Front Street Books

Front Street Books in Alpine, Texas – as nice a small town bookstore as you’ll ever find. The stock is thoughtfully chosen with a strong but not exclusive emphasis on the local history and literature. Our purchases include a collectible Texas writer, contemporary Texas writers, several very small press translated from Spanish novels, a history of the US/Mexico border in WWI, and a couple of popular genre titles. Don’t miss it when visiting Big Bend National Park!

Reading List 2022

June

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood, Poisoned Pen Press 2021
smoothly written, amusing mystery

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, FSG 2007
charming novella imagines Queen Elizabeth accidentally visiting a bookmobile and discovering the pleasures of books and reading

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2014
something like a dark fable/fairy tale, improbably poetic story of death row

Signs Preceding The End Of The World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; (c2009) English ed. & Other Stories 2015
slim haunting story of negotiating borders physical, emotional, cultural

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund; (c2013) English edition Verso 2020
lots of heart and humor in this story of a young woman finding purpose and her own voice; a love letter (pun intended) to the postal service (book group)

Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund; (c2016) English edition Verso 2019
guilt, denial, and the limits of forgiveness; fine novel of a woman’s struggle to heal from abuse as a child and the pain of her family’s denial of her suffering

May

Silver Bullets by Elmer Mendoza, translated from the Spanish by Mark Fried; (c2008) Maclehose Press 2015
an exceptional, headspinning take on the classic hard-boiled detective story; 58 characters (I was grateful for the scorecard) populate the 200 pages of this blackly comic Mexican noir; stylistically interesting, contributes to the sense of chaos and uncertainty in a society ravaged by the corruption and violence of the drug trade

A World Beneath The Sands: The Golden Age Of Egyptology by Toby Wilkinson, Norton 2020
from the Rosetta stone to King Tut’s tomb; a lively account of the discoveries, personalities, and scholarship of Egyptology and the political/historical context of European rivalries and the developing Egyptian nationalism

Black Sea by Neal Ascherson, Jonathan Cape 1995
an extraordinary history of the whirlpool of peoples and cultures that is the Black Sea region; fascinating and disturbingly relevant

The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott, Putnam 2016
noirish crime story in the Big Bend territory of West Texas; interesting characters and very good sense of the country

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard, translated from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman; Bloomsbury 2007
witty, provocative, and thoughtful exploration of what we mean by “reading” and why we do it; a good discussion in book group where I was amused to learn that I was the only person who finished it (book group)

Ukraine, A History by Orest Subtelny, University of Toronto Press 1988
from earliest times through the Soviet period, tells of the centuries long struggle of Ukrainian people to achieve statehood, provides a bitter context to the current war

High White Sun by J. Todd Scott, Putnam’s 2018
good follow-up story to The Far Empty

April

Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches; (c2014) Transit 2021
gracefully written essays on themes of migration

Olav Audunsson, Vol.I Vows by Sigrid Undset, translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnaly; (c1925) Univ. of Minnesota 2020
wonderfully evocative, immersive story of medieval Norway

The Shadow of the Empire, A Judge Dee Investigation by Qiu Xiaolong; Severn House 2021
author of popular Inspector Chen series reworks one of Dee’s cases

The Name Is Archer by Ross Macdonald, Bantam Books 1955
short story collection

The Emissary by TAWADA Yoko, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutami; (c2014) New Directions 2018
not your usual dystopia; poignant, funny, thoughtful

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane, Jonathan Cape 1996
second reading even richer experience; wonderful language, complex layering and interweaving of stories (book group)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Grove Press 2021
novella asks if we can choose to be courageous and kind when it’s easier to look away

Malice by HIGASHINO Keigo, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith; (c1996) Minotaur Books 2014
a very clever puzzler and treat for fans of literary/psychological mysteries

Under The Midnight Sun by HIGASHINO Keigo, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith; (c1999) Minotaur Books 2016
extended, complex story of a crime and its aftermath

Read more

March

The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald, c1947 Knopf
Macdonald’s Lew Archer series exemplifies the pleasures of the hard-boiled detective story

Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Ray 2021
seriously entertaining or entertainingly serious, take your pick; very interesting and enjoyable story of people caught up in the political turmoil of 1970’s Mexico City (book group)

The Basel Killings by Hansjorg Schneider, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell; (c2010) Bitter Lemon Press 2021
first of a mystery series set in Basel Switzerland; interesting detective, characters and plot show cross-currents of contemporary Europe

The Window Trail by J J Rusz, 2018
“A Big Bend Country Mystery”; a nicely told story, appealing characters and excellent local color; a pleasure to read, especially while traveling in the Park

Silver Pebbles by Hansjorg Schneider, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell; (c2011) Bitter Lemon Prss 2022
drug deal diamonds go astray and are found by an unlikely couple on the margins of society

Fatale by Jean-Ptrick Manchette, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith; (c1977) NYRB 2011
very dark noir from the great French crime novelist; opening scene of hunters “…hunting for a good three hours and still had not killed anything. Everyone was frustrated and crotchety.” There will be plenty of killing with a cold edge of black comedy.

Eight Dogs or Hakkenden, Part One of An Ill-Considered Jest by BAKIN Kyokutei, translated from the Japanese by Glynne Walley; Cornell University Press 2021
wonderfully entertaining saga with elements of adventure, fantasy, folklore and historical romance

The Body Snatcher by Patricia Melo, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers; (c2010) Bitter Lemon Press 2015
crushing heat and pervasive corruption, moral and physical, in a remote western Brazil town; complex surprising plot

February

From the Holy Mountain, A Journey In The Shadow Of Byzantium by William Dalrymple, HarperCollins 1997
the author’s courage, scholarship, humor and humanity are all evident in this modern classic of travel writing; it’s an absolutely wonderful, engrossing account of an extraordinary journey to discover the survivals, physical and cultural, of the Byzantine world in the contemporary Middle East

The Aosawa Murders by ONDA Riku, translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts; (c2005) Bitter Lemon Press 2020
a painstaking reinvestigation of a shocking murder builds surprising tension and horror

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, Bloomsbury 2020
seemingly effortless classic storytelling; the flow of a hundred years of history and politics seen through the ordinary lives of an Arican town (book group)

Augustus by John Williams, (c1972) NYRB 2014
a biography of Augustus, a history of the founding of the Roman Empire, a subtle study of power and politics – all in the form of an epistolary novel; an extraordinary accomplishment

In Translation, Translators On Their Work And What It Means edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, Columbia University Press 2013
some essays were on technical topics but there was much for the general reader interested in the history, issues, and challenges of translation

January

Inside Dope by Paul Thomas, Hachette New Zealand 1996
extremely entertaining comic crime story; author has a real flair for character and description, sharp humor

Legends of the Condor Heroes 1: A Hero Born by YONG Jin, translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood; (c1959) English ed. Maclehose Press 2018
a wonderfully entertaining martial arts fantasy adventure tale with memorable characters and briskly moving action; excellent translation

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Riverhead Books 2020
(book group) several stories of different forms of “passing”; novel overcrowded, felt labored

A Brief History Of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage, Bloomsbury 2021
title says it all; engaging style, lively anecdotes, cautionary observations about the unforseen consequences of technology and good intentions

Lady Joker by TAKAMURA Kaoru, translated from the Japanese by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell; (c1997) English edition Soho Press 2021
Vol. 1 immersive fascinating portrait of Japanese society in the guise of a crime novel

The Meaning Of Travel by Emily Thomas, Oxford Univ. Press 2020
a pleasurable tour with “philosophers abroad”, contemplates the who and why of travel and what we think of where we’ve been

The Village Of Eight Graves by YOKOMIZO Seishi, translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk; (c1971) English edition Pushkin Press 2021
an irresistable title; another delightfully complex problem for detective KINDAICHI Kosuke complete with a lost Samurai treasure hoard

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins; (c2016) Daunt Books 2020/Open Letter 2021
award winner for translation; language both spare and unsparing in description; enigmatic storyof borders and uncertain identities, its tone as cold as the weather in the shabby out-of-season resort town

Dancing On The Ropes, Translators and the Balance of History by Anna Aslanyan, Profile Books 2021
entertaining stories of the role of translators/interpreters in history illustrate the challenges and philosophies of cross-language communication

Prefecture D by YOKOYAMA Hideo, translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies; (c1998) English edition Riverrun 2019
early stories set in the Japanese Police unit that became the setting of the author’s excellent 2012 novel Six Four

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo; (c1946) NYRB 2018
psychologically insightful, intensely suspensful story of escape from a Nazi prison camp for political dissidents before the war

,

2021 in books

The past year may be a personal best for number of books read, at least since my childhood when I remember reading this many and more during the golden days of summer vacation. I am a little surprised at my total of 92 but will attribute it to one part motivation to reduce the mighty stacks of to-be-reads and one part blinkered escape from the world.

Here’s how it sorts out. I read about the same number non-fiction as last year with 26. The novels added up to 66. There were 22 books translated from other languages into English. Atypically for me, a little more than half my list had been published (either new or in the English translation) since 2015. That reflects the pandemic buying binge to support bookstores creating the afore-mentioned mighty stacks.

It’s very gratifying to review my reading list and see so many very good, satisfying, well written titles. My 10 Best list feels a little arbitrary. Several were easy picks but others might have been different another day. So here is my list of ten plus a few. I don’t claim that I chose the best, but these are ones I most enjoyed.

Non-Fiction

China In Ten Words by YU Hua (translated from the Chinese)
Fire & Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster 1917 by Michael Punke
Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchiking Japan by Will Ferguson
A Stranger To Myself, The Inhumanity of War: Russia 1941-1944 by Willy Peter Reese (translated from German)

Fiction

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre (translated from the French)
Reading In The Dark by Seamus Deane
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
The King At The Edge Of The World by Arthur Phillips
Human Acts by HAN Kang (translated from the Korean)
The Memory Police by OGAWA Toko (translated from the Japanese)

Special Multi-Novel Achievement Category

the five “Patrick Melrose” novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope
Mother’s Milk
At Last

Special Unexpected Pure Reading Pleasure Category

The Distance by Eddie Muller

resolutions – -good advice never goes out of date

To endeavour to get the better of the intrusions of indolence of mind and body, those certain harbingers of enfeebling age. Rather to wear out than to rust out. To rise early; and, as often as possible, to go to bed before mid-night…not to indulge repose too frequently on the couch in the day. Not to give up walking

To continue the practice of reading — pursued for more than fifty years, in books on all subjects; for variety is the salt of the mind as well as of life. Other people’s thoughts, like the best conversation of one’s companions, are generally better and more agreeable than one’s own.

To admit every cheerful ray of sunshine on the imagination.

Not to give the reins to constitutional impatience, for it is apt to hurry on the first expressions into the indecency of swearing. If one cannot be a stoic, in bearing and forbearing on every trying occasion, yet it may not be impossible to pull the check-firing against the moroseness of spleen or the impetuosity of peevishness.

To be always doing of something, and to have something to do.

Gentleman’s Magazine August 1785 vol. LV Part II
“Containing More in Quantity and greater Variety than any Book of the Kind and Price”
ed. by Sylvanus Urban, Gent.

baseball is…

Life? Quite possibly. Poetry? Most definitely. Poetry in motion, sure, but also as words on a page.

Empty baseball field
–A robin,
Hops along the bench

Jack Kerouac (threw and batted right-handed) composed this, the first American baseball haiku, in 1959. The first ever baseball haiku was written by Japanese poet SHIKI Masaoka (threw and batted left-handed) in 1890.

spring breeze
this grassy field makes me
want to play catch

More than two hundred delightful examples of baseball poetry are collected in Baseball Haiku, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. A short informative essay introduces the major poets in the development of modern haiku in both Japan and America and suggests some of the natural affinity shared by baseball and haiku, each having a connection with Nature and a focus on the individual moment. Each of the poets is introduced with notes about his poetry and interest in baseball.

from Randy Brooks

carrying his glove
the boy’s dog follows him
to the baseball field

from SEI Imae

walking home
with his glove on his head
shrieking cicadas

from Tom Painting

bases loaded
a full moon clears
the right field fence

from Brenda Gannam

handsome pitcher
my eyes drift down
to the mound

The apparent simplicity of Haiku is notoriously tempting to the poetry rookie. Who can resist the temptation to try one?

game on TV
a roar pulls my eyes
up from a book

Book News – “The Passenger”

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz is another forgotten novel having a belated popular success. The Deutsche Welle news site gives an interesting back story to the novel’s creation and rediscovery.

https://www.dw.com/en/the-passenger-how-a-forgotten-nazi-era-novel-became-a-bestseller/a-57608623

One has to wonder at and admire the determination of small publishers everywhere who continue to bring fresh voices and viewpoints to the marketplace. How boring would it be to see only mass market titles in your favorite bookstore? Readers unite! Show your appreciation, take a chance on an unknown author. Go to that favorite (independent one, I hope) bookstore in person or online and buy a small-press book today!

https://www.dw.com/en/how-do-independent-publishers-in-germany-survive/a-48196635

but what about the cat?

When I really want to make time I take off my glasses and let the text blur as the pages flip by. Collating the scores of volumes of The Gentleman’s Magazine could absorb much too much time if I let my eyes stop at every intriguing heading or story. It was the original “magazine”, (the editor appropriated the French word for “storehouse”) founded in 1731 as a digest of everything an educated man might want to know about. Original contributions and excerpts from other periodicals and books cover the political, scientific, and military news, poetry and publishing, the stock market, births and deaths, natural history, letters from readers, engravings, etc. etc. Every issue is packed with temptation for the curious, and, of course, I often succumb.

My project is to review each volume for any damage or loss before offering the set for sale through my Library’s online store. A few years before my retirement, the Library decided to deaccession a huge number of old periodicals. Why many (like TGM) were ever made part of a public library collection remains a mystery, but I was determined to rescue as many as possible from the dumpster and put them into our store. Even the most intresting and historically important periodicals are a slow sell, though, and they mostly sat in storage waiting for attention – a classic someday project.

A grand project for a volunteer in other words. Now I can give them that time and attention, and there’s no guilt if I let myself get distracted from time to time by a report on the troubles in the colonies or an engraving of a very toothy hippopotamus or a funny news story.

from volume 47, 1777

Historical Chronicle
February 22

The ship Phoenix, from London to Gainsbrough, was unfortunately set on fire by a cinder’s falling on a cat in the cabin, and the cat’s running frighted into the half-deck, where was stowed a quantity of hemp, which instantly burst into a flame, and, more than 20 barrels of powder being on board, so intimidated the ship’s company, that they quitted the vessel, to preserve their lives, and soon after she blew up.

“doing” beats “disrupting” in WHY WE DRIVE: Toward a PHILOSOPHY of the OPEN ROAD by Matthew B. Crawford

Ripe seeds of invention everywhere abound, and it awaits only a certain combination of need, of circumstance and, above all, perhaps, of chance, to decide which shall germinate.
The High-Speed Internal-Combustion Engine by Harry Ricardo, 1923

“Ricardo’s “ripe seeds of invention”…begin to germinate around some settled platform…allowing a body of communal expertise to develop. The impatient optimizer may see such an inheritance as an obstacle, something to be swept away in the name of forward progress. Human beings are often bullheaded in their attachment to something suboptimal. Call it loyalty, call it perversity, or call it a cultural inheritance, this conservatism has at times been responsibe for amazing leaps forward, paradoxically enough…tradition can itself be an engine of progress. It organizes the transmission of knowledge. It also provides an idiom for some shared endeavor, and a set of historical benchmarks, such that one can imagine oneself outdoing particular human beings who came before, and who worked wthin the same basic limitations. Tradition thus provides a venue for rivalry in excellence, the kind that sometimes brings a whole community to new and unexpected places.

In this respect, I think it is fair to call hot-rodding an art form.”

This is, I’m certain, the most entertaining and engaging work of political philosophy that I will read all year. Crawford tells great stories about what we could call the “car culture’ to make serious arguments for defending the personal freedom integral to the act of driving, and the human virtues cultivated in making and doing stuff to cars. He attacks the particular threat of the autonomous car to critique the larger issues posed by the intrusion of ‘big data tech’ into our society.

Hot-rodding as an art form is a little tongue in cheek, but he’s not talking about street racing. He describes the ingenuity, creativity, and passionate pursuit of making something better, something imagined and created through a high level of craft. I’m never going to pick up a wrench let alone tear down an engine, but I can sincerely admire the skill and passion that the car enthusiast pours into realizing a personal vision.

His title is what caught my attention. Didn’t quite have me at “Drive” but he hooked me with “the Open Road”. I love to drive and I love a road trip above almost anything. The prospect of the so-called autonomous car fills me first with bafflement – who doesn’t want to be in control and enjoy the physical sensations of driving? – and then incredulity – who thinks these systems would be any more error free or secure than any other bug and hack riddled software that we know? – and then fear and outrage – are some “experts” going to force us to relinquish yet another piece of personal independence and active agency?

I feel more and more uncomfortable with what has been aptly named “surveillance capitalism” (Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) and anxious about its relentless extension into our lives. I have no wish to be a passive engine of consumption, but it is harder and harder to defend privacy and avoid (or even recognize) the little nudges and gentle steerings that intrude into every activity.

“…the Blob that seeks to claim every nook and cranny of human experience as raw material to be datafied and turned to its own profit. What this amounts to is a concentration of wealth, a centralization of knowledge, and an atrophy of our native skills to do things for ourselves.

However one comes down on a contest such as that between…consumer convenience and a living wage, between waiting an extra five minutes to hail a cab versus spending an extra ten minutes in traffic because the streets are flooded with empty Ubers, shouldn’t these questions be decided by us, through democratic contest and market forces? That is not at all what is happening. It is more like colonial conquest, this new and very unilateral form of political economy.”

Definitely a bigger issue than keeping my car keys. That’s important too. I like to drive, I like to use the skills developed over many years and miles of driving, I like making the choice of route even if it’s not GPS “optimal”, and I enjoy (mostly) the interaction with fellow drivers as we share the community of the road.

“To drive is to exercise one’s skill at being free, and one can’t help but feel this when one gets behind the wheel. It seems a skill worth preserving.”