Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt
cpratt

A few of my favorite books.

There's something inherently repulsive about someone who's about to tell you about, like, some of the rilly cool books he owns - after all, it is pretty lame to transparently suggest your coolness by listing your possessions - but what the heck. My journal, my rules. Dude.

Anyhow, on to the books.

1. Katz und Goldt: Das Salz in der Las Vegas-Eule. This thing just showed up this week; it's the fifth book in a series between cartoonist Katz and my favorite German writer Max Goldt. These books have gotten much better over the years, but what really caught my eye with this one is... um... what do you call those things? End leaves? You know, those pages just inside the covers? This book has a bunch of those horrible cartoons that buskers draw of passers-by to scrape together a living. You know, those wretched cartoons of you, grinning, with a tiny body in a sports car, or tiny fingers on a tiny piano, or whatever it is that the cartoonist asked you what you enjoy doing. So, in the front, you get eight pictures of Katz by eight random street artists; the signatures are mostly illegible, but it's clear that at least two are from Budapest, at least three from Prague. Back inside cover gets you eight of Goldt, which are perhaps even more interesting because some of the artists have somehow chosen to ignore that Goldt has gained an awful lot of weight over the past decade. Back in the 1980s, he looked like your typical German homosexual: rail-thin, and with spectacularly fashionable eyeglasses. These days, he looks kind of paunchy, kind of like your typical FAZ writer. Which he isn't, but I digress. These cartoons are straaaange, bearing mostly little resemblance to Goldt. In fact, they kinda look like Stefan Raab if you squint, but only if you could imagine Raab as an alcoholic instead of a coke fiend.

2. Arno Schmidt: Evening Edged in Gold. This still is my favorite weird book to have around the house. Schmidt is a now dead, very obscure German experimental author who was perhaps best known for publishing something called Zettels Traum, which cost something like a thousand marks when it was first published. It consists of 1,334 DIN A3-size photofacisimiles of the manuscript, which was put together by hand and by typewriter; there are all kinds of corrections, black ink marks, and the occasional cut 'n paste job [newspaper pictures, beer labels, God knows what else]. These days you can get a copy of only €58 in paperback, but time was it was precious hard to come by. ZT was published in 1970, and it was followed by another, smaller [or, rather, more manageable] novel called Abend mit Goldrand, which was the same size and concept, but only about one-tenth the size or so. That would've been 1975 or so. Somehow, a very handsome ex-Lutheran minister and all around nice man by the name of John Woods got a commission to translate that one into English, working for a small published call Marion Boyars in the UK. Woods being Woods, though, he decided that he wasn't going to translate the thing: he was damn well going to render an English facsimile of the German manuscript. After all, Evening was also published as a facsimile of the DIN A3-sized manuscript, right? So Woods got himself a couple of the same typewriters Schmidt had used, and got to work. By 1979, Boyars had published this monstrosity. It took me four years of searching, but thanks to the early days of the Internet [yay Bibliofind, now sadly part of Amazon.com], I scored a used copy for just under $100. It sits in a corner bookshelf. I haven't read it since I was in college - it's a pretty hard slog - no, wait, technically, I've never read the English version, but it's there if I want to. I've got a small selection of other Schmidtiana; sadly, none of the really, really cool, rare, expensive stuff [a Swiss publisher published a fascimile of his copy of Finnegans Wake for about 540 Swiss francs that has got to be one of the most extreme things I've ever seen; I just have a few of the laid-in Schmidt translations of a few pages...], but at least some of the more recent wackiness [I can't even begin to tell you!].

3. Raymond Queneau: Ten Million Billion Poems [German edition, Zweitausendeins]. This is really, really battered at this point in my life, but it's still kinda fun. I don't know if you can really read it per se, and the book is unwieldy compared to the Internet version, but it's a hoot. Remember those children's picture books with multiple heads, torsos, legs? The ones where you could get a Spanish knight in a cheerleader's sweater with a fireman's boots? Well, this is the poetic version of that. 14 lines, 10 versions, lotsa different combinations out there for you (10^14, I guess?).

4. Norbert Marohn: Plötzlich mein Leben. This isn't exactly a great book, but the circumstances under which I got it were pretty cool. I was a university student in Germany from 1989-90: that's right, the year the Wall came down &c. In early 1990, I scraped up the money to go to Berlin for a week and... go shopping. Because it was easy to cross the border, and because no one was paying too much attention to exchange rate minimums and what have you, and also because no one wanted the crappy books they'd had for decades in the East, it was briefly a book shopper's quasi-paradise. I wish I'd had the foresight to grab up a lot of the big coffee table picture books, but I was pretty broke at the time. Anyhow, the Hungarian cultural institute around the corner from the big bookstore near Gastmahl des Meeres just off of Marx-Engels-Forum had a big fire sale, and I saw a copy of a then-notorious book called Ganz normal anders: the first book [more or less] published in East German to openly deal with everyday gay life. Best of all, though, was that the guy running the sale took me aside to show me a couple of other books I might be interested in. One of them was this funny little paperback book. The printing quality is atrocious - it's probably nothing but decaying pulp now - and the writing ain't so hot, but it is a real historical curiosity: a coming-of-age autobiography that happened to be published in the last month of the GDR. Way cool.

5. And I'm going to stop here for now. There are some other beauties, like the reissue of Lanark complete with Alasdair Gray's magnificent scrawl across the top of the box set, or my trashed East German copy of Marx and Engel's Greatest Hits, as inscrutable to me now as ever. My parents also got me some wonderful Soviet-era picture books of Moldova, complete with horribly ugly "color" [well, it's not black and white, but I swear those colors don't exist in nature] pictures of happy workers strolling around huge public parks which, when I saw them in 1998, had decayed to nothiing more than open air garbage dumps. I also have a rare copy of the Microsoft Press guide to Microsoft Bob, perhaps Microsoft's least successful piece of software ever [OK, maybe not as much as Visual C++ for Power Macintosh, but hey]. Then there are the really rare, pricey things like a copy of The Sex Sphere by Rudy Rucker, or a signed small press edition of some obscure Robert Scheckley storey. Oh, and I even have a bunch of very, very rare Max Goldt and Ralf König books, including stuff like Mein äußerst schwer erziehbarer schwuler Schwager aus der Schweiz and Schwul Comix 2. Other books are nothing special but have unexpected surprises [for example, a remaindered copy of Burg by Wolfgang Tillmans that I only bought because the mouse on the cover was cute... but it turned out to have a very funny picture of two Bears at the Hole in the Wall that was actually far cuter].

OK, enough twaddle for now. Gotta go get in bed and finish that book on queer Hollywood.
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