from Edgewater . . . ” to Mordance Hall, in a countryside of farms returning to forest. A novel of music and poetic ambition, and cabin fever in an old stone house : drink, drugs, sex, and a dog named Death. The fruit of all this remembering is not wisdom but regression. The Dark Chamber was bought in company of a hesitant, discerning friend ; I read it and sent it along to him (This Bookshelf Game). And having read it, I tracked down the relevant passage in Supernatural Horror in Literature. I wonder what the dust jacket would have looked like (detail of front cover above).
— Michael Swanwick. Midwinter Elves. Dragonstairs Press, 2012. Small book of three short short stories, including sly, deft “ Adam’s Third Wife ”.
— John Howard. Numbered as Sand or the Stars. Exposition Internationale, 2012. Money talks (delusion) : series of linked tales of Hungarian history and hyperinflation.
— Norman Davies. Vanished Kingdoms. The Rise and Fall of States and Nations (2011). Penguin paperback, [2012]. “ to be constantly reminded of the transience of power . . . . Sooner or later, all things come to an end. ” The range of Davies’ reflections on impermanence and history is astonishing *   : from the historical roots of Ayrshire shepherds’ counting (yinty tinty tetheri metheri bamf) to cyberwar in Estonia ; and it is fundamentally a contemplation of the inevitable demise of the United Kingdom. The maps were so murky in the paperback printing as to be almost useless.

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— Paolo Bacigalupi. The Windup Girl [2009]. Night Shade Books paperback, [2012]. This book is really something, read with great pleasure and a sense that I am late to the party. What a book  ! Loved it for the richness of life and tangles of power in his near future Thailand. Bacigalupi captures the intoxicating allure of destruction and decline, with seriously creepy agents of multinationals ; and finally the book does cohere as a chronicle of the Windup Girl of the title. So when I express my difficulties with the end of chapter 29, it is because I am thinking about narrative strategies, what it means to write “ None of them are New People ” and to elide a key scene, where the central character’s consciousness is not present and reporting ; and thus I continue to think about first person narration.

* — for the record, I first learned of the one-day Carpathian Republic (Rusyn) in “ A Lantern for Carpathia ” (2010) by Mark Valentine, the Red Bear cigarette story, published in his collection The Mascarons of the Late Empire (Bucharest, 2010), the year before Vanished Kingdoms appeared.

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‘ Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you, You must travel it for yourself. ’

— [Walt Whitman]. Leaves of Grass, [Brooklyn,] 1855.

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Forthcoming from Temporary Culture

Temporary Culture

is pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of


by Ernest Hilbert and Henry Wessells

with etchings by Judith Clute

To be published on 15 February 2013 in San Francisco, London, and Upper Montclair.

Two original poems by Ernest Hilbert and Henry Wessells with three aquatint etchings printed by the artist.
7 x 10 inches, 16 pp., letterpress printed by David Wolfe of Portland, Maine, hand bound in paste paper boards.

Edition of 26 lettered copies, signed by the authors and the artist.
Price to subscribers before publication : $375.00
Payment by cheque or money order in U.S. funds, or by credit card. NO Paypal.

The book is in the bindery and will be ready on 15 February.
Five numbered copies are reserved for the artist, authors, and printer.

Orders and inquiries to:

Temporary Culture
P.O. Box 43072
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043
electronym : wessells [at] panix [dot] com

Ernest Hilbert is the author of two collections, Sixty Sonnets (2009) and All of You on the Good Earth (forthcoming in March, 2013). He lives in Philadelphia.
Henry Wessells is author of Another green world (2003) and compiler of the Endless Bookshelf. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
Judith Clute is a Canadian artist resident in London. In 2008, Temporary Culture published her etchings to Forever Peace. To Stop War by Joe Haldeman. She has recently exhibited work in Prague and her website is .

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mailbag roulette : starting the year with a bang

January 2012 : cats, dogs, and Brie

end-of-year mailbag roulette from December 2012

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This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays, and eventually I will become adept at incorporating comments or interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HWW]

electronym : wessells at aol dot com

Copyright © 2007-2013 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

Produced by Temporary Culture, P.O.B. 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 USA.