We will close temporarily at 6 PM on Saturday March 21st until general conditions improve, opening only by appointment (underthevolcanobooks@gmail.com).

That said, with three days for people to stock up any hour of the day, I thought I might distract myself and improve our customers’ shut-in days with thoughtful recommendations of three long, big-ass titles we have in abundant overstock. The wakeful reader might notice all these are from dead white dudes (okay, Franzen isn’t dead, but as my brother pointed out, he lives in a bird sanctuary).

Tastes these days are searching out heretofore less-heard voices: women authors (who IMHO wrote nearly all the very best novels), writers of color and from colonized countries, writers in translation – and the reason none of those titles are listed here is they are in demand and I struggle to keep them in the store. The following books, gathering dust here, have the power Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey accorded to records of long ago mega-popular hit songs: they resuscitate vanished worlds.

Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding (1749)

This is the kind of book that simply demands to be read not just in analog time but at the speed of centuries past. It isn’t that it’s not entertaining, but that it comes so entirely from that time that read by candlelight and moved on horseback that it unfolds by its laws. You need to spend hours kicking around in it, smelling the dung and nosegays and adjusting to that strange long ago time. Its frankness about sexuality and clarification of how and why all the old restrictions existed will round out your idea of how our (European) ancestors lived. It’s not a saucy romp though as people are generally made to think by its Swinging Sixties film adaptation, with the nineteen-year-old title character played by a twenty-seven-year old Albert Finney (looking forty at the time – Finney would go on to considerably superannuate the lead in John Huston’s 1980 adaptation of the novel for which this store was named WTF). Fielding’s young Tom is a naive and kind young man whose physical beauty draws women to him like a beehive and is helpless to nature’s call. The societal restriction of his sexual freedom reveals a vanished system governing all things. What new standards will this present crisis bring forth?

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (1918)

A later world, more intricately built: Boston scion Henry Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and a noticer. His strange memoir, published in two volumes at the turn of the twentieth century, refers to himself in the third person, and is a dense recounting of his whole span on Earth from silken cradle to monument-topped grave. We forget it now- recalling subconsciously with instinctual resentment – but for more than a hundred years the United States was run from New England. The weird life of the man who was the first slacker is made here into a freaky time machine that will take you into the closed rooms behind vast histories. Get aboard.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)

This novel was everywhere when we opened back in 2011. Its author, famous in a way writers have not been in America for a couple generations – TV famous – almost instantly became a magnet for online hate as soon as there was such a thing. He insulted Oprah; he warned of the dangers of the Internet; he promoted nonwhite, non-male authors but being a white dude himself at the top of the stack in a popular culture sense and not too deft with offhand commentary, dug his own grave with his mouth on frequent occasion. Nevertheless, he is a terrific writer of a very particular kind. I gave this book (in translation) to the man who would have been my Mexican father-in-law, telling him if he didn’t like the characters he could rest assured (as he suspected) he didn’t like (white) Americans (except for me). Well before our present cultural moment he put out a disappointing novel (Purity, 2015) moved to the previously mentioned bird sanctuary and kind of disappeared. We’ve heard enough from upper middle class white dudes no doubt: but that consciousness lives behind a dance of veils, and I would suggest that those fighting it (especially politically) should know that because of multiple evasions it is not truly identified or known. Franzen – engagingly, humorously, heartbreakingly and at great, enjoyable length – lets us see in.

 

 

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