The Book Catapult

The Times, They Are Uh… Well, You Know

I started this writing this post – my first Catapult post of 2015 – sometime in early January. And here we are at the end of March beginning of April. If you thought my posts on the Catapult were intermittent before, friend – oh-ho-ho! brace yourself.

Well, for one thing, I got a new job. No longer buying books for a bookstore, I am now selling them to said bookstore as a publishing rep. I’ve spent much of the last two months on the road, visiting independent bookstores all over California, talking to people about books, and getting paid for all of it. Yep.

Also – and this is bigger news in my world – Mrs. Book Catapult and I are expecting a Junior Catapulteer any day now. Like, literally any day. So there’s that pretty much all-consuming item happening too.

But I have STILL been reading, precious flowers. Have no fear. Maybe just not with the frequency of my youth. And life may not leave much time for posting on the Catapult in the future, so we will have to see where I end up. I have absolutely no clue what my life will look like next week, let alone in a month, but for the moment, here are a few gems that have come my way since last we talked:

All Involved by Ryan Gattis:
Really dug this one, a novel about the 1992 Rodney King riots in L.A. – and I’m excited that he will be in San Diego on May 12. This thing truly blazes across the page – a lot like the arson fires that scorched the Los Angeles landscape during those six days of riots in ’92. Rather than being about the riots themselves, this is about the vacuum left by the chaos – what the criminals and gangs did while the cops were distracted by arson and looting all over town. Each chapter offers a different perspective – mostly from the members of one Latin gang in South Central – as a series of violent circumstances and lapses in judgement unfold as a Shakespearean tragedy. Like The Wire in L.A. Super-great grit.

Blood Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera
Absolutely loved this one too, from Brazilian novelist (and Portuguese translator of David Mitchell) Daniel Galera. After the suicide death of his father, our unnamed narrator – who suffers from Prosopagnosia or face-blindness – retreats from his past and the big city (Porto Alegra, Brazil) to the small coastal town of Garopaba. Grieving his father and uncertain about his own life trajectory, he rents a small seaside cottage and tells himself that he is there to learn what happened to his mysterious gaucho grandfather in Garopaba years before. Is it true that he was murdered in a dance hall by the entire town? He soon finds that the people of the town have long memories – and no desire to dredge them up, defending their own past violently if need be. He half-heartedly tries to insert himself into the fabric of the town, teaching swimming lessons and dating a local girl, but his grief and questions about his familial past force him to an arms length with everyone he meets. There is a great dreamlike quality to this – a face-blind narrator often doesn’t even know who he is talking to each time he encounters another person, so we in turn have to just float along with him. Gorgeous writing too. Dwight Garner from the New York Times put it this way: “At various moments, it put me in mind of the work of Roberto Bolaño, Jim Harrison, the Coen brothers and the Denis Johnson of his black comedy Already Dead.” Right-o.

The Red Notebook by Paul Auster
A little Auster gem that fits in your back pocket. (Part of New Directions’ pocket-sized Pearls series.) These little true story vignettes from Auster’s life all share the theme of coincidence: Auster finds a note for an old friend under the bed in a random Paris hotel room; lost coins come back around when needed most; a tale of half-siblings in wartorn Europe who accidentally fall in love and marry; and the creepy coincidence that mirrors a central plot thread from his first novel, City of Glass. These all read as if flowing from the mouth of a storyteller crouched over a fire, audience rapt. Great emergency reading for when you’re stuck waiting somewhere…

True Grit by Charles Portis
I’ve been meaning to read Portis for years – and now I’m so glad I did. There’s an almost tongue-in-cheek humor to Grit, the dialogue is so formal in places it comes across as hilarious.

Mañana by William Hjortsberg
Full disclosure: this is actually one of the books I represent as a sales rep now. But I would’ve read it anyway. Hippie in 1970 wakes up next to a dead hooker (that he may or may not have murdered with a hunting knife) ends up traveling across Mexico looking for his wife, doing bad things to other people, making bad decisions, stealing/doing drugs. Huzzah! Reminded me a lot of Inherent Vice, actually, but written more like a Don Winslow novel. Solid writing, atmospheric, & quite funny.

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
I’m about halfway through this weighty tome – it’s taking me forever to finish because it’s been too heavy to lug with me on the road. This is Knopf’s big fiction of the coming Fall – multiple character perspectives from all different walks of life intertwine in 1970’s NYC. Family drama, possible murder mystery, unreliable narration. Franzen without the angst, Wolfe without the bad humor. So far at least.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Reading this as we speak. A gorgeous mix of nature writing and a woman’s memoir of dealing with the death of her beloved father that’s both heartbreaking and endlessly fascinating. MacDonald brings us into that ancient world of training hawks – you know, hawk with a hood, gripping the leather-clad fist of a fusty, tweed-covered Brit? But the hawk acts as a grief counselor for her, as she pours her soul into forging a bond with this bird. Gradually we learn how intertwined the hawk and she truly are – and she starts to deal with her heart-rending grief. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.” It’s not all sadness and tears, mind you – and her descriptions of this amazing bird she has literally brought into her home are lush and vivid entries into a world I know nothing about. Here she sees her hawk (whom she awesomely names Mabel) for the first time:

The hawk’s wings, barred and beating, the sharp fingers of her dark-tipped primaries cutting the air, her feathers raised like the scattered quills of a fretful porcupine. Two enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways. She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water. A broken marionette with wings, legs and light-splashed feathers.
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4 comments on “The Times, They Are Uh… Well, You Know

  1. Mary
    April 5, 2015

    Hi book catapult. I used to work at ucsd intermittently in a capacity where I usually had a lot of time to kill and ended up spending a lot of time wandering around the bookstore, reading your reviews on the shelves. I took home and read a lot of the books you reviewed and was pretty glad I did, all told. I don't work at ucsd anymore since we moved and so I missed reading those recommendations. I'm so glad I found your blog! Thanks for your insights.

  2. Seth Marko
    April 29, 2015

    Thanks so much, Mary!

  3. heather
    November 2, 2015

    Seth where are you? I am on page 90 of Slade House and it is scaring the shit out of me! Books don't normally frighten me. Want to know your thoughts… I read the great William Gay's Little Sister Death, and while interesting and brilliantly written, it was not at all scary to me.

    • bookcatapult
      November 9, 2015

      Heather! Hey! I’ve been off the Catapult for most of the year, as you no doubt can tell. (New job, new baby, not as much time for writing, but all good.) But I’m coming back! New and improved, so stick around.

      AND… I read Slade House last week. So I have some things to say about that too. 🙂

      S

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This entry was posted on April 4, 2015 by in Auster, Charles Portis, Daniel Galera, Garth Risk Hallberg, Helen Macdonald, review, Ryan Gattis.
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