Saturday, December 14, 2013

Still time: Gift ideas from the reviews at Bellemeade Books

Here is a last round-up of previously-reviewed holiday suggestions and interesting literary sites that are worth a browse for gift ideas. As always, these can be found by clicking on the links, and books can be purchased using the Amazon search box here on Bellemeade Books. However a reader celebrates the final weeks of a departing year have a good read, and enjoy best wishes for a successful and happy new year!

(Above) How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop: The Machine Speaks (Stop Smiling Books/Melville House Publishing) is a tech geek's wild ride through Dave Tompkins's ten-year research and interviews, taking tangent at every opportunity to weave together the improbable uses and history of this one technological wonder. Like most of the inescapable gadgets that come to permeate popular culture the vocoder is unrecognizable from its original form, much like the defense-industry origins of what became the internet which followed it in the 1940s. Now the electronically-altered human voice surrounds us, and How to Wreck a Nice Beach (the title is a phonetic play on the human ear's ability to recognize meaning in speech even in distorted form) is probably more history and detail than a casual reader might need, and Tompkins's writing style is that particular style of rock-music writing, the pop-baroque: Homer Dudley "invented the vocoder when he realized his mouth was a radio station while flat on his back in a Manhattan hospital bed, eyes on the ceiling, a goldfish as his witness."
The Paris Review interviews -- nearly sixty years' worth -- are now all available online, and they are a pleasure to have available at last all in a single place to discover, or discover again. Those who have wandered bookshops and old magazine stacks and stumbled on stray volumes of The Paris Review Interviews in their multi-part book form are now free to spend leisurely hours discovering that their literary heroes (and sometimes, villains) are just as they imagined -- or not as the reader imagined them at all. As expected, Eliot, Marianne Moore, Nabokov, and Faulkner cast long shadows, while Auden, Cheever, Anthony Burgess, and Kingsley Amis best one another's observations sounding as if they had cocktails in hand. (“After fifty, one ceases to digest; as someone once said: ‘I just ferment my food now'": that's Terry Southern's witty 1958 talk with Henry Green.) In an unexpected wistful moment, tough-guy Hemingway lets his guard down: “. . . the best writing is certainly when you are in love.”

Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression (City Lights, 2006, edited by Bill Morgan and Nancy Peters) is an especially timely read, collecting correspondence, reporting, magazine articles, and testimony excerpts surrounding the creation of the poem and the subsequent trial. There are some genuinely affecting early letters to friends (in one he addresses Kerouac as "Dear Almond Crackerjax"). It's difficult now to comprehend what an impact the trial had on American culture. It's equally difficult to imagine contemporary culture without judge Clayton Horn's decision, or justice Potter Stewart's words: "In the free society to which the Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself." Ginsberg was so uncertain of the trial's outcome that he spent most of the time out of the country, and as a result his letters to Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Corso, and many others are a written record of the trial behind the scenes.

Toronto Poetry Vendors (TPV) is a continuing experiment in getting the word out -- literally -- by vending machine. Here's an excerpt from the post at maisonnueve: Inspired by the Distriboto machines she’d seen in Montreal, Toronto poet Carey Toane dreamed up the idea of a machine that would dispense poems. When fellow poet and fiction writer Elisabeth de Mariaffi got on board, they found themselves sourcing Wrigley’s Excel gum machines on Craigslist and 3 months later, in April 2010, launched Canada’s first mechanical poetry journal, Toronto Poetry Vendors (TPV).The idea came out of the renaissance in handmade, DIY self-publishing in Toronto and the larger lit community, with all the beautiful hand-bound chapbooks and letter press books just begging to be handled and cracked open and enjoyed for their tactile qualities as much as for their content. I covet these things,” Toane says.

Visions & Affiliations is a lavish and entertaining two-volume chronology of Bay Area poetry, and part of a continuing timeline, being compiled by San Francisco writer Jack Foley and his wife Adele. 

The force of creative chaos that runs through this Bay Area history from 1940 to 2005 is less an organizing principle than, in Foley's words, a human response that defined character: "As circumstances arise we discover/invent selves to deal with themIn story, our lives tend to take on a coherence and purpose which they may well have lacked in actuality." His wife noted in an interview that while Bay Area poetry is covered extensively the book is broadly about California poetry and features, among many others, such Angelean luminaries as “Tommy the Commie” (Thomas McGrath), Philomene Long, William Pillen, Amy Gerstler, and David St. John. For an excerpt from Visions and Affiliations: A California Literary Timeline 1940-2005 there is more at Jack and Adelle Foley's web page.

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