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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part VI: Miscellaneous Stuff

I think I’ve reached the end of selling off all books by a single author. I’ve been letting my eyes roll through my shelves and my hands pluck items I won’t read again, important and interesting as so many of them where.

It’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction form Joseph Campbell to H.P. Lovecraft, a 1918 Zane Grey, and The First Man, the final work by Albert Camus that I tried to read and couldn’t get into. If you’re in KC and interested in any of these works, they’ll be at Wise Blood (if they buy them) at 300 Westport Road and now open for business.

I’ll keep at the random picking from my shelves and then write a post about which authors I’ve kept and why (as far as I can figure out).

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part V: Some Books by Me!

Today, I stopped by Blood Wise, the soon-to-open used bookstore here in KC at 300 Westport Road, to find Dylan on a ladder hanging an outside sign in preparation for the store's Dec. 13 grand opening.

A co-worker was helping him level the sign and I went inside with my box of books to sell, and a hope.

The offering from me was a mix of Updikes, Saul Bellows, Rushdie, Stephen King, a mix of horror anthology paperbacks, and not-so-famous authors I’ve either read and won’t re-read or started and couldn’t get into.


“Be willing to look at my stuff?”

He was. I came back later and found out what he was offering for the works of others and that he would buy outright to carry in the store three books by me! A small victory, but a victory none-the-less. I’ll be probing him later to see what attracted him to these particular works among my smorgasbord of genres. I didn’t really expect him to buy more. It’s an investment on the store’s part. They don’t know if these will sell. Hope springs eternal: if they do sell, Blood Wise may stock more, and buy other titles. Hope--which has been dashed often in my life--is hard to kill. Live on, Hope. Who knows.

They are creating a really nice environment for the store. Opening date Dec. 13 is a Friday and, who knows, maybe I’ll be there. If so, I’ll let you know what time.

Here are the three works you’ll find on the shelves at Blood Wise, placed, I hope, above a shelf of Margaret Atwood books and sporting a sign: “Read Our Attwood Books!”

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part IV: Thank You and Goodbye Walker Percy

I thought I had more Walker Percy books than I found on the shelves. I had four and three of them have gone to Wise Blood, a soon-to-open used bookstore in Westport here in KC in December: The Message in the Bottle, The Last Generation, and Thanatos Syndrome.

I’m keeping The Moviegoer, the novel that put Percy on the literary map by winning the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zoey were also nominees. Percy was a Roman Catholic and many of his books have spiritual themes, but not overtly so. One critic called The Moviegoer “A Catcher in the Rye for adults only.”

By all accounts Percy was also a nice person. The mother of John Kennedy Toole called Percy up when he was teaching at Loyola and persuaded him to read her dead son’s novel, who had committed suicide because of his inability to get published A Confederacy of Dunces. Percy, should read it because, she said “It’s a great novel.”

Percy read it, concurred, and opened the avenue for her son's wonderful book to be published.

During my try-to-get published saga, I reached out to Percy. A friend had interviewed him for literary journal he was editing and had Percy’s home address in Covington, LA. The book I was trying to get published or find an agent for was The 41st Sermon. I thought it would be up his alley: a middle-aged Episcopal priest finds himself in a mid-life crisis and mid-faith crisis. Every year he goes alone to a fishing resort to fish, drink, and write the outlines of the next year’s sermons. There, he unexpectedly encounters a blonde parishioner who, unbeknownst to him, is there as part of a phony kidnapping plot to extort money from her husband. The priest gets entrapped, too.

So I sent Percy the first few chapters. He sent the cover letter back to me with this written on it: “It reads well – I’d be glad to look at rest, but must tell you I had to give up finding agents or publishers for unpublished writers.—.I’d be doing nothing else. Everybody in the South is writing a novel – Best, W.P.”

It is hard for me to express my joy. Walter Fucking Percy said “It reads well”! Maybe I did have some talent. And so I waited. And I waited. And I….read six months later his obituary in The Kansas City Star. The manuscript never was returned to me. I learned later that soon after he responded to me he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.

When I published The 41st Sermon I included a photo of my cover letter to him and his response. If you want to read the novel, it’s here.

The other books I sold were a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among them: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon Vol 1 and Vol 2, Evan Connell’s Mr. Bridge, Larry McMurtry’s Dead Man’s Walk and an interesting, but depressing, book by Daniel DeFoe, A Journal of the Plague Year.

When I used the $15 so earned and spent it on a 12-pack of Warsteiner Octoberfest beer, I was reminded of Robert Heinlein’s price advice. A paperback novel should cost the same as a six-pack of beer.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part III: Len Deighton, Robert Heinlein, and maybe Adam Hall

I guess I started reading spy novels in high school when I grabbed any James Bond book that showed up in the row of paperback books sold at Knupp’s Drug Store in Larned, KS (yes, complete with cherry cokes at the fountain). The only Ian Fleming work I still have is his best Bond book and the best movie From Russia with Love. I might as well keep it.

My favorite spy author is John LeCarre and I have all but his most recent work. The writing is superb, the tales captivating and what wonderful movies were and are being made from them. I have 13 hardback copies (including a First Edition American one of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold complete with book jacket in nice condition that I got for $3) and 9 paperback copies, some of which replicate the hardback edition. Rereading them is like putting on a comfortable sweater. Not that his prose is easy, but it’s so fluid and it ages well, like wine. No doubt I’ll go back and take sips.

I also liked Len Deighton and have all his works. I’ve reread them a couple of times and very much admire his plotting and character developments. His tryptich of trilogies about the English spy Bernard Samson in Berlin were captivating. Ian Holm played that spy in a 1988 Granada Television excellent adaptation of the first trilogy, entitled Game, Set and Match, transmitted as twelve 60 minute episodes. I don’t know if they can be found these days because Deighton got into something of snit about them. Anyway, I’m not going to revisit his works. They are now in the hands of Wise Blood, a soon to open used bookstore here in KC's Westport.

Adam Hall’s Quiller series and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series present something of mystery to me. There were several times in my life when I was just down. I won’t call it a depression, but certainly a blue period complete with anxiety about my life, what I was doing, and what would happen to me.

I often turned to reread the Quiller or the MacDonald books, loving to do so in the order they were published. Why? Well, they’re good action reads and that takes you out of yourself. With Travis McGee it wasn’t so much the story as the character. You just wanted to be around Travis again. Adam Hall, the pen name Elleston Trevor adopted for the Quiller books, really knew how to do action. He knew when to stop a scene at its most dramatic and keep you on the seat of your chair. They are page turners, but I don’t need to turn those pages anymore. So Deighton is now gone and Hall may follow. I’m still undecided. I’ll keep my Travis McGee books. I might want to have a drink with him again (he turned me on to Boodles gin). These are books I’d more wish to give to a friend.

Which is what I did with my Robert Heinlein paperback collection. (Heinlein fans, if you haven’t read is The Door into Summer, I highly recommend it. Great use of time travel and looking at the book cover reminded me that in this 1957 book he uses a piece of equipment that won’t be invented for decades, the Cad Cam.) A new bartender at  Chez Charlie’s, my Midtown watering hole in KC that I’ve been patronizing for more than 30 years, has become a reader of my fiction and likes sci-fi, so I plopped my Heinlein collection on the bar top, said they were hers, and ordered a Bombay Sapphire and tonic (they don’t carry Boodles).

In any of these musings of mine make your curious about my own smorgasbord of fiction genres, visit the buffet here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part II: A Farewell to Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner

I started college early by going to summer school at the University of Kansas instead of waiting for the fall semester. I don’t remember I took any books with me, other than maybe the Webster’s dictionary given us as some sort of high school graduation honor. But across the hall from my dorm room I encountered a character who not only had books, but had racks of steel shelves to hold those books.

I became enraptured of him and his books. In the room next to mine was an older man who had finished his Navy tour and was taking courses to go to medical school. He had books. Art books, too that featured reproductions of fine art by Michelangelo, Di Vinci, and other famous artists.

All this was wonderful and new to me.

Through that first person, John Kiely (who would be come a friend, future roommate, mentor pictured right and now, sadly, long dead), I encountered Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway wrote in a simple, straightforward way that communicated directly with one’s perception by creating through words a sense of the reality of life. How is that possible using words? It amazed me. He created scenes, but also emotions. A couple of examples:

From the Nick Adams stories:

“In the fall the war was still there, but we did not go there anymore.” Wonderful use of the self-reflective “we” instead of the technically accurate “I.” And the repletion of “there” when most advice says don’t repeat the same word. Through his prose he distilled and found the essence of things.

The first sentence from A Farewell to Arms: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” That cascade of prepositions carries you along and again “in a house in a village” repeats a preposition that works perfectly.

His style entices young writers to imitate him. And, of course, brings the danger of being a copy cat. I took a fiction writing class at KU. The Southern writer Reynolds Price came to visit and would read what we presented to him. I had only a few paragraphs. Here’s one of them:

March Snows
The snows came in March and it was unfair because that same morning there had been the smell of spring in the air. But during the night the snows came, and I awoke when I heard the wind. I got up and parted the curtains and looked out at the street lamp and saw the snow blowing as it collected in drifts around the trees and her car in the driveway. A happiness I did not understand filled me when I looked down at the bed where she slept. I slid down under the covers again and she stirred, her lips slightly parted and her yellow hair everywhere. I pulled her close to me and slowly inhaled our warmth—man warm and woman warm together—as the wind continued to howl

Price called the paragraphs “quite lovely.” But then he was a lovely man. The Hemingway imitation is obvious. But I still like those paragraphs and I hope I learned that finding rhythms and sentences is a virtue, not an imitation.

Hemingway himself became a caricature of his macho self. And the prose ran its course in the same manner. Much wonderful stuff and should be read, of course. But I don’t need them anymore.

There is one Hemingway novel I will, however, keep. Oddly enough, it is one of his most panned works: Across the River and into the Trees. I still don’t understand why, but the evening of the day I received the phone call from my aunt telling me my father had died, I pulled that novel from the shelf and reread it with pen in hand. I underlined passages that were important to me at the unique time in my life.

I will keep that now battered, mutilated book. The other Hemingway books are now gone. Not gone is my desire to complete a simple sentence with the right rhythm to cast the right spell upon a reader.

Faulkner, with his denser prose, could cast spells, too. I enjoyed my swimming, wading, and sometimes slogging through his stories and sentences. But I have no desire to reenter his waters, lush though they were. Hemingway's popularity continues. The son of a couple we are good friends with opened a bar in Westport called "The Pressed Penny Tavern," which many Hemingway fans may recognize. He has an alcove of Hemingway books and memorabilia. I had given him many early editions of Hemingway's work and books about Hemingway. Encourage my KC Facebook fans to stop in and at find out why Gordon Roberts gave his bar that odd name.

So the Hemingway and Faulkner portions of my library have been purchased by owners of Wise Blood, a soon-to-open used bookstore at 300 West Westport Road here in Kansas City.

Selling those collections gave me enough cash for a couple of drinks over which I contemplated my few successes and my many failings. And realizing I am thankful for both and the so many people I have met along the way.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Depopulating My Library, Part I: But Dr. Fu Manchu and PKD Stay On My Shelves

In anticipation of a move from our current house in 2020 I have been depopulating my library. I had already done an initial culling a couple of years ago by simply giving away books from a table on my driveway for any one who waked by. Those were mostly books I was sure I wouldn’t read again or consult. For example, my philosophy books from when I studied that subject at KU and many of which I foisted on a young man who told me he would soon begin his studies at Rockhurst and major in philosophy. “Well, here, you must have St. Augustine’s “The City of God.”  And there was a whole mix of novels I saw no reason to keep.

This time I’ve become more mercenary. I learned of a place that was buying items to open a used book store and thought portions of my collection might appeal. And bring me a bit of money, though I knew it would not be much. This time I went to the heart of my collection. Let me explain.

Harold Bloom died the other day, a much admired but also often reviled literary critic. I thought his “The Western Canon” was not just a list of what he thought were the great works of literature like Dante and Shakespeare, but rather he established a criterion that was something like this: These are the works that made Western Man what and the way he is. (Bloom was not favored by feminists using the male pronoun in this context.) Anyway, it struck me that I should consider what works of literature I had read that made me who I am.

It struck me that as I free up shelf space I should put together the books in my library that formed who I am. I was an early science fiction fan. In high school there was a drug store that was the only purveyor of paperback fiction. I knew on what day the salesman came in to bring in new volume. I snatched up any Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, James Bond and Fu Manchu novel. Fu Manchu captivated me. The yellow peril. The exploits. The exotic oriental women. Knowledge of China by me was a black hole then. It was this mysterious place and our World History textbook didn’t give it much space.

I think that was part of the formula that I was smitten when I saw this oriental woman with long shining black hair walk into my Italian language course when I went to Italy to study that tongue. We’ve been married almost 50 years now.

Don’t think it followed that I excised my Fu Manchu collection. I won’t do that. And since I turned my son onto Philip K. Dick and he has added to the five-foot shelf we have of his works, they will go to him.

When I got to college, my reading expanding greatly. I also realized that I was a reader that when encountering a new author wanted to consume everything. I remember the summer in Lawrence when at the local library I came across their collection of Conrad in a set of volumes. In the volume Conrad wrote an introduction for each title, introductions that to me where the epitome of good writing, as was his fiction.

In one he wrote that his task was “by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, above all, to make you see.”

That became a kind of mantra to me when I started to attempt writing fiction that has remained my goal for the novels and stories I’ve created.

I collected my Conrad books (except for the 1942 714-page Book of the Month Club selection I’ve displayed above) and took them for sale. It earned me a whole $10, which paid for my bar bill that Saturday. Gave me something to reflect upon as I sipped my Negroni.

I don't know if any of Conrad can be detected in my fiction. I do know that
my novella One More Victim I consider my Heart of Darkness, that for a long time I reread every year. One of the things I admired about Philip K. Dick was his ability to start a story and immediately grab a reader. I hope I learned that lesson in 3 Very Quirky Tales. From Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu story I hope I learned pacing and I hope it shows in Tortured Truths and Heart Chants.

Hemingway, you’re going next.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Beginnings of Stories and Novels


They’re important for a writer. You hope they’ll be interesting enough to hook the reader. Give them reason to read more.

Here are some of my beginnings I particularly liked:

On my drive home from work Friday evening I stopped at a traffic light, glanced left over at the driver in the other lane and saw myself. No, not the me now, but the me I was some 30 years ago.

Cricket carefully backed her crummy car, which needed a motor mount bolt replaced, down her cousin’s driveway. She was driving extra cautiously these days because her license was suspended and she had two weeks to go on her probation before she could pay the bastards another $90 to get reinstated, which was beyond bullshit because that last DUI was totally fucking unfair. She hit the breaks when she heard Samantha’s voice on the car radio.

I had two phone calls from Don before he killed himself. Each call should have tipped me off. Maybe not the first one, but certainly the second. I couldn't have gone to him anyway, he lived in another state far away. Still, I could have done something, called somebody. I wonder if Don knew at the time of the first call–the first contact I had had with him in three years–that he was going to commit suicide. When do suicides know for sure, just before they pull the trigger?

Mr. Brown closed the door on the whimpers and walked up the stairs to take a shower. He stood under the stream of water and leaned his head against the wall of the shower stall. "Mommy loves me. Mommy loveth me. Mommy loveth me," he whispered to himself as his heart slowed.

There really is a Kansas sky, wide as the land is flat. On fall mornings it seems as if the stratosphere drops down just before dawn to touch the trees, make crisp the leaves of brown and red and yellow, rise again to paint the sky a deep blue, and leave the air as clean and as fresh as a newly-cut lemon.

Children who grew up on military bases are called Army brats. Asylum brats were those few of us who grew up on the grounds of state insane asylums where our parents, who worked there, had housing provided by the state. We weren't shoved from base to base, state to state, country to country, so we couldn't claim we didn't put down roots. Instead, we were buffeted between the bizarre personalities among whom we lived, if we chose to know the lives of those mostly benign inmates–excuse me, patients–from whose lunacy our parents earned their livings.

I was on my way to report the extraordinary X-ray finding to the chief conservator when I encountered her in the hallway waddling like a penguin toward me in her daily dress of black pants, white blouse, black vest. Stella said, "Ah, Edgar, we need to talk."

The skies were cloudy all day.
Since morning, Fred and I had been peering out of the tiny windshield of his car as the overhanging sky loomed above us and met the horizon: flat and far ahead. The black metal skull of his even-then ancient 1935 Ford, with its sets of human eyes, prowled the sand roads across the prairie. It was late afternoon. I was driving. We were both irritable.

The most important summer of my life began with a house-shaking thunder-boomer that woke me up on a Thursday night in 1958 near the end of my fifth-grade school year.
I walked out of my bedroom to the living room and saw Dad, in his brown pajamas, standing at the window looking out and up at the fury in the sky. On a nearby table, the transistor radio was playing softly so he could hear the news of any tornado sightings. He held the flashlight in case the power went off and we had to go to the basement. His hand was tight around the aluminum cylinder, holding it as if it were a club he could use against the weather. Dad had good reason to be cautious.

Bob Crowley, drunk and very tired, almost tripped over the broken toy truck before kicking it out of his way then trudging around the side of the house to the back of a former duplex that now housed six families of 50-some Christian souls. Work on the Great Christian State of Kansas Cathedral went on from dawn to dusk, almost a 14-hour, hot, summer day.

"I like these kinds of snows. They cancel things out."
The voice that broke the silence in the cold room had the gravel-grumble tone that smokers get and keep – even after they stop smoking. The nervous plucking of his hands at his worn, brown sweater said he still missed his cigarettes. His lined, but healthy, blood-perfused face meant he had smoked heavily most of his life before something had made him stop. Bypass surgery, I diagnosed.

Fred Underwood was driving his 15-year-old, once-white, now rust-speckled Nissan pickup six miles oven several things happened to him.
He saw a sign announcing—as though proud of the fact—that gasoline at the upcoming station was selling for $4.15 a gallon. He looked into the rear view mirror when he heard a siren and confirmed that, indeed, a police car was chasing him. He uttered, “Shit,” but then felt his body swept with euphoria: an idea smacked him that would make him rich.

David Lopez sat at a table on the patio of the most popular outside cafe at the Kansas City Plaza Enclave on a warm, early spring day and was depressed at the thought of how happy everybody around him seemed. How satisfied they all are with their own lives, enjoying this day, their meals and the music of Mozart from the string quartet. His model, Gloria Barnes was snarfling alfalfa-soy sprouts and babbling about her studies in Buddhist logic: "The thing that people don't realize is that Buddhism has a much better grip on what is real than any other philosophy," she said, pausing to curl her tongue to the side of her mouth to catch a wayward sprout. "For Plato, reality is truth. What is cognized as true is real. For the Buddhist, reality is efficiency. Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that TOMORROW?"

Edward Hawthorne had no premonition of the first disturbing and later horrifying consequences that would result from his joining the Friends of Pilley Park Garden Society.

At seven-thirty on a fresh, cool Monday morning in the forty-fifth spring of his life, under a sky the blue of which General Motors used for its 1957 Chevrolet, the Rev. Christopher Talley looked into the trunk of his BMW, aimed his thick, index finger at the objects stored neatly away, and stuck up his thumb.
"Bang," he said, as he pointed his finger at the portable typewriter, depressed his thumb, and heard the knuckle crack. He shifted to take aim at a stack of reference books, and then in rapid order went "bang, bang, bang, bang," at the dictionary, the thesaurus, the Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer. Father Talley aimed the finger next at the large, expandable file and, with the loudest mental bang of them all, blasted that well-worn cardboard structure and all of the pieces of paper the damn thing contained. He thought about pointing the finger at his own head, but reached down instead to caress the fly rod case, pat the tackle box, and run his hand across the stack of journals on studies into ancient Greece he had bound together with cord. He closed the trunk lid, listening to its satisfyingly solid click.

I hadn’t seen that good-lookin' motherfucker for almost a year when he walked into The Fat Cat with his partner to ask me about the dead dancer found that morning in our dumpster.

I think back to the 1960s too much now. Not sane. A fixation on then is no way to deal with now. My fascination with those times is not the kind of healthy diversion with the past, the way an interest in history can become a worthwhile hobby. Maybe it's worse than a fascination or a fixation; maybe it's an obsession. Can obsessions ever be worthwhile? Probably not. I know I long too much for the psychology of those times, the psychology of others then, of the me then that is so different from the selfish, cynical, jaded, boring psychology of the times, other people and – I fear – the me now.
Why write this? To expunge the obsession? Can't hurt; might help. Maybe in the writing I'll find the worth.