Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blogging from the Bookshop: On the Strugatsky Brothers' Definitely Maybe

"....the white July heat, the hottest it had been in two hundred years, engulfed the city. The air shimmered over red-hot rooftops. All the windows in the city were flung open, and in the thin shade of wilting trees, old women sweated and melted on benches near courtyard gates."
from Definitely Maybe

Ah, the old Neversink over the face. A signature indie bookseller move.
I claim no originality, but false modesty aside, I do think it looks good on me.  

Definitely Maybe, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. Melville House Neversink Library, 2014. 160 pages; 15$. A strong case could be made that the Strugatsky brothers are among the most important sci-fi writers of the 20th Century. Their cult 1971 novel Roadside Picnic, in which government-patrolled remains of alien crash sites known as "zones" birth a subculture of young urban exploration renegades called 'stalkers' who smuggle dangerous contraband alien technology on the black market, was the basis for filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's mystical art house sci-fi classic Stalker, for which the Strugatskys also wrote the brilliant screenplay. We can count among the Strugatskys living champions Ursula K. Le Guin, Theodore Sturgeon, Hari Kunzru and many others. They wrote high-stakes, philosophical and speculative sci-fi under close scrutiny from censors within the Iron Curtain, brazenly defying and satirizing the very real and dangerous ideological fervour of the Soviet era in which they lived with sly social commentary and searing wit. (A fascinating afterword to the 2012 reissue of Roadside Picnic, written by surviving brother Boris, chronicles in detail the oppressive creative conditions of the time and the novel's close brushes and daring escapes among the authoritiesthe consequences of artistic transgression and not toeing the Party line were very real indeed, and a mixture of ingenuity, fortitude and luck allowed Roadside Picnic and other Strugatsky novels find their way into print). Luckily for English readers, their books are also beginning to find their way into translation: Definitely Maybe is the latest addition to Melville House's always golden Neversink Library, and the occasion marks both it's first appearance in English, and the first time it has been published in a completely unexpurgated version.

It tells the story of astrophysicist Dmitri Malianov, who has sent off his family in order to isolate himself so that he can work distraction-free on the project he is certain will win him the Nobel Prize. And yet he just can't seem to get down to business. Once the Interruptions begin, they don't seem to want to stop. An unexpected delivery of a crate of vodka and caviar, a beautiful young woman in a provocative short skirtand then several of his peers and friends show up, also claiming they were on the verge of a major discovery when...Is there something in the air that wants to forestall human progress? Is it the disembodied will of the universe? God? Or are the distractions engineered by a far less mysterious force? And what will happen when Dmitri begins to seek out the cause? Definitely Maybe is political satire by way of probing speculative fiction, a suspenseful nail-biter that asks how one can hope to "explain fantastic events without a fantastic hypothesis?" 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

V-Day? More like FREE Day.

(For those of you looking closely, yes, that IS an
excerpt from The Bell Jar. Someone on the
interwebs was having a laugh.)
Good afternoon, all, and a happy, hearty, TGIFfy St. Valentine's to everyone. (Am I the only one to own that T-shirt that says Book Lovers Never Go to Bed Alone?) In lieu of chocolates, flowers, or cinnamon hearts—which thanks to Douglas Coupland we all know are REALLY used to mask the smell of decomposing flesh—Biblioasis would like to tell you about this nifty little app, which we probably should have told you about ages ago, but, well, here we are. Better late than never. Thirsty, meet BOOKSLINGER. Bookslinger, Thirsty. Bookslinger's a frisky lass who, thanks to our pals at Consortium, now slings (flings?) out one free story a week to her readers. All pieces drawn from independent presses across North America. The app is available (also for free) through the iTunes store. And guess what? Today, which is also International Book Giving Day, it seems Bookslinger's slung our very own "About Love." For those of you who are new, that's one of our three Chekhov tales that was translated by David Helwig and illustrated by Seth. So go at 'er, folks! Happy hearts!

(Though, um, I should say that if you really are looking for a happy day, you may want to hold off reading the Chekhov til tomorrow.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blogging from the Bookshop: On Lynn Darling's Out of the Woods

"Getting lost is easily avoided, say people who never get lost." - Lynn Darling

Note: objects are not necessarily to scale. The vivacious red of the oak leaf overlaid on the map beneath is not in fact larger than the landscape.  Failure to realize this could result in one becoming lost.

Out of the Woods: a Memoir of Wayfinding, by Lynn Darling. Harper Collins, 2014. 288 pages; 31$. Widowed ten years earlier, and finding herself quite suddenly alone and freed of parental responsibilities after her college-bound daughter leaves home, longtime New Yorker Lynn Darling suffered a crisis of personal identity and took to the woods in Vermont looking for self-knowledge and answers. Hoping to find direction in nature, she paradoxically finds new ways to get lost and reflect upon her past and what Geraldine Brooks calls "the often-treacherous switchbacks of the second half of life". A lyrical and vulnerable memoir of discovery in the tradition of Walden and Annie Dillard, Out of the Woods is one modern woman's reflection on the crisis of Dante's "mid-point of the path through life," and a manifesto and testament on the ways in which we might hope to find our way back.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Biblioasis at Incite Vancouver

For 25 years the Vancouver Writers Festival has strived to connect authors with their readers, and present the public with the very best of literature. In the Spring, through their Incite reading series, they provide an atmosphere to promote the exchange and cultivation of ideas, encourage reluctant readers to crack open a book and present opportunities for lovers of literature to get in contact with their favourite writers. In keeping with this tradition, Biblioasis author Andrew Steinmetz will be making an appearance on Wednesday, February 19 as part of the Incite reading series, to discuss his Hilary Weston Prize-nominated biography This Great Escape.

This Great Escape is the story of Michael Paryla, a Canadian actor with an uncredited 57 seconds of screen time in the 1963 blockbuster The Great Escape, and his history—from childhood flight from Nazism to suspicious death twenty years later—intersects bitterly, ironically and movingly with the plot of Sturges's great war film.

This opportunity to connect with Steinmetz and learn about the process behind the writing of This Great Escape is not to be missed. Also appearing are Catherine Bush, shortlisted for Ontario's Trillium Award, and Adrianne Harun, a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

The event starts at 7:30pm and is located in the Alice MacKay Room of their Central Library. Admission is free.

Visit their website for more information about upcoming events and to RSVP. And stay tuned for more Biblioasis authors at InCite: Cynthia Flood on March 5th, Kathy Page on April 2nd, and Ondjaki on May 8th!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Blogging from the Bookshop: On Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring

"I'd been banging my head against these questions for months, years. The three-way relationship between childhood experience, alcohol and writing. I'd read paper after paper about early life stresses and mediating factors, about the hand-me-down catastrophe of genetic disposition and the unearned luck of genetic resilience. I'd read about castration complexes and death drives and how Hemingway's mother was the dark queen of his internal world and in the midst of all these things I could hear the stripped-down elements of Berryman's poem: five words, clicking like beads on an abacus. 
Hunger, liquor, need, pieces, wrote."

- Olivia Laing

Although a tumbler of good scotch and a lit cigarette might seem like the height of romance,
this still life follows on the heels of some unimaginable disaster. 

The Trip to Echo Spring On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing. Picador, 2013. 352 pages; 30$. In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing finally brings two of our favourite pastimes together. Focusing on the lives and work of famous male writers and notorious drunks F. Scott. Fizgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman and John Cheever, Laing explores the disquieting connection between manic creativity and the often debilitating influence of alcoholism in the life of each, embarking on a journey that takes her from Cheever's New York to Carver's Port Angeles. Having grown up in and struggled with an alcoholic family herself, Laing's interest here is not purely academic, and her journey forms "a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery." Mixing memoir, travelogue, and literary biography and coming with endorsements from the likes of Nick Cave and Hilary Mantel, The Trip to Echo Spring looks to be one of the most original non-fiction titles of the year. It's quickly making its way to the top of more than a couple reading lists around here.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Blogging from the Bookshop: On Barry Miles's Call Me Burroughs

"Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage"
 -William S. Burroughs

Is that Peter Weller? Nah, it's good ole' Bill Burrahs grabbin' some much-deserved r&r after having exploded the depths of human consciousness. 

Call Me Burroughs: A Life, by Barry Miles. Twelve, 2014. 736 pages; 35$. With this 700+ page bio, Barry Miles looks to have written the definitive account of the life and times of famous denizen of Interzone and Beat legend William Burroughs. Undertaken with full permission from the writer's estate and the first bio to describe in detail the last decade of Burroughs's storied life, Call Me Burroughs "takes a panoramic view of the twentieth century" that follows Burroughs from his roots as a conservative Midwestern youth in the 20's and 30's to his formative sexual encounters with the Harvard gay scene, his galvanizing role in the Beat movement at Columbia, his rampant creativity and unhinged bohemianism at The Beat Hotel in Paris, his exotic travels in Mexico, Peru, and Tangier, and his vital role in many of the major artistic movements of the latter part of the 20th century including the Punk scene. Burroughs's exciting, shocking and often stranger-than-fiction life in many ways embodies the fruition and bizarre metamorphosis of counterculture in the 20th Century. Released on the centenary of the author of Naked Lunch's birth, and told through the lens of Burroughs's uncompromising quest for his "Ugly Spirit" through a heady combination of drugs, sexual misadventure, and transgressive literary technique, Miles's comprehensive biography of a true American original is sure to please even the most rabid fans of Beat literature and experimental fiction.