Monday, September 02, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/31/19

More books than usual this time: one came from the library and a stack from a trip to the Strand in NYC. So let me talk about them in that order.

The Library

On a Sunbeam is Tillie Walden's second big book, after Spinning -- her card page also lists The End of Summer and I Love This Part, but I think those are shorter things, single-issue-sized or about there. I read Spinning, a memoir of her childhood spent as a competitive figure-skater, and was really impressed: Walden is the real deal. So I wanted to check out her follow-up, a big book telling what I think is a small-scale SF story.

The Strand

I need to confess here, as I do every time I go to the Strand these days and forget by the next time I make a plan to go. My image of this store is completely wrong. In my head, it's the unique review-copy emporium it was when I first worked in publishing, twenty-five years ago or more, with massive rows of shelves full of half-price current books in the basement and random quirky stuff everywhere else.

It is not that store now. It's a clean, bright standard indy bookstore, larger than the norm but otherwise exactly like several hundred other nice clean bookstores for book-club moms and woke twentysomethings all across the country.

That is a nice bookstore. But I don't care about that bookstore. And the Strand I loved is long gone. What it has instead is rows and rows of tables with new books at a slight discount, all merchandised exquisitely, exactly the books in exactly the current editions that you'd find in B&N or all of those other indies that are just like the Strand now.

So when I look for the books I would find at the old Strand, or even the prices I would find there, I don't have much luck. My trips there are getting shorter and shorter, and I really need to give up. The world has changed; it's not 1995 anymore and never will be again. And making a special trip to see rows of the same books I could see anywhere else is not a good use of time.

I did manage to find a few things before I left, to take my younger son out to dinner at his college (and then, oddly, bring him home for the long Labor Day weekend, even though he only got to college ten days before). Here's what I bought:

A Pound of Paper is a book-focused memoir by the writer John Baxter, who mostly does biographies of movie-makers (Fellini, Kubrick, De Nero, Lucas, etc.) but has also written the "encyclopedia of 20th century sex" Carnal Knowledge and falling-in-love-with-a-Frenchwoman memoir We'll Always Have Paris, both of which I read. (I see in my post about the latter I said that I thought I'd read this book, which is possible: the US cover looks very familiar once I google it.) Anyway, this is a "why I love books so much" book, with probably a lot about digging through bookstores in a misspent youth and suchlike. Maybe by the time I get to it I'll be even fuzzier about whether I read it before. At least I got a nice UK first, sealed in a plastic wrapper, so it's a more collectible edition if I did already read it once.

A Rage in Harlem is the first of the "Harlem Detectives" mystery novels by Chester Himes, which I periodically think I need to read. (Also known by the names of the main characters, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.) I think I had a stack of these in the earlier (90s) Black Lizard editions, so maybe I'm starting to collect them again.

Forever and a Death is a posthumous book by Donald E. Westlake -- published in 2017, a decade after he died, but written around 1995, originally as a film treatment for a Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie and then novelized to take out other people's IP. I imagine it's not top-drawer Westlake, or it would have been published earlier, but you take what you can get when you make it to the end of a favorite writer's work.

Tetris is a graphic novel by Box Brown, telling the story of the creation of that video game, reputed to be the most popular one in world history. Brown has been doing these quirky non-fiction books for a few years, and I've only read one of them, I think (Andre the Giant). But I keep adding them to my list of books to find, so I grabbed this one (even though it wasn't really on the list) when I found it cheap.

Manfried Saves the Day is the second story of Manfried the Man, a pet in a world of giant anthropomorphic cats and their cute little men. I've seen good reviews of these, they look just oddball enough, and so here I am.

Hewligan's Haircut is the kind of book I expect to find in the Strand: weird, forgotten, random, cheap. It's a 2010 reprinting of a 1990 eight-part story from 2000 AD, written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Jamie Hewlett, about a crazy young man with a haircut that can save the world.

And last was the doorstop Bad Doing & Big Ideas, a gigantic omnibus of Bill Willingham's non-Fables work for Vertigo, with a whole bunch of different artists (Paul Guinan, Shawn McManus, Mark Buckingham, Bernie Wrightson, Kevin Nowlan, and even his own pencils for a few pages). It collects Proposition Player, the two Thessaly mini-series, and some shorter stories around Sandman and House of Mystery, and I've been vaguely looking for it since it was published in 2011 (I didn't want to pay the $50 list price, and I didn't.)

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