Today was a beautiful day. Seventy degrees, sunshine, a gentle breeze, and everyone riding bikes. The uncanny early spring makes the city seem enchanted: gliding downhill, I expected my bicycle to sprout wings. Traffic all around me, but I feel completely safe in my bubble in the bike lane.
I biked downtown and checked out the main library’s ongoing book sale. Lo and behold! I picked up six books for 25 cents each. And I won’t complain about the library’s weeding of these excellent books, some of which are decades old, because I already did that yesterday. Some of these books are by literary writers who were not well known even at the time of publication. Others are newish, so I was both pleased and puzzled. If I were a librarian I would check out the books I want to save over and over. (Actually, I know a librarian who used to do that.) Do you think there’s any way I can sneak these back on the shelves after I’ve read them? Nah.
Hortense Calisher’s Queenie. Calisher (1911-2009), a prolific writer of novels and short stories, is one of my favorite writers. The daughter of Jewish immigrants, she lived in New York, sold stories to The New Yorker, and was way ahead of the curve in her realistic novels about the changing lives of women in the twentieth century. In her In the Slammer With Carol Smith, she portrays a former ’60s radical who, 20 years after her incarceration for a bombing and years in a mental hospital, is mentally ill and homeless in New York. Calisher won the 1986 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for another very odd novel, The Bobby Soxer, which deals in part with transgender issues. (One of the characters is a hermaphrodite.)
Queenie is, according to the book jacket, a coming-of-age novel. Here’s the first paragraph.
A happy childhood can’t be cured. Mine’ll hang around my neck like a rainbow, that’s all, instead of a noose. In today’s world, Miss Piranesi, who doesn’t know which is more practical?
Are you hooked?
Victor Serge’s The Case of Comrade Tulayev. In the introduction, Susan Sontag asks the question about this Soviet satire, “How to explain the obscurity of one of the most compelling of twentieth century ethical and literary heroes, Victor Serge?” Now that NYRB has reissued several of his books, let’s hope he’s less obscure. I love Russian novels, and this will be my first by Serge.
Dreamside by Graham Joyce. A few years ago I went crazy for Joyce’s beautifully-written fantasy, The Silent Land (which I wrote about here), an uncanny novel in which a couple, Zoe and Jake, are buried in an avalanche on a skiing holiday and discover themselves all alone in the resort, with all the food they need at the hotel, etc., but there is a problem: they cannot leave the town. Every description of a snowflake is breathtaking. According to the book jacket,
It began as an experiment in college–a seemingly harmless investigation into “lucid dreaming,” the ability to control one’s dreams. But they stayed too long on Dreamside, and now, ten years later, the dreams have returned–returned to upend their adult lives.
Joyce, who won the World Fantasy Award, died last year of cancer. He wrote about it eloquently at his website.
Susan Cheever’s The Cage. Susan Cheever is John Cheever’s daughter, a novelist, memoirist, and biographer. I very much admired her biography of Louisa May Alcott. A few years ago, I read and immensely enjoyed her novel Doctors and Women( Iwrote about it at my old blog, ) The Cage is her third novel, published in 1982, and, according to the book jacket, is set during a summer in New Hampshire, when a fortyish couple’s marriage falls apart.
The Starry Rift by James Tiptree, Jr. The award-winning James Tiptree, Jr., was actually Alice Bradley Sheldon, a woman who served in the military and later worked for the CIA. The James Tiptree Jr. Award was initiated by the writers Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy to recognize SF books that encourage the exploration and expansion of gender.
And this book features an alien librarian! How can I not like it? According to the book jacket, it is set “against the backdrop of a a far future univeristy library where alien students are researching a project on the history of the human race.” I’m in!
Moa Blue, Chief Assistant Librarian, snuffles his way back to the Historical Specialites carousel. HIs snuffling is partly constitutional–Moa is an amphibian–and partly directed at his current customers… They are asking for a selection of Human fact/fiction from the early days of the Federation, “to get the ambience.” A selection! In Moa’s day as a student, you did the selecting yourself.
Wow, he’s as crusty as I am!