City Lights Books, in conjunction with Litquake’s Epicenter Reading Series, presents Joshua Cohen speaking with Ethan Nosowsky, McSweeney’s editorial director, at Tosca Cafe on Tuesday, August 21, 2012, celebrating the release of Four New Messages (Graywolf Press).
Four New Messages is a quartet of audacious fictions that capture the pathos and absurdity of life in the age of the internet. A spectacularly talented young writer has returned from the present with Four New Messages, urgent and visionary dispatches that seek to save art, sex, and even alienation from corporatism and technology run rampant. In ‘Emission,’ a hapless drug dealer in Princeton is humiliated when a cruel co-ed exposes him exposing himself on a blog gone viral. ‘McDonald’s’ tells of a frustrated pharmaceutical copywriter whose imaginative flights fail to bring solace because of a certain word he cannot put down on paper. In ‘The College Borough’ a father visiting NYU with his daughter remembers a former writing teacher, a New Yorker exiled to the Midwest who refuses to read his students’ stories, asking them instead to build a replica of the Flatiron Building. ‘Sent’ begins mythically in the woods of Russia, but in a few virtuosic pages plunges into the present, where an aspiring journalist finds himself in a village that shelters all the women who’ve starred in all the internet porn he’s ever enjoyed. Highbrow and low-down, these four intensely felt stories explain what happens when the virtual begins to colonize the real — they harness the torrential power and verbal dexterity that have established Cohen as one of America’s most brilliant younger writers.
Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in New Jersey. He is the author of five books, including A Heaven of Others and Witz. His nonfiction has appeared in Bookforum, The Forward, Harper’s and other publications. He lives in New York City.
Litquake, San Francisco’s annual literary festival, was founded by Bay Area writers in order to put on a week-long literary spectacle for book lovers, complete with cutting-edge panels, unique cross-media events, and hundreds of readings. Since its founding in 1999, the festival has presented more than 3,650 author appearances for an audience of over 83,500 in its lively and inclusive celebration of San Francisco’s thriving contemporary literary scene. Litquake seeks to foster interest in literature, perpetuate a sense of literary community, and provide a vibrant forum for Bay Area writing as a complement to the city’s music, film, and cultural festivals.
What’s a guy to do, when he lives under a bridge and has an unshakeable thirst for martinis? Kill for cash. So goes the logic at the heart of Old and Cold, leading to a spree of hits that are sometimes perfectly executed, sometimes messy, set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s beaches, bars, and murky darkened streets. Told at breakneck speed in a bravura voice, this novel is Jim Nisbet’s finest work yet, reminiscent of Jim Thompson at his best and Tarantino at his most irreverent. A tough and tender love letter to a city’s underbelly, this is a shockingly funny tale of suspense that won’t let you go.
Praise for the work of Jim Nisbet:
“An unheralded masterpiece of the noir genre. Everyone who loves Noir should read this brilliant book.” –James Ellroy
“Nobody has Nisbet’s distinctive style, humor, and sheer craft … one of the finest masters of noir.” –Ken Bruen
“Truly, hellishly gritty.” –Los Angeles Times
Jim Nisbet is the author of twelve novels and five books of poetry. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, shortlisted for the Hammett Prize, and published in ten languages. He resides in San Francisco.
Also visit: http://noirconeville.com/
Radio Iris is the story of Iris Finch, a socially awkward daydreamer with a job as the receptionist/personal assistant to an eccentric and increasingly absent businessman. When Iris is not sitting behind her desk waiting for the phone to ring, she makes occasional stabs at connection with the earth and the people around her through careful observation and insomniac daydreams, always more watcher than participant as she shuttles between her one-bedroom apartment and the office she inhabits so completely, yet has never quite understood.
Her world cracks open with the discovery of “the man next door.” Over the next few weeks or months (the passage of time is iffy for Iris), she takes it upon herself to learn everything she can about this stranger. But the closer she gets to him, the more troubling questions at the heart of her own life rise to the surface, questions like – Why does she keep having the same dream? Why is it that she and her brother don’t seem to have a single shared memory of their childhood? What is it her boss actually does? In the end, Iris is faced with a choice she never imagined, and a reality she never knew enough to dread.
How To Get Into the Twin Palms is the story of Anya, a young woman living in a Russian neighborhood in Los Angeles, who struggles between retaining her parents’ Polish culture and trying to assimilate into her adopted community. She lusts after Lev, a Russian man who frequents the Twin Palms nightclub down the block from Anya’s apartment. It is Anya’s wish to gain entrance to this seeminly exclusive club. How To Get Into the Twin Palms is a really funny and often moving book that provides a unique twist on the immigrant story, and provides a credible portrait of the city of Los Angeles, literally burning to the ground.
“It was a strange choice to decide to pass as a Russian. But it was a question of proximity and level of allure. Russians were everywhere in Los Angeles, especially in my neighborhood and held a certain sense of mystery. I had long attempted to inhabit my Polish skin and was happy to finally crawl out of it. I would never tell my mother. She only thought of them as crooks and beneath us. They felt the same about us, we were beneath them. It had always been a question of who was under whom.”
Anne-Marie Kinney is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at California Institute of the Arts, and a former Associate Editor of the literary journal, Black Clock. She was awarded first prize in USC’s Edward W. Moses Creative Writing Competition for the story Two Mornings. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Black Clock, Keyhole and Satellite Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
Karolina Waclawiak received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University. She is the Deputy Editor of The Believer and lives and writes in Brooklyn.
Camden, New Jersey, with a population of 70,390, is per capita the poorest city in the nation. It is also the most dangerous. The city’s real unemployment — hard to estimate, since many residents have been severed from the formal economy for generations — is probably 30 to 40 percent. The median household income is $24,600. There is a 70 percent high school dropout rate, with only 13 percent of students managing to pass the state’s proficiency exams in math. The city is planning $28 million in draconian budget cuts, with officials talking about cutting 25 percent from every department, including layoffs of nearly half the police force. The proposed slashing of the public library budget by almost two-thirds has left the viability of the library system in doubt. There are perhaps a hundred open-air drug markets, most run by gangs like the Bloods, the Latin Kings, and MS-13. Camden is awash in guns, easily purchased across the river in Pennsylvania, where gun laws are lax.
Camden, like America, was once an industrial giant. It employed some 36,000 workers in its shipyards during World War II and built some of the nation’s largest warships. It was the home to major industries, from RCA Victor to Campbell’s Soup. It was a destination for immigrants and upwardly mobile lower middle class families. Camden now resembles a penal colony.
In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and American Book Award winning cartoonist Joe Sacco show how places like Camden, a poster child of postindustrial decay, stand as a warning of what huge pockets of the United States will turn into if we cement in place a permanent underclass. In addition to Camden, Hedges and Sacco report from the coal fields of West Virginia, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and undocumented farm worker colonies in California. With unemployment and underemployment combined at far over ten percent, as Congress proposes to slash Medicare and Medicaid, Food Stamps, Pell Grants, Social Security, and other social services, Hedges and Sacco warn of a bleak near future—where cities and states fall easily into bankruptcy, neofeudalism
reigns, and the nation’s working and middle classes are decimated. A shocking report from the frontlines of poverty in America, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a clarion call for reform.
Chris Hedges, a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans, with fifteen years at the New York Times. He is the author of the bestsellers War is Force That Gives Us Meaning, American Fascists, Empire of Illusion and Death of the Liberal Class. He currently writes for numerous publications, including Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, Granta, and Mother Jones. A columnist for Truthdig, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
When Serge Gainsbourg died in 1991, France went into mourning: François Mitterand himself proclaimed him “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire.” Gainsbourg redefined French pop, from his beginnings as cynical chansonnier and mambo-influenced jazz artist to the ironic “yé-yé” beat and lush orchestration of his 1960s work to his launching of French reggae in the 1970s to the electric funk and disco of his last albums. But mourned as much as his music was Gainsbourg the man: the self-proclaimed ugly lover of such beauties as Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, the iconic provocateur whose heavy-breathing “Je t’aime moi non plus” was banned from airwaves throughout Europe and whose reggae version of the “Marseillais” earned him death threats from the right, and the dirty-old-boy wordsmith who could slip double-entendres about oral sex into the lyrics of a teenybopper ditty and make a crude sexual proposition to Whitney Houston on live television.
Gilles Verlant’s biography of Gainsbourg is the best and most authoritative in any language. Drawing from numerous interviews and their own friendship, Verlant provides a fascinating look at the inner workings of 1950s–1990s French pop culture and the conflicted and driven songwriter, actor, director and author that emerged from it: the young boy wearing a yellow star during the German Occupation; the young art student trying to woo Tolstoy’s granddaughter; the musical collaborator of Petula Clark, Juliette Greco and Sly and Robbie; the seasoned composer of the Lolita of pop albums, Histoire de Melody Nelson; the cultural icon who transformed scandal and song into a new form of delirium.
Gilles Verlant is a journalist, editor, and a TV / radio personality in France for the past 30 years, specializing in rock music and the french chanson. From 1980 to 1990, Verlant interviewed Serge Gainsbourg and had full access to his archives. He has written the most complete biography on Gainsbourg, who revolutionized French pop music in the second half of the 20th Century. Twenty years after his death, Serge Gainsbourg remains the very essence of scandal, sexual intrigue, and music brilliance.
Tosh Berman is the publisher of Tam Tam Books.
Visit: Tam Tam Books
The Epicenter Reading Series continues as Litquake, in conjunction with City Lights, presented an evening of readings with Joe Meno, Nathan Larson and Josh Mohr, celebrating the release of Meno’s Office Girl & Larson’s The Nervous System: A Dewey Decimal novel. Both books were published by Akashic Books. The event was held in the North Beach favorite, Tosca Cafe, July 12, 2012.
Nobody dies in Office Girl. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic collapse. Nothing takes place during a World War.
Instead, this novel is about young people doing interesting things in the final moments of the last century. Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who’s most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999–just before the end of one world and the beginning of another–Office Girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.
Joe Meno’s latest novel also features black-and-white illustrations by renowned artist Cody Hudson and photographs by visionary photographer Todd Baxter.
After a series of large-scale terrorist attacks, New York City is reduced to a shadow of its former self. As the city struggles to dig itself out of the wreckage, a nameless, obsessive-compulsive veteran with a spotty memory, a love for literature, and a strong if unique moral code, has taken up residence at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Dubbed “Dewey Decimal” for his desire to reorganize the library’s stock, he gets by as bagman and muscle for unscrupulous politicians and underworld figures–as detailed in the first book in this series, The Dewey Decimal System.
In The Nervous Sysytem, Decimal, attempting to clean up loose ends after the violent events of first book, stumbles upon information concerning the gruesome murder of a prostitute, and a prominent U.S. senator’s involvement. Immediately he finds himself chasing ghosts and fighting for his life, pursued by Blackwater-style private military contractors and the ever-present specter of his own past. Decimal confronts a twilight world of Korean hostess bars, childhood bogeymen, and the face of the military-industrial complex gone haywire–all framed by a city descending toward total chaos.
Nathan Larson is best known as an award-winning film music composer, having created the scores for over thirty movies, such as Boys Don’t Cry, Dirty Pretty Things, and The Messenger. His highly acclaimed debut novel, The Dewey Decimal System, was published in the spring of 2011. In the ’90s, he was the lead guitarist for the influential prog-punk outfit Shudder to Think. Larson lives in Harlem, New York City, with his wife and son. Visit: http://www.joemeno.com/
Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Chicago. He is a winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and was a finalist for the Story Prize. He is the author of five novels and two short story collections including Hairstyles of the Damned, The Great Perhaps, How the Hula Girl Sings, The Boy Detective Fails, Tender as Hellfire, and Demons in the Spring. His short fiction has been published in One Story, McSweeney’s, Swink, LIT, TriQuarterly, Other Voices, Gulf Coast, and broadcast on NPR. His nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Magazine. He is an associate professor in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. Visit: http://nathanlarson.net/
Joshua Mohr is the author of Some Things That Meant the World to Me, Termite Parade, and the recently released Damascus . He lives in San Francisco and teaches fiction writing. Visit: http://www.joshuamohr.net/
Carlos Aldama and Umi Vaughan Celebrate the Release of Carlos Aldama’s Life In Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum
On June 20th, 2012, Carlos Aldama and Umi Vaughan came together at City Lights Bookstore to celebrate the release of Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum. Batá identifies both the two-headed, hourglass-shaped drum of the Yoruba people and the culture and style of drumming, singing, and dancing associated with it. This book recounts the life story of Carlos Aldama, one of the masters of the batá drum, and through that story traces the history of batá culture as it traveled from Africa to Cuba and then to the United States.
For the enslaved Yoruba, batá rhythms helped sustain the religious and cultural practices of a people that had been torn from its roots. Aldama, as guardian of Afro-Cuban music and as a Santería priest, maintains the link with this tradition forged through his mentor Jesus Pérez (Oba Ilu), who was himself the connection to the preserved oral heritage of the older generation. By sharing his stories, Aldama and his student Umi Vaughan bring to light the techniques and principles of batá in all its aspects and document the tensions of maintaining a tradition between generations and worlds, old and new. The book includes rare photographs and access to downloadable audio tracks.
“A solid ethnography, grounded in a rich and dramatic biography, reveals the creative power of the Yoruba drum to communicate sounds and words that are invested with rich secular and religious meanings about people and culture, identity and history, life and after-life. Only a scholar-performer with an uncommon imaginative talent could have written this extraordinary book.”
– Toyin Falola, Distinguished Teaching Professor, The University of Texas at Austin
“Everything you need to know about batá and batá-playing is in this text, expertly taught and philosophically interpreted by Carlos Aldama and his star yamboki (apprentice), Umi Vaughan….I am proud to have read this Afro-Cuban classic.”
– Robert Farris Thompson, author of Tango: The Art History of Love and Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music
“What a beautiful duet and deep dialogue between anthropologist Umi Vaughan and his batá teacher Carlos Aldama we find in these pages. We are so fortunate their paths crossed and that we now have the gift of their interwoven story, which makes the meaning of the drum in Cuban history, religion, and culture come alive. . . . This is anthropology carried out with dedication, passion, and trust, and most of all with illuminating grace.” —Ruth Behar, Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan, and author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba
Carlos Aldama has made significant contribution to the richness and livelihood of Afro-Cuban music and spiritual traditions. Carlos Aldama is omo Añá (sworn to the drum) and a priest of Changó in the Santería religion. Born in Havana, he was a founding member of Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba, studying under its original musical director, Jesus Pérez (Oba Ilu), and later serving as musical director himself. He has worked with the National Symphony of Cuba, playwright Roberto Blanco, and Karl Marx Theatre director Alex Valdez, and has performed with Adalberto Alvarez y su Son, Lazaro Ros and Olorún, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
Visit his website: http://www.carlosaldama.com/
Umi Vaughan is an artist and anthropologist who explores dance, creates photographs and performances, and publishes about African Diaspora culture. He is also omo Añá and is a priest of Ochun in the Santería religion. He is Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Monterey Bay, and author of Rebel Dance, Renegade Stance: Timba Music and Black Identity in Cuba.
Visit his website: http://umiart.com/
On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at City Lights Bookstore, translator Damion Searls and author Peter Orner discussed and read from the work of Nescio (Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh) to celebrate the release of Amsterdam Stories (introduction by Joseph O’Neill, translated from the Dutch by Damion Searls, published by NYRB Books).
Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh was a successful Dutch businessman, executive of the Holland-Bombay Trading Company and father of four, with a secret life: under the pseudonym Nescio (Latin for “I don’t know”), he wrote a series of short stories that went unrecognized at the time but that are now widely considered the best prose ever written in Dutch.
Nescio’s stories look back on the enthusiasms of youth with an achingly beautiful melancholy comparable to the work of Alain-Fournier and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He writes of young dreams from the perspective of adult resignation, but re-inhabits youthful ambition and adventure so fully that the later perspective is the one thrown into doubt—and with language as fresh as when it was written a century ago. His last long story, written and set during World War II, is a remarkable evocation of the Netherlands in wartime and a hymn to our capacity to take refuge in memory and imagination.
This is great literature—capturing the Dutch landscape and scenes of Amsterdam with a remarkable poetry, and expressing the spirit of the country of businessmen and van Gogh, merchants and visionaries. This first translation of Nescio into English—all the major works and a broad selection of his shorter stories—is a literary event.
About the authors:
Nescio (1882–1961) was the pseudonym of Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh. His reputation as one of the most important modern Dutch writers was only established after his death.
Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly and his works include the novels This Is the Life, The Breezes and Netherland, winner of the PEN/Faukner Award for Fiction, and the nonfiction book Blood-Dark Track: A Family History. He lives with his family in New York City.
Damion Searls is the author of What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going and an award-winning translator, most recently of Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams, Jon Fosse’s Aliss at the Fire, and Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key. NYRB Classics has published his abridged edition of Henry David Thoreau’s Journal and will publish his translations of André Gide’s Marshlands.
Peter Orner is the author of of the novels Love and Shame and Love and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and the short story collection Esther Stories. His short fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, as well as the Pushcart Prize Anthology. He has co-edited Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives and edited Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives a collection of true stories about undocumented workers in America, which are both part of the Voice of Witness series from McSweeney’s.
Marilyn Buck was a committed political radical, imprisoned for over thirty years for her revolutionary activities. She was also a prolific writer and poet, publishing her work in a prize-winning chapbook, an audio CD, and in various journals and anthologies. She received a PEN American Center prize for poetry in 2001. Buck was released from prison less than a month before her death at age sixty-two from uterine cancer. This selection of her finest poetry is a living testament to the fierce intelligence and huge compassion that inspired and informed her life, and to the transcendence of her poetic vision.
“Marilyn, of course references her situation in prison in many poems, but the overwhelming sense one has after reading Inside/Out is that one has just experienced a woman who, though imprisoned, is utterly free. What we have in Marilyn Buck is a poet who is unafraid to confront the deepest parts of herself with an honesty consistent with the consciousness of a revolutionary. It is the uncovering and revealing of hope that many of her works manifest.” — Jack Hirschman, poet laureate of San Francisco
David Meltzer began his literary career during the Beat heyday in San Francisco and early on took his poetry to jazz for improv wonders, which he continues to astound listeners with today. City Lights published his most recent book, When I Was A Poet, as # 60 in the Pocket Poet’s Series. In 2011 he received the SF Bay Guardian’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Over the course of his life, Kenneth Rexroth wrote about the Sierra Nevada better than anyone. Progressive in terms of environmental ethics and comparable to the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Aldo Leopard, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder, Rexroth’s poetry and prose described the way Californians have always experienced and loved the High Sierra. Contained in this marvelous collection are transcendent nature poems, as well as prose selections from his memoir, An Autobiographical Novel, newspaper columns, published and unpublished WPA guidebooks, and correspondence. Famed science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has compiled a gift for lovers of mountains and poetry both. This volume also contains Robinson’s introduction and notes, photographs of Rexroth, a map of Rexroth’s travels, and an amazing astronomical analysis of Rexroth’s poems by the fiction writer Carter Scholz.
Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) was an American poet, translator, essayist and social critic who played a key role in the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s. His poems are characterized by such an unusual range of concerns that he often began his poetry readings by wryly asking the audience: “Well, what would you like tonight: sex, mysticism or revolution?” Though almost entirely self-educated, his erudition was astonishingly broad-ranging, as reflected in essays on topics as diverse as ancient Chinese science, modern jazz, American Indian songs, California mountaineering, medieval mysticism, avant-garde art and utopian communities. He connected with New Directions from the very beginning, and was both friend and adviser to James Laughlin for the rest of his life. New Directions published most of his books of poetry, including Collected Shorter Poems (1966), Collected Longer Poems (1968), and Selected Poems (1984); his plays, Beyond the Mountains (1951); his Autobiographical Novel (1964; expanded edition, 1991); several collections of essays (Bird in the Bush, 1959; Assays, 1961; World Outside the Window: Selected Essays, 1987; Classics Revisited, 1986; More Classics Revisited, 1989); and numerous volumes of translations, including 100 Poems from the Chinese, 100 Poems from the Japanese, Women Poets of China, Women Poets of Japan, and Selected Poems of Pierre Reverdy.