Category Archives: books

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose

Etel Adnan

[Etel Adnan]

Summer reading time! On Sunday July 6th we’ll meet in Manhattan to discuss Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose. This remarkable novella was written in 1977 by Lebanese artist Etel Adnan. These days Adnan is more recognized for her painting — she was a quiet hero of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Elsewhere, Adnan’s words have been put to music by Henry Threadgill and Gavin Bryars. Point is, Adnan does many things very well.

Sitt Marie Rose is light and heavy, experimental and matter-of-fact, this story set during the Lebanese Civil War in which gendered violence might be the real civil war. It is also about the way cities feel and tense up. There is politics and religion and luminous sentences as precise and glowing as Adnan’s abstract paintings. The title character is a teacher of deaf-mute children and the language throughout pays great attention to sound, vibration, and silence.

It can be tough to find in bookstores so here’s a purchase page recommended by the publisher. E-book versions exist too. Head here to check out other Mudd Up Book Clubb selections.

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[Etel Adnan, title unknown, from Documenta 13]

I tell myself that it would be better to let loose a million birds in the sky over Lebanon, so that these hunters could practice on them, and this carnage could be avoided. – Sitt Marie Rose

LIBROS ASADOS: Book Burning Society of the Americas

Libros Asados: Book Burning Society of the AmericasMusic is bringing me to Mexico City this weekend. I’ll have time to dig around some of the megacity’s great bookstores in addition to parrandeando.

So, dear reader, can you recommend me some good books to check out? My Spanish-language contemporary fiction bookshelf has a lot of dudes in it — much as I love Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Cesar Aira, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Yuri Herrera, etc — I’m particularly curious about recent writing by women. And yes, Rita Indiana’s new novel Nombres y Animales will be published next week! My Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list gives you an idea of what’s up my alley. OK gracias.

Mudd Up Book Clubb – MARLEN HAUSHOFER: THE WALL

haushofer
The Mudd Up Book Clubb returns to Manhattan on March 9, to talk Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (1962, English trans. 1990). It is graceful. It is crushingly good. It discusses cows, cats, and foraging in great detail, such that this harrowing narrative of thingness and survival is never far from pellucid (if unsettling) meditation on the philosophically big issues. I see your Walden and raise you The Wall.

“I am writing on my novel and everything is very cumbersome” she told a friend, “because I never have much time and, mainly, because I can not embarrass myself. I must continuously inquire whether what I say about animals and plants is actually correct. One can not be precise enough.”

People have called The Wall an eco-feminist dystopia, and true, this tale takes the form of a diary of an Austrian woman who finds herself trapped in the mountains with an invisible wall separating her and a dog named Lynx from a horrible cataclysm which has befallen the rest of the world. Yet there is no trace of the fantastic; sci-fi, Robinson Crusoe, or Stephen King it is not. This radiant little masterpiece is written with such sensitivity that it’s hard to imagine that Haushofer herself did not live through these things — harvesting potatoes for sustenance, slowly running out of sugar, edging on forgetting her name, looking up at the sky in a forest meadow and thinking:

Human beings had played their own games, and in almost every case they had ended badly. And how could I complain? I was one of them and couldn’t judge them, because I understood them so well. . . The great game of the sun, moon and stars seemed to be working out, and that hadn’t been invented by humans. But it wasn’t completed yet, and might bear the seeds of failure within it. I was only an attentive and enchanted onlooker; my whole life would be too short to grasp even the tiniest stage of the game. I’d spent most of my life struggling with daily human concerns. Now that I had barely anything left, I could sit in peace on the bench and watch the stars dancing against the black firmament.

As a bonus for the cat fanciers and dog lovers among us, The Wall has my vote for the least sentimental yet most heartfelt book involving animals. Rare combo! Some moving contemplation on cyclical time too.

So. Manhattan, 5pm, Sunday March 9. You can join us by (communication magic). Don’t let the ‘now a major motion picture’ on the cover of recent editions of the book keep you away…

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Iris Murdoch, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Subcomandante Marcos

under-the-net

Dear Winternet, I have been remiss in letting you know what we’ve been up to at the Mudd Up Book Clubb. Back in June, we read Iris Murdoch‘s first novel, Under The Net (1954). I stumbled across this at the impossible bookshop, and picked it up on the strength of its first page (“I find it hard to explain to people about Finn. He isn’t exactly my servant. He seems often more like my manager. Sometimes I support him, and sometimes he supports me; it depends. It’s somehow clear that we aren’t equals”). Continue reading

MORE MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB KINDLE SCREENSAVERS!

laforet-kindle

I started the Mudd Up Book Clubb as a celebration of books, readers, libraries, face2face meetups, and all the hot people who love slow media. Last year I gave away hand-drawn portraits of all the authors we’d read so far by artist Rocio Rodriguez Salceda, and I’m happy to announce that we’ve added 5 new images to the collection. Our muddy canon grows with fine drawings of Tatyana Tolstaya (who showed up, unannounced, to the Slynx meeting!), Patrik Ouředník, Carmen Laforet, and the author of our current book, G. Willow Wilson).

Each drawing measures 600 x 800 pixels — formatted for Kindle screensavers, but they work well in many situations: say, an iPhone background, or a razor & octopus ink tattoo.


nalo screen

Click on each author’s name for the individual JPG, or grab this ZIP file (3 MB) containing all 13 images. (Here’s a detailed guide on how to jailbreak a Kindle).

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB KINDLE SCREENSAVERS:

Mudd Up Book Clubb 1

Cesar Aira

Lauren Beukes

Samuel R. Delany

Juan Goytisolo

Nalo Hopkinson

Maureen F. McHugh

Vladimir Sorokin

Mudd Up Book Clubb 2

Tatyana Tolstaya

Patrik Ouředník

Carmen Laforet

G. Willow Wilson

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ourednik-kindletolstaya-kindlewillow-kindle

goytisolo

beukes

maureen

sorokin

aira

nalo

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: The Other City by Michal Ajvaz

Every genuine encounter destroys our existing world.

That’s a line from our next book clubb selection, Michal Ajvaz’s The Other City (1993, English trans. 2009). It is set in Prague, where an unnamed protagonist chances upon a book written in a strange script and slowly discovers the existence of another equally-present city, at once metaphysical and, well, filled with very physical things like tiny elks and all manner of fish and bedspreads which turn into ponds or ski slopes. Compatible with the dark whimsy of fellow Czech artist, Jan Švankmajer.

I think you have to surrender a bit to Ajvaz’s style, these language flows from the other city (“grammar is applied demonology” goes one middle school lecture there, and elsewhere an official complains that the ban on certain verbal tenses is “utterly nonsensical anyway. It’s been obvious to everyone for a long time now that all verbal endings are totally harmless and have nothing to do with the evil music that destroys shiny machines.”), but once you’ve done that, it’s a perfect little book. Creates and defies its own gravity as it changes that way you see your own city, its corners.

“Can there really exist a world in such close proximity to our own, one that seethes with such strange life, one that was possibly here before our own city and yet we know absolutely nothing about it? The more I pondered on it, the more I was inclined to think that it was indeed quite possible, that it corresponded to our lifestyle, to the way we lived in circumscribed spaces that we are afraid to leave. We are troubled by the dark music heard from other the border, which undermines our order… And yet the world we have confined ourselves in is so narrow. Even inside the space we regard as our property there are places that lie beyond our power, lairs inhabited by creatures whose home is over the border.”

This is without a doubt the most BLDGBLOGgy book I’ve read to date, being built from the sort of ‘architectural conjecture and urban speculation’ that Geoff Manaugh writes so compellingly about. When a closet you thought you knew suddenly opens up into a whole new architecture, or hidden lanes set previously unconnected places in close dialog, when by simply looking up you can gain access to an unseen world…

And on the literary front, The Other City forms a fascinating triangle with Gene Wolfe’s masterfully ambiguous 1992 short story “Useful Phrases” (about a bookseller discovering an alien phrasebook in his pocket) and China Miéville’s 2009 The City & The City, which features the same city-within-a-city/shared mutant topography conceit as Ajvaz albeit set within a noir/police procedural. Ajvaz wrote a book on Borges but is not chilly, is more Bioy Casares even.

SO. We’ll meet at 5pm on November 25nd, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in Manhattan, to talk about this other city…

Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list (you join by recommending a book) in reverse chronological order:

Carmen Laforet, Nada

Patrik Ouředník, Europeana

Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Michael Taussig, My Cocaine Museum

Tatyana Tolystaya, The Slynx

Augusto Moterroso, Mister Taylor

Vladimir Sorokin, Ice Trilogy

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Juan Goytisolo, Exiled from Everywhere

Cesar Aira, How I Became a Nun

Maureen F. McHugh, Nekropolis

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Nada by Carmen Laforet

The October Mudd Up Book Clubb selection is Carmen Laforet’s Nada, completed in 1944 when she was just 23 years old. First novels of this caliber are rare indeed.

In many ways, Nada form perfect counterpart to last month’s selection, Ouředník’s Europeana. Whereas Ouředník presents the 20th ct seen through a kind of radically wide-angle lens, Laforet distills the troubling landscape of post Civil War Francoist Spain down to one claustrophobic house/family-in-decline on Aribau street in Barcelona’s Xiample neighborhood. Acutely observed, existentially heavy, shot through with incredibly vivid depictions of poverty’s ramifications… And it also doubles as a welcome alternative to the horrid Barcelona boosterism that has changed the city so much since the Olympics and the 2004 Forum and the SleazyJet Age. Bonus: one of the main characters is a twisted yet magnetic former violinist, which makes for some nice musical passages.

You can locate a copy in Laforet’s original Spanish (it’s a relatively easy read en Español) without too much trouble; the NYPL stocks a few, as does the Barco de Papel bookshop in Queens, etc. Edith Grossman’s lucid English translation is fine too.

So! On Sunday October 21st, we’ll gather to talk about ‘Nothing’ and drink some homemade sangria.

Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list (you join by recommending a book) in reverse chronological order:

Patrik Ouředník, Europeana

Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Michael Taussig, My Cocaine Museum

Tatyana Tolystaya, The Slynx

Augusto Moterroso, Mister Taylor

Vladimir Sorokin, Ice Trilogy

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Juan Goytisolo, Exiled from Everywhere

Cesar Aira, How I Became a Nun

Maureen F. McHugh, Nekropolis

BOOK CLUBB: Patrik Ouředník’s Europeana

This month’s Mudd Up Book Clubb selection is Patrik Ouředník’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, and we’re meeting next Sunday, September 16, to talk about it.

Europeana is a brilliant, simple/sly/hypnotic little book, which of course isn’t simple at all, so few things are. Rather incredibly, the New York Public Library files this book in the History section, which gives the Czech writer’s work even more weight.

Ouředník offers some generous reflections on his work in this interview:

Does the brevity of this novel suggest that we try to remove ourselves from the twentieth century and its horrors, or were you trying to illustrate the absurdity of this past century?

Ouředník - I could simplify this: what were the key words of the twentieth century? Undoubtedly, haste (rather than ”chaos,” which is no more appropriate to the twentieth century than to any another). This meant, let’s try to write a hurried text. Another peculiarity of the twentieth century, I think, is infantilism — with everything that it implies, from the romantic-commercial image of juvenility to the refusal of taking the full responsibility of one’s acts and words. Let’s try then to write a childish text, a text that could have been told by a kid reciting his lesson or by the village idiot. Thirdly, this century has been explicitly scientific. This meant, let’s use a vocabulary more or less scientific, with all its contradictions and, if possible, with all its vacuity. These are the elements that gave birth to the form and content of the book.


Here’s an excerpt from the first two paragraphs:

The Americans who fell in Normandy in 1944 were tall men measuring 173 centimeters on average, and if they were laid head to foot they would measure 38 kilometers. The Germans were tall too, while the tallest of all were the Senegalese fusiliers in the First World War who measured 176 centimeters, and so they were sent into battle on the front lines in order to scare the Germans. It was said of the First World War that people in it fell like seeds and the Russian Communists later calculated how much fertilizer a square kilometer of corpses would yield and how much they would save on expensive foreign fertilizers if they used the corpses of traitors and criminals instead of manure. And the English invented the tank and the Germans invented gas, which was known as yperite because the Germans first used it near the town of Ypres, although apparently that was not true, and it was also called mustard because it stung the nose like Dijon mustard, and that was apparently true, and some soldiers who returned home after the war did not want to eat Dijon mustard again. The First World War was known as an imperialist war because the Germans felt that other countries were prejudiced against them and did not want to let them become a world power and fulfill some historical mission. And most people in Europe, Germany, Austria, France, Serbia, Bulgaria, etc., believed it to be a necessary and just war which would bring peace to the world. And many people believed that the war would revive those virtues that the modern industrial world has forced into the background, such as love of one’s country, courage, and self-sacrifice. And poor people looked forward to riding in the train and country folk looked forward to seeing big cities and phoning the district post office to dictate a telegram to their wives, I’M FINE, HOPE YOU ARE TOO. The generals looked forward to being in the newspapers, and people from national minorities were pleased that they would be sharing the war with people who spoke without an accent and that they would be singing marching songs and jolly popular ditties with them. And everyone thought they’d be home in time for the grape harvest or at least by Christmas.

Some historians subsequently said that the twentieth century actually started in 1914, when war broke out, because it was the first war in history in which so many countries took park, in which so many people died and in which airships and airplanes flew and bombarded the rear and towns and civilians, and submarines sunk ships and artillery could lob shells ten or twelve kilometers. And the Germans invented gas and the English invented tanks and scientists discovered isotopes and the general theory of relativity, according to which nothing was metaphysical, but relative. And when the Senegalese fusiliers first saw an airplane they thought it was a tame bird and one of the Senegalese soldiers cut a lump of flesh from a dead horse and threw it as far as he could in order to lure it away. And the soldiers wore green and camouflage uniforms because they did not want the enemy to see them, which was modern at the time because in previous wars soldiers had worn brightly-colored uniforms in order to be visible from afar. And airships and airplanes flew through the sky and the horses were terribly frightened.

In the margins on nearly every page there are incredible subheadings written in tiny grey type, for example the above selection contains the subheadings THE ENGLISH INVENTED THE TANK and MARCHING SONGS and GERMANS INVENTED GAS. Europeana! You’re in for a treat.
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Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list (you join by recommending a book) in reverse chronological order:

Patrik Ouředník, Europeana

Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Michael Taussig, My Cocaine Museum

Tatyana Tolystaya, The Slynx

Augusto Moterroso, Mister Taylor

Vladimir Sorokin, Ice Trilogy

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Juan Goytisolo, Exiled from Everywhere

Cesar Aira, How I Became a Nun

Maureen F. McHugh, Nekropolis

BOOK CLUBB: NALO HOPKINSON’S MIDNIGHT ROBBER

I’m a fan of judging books by their covers. Check this one out:

Awesome, right?

Our August Mudd Up Book Clubb selection is Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber. The novel kicks off during Carnival on a Caribbean colonized planet, where the AIs speak patois, and expands from there.

Folklore from Hopkinson’s native Caribbean meshes with a mind-expanding take on African diasporic technologies, issues of gender and sexual abuse, themes of exile and utopia and lawlessness, all written in a Creole-laced language whose musicality is a delight. Yuh see mi a say? Like Octavia Bulter, another Clubb favorite, Hopkinson renders a complex black woman protagonist at the heart of a tale that manages to be badass, weird-with-possibility, and filled with empathy even at its most harrowing.

Plus, let’s face it, we listen to a lot of music from the Caribbean but rarely do we read novels that spring from, engage, and extend that tradition. So–

Midnight Robber. We’ll meet in Manhattan on Sunday August 12th to chat about the book then go eat some doubles. (you join the Mudd Up Book Clubb by recommending a book).

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[Nalo Hopkinson, December 2011]

“She had was to learn, she had was to come to consciousness. Them days there, the programmers and them had write she protocols in Eleggua, seen — the code them invite to write programmes to create artificial intelligence?”

“Yes, me know.” Old-time story. Antonio sipped at the rum he’d brought to share with the Obi-Be’s son… – Midnight Robber

My Sufi Plug Ins project was underway when I read this book last year, but there was serious inspiration to be found, both in her approach to technology and in the role that language(as-interface) plays in the book’s writing itself as well as in the technologies depicted within it. Here are two interview excerpts where Nalo Hopkinson discusses these issues in Midnight Robber:

“So many of our stories about technology and our paradigms for it refer to Greek and Roman myth and language: we name rocket ships ‘Apollo’ and communication devices ‘telephone,’ a human-machine interface a ‘cyborg.’ It shapes not only the names for the technology we create, but the type of technology we create. I wondered what technologies a largely African diasporic culture might build, what stories its people might tell itself about technology. So a communication device that sees and hears becomes a ‘four-eye;’ literally, a seer. The artificial intelligence that safeguards all the people in a planetary system becomes Granny Nanny, named after the revolutionary and magic worker who won independent rule in Jamaica for the Maroons who had run away from slavery. Rather than being a ‘Big Brother’ paradigm it is an affectionate reference to her sense of love, care, and duty. The operating system that runs a dwelling is an ‘eshu,’ named after the West African deity who can be in all places at once, who is the ghost in the machine.”

“I grew up in a Caribbean literary community. It is perfectly acceptable there to write narrative and dialogue in the vernacular. It’s not that difficult to understand. I was interested in the way that Creoles can be accorded the full status of languages. The Creoles in this novel are the formal, written form of the language of the people in it. And the language shapes thought. If I had written Midnight Robber completely in English Standard, it would have had a very different feel and rhythm. I could say ‘Carnival revelry,’ but it wouldn’t convey movement, sound, joy the same way that ‘ring-bang ruction’ does.”

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Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list – it’s been going for over a year now — in reverse chronological order:

Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Michael Taussig, My Cocaine Museum

Tatyana Tolystaya, The Slynx

Augusto Moterroso, Mister Taylor

Vladimir Sorokin, Ice Trilogy

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Juan Goytisolo, Exiled from Everywhere

Cesar Aira, How I Became a Nun

Maureen F. McHugh, Nekropolis

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& dont’ forget the Nalo Kindle-formatted screensaver!

MUDD UP BOOK CLUB: MAY EDITION – TOLSTAYA’S THE SLYNX

toystaya

[Татья́на Ники́тична Толста́я]

For this month’s Mudd Up Book Clubb, we have a very special selection — Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx. It is the only novel I’ve ever read which is both laugh-out-loud funny *and* has given me nightmares. Amazing.

Some people call it a dystopia, and true – The Slynx does take place in Moscow about 200 years after an unspecified Blast has knocked everyone back to Stone Age level amenities – but Tolstaya’s prose is luminous, alive, bursting with a belief in language’s power to create worlds, which is precisely what this book does. Textual pleasures surround the tale of a quasi-literate copyist in the era of Degenerators…

What is The Slynx concerned with? Food, catastrophe, body jokes, gorgeous prose, xerox machines after the apocalypse, social hierarchies, books, melted canonicity, mice-as-currency, etc.

slynx

You might recognize the translator, Jamey Gambrell, from a previous book clubb selection, Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. Her Slynx translation is another impressive work, as the novel is peppered with malapropisms, mutant references to Russian literature, and conversations in a range of voices. These two novels are some of the best I’ve read in a long time, but I should mention that Sorokin and Tolstaya are extremely different writers; all the more power to Gambrell for articulating each into English with such elegant specificity. (While we’re talking translators, tune in to Mudd Up! this Wednesday for a special show with Arabic literature translator Humphrey Davies, recorded in Cairo last month)

The Mudd Up Book Clubb (<– go here to sign up) will meet on Sunday May 27th at 5pm for lively discussion followed by micemeat pies.

Here’s an excerpt from the opening pages:

Benedikt pulled on his felt boots, stomped his feet to get the fit right, checked the damper on the stove, brushed the bread crumbs onto the floor–for the mice–wedged a rag in the window to keep out the cold, stepped out the door, and breathed the pure, frosty air in through his nostrils. Ah, what a day! The night’s storm had passed, the snow gleamed all white and fancy, the sky was turning blue, and the high elfir trees stood still. Black rabbits flitted from treetop to treetop. Benedikt stood squinting, his reddish beard tilted upward, watching the rabbits. If only he could down a couple–for a new cap. But he didn’t have a stone.
It would be nice to have the meat, too. Mice, mice, and more mice–he was fed up with them.
Give black rabbit meat a good soaking, bring it to boil seven times, set it in the sun for a week or two, then steam it in the oven–and it won’t kill you.
That is, if you catch a female. Because the male, boiled or not, it doesn’t matter. People didn’t used to know this, they were hungry and ate the males too. But now they know: if you eat the males you’ll be stuck with a wheezing and a gurgling in your chest the rest of your life. Your legs will wither. Thick black hairs will grow like crazy out of your ears and you’ll stink to high heaven.
Benedikt sighed: time for work.