MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village

the mudd up book clubb rolls into 2016 with Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village (2006, trans. 2011). This book is a lot. It’s set in the rural Henan province where Yan grew up in a poor peasant family. Dream is an exquisite, queasy, and nuanced tale of a village dealing with ‘the fever’ & consumer communism — based on China’s real-life blood plasma-selling scandal that led to a massive AIDS crisis in the 90s.

Yan is a fascinating figure (“Ironically, it was after he joined the army as a propaganda writer that he realized the true value of literature and stopped regretting the loss of his first book, which he says now was an unworthy and uninteresting tale.”) and this is special one. Stay heavy over the holidays! (but there’s a strain of humor in it too…)

Mudd Up Book Clubb: FRAN ROSS – OREO

There’s a larger story to be told about how the Mudd Up Book Clubb met at Brazenhead, the best bookstore in the world, for nearly 4 years! About how Michael had to leave Brazenhead’s secret apartment location (& how I recorded its silence — a shareable portrait of the clandestine bookshop’s unique acoustic space)… but we’ll save that for later. Because the September Mudd Up Book Clubb selection is a whopper .

Back in 1974 Fran Ross published a great American novel. Oreo. An unruly picaresque. Black, Jewish, steeped in Greek myth and profane jokes gassed by polystylistic riffs, with Yiddish in spades and a masterful use/abuse of language at the heart of it.

How did Oreo not become an instant classic, revising the way we think of contemporary lit lineages? For all those selfsame reasons it seems.

When the book failed to make waves, Ross moved to LA — to write comedy for Richard Pryor. This actually happened. I love this woman.

So — let’s read her only book. New Directions recently re-republished it. This September we’ll meet at a post-Brazenhead location to discuss what happens when a hyperintelligent writer decides that there is no reality outside of language and that the Lawd/Jehovah gave us tongues so we could wisecrack and hoot. Shaking up our canons in the best possible way.

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Pamela Lu’s Ambient Parking Lot

The March Mudd Up Book Clubb selection is Pamela Lu’s Ambient Parking Lot. A first-person plural novel (“part fiction, part earnest mockumentary”) about an ambient band! In other words, we are clearly the target audience for this under-appreciated gem from 2011. It is loopy and sweet and funny and ostensibly less crazy than Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy.PamLu_photo_BW-msall Word on the street is that after Lu’s debut novel (Pamela: A Novel), she dropped out of the Bay Area literary scene and began working for software companies. Rumor? Truth? Disinformation? Seems harmonious with Ambient Parking Lot. We will meet on Sunday March 29th to discuss this book, which you can pick up here.

Also: a car-themed ambient piano jam for your enjoyment:

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Babe Rainbow – Car Ambient # 3.mp3 elitist driving music & yoga


The Mudd Up Book Clubb rolls into 2015 with a Chinese communist crime novel about a poet-cop!

We’ll meet on Sunday January 25 to discuss Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine.

Set in early 1990s Shanghai, the novel uses the form of a police procedural to portray Chinese society in transition, old Maoists and new money, with lots of Tang dynasty poetry quotations and T.S. Eliot allusions thrown in for good measure. There’s a healthy attention to food, too. Central character Inspector Chen is a Modernist poet and translator, not unlike the author…

Qiu Xiaolong was the first person to translate Eliot into Chinese. He was in the US working on an Eliot book when Tiananmen Sq broke out, prompting him to stay on to remain out of trouble… He still lives in St.Louis. As explained in this interview, Qiu writes his books in English, despite the difficulty–and censors scrub politically sensitive phrases and all specific place references from the Chinese translations!

Death of a Red Heroine. Go here to buy it from local publishers Soho.

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Ágota Kristóf’s The Notebook

Agota Kristof Mudd Up Book ClubbLast selection of the year: Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf’s hypnotic, powerful (and short) debut novel The Notebook. Published in 1986 it is a bracing language bath, narrated in first-person plural by limpid & disturbing young twins in the midst of wartime scarcity. First part of a trilogy (whole trilogy is great). Kristóf’s stark minimalism reads simply (the stylistic opposite of fellow Hungarian Krasznahorkai’s baroque apocalyptics) but after a few paragraphs the awe piles up and, subsumed in her grip, you realize how deep it all goes.

A stone cold classic (that’s impossible to discuss at a holiday party without alienating your peers)! So–

We’ll meet on Sunday December 21 to talk Notebook. Mudd Up Book Clubb.

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Jo Walton’s My Real Children

The Mudd Up Book Clubb rides again. I’m trying to fit in 2 more meetups before 2015 arrives, so to that end:
On Sunday November 30th, we will meet in Manhattan to discuss Jo Walton’s My Real Children. Published earlier this year, it’s an incredibly moving novel about an elderly woman with dementia who remembers two distinct lives, which the book traces out as intertwined narratives.
There’s an understated cumulative power at work here, within an elegant structure. Aging/dementia, sexuality, parenting, also gelato, and a glowing background of divergent geopolitical realities… Continue reading MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Jo Walton’s My Real Children

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

mudd up book clubb: horacio castellanos moya
On Sunday August 24, we’ll be meeting to discuss Senselessness (2004, 2008 English trans.), a dynamite novella from Central American author Horacio Castellanos Moya.

It takes the form of a monologue, so everything we get comes from the mouth of, as the book jacket text describes, “an alcoholic, atheist, sex-obsessed writer [who] finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to edit the testimonies of the survivors of slaughtered Indian villages.”

Senselessness is agonizing/ly funny, profane & political, entertainingly written yet dealing with huge issues surrounding language and authority, grieving and historical memory — it’s no surprise that Castellanos Moya’s early novels earned him death threats, leading him to take up residence in exile…in Pittsburgh.
Continue reading MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

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.


[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


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


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