Last night I was alone for several hours, slightly pulquedo, with the full choice of 20th century media options at my disposal (no computer and minus the stereo because I still have water in my ear from the puente). I spent the first hour reading seven chapters of a beautiful little leatherbound 1919 Modern Library edition of Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh.  The book breaks that MFA workshop rule of show-don’t-tell: it’s all tell, wryly funny and engaging across the centuries, taking its time to deliver all the while giving you the strong sense the wait is worthwhile.

Under the influence of the maguey as I was, though, I felt I was reading a little faster than I’d wish I had later, so I turned to my audio-visual options, choosing out of curiosity a DVD which I have no idea how it entered the house, the 1978 Dunne-Didion-Streisand-Kristofferson second remake of A Star is Born. I can remember when this movie came out – repelled at eleven by its shirtless-and-shaggy poster image – and that’s why I’ll watch pretty much anything from the 70s: I can remember those years, and am consistently astonished at their current remove. It was blank, tacky, used-up modernity then, an Age of Brass, and it is astonishing to now see it antique and shadowy, a color lithograph. Screenplay by Joan Didion (and others)!

The movie is unwatchable. Kristofferson is believable as a washed-up rebel rock star, but his soul-crush on Streisand, in full eye-rolling wacky Jewish grandmother mode, is unintentionally hilarious. I finally had to turn it off at the scene where, at the AIM benefit that might salvage his career, Kris turns the stage over to Babs, who belts out her trademark corny, proto-Celine Dion scales practice that has in our time aged so badly, and the crowd goes wild. The Rock Generation just wanted Easy Listening!

So, the television. Saw several phenomenal hip hop videos and one by Miley Cyrus that made me think about getting an erection, finally figured out who the band Keane was, and settled into a back-and-forth between two fifteen-year-old extravaganzas of the American Gruesome: Red Dragon and 8MM. (I’ll assume, through remote-knuckling rumination, you know what these are by now.) Both, with commercial interruption, had me ambivalent enough to miss chunks of one while watching the other. When I finally settled into watching one of them, here’s the thing: I picked 8MM, though Red Dragon is clearly the better movie.

I had watched A Star is Born, though I had in my hands Butler’s novel (there were intervening factors), of which George Bernard Shaw wrote, “It drives one almost to despair of English literature when one sees so extraordinary a study of English life as (TWoAF) making so little impression that when, some years later, I produce plays in which Butler’s extraordinarily fresh, free, and future-piercing suggestions have an obvious share, I am met with nothing but vague cacklings about Ibsen and Nietzsche… Really, the English do not deserve to have great men.”

You don’t have to just be in a certain mood or state of inebriation to gravitate toward the easier thing. Movies and books are different animals, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that the great body of story-telling in our time and the one closest to the heart of our world culture is done on the screen. Watching this year’s Oscars with half the planet, it occurred to me that it would take a genius sociologist just to parse exactly what we were doing in that room and what it meant to us. It was beyond me. I did observe that for the first time I can remember, nothing that was complete trash won a major award.

Red Dragon – as much of it as I watched – worked in surprise, elaborated by talented actors. 8MM worked in cliché, stereotype and little-altered preexisting forms (though young megastars Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini and Catherine Keener supplied rye, mustard and onions to Nicholas Cage’s leading thick slice of ham). Why then, was it preferable?

I have some thoughts. For one, I watched neither film all the way through, and with frequent commercial interruption. The rewards of slow, unrolling narrative would have been lost were they available. Film is a kind of dreaming – while also a fashion show, a distraction, a moving painting and many other things – and in dreams we exercise the demons we have already. And as my partner points out, I’ll watch anything after a little pulque: SyFy network movies with their bad scripts, found locations and sloppy digital effects, badly dubbed Polish or barely intelligible Spanish TV, public programming about artesanal dollmaking, whatever. There is that bread-and-circus factor, the sleep of the mind we obviously crave.

I’m not justifying the recent universal dominance of big and dumb at the multiplex – those movies are hard work in their own dull fashion -but watching 8MM go through the motions, I can see how this happened. We go to better, one might say more literary films, and on a whole other higher or deeper level to literature itself, for a different thing. Surprise, and a captivation which is active on the reader’s part. We are not there to work something out, but to live in a new territory.

 

In the interests of producing interesting, conversation-provoking content for this blog, to turn our customers on to books they’d never considered reading before or were long curious about, and inspired by novelist Steve Erickson’s terrifc uncontemporary movie reviews in Los Angeles Magazine – and to tickle the Google and Facebook monsters’ bellies – I’ve decided to do capsule reviews of books we have in stock, pulled out of the air.

So I’ll start from ground zero, the base metal of the nineteenth century English novel; a kid’s book, really, but one that has so fully entered the subconscious of the culture that flotsam from it floats to the surface of advertising, branding, and public speech somewhere on a daily basis. It is this penetration of our contemporary culture that makes everything in Stevenson’s novel fully transparent to today’s reader. I can’t think of a single book that is easier to read. A perfect palate-cleanser for a break between Balzac and Brecht, or just  rough patch when you’re too distracted to concentrate.

Some aspects of this foundational novel:

Long John Silver does have a parrot on his shoulder, but nowhere in the book does any of the pirates say, ‘Oooh-arrr’. It comes clear, perhaps for the first time (it was for this reader) that the now generally accepted “pirate accent” is in this case a Cornish or West Country English accent – the novel’s action begins in Cornwall. Real pirates must have had all kinds of accents, but it is certainly true that the Cornish Diaspora sent a lot of people from that part of the world to sea.

‘Shiver me timbers’ is only said once, in an offhand way by a minor character, and is not by any means a pirate catchphrase.

The ship’s cook is named Barbecue!

The book, published in 1883, takes place in “17__” , a period fantastic-historical novel set approximately a hundred years before its publication.

In popular illustrations drawing on the myth and characters of the novel, usually one sees bright sand and a palm tree or two. But the unidentified island isn’t tropical, and its vague description could place it anywhere from the Azores to Tierra del Fuego.

This is an excellent book for English-learners, easy to follow, with simple vocabulary.

Hardcover, 80 pesos.

 

First off, we’re having a sale today anyway, and I should emphasize that: 1/3 off all U.S. writers in all categories.

I think it will fill up fast downstairs: they’re carrying stateside coverage of the game (one customer told me in that case he would come, for the commercials) and offering an unbeatable beer-and-slider all you can stuff in deal. We’ll be open until the game starts, and then available in the bar to guide customers upstairs to the books at request.

Why am I watching a football game, on purpose?

I have zero interest in watching sports. Whether this is because my deepest formative years were spent in European hotels before American sports were televised abroad or because of a particular mental or sociological makeup, I can’t say. I’ve just never cared.  The Super Bowl, with it’s weird echoes of that ‘peculiar institution’ that ended officially in 1863, and real violence and air of mass-savagery, kind of skeezes me out in a way no other sport comes close to doing.

So I’m not a fairweather fan like most of those Seattleites all of a sudden calling themselves the ‘twelfth man’ – a phrase I’d never heard until last week – in fact, I have a history with the Seahawks that would understandably make me root for the Broncos or even find a shaman to cast a spell on the team.

Twenty years ago, at the start of my civic activism in Seattle, I was the campaign manager for two citizens’ initiative campaigns, and one electoral campaign against the public funding of Seattle’s new baseball and football stadiums.

And there they stand today.

The powers that be put the baseball stadium to the voters, who said no. Then the state legislature called an emergency session – an emergency session – to fund the project, on King County’s (where Seattle is) dime. We started a citizens’ initiative campaign that was deemed hopeless before even qualifying for the ballot. That was round one.

But we rolled our organization right into the next fight (it was called, very to the point, Citizens for More Important Things) against bigger enemies: the Seahawks. Paul Allen of Microsoft had just bought the team. We gathered 75,000 signatures in just six weeks to stop him from logrolling the County. The whole while, Seahawks fans – those 12ths – called my office daily to threaten to blow it up, burn it down, shoot down signature gatherers. It was a different time, I didn’t take them terribly seriously.

But in a corner of my mind, I did. And the stress of that campaign, the cold, the tyrranical orders of a boss who is really one of the sweetest guys in the world and was one of the co-founders of this store fifteen years later, combined to start the nerve and muscle pain disorder that has tormented me since. (Much, much less since moving here. In fact, it was in large part why I moved here.)

Finally Allen, in a grandiose display of rich-guy cynicism, simply told the state to hold a one-issue ballot election, at his expense, and that would decide it.

Not unconstitutional technically, just massively so spiritually.

The fat little fucker won (surprise!) and it’s seventeen years on and the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl a week after a Seattle rapper without a record label swept the Grammys. (I like the Macklemore record – it’s even brought me to the edge of tears on occasion. I know that as a white rapper he comes with an almost religious respect bordering on apology to the hiphop game.  But having won those four – meaningless – little statues, he’s now out in the wider world where hometown rah-rah won’ t float him at all, and the internet pirahnas are under his flotation device. And that lyric – “and if I fall / then my city, they got me” – I remember when I felt that way, and believed it with my entire heart. That’s an illusion, bro. I wish him well, and good luck. And I recognize that a Seattle whose identity is based on hiphop and football is unrecognizable to me. So it should be, and that puts it well and even further behind me.)

I talked to my good friend Bryan Miller yesterday, something of an entrepreneurial mover and shaker in Seattle these days in a good way: he runs the drinkeycultural Naked City Brewing Company, a brewpub dedicated to movies, literature, and soccer. He tells me that between Macklemore’s success and the Seahawks in the game today, Seattle is posed to get adrenalized on a scale perhaps unseen before. You need that, in February, in Seattle.

But he says, knowing the strange weather-and-substances linked manic depression of the place (pot is legal there now, and taking its place in the culture out of the shadows and unashamed alongside alcohol) that if they lose….

Ddsssscchhooooooooo…….

… it’s gonna be a bummer.

The only thing holding me back from wishing destruction 100% on the Seahawks is the passionate dedication to the team (no fairweather fan she) of our co-founder Kim Suther, who will spend today somewhere in Seattle, screaming in a bar. I love her, and she practically built this place with her bare fucking hands, so I don’t want her team to lose.

Either result will provoke feeling. I’ve never gotten that from a sports event. The energy around this for me, and all the damn Seattleites filling up this town – it’s impossible to look away. Or, maybe I’ll get bored after ten minutes and go back upstairs, drink tequila and listen to Hunky Dory.

 

We’re almost live and nationwide on Canal 22 this Tuesday, November 20th at 9 PM! Watch and tell us what you think of the old decor, and my Spanish – both in less than perfect condition!

New review: 10 out of 10!!!

November 6th, 2013

The new D.F.-based books blog Bookstops just ran a terrific review of the store and rated us a 10 out of 10!

http://bookstops.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/under-the-volcano-books/

What is hot, what is not

October 30th, 2013

We had our second anniversary of the store here a few nights ago. It was a cold and blustery one (for D.F.) so we weren´t crammed, just twenty or so dedicated regulars and dear friends. We didn´t have a reader scheduled. Since the store moved in over a bar, the onus is removed from us to be a liquor-pouring, beer can-rinsing type host. More catching-up was done, and poring through boxes on the floor (as the wallpaper-peeling, ceiling-painting, stamping and pricing and rug-laying had left me high and dry energy-wise when it came to the stuff that didn´t absolutely have to get done). I owe a big, big thank you to Tom Nissley, Dave Kalil, Brian Pew, Laura Munoz, Phil Wohlstetter, Bill Walters, Kim Suther, Chris Zacker, Mike Eros, Dick Earley and Kevin Odlozil for making this last Texas trip a good haul.

I gave a short and rambling speech, about how our parameters make us a very special kind of store in this Twittery age. We don´t do special orders – that kind of overhead is out of our range -we are getting new stock in almost daily. We don´t take phone calls, because I don´t want to carry around two cellphones, or pay for a land line with money I could spend on books. This is really a place (I emphasized) you have to come to in order to experience. Browsing, and its incumbent promise of surprise, are what we are about.

I also talked a little bit about how my view of the store has changed since starting it. I had originally imagined something like a kind of Expat Readers´Society. The native English-speaking population isn´t just too small to put out a literary magazine. It´s not even big enough to buy a literary magazine if we published one. Literary culture, as it almost always does, exists here in the lap of the solitary reader. I meet this people, one at a time, make recommendations which lead down long corridors of further reading. That is our so-called scene. And furthermore, most – nearly 90 % – of our customer base is native to the city. This store is Mexican, and with few exceptions, for Mexicans. (Not that expats, tourists and passers-through are anything less than welcome.) I wanted to make that clear to any of our Mexican friends who think the place is not wholly and entirely their own. I address my customers in Spanish because we are in Mexico, and while we gather here to read in English, we can just as easily be social in Spanish. (When I get a wide-eyed look of panic, I switch to English. Sometimes people are indigant – ¨Do I look Mexican?¨ Actually, yes. Red-haired or blonde, black or Asian, you do ´look Mexican´- unless you are wearing sandals.  And if you´ve ever assumed and addressed one of those Mexicans in English and gotten a look of resentment for reinforcing the sense of difference they have felt all their lives, you would say ´Bienvenidos!´to everyone who came in the door too.)

The conversation moved to our hardest-to-keep titles: Lolita, Under the Volcano (natch), The Great Gatsby, The Savage Detectives, and recently, due to my over-the-moon endorsement on the interwebs. Middlemarch. The store is a good barometer of the rising and falling stock of writers in English completely removed from the critical centers – though outposted by them as waves of appeal, disdain and rediscovery cross and finish and rise again. Maybe the most surprising – though small – revival of a long-ignored writer I have seen in the store is the craze of the young for the mid-nineteenth century English poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson. (Not kidding!) Among poets also the surprising prominence of W.H. Auden, with Eliot, Stevens, Dickinson and Bishop holding steady. (Plus Anne Carson, whose books we can hardly ever get our hands on.)

In fiction, people for some reason continue to be very interested in Paul Auster, who must have a hell of a Spanish translator, because, meh. Jennifer Egan continues to rank very high, while Ann Patchett has slipped from a nearly equal place. People who forgot Philip Roth as he repeated himself throughout the 70s and 80s are knocked out by his last fifteen years of dark, amazing work. On the book run, in the basement of the San Antonio library, David Lida urged the works of Cynthia Ozick on me, and sure enough they are already almost gone. (I´ve never read Cynthia Ozick.) John Le Carre continues to convert non-genre readers like myself. Nobody has asked for Nathaniel West in a long time. Joan Didion is not the white-hot rage she was last year (Blue Nights seems to understandably mark the end of her razor-sharp skills, while her other work remains peerless IMHO.) The worldwide Austen epidemic seems to have cooled, and Henry Miller to have dated terribly. Now if people would just recognize that Kerouac and Bukowski have more style but aren´t a whit better. These Marisha Pessl books frankly look like crap to me. Somebody is even suggesting David Foster Wallace was a scam, but nobody is listening to him. Tom Rachmann´s The Imperfectionists sat untouched since the move on account of its pretentious-looking cover, but it is actually damn good. Virginia Woolf continues to fly off the shelves, totally deservedly. These Gaddis books haven´t moved, but maybe that is just because I priced them so high.

I could go on like this forever. Come see what we have in the store. Bring books for generous credit, and if you want to support us from afar, see our donations list (or our Paypal button!) at www.underthevolcanobooks.com.

Thank you and keep reading.

A list of authors

September 9th, 2013

Maybe you have something we want.

Chiefly, books – but also we are looking for a large antique area rug – around 10 x 12 – with significant damage that we can hide under a bookcase, and table and standing lamps.

We have a shipping address in Austin, Texas for easy mailing from U.S. locations. Books should be sent as media mail, packed stacked flat or spine-down, and all books and furnishings can be sent to our Austin drop by arrangement with us (email underthevolcanobooks@gmail.com).

I should say first and briefly what kind of books we don’t take: textbooks, medical books, computer books or large quantities of pulp mystery, romance, horror and science fiction. We don’t exclude any of these genres strictly, but our inclusion of titles from these categories is very selective.

What we do want – broadly – is literature, history, biography/memoir, criticism and works on music and film (especially songbooks and screenplays), politics, philosophy, psychology, popular science, how-to, fine art books and graphic novels. Anything about Mexico, translated from Spanish or Japanese, the NYRB series, the Oxford and Norton anthologies of literature, Modern Library editions, the Portable antholgies and recent Moon, Bradt or Rough Guides are particularly wanted. We also want issues of the literary journals N+1, The Paris Review, Granta and Grand Street. The list below is by no means comprehensive, and does not include writers we love but whose books are quite easy to find – John LeCarre, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Willa Cather or William Shakespeare, for example. (We’re very happy to accept those as well, naturally.)

Specifically, the authors we want most, in very broad order of importance, are:

Vladimir Nabokov, Roberto Bolaño, Joan Didion, Malcolm Lowry, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, Haruki Murakami, Anne Carson, Philip K. Dick, Zadie Smith, Cormac McCarthy, James Merrill, Graham Greene, James Joyce, Yukio Mishima, David Foster Wallace, Elizabeth Bishop, Thomas Pynchon, George Eliot, John Berryman, Jorge Luis Borges, Oscar Wilde, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ezra Pound, William Gaddis, Hart Crane, William T. Vollmann, Ernest Hemingway, W.H. Auden, Toni Morrison, Wallace Stevens, Don De Lillo, Sharon Olds, Denis Johnson, Virginia Woolf, Raymond Chandler, Jennifer Egan, Charles D´Ambrosio, Allen Ginsberg, Bruce Wagner, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski, the Brothers Grimm, Joseph Conrad, Hubert Selby, Jr., Stephen Wright, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Samuel Beckett,  Henry David Thoreau, Howard Zinn, Elena Poniatowska, Michael Herr, Wendell Berry, Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Chatwin, W.S. Merwin, John McPhee, George Orwell, Wallace Shawn, David Mitchell, James Baldwin, Geoffrey Hill, J.M. Coetzee, Noam Chomsky, Helen DeWitt, Harmony Korine, Sam Shepard, Edmund Wilson, Deborah Eisenberg, Orhan Pamuk, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, Cornel West, Nick Hornby, John Fante, Edgar Allan Poe, David Lida,  Jon Krakauer, Flannery O’Connor, Hunter S. Thompson, A.R. Ammons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joseph Heller, G.K. Chesterton, Gertrude Stein, H.P. Lovecraft, Tennessee Williams, Lawrence Durrell, William Faulkner, James Baldwin,  Jeffrey Eugenides, Philip Larkin, Robert Hughes, Mark Twain, George MacDonald Fraser, Arthur Phillips, Margaret Atwood, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, George Saunders, Elmore Leonard, Leo Tolstoy, Rumi, Ralph Ellison, Gunter Grass, Alice Munro, Russell Hoban, bell hooks, Helen Vendler, Jonathan Safran Foer, Fran Lebowitz, Georges Perec, Gjertrud Schnakenberg, Michel Foucault, Robert A. Caro, Kabir, Chris Hedges, Phillip Meyer, Klaus Kinski, Gore Vidal, Ian Frazier, Dave Eggers, William Blake, David Berman, Chris Ware, Isaiah Berlin, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Jonathan Lethem, Neal Stephenson, Michael Pollan, Katherine Anne Porter, Helen DeWitt, Morris Berman, John Updike, Carl Jung, Truman Capote, Paula Fox, Bret Easton Ellis, Karl Marx, Carson McCullers, John Keats, Raymond Carver, Barbara Kingsolver, Laurence Sterne, Adrienne Rich, Walter Benjamin, Marilynne Robinson, Emile Zola, Octavio Paz, J.G. Ballard, Tony Kushner, B. Traven, Henry Louis Gates, George W.S. Trow, Rebecca West, Robinson Jeffers, E. Annie Proulx, Brendan Behan, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Auchincloss, Erik Larson, Jane Austen, Percy Shelley, Patricia Highsmith, Guy de Maupassant, Louis Begley, Christopher Alexander, Harry Matthews, Jennifer Vogel, Rudyard Kipling, Wislawa Szymborska, Robert Musil, Dorothy Parker, Ivan Turgenev, Carlos Castaneda, Bernard Malamud, Nell Freudenberger, Lewis Carroll, Anton LaVey, Denise Levertov, W. Somerset Maugham, Jhumpa Lahiri, E.E. Cummings, George Santayana, Jules Verne, Doris Lessing, William Trevor, James Ellroy, Stephen Fry, Jane Bowles, H.G. Wells, Charles Bowden, Susanna Moore, S.T. Coleridge, Derrick Jensen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Hitchens, Ted Hughes, James Agee, Anne Sexton, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Nathaniel West, Octavia Butler, Anton Chekhov, John Casey, Andrew Marvell, Keith Gessen, John Donne, Stephen Crane, Daniel Clowes, Djuna Barnes, Henry Miller, Dave Hickey, Shirley Hazzard, Randall Jarrell, Jean Paul Sartre, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henry Rollins, Paul Bowles, Mark Bowden, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lorrie Moore, Lord Byron, Elias Canetti, J.D. Salinger, Samuel R. Delany, Joy Williams, Vendela Vida, Tomas Transtromer, Ann Patchett,  Tony Cohan, Jonathan Franzen, Murray Kempton, Dante Alighieri, Chogyam Trungpa, Samuel Beckett, Evelyn Waugh, Ryan Boudinot, Anonymous, Herman Melville, Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Michel Houellebecq, Ray Bradbury, Andre Dubus, John Cheever, Jane Austen, Greil Marcus, Matthew Arnold, Emily Bronte, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, John Berger, Paolo Freire, W.G. Sebald, Paul Muldoon, Kathy Acker, Michael Herr, Saul Bellow, Mark Harris, Dylan Thomas, I.F. Stone, Martin Amis, Sapphire, S.J. Perelman, Knut Hamsun, Charles Dickens, Immanuel Kant, Boris Vian, Robert Lowell, Irvine Welsh, DBC Pierre, Joseph Heller, Carl Sagan, Albert Camus, Nelson Algren, Anthony Burgess, Barbara Kingsolver, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Geoff Dyer, Michael Cunningham, Seth Kantner, James Dickey, Homer (tr., Fitzgerald, Fagles), Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aleister Crowley, Norman Mailer, Philip Hensher, Simone Weil, William S. Burroughs, Albert Camus, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jose Saramago, Edith Wharton, James Salter, Henry James, Alex Garland, J. Bronowski, Chuck Palahniuk, Robert Graves, Richard Feynman, Soren Kierkegaard, Rick Moody, Thich Nhat Hanh, John Hollander, Steve Erickson, Angela Davis, Charlotte Bronte, Colson Whitehead, Rebecca Solnit, Gary Shteyngart, Marquis de Sade, Stanislaw Lem, Philip Pullmann, Alex Ross, Dietrich Bonhoffer, Steve Almond, William James, Mikhail Bulgakov, Chad Harbach, Audre Lorde, Larry Brown, David Sedaris, Derek Walcott, Claire Messud, Nathan Englander, A.M. Homes, August Kleinzhaler, James Howard Kunstler, Anais Nin, Rebecca Solnit, Viktor Shklovky, Brian Greene, Michael Ventura, Allen Tate, Marc Maron, Jay McInerney, Bob Mould, Alan Stillitoe, Henry Green, Constantin Stanislavsky,  Joe Klein, Kate Braverman, Benjamin Kunkel, David Mitchell, W.D. Snodgrass, Jeffrey Eugenides, Lydia Davis, Jacques Derrida, Chuck Klosterman, Keith Richards, Lesley Hazleton, Gary Snyder, Nami Mun, Douglas Adams, Nicole Krauss, Malcolm Cowley, Edward Said, Gary Jennings, Helene Cixous, and Paul Auster.

And of course, we want the books we don’t know that we want. Our customers are some of the most appreciative anywhere. We provide the best our culture has to offer and are proud and happy to accept your donated books and pass them along to continue the most important process we know about, the sharing and appreciation of literature.

Slow your startled heart, the store is fine. We’ve got more customers, and more great books coming onto and leaving the shelves, than ever. The move to the upstairs of the American Legion was the best thing we ever did. Eternal kudos and thanks to my lady for suggesting what once seemed unlikely, even impossible. The task ahead of us right now is to maintain that high quality of our selection – we still give more credit than any store on Earth for used books so bring ‘em in -and to expand our informational reach to everyone in the Distrito Federal who can’t keep away from the orgy that is the literature of the English language.

So please, if you love the store and the reading experiences you’ve found here, let people know. Pass on the website link, share the Facebook page with your friends. Come by the American Legion Bar (beautifully refurbished by our friends Badger and Luis and still serving the best burgers south of the border). Our regular Thursday night bookstore parties will soon feature the songlist of Seattle’s late and legendary Bus Stop karaoke, hosted by yours truly.

We’ll be here for a long, long time, even after we’ve started our west coast expansion store – details slow to come. But what we do want to do is to address the situation we are all in now in regards to our time, and technology. I’ll hear a lot of alarm and counterargument on this, and I’m not above changing my mind, but it seems to me the time has come for a committed return to analog, off-line experience: what this store is essentially about, anyway. Unless you’re one of these freaks with masterful, ice-cold self-control, the internet and its devices are too often holding you hostage. We can’t see yet what exactly this is doing to our world and the way we experience it. I’ve long felt that we who watched the dawn of the web are like our grandparents’ generation was in regard to television, in helpless thrall.

I’m thinking now that we’ll keep our Facebook page, up there floating silent and frozen through the channels – and our website, which gets traffic every time some visitor, newcomer or student types ‘English books Mexico City’ into Google. But those will be our signs, swinging in the wind. If you want to know what we have currently in stock, you’ll have to come by. Order a drink at the bar, bend an ear to some of the amazing deejaying going on here these days, or come in the quiet daytime and simply sink into whatever volume catches your fancy. Soon there will be twice as much fiction here, because we’ve found a way to squeeze it in, and that is what captivates our friends. (I’ve been reading like a junkie lately, mainlining novels like I haven’t in twenty years.)

People will know we are here, with our eyes to the ground, to the page before us, listening and talking in the old style humans have since they first walked the Earth. Now tell me I’m a Luddite and a damned fool.

Still thinking about this

March 19th, 2013

If you are a foreigner living in Mexico City, or anyone interested in what our November reader David Lida calls ‘The Capital of the 21st Century’, you must listen to this interview with our customer,  forthcoming reader, and author of ‘Several Ways to Die in Mexico City’ Kurt Hollander, in full.

http://blog.colinmarshall.org/?p=1396

What Punk Gave Us

March 8th, 2013

John Roderick, musician and songwriter and frontman for the band The Long Winters – an old personal friend – wrote a shocking manifesto Wednesday in the cover story of the current Seattle Weekly bluntly titled ‘Punk Rock is Bullshit’:

http://www.seattleweekly.com/2013-03-06/music/punk-rock-is-bullshit/

The piece begins with a dead-on introduction to the why of punk’s birth and ascendance beginning thirty-five years ago:

For those of us who grew up in the shadow of the baby boom, force-fed the misremembered vainglory of Woodstock long after most hippies had become coked-out, craven yuppies on their way to becoming paranoid neo-cons, punk rock provided a corrective dose of hard truth. Punk was ugly and ugly was true, no matter how many new choruses the boomers added to their song of self-praise. 

But Roderick goes on to make wild and dangerous assertions, wild because they are false synecdoches for the experiences and emotions of millions, and dangerous because in a culture stuffed with cultural product and now sliced into innumerable tribes talking on the internet mostly among themselves, they might be mistaken for the truth: young Siouxie Sioux begging for shock in a Gestapo outfit was the movement’s high moment; “Punk encouraged us to hate innocence”.  A multitude of semi-credible generalities about Northwest insularity and laziness-as-rebellion applied across the spectrum, and well-deserved criticism of dumb-punk clichés (“Hate was the only emotion we could express”) damn what for so many of us – to risk the hyperbole of the penny Rimbauds and kitchen-sink manifestos Roderick rightly pillories – rescued meaning and civilization when those things seemed extinct in America.

A fair-minded bystander might ask, why all this fuss about music? Can a social or intellectual movement even engage the world, with its wars, rigged elections, drones, billions in poverty, continent-sized gyres of ocean plastic, if its defining arguments circle back to rock bands playing piss-and-beer smelling venues, or downloads posted by indie ‘record’ labels?

Music is not the forum: it was the key that opened the door.

Think about life before the Internet – as hard to do now as it was for us Xers in our 70s childhoods to imagine a world of horses and buggies – in which there are three television networks bowing to the lowest common denominator, FM radio pumping pap approved by Columbia or RCA with their sidelines of ‘serious’ music, Prince or Dylan or Springsteen as deep or dangerous as anything within reach. Bookstores, in which the wisdom of centuries mostly sleeps waiting, failing schools hardly equipping anyone to set foot there, like art museums a province of the elite and the elderly. In a recent movie about that time ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, teenagers in 1989 Pittsburgh love a song that comes on the radio and wonder for months what it had been: the world was like that.

The only thing which offered the post-Baby boom, white suburban majority another imaginative model for living – a counter-narrative, if you will – was the very specific and directed circuit of ‘punk’ or ‘independent’ bands, small record companies and stores, music venues and (mostly college-based) radio stations that comprised a subculture whose motivating spirit, identity and style were the direct descendant of what the larger world for the span of a few years (1977-1980) understood in a very limited way as ‘punk’.

Those interested in how this relatively small group of people influenced so much of a generation, and what people mean when they say to Roderick before he dismisses them, “Punk rock saved me” should watch Color Me Obsessed, a documentary about the Minneapolis band The Replacements on Youtube which features not a picture or clip or song from the band and is instead about what the band meant to the people who used them as a tool for understanding the world and their lives:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yY2q3mF5Tk0&wide=1.

I’m not unaware the cradle of this culture was rife with idiots as Roderick claims (though he seems to define decades of cultural association with the worst kind of punk thug, people Ian McKaye and Jello Biafra were castigating nearly from the start): I lived in London when punk was a costume for young criminals sometimes put on by truly frightening racist skinheads whose ire extended from ‘Pakis’ and ‘wogs’ to the children of American occupiers, and was in L.A. for some truly rough shows just a half-decade after those immortalized in the doc The Decline of Western Civilization. But somewhere between that time and the mass-explosion of this culture brought on by the popularity of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the slam pit was a peaceable venue where adolescent male aggression became a dance of brothers (yes, sisters needed Riot Grrl with all its own preposterous excess and serious intent to invite them to the front).

Roderick’s essay claims crediting a generation’s DIY ethic as expressed in independent businesses to punk ignores what small business has done since Ben Franklin or something, but we, in the suburbs, in the 80s, didn’t have those models. Those of us drawn to what punk became were the lost, without models, stability, resources beyond the next minimum-wage check, as Roderick acknowledges:

Admittedly, punk rock was a club that accepted all the misfits. It channeled adolescent anger and frustration into positive and inclusive feelings of belonging. This is not an insignificant achievement.

I think of myself to this day as a punk because for a very long time the culture that called itself that was the point through which I met people like myself: trying to recover some dignity from growing up abused, needing cultural touchstones more meaningful and connected to real experience than the next episode of Cheers. As time went by, the place where I found this aura of a real culture, deeply engaged with life as it is lived and the mysteries which extrapolate from it, was in literature. I came to feel that engagement with the soul that I felt seeing My Bloody Valentine or fIREHOSE also happened with the novels of Thomas Pynchon and Virginia Woolf. I began to write stories, a novel, and later poems and screenplays with an artistic identity I first found dreaming in the dim red lights of TRAX in Charlottesville and the Palomino in North Hollywood and Emo’s in Austin and Moe’s in Seattle.

It caused me to be so brave and foolish that I even fancied the ecological ruin falling on America might be cured at the country’s edge, where the magnetism of its bands and bookstores drew lost thousands through this culture, full of hope and the intention to live as more than a consumer. I went into local politics.

http://www.grassrootsthefilm.com/

I was wrong, and was attempting the impossible. But this life is full of dead ends, and bands that have broken up that once seemed to change everything with a song. Consider Walt Whitman, or W.B. Yeats (“he became his admirers”) and Neutral Milk Hotel.

The approach to life I developed as a punk brought me to Mexico City, where I saw what was missing and with help from a community that gathered online from the real life lived in those times, created it.

www.underthevolcanobooks.com

A cultural gathering place, a church of literature, a net to receive the migrants moving down from an impoverished America to a place where what I’d once called punk was all around: an old woman, selling tamales from a kettle on the street; bands playing as they walk with a boy running under the windows of apartments to catch coins; hawkers playing pirate CDs out of backpacks on the metro or selling gum or cough drops or medical dictionaries or peanut bars. A place in which the apocalypse has already happened (and has been happening since the Spanish arrived) and survival in these margins is improvised, with good cheer despite the desperation.

It’s all punk to me, and not bullshit in the least. And I am very far from alone. It can be said that this is just the world, but punk, however anyone might want to abuse the term for their own psychosis or fashion show, is how I got to it.