Thanksgiving is coming: the store will close this Monday and Tuesday, and reopen on Wednesday, before the holiday.  Strange, I know. Don’t look under the hood.

The store will be closed this Thursday for Dia de los Muertos. (We know it’s on Wednesday.)

We are open

October 9th, 2017

Thanks to everybody who pitched in – with money, help, and good wishes – as we put things back together after the September 19th earthquake. We are proud to be serving this brave and generous community again. Be well, and read.

Store reopens Monday, October 9th

September 29th, 2017

Thanks to all the well-wishers and helpers whose encouragement got us through the aftermath of the recent quake. We were astonished by the spirit of bravery and volunteerism shown by the people of D.F., who we already knew were the best in the world.

We will resume regular hours on Monday, October 9th. And no, we’re not moving.

See you here.

 

The first – and maybe last – iteration of our own little literary festival comes to the downstairs bar on Wednesday, June 7 and Thursday June 8, both nights at 7 PM.

On the 7th, we feature Andrew Paxman, presenting his book ‘Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate’ published by Oxford University Press, and Joshua Neuhouser, with his translation of Sergio González Rodríguez’ ‘The Iguala 43: The Truth and Challenge of Mexico’s Missing Students’ published by Semiotext(e)/MIT Press.

On the 8th, we bring two poets, Robin Myers, who will read from her new book ‘Amalgama/Conflations’ which is in both Spanish and English en face (that rare and oh-so-helpful format) published by Edicíones Antílope. Joining her is the return of Dylan Brennan, who stunned audiences here and around the globe with his book ‘Blood Oranges’ and returns with a trippy, historographical prose chapbook titled ‘Guadalupe’ which is bound to be brilliantly strange and inflammatory as all his work.

Both readings begin at 7 PM, free admission. Cash bar, full menu, all are welcome to stay and enjoy after the readings. Bookstore open by request, and punk vinyl dj set after Thursday’s reading.

Join us!

Denis Johnson is dead

May 26th, 2017

When someone close to you ceases to be, there is a numbness that comes on: if they are foundational enough, the fugue time may last years, or hang in like an annex that surprises you some days, for the rest of your time. The love will never be again something that exists between you and that other person. You will forever only talk to them in your head, unanswered.

When it’s someone you didn’t know personally, but whose work or vision became part of who you are, it’s slipperier. But still, the silence of shock. (And like with the loss of someone close you see your own end draw nearer and flutter each few seconds between panic and calm acceptance, neither lasting long enough to form a thought.) But I think that it is incumbent on anyone in my position – a bookstore owner, a reader in the last decades of the 20th century – to try and lay my thoughts down, which only come as I now try to find them.

For that dark decade at the end of the Cold War, when nearly all media was just a one-way flood of lowest common denominator noise, Denis Johnson’s early novels were like communiques on the battlefield of that now lost America. They pulled you in and pulled at you, like the kind of dreams you wake from with your head feeling like freshly plowed earth and with some untraceable confidence gained in that magic chamber. There was ‘Angels’, whose raw beauty seemed to find the hidden truths deep in the distracting mess of the country, to strip its gears naked to watch them go. Years, then ‘Fiskadoro’ – and if you were my age you found that one first, in its Vintage Contemporaries new wave jacket – where he dared to look under the nightmare we all lived in the shadow of, and imagine the Hendrix-worshipping survivors of the nuclear apocalypse, in Key West (renamed Twicetown, for two dud Cuban nukes towering out of the sand). This was long before ‘The Road’ or Atwood’s deep forays into futurism: books then either were well-written and about bric-a-brac, or badly written about the great fear that held us in thrall. ‘The Stars at Noon’ was already out, harder to find, and immediately I was hearing lines from the book I’d just read come out of the stereo speakers in the voice of Kim Gordon (“To the extent that I wore skirts and cheap nylon slips, I’ve gone native. I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell… Does this sound simple? Fuck you! Are you for sale? Does fuck you sound simple enough? This was the only part that turned me on, that he was candy all over… Come on down to the store, you can buy some more, more, more, more…”)

More years, and shocking reportage from the front of the Gulf War, and ‘Resuscitation of a Hanged Man’, which perfectly painted a doomed narrator whose finger seemed to point out of the book and say “you’re next”. Very soon after, Johnson cooked his product down to a slim volume of very short stories that became like samizdat in the recently dissembled Soviet Union, passed hand to hand, read aloud over the radio, the telephone. (“That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?”) ‘Jesus’ Son’ became a phenomenon, and a movie, and a kind of pocket dream-life for people who balanced on the high wire edge of drugs and alcoholism, with just enough instinct for self-preservation to avoid jail and the streets. Its success brought out a collection of the free verse he’d written in the years before the first novel, when he’d been a poet.

I had the only copy in a hundred miles of the book that came five years later, ‘Already Dead (A California Gothic)’ when I attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference the summer of 1997. Writers put their nose to the ground, have shitty taste in music. The teachers and students who enviously eyed my new Johnson as I sprawled rapt in the heat staring into it were a kind of cognoscenti. The following year I happened to be driving though Austin on the very day he was to read at UT. I called a friend I’d lost track of, who’d been a noble and dear lover, who the person who answered the phone told me was dead. I was in desperate mourning my traveling companion could not alleviate. And Johnson was reading: we went. His ultra-casual style of presentation led him to offer to take requests. I asked for the long poem ‘The Skewbald Horse’ and for the next half hour he read that weird period piece with its sad, existential close, and we poured out into the Texas summer night. (Ten years later, in a bizarre, Johnsonian turn of events, I found out I’d been pranked: my friend hadn’t died at all.) I cannot help reflect that Johnson was then the age that I am now.

And then, there was a falling-off. A dull novel about academia, and then the thickest of his works, a sprawling mess of a Vietnam War prequel to the first novel that won the National Book Award for no other reason than it was high time. But meantime there were plays, that took place in motel rooms at the possible literal end of the world, boiling his trademark rants and word salad into the finest, hair-raising concentrate. And almost as soon as he seemed washed-up, three great short books of the kind that made his reputation: ‘Nobody Move’, ‘Train Dreams’ and ‘The Laughing Monsters’.

Johnson wrote about hard-luck cases with a Catholic’s belief in redemptive suffering. Not a big interview-giver, living in Idaho, the writer was always something of a mystery. He wasn’t, as was rumored, Catholic – or maybe he was! – after finding his books in a gay bookstore in the early 90s I mistakenly believed for years that he was gay. The time he put in, hospitalized for alcoholism time and again through what sounds like a very rambunctious early adulthood, dabbling in heroin and the ‘hard drugs’ laid the carpet for the liver cancer that killed him. Drugs, drink, and writing, music and dance and the plastic arts, are how the most world-wounded get by. There is some wide scale pan on which that early hardcore boozing sits with his sobriety and his books to form some unaccounted equation. The scroll is put away and we file behind him to move out of the world, shining the while as best we can. Such terrific books.

Tlaloc the Tease

May 19th, 2017

It’s been a week of weird, hot and dusty nights in the city like I’ve not seen in ten years mostly spent here, storms crossing the valley with horizontal lightning leaving only a scatter of drops as if Tlaloc the rain god were some great control domme priming the pump for eventual release that will bring people from the houses in rejoicing. Prognosticators of doom say it could be June before we are given relief, by which time dry it would be record-breakingly hot. We wait under his command and will see.

But June will bring at least something if not rain, and that’s the first (and only?) iteration of the Whatchamacallit Literary Festival, on Wednesday and Thursday June 7-8.

Andrew Paxman, historian, presents his new book ‘Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate’ published by Oxford University Press, on June 7 at 7 PM. Oxford doesn’t mess around. This is the real shit.

The following evening brings two local anglophone poets to our premises: Robin Myers presents her new book of poems in both English and Spanish en face, ‘Amalgama/Conflations’ published by Ediciónes Antìlope, and Dylan Brennan (who we’ve been pleased to host before) with a new poem ‘Guadalupe’ and a selection from his book of two years ago ‘Blood Oranges’, which is so highly regarded “there are no un-owned copies”. Sad face emoticon, bespectacled librarian-type checking his phone emoticon. The poets will read at 7 PM, and there will be an independent evening of punk vinyl in the Legiòn Americàna bar for which all attendees are invited to stay. No cover for either night.

Please respond to our Facebook invite here: okay, clearly Grandpa can’t figure out how to add that feature, use your thumbs – and thus grease the gears of that weird machine the internet toward the perpetuation of book culture. Which seems to be doing just fine, by the way.

There are some 600 new books in the store as of last week, with another big delivery to come this summer. The shipments will come more often in smaller quantities, as your proprietor now spends most of his time in Tijuana, where the air is clean, on the edge of the great cheap used book paradise that is the California Republic.

TrumpLand got just a little bit darker tonight with the Detroit hotel suicide of Chris Cornell, the singer of Soundgarden. I bought my last album of theirs in 1989, but you can’t argue with the majesty of ‘Black Hole Sun’. We have many mutual friends and my condolences to them. As someone who has walked the territory, I would only say to all those despairing in that black valley before the final act don’t let the civilized, anxious, self-hating human kill the noble, healthy animal that is you. The animal wants to live. Let it. Peace to his soul.

Take care of yourselves and each other out there, these times are strange. And I know, it’s been forever. I’m BUSY.

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