June 21, 2008

Death of Cody's

Well crap. Cody's is closing its doors for good. (Read the announcement here.)

When I was an undergrad at Berkeley, Cody's seemed like a miracle - everything a great bookstore should aspire to be. Over the years, I've had many friends who worked there, and I shopped at all four locations that they tried. My dad read poetry there once when I was a kid, even.

I remember when Barnes and Noble opened in Berkeley, everyone thought it was the death knell for the independent stores, but most survived pretty well (Cody's was probably the hardest hit, though, since its business depended on volume and depth). Never selling used books, Cody's kept holding on through the advent of Amazon, taking real estate risks in San Francisco, closing its Telegraph Avenue flagship store, courting new investors, etc.

I'll miss the bookstore a lot. I'll have to do some thinking about all the purchasing links in this blog - expect to see those updated soon.

UPDATE 23 JUNE: I'm happy to announce that I'll be linking to the great Powell's bookstore in Portland from now on.

June 20, 2008

Doc Savage

Doc Savage Omnibus 13
Lester Dent, writing as Kenneth Robeson

When I want to read something breezy and without the darker overtones of hardboiled detective stories (my usual genre fiction of choice), I often reach for a Doc Savage novel. These stories were published in pulp form first, in the 30s and 40s, pretty much all written by one man (as I understand it, he farmed out some of the stories to other authors, but then nearly always re-wrote them himself from scratch anyway). There are close to 200 of them in all, I think.

There are many pleasures to be found in these novels, not the least of which is the evocation of New York and the rest of the world in the 1930s (as sold to pulp-devouring working-class boys and men, at least). There is no doubt whatsoever that science and technology are unalloyed boons to mankind, that New York is the center of the planet, that the human mind and body can be perfected, that women are a nuisance, that "adventurer" is a laudable career choice, that the American way of life is superior to all others, that the world is full of exotic peoples and hidden treasures, etc. Reading a few of the books at a clip (they each take only 2-3 hours to read), you are instilled with an unambiguous set of values. These are surely moral adventures, in the American grain.

One way these books stand out from others of the same genre and time-period is that they place a high value on humor. This is mostly concentrated in the figures of Monk and Ham, two of Doc Savage's team of five highly-skilled adventurers, who insult and play practical jokes on each other at every opportunity. The lighter tone actually helps me treat some of the more difficult elements (misogyny, racism, and forced lobotomies, for example) as joking boyish silliness, making it easier to fogive than it might be otherwise. Plus, it's possible for the author to pull off things like the following, for my money one of the greatest pulp-novel lines ever written: "It was a secret door, in the best secret-door-in-a-cliff tradition." Really what more needs to be said about a book's frame of reference when it contains a line like that?

That line is from "The Green Master," one of the five stories in this omnibus collection, about the descendants of Incans living in an enclave in the Andes, who happen to have the power of mind-control. Naturally, they are no match for our ubermensch. The more notable novel is "Up From Earth's Center," which happens to be the last one Dent wrote, and it literally involves a trip to Hell and back - outlandish even by the Doc Savage standards.

One feature a lot of the books have is a lack of respect for denouement. Basically, once Doc bests his nemesis in a final confrontation, two or three sentences are enough to wrap things up. This can be frustrating to me at times, but on the other hand, there's really not much more to be said once the dust has settled. Got to leave readers chomping at the bit for the next installment.

June 18, 2008

Summer Heat

Sometimes Whitman says just what I'm thinking...

From sex—From the warp and from the woof;
(To talk to the perfect girl who understands me,
To waft to her these from my own lips—to effuse them from my own body;)
From privacy—from frequent repinings alone;
From plenty of persons near, and yet the right person not near;
From the soft sliding of hands over me, and thrusting of fingers through my hair and
From the long sustain’d kiss upon the mouth or bosom;
From the close pressure that makes me or any man drunk, fainting with excess;
From what the divine husband knows—from the work of fatherhood;
From exultation, victory, and relief—from the bedfellow’s embrace in the night;
From the act-poems of eyes, hands, hips, and bosoms,
From the cling of the trembling arm,
From the bending curve and the clinch,
From side by side, the pliant coverlid off-throwing,
From the one so unwilling to have me leave—and me just as unwilling to leave,
(Yet a moment, O tender waiter, and I return;)
—From the hour of shining stars and dropping dews,
From the night, a moment, I, emerging, flitting out,
Celebrate you, act divine—and you, children prepared for,
And you, stalwart loins.