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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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!)
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. 
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. 
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:, 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." 

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.
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). 
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.
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:
I also learned how difficult Jack Kerouac's handwriting is to read, so it's fortunate he was such a good typist!
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.
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.   
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
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.

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. 
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.
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.

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.

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.

Other entries in this series:
See also:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

George R. R. Martin: An Epic Case of Writer's Block

George R. R. Martin - Writer from New Jersey
"My dream chronology is that the books finish first, and I do have a considerable lead over them," George R. R. Martin said in 2013, according to this article titled "'Game of Thrones' Writer George R. R. Martin Thinks His Books Will Outpace the Series." He elaborated, "It's true that they're moving faster than I am -- the series has its own speed -- but I don't see us catching up for another three years or so, by which time another book will be out. That should give them another two seasons of material. And while I'm writing the last book, they'd be making those."

Sitting here in 2017, we know that the HBO show surpassed the books and has spent the last few seasons revealing plot twists that Martin set up in the books more than twenty years ago. So what happened? 

Clearly, Martin is suffering from one epic case of writer's block. Martin's case will surely be remembered as one of the worst cases of writer's block, not only because there are so many people waiting on him to release the final books, but because he's in the unique situation of having one of the most watched shows on television outpacing him and revealing the ending of his books before he is able to. 
This chart really tells the story of Martin's writing troubles (and it's already confirmed that Winds of Winter won't be out this year). His first three books came out one after the next-A Game of Thrones in 1996, A Clash of Kings in 1998, and A Storm of Swords in 2000. Those three books are the best in the series. They do a fantastic job of telling a fast-paced, complex story with a humongous cast of characters while still managing intricate world-building. 

But then Martin began to struggle with something he called the "Meereenese knot," a place where he was stuck in the plot of the story. He came to describe the fourth book as a "monkey on [his] back" that he needed to shake off. Martin was originally going to jump forward five years in the story, but then he thought that wasn't working, so he started rewriting the story through that five years, and the whole thing gave him a lot of trouble while his fans became increasingly impatient at the five-year gap between books.
When the book was finally published, many were upset that Martin left out the main characters. Gone was the excellent pacing of the first three books, as the book plodded along, introducing a cast of secondary characters who didn't advance very far into the overall story. Martin assured his readers not to worry because he'd decided to split the book in two, and all of the main characters would be in the next book. Since he'd split it up, he said this next book was essentially written, and it would be out next year. 

But as Martin struggled in the writing of the fifth book, the years ticked by, and rather than coming out the very next year, it turned into a six-year gap. And his struggles with the plot are reflected in the book, as even with the main characters back, they find themselves mired in situations, the plot moving at a crawl in comparison to those first three books. Martin even admits this to some degree, "At 1,040 pages, Dance is Martin’s longest book in the series, yet is actually shorter than the author intended in terms of the amount of story that’s covered. There’s at least one large battle sequence that Martin didn’t have time to include, and several character threads end in tantalizing cliff-hangers."
GRRM has sometimes been very open about these struggles: "But writing is hard. I mean I sit there and work at it. Boy, there are days where I get up and say 'Where the hell did my talent go? Look at this crap that I’m producing here. This is terrible. Look, I wrote this yesterday. I hate this, I hate this.' And I can see a scene in my head, and when I try to get it down in words on paper, the words are clunky, the scene is not coming across right. So frustrating. And there are days where it keeps flowing. Open the floodgates, and there it is. Pages and pages coming. Where the hell does this all come from? I don’t know."

Something happened to Martin in the writing between the third and fourth books. "I never had the sort of writer’s block where I didn’t go near the typewriter," Martin says. "But I had days where I would sit there and couldn’t write and I would spend all day answering emails, or I would rewrite and couldn’t go forward."

Throughout history, people have attributed different causes to writer's block. The protagonist of George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying is attempting to write an epic poem, and his challenges are described thus: "It was too big for him, that was the truth. It had never really progressed, it had simply fallen apart into a series of fragments." This sounds similar to the issues Martin was having with his Meereenese knot, and similar challenges must exist to this day. After the completion of his last book, he said, "Why did I have to make it the Seven Kingdoms? Wouldn’t Five Kingdoms have been sufficiently complicated?"

When I met George RR Martin in 2011, he said his office wasn't filled with elaborate charts and character trees, although it probably should be.

But there are also many internal, personal factors that contribute to writer's block, and it seems that Martin struggles with this as well--fighting off the feeling of being a failure despite his many successes. He said to Stephen King about his daily writing routine, "You always get six pages? You never get constipated? You never get up and go get the mail, and think ‘Maybe I don’t have any talent and should have been a plumber?'”
Another factor is the pressure to actually produce the work, which can be a vicious cycle as books are delayed. In Martin's case, he already had this enormous pressure from all of his readers clamoring for the new book, but it became even worse with the addition of the HBO show. That ratcheted up the whole situation with new episodes catching up to and surpassing the author's story. Related to all of this is the additional pressure of having to live up to his previous successes, which must be made worse by his last two books not being as well received as the first three. 

And recent research suggests that there are likely physiological factors occurring in the brain to contribute to writer's block. In a study by Rosanne Bane, she writes that neuroscientists have proven that when someone is stressed (like GRRM clearly is with all of these factors weighing him down), control of the brain switches from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system, which is instinctual and will trigger a fight-or-flight response. "Without significant input from the cerebral cortex, the individual is temporarily deprived of the ability to perform nuanced analysis and creative thought." Writer and neurologist Alice W. Flaherty argues something similar in her book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain.
JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin
GRRM hates it when people talk about him not living long enough to finish the books, which is understandable and rude to say to his face. But valar morghulis, so if the books go unfinished, A Song of Ice and Fire would actually stand alongside some of the greatest works of literature because being finished isn't actually a requirement. Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales comes to mind immediately. He sets up an elaborate structure in the prologue, but of the 120 proposed tales, Chaucer only finished 24. Franz Kafka is one of my all-time favorite novelists, but he never finished a single novel. There are countless examples, but of course we have to remember J. R. R. Tolkien, who Martin is heavily influenced by. Tolkien continuously rewrote The Silmarillion and didn't have a completed version when he died (his son acted as editor for the version we have).

And if the books go unfinished, fans will endlessly debate the multitude of theories, everyone will debate how the HBO show ending differed from Martin's original vision, and we'll see film and television reboots continually coming out and proclaiming to be the definitive version of Martin's original vision. Time will tell if this goes down as one of the most epic cases of writer's block in history.  
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. 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.

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.

See also:

The Great Seattle Literary & Bookstore Tour, Pt. 1 (which includes the original manuscript of A Game of Thrones)