The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





December 2016

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


16-18 December 2016

Best Book of 2016

— Ingrid Burrington. Networks of New York. An Illustrated Field Guide to Urban Internet Infrastructure. Melville House, 2016.

“I’m just looking down at the ground and looking up at buildings”

Networks of New York is fun and fascinating ; this compact, well written book is also a bold exhortation to observe life in the city. “Learning how to see and pay attention to the fragmented indicators . . .”. Burrington traces the way geography and earlier technologies continue to shape the function of twenty-first century Manhattan. Her book challenges the reader to see the familiar anew and provides tools to do so.

The best book I read in 2016.

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Pour saluer Melville

— Jean Giono. Pour saluer Melville. Gallimard, [1941].

Il se rend parfaitement compte qu’il va lui arriver une histoire extraordinaire s’il ne fait pas attention.

An extraordinary book that starts off as a biographical note on Melville (Giono translated Moby Dick into French), with reflections on Melville’s mother, and wife, and then, while Melville is in London in the autumn of 1849 to sell White-Jacket, almost within a single sentence, the book moves into biographical fantasia or critical fiction. Melville decides that he can’t stand being confined in London society for the two weeks until his return sailing. He goes out to a used clothing merchant, buys gear including elephant hide shoes from China and a mariner’e’s cloak that bears its former owner’’s character, rolls his fancy duds into an oilskin, and sets out to catch the Bristol stage. On the coach he meets a woman, Adelina, they walk in the fog on a meadow in the hills, and walk into another dimension and continue talking, a conversation that touches on Lady Macbeth, the Irish famine, and the remarkable game of « plus jamais ». And then Melville goes back to London, returns to America to wrestle with the angel and write Moby Dick ; there is a scene with Hawthorne, after publication of The Whale, where M. is wondering if she might have seen the book before she died of consumption. And then the book closes with thanks to his co-translators of Melville. Never translated, possibly untranslatable. The whole vocabulary of the book is inspired by Melvillean notions and cadences.

Pour saluer Melville also prompted me to think (not for the first time) about the origins of the critical fiction : a piece of fiction that functions as a critical response to another work of literature. Giono’s book uses Melville as a fictional character to explore questions about Melville the writer that biography cannot answer. Pour saluer Melville was published seventy-five years ago its formal innovation and subject matter are fresh and challenging. I welcome correspondence from readers who can might propose other (earlier?) examples of novels with a literary author as protagonist. Explicitly NOT an invented author.

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“The which house ?”

The other remarkable work of fiction I read this year was Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (published in February), a novel of race and the Matter of America in 1954. A devastating —  and at times very funny —  critical reading of the work of H.P. Lovecraft is the novel’s supple, powerful spine.

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at the sign of the Burning Marshmallow

At the launch of Donald Trump The Magazine of Poetry, 22 November, at 725 Fifth Avenue.

Details here and more photos at the Temporary Culture instagram page.

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Extended Range ; or, The Accession Label

The text of Extended Range ; or, The Accession Label (published as a book with original etchings by Judith Clute in December 2015) has now been reprinted in issue 35 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link and published by Small Beer Press.
details at

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current reading

— Joel Lane. This Spectacular Darkness. Critical Essays. Edited by Mark Valentine and John Howard. Tartarus Press, [2016].

— Manasi Sapre. Pune Murder Chronicles. Rumour Books India, [2015].

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commonplace book : quotations, exhibitions, jottings

Frick Museum

“Every avalanche starts small !” — Bob Rosenthal

"The word was too much with us, too soon: Dryco was the word, and our world was of the word. and with the word, and the world was the word."
— Jack Womack

The Centaur Turns One Hundred. A Century of Bruce Rogers’ Centaur Type. From the Collection of Jerry Kelly (Exhibition at the Grolier Club, 21 September to 5 November).

The 75th anniversary of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine at Columbia Rare Books & Manuscripts Library (Symposium and exhibition, 30 September).

Eat Your Vegetables! Five Centuries of Vegetarianism and the Printed Word. Exhibition at the Lilly Library (21 July to 10 September).

“Anthologies like Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom are stylistically and conceptually out of step with the interests of contemporary fiction.”
— Mark P. Williams, “Underground Assemblages: Savoy Dreams and The Starry Wisdom”, in Foundation 123

“to read the newspaper “in a state of alert anxiety and think about what each headline portends”
— Tom Disch on the profession of science fiction
(from an interview with Tom Disch & Ellen Datlow &c [Disch at 7:20] / oh, Tom ! [see also La voix sombre under recent reading].

How Bad Writing Destroyed the World. Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis
(title seen in Publishers Weekly)

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recent reading

— Philip K. Dick. Radio Free Albemuth [1985]. Avon pbk., [June 1986].
Thinking about Ferris F. Fremont :
“Now that a Republican had been returned to office, Aramchek would be dealt with . . .”

“I guess,” I said, “we’re the only one in which Ferris F. Fremont came to power.”

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— Mark Singer. Trump and Me. Foreword by David Remnick. Tim Duggan Books, [2016].

— Bruce Sterling. Pirate Utopia [Introduction by Warren Ellis ; graphics by John Coulthart ; afterword by Christopher Brown]. Tachyon, [2016]. Futurist revolutionaries in Fiume, 1920. A very stylish book. “ . . . mostly, well, we’re writers. We aim to help our country out of a bad pinch.”

— Jeffrey Marks. Anthony Boucher. A Biobibliography. Foreword by Gordon Van Gelder. McFarland, [2008].

— Luc Sante. The Other Paris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2015].

— Erika Janik. Apple. A Global History. Reaktion Books, [2011].

— Mike Ashley, ed. The Feminine Future. Early Science Fiction by Women Writers. Dover, [2015].

— Peter Dickinson. The Yellow Room Conspiracy. Mysterious Press, [1994]

— Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian. Poet Be Like God. Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance. Wesleyan University Press, [1998].

— Peter Dickinson. Play Dead. Mysterious Press, [1992]

— Ryoko Sekiguchi. La Voix sombre. P.O.L., [2015]. “The dark voice” : persistence of the recorded voices of the dead, and our experience of the voice as an indelible, atemporal present. [See also under commonplace book].

— Margery Allingham. More Work for the Undertaker (1949). Heinemann, [1971 rpt.]

— Paul McAuley. Evening’s Empires. G [Gollancz paperback, 2014].
Who else but Macauley can oh so casually encode Douglas Adams and James Tiptree, Jr., into a single asteroid sentence?

— Dominique Nabokov. The World of The New York Review of Books. Photographs 1980-2009. Maison Française, 2013.

— Michael Swanwick. Not So Much, Said the Cat. Tachyon, [2016]. Collection of short stories.

— Peter Straub. Shadowland (1980). “Everything you will see here comes from the interaction of your mind with mine.” [re-reading].

— Jack Womack. Flying Saucers are Real! The Jack Womack UFO Library. Introduction by William Gibson. Edited by Michael P. Daley, Johann Kugelberg, and Gabriel McKee. Illustrated. 286 pp. New York: Anthology Editions, 2016. Bibliographic descriptions, with numerous illustrations, of selected books in Womack’s UFO library, exhibited 3-20 August at Milk gallery, New York.

— Ben H. Winters. Underground Airlines. Mulholland Books. Little, Brown, [2016] / file under: The Matter of America is slavery.

— Michael Swanwick. Universe Box. Binding and ready-made by M. Porter. Dragonstairs, 2016. [Edition of 13 : Coma Berenices/Pleistocene : vaccine, coral, &c.]. Sold out upon publication.

— Paul Schütze. nstgrm-01. Twilight Science Editions, [2016]. Edition of 100.

— H.H. Munro. The Penguin Complete Saki. Penguin paperback, 14th printing. [re-reading some of the stories, still thinking about war].
— — The Westminster Alice by “Saki”. 1902
— — The Unbearable Bassington (1912), what a nimble, startling little book

— Gemma Files. Experimental Film. Chizine, [2015]. Winner of the Shirley Jackson Award.

— Mathias Enard. Zone. Roman. [2008]. Babel 1020 paperback, [2015]. A hurtling, allusive narrative, a dark hypnagogic fantasia of military/terrorist historiography of the Mediterranean littoral. [Gift of CB].

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The Private Life of Books

The Private Life of Books, poems by H. Wessells, duotone photographs by Paul Schütze.
Copies still available from Temporary Culture.

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Hope & Wreckage

New editions of Michael Swanwick’s legendary monographs Hope-in-the Mist.  The Extraordinary Career & Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees (2009) and What Can Be Saved From the Wreckage  (2007) are now available in all the usual e-booke formats through Weightless Books.

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 © 2007-2016 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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