MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: The Loser by Thomas Bernhard & “The Loser” by Gay Talese

Last Mudd Up Book Clubb, the Naked Singularity meetup, was a great one, as Sergio De La Pava and his wife made a gracious appearance. Sergio was a passionate, funny, and generous guest, sharing insights which made our experience of his excellent novel even better. There was discussion of moral concern, conservatism of the publishing industry, drunk Russians wrestling bears and the plight of the farmers, what trials really read like and lots more, including Lee Ann’s homemade cardamom & pistachio bread. Delicious.

And now, as Endless Winter reluctantly starts to consider Spring — and now that I’ve got my personal piano month out of the way– we turn to our favorite hilarity-inducing Austrian misanthrope, rhythm master, one-paragraph-book-writer par excellence and italicist of exquisite conviction: Thomas Bernhard!
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shirtless Thomas Bernhard, our favorite Austrian misantrope hilarity man

On Sunday June 2, we’re meeting in Manhattan to discuss a splendid pair of losers — Thomas Bernhard’s 1983 novel The Loser, about Glenn Gould and two failed virtuoso pianists, and Gay Talese’s 1964 Esquire essay “The Loser”, about boxer Floyd Patterson. Talese published 37 articles on Patterson — THIRTY SEVEN! — which makes him arguably as obsessive as Bernhard’s unnamed narrator.

This inspired pairing comes courtesy of clubber Brad. The Talese is collected in his Silent Season of a Hero (along with 7 other Floyd Patterson pieces). If you’d like to join the Mudd Up Book Clubb, you can sign-up – please read the fine print there, especially since we’re near/beyond capacity, OK? OK.

& remember: be the Steinway, not the person playing the Steinway

Thomas Bernhard - The Loser "be the Steinway"

& here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list in reverse chronological order:

Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity

Shelley Jackson, “A Report on Certain Curious Objects, Believed to Be Words in an Unknown Language of the Dead”

Rita Indiana Hernandez, Papi

G. Willow Wilson, Alif, The Unseen

Michal Ajvaz, The Other City

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: DE LA PAVA’S ‘A NAKED SINGULARITY’

It’s true: the Mudd Up Book Clubb lives increasingly offline, but these posts form a useful public record, tracks in the mud, if you will – so here we go:

Sergio De La Pava - A Naked Singularity

This Sunday, April 28th, we’re meeting to discuss Sergio De La Pava’s wonderful, humane, laugh-out-loud funny, 689 page novel involving a public defender in New York City: A Naked Singularity (2008 ex libris, 2012 U Chicago Press). The opening chapter is a thing of wonder – try it and you’ll be hooked.

Book clubber Dan put me on to this; I recommend his thoughtful review from back when it was self-published. Dan writes:

“while the book is long, it’s never imposing. . . This is a book deeply concerned with the preterite: those who don’t have the resources to get themselves represented by others. It’s refreshing to find a recent New York novel that doesn’t bother to mention Williamsburg or Park Slope; the Upper East Side or Upper West Side might be mentioned in passing, but the Village, the East Village, Chelsea, the Lower East Side, the neighborhoods of New York that are seen in movies and literary fiction are absent from this book. There’s plenty left over; but we don’t usually read this. And this also stands out in that it’s a novel of work: Casi is a public defender, and spends most of his time at his job. The job isn’t lionized here: the protagonist is actively trying to be a good man, but he is decidedly not a hero by virtue of his work alone: the other occupants of his office are noticeably flawed, as he is. . .I’m also struck by how the book, comical as it often is, never has recourse to anything resembling magical realism.”

Also, boxing.

Sergio De La Pava

Sergio De La Pava

So! A Naked Singularity. Sunday. Book Clubb. Next up: sweet dumpling Thomas Bernhard. Stay muddy.

Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list (you join by recommending a book, although we are somewhat full…) in reverse chronological order:

Rita Indiana Hernandez, Papi

Shelley Jackson, “A Report on Certain Curious Objects, Believed to Be Words in an Unknown Language of the Dead”

G. Willow Wilson, Alif, The Unseen

Michal Ajvaz, The Other City

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

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 CLUB: ALIF THE UNSEEN & RITA INDIANA

The Mudd Up Book Clubb exists increasingly offline, but I shouldn’t let us flesh-and-blood meetup ghosts have all the syllabi, so — time to announce our next two selections, novels by Rita Indiana Hernandez (yes, that Rita) & G. Willow Wilson.

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The Mudd Up Book Clubb’s first selection of 2013 is G. Willow Wilson’s remarkable debut novel, Alif the Unseen. Hack3rz & djinn & a white american lady called ‘the Convert’ suspensing through a composite Emirati city contemporary with Arab Spring. Allah-ex-machinas abound but Alif is much more about the ideas and well-observed societal nuances than any action. Gender relations and visibility, class striations defining urban space, the liturgical music of the djinn… Plus there’s a lot in here about coding, computer languages, spirituality, and control — very much in line with Sufi Plug Ins, not to mention the Clubb’s occasional subtheme of old school Islamic geomancy.

Wilson, like one of her characters, is a white american who converted to Islam and lived in the Middle East for awhile. The world is big; I hope this gets translated into Arabic.

We’ll meet in Manhattan on Sunday Feb 3rd to talk Alif The Unseen.

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Rita_Indiana
And I’m very excited to say that in late March we’ll read the second novel of Dominican superhero, Rita Indiana Hernandez. Papi is written in Spanish. We got enough Spanish-language readers in the clubb that I figured it’d be fun to do this.

I see your Junot and raise you a Rita. For real. Rita is a brilliant force; if you’re unfamiliar with her music, check out the El Juidero vid below, or read this breathless-but-its-true! introduction post I wrote back in 2010 when I released her first single, a few months before she signed to a major label.

Juan Duchesne Winter describes Papi: “Una niña espera y espera a su padre hasta el delirio, Papi no falla en aparecer. Aparece y reaparece, repitiéndose sin pudor, encarnadno el neomacho global de los trópicos. . . narrada en prosa que inocula el ritmo del perico ripiao en el pulso tecno, que inyecta la bachata en la sonata.” (I wonder if Juan Pablo Villalobos read Papi?)

Alif is the only book club selection which you can buy in mainstreamy bookstores (I saw it in Penn Station the other day) and Rita is the only book club author whose (musical) output every Dominican in NYC has an opinion on. Yet few who found about her through the music have experienced her literature — so let’s change that. Dos mil trece!

Keep these books burning.
papi-cover

Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list (you join by recommending a book, although we are somewhat full…) in reverse chronological order:

Michal Ajvaz, The Other City

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: 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: TAUSSIG’S MY COCAINE MUSEUM

The last Mudd Up Book Clubb meetup was the most special to date, as The Slynx’s author Tatyana Tolystaya herself showed up unexpectedly. Translator Jamey Gambrell was able to join us as well. INCREDIBLE. To discuss one of my favorite books with its author & translator was a rare treat.

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[Taussig in a garden with yagé vines with Don Pedro, an Indian healer. Colombia, 1977. Via Cabinet.]

Our next selection is Michael Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum. Stoned anthropology written as a slide through heat & sensation in the shadow of Walter Benjamin. Thinking about gold, cocaine, slavery, boredom, color, history, centered around Afro-Colombian gold miners on Colombia’s Pacific coast. This is our second nonfiction book so far, and like Delany’s Times Sq Red, Times Sq Blue, the prose is incandescent, challenging and rewarding. Join us, we’ll meet in NYC on July 8th for My Cocaine Museum.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the “A Dog Growls” chapter:

A dog growls in the doorway of the house where I am staying in Gaupí. I have never heard this dog growl before. I look out into the street, There are two armed soldiers walking by on patrol in standard-issue camouflage. Strange how the dog picks up what most of us feel but do not express. What would happen if we all growled when soldiers walked by? A whole town growling! How wonderfully appropriate to growl back at the state, mimicking it, growl for growl, watching it magnify in the fullness of biological prehistory, writing being but another form of hair rising on the back of the neck. Slap up against the wall of the forest, you get an acute sense of the thing called the state. To me this is more than a heightening of contradiction exposing something hidden. I think of it as natural history, the natural history of the state.

Writing is sixth sense, what dogs are supposed to have, same as what filled the space between the words.

The first place I ever DJed cumbia was at Taussig’s place in upstate New York (a good friend was getting married – wedding DJ!). It wasn’t until a year or two later when I stumbled across all these lovely tracks from the Rio Timbiqui area of Colombia which he writes about so richly in My Cocaine Museum.

A laptop theft took those tunes out of my hands again, but here’s a related song. “I don’t want it” by Grupo Gualajo – a gorgeous marimba jam about foreigners coming to Pacific Colombia to spirit away “our music, our records, and tales of our ancestors / they arrive happy back home / because they took all our inspiration / we don’t value what we have / others come and take the best…”

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Grupo Gualajo – No Quiero (from the Afritanga comp)

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.