Thursday, March 31, 2011

Today is a wonderful day

It's Opening Day and hope springs eternal. National Poetry Month doesn't start until tomorrow but this is a good segue.

A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood jour to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence jell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Johnnie safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted some one on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

Also, if there is a poem(s) you are especially fond of please send it to me and I'll be posting poems here throughout the month of April.

Go Twins.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


No, not the novel by Jane Smiley. Rather, the newest title in Sarabande's very cool Quarternote Chapbook Series. #9 in this series is Lydia Davis' "The Cows" which is about the three cows that are her neighbors in upstate New York.

Davis is a writer not to be trifled with. Just in the past year she's published a collection of her own short stories, a celebrated translation of "Madame Bovary" and this new chapbook. "Oh, I haven't been up to too much. Just translating French fiction and writing essays about cows." Indeed.

My own personal favorite of hers is "Samuel Johnson Is Indignant". Her brief stories are little magic boxes to be opened again and again. In this form, only Amy Hempel is in her company as far as I'm concerned.

Back to Sarabande for a moment. These Kentuckians are people I've lauded before as a press that finds good writers that are other presses have rejected. Then the big boys come and steal them away. And that, like all theft, is a form of admiration. If you take a look at Sarabande's catalog it quickly becomes clear that there no throw-away titles. There isn't an "oh, why not?" among them. The list is small and considered and something they believe in completely. So, yes, even this book about cows is the real deal.

The chapbook is a pretty little thing that combines images of the cows with Davis' musings from different times of the day and year. The chapbook form is perfect for this kind of project or a longish prose poem--which, in small ways, this actually resembles. The book is $9.95 and is perfect for the bovine lover in your life.

Here is the rest of the series, chronologically and with links to their pages on the website.

Music Like Dirt, Frank Bidart

Lost River, James Tate

October, Louise Gluck

The Wrong End of the Rainbow, Charles Wright

First Things to Hand, Robert Pinsky

The Preacher, Gerald Stern

Contents of a Minute, Josephine Jacobsen

Lucy, Jean Valentine

The Cows, Lydia Davis

Monday, March 7, 2011

The craft of books and their fine makers

I posted awhile back about Micawber's friend and neighbor Regula Russelle who has been named the 2011 Book Artist Award Winner. Regula is but one of the many skilled artisans we're lucky to have in these parts keeping an old art form alive and well. The image I've attached to this post serves a double purpose. First, it's an image of Emerson Wulling's workstation. Wulling was an amateur print and bookmaker. He was also the father of a very good customer of Micawber's. When Regula began her work she bought some of Emerson's letterpress pieces. Second, the woodcut that image comes from was done by Gaylord Schanilec. And Gaylord is really a story unto himself.

When I first started working at The Hungry Mind in 1999 I was ga-ga over some of the broadsides that were made for our event series. Gaylord was behind all of that. And he continues to make incredible prints, broadsides and books. I count myself lucky to be among his club of regular buyers. Take a look at his website and his work. He continues to buck the trend and works against the quick, easy and cookie-cutter mode that runs almost everything these days.

Again, Gaylord's work reminds me that books are not one thing. They are bigger than an electronic screen or simple paper pages. The book is art--and he proves that in every single thing he creates.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"It's all trite garbage."

There's a certain kind of man, forty-ish, with too much pomade and bad black dress shoes, that tries to woo his date by scanning the fiction shelves and pretending he's read every single thing in the section. Or, at least, the stuff of real quality. By which he means nothing in the last fifty years for certain. Because, as he said two nights ago, "It's all trite garbage." And, sure, it'd be easy to laugh at that man or scorn him or hex him with voodoo. Rather, let's take a different tact.

Dear Man(in this case Barry),
I'm sorry some teacher did this to you. Taught you that nothing modern or contemporary can compare with the oldies and goodies. You know, the classics. The canon.

But we at Micawber's are here to help you help yourself. It will be easy and fun and you probably will learn something. Here's the twelve steps.

1.)I've gone mad for a Nigerian-American man named Teju Cole whose book "Open City" is a revelation. It might not change the way you think about fiction, but it did for me. His tumblr page is the finest electronic accompaniment to a book I've yet seen.
2.)Karen Russell is every bit as good as the reviews she's getting. "Swamplandia" and her book of stories give Florida a whole new vibe.
3.)From our friends to the north, we have Camilla Gibb's "The Beauty of Humanity Movement" which releases on 3/17 and made me want to eat pho morning, noon and night. Her blog is far better than the average author blog.
4.) Téa Obreht will be reading at Magers&Quinn on March 14th at 7:30 p.m. She is the latest wunderkind but don't hate because she's got talent.
5.) Algonquin Books finds hidden gems and, coming in May, Tayari Jones' "Silver Sparrow" will be a perfect summer read. She's legit.
6.) 5Chapter Books is a new press and they deserve some love for putting out a quality book that looks pretty too. Emma Straub's "Other People We Married" is short stories. Lorrie Moore and Dan Chaon like them and that should count for an awful lot.
7.) Let's segue to another fine book of short fiction. "Things We Didn't See Coming" by Steven Amsterdam is now out in paperback and while I preferred the minimalist hardcover edition, the orange cone on the paperback is snazzy. Entertaining and smart.
8.) "We, The Drowned" took all of the UK by storm and was selected by readers of a major newspaper as the best Dutch novel of the last 25 years. Carsten Jensen is the author and he's the old man of this group at fifty. Not to say that 50 is old.
9.) Another International Bestseller is "The Blindness of the Heart" by Julia Franck. It won the German Book Prize and check this out--Belarusian, Taiwanese and Galician? Holy smokes.
10.)I wish everyone would stop comparing Hannah Pittard to Jeffrey Eugenides but with the collective unnamed narrator it's going to be tough to stop. "The Fates Will Find Their Way" is breezy but I mean that in the best way possible. It makes time move quickly.
11.) It's a joy, as a bookseller, to have choices. You want great Ethiopian fiction? Okay, take your choice: Maaza Mengiste or Dinaw Mengestu. You can't go wrong. Better yet, read both with a friend. Go to Fasika on Snelling Ave and you will be pleased.
12.) No, no, no I do not get paid by Graywolf Press to say that they are the finest in the land. Alan Heathcock's "Volt" is set in Krafton, a fictional place. And these stories are hard to read because they are tough and will beat your spirit about. After I read the first story I felt like I'd been hit with a bag full of bricks. And I wanted some more.

Why not? Why not a baker's dozen of sorts. For some local talent check out Keith Hollihan, Kevin Fenton or either of the Peter's(Geye and Bognanni). They also have books out within the last year that might be a lot of things but they aren't trite and they ain't garbage.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To honor Edwin Donald Snider and Dan V.

The Duke passed away a few years ago and I've always felt for a great man and ballplayer who had to share not just an era and a position but also a city with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. That's enough to make anyone seem like the third fiddle.

So here is to Duke and his memory and it being March 1st and a customer asking me for a list of ten baseball books I love. In no order,

1.) We Are The Ship-Kadir Nelson
2.) The Brothers K-David James Duncan
3.) What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?-Richard Ben Cramer
4.) Season Ticket-Roger Angell
5.) The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers-Rob Neyer and Bill James
6.) Cobb: A Bio-Al Stump
7.) Baseball's Golden Age-Charles Conlon(photos with great bio. info)
8.) A Prayer For Owen Meany-John Irving
9.) What a Time It Was-W.C. Heinz(for the piece 'Stan Musial's Last Day' alone)
10.) Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues-James A. Riley(ed.)

I know I'm supposed to have "Eight Men Out" or Robert Coover's "The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop." included. I also enjoyed "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis and I learned a lot from it but it didn't mark my baseball soul.

let me know of your favorite(s). I can't wait to get a display of baseball books up in the next couple weeks. We're getting close.