<< back to Picture of the Day Categorical Index (or use "back" button to return to previous page)
TV, by its passivity, is braindeath. read a book instead...
[more book recommendations in fancy format can be seen at zverina.com/bestbooks]
In Seattle, I recommend Arundel Books, 1113 1st Avenue, phone 206.624.4442


Beerspit Night and Cursing: The Correspondence of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli (1960 - 1967)
This seems to have been edited by a Pound scholar who came to Bukowski by way of one of Pound's accolytes Sheri Martinelli, a painter, Vogue model, and editor who published Buk in the 1960s. Buk had a thing for Pound and the feeling I get is his letters to Martinelli were a forced attempt to bed Martinelli, a "looker" through whom Buk might touch Pound vicariously. The introduction by Steven Moore is terrible, going into excruciating detail about Pound in that academically digressive way and offering nothing new about Buk. The letters Martinelli wrote are unreadable, and Buk's are hardly better. I no longer force myself to finish books out of obligation, so this will go unread and it's the one Buk book (only 2/3rds Buk, really) I'd consider selling. Or throwing off a bridge. One good thing about it is it shows Buk was fallible as writer and person, and it's kind of funny and sad to see him trying so hard. Like his gravestone says, "Don't Try." [February 26, 2003]
Charles Bukowski
Living on Luck: Selected Letters 1960s - 1970s (Volume 2)
Bukowski wrote a lot. Poems, stories, novels, letters. I've read all of the first three categories I can find, so I'm down to the letters, and the best read as well as any of the poems. The wrost are still better than most of what passes for writing. I read this a little while ago and forget if I had anything interesting to sat about it. It's good. Here's a quote from September 27, 1971, when I was 2 and Bukowski had no idea who I was. He never learned. "I now figurethat I am writing when I am doing nothing and that it takes a lot of doing nothing in order to write." [feb 2003]
been down so long it looks like up to me
Richard Farina
this book takes place at a lightly fictionalized cornell university. the main character lives at 109 Academae Avenue--well! i lived my last semester at cornell at 109 College Avenue, but i suspect the building i inhabited was built after the rundown 1958 house of the novel had been torn down. regardless, reading a book so located is kind of weird, and cool, and the book is a pleasant surprise, exuberantly written, carrying a force and joi de vivre that i've never encountered in any other writing. too bad the author died just after the release of this, his first novel. Farina was also a popular folk singer, one of those people of multiple talents and the strength of personality to capitalize on their abilities. i've just started this fun read. more when i complete. [jan 20, 2002] i never finished this book. what does that tell you? it faded. maybe this book is legendary because the author died so notably. or maybe it's just dated. 
Mark Kurlansky
Cod was an important fish/food/commodity in the development of the New World. This is one of those books that filters history through a previously unsung point of reference. I learned that scrod is cod fillet. When i was in college in the late 1980's, we used to joke about it when scrod was one of 4 or 5 entrees at the all-you-can-eat student dining hall buffet. What a funny name. Spoiled American brats that we were, who knew that in just a couple more years the fishing grounds would be depleted and such piscine delicacies would no longer be abundant or even readily available? Well, some people suspected, but no one wanted to take action until it was too late. This is a kind of cautionary tale, but, again, what good is caution when no one listens? I think of automobiles and global climate change. Profiteering and overpopulation are a deadly combination, but such is the state of civilization. In case you think I'm waxing nostalgic, I'm not. There were no good old days. [Dec 27, 2002]
Charles Bukowski
Shakespeare Never Did This
I think the title of this travelogue of Buk's 1978 trip to Europe refers to the fact that Shakespeare never had to go on reading tours to sell books, but then again, S. was a performer, so maybe the meaning has more to do with travel to France and Germany. I don't know. Who cares? This is a big floppy book with an uncharacteristically (for Black Sparrow Press) cheesy cover (the 2001 edition with photo colored a la 1980s new wave album), and it's full of pictures by Michael Montfort, some of which are better than others, most of which wouldn't merit publication if it weren't for their subject matter. The poems in the epilogue don't do it for me, but maybe that's because their range is too constrained, grouped as they are thematically. The prose is better, the usual magic is there--the plainspoken attention to details and fleeting thought. This is for the Buk completist (mine was a gift from my sister and i'm grateful for it), but it merits a read at your local library or bookstore coffee shop. [Dec 25 - 26, 2002]
Michael Moore
Stupid White Men
The title is a bit needleslly divisive, but I see his point: the danger in America now comes not from urban poor minorities (the favorite scapegoat on TV news--see Bowling for Columbine for more on this), but the entrenched power elite, which is comprised predomoinantly of white men (or assimilated wannabes who practice the same tactics of reckless profiteering and power consolidation). i wouldn't call them stupid, however, unless by stupid you mean shortsighted, greedy, self-serving, vain, powermad, ruthless, and hellbent on destruction. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and buy or borrow a copy of this book asap. you'll be doing me a favor because it's likely to inspire some positive action on your part towards making the world more liveable and the US a more sustainable culture. michael moore is a national treasure, one of the few writers out there gutsy enough to tell it like it is, and smart enough to sugarcoat the pill with rapidfire wit. i have seen him speak. the light is in him, shines brightly. let it cast out of your life the shadows of denial, distraction, and evasion. the truth hurts, but not facing it will only hurt worse. it's time to take charge of our future by claiming a place in the present. let this book show you the way. (also reviewed at picture of the day, dec 24, 2002)
Ernest Hemingway
The First 49 [Stories]
I read all this 15 years (!) ago when I was in college. It went down easy then, was memorable, but didn't shake my world too much. Rereading the first story in this edition (a neat hardcover published by in 1938, it also contains the play The Fifth Column), "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," I was blown away. I could see why Bukowski idolized the early Hemingway. Next, "Capital of the World"--about a waiter and a dishwasher in Madrid who play at bullfighting after hours--is the one story I remember most vividly from way back when, but rereading it really got me going. Holy shit, I thought, no wonder so many consider this guy such a genius. Capital of the World is my favorite. Wow. The third story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, revisits the idle rich in Africa, and, despite a few keen points, is pretty drab and totally overrated in the pantheon of literature. It's kind of downhill after that. I remember there are some other gems in the collection of "Nick Adams Stories," but for the most part this is tired stuff, past its time, like Hemingway himself, who, to paraphrase Bukowski, tried too hard to live his own myth and ended up writing shit. I'll continue this review when and if I finish it. [dec 24, 2002]. OK, a few days have passed, I've read another couple/three books, and have continued on through a bunch more tales. Some highs, some lows. "The Battler" is another story I remember from long ago, but I'd forgotten how Hem uses "nigger" descriptively, without irony. What did he mean? One thing I think he got right was how he focused on towns and people being used up. Towns are shown in ruins, people are shown past their prime, useless. Ow. Maybe this was his big innovation. It seems a new world thing, the country of boundless promise eventually runs out of steam, comes up empty once the barons have taken their profits and screwed the proletariat. Casting shadows over the action are the forces of power and money. Backdrops include war, industrialization, and other manipulations in which Hemingway's protagonists flounder powerless (if they are poor) or consumed by ennui (if they've got money), depending on their social stratum. Most of this is pretty morose, the tone is one of nothing matters anyway, let's drink. Hemingway had the empty macho thing down in fiction, then he lived it, and it killed him. A quote? Nah. I think Vonnegut was right when he observed that Hemingway hated women. [Dec 29, 2002] now i am done. i was mistaken when i said these were past their prime. some are better than others, and most are good. i can see where bukowski got some of his inspiration: pugilists, self-castration, and killers. standouts: "The Killers," "Fifty Grand," "A Pursuit Race," "A Clean, Well-lighted Place," "Homage to Switzerland," and "A Natural History of the Dead." A quote, after all: "But when Mr. Turner came up to William Campbell's room at noon William Campbell was sleeping and as Mr. Turner was a man who knew what things in life were very valuable he did not wake him." [jan 13 2003]
Charles Bukowski
i first picked this up a year ago and didn't like it. i think that's because i'd just read his powerful autobiographical novels post office and ham on rye and wanted more of the same. pulp, his last novel, was completed shortly before his death in 1994 and is more a work of fantasy--an absurd detective tale written in classic hardboiled private eye style. it's a pageturner, and i'd love to turn it into a movie. it starts when Lady Death hires private dick Nick Belane to ascertain the identity of someone she thinks is Celine, who has somehow escaped her grasp. Bukowski's Celine is hilarious, a master of the put-down. more clients follow, in the best film noir tradition, but with bizarre and humorous twists. Belane's association with Lady Death proves beneficial a number of times, but it is not without its price. I couldn't put this down and the ending is a gutwrencher. Running gags like Belane's "high" fee ($6 an hour) and his inability to get served in bars without a hassle prove Buk's masterful comic touch, while slice of life digressions take the reader places few writers go. for instance, a space alien laments: "The earth. Smog, murder, the poisoned air, the poisoned water, the poisoned food, the hatred, the hopelessness, everything. The only beautiful thing about the earth is the animals and now they are being killed off, soon they will be gone except for pet rats and race horses. It's so sad, no wonder you drink so much." dedicated to "bad writing," pulp is anything but. [ dec 7 2002 ]
Charles Bukowski
Screams from the Balcony: Collected Letters, 1960-1970
I was walking down the back alley when suddenly I knew there was a new Bukowski waiting for me in the window of Twice Sold Tales. I went out of my way to go there. I was right. Got it for $5 because it was kind of tattered. Said to the proprietor, "I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel, down to the letters." Bukowski is a writer's writer, and there's a lot here that's funny and interesting. I like his style, or maybe it's tone, or maybe it's the apparent directness, the daily confrontation with madness. Oh yeah, beware the person who says they're sane in a sick society. "Because a man needs 2 cars, a tv set, 12 pairs of shoes for his wife, this signifies to me only an unhandsome sort of greed that is needed to fill a hole where something else should be" (63). [Nov 13 2002] [finally finished on jan 13, 2003]
In the Heart of the Sea
Nathaniel Philbrick
Sarah borrowed this from Paul Pihl and I picked it up off the kitchen counter early one morning, settled into a bath, and read straight through this tale of shipwrecked survivors eating the dead and casting lots to see who will die next. This is the story of the whaling ship Essex, which left Nantucket in 1819 and was eventually struck and sunk by an angry sperm whale in the Pacific. This unprecedented attack became the basis for Moby Dick. I'm a sucker for survival literature and this is as good as any introduction to the genre, but the really strange tidbit here concerns the 1945 scientific study of starvation conducted by the US government on "volunteer" subjects, all of whom were conscientious objectors to the WWII draft. [Nov 12 2002]
Like Shaking Hands with God
Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer
Kurt Vonnegut and his protoge Lee Stringer (well, it seems KV had something to do with the blossoming of Stringer's career) met for a couple of arranged conversations in NYC in late 1998 and early 1999. This is a very short book wherein the men discuss what drew them to writing, what it means to write, and write write write write write, etc. I tend to think the best writers are writer's writers, but maybe that's because I'm a writer. Vonnegut has always been self-conscious about the act of writing itself (often interposing himself between reader and story) and Lee Stringer is a former drug addict and street habitant who was redeemed by the act of writing. Both men believe that writing is good for the soul and humanity in general. If that sounds right to you, this will be a feel-good read. [Nov 11 2002]
The Most Beautiful Woman in Town
by Charles Bukowski
At some point in his career, Bukowski sold part of his ass to City Lights, which has put out a few thin volumes of material he wrote in the late 1960s. These laminated editions lack the aesthetic grace of the Black Sparrow series, but the words inside are worth reading. This book is the first of two volumes of short stories, the other being Tales of Ordinary Madness, which were published originally in one volume, the forthright title of which serves as a pretty accurate list of ingredients: Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness. Some of these pieces seem rushed and unedited, initial treatments of material which Buk later revisited and improved upon. I think this is because some of these were written for a weekly column in the defunct LA alternative paper Open City. Aside from these few weak spots (unfocused, disjointed), there are a lot of great stories here, with lots of sex, violence, and hilarity--all often in the same story. SIX INCHES is my personal favorite, combining elements of the absurd, magical, and comical that exemplify the best of Buk's imagination. In contrast, [Swastika] is a dreary contrivance that shows just how bad a writer Buk could have been if he had stuck to formulaic bullshit fiction. [Oct 21-22, 2002]
Burroughs Live: The Collected Interviews of William S. Burroughs
edited by Sylvere Lotringer
I like reading Burroughs' straight talk better than most of his fiction. This thick book contains all the interviews WSB gave from 1960 until his death in 1997 (minus a bunch included in another excellent book, Report from the Bunker). Wear this book like x-ray specs to see past the veil of polite appearances to the abyssmal core of human nature and power structure manipulation. "All of my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet or rendering it uninhabitable. Like the advertising people we talked about, I'm concerned with the precise manipulation of word and image to create an action, not to go out and buy Coca-Cola, but to create an alteration in the reader's consciousness" (81). [Oct 2002]
by Richard Buckminster Fuller
Fuller is famous for likening earth to a ship, the idea being that one needs to conserve as much as possible on a ship because resources are obviously limited. The problem with most people is they act as though resources on Earth are limitless (that's right, I'm talking to you, moron with the Ford Excursion). This epic metaphysical free verse poem describing the role of intuition in human development was written in 1968 on the occasion of the launch of Fuller's sailboat Intuition, "the epitome of design competence." It is a call for people to open their awareness beyond their specialized social and work roles in order to grasp universal concepts so that we as a race do not act in short-sighted and self-destructive ways. "And the black void/Nothingness of night/Backdropping the fireworks/Is the omnipresent,/A priori mystery./And the real beginning of education/Must be the experimental realization/Of absolute mystery" (50). [Oct 2002]
R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
by Karel Capek (translated from the Czech by P. Selver)
This 1921 play by Czech nationalist Karel Capek coined the term robot, which in the play refers to humanoid but soulless workers built to order by a company which values progress for its own sake above the sustainability of the human race. (Sound familiar?) Capek was an intellectual and philosopher, so the play's action is rather stylized and the characetrs themselves come off as somewhat robotic, uttering dialogue meant more to stimulate thought about subtleties of economics, metaphysics, civilization, and progress rather than simply entertain. This would probably be good book club discussion fodder. One line which really struck me, spoken by Berman, the managing director of the robot factory, who attempts to justify having manufactured the means by which humanity inevitably perishes: "Our fault, of course it isn't.... Do you suppose that the manager controls the output? It's the demand that controls the output. The whole world wanted to have its Robots. Good lord, we just rode along on this avalanche of demand, and kept chattering the while about engineering, about the social problem, about progress, about lots of interesting things. As if that kind of gossip would somehow guide us aright on our rolling course. In the meanwhile, everything was being hurried along by its own weight, faster, faster, and faster. And every wretched, paltry, niggling order [for more Robots] added its bit to the avalanche. That's how it was, my lads.... [W]hen I drew up these balance sheets, it entered my mind that history is not made by great dreams, but by petty needs of all honest, moderately knavish, and self-seeking folk: that is, of everybody in general" (81-82). It occurs to me that the nearest corollary in our present situation to the robots in the play is the automobile--a laborsaving device which threatens complete destruction of human life on earth. [Oct 2002]
Johnny Got His Gun
by Dalton Trumbo
This is another re-read for me, recently recommended by Howard Zinn, and also because I recently broke my wrist and have my thumb in a cast--I figured reading this would keep me from feeling sorry for myself. The strategy worked. Maybe it was overkill. 1938 anti-war novel in which the narrator is a WWI U.S. soldier who wakes up deaf in a hospital bed with his arms, legs, and face all blown off, with only the skin of his torso remaining to sense the vibrations of his surroundings and the infrequent touches of an indifferent medical staff. The first part of the book offers vivid and idyllic recollections of simpler times growing up in Colorado, written in an economic and evocative style similar to Bukowski's Ham on Rye, which personalizes the main character, Joe Bonham. Once established as sympathetic and basically innocent, Joe meditates on the futility of war and rages in his mind against all, like himself, who give up their freedom like sheep for the ruling elite, which itself somehow never suffers in the wars it creates. The novel, often banned, ends with this fiery warning to recruiters and draft boards of future conflicts: "We are men of peace who work and we want no quarrel. But if you destroy our peace if you take away our work if you try to range us one against the other we will know what to do. If you tell us to make the world safe for democracy we will take you seriously and by god and by Christ we will make it so. We will use the guns you force upon us we will use them to defend our very lives and the menace to our lives does not lie on the other side of a nomansland that was set apart without our consent it lies within our own boundaries here and now we have seen it and we know it.... You plan the wars you masters of men plan the wars and point the way and we will point the gun" (242-243). [Oct 5-6, 2002]
Travels with Charley
by John Steinbeck
This is a re-read. Steinbeck's got a nice flow and is very observant. What cracks me up most is how much attention is given to his poodle's piddling. I guess that's to be expected when you operate from a position of privilege (as I do, too!). He's also in denial--at one point he sez he doesn't like drinking alone, but then he goes and does it about half a dozen times. I think he was an alcoholic. But who isn't in denial? Oh yeah, this book is about the cross-country drive he took in his brand new camper, back around 1960 I think. Civil rights and the erosion of communities due to automobile were much on his mind. Charley is his dog, who he very evidently loved at least as much as booze and coffee. [Oct 2002]
Disturbing the Peace
by Vaclav Havel (A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala)
A book-length interview conducted by mail with then-political dissident and future Czech president Vaclav Havel in Soviet-occupied 1985 Czechoslovakia, just four years before the unforeseen demise of the Soviet Empire. Havel was an absurdist playwright who served numerous prison sentences for his outspoken views on human liberty, specifically freedom of expression. In this book, he emphasizes the importance of small actions based on principle rather than the strategic equivocations of those who seek to work "within the system" instead of simply opposing its every transgression of basic rights. Very timely reading for anyone living in the USA or any of its (future?) subsidiary nations. Some nuggets to chew on:
"I too think the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressure and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems, of power and its incantations, should be a witness to their mendacity. For this very reason, an intellectual cannot fit into any role that might be assigned to him, nor can he ever be made to fit into any of the histories written by the victors." (p167) [September 2002]
The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship
by Charles Bukowski
This book could have been titled Bukowski's Advice to Writers. Written in journal form on a Macintosh between 1991 and 1995, these latenight rambles focus on murdered time at the racetrack, Buk's impending death, and his obsession with writing which saw him through it all. Illustrations by R. Crumb add a nice touch to this quick and instructive read. Basic lessons: most people live lives of shit, and most writers write shit because they are motivated by wrong reasons, eager for the sell-out. I like this book because I like everything Bukowski wrote.
by Paddy Chayevsky
I haven't seen the movie, but I know the famous "I'm mad as hell" scene from childhood That's Hollywood TV program hosted by Tom Bosley, the dad on Happy Days. This is not great literature, but it's pretty good social theory, where the characters and plot are only there to drive home points that TV is a mercenary business with no morals and that profit is all in a world where nations are subordinate now to corporations. Written in the 1970s, maybe these ideas seemed extraordinary then, but now it seems pretty obvious. Still, it's good to see it put in words. A pretty good read, the Howard Beale soliloquies alone would make a good tract.
Hocus Pocus
by Kurt Vonnegut
My admiration for Vonnegut increases as I get older, and each time I reread one of his books, I see things which maturity has made visible. This book is very evidently (to me now, although I didn't see it this way before) about class struggle, positing the ruling class against the prison class, separated only by a lake which when prison walls come down and water freezes makes for a hostage situation wherein a new country founded by dark-skinned people of the underclass flourishes briefly and Vonnegut's Vietnam veteran protagonist/narrator treads an uneasy line between the two worlds.
a book about Absinthe
got it out from the library, lots of nice pictures illustrated historical and cultural aspects and impacts of this mildly narcotic alcoholic beverage, dubbed the "green fairy" for its emerald hue and elating effects.

more book recommendations can be seen at zverina.com/bestbooks

this page brought to you by robert zverina
a Picture of the Day production