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

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[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.

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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.

FREE BOOK: SONIDEROS EN LAS ACERAS, VENGASE LA GOZADERA

A major anthology from friends over at El Proyecto Sonidero was just released! It’s a must-read for fans of cumbia, Mexican soundsystem culture, and anybody interested in how sonic and social spaces can form, enrich, and complexify each other. And there are nice photos, for all you gringos who can’t read Spanish. Contributors include Cathy Ragland, Mariana Delgado, and the book kicks off with a great sonidero prayer by Mexico City firebomb Lupita La Cigarrita. Quick excerpt:

Thanks, Lord, for giving me the gift of being a soundgirl.
Thanks because this profession has taught me how to love the world.
Thanks because for us sonideros there are no races or borders.
Thanks for giving me these hands – strong to setup my soundsystem and delicate to caress a record…

Download: Sonideros En Las Aceras, Véngase La Gozadera (PDF 15MB). They are working on a Kindle/e-book reader version as well, stay tuned…

Here’s “La Cumbia de los Saludos” by Monterrey band Javier Lopez y Sus Reyes Vallenatos — when I played this on my radio show, I referred to it as the type of cumbia that Jorge Borges would like: it’s essentially a list. A nicely heterotopic list of fans & crews (“toda la raza que apoya la musica colombiana”). The taxonomy begins about 2 minutes in.

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Javier Lopez y Sus Reyes Vallenatos – La Cumbia de los Saludos

Javier Lopez y sus Reyes Vallenatos were playing at the foundational 3ball club ArcoIris in downtown Monterrey on my second trip there, as I reported in the Fader feature on tribal guarachero, and John Francis Peters’ photo captures the kids holding up precisely the sort of shout-out saludo posters that are being read off in this song:

[photo: John Francis Peters for The Fader]

& an old favorite of mine, Jorge Meza’s Cumbia de los Sonidos, in which the bandleader shouts out a lengthy list of ‘sonido’ soundsystem crews.

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Jorge Meza – Cumbia de los Sonidos

And intro text from el Proyecto Sonidero

Les presentamos el libro electrónico Sonideros en las aceras, véngase la gozadera, al cual aportaron generosamente el fruto de su conocimiento, su trabajo y por supuesto de su vida, porque todos los que colaboramos en esto no nos dedicamos a esto por obligación sino, por fortuna, debido al placer que representa en nuestras vidas. Muchas gracias por su confianza y por su amistad, estamos seguros que este esfuerzo será disfrutado por muchos lectores, y esperamos que también sea criticado.

El libro Sonideros en las aceras, véngase la gozadera lo pueden descargar gratuitamente desde AQUÍ (15 MB PDF)

MUSIC KRITICISM

You’ve got three days left to support the BEST MUSIC WRITING book series as it makes the leap into independent publishing – via a smart Kickstarter project. As much as I love tweeting and torrenting and blogs and “post-scarcity” blahblah and the tumblr-sprawl, I also really love seeing readers and writers and music lovers come together to build something substantial, which is what series editor Daphne Carr has done time & time again with BMW.

For me, one of the real pleasures of BMW lies in experiencing the sheer variety of people’s takes on music contained in each one; reading BMW always expands the way I think about musical worlds and reacting to them with language. (Full disclosure, I’ve been included twice – EVEN MORE REASON TO GIVE THESE FINE PEOPLE MONEY). So. Let’s keep those books burning!

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: KINDLE SCREENSAVERS

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I started the Mudd Up Book Clubb as a celebration of books, readers, libraries, IRL meetups, and all the hot people who love slow media. But the biggest thanks of all goes to the writers themselves. Keep us burning! We see you and salute your work. Furthering that end, here is a gift straight from my muddy heart –

Hand-drawn portraits of all the authors we’ve read so far by artist Rocio Rodriguez Salceda, fitted into digitals for maximum spreadability. 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 (2 MB) containing all 8 images. (Here’s a detailed guide on how to jailbreak a Kindle).

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB KINDLE SCREENSAVERS:

Cesar Aira

Lauren Beukes

Samuel R. Delany

Juan Goytisolo

Nalo Hopkinson

Maureen F. McHugh

Vladimir Sorokin

Mudd Up Book Clubb

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beukes

maureen

sorokin

aira

nalo

2011 BURNIN’ BOOKS

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Ice Trilogy – Vladimir Sorokin (Mudd Up Book Clubb January 2012 pick!) – aaaahhhh! I wrote: “It’s ambitious, totally nuts, capable of generating new emotions, perhaps the first “21st Ct” novel I’ve read.”

 

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Embassytown – China Miéville. Language, addiction, bio-urbanism. Embassytown is especially wow in light of the rest of Miéville’ ouevre.

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My Common Heart – Anne Boyer. My one complaint: (not tryna be greedy but) IT’S TOO SHORT!

“At night I dream of a poetry for the crowd. I imagine the bodies pressed against each other until there is not one set of feet left on the ground.”

 

:in the category of city slickers:

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[Photo: Tyrone Brown-Osborne]

Harlem Is Nowhere – Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. You heard our mix for this, right?

Down & Delirious in Mexico City – Daniel Hernandez. You heard the radio show we did, right?

 

plus an important Mexico addenda:

El Narco – Ioan Grillo. Lucid overview of “Mexico’s criminal insurgency,” putting the complex mayhem into historical perspective while avoiding the sensationalistic.

“If the East India Company was the first drug cartel, then the Royal Navy was the first band of violent cartel enforcers. After the two Opium Wars, the company won the right to traffic in 1860. The Chinese kept smoking and took the poppy with them in their diaspora round the planet.”

&

“I ask Mathilde [a poppy farmer in the Sinaloan mountains] to describe the effect of these flowers. What is the magic property they have? What is it that makes them so valuable? She looks at me blankly for a moment, then answers in a slow, thoughtful tone.

‘It is a medicine. And it cures pain. All pain. It cures the pain you have in your body and the pain in your heart. You feel like your body is mud. All mud. You feel like you could melt away and disappear. And it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. You are happy. But you are not laughing. This is a medicine, you understand?’

 

I’m burnt out on the NYC 70s & 80s glorification/nostalgia/histories, a genre that seems to metastasize each year, but Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings On Fire is exemplary for its wide-eyed span: a five-year history of musical innovation in New York City that takes on rock guitars, salsa, rap, jazz, minimalism. Rare that these contiguous/adjacent scenes get examined together. There’s a paragraph in here about how session musicians formed a kind of connective tissue across scenes & studios — so many ways to think about how music circulates and histories congeal. Here’s to more thought-provoking anticoagulants in 2012.

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: VLADIMIR SOROKIN – ICE TRILOGY

sorokin

For the January edition of Mudd Up Book Clubb, we will be reading an epic and incandescent piece of contemporary Russian fiction: Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. It’s ambitious, totally nuts, capable of generating new emotions, perhaps the first “21st Ct” novel I’ve read.

Ice Trilogy is like a joke without the relief of a punchline. I regret recommending it to friends because suddenly I need to explain what it’s about, and end up sounding crazy… The book opens as a 19th century Russian novel. Then comes a trip to Siberia and an encounter with the Ice. It’s best if you read it. Let’s just say that the traditional arc of 20th century history is left intact but superimposed with a much more urgent momentum: the Brothers and Sisters of Light’s search for blond, blue-eyed people to smash in the chest with an Ice hammer, in hopes that the heart inside will awaken, and speak the language of the heart.

Pulpy, “literary”, and unrepentantly other, Ice Trilogy is a book you read with and against, a work that lingers.

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The NYRB translation collects Sorokin’s three books — Bro, Ice, and 23,000 — into a single volume. 700 pages long, and entrancing.

The Mudd Up Book Clubb will meet at 5pm on Sunday January 22nd (TBC) in Manhattan for lively discussion followed by popsicles.

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Past Book Clubb selections:

December 2011 NYC: Lauren Beukes – Zoo City

November 2011 NYC: Samuel R. Delany – Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

September 2011 Tangiers: Juan Goytisolo – Exiled from Everywhere

August 2011: Madrid: Cesar Aira – How I Became a Nun

June 2011: Casablanca: Maureen F. McHugh – Nekropolis

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: DECEMBER 11th NYC EDITION

On Sunday December 11, the Mudd Up Book Clubb returns to Manhattan, to discuss Lauren Beukes’ 2010 novel Zoo City. If you wanted to throw genre signifiers at it, you could say that it’s new African urban fantasy sci-fi noir with a strong musical component. There is even an accompanying soundtrack , released on African Dope records:

As I wrote in my August post on Zoo City, “It’s weird noir, set in contemporary Johannesburg, featuring an ex-junkie protagonist named Zinzi December and her magic sloth. The unconventional pair is caught in a web of intrigue involving murder, 419 email scams, and a missing kwaito/afropop teen star. In short, it sounds like a book specifically engineered for my peer group.” Check out the full post for more thoughts on Zoo City, or join us on December 11th in New York City for realtime talk.

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Past Book Clubb selections:

November 2011 NYC edition: Samuel R. Delany Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

September 2011 Tangiers edition: Juan Goytisolo – Exiled from Everywhere

August 2011: Madrid edition: Cesar Aira – How I Became a Nun

June 2011: Casablanca edition: Maureen F. McHugh – Nekropolis

TIMES SQUARE READ

Last night’s Samuel Delany Times Sq Red, Times Sq Blue Book Clubb meeting was very nice. In attendance were two filmmakers who have spent significant time shooting in Times Square itself!

There was Julia Loktev: her netflixable Day Night Day Night (2006) follows “a 19-year-old girl who prepares to become a suicide bomber in Times Square.” Trailer:

And Jem Cohen, whose has shot Times Sq at various times over the years, most recently as part of his “Newreel” shorts on Occupy Wall Street, which are screened before features at the IFC this month, and viewable on Vimeo (but not embeddable).

And as we walked away from the Clubb, a car full of women pulled up alongside me. One of them shouted in accented English: do you know how to get to Times Square? I laughed, and told them.

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MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: TANGIER EDITION

The clubb marches on!

Apologies for the late notice, but the Mudd Up Book Clubb will meet two weeks from today on September 8th, in Tangier Morocco. We’ll be talking about Juan Goytisolo’s Exiled from Almost Everywhere (original title: Exiliado de Aquí y de Allá). Goytisolo is a complicated figure — the Spaniard has lived in Marrakesh for decades, and his biography and attitude are often more interesting than his actual books. But this new one, published after five years of silence, is surprisingly nimble and enjoyable.

The basic plot: a man is blown up in a terrorist attack and finds himself in the afterlife, which is a kind of mad internet cafe. Religious extremism, media spectacles (Debord makes an appearance), the realness of exile (which Goytisolo suffered at the hands of fascist Spain) and the surface-skimming fluidity of online identity, it’s all here. The weird, perversely funny romp of Exiled provides an excellent introduction to the works of this writer. Goytisolo’s career-long literary critique on the cornerstones of Spanish Identity is formidable indeed. (His books were banned in Spain until Franco died in 1975.) I’m not going to pretend that this is an easy or immediately pleasurable read, but it is worth talking about! Plus it’s short. (The October Book Clubb selection will be slightly less far-out, and nonfiction…)

The Guardian review agrees with my take on the book:

Exiled From Almost Everywhere is perhaps the best work of Goytisolo’s later period. The author, who in his 20s, wrote realistic novels that described the vulgar horrors of Franco’s Spain, from which he was exiled, later began to develop a freer, less traditional, more ironic and humorous voice. Nowhere is this style more accomplished than in this novel, beautifully translated into English by Peter Bush. (Even Bush’s title is a clever rendering of the original Spanish, literally “The Exile From Here and There”.)

For more info on the Book Clubb: The idea is simple: every six weeks or so we gather somewhere for informal talk centered around a good muddy book, then go eat delicious food. We’ll have a live Ustream or Skype feed so Cousin Internet and Miss Larry Antitroll can join in — but if you want to tele-participate, you should sign-up for the low-activity Mudd Up Book Clubb Mailing List.

Previous editions: Casablanca / Maureen F. McHugh’s Nektropolis, Madrid / Cesar Aira’s How I Became a Nun.

The following day we are presenting a show at the Cinematheque de Tanger with Nettle and Hassan Wargui/Imanaren. As we mentioned in the Beyond Digital Morocco :Behind the Scenes video, we view the project as a doorway, and are returning for ten days to keep creating.