Friday, April 11, 2014

D. Foy's Gutter Opera

Made to Break, a novel by D. Foy is a debauched celebration of art, language, prose, and story. It’s a simple plot, some friends get trapped by a storm in a remote cabin near Lake Tahoe on New Year’s Eve. The result, however, is anything but simple. As I read the book, terms kept popping into my head; “noir romanticism,” “squalor glamor,” “postmodern voyeurism,” and “death by art.” Weird terms trying to describe a weird book. I sent those terms to D. Foy for his thoughts, reactions, comments, rebuttals, and ramblings. To hear more from this author see him at Porter Square Books on April 16 at 7pm.

The sorts of expressions that you and others have used in an effort to categorize Made to Break are all as curious as they are intriguing. My friend, the writer Ron Tanner, said I could call Made to Break “slacker noir.” Shortly afterward, you wrote and said that when reading the book a number of terms popped into your head, things like “noir romanticism,” “squalor glamor,” “postmodern voyeurism” and “death by art.” I love all of these expressions and agree that each of them captures the work in unique ways. Ultimately, though, none of them seem quite to encompass the entirety of my project the way the term “gutter opera” does, which I coined to describe the mode I’ve been working in now for many years. I spoke about this at length in a recent interview with Scott Cheshire over at Tottenville Review—he, too, was at a loss to describe succinctly what I’m doing and asked me to elaborate on the term—so rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I thought it best simply to restate what I said there.

“I reached a place after a time where a single form or style or technique felt insufficient to my needs. I didn’t want just this or that, but all things all at once. And every time I found myself slipping into one mode or other, I felt like a hypocrite scumbag liar. So rather than keep to just one way, I began to meld approaches derived from influences as disparate as film script, allegory, jabberwocky, slang, doggerel, yarn, tale, poetry, journalese, profane street talk, criticism, lyric essay, theory, philosophy, and history, among others in a giant list. Given my history, it made sense. Like Henry Miller, to name just one writer I identify with, I’m a guy who came to the world of letters from the street. I just about failed high school and didn’t put myself through college until I was near thirty. My mother tongue was trash, but by and by I taught myself to speak in a host of other ways, too. It stood to reason that I search out a heteroglossia supple enough to treat low subject matter in high style, and vice versa, in which everything is permitted and nothing forbidden. It stood to reason that I find a medium through which to express the countless baffling ways that beauty emerges from ugliness and ugliness from beauty, that wisdom swims from idiocy and idiocy from wisdom, that faith rises from despair and despair from faith, and, ultimately, since life lives by killing, that life leaps from death and death from life. I wanted to create autobiography as fiction. I wanted to engage social analysis as self-ethnography. And I wanted to write fiction as cultural criticism. ‘Gutter opera’ gave me these freedoms. It opened the door, as well, to a sort of philosophical journalism by which to transcend the “what” of our lives so that we glimpse the invisible “whys.” It was also with gutter opera, I saw, that I could right a thing merely by turning it upside down. The pitiless scrutiny I couldn’t keep away from, the repulsive curiosity, the grotesque apotheosis, scintillating tragedy, the horrific comedy—gutter opera lets me do it all and more. That’s what it is, really, gutter opera, euthanasia with a sledgehammer, confession with a bullhorn, epic in a dumpster, redemption through a needle’s eye. For better or worse, it’s the only way I know to make a saga in a capsule that roars not through outer-space but through the inner-space of our massive human heart, whispering, screaming, moaning, singing, weeping, laughing, howling, and anything else between. But best of all, I don’t have to think about any of this anymore. It’s who and what I am. Nor did I have to become it. All I had to do was allow myself to be what I’ve always been. That’s not as easy as it would seem, actually. It takes a lot of work, continuous work, continuous practice. Of course as painful as it is at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Meet D. Foy on April 16th at PSB at 7pm. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

New Magazines in 2014

Every year we like to freshen our magazine selections with some new titles. Here are a few of the magazines we have recently started carrying.

Sweet Paul: A craft and home magazine for fans of Kinfolk and Lucky Peach. Here’s how Paul Lowe Einlyng describes his magazine: “I decided that I should go out on a limb and create my own magazine that would leverage not only my years of experience, but also showcase the work of my incredibly talented posse of food-geek, photography-obsessed, craft-genius friends! I wanted Sweet Paul magazine to be an anticipated quarterly that readers could use to sweeten their everyday life. I strive to put out a magazine that is as creative and visually stunning as Martha Stewart Living but without being weighed-down with impossible recipes and projects developed for expert chefs and crafters. Full of easy-yet-elegant recipes, stylish crafts, entertaining ideas, shopping tips, recurring features and more, Sweet Paul magazine is the source people all over the world turn to for inspiration.” 

The Ink Seed Project: The Ink Seed Project is a quarterly press dedicated to the creative empowerment of their Somerville community. They foster several campaigns aimed at strengthening creative/critical thinking skills and strive to maintain an open dialogue with their readership. They publish art of every genre, created by people of every type. The Ink Seed Project is as versatile as the people who are a part of it. 

Draft & Imbibe: Cambridge is a pretty good place to grab a drink, so we added a couple of adult beverage magazines. Draft: Life on Tap is the premier beer magazine around, providing reviews, travel guides, homebrewing tips, information on new and upcoming breweries, and articles that put it all in historical context. Imbibe is the ultimate guide to liquid culture. In every issue of the magazine and on the website, you’ll find the best drink recipes, reviews, destinations and profiles—everything you need to know about the people, places, flavors and cultures of drinks. From wine, spirits and beer to coffee, tea and everything in between, Imbibe celebrates your world in a glass.

The Gay and Lesbian Review: The Gay and Lesbian Review’s mission is to provide a forum for enlightened discussion of issues and ideas of importance to lesbians and gay men; to advance gay and lesbian culture by providing a quality vehicle for its best writers and thinkers; and to educate a broader public on gay and lesbian topics. Each issue is organized around a theme, such as “The Science of Homosexuality,” “Human Rights around the World,” and “Virtual Communities,” and includes about a half-dozen essays in a wide range of disciplines as well as reviews of books, movies, and plays. A few poems also appear in each issue, along with letters to the editor, an artist’s profiles, and an international spectrum column. The goal is always to cover a topic from a range of perspectives by featuring a number of the leading contributors in the field. 

American Reader: The American Reader is a monthly journal committed to inspiring literary and critical conversation among a new generation of readers, and restoring literature to its proper place in the American cultural discourse. It seeks to be principled, but not dogmatic; discerning, but not cruel; popular, but not populist. It honors the dignity of the reading public and heralds the reemergence of a thriving and serious-minded national literary culture. It features new fiction; new poetry; translated portfolios of international fiction, poetry, and drama; well-argued reviews of new literature; considered essays on all matters literary; and occasional interviews with writers, publishers, editors, and various industry professionals. 

Even though we’ve been carrying the apt annual for a while, it gets a special mention here because it has just secured national distribution. This makes it a lot easier for stores like us to carry it. Though the publishers are in Baltimore now, they were our neighbors for a while and it’s great to see this success.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Announcing Downloadable Audiobooks

We are excited to announce that Porter Square Books now offers downloadable audio books through Acoustik. Acoustik is a free audiobook app available for both iOS and Android devices. Once you have the app (and have created a free account) you’ll be able to buy and download digital audiobooks from your local independent bookstore.

You can search for audiobooks as you would a regular book on our site, you can check out their bestsellers, or browse through various genres like mystery, romance, and teens. Many of the books offer free samples, so you can even test them out beforehand.

So, to sum up. At our website you can get book recommendations from professional booksellers, pre-order forthcoming books so you can get your favorite author’s new book the very instant it is released, orders books to be shipped to you or picked up at the store, shop for ebooks, buy signed copies, keep track of author events, download Pimsleur language courses, learn about the best books for young readers, and now, download audiobooks, and all with your locally owned fiercely independent bookstore. Makes me wonder how any other bookselling website can compete.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Buildings, Legendary and Mythic

Many of us reading addicts often have several books going at the same time.  Recently I noticed that in my current reads pile I had (along with, oh, a story collection, a biography & a coffee table art collection) two books about, of all things, buildings.

But oh, what buildings they are!

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea HotelWhat do Mark Twain and Sid Vicious have in common? They are two of the mind-boggling parade of sociohistoric denizens of New York City's fabled Chelsea Hotel, flavorfully recounted by Sherill Tippins in Inside The Dream Palace. Originally built as a social experiment following 19th century utopian ideals, it was artist-friendly and tolerant of characters and eccentrics from the beginning. It ultimately hosted an astonishing percentage of the (eventually) great writers, artists and well-known cultural figures of what we could call American Bohemia. Even listing a selection of famous guests gives one vertigo. Just scan the index...The Parthenon EnigmaAnd then up there on the Acropolis in Athens,one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (and nothing to sneeze at in the modern), the Parthenon. Dedicated to Athena, it once housed a gigantic statue of the goddess, now lost, and some of the greatest sculpture from antiquity still extant - specifically the Elgin Marbles attributed to the great sculptor Pheidias and now in the British Museum.  In The Parthenon Enigma archeologist Joan Breton Connelly argues that a famous tableau usually interpreted as a processional in honor of Athena is actually a ceremony of human sacrifice.  This is the big controversial core of the book but the rest of it is a fascinating exploration of just who the ancient Greeks were and how they thought about their world.  It's history that adds a rich perspective to this most iconic of structures.

The stories of both of these structures loan themselves to impressive name-dropping.  The Chelsea can boast Dylan Thomas (who drank himself to death there), Thomas Wolfe, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Patty Smith, Berthold Brecht.  The Parthenon can name-drop Athena, Poseidon, Zeus.... 

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 2014 Porter Square Books Receives Grant from James Patterson

We are proud and pleased to announce that Porter Square Books has been awarded a grant from James Patterson. This article will give you some background on Mr. Patterson's program to boost the health of America's independent bookstores.

"Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we've known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake." (James Patterson)

Porter Square plans to use our very generous allotment to support children's author visits to schools. We will now be able to underwrite the cost of books for children who do not have the means to buy them. If each child can have a book during an author's visit, the author can better engage the children in meaningful and stimulating discussions. The excitement of meeting a "real" author, and the tangible experience of holding that author's book in hand while talking about it, is so immediate and personal that it can foster an excitement about reading that a classroom cannot otherwise replicate.

One of our missions has always been to play a role in promoting children's literacy in Cambridge and Somerville. We are now in a very good position to do just that. We are very grateful to Mr. Patterson.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Ragnarok Reading List

Apparently the world is about to end...again, as Ragnarok, the Viking version of the Apocalypse is predicted to happen on Saturday February 22, 2014. I know, it’s not much time, but I’ve put together a reading list to get you prepared for the twilight of the gods.

Edda by SnorriSturluson: The Edda is the most extensive extant collection of Norse mythology and the source material for our understanding of Ragnarok. Interestingly enough, unlike Homer and the author of Beowulf, Snorri was a historical person we actually know a fair amount about.
Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown: Snorri himself was a wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature and there is enough of a historical record left to get a sense of his life and times.

The Vikings by Neil Oliver: The vikings were feared conquerors and unprecedented explorers, but not so great record keepers. Despite being a powerful force in culture in their time, it is only recently that archeological evidence has allowed us to get a fuller picture of their society.
Northlanders Vol 1. by Davide Gianfelice: Or, instead of learning something, because what are you going to use that knowledge for anyway if the world is going to end, how about a pin-your-ears-back, tundra-soaked, blood-strewn Viking adventure graphic novel. Even if you just flipped to the fight scenes in Gianfelice’s comic, you’ll get your money’s worth.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson: OK, maybe, maybe, this whole “Ragnarok Reading List” conceit was just another excuse to tell you all about the greatest adventure novel ever written. And even if that were true, (which it’s not...maybe.) I wouldn’t be sorry. Red Orm’s adventures take him from Sweden to the Mediterranean. He fights for the Caliph of Cordova, he washes up on the shores of Ireland, he helps defeat England’s army, he bumps into Genghis Khan, he interacts with nascent Christianity, and returns home to treachery. OK. This whole conceit really was a chance to tell you all about how awesome The Long Ships is. I mean, I lent my first copy to my dad, and when I asked for it back, he flat out told me “No.” That’s how good The Long Ships is.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Books NOT to Give on Valentine’s Day

Sure, you can find lists all over the place for what books and gifts you SHOULD buy for Valentine’s Day, but only your friends at Porter Square Books will ensure your Valentine does NOT open a sparkling fuse of relationship dynamite. So here are the books you SHOULD ABSOLUTELY NOT GIVE AS A GIFT ON VALENTINE’S DAY. (Though they’re good books, just for other situations.) (Which is a roundabout way of saying there are a few readers out there for whom these are perfect Valentine’s Day gifts, but that risk is all yours, my friends.)

Autobiography by Morissey and Call Me Burroughs by Barry Miles. Sure, both Morissey and Burroughs are major figures in contemporary Western culture with enduring effects on music and writing, and both are absolutely fascinating people, but neither one was particularly good at the whole romance thing.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. Diaz is one of the finest short story writers putting pen to paper and This Is How You Lose Her is another masterpiece…but there’s a lot of infidelity. A lot of infidelity.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. One of the single greatest works of literature written in English. I really hope I don’t have to tell you why this is a very bad Valentine’s Day gift.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Runaway bestseller, soon to be major motion picture, bookseller favorite, and about the best argument we’ve ever read for NOT getting married. So, I guess, if that’s the message you want to send on Valentine’s Day…

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. A world wide phenomenon? Yes. But not exactly evocative of stable, healthy relationships. (See also: Wuthering Heights.)

Double Indemnity by James Cain. Pro tip: stay away from books where getting rid of a spouse is a major plot point.

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag. Rarely does someone pine for a mixed message on Valentine’s Day, but I’m pretty sure a mixed message would be much preferred over Sontag’s examination of our consumption of suffering.

Killer  Inside  Me by Jim Thompson. Though it would be the absolute best way to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Unless you can somehow spin it as “Your love hits me like a tolchock to the gulliver,” (which, if you can, bravo) this work of ultra-violence it probably best left for a different holiday/occasion. Like Thanksgiving!