Funny as a Crutch: Jerry Stahl's Latest Self-Help Installment

Categories: OC Bookly

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Sometimes a good title so perfectly provokes, engages or deadpans to the author's fans, offers that secret handshake of an invitation, that they know exactly what they are going to get. Writer Jerry Stahl's fans, of which Mr. Bib is of course one, will be satisfied, and  then some, by the predictabley strange drug-addled existential shenanigans of his junkie narrator, but also challenged to engage a larger political critique which maybe you could also be surprised at with a cover that reads, delightfully, perversely, Happy Mutant Baby Pills. Perfect, of course, by way of the ad-speak meets Beat-poet psychedelic Big Pharma branding which has gotten so very nice and easy to send up, if you are that kind of skeptic and yet done so very nice and rough, to bowdlerize the great Tina Turner, in a novel which finds a way to make a writer of "side effects" warning copy into a murderer, a lover, a crusading co-conspirator of sorts against his own best and worst interests, depending on how you feel about drugs and romance and grassroots politics and religion, which doesn't even begin to cover it all in this "romp" of a narco-narrative that delivers resistance to the organized corporate doping of America by, ironically, two dope fiends.  Ha!  

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Think Globally, Read Locally: Wild and Beautiful Orange County

Categories: OC Bookly

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First, I want to put my own enthusiasm as a wannabe naturalist in context and cop, up front, to my total newbie-ism. There are so many other talented book and nature people who should be writing this morning about Laguna Wilderness Press, a great resource for amazing books about our region but, lucky me and thanks to Editor Gustavo the A, you'll have to suffer my excitement and endure this Mr. Bib-come-lately appreciation. It started when I found myself, no kidding, using the wet-dry vac to suck up some of what must be the absolutely most productive default olive "harvest" that has happened in these parts lately, where I live under the weird mixed-up canopy of oaks, sycamores, a few unlikely pines and, yes, hundreds of olive trees which rural (as opposed to urban) legend insists were planted by Madame Helena's boyfriend, the fake Polish "count" about a hundred years ago and, which local lore advises are the "wrong kind" of olive. But as I collected these good-sized full purple-black juicy fruits I wondered what was so wrong about them. The neighborhood in which we reside is not, after all called Wrong Kind Hill.

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Local Girl Does Good: Victoria Patterson's Peerless Vision

Categories: OC Bookly

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It's all too often this blogger has to fudge the premise of your favorite Orange County literary arts blog, stretching to meet the ostensible OC theme by way of history or demographic or subject matter. Sometimes I don't even try, and instead just go on and on about what pleases The Bibliofella. Happily, this week's subject fits both categories by way of the talented, political, beautiful (see photo) "local" author Victoria Patterson, whose third book, a novel about women Olympians of all things, marks her first efforts to write beyond the class and sex critique of our funny county and its glittering gem in the bejeweled cubic zirconian crown of Corona del Mar, Newport and Fashion Island. Patterson's amazing breakout story collection, Drift, told the lives of broken people whose unrealistic expectations somehow persist in the unreal world of privilege, composed with the special vengeance and empathy of somebody who had grown up there, watched, remembered and listened. But somebody with a class critique, thankfully. Then, in the novel This Vacant Paradise, Patterson did for (well, against) Fashion Island what novelist Greg Bills did for (to) Triangle Square in his scaldingly dark and wonderfully disturbing Fearful Symmetry. I see from above that it's time for an OC best of.

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The Re-Irrigation of the Imagination: Nicholson Baker's Traveling Sprinkler

Categories: OC Bookly

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Its unlikely title, awkward if also hilarious, has taken a couple of reviewers of the newest Nicholson Baker novel by surprise. Their disappointment at a book called, yes, clumsily, prosaically, weirdly, Traveling Sprinkler is to be understood and noted, but only if you (they) misunderstand the novel itself, and its protagonist, and the ambitions (all mostly fulfilled) of the sequel by the author of the earlier and much-acclaimed The Anthologist, inventor of nutty-wonderful character Paul Chowder, the minor American poet for whom it is nearly impossible to concentrate on one thing and why, friend would you want to?  

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Big Orange, Big Anteater, Big Newport, Big Chapman: Big Month for Lit

Categories: OC Bookly

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Last week I bragged on and promoted the latest issue of the lit magazine I edit, and suggested you buy tickets for next week's reading, "Santa Monica Review Presents..." Tickets are still available at Brownpapertickets. Meanwhile, Chapman University is doing its best, it seems, to attract you, too. Its most excellent "Tabula Poetica" series of readings by visiting writers offers a must-not-miss chance to see one of the nation's best poets, C.K. Williams. I'll mention all kinds of upcoming OC lit events in this post, but please trust me that you absolutely do not want to miss him on Tuesday, October 15 for a mid-day talk on translation and, for sure, a reading in the Wilkinson Chapel at Leatherby Libraries (7 PM) by a poet who has, justifiably, won every award there is, even as he has transformed, matured, evolved his long line of protest and capturing of episode and idiom into shorter conversations. It's free, for which everybody should be grateful to Chapman. 

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Latest Santa Monica Review Out: Shameless Self-Promotion Blog (But With an Orange County Connection!)

Categories: OC Bookly

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It's fall, a big literary season and Mr. Bib can't ignore the many questions (okay, one) from fans of this blog (okay, two) about the date of the arrival of the newest issue of the Santa Monica Review, a terrific West Coast literary journal featuring both original fiction and nonfiction and edited, as it happens, by Yours Bibly. Here's the cover of the Fall 2013 magazine, a gorgeous black-and-white photograph by social justice artist Andrea Bowers. SMR is published twice yearly, and I am especially proud of this issue, for no good reason, not really, as I am proud of all of them. Except that there seems to somehow be more in this one, a couple of two-fers and a lot of shorter stories and essays (21!) instead of fewer long ones or even a novella. Oh, and some big names. No, not like Tonkovich is a big name, but big shorter names by well-known writer: Carlson, Latiolais, Lutz, Gifford. And some littler big names, from newbies or writers unknown to this reader but to whose work I have now, happily, been introduced by way of publishing them. Damn, I have a great job! (Thanks to Santa Monica College and my boss, Don Girard, for that. I am pretty sure SMC is the only community college sponsoring a nationally distributed lit mag that's not just for its own students and faculty and staff but out there with the other ones regularly acknowledged by Best American and Pushcart prizes.   

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Carping Diem! Teachers Rant. Teachers' Rant. A Teacher's Rant. It's Back-to-School Reading Week

Categories: OC Bookly

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Your assignment this week: sixteen essays, ten short chapters, one elegant and righteous rant. Almost ready for classes starting next week at the UC, and well into the quarter or semester everywhere else. Everybody asks the annoying question about how the kids are doin' these days, education is simultaneously too expensive and underfunded, the check-out lady at Ralphs tells me she hated writing in high school, and the late if immortal Paulo Friere's one-time and always radical analysis is still the answer to the question asked in Mark Edmundson's new book, a collection of his accessible, fun, provocative writings, titled Why Teach? In Defense of Real Education. I guess the subtitle sort of answers the interrogative too, if you struggle a bit with the syntax, and imagine "real education" as it is described, helpfully, in the newest edition of the text used in Composition classes where I teach. But before I go there, please, somebody tell me why Ralphs (sic), absent an apostrophe, is plural and not possessive? Class? Class? Anyone? Ralph?

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Intellectual Freedom is Free! Banned Books Week 2013, September 22-28

Categories: OC Bookly

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Banned Books Week 2013 arrives September 22. Celebrating the freedom to read or pushing back against the troglodytes and fundies, hypocritical liberal parents or rightist political reactionaries. Either way, my kind of activist commemoration. Plus, a chance to share this photograph of Raquel Welch as Myra (Myron) in the classic, wonderful, over-the-top film version of Gore Vidal's 1968 novel Myra Breckinridge. Friends, colleagues, students and participants in past celebrations of local Banned Books Week "read-outs" will have already heard my own testimonial about its meaning to me, intellectually, politically, temperamentally: Downey, California, mid-1970s and the curious, awkward, funny-looking young Mr. Bib (still a child-bride of religious conservatism) has somehow found the sequel to that book, called Myron at the public library read it, been impressed, entertained, aroused, completely charmed by the wit of Vidal, who in protest of a recent Supreme Court anti-pornography ruling, gently substituted the names of members (!) of the Court for presumed objectionable words:  "He thrust his enormous Rehnquist deep within her Whizzer White." 

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Who Put Such Thoughts in Your Head? Ragtime, Fullerton College, Synchronicity & Syncopation

Categories: OC Bookly

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This morning finds me riffing, happily, on (at least) two of my favorite subjects, my talented kid and one of my all-time favorite novels. E.L. Doctorow (Edgar to his friends and careful readers) also happens to be a favorite writer, thinker, essayist. As much as I adore Ragtime, which I taught a couple of times to beginning writers over at the community college in the orange grove (except no more orange grove), I would have also dug teaching two or three of his books, including The Book of Daniel and Loon Lake, both offering the same inventive narrative-making, puzzling around, meta-fiction, historical revisionism (natch) and synchronicity. Thirty years after I first read the book, published in 1975, I find even more synchronicity (or something) in the delight of my thespianic young son's small if inspiring role in the upcoming Fullerton College production of the musical version.

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Mark Slouka Goes Home Again (So You Don't Have To!)

Categories: OC Bookly

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I've followed the essays and fiction of writer Mark Slouka ("slow-kah") yet still didn't know exactly what to expect from his newest. It is his return, difficult and rewarding, to his own story instead of traveling, as it were, further into the lives of his Eastern European immigrant parents, or to other parts of the world. Brewster the novel is named for the real place, a "village" in New York right out of a West Coast kid's (me) imaginings (from books and movies and plays) of what a "hardscrabble" and "working class" town is like, and the place in the novel does not disappoint. By which I mean that it is a place of profound everyday disappointment, tension, frustration, claustrophobic teenage angst (all completely justified) circa 1968-69, when somebody perhaps very much like Slouka himself, the son of Hungarian parents, grew up there, albeit fictionally, and tried to get the hell out. The book is in a tradition, which it consciously both engages and, happily, subverts, mostly due to Slouka's success at making what "happens" less important than what is - to invoke one of the era's songs the author himself invokes - "happening here," which is all too clear: adults purposely, accidentally hurting children as part of their ritual of war and child sacrifice.

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