Thursday, January 24, 2008


I suppose the idea for The Raconteur Motorcycle Club rose out of the same macho-lit mud as The Santiago Armsport Tourney (a tournament inspired by Santiago, the arm-wrestling fisherman in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea), The Get Lit Pub Crawl (a literary tour of six NYC bars, which included the now-defunct Chumley's) and The UnShavian, a George Bernard Shaw beard growing contest (granted, Shaw's not particularly macho, but facial hair is). Truth be told, I'm not especially inclined towards literary pugnacity. Indeed, I prefer the somewhat rollicking erudition of Spanish author Perez-Reverte, or the Briton brattiness of Martin Amis to Hemingway, or Bukowski, or Mailer. But I think it's these sorts of events, that at first glance seem at odds with the dusty didaticism often associated with a used bookstore, that make The Raconteur unique. And certainly I have this urge, a compulsion really, to turn the basic idea of a bookstore on its ear.

I've been a rider for over twenty years. In college I had a small tear drop Nighthawk, then a Honda CB, a bull of a bike with a massive humped tank, and finally the low-slung Vulcan Classic I ride today. Plans for a club were hatched on a ride Kristy and I took to the Great Falls (the highest waterfall in the northeast after Niagra) in Paterson, NJ.

Paterson, of course, is where both William Carlos Williams, who famously wrote a five book epic poem about the city, and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, once lived. It was also the home of Hurricane Rubin, boxer, death row inmate, and the subject of favorite author (mine, not Hurricane's) Nelson Algren's last novel The Devil's Stocking. I know, Algren's pretty pugnacious, he did after all write about a pug, but he also had a love affair with Simone de Beauvoir. (I remember reading in college that Algren attended police line-ups so he could steal the tough cadences of cop/con conversations. Inspired by this tidbit and searching for my own rough rhythms, I took a series of colorful post-Rutgers jobs: bouncer, bartender, Central Park carriage hack). In any case, it proved harder than I thought to cull bibliophilic bikers from the flinty packs of firemen, war vets, police officers, and hog owners that typically compose clubs and weekend rides. My first e-mail, advertising a ride to the James Fenimore Cooper House (The Deerslayer) in Burlington City, was sent to over five hundred recipients. It provoked many enthusiastic replies and a slew of commitments. But it seemed most hadn't bothered to consider the fact that, well, just a small detail, really, THEY DIDN'T OWN OR RIDE BIKES.

The second ride, to Pearl Buck's house (The Good Earth) in Pekarsie, Pennsylvania, attracted what would become the club's core constituency. Five riders on everything from Dale's gargantuan Goldwing, which had AC and a luggage bin the size of a car trunk, to Mike's little ferrety Harley, which skittered effortlessly on the gravelly forest roads like a dirt bike (me and Dale struggled to keep our heavy bikes upright on what was essentially a trail in the woods). Dale and Mike featured respectively in the following pics.

For the third ride, we widened the club net to include "cagers" (people in cars) and, accordingly, had four bikes (Dale was unavailable, away on a ride of his own along the Eastern seaboard that would last several days) and four automobiles. This was our Halloween ride and as we had also relaxed the literary imperative, allowing the prospective destinations to include film locations, we'd picked Blairstown, a small, bucolic town West of Newton, where Friday the 13th was shot. It was one of those cidery fall days that make you want to buy a really red apple at a roadside stand (which we did, along with a half-dozen, still-warm donuts) and the ride was cooler than anticipated. It took about an hour and a half to get to the Blairstown Diner, a long, narrow restaurant that resembles a chrome plated train car, where camp owner Steve Christy whiled away a stormy evening while his counselors got slaughtered out at Crystal Lake.

After lunch Steve C. (club member/Harley owner, not film character/camp owner; see pic) split from the pack, heading back home to rake leaves. The rest of us left our bikes/cars in the diner lot and wandered about the quiet town. You could immediately understand how it would be appealing as a film location. Main Street was dead (so one could imagine it being easily shut down for shooting) and the offbeat quarry-fed architecture on either side seemed to have risen up randomly, like rock formations in a cave, rather than by plan or design. (I vaguely remember Milan Kundera describing New York City buildings as an absurd collection of stalactites and stalagmites -- as if formed by the arbitrary dripping of mineral-rich water). There was also an old theater, painted a ridiculous shade of blue, which had apparently screened the popular slasher film this past July (on Fri. 13, natch) to an audience of over five hundred.

Back on our bikes and in our cars, we hit a Harvest/Halloween Festival we remembered passing on the way to the diner. Hundreds of people wandered about a sprawling baled field, drinking hot cider, eating corn dogs, riding in farm trucks with straw strewn beds and high slatted sides, chasing each other into the dry, crackling mazes, and firing melon-sized pumpkins from a giant slingshot made of fence posts and tire rubber at a target a hundred yards away. Randy made several "corny" Halloween jokes about being a "stalker" in the "maize" maze, before sticking his head through a hole in a piece of plywood that was painted to look like a ghost. Scary, right? On the way home we nipped into to a peculiar pub in the middle of a cornfield, it's smoking chimney barely glimpsed from the road, that had a fireplace (thus, the chimney), a bunch of mounted game heads (moose, deer, and I think, gazelle), and cheap beer (Stroh's on tap).

Over pints we planned our spring ride, an overnighter to The Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage in Saranac Lake, NY. We also discussed how to attract more participants. Cager Colin (soon to be bike owner -- a BMW K 1200 GT -- unless, of course, his wife wins that argument) suggested that bike-less book buffs might, in fact, be put off by the very concept of a "motorcycle" club, even though the notices now allowed for them to tag along with supplies. Indeed, they might actually be intimidated. He had a point, even Johnny Rotten was scared of the leather jacketed Ramones when he thought they were a biker gang (making their manager promise he wouldn't get punched if he attended a concert). We considered changing the name to the more inclusive Raconteur Motor Club, but no firm decision was made.

The Raconteur Motorcycle Club meets at the shop and proceeds en masse to a destination of literary or cinematic significance. The Club was profiled in The New York Times and will be featured in a travel book called Novel Destinations, published by National Geographic and due out early 2008. To purchase Club T-shirts (black crew neck with red caps reading The Raconteur Motorcycle Club; under which follows Metuchen, NJ in red script; a blazing skull replaces the "O" in "RACONTEUR" and flames flank the words "Metuchen, NJ") visit our store site,

Friday, January 18, 2008


Two recent occurrences led to this present post. One, friend/shop volunteer Dan M. recommended that I read George Orwell's essay "Bookstore Memories," which he'd recently discovered himself on a nightly podcast called "Miette's Bedtime Story," where a young woman with a lilting British accent reads "bedtime stories" by canonized writers. Apparently, Orwell toiled a short time in a London bookshop and he points out that, "In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money."

Two, my coming across the website for Vesuvio's, a North Beach bar adjacent to City Lights, made famous by the number of Beats who drank there. I'd visited Vesuvio's many times in the mid-nineties (along with every other young would-be writer, no doubt) while living just a trolley ride away in San Francisco's Tenderloin (the working class neighborhood where The Maltese Falcon was based). On the Vesuvio site (which is surprisingly dull), they state that "Vesuvio attracts a diverse clientele: artists, chess players, cab drivers, seamen, European visitors, off-duty exotic dancers and bon vivants from all walks of life."

At any rate, the above Orwell passage and this line of Vesuvio PR made me consider The Raconteur's own unusual constituency.

For good or bad, working the counter at The Raconteur is not unlike my five years pouring poison at a New Brunswick gutbucket called the Plum Street Pub. True enough, there've been no shootouts (the Pub's walls were pocked with bullet holes -- seriously), and certainly I've never had to relieve somebody of a knuckle knife or a spring-assisted stiletto or one of those small flat clubs we used to call a slapjack, before allowing them to enter the store. At the Pub, it was moments like these that invariably ended with the rear tire of my Vulcan Classic being slashed (knives, and slappers for that matter, were returned to their various owners upon departure). But as I stand behind the long, very bar-like, belly-high counter (Belly up, boys!) in the center of the shop, I am struck by occasional similarities in our clientele.

Granted, I promote and encourage this confluence of saloon and bookshop. A bartender for almost ten years, I prided myself on remembering a Regular's drink. Indeed, knowing somebody wants a bottle of High Life, or a triple B with two bricks, or a T-N-T in a frosted beer mug, the moment they walk in, is very much like recommending the right sort of book based on what a customer has read or bought in the past. And, of course, we do serve wine at our weekly events (and occasionally liquor e.g. grappa at our Evening with Eco, which featured readings from and a discussion of Italian semiotic Umberto Eco, or home-brewed stout——shop volunteer Leon makes his own and provided an oatey batch for our Paddy's Day premiere of "If I Should Fall From Grace," a documentary about Shane MacGowan and The Pogues). All dispensed from the L-shaped pinewood cashier-counter by yours truly (we even have an upended topper for tips).

We also have a Happy Hour (two for one books, 4 - 6 PM, Mon - Fri), a house band (The Roadside Graves) and an old pub piano, complete with drink rings and cigarette burns. And then, of course, there's the double-entendre of our slogan: Get lit!

In any case, the interesting characters, the regulars, are the ones who don't spend any money, or very little, but, even still, come in several times a week (or God forbid, a day). They can be infuriating, but also endearing, and they nicely compliment the nondescript patrons who are noticed only because they buy books. Certainly we must make money, but how wan the workday if I dealt solely with high schoolers blankly handing me a summer reading list, or college kids looking for cheap copies of Mother Night and Dharma Bums, or hipsters hunting out-of-print McSweeney publications that come with small black combs and unfold intricately like chinese boxes.

How unremarkable would the morning be if our patronage consisted only of that exclusively female cult: oprah dei (do they wear a cilice? I wonder), or homemakers looking to buy rows of "old" books with "pretty" spines and gilded edges to class up their husband's den "as a surprise for his birthday," or grey flannel business men looking for pocket sized paperbacks for the plane, train, beach, bed. How ordinary the afternoon if I but served academics, cognoscents, and literateurs.

Indeed, I often wonder what sort of job it would be without routine visits from a squat, mellifluous steel worker ("Wild Rover," anyone?), a former bare-knuckle boxer built like a payroll safe whose arms are as thick as his legs (and whose brogue is as thick as his arms). Or the heavily perfumed, heave chested Hungarian, whose long eyelashes and red splay lips, seem oddly incongruous atop her muscular stag neck rising, as it does, from the boulder shoulders of a rugby forward. Or the poker-faced brute we all call Full Metal Jacket, who rarely says a word, just stares with the dead gaze of a shark or, maybe, a giant doll with two black coat buttons for eyes. There's the Famous Local Author and the Famous Local Cartoonist. There's the Oscar Nominated Screenwriter and the Former State Governor. There's the reformed gangster who now sells cars wholesale and has a tiny gold Cadillac hanging from a chain around his neck, who comes into watch Paul Muni movies (we rent DVDs and are prone to playing forties film noir on the shop TV). There's the twee, bespectacled women in floral housecoats, who come in for books on Wicca and candle magic and something called "the shadow people." There's the two lesbians who buy everything on Hitler and the fifty-something Pole who asks for price checks on leather-bound bibles that he never buys and who, in the warmer months, wears red tank-tops tucked tightly into matching Ronstadt running shorts (I'm thinking of her Living in the USA album) and yanked-up tube socks with red calf stripes.

"When I worked in a second-hand bookshop – so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios..." That's the first line to Orwell's aforementioned essay. Indeed, nothing could be farther from the truth. But, you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Time Enough At Last: Review of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road by Dan McNulty

In his newest release, Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon presents us with his latest genre-bending experiment. In Gentlemen of the Road, he delves into the ancient world circa 950AD chronicling the adventures of a pair of down-trodden, cunning, yet inexplicably bound-by-unspoken-codes-of-honor sword fighting drifters. Its two main protagonists, Zelikman and Amram, become reluctant heroes when they are unexpectedly conscripted into the service of overthrowing the despotic king of the Khazar Empire and restoring it to its rightful ruler.

Where Chabon succeeds with this book is in creating a rollicking buddy adventure, one that recalls Don Quixote and the Three Musketeers. Gentlemen of the Road is a whimsical narrative packed with descriptively drawn characters, lyrically rendered landscapes and compulsively readable chapters replete with cliffhanging endings (the book originally appeared as Jews with Swords, a 15 part weekly serialization in The NY Times Magazine). However, the novel barely dips below its surface action and, with little psychological exploration or insight, lacks the deeper substance of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. In addition, Chabon’s imagery has a tendency to become muddled, bogged down by his gusto for spinning sentences chock-full of antiquated words that will be unfamiliar to most readers. The book's pace also plays to a fault, with Chabon laying little inroad to the background history necessary to truly form a picture of the world he is attempting to describe.

Overall, Gentlemen of the Road is light fare (something to digest on a plane or at the beach) served up by one of our finest novelists.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Haunted Bookshop: Guaranteed to scare you lit-less!

Because we only recently started our blog, I will, from time to time, recount notable past events from earlier in the year.

This Halloween The Raconteur decided to do a "Haunted Bookshop." This involved closing the store down at five, covering the windows with black garbage bag plastic, pulling and dispensing cobwebs from big balls of fluff, and frantically rehearsing a handful of freshly kitted non-actors in preparation for our re-opening at six. The shelves in the shop are looming, eight feet tall, and the corridors they create were curtained off with black blinds. Customers were led in by the only legitimate actor, good friend/shop docent Jeff Maschi, sporting an English accent and dressed as Doyle's Scotland Yard dick, Inspector Lestrade, who appeared in several of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Well, that was the plan anyway; he ended up looking more like Kato than Lestrade (the eye mask was his idea). The store overheads were turned off, leaving the shop to be lit soley by the skittish beam of Jeff's Mag Lite. Larry and John had different ideas about what type of music would be suitable. They respectively suggested Bela Bartok and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but ultimately I settled on a cheapo CD from Variety Village (a nearby five-and-dime) of thumping, discordant noise-music, punctuated throughout with clanks and howls and screams. Patrons were led in groups of five to the various curtained tableaus, where Jeff would read a short summary of the story from which each character was drawn (summaries are included and follow pics), before peeling back the drape. Our costumed participants, theatrically underlit by red or blue clamp lights, would then stage a brief scene, or quote a line from said story.

First up was Larry aka The Masque of Red Death.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe: The corrupt Prince Prospero invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against an oncoming plague, the Red Death. The local peasantry, or anyone that the prince suspects of being infected by the plague, are killed by crossbow fire outside the castle walls. Prospero orders his guests to attend a masked ball, with the stipulation that no one is to wear red. At the ball, amidst a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, Prospero notices the entry of a mysterious masked stranger dressed head-to-toe in the forbidden color, his face a grinning skull. When Prospero confronts the stranger, the prince falls down dead.

Larry rose slowly from a wooden chair (that rather resembled a klismos), hoisted high a skull-headed cane, and rasped, "Blood was its Avatar and its seal --the redness and the horror of blood."

Next was Steve R. playing the hideous Gwynplaine.

The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo: Gwynplaine is the son of a British nobleman who has offended an evil king. As revenge for his father's treachery, the king calls upon the skills of a surgeon associated with a band of feared Gypsies, The Comprachicos, and a permanent smile is carved onto the face of the boy, who is later adopted by a showman and eventually becomes a successful, if grotesque, clown. "Comprachicos" is a name invented by Hugo and is based on the Spanish word for "child-buyers." They make their living by mutilating and disfiguring children, who are then forced to beg for alms and perform as carnival freaks. This character was one of the chief inspirations for Batman's arch-nemesis The Joker.

As Jeff drew the curtain, Steve cackled and crowed, convulsing maniacally as he slowly unwrapped the black scarf that had heretofore hid his rictus grin.

Third was Marvin, an ostensibly indisposed manimal splayed flat on a lab table, a white sheet pulled to his chin.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells: On an idyllic South Seas island, an obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as providence to a race of mutated manimals who worship their maker. But the garden of paradise soon turns into Hell itself when Moreau's nightmarish hybrids rise up in savage rebellion against their god.

Jeff waved in the attendees, ordering them to "gather round," easing their apprehension with repeated remarks of "he's unconscious" and "the straps are strong." They tentatively encircled the table. Jeff produced a stethoscope and proceeded to check Marv's beat and pulse."Lean in ladies and gentlemen, I assure you, it's quite safe." As the group's huddle tightened, Marv suddenly roared to life, barking mad (literally), his face all snarls and snaps.

Next, it's around the cashier counter to the piano, yes we have a piano, where shop friend and trained pianist John W. sat pounding out appropriately baroque compositions (we snuck in John's tabletop Casio to better simulate a pipe organ), while growling incomprehensible threats (which apparently included the slightly fetishistic "I want to eat the dirt between your toes").

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: A 1910 gothic novel in which a mad, horribly deformed composer, known as the "opera ghost", terrorizes an opera house, making his home in the dank catacombs beneath it.

Then, The Gallery of Horrors, painted by Larry and Steve E., which included a fine picture of a famous clown who was poisoned by his own make-up.

And finally, Steve E. as Edgar Allen Poe.

Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, including The Tell-tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allen Poe published The Raven in 1845 to instant success. But only four years later, on October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Some sources say Poe's final words were "Lord help my poor soul." Poe suffered from bouts of depression and madness throughout his life, before finally dying on Oct 7, at the age of 40. The cause of his death is undetermined and has been attributed, at various times, to alcohol, drugs, cholera, rabies, tuberculosis, heart disease, and suicide.
Ten chairs were set up in the back of the store for his performance. The idea was, as Steve recited The Raven, the audience would mellow, lulled into a sort of false sense of didatic security, while the rest of the "monsters" surreptitiously advanced. This worked out rather well. Indeed, the hoots and hollers of these other characters, suddenly erupting at audience elbow, appeared to cause much consternation. Everyone was then herded out the back, where Mike and Cheryl waited with Halloween themed refreshments.

At eleven o'clock we gave our last tour, then repaired to The Cornerstone (a jazz bar across the street from the shop) for some pints. Again, with the exception of Jeff, these were non-actors, and they were understandably aflutter with the success of the night (all told, there were about sixty people). The evening was pleasantly crisp and we sat outside on The Cornerstone's back terrace. Larry ordered his typical house red, and Leon, who dropped by in time to catch the last tour, had a negroni. A lanky lush named Wade or Wayne, wearing a ball cap emblazoned with some moldy marketing slogan: Do the Dew or, maybe, Think Outside the Bun, beerily proffered personal opinions regarding who among us he liked. Very few, as it turned out. He didn't like Steve R.'s face, Leon's politics, or Larry's attitude. But John? To John (who inexplicably identified himself as George) he offered the moon ("You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.") Well, at least a Blue Moon (with a wedge of citrus) or, failing that, a shrimp dinner. At some point, Wade/Wayne, reeking of keg hose and, though in his fifties, cheap high school cologne (like AXE), wandered back inside and apparently did something that resulted in his ejection. The dreaded 86. As he walked past, fretting his expulsion, Larry offered his condolences, "Better luck next time, chum." Prompting Wade/Wayne to toss over his shoulder a final salutation: "Fuck you."

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Kristy and I live in a Victorian two blocks from the shop. It was actually built as an apartment building at the turn of the century and the six apartments are connected by a curling oak-railed staircase (complete with coffin turners -- little nooks where people often stick vases or lamps, but which were traditionally scooped out of spiral stairwells to allow for coffin bearers to negotiate the twisting trip down). Apparently, our ground apartment was intended to accommodate the building's super and is the biggest of the six. Our ceilings are thirteen feet high and the floors are hard wood. There are arches, period light fixtures, and a big bay window where our Christmas tree, wound in tiny white lights and cranberry garlands and decorated with little wooden nutcrackers and those kitchy tin ornaments from the fifties, stood. We sat around a long dining table: Larry sipping a Coppola cabernet, John upending a bottle of Young's Winter Warmer, and me drinking a Sam Adams holiday beer called Old Fezziweg Ale. The others had left around 1 AM -- Eva, Panda, and Leon (reluctantly). Kristy had gone to bed. Vic Damone crooned on Pandora, a recently discovered web site that plays an endless selection of songs/artists similar to the one you initially type in (I had put in Bing).

As we sat there talking about this and that (Graham Greene was brought up, as was Lucian Freud, and Larry posed the question: "How old were you when you realized Zsa Zsa Gabor wasn't important?"), I had a boozy moment of sentimentality. I've always wanted friends like Larry and John, smart, artistic, more than a little eccentric. Larry recently hosted a Sir Carol Reed film festival at the shop ("REED UP @ THE RAC"), and as we hunkered there in my apartment's colossal center room, our great room, we three alone, getting unavoidably squiffy, mired in ideological discussions that bordered on bickering, I was reminded of a scene midway through Odd Man Out, the stunning first installment in Reed's informal trilogy. It depicted what the three of us agreed would be our ideal living situation. In the film's third act, Shell, an opportunistic but likeable rag-picker, decides to hide Johnny McQueen, a wounded IRA captain played by James Mason, in the cavernous squat he shares with Lukey, a mad artist, and Tober, a failed surgeon. As Shell gallops up the grand staircase to discuss this idea of stowing Johnny with his housemates, snow flits through yawning holes in the roof onto the floor two stories below.I can't imagine this scene, played out as it is by three caviling characters, drunk, mad, hungry, in a behomithic wreck of a Belfast mansion without heat, would be appealing to many, any case, Larry (a painter, in fact), John (not a failed surgeon, but..) and I stayed up past three, talking about things which, for the most part, though I managed to participate, were way over my head (the Gabor sisters not withstanding).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Time Enough At Last: Year in Review

Greetings Bloggers! Floggers! and Lollygaggers! Welcome to my book rant. Volunteering at the Raconteur and lack of gainful employment gives me plenty of time to read, reflect, and share my thoughts with all you bibliophiles kicking it out there on the intra-web. 2008's here already, so it’s only fitting that I jump-start this inaugural book review with a year’s best list. (Note that not all of the books were released this past year, but since I hadn't heard of them before 07 I'm choosing to include them here).

My Favorite Books of 2007

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
It won a Pulitzer. Ok. And yeah, Oprah picked it too. So now you’re not going to read it? She also picked Love in the Time of Cholera. Know why? Because they’re both great fucking books! The Road is the story of a father and son surviving in a post-apocalyptic world whose ashen landscape is as bleak and sparse as this contemporary American master’s prose. Think Mad Max or The Day After scripted by Hemingway. The Road is also a meditation on human nature: the good, the bad and the really messed up(in a people-being- stored-in-a-cellar-to-be-eaten-later-kinda-way). Perhaps the most unnerving thing about this book: it's not only a reflection of a possible future but, given the current mode of global warmongering, an almost inevitable one. Happy New Year!

Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman.
Who would of thought that the 90 year old co-creator of Mr. Magoo would be able to pull off a brilliant coming of age debut (reminiscent of Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers) about Iraq, the Garden of Eden, Nuclear War, teenage love, and a crazy musicologist desperately trying to prove that the Great Pyramids were built by sound waves, and make it hilarious? Well he does and it is. So go read it. Now.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
A NY Times bestseller and critical success. Diaz’s prose lives up to the promise of his short story collection Drown, recycling Junior, a street smart narrator who tells the sometimes side-splitting, often melancholy tale of three generations of a family cursed by fuku (which Junior explains as some real fucked up shit). For anyone (Raconteur patrons in particular) who grew up in North/Central NJ or is a Rutgers alumni there is an added bonus of much of the novel's action taking place here. My "beef" with this novel is that at times the narrator uses his hip-slang a little to freely and rather than sounding wise and tough, comes off as contrived and forced. Also, the footnotes can get annoying and at times a spanish/english translator was necessary.

Mockingbird, by Sean Steward.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fast paced story about voodoo dolls and magic and psychic mothers and daughters and growing up and learning to forgive the dead. Think Rosemary’s Baby if it were written by Faulkner. Steward has a definite ear and flair for language and a tight grip on pop-culture that makes everything fantastical about this novel come alive. Some idiot bloke might say that this book is unputdownable. I will say that I couldn’t put it down.

Meet Me in the Moon Room, by Ray Vukcevich.
One of the most brilliantly absurd short story collections I have read. If you like the kind of stories that are found in the New Yorker or the Norton Anthologies you were forced to read in college, chances are you will hate this book. Even detest it. It may make you sick for a week. Probably you have Ansel Adams hanging in your living room. But if it’s a Man Ray photo that's thumb-tacked to your apartment wall to cover up the hole from which the roaches and rats scurry out, or at some point in your life you have ingested large amounts of psychogenic drugs, you will love Meet Me in the Moon Room.

What is the What, by Dave Eggers.
A Heartbreaking Work of Sudanese Genocide...There aren't many writers that could scribe someone else's autobiography in a believable and sustained voice. But leave it to the maverick McSweeney's founder, Dave Eggers, to continue to cast new literary molds. This book is nothing like anything he has written before, so if that's what you're looking for you may be disappointed. However, if you stick with the book, follow its narrator, Valentino Achak Deng, from his Sudanese exodus (think ethnic cleansing, rebel armies, mauling by lions and alligators) to life in a refugee camp (think famine, malnutrition,etc) to his immigration to the US. (think min. wage jobs, diaspora, cultural conflict) you will be moved. Maybe you will even get off the couch and make a donation. Eggers (as Deng) challenges you to look to act to have compassion for the suffering that most people choose to ignore. And with Eggers' author proceeds going to rebuild schools in Sudan, this is not a book to ignore.

The Entire Predicament: stories, by Lucy Corin.
There is nothing ordinary about these off-beat, eccentric tales. The writing is smart, sarcastic, and filled with colorful insight. Corin takes inspiration from the everyday-a plane crash, visiting the dentist, a nosy neighbor- and twists it into fictions that expose the underlying interconnected-meaning in even the most mundane of experiences. The Entire Predicament is a collection by a writer I'm sure to be reading more of.

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, by Chuck Palahniuk.
Sure, at times Palahniuk may seem sophomoric or gimmicky (I'm thinking of the repetition of certain phrases that he drops throughout his novels for effect. I am Chuck's Literary Device). But when I open to the first macabre page I find it difficult to stop my lascivious fingers from leafing to the next. Rant is up there with Chuck's best. A tale told in the tradition of an oral history, with multiple narrators relaying their experiences with the main protagonist, it is a story about a man who builds up immunity to infectious diseases and poison by purposely exposing himself to them, discovers a time travel mechanism through high speed car crashes, has sex with his own mother which makes him his own father and completely fucks up the whole space time continuum Arty McFly style, so that Palahniuk leaves you wondering: who, where, and what the hell just happened here?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
I don't read many children's books nowadays but this is one that instantly grabbed me. One of the most gorgeous books I've seen in years, cinematic in the unfolding of its illustrations, the story is an enjoyable read and worthy of room on any bibliophile's shelf.


Happy New Tidings by Genius Wicke

This chilly New Year’s Eve, we gathered into our warm apartment, and by playing the game of Proust Questionnaire over champagne, we discovered that some of us are clueless as to our favorite flower, favorite color, etc. But some favorite authors were proffered (e.g., Wallace Stevens, James Joyce, Toni Morrison, Anton Chekhov, W. Somerset Maughm) and other names and places were dropped (e.g., J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frederick Delius, Hermosa Beach, upstate New York). The classicist Leon had relayed the endtime Norse story of the evil Jotuns who will conquer the world from a ship constructed of toenail clippings. So – if that be the case - a prudent arms-race response might be to save one’s own clippings in preparative defense. But, as a brewer, Leon had then sweetened the air by promising a batch of honeysuckle wine this year (hopefully minus any manicuria ingredients).

Sartorial highlights:

Panda’s trapper hat
[Panda is a Barnard coed,
and not a toy bear]:

Leon’s charcoal bow tie:

My smart straw boater:

We then marched to our bookstore in town to watch the fireworks. There were general suggestions for marching songs, and they were variously tested (e.g., “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”, “On the Banks of the Raritan”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “He Shall Feed his Flock”) – The Winkie March from the Wizard of Oz (that reliable chestnut) seemed to pace us nicely. [You know how it goes: “oEEo..etc”]. Hundreds of the local townfolk similarly marched toward the midnight launchsite in profile against the town’s neon. Because they all intended to be at the same place at exactly the same midnight – tided by their expectation of the rising lights - their singular purpose would have been foreboding in a 1950s sci-fi sense, had it been any time other than 11:50PM New Years Eve.

At the bookstore’s terrace, a New Year’s anthem was composed
(in a style of the imaginary poet Rudyard Burns, so both stirring and sentimental):

“Launch the burst of fire -
Sound the raspy horn -
From this drink we’ll ne’er retire
From this night - till morn.”

On cue, the bursts of fire were indeed launched, and the corks popped, and thus the calendar lurched forward onto a new year. And, after the last showings of the “boastful daisy”, the “confused sperms”, and the “weeping octopus” had bloomed and wilted [those are pyrotechnic nomenclatures], the afterglow of a residual blanket of smoke had tucked the lumbering crowd back to resume their winter slumber.

The “confused sperms”:

So, we too of the crowd, then conjoined Eva and Panda to each other inside a cozy blanket, and securely tied it with a windsor bow to further seal their friendship. Thus, cuddled snug in a bundle against the chilly night, we all sauntered back to where we began – That is, while the good folk slept in this barely-suckling time of new beginnings, in this soft kiss time before winter clenches its bite, we again resumed the continual deliberation on how to best serve them, and you the reader.

Warm tidings from your Raconteur.