Literary Review

Crumb Transmutes Kafka

 crumb-kafka-book Kafka By R. Crumb & Dave Zane Mairowitz (Kitchen Sink Press)

Franz Kafka was the master of the transformation, the dive into darkness, the unpeeling, the alchemical combination of right and wrong, up and down, matter of fact and out of your mind. Which is why, were he with us in the flesh, I'm sure he would approve of the Kismet that brought his story (and his stories) together with artist R. Crumb. It is an artistic marriage made in heaven -- well, to be precise, in hell. Read more »

The Dispossessed

The concept of ownership — items, people, ideas — is the heart of master storyteller Ursula Le Guinn’s 1975 masterwork The Dispossessed. Winner of the Nebula and Hugo awards, the highest lliterary awards for science fiction writers, this story transcends that genre’s boundaries. It is a story of a man Shevek, a physicist/anarchist, from the arid and socialistic planet Anarres who creates The Principle of Simultaneity — instantaneous communication — something that will revolutionize interstellar communication between all worlds. This is a tome about philosophical and ideological differences and how one views what is truly the best utopian society or how two neighboring planets occupied by anarchists and capitalists view/exploit Shevek's discovery.

The book's narrative timeline is non-linear, so one may feel compelled to reread certain passages or chapters, but once you understand the author's intention and cadence the rewards of the narrative will unfurl in perfect order. In fact, I reread the opening chapter several times to unlock a deeper understanding of the protagonist's predicament.  Read more »

Voyage to Anomie

Voyage to AnomieSome people find travel broadening. Some people travel to relax and get away from it all. When Geoff Dyer travels, the world is like a million hammers, pounding him into himself, creating a strange and wonderful hall of mirrors that, while it can be trying -- even depressing -- is strangely exhilarating. That's the basic story and feel of Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It, Dyer's irrepressible but annoying memoir/travelogue, published in 2003.

Dyer is a thinker/writer. Thankfully, he has a comic's touch; sometimes he can be very funny indeed. Most of the humor comes out of the situations he, pathetic geek that he is, puts himself in. There are a couple of "jokes" which ring out discordantly, but overall, the humor is organic and tinged with some pretty deep, pretty depressing thinking. Read more »

Life Isn't Good, It's Excellent

david-robilliardDavid Robilliard was a poet and painter who lived from 1952 to 1988.

You're like a potato.
You'd go with anything.

"David Robilliard was the sweetest, kindest, most infuriating, artistic foul-mouthed, witty, charming, handsome, thoughtful, unhappy, loving and friendly person we ever met. Read more »

Walk on the Wilder Side

Lou Reed: A Life
Anthony DeCurtis (Little, Brown and Company)

Lou Reed has to be one of the most audacious and iconic rockers to have committed his dark muses to his music and poetry. And writer/professor Anthony DeCurtis's new must-read bio of Mr. Reed perfectly captures the ethos of this misanthropic rocker. Let's be clear, Lou's outrageous life story is truly stranger than fiction. But then again, so are many of our most celebrated artists, especially those who not only create but also live on the edge/fringe of society, pushing their artistic vision on, for the most part, a rather pedestrian audience.

From Lou's humble middle-class upbringing on Long Island that included his life altering electro-shock treatments to his dying breath, his life was filled with passion and for pushing people, fans and critics alike, to explore the darker side of life; to if not to "walk on the wild side," at least explore it. Make no mistake, Lou's work was groundbreaking. His art-rock band The Velvet Underground remains one of the most influential bands ever. The music is timeless, the subject matter startling and disturbing; it's easy to understand why many consider them the true originators of the entire alt-rock genre. Read more »

Poetry Time!

CC staff writer and critically lauded poet Steve Dalachinsky will be part of two essential poetry slams this weekend. If you're not hip to him, or any of the other poets name-checked below, please mark your calendar and witness their glorious words and inspired readings in person.

The poetry event Dial-A-Poem Marathon, will take place at Red Bull Arts New York -- 220 West 18th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) -- on July 29th as part of the Ugo Rondinone: I ♥ John Giorno project. Readers include Penny Arcade, Janani Balasubramanian, Anselm Kerrigan, Alexis Bhagat, Billy Cancel, Todd Colby, Steve Dalachinsky, Helga Davis, Chris Funkhouser, Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves, David Henderson, Shelley Hirsch, Bob Holman, Christopher Knowles, Julie Martin, E.J. McAdams, Jonas Mekas, Tracie Morris, David Boscovich, Tommy Pico, Nicole Sealey, and Edwin Torres. Read more »

Dead On, In Spite of Everything

Dead Ringer
By Charles Borkuis (Blazevox Books, 2017)

The idea of the doppleganger, identity theft and mix up of characters has always played a big part in literature since early on. The piece that initially always comes to mind is Dostoyevsky's "The Double." Read more »

Wicked Wilson!

In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett
By Tony Fletcher (Oxford University Press)

The art of writing bios is no easy feat, but for British-born/NY-based scribe Tony Fletcher, well, he makes it seem all so easy even though his research is exhaustive. His bios on R.E.M (Remarks Remade - The Story of R.E.M.), Keith Moon (Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon), The Smiths (A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths, to name but a few, are must-reads. His latest on the turbulent life of R&B legend Wilson Pickett -- In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett -- may be his best yet.  Read more »

90 Playwrights and a Nikon: Susan Johann’s “Focus on Playwrights”

"I'm the end of the line," Arthur Miller once asserted. "Absurd and appalling as it may seem, serious New York theater has died in my lifetime."

Many might argue otherwise. In fact, the best proof that theatre is still alive and kicking is Focus on Playwrights, the new coffee-table book, the cover of which showcases the life-crinkled face that once overlooked the birth of A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and The Crucible. Yes, photographer Susan Johann’s scintillating collection of over 90 playwrights, whom she’s shot over 20 years -- and the inclusion of sharply revealing interviews with some of the same, is the best retort to anyone ready to cremate modern drama. Read more »

Merry Chrispmas, Mr. Crisp


England is viewed by the wider world as a nation of eccentrics. This is considered a genetic characteristic, and something to be celebrated. Like most assumptions, the truth lies somewhat wide of the remark. Quentin Crisp, one such "National Treasure," is now rightly revered as one, but his journey from pariah nuisance to that of sage-like venerability was a long and winding affair. He migrated to New York, remaining vital till the end, an amalgam of defiance and disappointment worn as wit.

Some considered him a latter-day Oscar Wilde, a comparison he didn't much value, remarking that he'd known many who'd been sent to prison for crimes of the flesh like Wilde's, without being broken or penning such bad verse. Read more »

Happy Thanksgiving, 2016!

From Ken Krimstein's book of cartoons, Kvetch as Kvetch Can. It's a family-friendly affair!

Jane Eaton Hamilton's Genderqueer Weekend

"I just wanted to write a silly little romance," says Jane Eaton Hamilton on the phone from Canada, about her new novel, Weekend. Hamilton accomplished that, if you consider a riveting, frank, nuanced exploration of adult sexuality and love silly or minor. A tale of two couples -- all female, but not all identifying as such -- whose relationships come into focus over an intense few days, the novel sends new lovers to an island owned by someone with whom each has a tricky history -- at which point their host's own happy life begins revealing troubling undercurrents. Weekend wears its gender, racial, and economic politics lightly. Yet the intelligence of Hamilton's observations and the spare beauty of her language elevate highly specific dynamics into a work that crosses all boundaries.

After having amassed a body of incisive essays, nine books of award-winning short stories and poetry, and a memoir about having children with a man who turned out to be a pedophile rapist, the Canada native is starting a new chapter of sorts with Weekend. "I actually quit writing in 2003 because of lousy reception," she says. "And then my marriage broke up in 2011 unexpectedly." She decided to give writing another shot. "Although I mourn the work I didn't write during those years, I came back to it so invigorated and refreshed that it's like an entirely different career." Read more »

Music and Sex #11: Music, Music, and More Music

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Walter had been so busy with midterms that he hadn't gone record-shopping recently. Neither had he spent his income on anything else, other than eating on the weekends, though he'd eaten better than usual. He'd wandered into a fast-food place on Broadway called Amy's and, for the first time in his life, had tried a falafel sandwich. Well, not really a sandwich, at least not as he thought of a sandwich, which was (mostly) meat between two separate pieces of bread, but he didn't know what else to call these things stuffed into pita bread. He'd liked it, not least because just one sandwich was very filling, so he had gone back regularly for lunch on weekends. It was a nice change of pace from the food at John Jay cafeteria. There never seemed to be many customers, though. Read more »

The Street Writing Man

Tony Warren 8th July 1936-1st March 2016

'The first Coronation Street writing team contained some of the biggest homophobes I've ever met. I remember getting on my feet in a story conference and saying "Gentlemen, I have sat here for two-and-a-half hours and listened to three poof jokes, a storyline dismissed as poofy, and an actor described as 'useless as he's a poof'. As a matter of fact he isn't! but I would like to point out that I am, and without a poof none of you would be in work today." So reflected the writer & television dramatist Tony Warren on his early uphill, but routine struggle with homophobia of late 1950s Britain. It was a brave and brazen stance given that homosexuality was still illegal. He also stated later that "the outsider sees more, hears more, and has to remember more to survive" and that in those days if you were gay you needed to be three times better than your competitors in order to succeed. Read more »

In Time for Valentine's Day: An Interracial Love Story

Howard was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1914; Grace came into the world five years later and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Howard's brother used to say that two major disasters occurred in 1914: World War I and Howard's birth. Grace was born the year women finally obtained the right to vote. Many changes lay ahead that would affect their lives forever.

Young Howard's mother punished him for playing with little black children who lived across the tracks; he was sent to bed without supper as she told him, "Thank the Lord God above you weren’t born one of them!"

Grace's father was a postal worker and owned a barber shop; although he had advanced degrees from Pratt Institute in both architecture and engineering, he couldn’t get a job in either of those fields because he was black. He made the most of it and life went on. Read more »

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