15 October 2010

Plugging Friends

Today we are NOT going to discuss Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s new book of essays “The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist,” based on the author’s 2009 Charles Eliot Norton lectures. We are not going to discuss this book because this reviewer, like the proverbial book worm, is in the middle of it, chewing through close-packed ideas, a few pages at a time; contemplating, not for the first time, what it means to read novels and to write them.

“The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist” will interest serious writers, and anyone who reads full-length fiction. Pamuk derives his title from a famous essay by the 18th century philosopher Friedrich Schiller, where the terms “naive” and “sentimental” were used to describe opposing points of perception.

But today we are NOT going to discuss the work of Orhan Pamuk. We are instead going to plug our friends – not shoot them, pleasurable as that might be, but plug them as in give these writers some well-deserved mentions.

First there is the inestimable British writer John Biggins, who with “The Surgeon’s Apprentice” has shifted his attention from historical novels set during the First World War to “The twenty-fifth day of December in the year of Our Lord sixteen hundred and ten: the Feast of our Blessed Saviour’s Nativity.” “The Surgeon’s Apprentice” is available in electronic form from the author, and printed on-demand, if you demand it. I’ve read the first few chapters, and “The Surgeon’s Apprentice is first rate: as amusing and intriguing as his previous novels starring Otto Prohaska, lieutenant in the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Submarine Service (yes, this once actually existed).

Then there is “El Sereno” by local poet and author Jay Frankston. This is a full length, well-researched novel set in Spain. With “an authentic background of strife, epidemic, civil war and dictatorship” “El Sereno” tells the story of those dedicated and somehow mysterious men “who walked the streets at night in the old sections of all the major cities of Spain.”

Then there is “In the Last Days of the Empire: Watching the Sixties Go By on Greenwich Village Time, A Bartender’s Tale” by Sam P. Edwards. For anyone seeking a vision that absolutely reeks authenticity, especially if you lived through the 1960s in the United States, this book brings alive the era through poetic visions and stories. It reads like this: “to invitation-only volleyball games on campus/with academic poets/punctuating their aspirations with deft spiking of ambiguity/while ‘On the Road’ put ambition in perspective/ at least of the ordinary kind, teaching me to savor the experience of back alleys without pretence...” The book also is available as an audio production with jazz music from the era and selected famous voices from those times.

Then there is Boonville writer Bruce Patterson, author of “Walking Tractor & Other Country Tales” a memoir of farming and logging in the Anderson Valley. This month he returns with the sequel, “Turned Round in my Boots, a Memoir.” Both books are published by California’s highly esteemed Heyday Books.

Then there is the new young adult novel “Steinbeck’s Ghost” by Lewis Buzbee. I met Lewis some years ago when he would arrive in Mendocino to flog the latest titles from Chronicle Books. Lewis was writing on the side and published his first novel, “Fliegelman’s Desire,” while still a sales representative. A few years later he wrote “The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop” which featured a precious few pages set in Mendocino’s Gallery Bookshop.

Buzbee’s most recent novel is “Steinbeck’s Ghost,” written for young adults. “What will Travis do,” the cover asks, “when characters from books start appearing in his real life?”

I don’t know what Travis will do, but I have the opposite dilemma – not characters from books, but books from a great number of characters. The mailbox is bulging and it’s all a bit overwhelming, but also I am grateful to all these heroic wretches tapping out new sentences on old computers. I admire all of you, and hope I’ve helped find you a few new readers for your remarkable books.


“The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist” by Orhan Pamuk. Harvard University Press hard cover $22.95. ISBN 9780674050761.

“The Surgeon’s Apprentice” by John Biggins published by John Biggins Fiction. Paperback $23.99 ISBN 9780956542328. Ordering information on John’s website.

“El Sereno” by Jay Frankston. Whole Loaf Publications paperback $19.99. ISBN  9781450050715.

“In the Last Days of the Empire: Watching the Sixties Go By on Greenwich Village Time, A Bartender’s Tale” by Sam P. Edwards. Eureka Productions paperback $14.94 ISBN 9780557485680. Also available as a download through Lulu.

“Turned Round in my Boots, a Memoir” by Bruce Patterson. Heyday Books paperback $18.95. ISBN  9781597141444. More information on “Walking Tractor” and “Turned Round in my Boots.”

“The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop” by Lewis Buzbee. Graywolf Press paperback (out of print but available online) ISBN 9781555975104.

“Steinbeck’s Ghost” by Lewis Buzbee. Square Fish (Macmillan) paperback $7.99. ISBN 9780312602116. “It’s been two months since Travis’s family moved from their shabby old house to a development so new that it seems totally unreal. There’s one place, though, where Travis can still connect with his old life: the Salinas Library...”

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