The Search for William Troy

William Troy was, says the editor of the only book of his collected lectures and essays, a towering critic of the 30s, 40s and 50s. He wrote many book and film reviews for The Nation, but no books of his own.

I’m reading the collection William Troy: Selected Essays slowly. It’s long out of print but very gettable. His style is expert and delightful. He’s fighting, at this point of history, for literature to be enjoyed and interpreted as art, rather than subjected to the sorts of inappropriate scientific methods that have since subjugated the critical appreciation of the creative arts to some mad quest to view everything within the context of the social and economic sciences, if not even to physics and chemistry.

You Can Find This on Abe Books!

Here he is on the growing popularity of Henry James:

“At a moment where loss of continuity is our gravest threat, when personality is everywhere at a discount, when all consequent values dissolve in general terror, it is probably no great wonder that more and more people are turning to Henry James.”

Troy celebrates clarity in art and it’s darned refreshing.

Oh, Comic Books

I stopped collecting comics when I was around 16 because my father, who I was visiting for the summer, said they were for children. Though, the best parts of visiting “Dad in New York” during the 1990s were our trips to the comic book shops in Manhattan and Westchester that were hugely better stocked than those in New Mexico. Heck, I bought most of my comics at convenience stores.

Anyway, as I got older, Dad in New York got annoyed that I was reading comics and Star Trek novels and stilled seemed to like toys. That trip, along with massive inflation in books prices from 75 cents to a buck fifty a pop, caused me to give up on them. Though I guess I never really did and with Amazon Prime, a bunch of comics from that era in the 90s, right when I stopped reading, are now available for “free” browsing.

It’s funny… a few years earlier, Dad in New York said he liked the comics because they inserted fun words into my vocabulary like “Uncanny,” the moniker of the mutant X-Men. I always aspired to the witty banter of Spider-Man. When taunted, “You cannot avoid the Sabretooth” the Wallcrawler quipped, “Sure I can, I just brush between meals” and then kicked the furry, musclebound oaf right in his surgically enhanced fangs.

X-Men Vol 2 6 | Marvel Database | Fandom
That woman is a ninja and that is how woman ninjas dress, I’m sure of it.

Anyway, I’m reading some post mutant massacre Jim Lee/Chris Claremont X-Men and it is fun how imprecise some of the writing is. There’s a pointless discourse, for example, about how the Earth’s atmosphere dissipates around 50 miles from the surface and that no human can fly through that but the X-Men are anything but human! There’s mentioned of a “parameter alarm” sounding. It’s not tight writing. It’s not Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther. It’s just fun, full of error and indulgence. This ain’t “prestige graphic novel” reading. This is Marvel back when Marvel wasn’t Disney and we’re still 10 years out from Sam Raimi making the first good Marvel movies and setting the course for consolidation, ther MCU and Roberty Downey Jr. as your action hero.

Nuff said!

Plague Time Reading

Everywhere I turn, I’m seeing lists of movies to watch and shows to binge while under self-imposed (or, outside the U.S., government-imposed) quarantine. But this is really the best time for reading.

Haaretz has put together a list of novels for the novel corona virus, including Jose Saramago’s eerie Blindness, The Last Man by Mary Shelley, The Plague (natch) by Albert Camus and Love in the Time of Cholera (also natch) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

photo by Conor Rabbett

Personally, I’d spin a quarantine reading list in another direction entirely. I would avoid books about pandemics and seek out comedies, farces and fantasies. My current booklist includes:

Until the End of Time by physicist Brian Greene

White by Brett Easton Ellis

Algiers, Third World Capital by Elaine Mokhtefi

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski by Noah van Skiver (ships next Tuesday)

Remembering “The Banquet Years”

I’m writing something about a bookworm character who is remembering the books specifically given to him by teachers in high school and college. Among the list are: The Complete Works of Emerson, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, The Firebugs by Max Frisch, Strip Tease by Carl Hiassen, Side Effects by Woody Allen and this gem:

Published in 1955, Roger Shattuck’s vivid telling of the birth of French surrealism is a book I’ve read twice now and think about all the time. I remain sure that surrealism is the foundation of everything going on in the world today and not just in art, or even primarily in art, but in the communications of corporations and governments that are gleefully contradictory when they’re not completely free of information.

I highly recommend The Banquet Years. I may pick it up again soon.

The Persistence of Hardcover Books

I like books as objects and books as art and so I love a good hardcover book, even when they’re heavy, bulky and hard to carry around. I’ve also worked in book stores and I know that fans prefer hardcovers as keepsakes and that people prefer to give hard cover books as gifts.

But I wasn’t aware of the economics, spelled out here at Mentalfloss. Hardcover book buyers like me are giving publishers better margins. So now I can feel good about hoarding them, too.

Books! by Chris Lawton

Of course, you can sometimes save money by buying them remaindered. As I recall from my book shop days, a lot of unsold hard covers are torn apart and remade as trade paperbacks, that hybrid form that separates literature from trashy reading.

Like a lot of people, I’m reading more on apps lately. I do like being able to make notations and to share them on Goodreads. But I miss the feel of a hardcover book when I read that way. Also, and this is the worst, nobody has figured out a way to get your first edition ebook signed, and you can’t loan an ebook to friends.

Long live the hardcover.

I’d Spent My Last Zorkmid…

In Slate, Rebecca Onion has an interview with a historian of capitalism who has retraced the history of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels — it’s a lot of fun. In it, they talk about how the format of Choose Your Own Adventure, dismissed by publishers at first and then adopted enthusiastically a decade later, was akin to the plot structure of early computer games. Now, I liked Choose Your Own Adventure as much as anybody, but what I really loved was the text-based Infocom game, Zork.

They even made Zork themed Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I really loved the game. It was the problem solving aspect that most intrigued me, though. It was the worldbuilding.

In the originally Zork trilogy (later wildly augmented and expanded into an entire universe of other games) you’re an adventurer who descends into the ruins of The Great Underground Empire, a kingdom founded by and overseen by the royal Flathead dynasty until it collapsed and was abandoned by everybody but dangerous creatures and mischief-making loners. As you explore the kingdom and gather treasure, avoiding the slavering fangs of deadly Grue, you advance from adventurer to supplanting the Wizard of Frobozz and to eventually claiming the mantle of Dungeon Master.

There were no graphics. It was simple keyboard commands and text descriptions. But the three games added up to something of a comic fantasy novel, with pithy nods to 80s culture and working conditions in the early consumer tech industry.

Zork had mind bending puzzles, including mazes in total darkness that you had to map out for yourself. For some, that was the appeal. I loved reading about the Flatheads, though, and trying to figure out where the Grue came from or how the various companies like Frobozzco international was formed.

Man, if they made a new Zork, I’d buy it.

Graffiti Art > Political Ads

My aim here is not to write much about politics but creative arts are often, if not always, political and lines cannot be clearly drawn all of the time. We’re in the midst of Democratic primary season for the 2020 presidential election and former New York City mayor and the multibillionaire founder of Bloomberg LP, Michael Bloomberg, is running on a “can do” mantra, touting his competency and accomplishments. Fine. But he’s also complaining that his campaign offices are being tagged around the country with spray-painted epithets like “Oligarch,” “corporate pig,” and “Eat the rich.”

Of course, the Bloomberg campaign will take exception to this but, at the same time, the candidate has said he’d spend maybe $1 billion of his own money on advertising. His ads became quickly ubiquitous on all major social media platforms and on cable television networks. He bought a massive amount of ad spots to run on MSNBC during a debate where he was a participant and MSNBC was one of the sponsors. He bought Superbowl ads. Bloomberg is using his massive wealth to flood and takeover public spaces both online and off.

Graffiti is a communications tool used by people without $1 billion to also get their message out to the public. A Mike Bloomberg campaign office is an advertisement to everybody who walks or drives by it. So is a graffiti tag. Bloomberg will never see it that way, of course, but in the spirit of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Hambleton and more importantly, to resistance movements around the world, we should see these tags not as the affront that Bloomberg does but as artists taking back space that Bloomberg is buying in our minds.

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