Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Physical Writing Process: Maxine Hong Kingston - From Drawings to Words Across a Multitude of Drafts

"Instead of a woman warrior with a sword, I could create one with a pen who would be just as dramatic." - Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston is such an accomplished writer that she has been awarded by two presidents. She's best known for her book The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, but I tend to associate her with the novel Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book. While we might not classify her as part of the Beat Generation per se, she was quite close both in chronology and location (San Francisco), and Tripmaster Monkey is her take on the Beat Generation, which provides readers with a fresh perspective. 

As Jimmy Fazzino writes in World Beats, "Kingston has also written what I consider to be the quintessential work of post-Beat writing: the 1989 novel Tripmaster Monkey. In this novel Kingston talks back, but lovingly, to the Beats. Her novel critiques certain blind spots in Beat writing dealing with race, gender, and ethnicity, but at the same time, her novel redeems the Beats by recognizing and then transforming their transgressive, liberatory spirit to suit the author's purposes. Kingston's protagonist is Wittman Ah Sing, a fifth-generation Chinese American and belated beatnik who wrestles with the ghost of Kerouac in 1960s San Francisco as he attempts to find his voice and make his way in life. The title, Tripmaster Monkey refers in part to Sun Wukong, the monkey king (or monkey god)."


This photo of Kingston working at her computer is from the 1990 documentary Maxine Hong Kingston: Talking Story. This must have been her writing setup around the time she was writing Tripmaster Monkey. However, she usually starts on paper, and not necessarily with words. When she was young, Kingston wanted to be an artist before she got into writing, so traces of that remain with her. When she's facing the blank page to begin telling a new story, she'll often start with images. She'll sketch doodles and pictures until they begin to form into words. As E.D. Huntley explains in Maxine Hong Kingston: A Critical Companion, "Kingston does not write from an outline; instead, she conjures up visual images that she afterwards 'translates' into her luminous prose. She had once wanted to have a career as an artist, and she still frequently begins the creative process by drawing and sketching ideas, producing visual representations of her thoughts."

"I draw a blob and then I have a little arrow and it goes to this other blob...it's like a doodle." - Maxine Hong Kingston

By all accounts, Kingston writes a huge number of drafts. She wholeheartedly believes in the power of the writing process, and the discovery it brings. As Betty Ming Liu explains, She rewrote her memoir at least 15 times, from beginning to end — every single time. If no one published it, she planned to xerox the manuscript and save it. Maybe someone would discover it 1,000 years from now, she told us.

Kingston is able to discover to stories she wants to tell and the characters she wants to depict as she continually revises her drafts. She says that at the beginning she doesn't know where she's going, and by the end, she is surprised by the conclusion. In the book Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston, she explains, "As I described people, I found that I understood them more and more because I gave them so much attention. I even began to see things from their point of view, why they did some of the things they did. And then I thought, 'These are loving portraits.' So by the time I got through--and this would take about ten drafts--I thought, 'What I've written isn't a lot of embarrassing gossip. I've made a piece of harmony in the world.' And then I thought, 'Yeah, now it's ready to publish.' / What I'm hoping by saying this is that you will realize it's OK to write about the very worst people in your family and worst feelings that you might have about your loved ones. The writing process and the form itself will guide you to what it all means. And then inside of you resolution take places, and you are at peace with all of that. And what you publish is showing human beings how life took place, and how life and love and positive things came out of the negative."

I'd love to see some of her preliminary sketches or her manuscripts in various states of revision, but it doesn't look like that will happen until I have a chance to visit the University of California at Berkeley's Bancroft Library and view their collection of her papers


An Activist for Peace

Before we part, I mentioned above that Kingston was awarded by two presidents. For her entire life, Kingston has been an anti-war activist. She was arrested outside of the White House for protesting the Iraq War. Unlike poet Adrienne Rich, who was the only person to decline the National Medal of Arts, stating presciently that ''democracy in this country has been in decline,'' Kingston accepted the two occasions presidents honored her with medals. However, she had some surprising words for President Clinton when she met him in person. As reported in The Guardian

She astonished the draft-dodging president with a message from Vietnam war veterans. "They said, 'Tell Bill Clinton we're proud of him; he was right and brave not to go to Vietnam'." "But I thought they felt I'm a son of a bitch," he replied. 

Their forgiveness surprised Kingston too, aware of the bitterness of many veterans towards the anti-war movement of the 1960s. Yet these men had taken part in the 1990s in her war veterans' writing workshops. 

The power of the pen is a motif throughout Kingston's work. She explains in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston"And in my stories the pen is always problematical. It's always on the verge of not winning. But I think maybe the frustration I feel is that writers have the power to change the world only a little bit at a time. We conquer a reader at a time. We change the atmosphere of the world, and we change moods here and there, whereas the people who have the guns and the bombs have so much direct power. We're using images and moods against the bombs. If only the word had as much power." 

---Other Entries in this Series---
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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Witold Gombrowicz, Trans-Atlantyk - They’re Only Pretending to Use the Urinals: Comic Moments in Literary Fiction




Witold Gombrowicz’s novels are chock full of absurdity, so perhaps it’s natural that we find some hilarious moments thrown in. His writing styles are highly original, and his own personal philosophical concepts underlie the characters and events in his fiction, providing a lot of depth to what may appear to be silly, farcical stories on the surface.

Any look one takes at Gombrowicz invariably focuses on his unique biography, but in Gombrowicz’s novel Trans-Atlantyk, Gombrowicz himself presents to his readers the most fateful decision of his life. Of course, Trans-Atlantyk is absurd, fantastical, and written in an archaic Polish form as a mockery (the English translation is written in a kind of ersatz 17th Century English), but it does feature a narrator named Witold Gombrowicz, who finds himself sent to Buenos Aires as a Polish literary representative, and when World War II breaks out in Europe with the Nazis invading Poland, Witold does not choose to get back on board the ship with the others and return to Europe to join the war. He remains in Argentina for dubious reasons, just as the real Witold Gombrowicz did, where he found himself poor, unable to speak Spanish, and in exile for more than 20 years. (He also wasn’t doing himself any favors by writing a novel in Polish that could only be read by his fellow Polish émigrés, but using such ancient Polish that it was difficult for even them to read, and insulting the whole Polish immigrant culture in Argentina while he was at it! It seems safe to say he didn't get into writing for the money!)


As Jerzy Jarzebski writes in The Exile and Return of Writers from East-Central Europe: A Compendium, "All of the actions of the protagonist-Gombrowicz described in the novel are outrageously unworthy and dishonorable from the point of view of the patriotic tradition of emigration." This fits in with Gombrowicz’s iconoclastic themes. The novel pits the “Fatherland” against the “Sonland.” In the book’s introduction, Stanislaw Baranczak describes Gombrowicz’s decision thus, “What Gombrowicz the narrator refuses to suffer any more—taking the dramatic yes-or-no question of his return as an opportunity to make a clean break with his half-hearted compliance—is the overwhelming power of stereotype, of What Is Expected from You, of (to use the term Gombrowicz adopted in his essays and diary) Form.”

I’d just like to note that my Gombrowicz quotes are from the original translation of Trans-Atlantyk by Carolyn French and Nina Karsov, but a second translation by Danuta Borchardt was published in 2014. This article in the Quarterly Conversation discusses the two versions.

Nevertheless, highly relevant to our discussion here—to this entire Comic Moments in Literary Fiction series on this blog—Susan Sontag writes in the introduction to the new translation, “[Gombrowicz's] third, tongue-in-cheek, message has a more universal portent: issues between individuals and nations can be so horrific that nothing but humongous laughter may deliver salvation."


The narrator Gombrowicz of Trans-Atlantyk finds a job with other Polish émigrés, and he has a lot of dealings with three of the employees (The Baron, Ciumkala, and Pyckal), who the narrator finds quite buffoonish. They encounter him at a dance hall and insist on buying him drinks. They start arguing with each other about who will treat Gombrowicz, and Gombrowicz tries to give them the slip by excusing himself to the restroom, but he can’t get away:

“...and I quickly made off. I enter the Privy, they after me. There was one man who was making water into a Urinal. I to a urinal. They to urinals. But when that man who had been making water left, they jointly at me.” 
(FYI, this is all [SIC] per above note on his style and all ellipses are in the original)

Now that they have Gombrowicz alone, the three employees try to give money to each other, which can be used to treat Gombrowicz so they can get into his good favor:

“And Ciumkala to the Baron: ‘Here, have six hundred.’ And Pyckal to Ciumkala: ‘Here seven hundred, have seven hundred. Take when I’m giving!’ They take cashes out, brandish them under noses for themselves, for me, and press them each on the others! Haply they are Madmen!
“I reckoned then that, although they are giving these Cashes each to the others amongst themselves, they would fain give me these Cashes to purchase my favor . . . save that they feel awkward for want of daring with me. Ergo I say: ‘Do not fever yourselves, Gentles, easy, easy.’ Yet they were but seeking a way to press these Cashes on me, and at length the Baron clasped his head: ‘Aye me, my pocket is torn. I’d better give my Cashes to you as I may lose them!’ . . . and he started to press the Cashes on me. Seeing that, the others also press theirs: ‘My pocket is torn, too. Take mine’ —‘And mine.’ Say I: ‘For God’s sake, gentles, to what end do you give?’ . . .But at this moment someone came in for the need, so they to Urinals, unbutton, whistle, as if naught, as if for the need . . . Only when that someone who had come in went out, they at me again, and since they have become more daring, they indeed thrust the Cashes on me and ‘Take, take’ they chorus. Say I: ‘In the name of the Father and the Son, gentlemen, to what end do you give, what purpose you your cashes with me?’ In this moment, however, someone came in for the need, so they to Urinals, whistle . . . but as soon as we were left alone, again they lept at me and Pyckal roared: ‘Take, take when you are given, take, take for he has three hundred or four hundred Millions!’—’Take not from Pyckal; take from me,’ cried the Baron, whirring and buzzing as a wasp, ‘from me take, as, for God’s sake, he may have even four hundred or five hundred Millions!”


This plays out like a side-splitting skit in my mind’s eye. At first, they’re trying to be coy with the money to impress Gombrowicz, but then they realize someone is coming into the bathroom and they all run to a urinal and cartoonishly whistle, pretending to use the facilities until that guy leaves. Then, like a cartoon character coming up with a new scheme, one of them says there’s a hole in his pocket, so Gombrowicz should take the money, and like clowns, the others say they’ve also got holes in their pockets and shove their money at him—But they all need to pu the money away and rush to a urinal as they realize someone else is entering the restroom!

This goes on for a while longer until they finally wear him down:

“Wishing not to be disagreeable any longer, I let them press the Cashes on me. Then all to urinals as Someone was just coming in.”


Things after this continue to intensify for the narrator, as the guy he’s there with shove him some money under the table and tells him to invite his countrymen over to drink with them, and the wild ride continues, but the scene in the bathroom really tickles me. I also noticed the ingenious way Gombrowicz uses the “In the name of the Father and the Son” curse like a standard “OMG!” curse, but it serves the double purpose to reinforce the struggle between Fatherland and Sonland that lies at the heart of the narrative. If you liked the taste of Gombrowicz offered through this wacky scene, you would certainly enjoy reading more. An easier read would be his novel Ferdydurke (translates to something like “Fiddle-Faddle”). The hook is that an adult’s old schoolteacher shows up at his house and transforms him back into a little kid.




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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018


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Other Entries in the Comic Moments in Literary Fiction Series:

See also:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Physical Writing Process: Octavia Butler - Inspiring Oneself

Octavia Butler Writer Photo Courtesy http://www.trbimg.com/img-5912ac85/turbine/la-1494396033-a3umy5cuis-snap-image
Octavia Butler's groundbreaking writing continues to captivate readers as they rethink humanity and society through the lens of her work. She paved the way for those who would follow in her path, being the first science fiction writer to be awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant, the first woman to receive both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and the first African American woman to rise to prominence as a science fiction author.

In 2008, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California acquired Butler’s papers, which demonstrated how meticulous she was with her notes and manuscripts. The Huntington said that her papers arrived “in two four-drawer file cabinets and about 35 large cartons. Butler’s papers required intense processing over the next three years.” These include everything from short stories she wrote when she was twelve to programs from her lectures.
This manuscript page has the novel's original title To Keep Thee in All Thy Ways handwritten at the top, which was apparently not an appealing title to Butler's publishers. They wanted to name it "Dana" after the main character, but Butler didn't like that. They eventually agreed on Kindred.

Clockshop hosts great pictures of a section Butler wrote in a notebook called "How I Write."

It's surprising to see that the majority of her research time would be taken up on figuring out what the minor details were like in the lives of slaves in the antebellum south. In my DYSTOPIA post, I discussed some of the horrific details of slavery that Butler discovered in her research.
This page provides so much insight into Butler's creative process. She's typed up her plans for the novel Parable of the Sower and she's gone back to both add some more notes as well as emphasize what she wants to do with the book. She's used different highlighters to color-code themes and ideas, as well as writing different ideas in various colors of marker, and then going back and highlighting those as well. The whole page brims with life. I could imagine her referring to this as a guide while she drafted the novel, the colors inspiring her to remember how the different threads of the novel will ultimately come together.

However, as awesome as all of that is, what I found the most inspiring and heart warming are the motivational notes and mantras that Butler would write to herself.
This shows so much about the power of setting goals for oneself. Who among us hasn't written in a spiral notebook like that? It's so common and familiar, even down to the end of the spiral starting to become unraveled. And ours probably have stray notes, but do they have these proclamations of what we will achieve with our writing? And she's even included selfless things, "I will send poor black youngsters to Clarion or other writers' workshops." / "I will help poor black youngsters go to college."
You can see similar themes on this page from ca. 1975, around the time Butler sold her first novel. When you read about her background, it's even more inspiring. As a young girl, she saw the mistreatment of humiliation and racism that her mom suffered as a maid and as a child said, "I'll never do what you do, what you do is terrible." In school, she was tall and bookish, making her the target of bullies. As a young adult, she was working the sort of odd jobs she describes Dana working in the beginning of Kindred. This meant she would have to wake up at 2:00 AM to make time to write. I picture her sitting there in the dark, in a world that doesn't support her and doesn't believe in her. She needs encouragement and the only person there to support her is herself, so she writes down her goals to push herself to keep writing until the day she sees those goals come true.


---Other Entries in this Series---
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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Physical Writing Process: Dalton Trumbo - Writing in the Bathtub & the Duality of Screenwriter-Novelist


Dalton Trumbo liked to write while he was in the bathtub. I wouldn’t say that he wrote while he was taking a bath because it was less about the bath and more about the idea that being there in the water was a comfortable place for him to sit and write all night. And at first I was thinking, maybe that’s not so odd—but the water mixing in with his papers and ink—and apparently he would have his typewriter in there with him sometimes too. It just all seems like it wouldn’t mix well! I would be paranoid of getting water on any of these things. But apparently it worked for him, and it’s considered a very iconic part of his writing process, as verified by this photograph of the statue depicting him in his hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado.



These first two photos are courtesy Uncover Colorado.

The description in Uncover Colorado is very amusing:
"It is a bronze antique bathtub with a naked 62-year old man lounging with coffee at the ready and cigarette in hand while working on a script. The eccentric Trumbo was known to do his best work writing in the bathtub."


You’ll notice in these photos, he keeps scissors and tape at hand. That’s because the other part of his physical writing process was cutting up pages and taping them together as he revised. Once he figured out the revision, he’d tape the cut out pieces all together on one page so he knew that was the new, final version of the page to be typed up.


The trailer for the 2015 movie Trumbo

Trumbo is best known as the man who broke the Hollywood blacklist. When he was called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he stood up for his belief in the first amendment and was uncooperative, which led to him being sent to jail for a year on the charge of contempt of Congress along with the rest of the Hollywood Ten. There is some debate over the precise nature of Trumbo’s communism, but the fact is that the Hollywood Ten believed the first amendment should protect them from having to answer to congress about their political beliefs, and they hoped to bring the case before the Supreme Court (it didn’t work out for them because two liberal justices died, so they were stuck going to jail). During the time of the blacklist, when any suspected communists couldn’t work in Hollywood, Trumbo continued to write scripts by having writer-friends allow him to use their names as fronts, and sometimes using pseudonyms—the pseudonym Robert Rich famously being awarded an Oscar for The Brave One, which became part of Trumbo’s campaign to tear down the blacklist, leading to him being credited for his movies once more and eventually, the eradication of the whole blacklist.



Trumbo wasn’t only a writer of movies though, he was also a novelist and fiction writer. I had never heard of Trumbo before, but my mom mentioned to me that she saw the 2015 movie about him and thought I would like it, especially because it was about a writer. I didn’t see it at the time, but I remembered that conversation later when I was with my wife at a dollar store. I always look at the book aisle while she’s shopping, even though for years I never bought a book there. However, on this occasion, a book cover depicting Bryan Cranston in front of a typewriter drew my attention, and I realized this was the nonfiction book that the movie was based on, so I got it for a dollar, not knowing if I’d even read it. But I picked it up recently and became fascinated by the whole thing.

There was a duality to Trumbo’s identity as a writer. On the one hand, he had his fiction, which he sometimes considered “real” writing and at times thought would be the better path to take—his true art form. Opposed to this was his writing of film scripts, which was associated with money and not being true art. It is clear that Bruce Cook—who wrote the biography and held extensive interviews with Trumbo and his friends, family, and associates—definitely agrees with this assessment and writes with lament about Trumbo’s unfinished novels.

During the year he spent in prison, Trumbo began a novel that he intended as the first in a cycle of historical novels. Bruce Cook writes of Trumbo’s optimism on the first novel, “And with these feelings came again the recurrent yearning to be a novelist, what he still thought of as a real writer.” Trumbo wrote 150 pages of the novel, and in a letter to his wife he wrote, “More and more I realize that when I emerge from this place I must at last make the choice of whether I want to live at the rate of $25,000 a year as we always have, or whether I want truly to become a writer. I think it would be better for all of us if the latter course were taken, although it would entail certain sacrifices.” Trumbo never finished that novel.

Movie industry executive Arthur Krim said: “Dalton is able to write anything. He has great facility. People might criticize him even for that, but I find it very good. There is only one other writer I have known in my long experience who had a similar facility, and this was, of course, Ben Hecht. I did seven scripts with him. But with both of them, too, I have the feeling that if pictures had not used the talent of these people, then they would have become greater writers. They got used to a higher life style, and they were spoiled for higher ambitions as writers. In pictures, you know, a writer can never be as important as he is in writing novels and plays, and so on. I’m thinking of them in this, what they could have done. On the other hand, we film people should be grateful that such talents will write for us.”

Albert Maltz, who was also a playwright, fiction writer and screenwriter who was jailed alongside Trumbo as part of the Hollywood Ten said: “I mentioned [Trumbo’s] Pacific novel already, of course. It was quite interesting, as I recall. I read one or two chapters. I don’t remember its content, but I made some suggestions. But that whole story points to an aspect of Trumbo’s character that I find really disturbing. I remember we were in his study talking about this Pacific novel of his. It was around 1946, and it was in that house on Beverly Drive. He had an enormous board up on a stand, white cardboard, and he explained to me that this Pacific novel was just one of a whole cycle he intended to write. He had a genealogical tree covering them worked out on this chart, showing where each one fitted in and what period and action it covered and all. It was a very ambitious project. But of course he never wrote them. Never wrote any of them… He had had a piece published in the Nation, and it was very good, very incisive, acidly witty. I said to him, ‘Dalton, why don’t you so arrange your life that you write more pieces like this?’ He shrugged and said nothing more about it. There is no question that Trumbo had talent for much greater literary work than the film work that he produced. The reason he never did what he could have done was this obsession of his with making money and living in a grand manner… It kept him writing, and writing, and writing, though. Why do writers write, after all? I know all about Balzac’s desire for money, Stendhal’s wish to woo women, and whatever it was that drove Victor Hugo. Flaubert didn’t produce what Hugo did, but what he did write was infinitely more important. So it may be foolish for me to say this about Trumbo, perhaps. He is what he is. He must have some reason for doing what he did, for using his talent the way he did. Though it’s a mystery to me.”

When Bruce Cook reflects on Trumbo’s life, he writes: “Trumbo was a complex man, one whose impulses and attitudes were frequently, perhaps constantly, in conflict. He had a novel under way for years, begun in 1960, set aside, rewritten but never abandoned… Many people have remarked that Trumbo should have written more novels; none, I’m sure, wished it more profoundly than he did. Not that he was ashamed of the screenwriting he had done. He loved films, loved working in the medium, and was surprisingly good at it. Yet in the end, perhaps particularly in the end, as he took stock of what he had done, Trumbo may well have wished that he had a solid pile of books that he could claim as indisputably his. Film is flimsy stuff, essentially of the moment; that is its glory and his shame. He joked about this, always a sign with him that it was something he took seriously.”

There’s a trope about artists needing to make sacrifices for their art, but it seems to be at play in this duality with Trumbo as a writer. It is understandable that people wish Trumbo had focused more on his fiction, since the few novels he did write early in his career received critical acclaim. Trumbo’s most famous novel is the antiwar novel Johnny Got His Gun, which won a National Book Award. Much, much later in his life, in response to the Vietnam War, Trumbo decided to make the novel into a movie, the only film he directed. Even though it won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, it was not particularly successful. Wikipedia offers the sardonic note that “the film became far better known when it was incorporated in the video of Metallica's song 'One'” I do enjoy how many Metallica songs are based on literature.



Metallica's music video for "One" uses clips from Trumbo's film version of Johnny Got His Gun.


See also:
The American Writers Museum
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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Brier Rose Books in Teaneck, NJ - My Personal Favorite Bookstore


This blog makes it clear that I'm really into bookstores, and I've been to bookstores throughout North America and even parts of Europe. So I thought I'd share with you my personal favorite bookstore, Brier Rose Books in Teaneck, NJ. Now, perhaps I'm a bit biased because I used to live within walking distance of this store and I could go all the time, but I am still convinced that if you have the chance, you will have a unique and wonderful experience at a bookstore with a great selection.
The outside is quaint. With no huge sign on the building itself, you could almost miss it. 

Walking in feels the way I imagine it would be to walk into a magical bookshop, if such a thing were real. 
As soon as you enter, you are immediately surrounded by books on bookshelves. Whatever direction you go in, you'll be in a corridor of books, and at every end, all you can see is more books.
All of this makes it feel like you're not in a store at all. You've just stumbled into a maze of books. There's no one around--employees or customers. There's no music playing. There are no signs or obvious prices. It's just you and the books.
And I know this involves personal taste, but my wife and I always love the selection available. The fiction, the philosophy, the history, the science fiction and fantasy--there are so many compelling titles.
Way in the back corner of the store, there is a section of books for a dollar. It's all fiction, separated by general fiction, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. And even in this section, we're always impressed by the books that are available. My wife always gets a big stack of sci-fi and fantasy books for $1 each, and I've picked up titles like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse from this dollar section. 

By now, you've probably been in the store a long time, running your finger over the spines of books, perusing titles, reading a few pages, and maybe you've even collected a few books under your arm. You started out in the front of the store, but now you've been to the back corners and corridors in-between and you still haven't seen another soul. If it were the weekend, you'd probably have seen a few customers in obscure aisles here or there, but it's desolate. 

The shelves are set up like a maze, and you need to find that path that winds into the very center of the store. That's where the owner and sole employee, Howard Rose, has his sales desk set up. This centerpoint also contains some couches, antique artifacts, and the glass cases containing the rarest valuable books in the store (Although it's likely to see him on his laptop, selling books online, which is actually where the most expensive books are. He once told me that he wouldn't be able to keep the store open if he didn't have the money coming in from online sales. I just checked the Brier Rose Books AbeBooks profile, and right now there's a listing for a rare Jack London book signed by Jack London and his poet wife). Mr. Rose is happy to assist with finding something once you know he's embedded in there (and sometimes while you're wandering the corridors of books, you'll hear his disembodied voice ask you if you need any help). He always wants to have a conversation about what books you're reading, and whatever other topics may arise. He tells interesting stories of going out to review libraries for sale that he sometimes buys for the store. He says he's got tons of books in storage, and when people buy the popular ones from the dollar section, he has to go fish out more of them to put on the shelves.    

Last time we were there, he was upset that after all the ordeals of someone driving a car into his store, causing tons of damage that required construction to repair, Google mistakenly had his store listed as permanently closed. Rest assured, the store is open and looking better than ever, so if you want to experience the charm of Brier Rose Books stop by 450 Cedar Lane, Teaneck, NJ 07666.

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You're reading this, so it's time to admit it You’ve been one – a bookstore hobo. Lingering too long among shelves of books. Sitting between the aisles reading a book you know you don’t have the money to buy, and thinking to yourself, “Oh, if I could only stay here forever.” So why don't you read my novella The Bookstore Hobos? Published in the Eunoia Review, The Bookstore Hobos is the story of Zaid, who tries to live in a bookstore when he finds himself unemployed. His adventures will take him to New York City, where he must attempt to apply what he's read to the real world.
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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018.



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Other entries in this series:


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Comic Moments in Literary Fiction #1: There Are No Cups in Kafka’s Amerika

"Sword? One supposes a mistake, since Kafka never saw the monument. Yet it grows increasingly clear that Karl has landed in a nightmarish new world where everything is slightly off-kilter, skewed and disorienting. A bridge over the Hudson connects New York to Boston." (Quote WP | Image-Vanished Empires)

There’s plenty of reasons to laugh, so this series will explore the hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments found in serious, literary fiction. Even if you’re someone like Franz Kafka, exploring existential dread and the absurdity of everything, you might as well laugh along the way. For instance, it’s widely reported that when Kafka gave a reading of the first chapter of The Trial — in which Joseph K. awakens to some detectives in his room, eating his breakfast, placing him under arrest for an unnamed crime (they don’t have the authority to tell him what he’s accused of), and telling K. that he can go about his day, although the court will keep an eye on him — Kafka could barely get through the reading because he was laughing so hard. David Foster Wallace wrote a great essay on Kafka’s humor and why Americans often don’t get catch the jokes, if you’d like to delve into that topic.



But for now, it’s my way of introducing a new series I’d like to try on this blog, in which I share moments I found particularly hilarious from works of literary fiction. We're using comic in the contemporary usage of "funny," not the tragedy/comedy plot classifications (we might be laughing at some tragedies in this series!) To start with one from Kafka, I’d like to share a scene from his first novel, often called Amerika, although The Missing Person is a more accurate title and translation. Like all three of his novels, it’s unfinished. It’s the story of Karl, a hapless young man whose parents ship him off to his rich uncle in the United States after he’s sexually assaulted by a maid. Kafka never actually visited America, and this isn’t supposed to be an accurate representation, but his own Kafkan version of the United States. For instance, as Karl arrives in New York, he “saw the Statue of Liberty, which he had been observing for some time, as if in a sudden burst of sunlight. The arm with the sword now reached aloft, and about her figure blew the free winds.” 


Karl has all sorts of bizarre adventures, but whenever I think about the novel, I remember this little moment and chuckle to myself. Karl has just spent the night at an inn with a couple of questionable characters, and now it’s the next morning:

“At last an innocent little boy came along and had to stretch up tall in order to hand the Frenchman the coffeepot. Unfortunately, there seemed to be only one coffeepot available, and it was impossible to get the boy to understand that they would like some glasses too. So only one person at a time could drink while the others stood beside him, each awaiting his turn. Although Karl had no desire to drink, he did not wish to hurt the feelings of the other two, and so, when his turn came, he simply stood motionless, holding the coffeepot to his lips.

By way of farewell, the Irishman threw the coffeepot onto the stone tiles; they left the building unobserved and left out into the thick yellowish morning fog” (Kafka translated by Mark Harman). 


It’s a small, inconsequential moment, but when I think of those guys standing there, waiting for their turn to drink out of the spout of the coffeepot—and Karl not wanting to, but drinking to be polite—I just burst out into laughter. 

And even though it's a silly detail, we can also read classic Kafka themes in the scene. We see that communication is impossible. This runs throughout Kafka, just think of the "Message to the Emperor" that can never be delivered or the law meant only for you that you can never find out (in "Before the Law"/The Trial). Here, we see it even affects something as mundane as trying to drink a cup of coffee. We also see people doing things they don’t want to do out of some perceived expectation, the kind of behavior taken to the extreme in "The Judgement." There’s so much packed into one little, hilarious scene. I'll have to fight the urge to recreate the moment next time I have guests over for coffee! 

For the next entry in this series, we'll look at some Witold Gombrowicz!

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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018


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See also:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Jack Kerouac's Original Manuscript Scroll of On the Road, American Writers Museum-Literary Tour of Chicago Pt. 2

I first read On the Road by Jack Kerouac in 2008. Then I started to get even more into Kerouac's writing, reading many of his other novels starting in 2009. But at that time, I learned I had just missed the chance to see with my own two eyes the actual, original, legendary, scroll manuscript of On the Road. Starting in 2007 and ending in early 2008, the scroll went on a road trip of its own, being displayed in some museums and libraries around the United States, including New York City (which would have been easy for me to have seen!)
Kerouac-Scroll-Close-Up-Edit-Handwritten-On-The-Road
So these past nine years, that thought's crept up from the back of my mind--that I just missed my chance to actually see Kerouac's scroll, and maybe the chance wouldn't arise again. See, it's not like the scroll belongs to a museum or library; it's the private property of a rich guy. 
Kerouac-Exhibit-American-Writers-Museum
Like many famous writers, there is a whole controversy surrounding Kerouac's estate after his death. There's even a forged will. In his youth, Kerouac was friends with Sebastian Sampas, who tragically died young during World War II. Toward the very end of his life, Kerouac married Sampas' sister Stella. That's how his estate ended up belonging to the Sampas family. John Sampas was managing the estate until this past May when he died at the age of 84. Sampas' management of the estate was controversial. While he clearly did many good things such as donating a huge collection of Kerouac's papers to the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library or getting previously unseen Kerouac works into print like the original scroll version's text of On the Road, along with many other previously unseen novels and writings, he was criticized on many other accounts such as selling off Kerouac effects to Johnny Depp
Scholars decried Sampas' plan to auction off the scroll, and it was only good luck that Jim Irsay, who won the auction and bought the scroll for 2.43 million dollars, was a person who cared about the scroll's importance, had it restored, and has sometimes made it available to the public.  Unfortunately, the status of other manuscripts, such as the scroll of The Dharma Bums, is unknown. 
On-The-Road_on-display_Jack-Kerouac
One appropriately rainy night in early May, I was reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and I popped over to Google to read a bit more about Jackson's biography. So in my Googling, I end up on this website: http://blog.americanwritersmuseum.org/2017/03/28/follow-the-classics-with-these-books-by-women-writers/, a list of suggested books by female authors posted by the blog of the American Writers Museum. What led me to the page was, "If you love The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, read The Sundial by Shirley Jackson" (and relevant to this post, they recommend to read Joan Didion if you like Kerouac. I have, but the two writers are very different). After glancing at that, I realized what page I was on and started wondering what the heck the "American Writers Museum" was. This was shortly before the museum opened, and I started reading the description and thought it sounded cool. Then I saw their first exhibitions and knew I had to travel there.

The name of the exhibit at the American Writers Museum is "A Beat Journey: Jack Kerouac's On the Road." 
American-Writers-Museum-Kerouac-Beat-Exhibit

American-Writers-Museum-Kerouac-Beat-Exhibit
The exhibit focused on telling the story of Kerouac's life and the writing on On the Road by way of the cities he lived in and traveled through.
Kerouac-Notebooks-Writing-On-the-Road
I had never before seen this photograph of Kerouac flipping through all of his "secret scribbled notebooks," and I thought it was really nice they included this, as it helps break down the myth (that Kerouac himself helped create) that On the Road was rushed out in three weeks. In reality, it was drafted in notebooks for years on the road itself, compiled and written into the legendary scroll (in three weeks), and almost immediately Kerouac began to revise it into another draft on regular sheets of paper (to be more appealing to publishers who recoiled at the unorthodox scroll). 
Jack-Kerouac-On-the-Road-Revision
Of course, having the scroll itself there shatters this myth as well. It's impossible not to notice that the manuscript is covered in Kerouac's pencil notes. He's crossed out many sentences and added in others.
Kerouac-On-the-Road-edit
Kerouac-On-the-Road-edit
Kerouac-On-the-Road-edit
Kerouac-On-the-Road-Scroll-
One of the first things I noticed was a very well-known change; all of the "mothers" were transformed to "aunts" to aid in obfuscating the true nonfiction nature of the narrative, and thus protecting against potential lawsuits:
Jack-Kerouac-changed-Mother-to-Aunt-On-the-Road
I also learned how difficult Jack Kerouac's handwriting is to read, so it's fortunate he was such a good typist!
Kerouac-Handwriting-on-Scroll
It was fortuitous that I was traveling with Suany, as she is very perceptive and noticed many things I didn't. For instance, the famous opening of the scroll:
In all the times I've viewed photos of the famous opening of the scroll, including on the back copy of the book, I never noticed that it starts with a typo.
"I first met met Neal not long after my father died..."
Suany immediately noticed that error, and said it was nice for aspiring writers to see that the legendary draft of a classic American novel begins with a typo because everyone makes mistakes and you can't let that hold you back.
Kerouac-Hand-drawn-map-hitch-hiking-recreation
It was a nice touch that the back wall was adorned with a recreation of the hand-drawn map Kerouac drew in his notebook to sketch out his first hitch-hiking trip in On the Road.   
Kerouac-Scroll-Roll-Manuscript-Stretched-Out
Many recollections of the scroll describe its ghostly, translucent quality. Kerouac may have typed later scrolls on teletype paper, but his first scroll, On the Road, was typed on Japanese tracing paper. Kerouac met his then-wife Joan Haverty after her boyfriend, Bill Cannastra died. He was a wild figure in the Beat Generation, and he died in a drunken goof where he climbed out of a moving subway car. Kerouac briefly lived in Cannastra's old apartment, which was where he got the Japanese tracing paper that he would tape together and turn into the scroll for On the Road
Kerouac-On-The-Road-Original-Scroll-Manuscript
Viewing the scroll stretched on on start white and well lit, you can't tell it's translucent. I only realized this quality as I peered at all the rest of it that hadn't been unfurled. You can see the backward print through the other side as clearly as you can see the front of it.
Kerouac-Scroll-Rolled-Up


Kerouac-On-the-Road-Scroll-
Another point of interest Suany observed about the scroll is that you could tell Kerouac's typewriter was broken. The margin on the left side would type at an uneven angle, so Kerouac would have to readjust every so often before the words got cut off. 
Kerouac-Scroll-Broken-Typewriter
It'd be appropriate to end this with the torn up ending of the scroll where Kerouac notes, "Ate by Patchkee, a dog," but I couldn't see that part because it was rolled up.
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Literary Explorations of Chicago
Obviously, we're always interested in experiencing the literary aspect of places, whether historical or contemporary. Usually, you're left to figuring this out on your own, but the American Writers Museum teamed up with an app called Vamonde to create what they called the "Chicago Literary Landmarks Hunt."
It's cool to see these literary sights of interest gathered here. The app lets users create and share their own journeys like this, so I might want to experiment with it more in the future.
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You're reading this, so it's time to admit it: You’ve been one–a bookstore hobo. Lingering too long among shelves of books. Sitting between the aisles reading a book you know you don’t have the money to buy, and thinking to yourself, “Oh, if I could only stay here forever.” So why don't you read my novella The Bookstore Hobos? Published in the Eunoia Review, The Bookstore Hobos is the story of Zaid, who tries to live in a bookstore when he finds himself unemployed. His adventures will take him to New York City, where he must attempt to apply what he's read to the real world.
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Joseph Patrick Pascale - How to Get a Promotion When Your Boss Is Trying to Kill You (Accurate Accounts of Office Work: Book 1), a comic literary novel coming from Waldorf Publishing in July 2018.



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Other entries in this series:
See also: