Hang in there

September 19th, 2017

The store will be closed until further notice due to damage from the earthquake. Our thoughts are with the people of this great city who are in danger or helping their neighbors. Much love DF

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

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!