CLOSED UNTIL MAY 3RD

April 24th, 2017

Notice: the store will close for summer staffing transition and restocking from 6 PM today until 11 AM on Wednesday, May 3rd. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause and intend to be open six days a week afterward until Christmas.

We are extremely proud to present renowned local writer David Lida, who comes with his highly-acclaimed new novel (his first), One Life (Unnamed Press, Los Angeles) in honor of the store’s fifth anniversary.

David Lida has lived in and written about this city in two languages for over twenty years. His book about the city, Last Stop in the New World: Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century (Riverhead Books, 2009) is widely and justifiably regarded as one of the best books written in English about Mexico.

Please join us on Tuesday, November 29th at 9:30 PM to complete our celebrations in honor of our 5th anniversary.

Forward!

Join us this Day of the Dead for the first of three events celebrating the store’s 5th anniversary as we welcome local author and translator Joshua Neuhouser to present his translation of ‘Rebellion in Patagonia’, a gripping account of early 20th century anarchism in Argentina.

Joining us also will be Doc Drumheller, an American poet and musician living in New Zealand, who performs Maori and other songs on the ukulele.

Wednesday, November 2nd, 6-11 PM
Under the Volcano Books, Celaya 25, Colonia Condesa
Admission free; dress for the holiday; bring ofrenda items.

1. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

2. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

3. The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño

4. First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century, by David Lida

5. Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry

6. Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

7. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

8. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

9. Collected Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges

10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Hot 50

March 16th, 2016

Get 70 pesos cash or 100 pesos credit for these titles.

1. Selected Poems, by Malcolm Lowry
2. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
4. The Neapolitan Tetralogy, by Elena Ferrante
5. The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño
7. The Mexico City Reader
8. The Colour Out of Space, by H.P. Lovecraft
9. First Stop in the New World, by David Lida
10. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
11. Stoner, by John Williams
12. NW, by Zadie Smith
13. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
14. The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz
15. Collected Stories, by Claire Lispector
16. The Changing Light at Sandover, by James Merrill
15. Collected Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges
16. A Frolic of His Own, by William Gaddis
17. Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexevich
18. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
19. White Noise, by Don deLillo
20. The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
21. The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
22. Selected Poems, by Ezra Pound
23. The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
24. Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis
25. The Romantic Dogs, by Roberto Bolaño
26. Tears of the True Policeman, by Roberto Bolaño
27. Mexico City Blues, by Jack Kerouac
28. Collected Poems, by Philip Larkin
29. Carpenter’s Gothic, by William Gaddis
30. Submission, by Michel Houellebecq
31. The White Album, by Joan Didion
32. Blueprints of the Afterlife, by Ryan Boudinot
33. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
34. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
35. Fiskadoro, by Denis Johnson
36. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion
37. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
38. El Narco, by Ioan Grillo
39. Aunt Dan and Lemon and The Fever, by Wallace Shawn
40. A Void, by Georges Perec
41. Loitering, by Charles D’Ambrosio
42. The Butterfly Stories, by William T. Vollmann
43. War Music, by Christopher Logue
44. Platform, by Michel Houellebecq
45. Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
46. El Monstruo, by John Ross
47. My Struggle (1-5), by Karl Ove Knausgaard
48. Midnight in Mexico, by Alfredo Corchado
49. Girl With Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace
50. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

Top 10 Most Wanted

September 21st, 2015

We still have the biggest selection of titles in English you’ll find between Oaxaca and San Antonio, but we’re always looking to backstock our biggest sellers. We offer the most generous terms in cash and book credit you will find ANYWHERE – and we gratefully accept donations.

#1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Has there been a more solid twofer than this Nigerian-American’s debut ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’ and ‘Americanah’. No. That’s why we don’t have them in-store right now, and they are badly missed.

#2. Jack Kerouac: Visitors coming through town make a beeline for his geographically apt volume of poems ‘Mexico City Blues’ and, because a young man’s gotta dream (and get mired in cliche), ‘On the Road’.

#3. Sylvia Plath: Her novel ‘The Bell Jar’ and stunning thin volume of poetry ‘Ariel’ disappear almost as soon as we get them in. Keep ‘em coming.

#4. Roberto Bolan(y)o: His executors are still publishing found files, obscure stories and novels that make an art of being unfinished. We want them all.

#5. Elena Ferrante: Her autobiographical trilogy of novels has just been completed in English translation. We only have the first.

#6. Edward St. Aubyn: Same kind of thing. People are crazy for these books and loath to part with them. Maybe they should talk to Mr. Benito Juarez?

#7. Jonathan Franzen: Nobody seems as flat-out ecstatic about ‘Purity’ as the previous two books, but we’re still eagerly awaiting this one’s arrival.

#8. Philip Larkin: If you want to fall in love with a poet, Google this man’s name and ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ – or if you’re in a vulgar mind, ‘This Be the Verse’. His substantial recent resurgence has yet to land his Selected or Collected in our hands.

#9. William T. Vollmann: We are slowly accruing this most prolific of living American authors’ oeuvre, but still lack the five published volumes of the ‘Seven Dreams’ series, his National Book Award-winning ‘Europe Central’ and his raw punk semi-fiction opus ‘Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs’.

#10. Geoffrey Hill: This English poet, little-known beyond academia, deserves a bigger audience for his deep-rooted strangeness, guttural, Saxon lines, and long-range historical vision. You see it, grab it: I’ll buy it.

Get your Face in a book

August 4th, 2015

So… We’ve made the plunge. Your proprietor is no longer on Facebook. The store page is still active, under other and extremely loose management, as a signpost to tell people who look there where we are. I’ll just say that’s a damn enchanting app Mr. Zuckerberg semi-not really invented, and while not as deadly to the organism as the titular tech of David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ certainly something like what he had in mind. It’s incredibly useful and endlessly entertaining, and was working to the detriment of my reality. So farewell.

We spent all of June and half of July on the biggest book run since our inauguration, from New Orleans clear to California. We will no longer be sourcing in Texas and driving the long miles in between (thank heaven) but instead in Southern California and the Bay Area and shipping our stock home from Tijuana. I’m from L.A. And I find Tijuana endlessly fascinating, so I’m personally glad for the change, and you’ll find if you come by the store you’ll be happy with it too. Our collection has never been this diverse and of such high quality. And there are another 600 titles coming in September. Our overstock of top sellers is deep, and while a few writers are difficult to keep in the quantities our customers demand (Kerouac, Nabokov, Murakami are the three that come quickest to mind) we’ve a got a pretty full selection of even those writers right now, and hundreds more. We are still offering the best prices and the most generous trade credit for the books you bring in that you will find just about anywhere on the continent. The excellent bar and restaurant downstairs is open from 2:00 daily except Sundays and Mondays. What else can I say? Abandon Facebook and read!

Boxes are opening

July 14th, 2015

Back from the States and it’s crowded in here – boxes blocking the way, the soon-to-be-retired (disintegrating) rug folded back to roll up as bookcases fill and empty and refill in our general expansion and reorganization. Not quite the expansion you might have heard about: the store recently entered into a partnership that will eventually put us in a new location with many more volumes, but as it turns out that change won’t come as soon as expected. We will remain in the upstairs of the American Legion until further notice.

Still we are acquiring titles at an unprecedented rate, and with a fine-tuned attention to our customers’ wishes honed as never before. Our buying has picked up and moved wholesale to Southern California, and the resulting abundance of shopping choices has already borne fruit. Come see us and get the new stuff fresh outta the boxes!

Planned Inobsolecence

March 28th, 2015

Just thinking on my way to the store today – we’re closing tomorrow for Semana Santa, so hurry over for those beach books – about the inobsolescence of the book, and of literature itself, contrary to popular opinion. Sales of e-books peaked two years ago, and I can’t tell you how many owners of the device have expressed their final frustration with and abandonment of it – except for when traveling. (Another broadly held misconception, that our clientele are largely travelers and expats. But I’ll address that another time.)

You hear it all over, from cultural alarmists in schools and bars to our reigning titans Roth and Franzen: the novel is dying, or at least becoming the interest of a tiny cult, like we are headed back into a lost Middle Age. The very electronic culture we are so suddenly deep in was given its metaphors, it’s very language, by novels – specifically those of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick – and its favorite nightmares are those glossed two generations ago by Richard Matheson. How much more incomprehensible 9/11 would have been had we not been let in on the new world it made by Don DeLillo. Heaven forbid the same might be said for Cormsc McCarthy’s recent work.

Literature isn’t a weather forecast, but a constant and roiling two-way mirror. There still isn’t a better guide to choosing a life partner than George (Mary Ann Evans) Eliot’s Middlemarch. And though poetry in English lost its way fifty years ago, Whitman is still calling Americans to their better natures and shouting the broken dream at the heart of that experiment. Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens are still the strongest hallucinogens available on non-absorbent paper. And there are living poets – Dylan Brennan’s is the only volume we have in stock right now, but that’s soon to change – who are writing after hiphop and taking that genre’s sound sense and zero patience for whiners to remake and revitalize the discipline.

We are working on the small scale here, hand-to-hand, cash-only, and analog. But that doesn’t mean the Long Tail isn’t at play. The crack of a bullwhip begins with a hiccup in the wrist. From small things, baby, big things one day come.

We close for Semana Santa. If you can’t make it here today, we’ll see you on the 6th.

I was too angry to write this yesterday.

Three weeks ago, novelist Ryan Boudinot (author of the 2011 novel ‘Blueprints of the Afterlife’, a dazzling book the National Book Award jury surely hadn’t heard of the year they took the unprecedented step of bestowing the prize on …nobody) published in the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, an article titled ‘Things I Can Say About MFA Programs Now I No Longer Teach in One’:

http://www.thestranger.com/books/features/2015/02/27/21792750/things-i-can-say-about-mfa-writing-programs-now-that-i-no-longer-teach-in-one

The piece expressed, within a spirit of sympathy and friendship for his former (anonymous) students, some raw truths that are too little heard: desire and hard work aren’t enough to be a writer – a fair amount of natural talent is required too; no one who isn’t a devoted reader who enjoys being challenged and stretched has any business writing; a tragic tale poorly told shouldn’t find a publisher; and, in the MFA industry, these eternal truths must be put extremely gently if at all by any teacher wanting to keep their job.

The wounded, angry and hysterical comments in the blogosphere and on Twitter were instantaneous. Another Stranger feature followed immediately by a student from Boudinot’s workshop, taking reasonable – if unreasoned – offense with the piece. Soon enough, the board members of a civic effort spearheaded by Boudinot to make Seattle a UNESCO ‘City of Literature’ demanded he retract and apologize for the article. Boudinot refused on principle, whereupon the entire board, in classic Seattle politico chickenshit fashion, resigned.

This all made me so angry because it hit home deeply, for a couple reasons. The barely relevant one is that I spent fifteen years in that city’s civic affairs, and I know too well how terrified of criticism and original thinking the members of its political/nonprofit class are. The uncompromising stands that must be taken in politics translate poorly to the give and take of arguments about art. But I had cringed a little when I initially saw that Boudinot was taking his crusade to City Hall. I felt simultaneously like, that’s nice, and, keep me a million miles away.

The more relevant cause is that the intellectual cowardice that has sprung Boudinot’s crusade out back to where it belongs, away from the phony patronage of power, and multiplied on the interwebs like a fungus of boohoohoo, is epidemic. The reasons for the dumbing down of the larger culture are multiple, but working together. The Right impoverished education financially in the interests of corporate domination, and the Left impoverished it intellectually in the interest of equality. Both put us where we are now, with democracy nonexistent as the great mass of citizens can be convinced of almost anything, and the direst challenge facing humanity (global climate change) believed to be fiction by one-third of Americans, and not as the result of human action by another third.

Our present situation is a Huxleyan/Orwellian mix – Campechano, we would say in Mexico – entertainment is king, and reigns because the very language itself in its strongest strain has been exiled from the mainstream. Writing as it is known to most people has become a form of therapy. The automatic setting for the tone of a writing workshop outside the academy has long been one of sensitivity rather than rigor, that the pain which participants bring to their work is the thing being criticized, not the technique. Now it seems this approach is that of the standard MFA program – and how could it not be, with such programs numerous as they are? How much writing makes it into a book? How many books ever published are even worth reading?

Below our space is a bar in which a poetry group meets – mostly, people writing in or who at least speak and read English – drawing a dozen or two dozen people, once a month, evenings. I used to stay open for the event, waiting for them to finish, and come up to dive deeper in, to hook up in the constant orgy which is the writing life, which is primarily composed of reading. One participant, a high school drama teacher, climbed the stairs to the store. Again and again the others, having expressed their feelings and heard those of living, unpublished and unknown writers, packed their things at the end and left. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is where the culture is now.

Given the level of discourse that passes for debate on the Internet, it’s not surprising that one commenter accused Boudinot of “wishing more suffering on” one student of his who the writer assumed was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. For clarity, let me quote this subtitled section (nearly) in full:

No One Cares About Your Problems If You’re A Shitty Writer 

I worked with a number of students writing memoirs. One of my Real Deal students wrote a memoir that actually made me cry… For the most part, students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy. They want someone to feel sorry for them, and they believe that the supposed candor of their essay excuses its technical faults. Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.”

Pretty rough, right? Though this is perhaps more than a joke: the profoundest suffering cloaks itself in silence, is unspeakable. There is a reason a memoirist like Cheryl Strayed can artfully narrate a difficult year two decades on, during which she went off the rails a little before coming back. The worst experiences derange their witnesses past easy autobiography. As the White Stripes sang, ¨Truth doesn´t make a noise.¨

There’s a story I always tell my students on the rare occasion that I am invited to teach a workshop. (It has happened, and I’ve been paid, though with just a bad unpublished novel, a bad filmed screenplay and a decent but semi-self-published volume of poems to my name, I feel like something of an impostor when I do it.) I will change the names of the people in this story out of respect for their privacy, though I very badly want to find my old friend I have not seen in nearly thirty years.

I heard this story, first-hand, when I was studying at Cal State Northridge, in the 1980s. My friend was at once a companionable and somewhat mysterious figure in the dorms there where I lived after my father died. (A large commuter school, CSUN’s dorms were small, and attracted an odd and entertaining crowd of Japanese exchange students, deaf kids – it was a deaf magnet school – and older students going to college late wanting the classical college experience at an institution which then mostly catered to suburbanites’ professional studies.)

Jacob Stein was thirty-three, a grad student in linguistics, unmistakably distinguished by horrible, disfiguring facial burns; one  hand was a three-clawed, red thing. More than once someone in the dorms had unkindly referred to him as Freddy Kreuger, and though this met with humorless approbation because we loved and respected him, the comparison was no exaggeration. Jacob was sober, in a social atmosphere that modeled itself on the movie ‘Animal House’, and chain-smoked Camels and drank Classic Coke, the retrenchment branding after the failed New Coke. He had been a glam rocker in the wave of L.A. bands that followed Bowie, and between study sessions, certainly staving off a backslide into his worse habits, he stalked the dorm halls, Coke and cigs in hand, looking for company.

He was, I will tell you, legendary: the tragedy which lay on his skin, his epic style of storytelling, segueing into free association, lost lyrics of pre-punk bands, a kind of universal radio. But also, beneath this, a kind and intelligent soul, and a good friend. People secretly taped him, and the tape was copied and passed around, and gave a tiny culture a hoard of private catchphrases, quoted hilariously but respectfully, in a kind of friendly, historical awe. A buddy in my writing workshop wrote a story he presented to the class in which Jacob was the principal character. I don’t know where he is now.

Jacob’s parents met, at sixteen and fifteen, the last survivors of their respective families, in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

Think about that. Would that not be enough of a story?

When the camp was liberated they stayed together, each other’s only world, and were married, and emigrated to America. Jacob’s father’s name was Howard. I met him only one time, in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club, somewhere in the Valley, where Jacob had asked me to drop him off. His father had the blue tattoo of numbers, on his forearm, and though I now calculate he must have been less than sixty, he looked thin, bent and old. I don’t remember, or didn’t know, Jacob’s mother’s name. Howard and his wife emigrated to America, and settled in Los Angeles: Van Nuys to be precise, where my Dustbowl grandparents came over the hill after the war to buy a house on a green lot with a swimming pool. I imagine their situation was much the same, with darker roots.

Jacob and his twin Albert were born, and when they were seven years old, the family took an outing by boat on some Southern California lake. The boat’s gas tank, for some reason, exploded, and both twins fell into the burning gasoline. Jacob lost two fingers and was severely burned over much of his body including his face, and spent six months in the hospital and endured a lifetime of skin grafts. His brother was just as badly injured.

Nevertheless both boys, recovering, had a kind of classic mid-century American suburban childhood: Albert was high school valedictorian, Jacob captain of the football team. Albert was the youngest graduate in the history of the UCLA Medical School, and on leaving school was immediately offered a position as a surgeon at a prestige Los Angeles hospital (I believe it was Mt. Sinai) paying one hundred thousand dollars a year. On the strength of the offer he borrowed the money to buy a house, and packed and moved in. In the living room of his new house, surrounded by boxes, he received a call telling him the job offer had been withdrawn, and he hanged himself. Jacob, his twin, broke down and was committed to a mental institution, from which he had only emerged when I met him.

I tell my occasional students that when you write, you are writing to Jacob’s father, Howard Stein. You cannot impress him with your traumatic childhood, your sense of exile and woundedness. The ostracization you have suffered in this society, your difficult childhood, gives you no authority with him. Those who have pilloried Ryan Boudinot, who have said he is abusing the (very real) privilege of white maleness in this context, that he has been insensitive – these people don’t understand what literature is, nor its purpose. They certainly have no business trying to make art.