Scene at local library
Scene at local library

OC Bookly: Spring Forward. Fall Behind. Ask a Librarian!

​The canyons and meadows are greening up. The sun lingers in the afternoon sky. Literary Orange and the LA Times Festival of Books are right around the corner.  Springtime, when a middle-aged man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, and the books arrive.  Lots of 'em.No problem! Bring it on. I am, after all, that jolly book-geek at spring baby showers, birthday parties, weddings and write-ins who asks strangers what they're reading, hoping they'll ask me. I write down their recommendations, and unshyly share mine.
Mr. Bib's second favorite topic (I am my first, of course) is talking books and politics and radio shows--often, happily, the same thing. This week I stray a bit outside the actual geography if not the psycho-geography of my Orange County literary bailiwick, to share what's stacked at my bedside, in that tall pile which will kill me when the Big One strikes. But what a way to go! And to share recommendations from this week's Featured Librarian.

Indeed, who better to ask? But first, more about me and my terrific radio show! Gratifying to see recent Bibliocracy guest Julie Otsuka receive the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for her short, perfect novel The Buddha in the Attic, a story told in a kind of collective point of view by and about Japanese mail-order brides sent to husbands in California in the early 1900s. And speaking of my weekly literary arts show on KPFK, I just recorded a two-part interview with Bill Mohr, founder of So Cal's legendary Momentum Press, a poet himself,  editor of poetry magazines and two seminal LA anthologies, and a tireless booster of his peers, including Leland Hickman, Jim Krusoe, Wanda Coleman, Paul Vangelisti, Amy Gerstler and Dennis Cooper, and everybody else important to the scene.

The book is a must-read cultural history (with politics, natch) tracing the radical secret world of the 50s through the Beats and Venice West to punk-underground resurgence, spoken word and Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Foundation. The book is Hold-Outs:  The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992.

And speaking of my friend and mentor Jim Krusoe, I just received a copy of his newest novel, Parsifal. More on that later for sure, but it appears to be about a war between the earth and sky as experienced by yet another unlikely repairman anti-hero. Parsifal meets a lot of librarians along the way, in his search for meaning. Sounds like Jimbo, author most recently of Toward You, about a kooky inventor guy who gets a post card from his dead mom, and Girl Factory, where a yogurt shop basement turns out to be a lab where women are held in suspended animation in vats of, yup, yogurt.

Michael Ryan, who teaches at UC Irvine and lives in OC, read recently at the most excellent UC Irvine Bookstore. I missed it. Damn. But I'm halfway through the predictably funny-crazy, resonant, story-ish poems in his new collection, This Morning. Ryan has been a serious poet for most of his life, winning the Yale Younger Poets award in 1974.  Here's the opening of a newer poem:

                                        Sixtieth-Birthday Dinner
                            If in the men's room of our favorite restaurant
                            While blissfully pissing riserva spumane
                            I punch the wall because I am so old,
                            I promise not to punch too carelessly

The hardest-working OC writer in the biz, Scott Martelle, has a new book. His necessarily grim history of the Motor City, Detroit, just arrived, as did galleys of Paula Priamos's "detective noir memoir," The Shyster's Daughter. Martelle's previous book, also featured on Bibliocracy, was The Fear Within, about the most dramatic and important political show trial in America you never heard of. Priamos hails from the Inland Empire. Check out Scott's excellent blog here.

Yup, we're pretty darn eclectic here, so no surprise that my young son and I are reading a gift from a friend, The Neddiad, by the always wonderful Daniel

​Pinkwater (often heard on NPR). It's a nutty romp with bad jokes, clever wordplay, funny character names and a wild journey. I'll let Pinkwater describe it himself: The tale, the saga, the odyssey of young Neddie Wentworthstein, heir to a shoelace empire, and generally a nice kid. When his family decides to move from Chicago to Los Angeles, little does Neddie know that he is in store for a grand Hollywood adventure, whereupon he will meet the likes of swashbuckling actors, omniscient shamans, hungry ghosts, mysterious turtles, and an elephant or two. Fun, smart!

And speaking, finally, of librarians, those heroes of the dying republic, I've asked the hippest, smartest of them to share, hoping, Dear Reader, that you might also. My pal and union comrade Brian Williams, Research Librarian for Criminology, Law and Society at UCI answered my "Whatcha readin'?" query with a title and a helpful mini-critique. Go figure.

​Williams hails from West Michigan, which he calls "an entirely unromantic section of the country" and finds in the work of Bonnie Jo Campbell "a truth in her stories that comes from living in a place a very long time." Williams writes: "Been reading Campbell's Midwest oeuvre. Read American Salvage (2009) first, a lovely, extraordinarily weird collection of short stories, and then her novel, Once Upon a River (2011). Couldn't put either down. Now, I've come to an earlier collection, Women & Other Animals: Stories. Dark fun!  Campbell's stories bring to life a claustrophobic, semi-rural and culturally arid West Michigan of farmers and piecework factory assemblers, fast food workers and night watchmen, hunters and killers, artists and artisans, characters and archetypes and tax protesters. Mostly you see America in full decay...the glorious Midwest, with no jobs here any longer, no jobs anyway to bring home a living wage. Only the underemployed as far as the eye can see, a zombieland of impoverished characters who struggle at the center of her stories. The madness and beauty she captures in her mundane surroundings...her keen vision of post-NAFTA, post-everything jobless America. Throughout, the complicating role of the crystal meth epidemic runs like a raging river, often pushing its characters to quick, dark resolutions." Thanks, Brian.  Keep writing recommendations like that and the Bibliofella will be out of a job!

Until then, I'll recommend and review, and check in with other OC readers, including librarians, toward listening to the vox of the literature-lovin' populi

American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Wayne State, 184 pp., $19.95
Hold-Outs: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, Bill Mohr, University of Iowa, 296 pp., $35.00
This Morning, Michael Ryan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 75 pp., $20.00
Parsifal, Jim Krusoe, Tin House, 260 pp., $15.95
Detroit, Scott Martelle, Chicago Review Press, 304 pp., $24.95
The Shyster's Daughter, Paula Priamos, Etruscan Press,250 pp., $16.00
The Nediadd, Daniel Pinkwater, Houghton Mifflin, 307 pp., $16.00

Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio, on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.


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