A new series on interesting book collectors.
Richard Prince is among my favorite of contemporary artists. His Marlboro Man changed the way I thought about art and his autographed photos remain among the high points of New York clever school of art.
Prince's Untitled (Cowboy)
The Brilliant Autograph Series
Prince is also a serious book nerd. His collection, housed in a climate controlled vault in upstate New York, is wide ranging. It includes a signed first edition of Ulysses, Vladimir Nabokov’s desk copy of the Olympia Edition of Lolita, and Bridget Berlin’s handwritten Cock Book. As Prince explains, “Basically, my collection is about sex, drugs, Beats, hippies, punks. . . And great reads.” It is said to be among the best collections post war American literature in private hands.
The idea originally was American from Prince’s birth in 1949 to his 1984, but the collection has expanded a bit beyond that at this point. Rumor has it he is in the process of cataloging it and will perhaps donate it to the Morgan library or some other institution. I hope so; I’d love to see the hand corrections Vlad did on Lolita.
On a personal note, I’ve got a couple of Prince’s books myself. Two monographs, including the one issued for his retrospective at the Guggenheim, plus an edition of his book Why I Go to the Movies Alone bought by yours truly for four dollars, currently going for about two hundred on Amazon.
Further reading on Prince collection can be found here, and here.
I was just on vacation (during my vacation, very post-modern) when I read City and the City by China Mieville. It was my first time reading anything by this author and I will say I was very happy with this book. It is a combination of noir, political allegory, and science fiction.
The basic premise is that there are two cities that touch but if you live in one, you can’t acknowledge the other (by law) and a person is from one city and murdered and their body is dumped in the other. It is an interesting allegory of the Muslim and the western world. I won’t spoil the book itself but I will say that it is worth picking up.
The Week In Review
In a quixotic attempt to write more and reinvigorate this blog, I present to you the new feature, the week in the review wherein I note books acquired, work done, and posts written.
On Writing Well: 30th Anniversary Edition, William Zinsser (amazon)
Hell on Two Wheels: An Astoning Story of Suffering, Triumph and the Most Extreme Endurance Race in the World, Amy Snyder (Amazon)
Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record –Setting Run Across America, Marshall Ulrich (Amazon)
Restarted the study of Hebrew on Shabbat, putting in 1.25 hours and getting through a part of the alphabet. The plan with this is to get a decent level of letter recognition / pronunciation in the coming months and then focus in on vocabulary. Its intimidating, but an exciting project. I’ll probably post more about this.
I reviewed Aristotle’s Children by Richard Rubenstein here
Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages
I have for some time been interested in the interplay between classical Greek philosophy, rabbinic Judaism, and early Christian thought. Neo-platonic thought and early Christian doctrine share a lot in common, and Aristotle had a clear influence on the codification of the Talmud. So when I saw the subtitle of this book, I was excited for an overview of that area of history. I guess I should have read the back cover before I purchased this one, because the title is highly misleading. This book has almost no information about the early Christian era; it is a book about the rediscovery of classical thought in the high middle ages and Renaissance. Think Thomas Aquinas and Peter Abelard, not Rabbi Akiva and Augustine of Hippo.
Though this book turned out to not be at all what I was looking for, it was interesting. As a theology buff, I enjoyed the arguments regarding the nature of the trinity, the infighting between the competing monastic orders, and the turn towards Aristotelian logic in theological debate. You can look down your nose at monks arguing over the question of how many angels fit on the head of a pin, but the rigor that people like Aquinas and Abelard brought to the discussion of theological questions is the foundation for the logistical thinking which brought us the scientific revolution. And the scientific revolution brought you the iphone, so shut up.
Aristotle’s Children may not have been what I was looking for, but as a piece of popular religious history, it’s a good read. Recommended for the curious.
The Cold Six Thousand is the second volume of Ellroy’s “Underworld Trilogy” tracing the history of 1960s America through the lives of real and imagined gangsters. Written in an intense staccato style, the books are filled with conspiracies, bad men behaving horribly, and real and imagined dirt on most of the pivotal figures of the 1960s.
I enjoyed the first book in the series, American Tabloid. By turns exhausting and exhilarating, it felt like something new in crime fiction. The dirty machismo of much the genre boiled down to a thick tar of nasty violence. Ellroy’s books relish in violence and hatred. They’re not nice and can at times be difficult to read, but despite my conflicted feelings about Ellroy as a person and a writer, I enjoyed the hell out of American Tabloid.
The Cold Six Thousand is another story. American Tabloid ends with the assassination of JFK. The Cold Six Thousand takes us from the “cover up” of that assassination through to the deaths of MLK and RFK with extended stops in mobbed up Las Vegas and drug-fueled Vietnam. If anything, The Cold Six Thousand is uglier than American Tabloid, racism plays a key role, and it is hard not to think that Ellroy enjoys putting despicable dialogue in the mouths of his characters. It is all a bit much. The ultra short declarative sentence style that seemed new and exciting in American Tabloid is just tiring in the Cold Six Thousand.
But Ellroy can write, and the characters remain compelling. I wanted to put it down, but I didn’t. If you’re a fan of Ellroy’s you’ve probably already read this. If not, start with American Tabloid. If after that you haven’t gotten enough, you could give this a try. I should probably leave well enough alone and not read the final book in the series, Bloods a Rover, but I probably will. I can’t leave a series unfinished.
The Long Fall
Crime novels are very grounded in place. George Pelacanos’s novels sing of DC; Laura Lippman’s of Baltimore of Los Angeles, and until recently, Walter Mosley’s most famous crime novels were set in Watts. For the last decade of so the heavy hitters of crime fiction have mostly been avoiding New York. There is, of course, Lawrence Block, but I have not read him. In recent years the crime writers I read came to New York were Richard Price’s “Dempsy” novels: Clockers, Freedomland and Samaritan, which were set in a fictionalized version of Newark with the occasional glimpses of life in New York. Price has said that he set the novels in a fictionalized city because the real thing was too overpowering. I can see that.
Lately, there has been a bit of a return to New York. Price set Lush Life on the Lower East Side, up and comers Reed Farrel Coleman and Colin Harrison have both set their novels in Brooklyn, and now Mosley has started a new crime series in the City staring a new protagonists, Leonid McGill.
The Long Fall’s plot is a classic of the genre – private detective investigates a case that leads him into a conspiracy bigger than he imagined. Innocents are injured; the detective must get his hands dirty; justice must be done. If you read these novels, you know exactly what I am talking about. Mosley knows what he is doing; the plotting is catnip to crime novel fans.
More interesting, perhaps, is the creation of the character of McGill. He is a private investigator, and in crime novels, PIs generally come in two types – those on their way down, and those on their way up. McGill is a little of both, morally he is on his way up. He isn’t taking enforcer gigs anymore; he isn’t setting people up for crimes they didn’t commit. But he is behind in the rent, drinking too much and cheating on his wife (who is cheating on him). It’s a nice juxtaposition. By being good he is doing bad. I am curious to see how it plays out in the other novels. Will McGill’s better angels lead him into financial ruin, or will he turn his back on the moral life and return to a life of crime. Mosley seems to be setting us up to watch McGill rise up again, but I could be wrong. Either way, it is a treat to see such a great crime writer set his stories in my city.
Worth reading for fans of the genre, especially those who wish more crime novels were set in New York.
One of the best courses I took in grad school was a survey of self-help literature, and I’ve looked over many books in the success/self-help genre. Self-help authors are incredibly aware of how the genre works and what books have preceded them, and as a result most of them are formulaic and blur together in an acronym-filled, seven steps towards (blank) becoming (blank) in (blank) days, mess. Occasionally, a self-help work will stand out from the pack as Scott Alexander’s book did for me at a used bookstore in SoCal. What’s Alexander’s take on success in all areas of your life? Become a rhinoceros. Really.
When you start making your way through the book you expect Scott Alexander to leave the “You are a Rhino!” gimmick at any moment, but he never does. From cover to cover (with numerous illustrations), from health to money to love, everything is explained to you in terms of being a Rhino, and the reader is constantly addressed as one. (Fear not, Christian readers, Alexander also encourages his Rhinos to tithe and read the Bible.)
It doesn’t even stop with this one title. In the back of the book Alexander offers his “Rhinoceros Newsletter” and two other books, “Advanced Rhinocerology” and “Rhinocerotic Relativity.”
Amazingly, Scott Alexander has kept up with the rhino shtick for over THIRTY years (allegedly selling an absurd 3 million copies of his three books), and has bravely, um, charged onto the internet with a Twitter account and a blog. Since I picked up this book several years ago I’ve noticed here and there a few “enthusiastic” (i.e. pick-up truck with back windshield covered with a giant decal) small business owners who have the word “Rhino” in their business’ name. Since I never see comparable animals included in random business names, like “Giraffe Bakery” or “Hippo Accounting and Tax Prep,” I’m assuming that these are successful adherents to the Rhino philosophy. I may scoff, but with “Rhino Realty” or “Rhino Window Washing” out there in the world, Scott Alexander apparently has a
-The Filled Slip