The Zombie Apocalypse Comes to Coronel Pringles

The Zombie Apocalypse Pays a Visit to South America

Who or why or what is Coronel Pringles? Actually, it’s a medium-sized town of no particular distinction in the Province of Buenos Aires, not too far north of Bahía Blanca. It is perhaps best known not only as the birthplace of Argentinian novelist César Aira, but the scene of several of his stories. One of these stories is Dinner (or Cena in Spanish), first published in 2006.

The story starts slowly enough with a penniless bachelor in his sixties who has moved back in with his mother. Together, they visit an unnamed friend of the unnamed narrator and view some of his collections. When they return home, the mother expresses dissatisfaction with the evening; and the son turns on the television … only to learn that the dead of Coronel Pringles are rising from their graves and attacking the living:

This was as improbable as an adolescent fantasy. It was, however, true. The guard who sounded the alarm first heard some rustling sounds that kept getting louder and spreading across the graveyard. He came out of the lodge to take a look and hadn’t even made it across the tiled courtyard to where the first lane of cypeses ended when, in addition to the worrisome rustlings, he began to hear the loud banging of stone and metal, which seconds later spread and combined into a deafening roar that reverberated near and far, from the first wing of the wall of niches to the rows of graves extending for more than a mile.

The Area Around Coronel Pringles

At first the newly risen dead show a lack of coordination, but they begin to pick up speed. “No two were the same, except in how horrible they were, in the conventional way corpses are horrible: shards of greenish skin, bearded skulls, remnants of eyes shining in bony sockets, sullied shrouds.”

What do these undead do? They go for the brains of the living (as expected), but what interests them most are the endorphins contained therein, which they suck out with ghoulish glee. Is there nothing that can stop these delinquent ancestors from decimating all of Coronel Pringles? Well, yes, there is, but you’ll have to read this short (101 pages) but delightful book for yourself to find out. Be prepared for a completely surprising dénouement in Part III.

 

My Favorite Founding Father

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

My favorite founding father is also the most problematical, namely: Thomas Jefferson. We know him as the Third President of the United States. What was even more interesting was how he saw himself, based on the epitaph he had composed for himself:

HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

Note that he doesn’t make any mention of the four years he served as Vice President to John Adams, let alone the two terms as President. The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom is interesting, because it removes its author from consideration by religious fundamentalists as a kindred spirit. Jefferson was a Deist, not really a practicing Christian in the religious sense.

And the University of Virginia? The Charlottesville campus was indeed Jefferson’s creation, in terms of its architecture, administration policy, and faculty staffing.

Why did Jefferson not consider his presidency one of this chief accomplishments? For one thing, he was basically a shy person who did not like the whole give and take 0of politics. During the eight years of his Presidency, he gave only two speeches, and they were written by him for his two inaugurations. Not a good speaker, he was, however, a wizard writer, and his Declaration of Independence was indeed a work that will live forever. (Until Trump decides to repeal it.)

I have just finished reading Joseph J. Ellis’s American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2001). A winner of the National Book Award, Ellis’s book examines Jefferson’s tendency to balance contradictory ideas on such issues as slavery (he was against it, yet he owned slaves without emancipating them), states’ rights, the Federal Government, and the Supreme Court.

 

The Book Collector

Me in My Library in Palmier Times

Ever since I was very young, I wanted to live surrounded by books. And I did, spending hundreds of dollars a month on books—hardbounds, paperbacks, even e-books. There is a tendency for accumulations to get out of hand. I have known collectors who lived in fear of being crushed under their film collections, movie poster collections, book collections. Collections can grow so out of bounds that they become a kind of illness, related to hoarding. When Martine and I moved from room to room, we had to take prescribed paths, because the floor was piled high with books. It was frequently a bone of contention between us.

Beginning late last year, I started donating books to the Mar Vista Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. In a twelve-month period, I have given well over a thousand books to the library. Some will be sold by the library at one of their bimonthly sales, some will be sold for a dollar a book at the branch, some (the cheaper ones) will just be given away. Who knows? Perhaps some of them might even be incorporated into he library’s own collection. A lot of them are great titles in prime condition.

If you look at the books behind me in this picture, I would have to say that about 30-40% are no longer in my possession. Twice a week, a put together a box of books for donation, with Martine’s eager cooperation.

Now that I am living on a fixed income, I buy relatively few books, and then only if I intend to read them in the near future. Today, for example, I purchased a nice harbound copy of Paul Theroux’s Sir Vidia’s Shadow, about the author’s decades-long friendship with V. S. Naipaul.

Do I read as much as ever? Of course I do—perhaps even more so. It’s just that I no longer feel I have to own all the books I love. I just have to read them.

 

GRUBERG: The Papa Bach Story 2

Bookmarks from the Reincarnation of Papa Bach

When Ted and Eva Riedel left Los Angeles in the mid 1970s, the bookstore was taken over by a “poet” named John Harris. I use the quotes around the word poet because I have found nothing on the Internet either by or about him that was not written by his friend, fellow poet William Mohr. It was around this time that I stopped hanging out at Papa Bach’s Bookstore. I missed Ted and Eva, and I had my doubts about the new management. This was mostly because I noticed that the stock on sale started to thin out: I no longer found it a good source for the material I was seeking.

Still, in its second incarnation, Papa Bach had some influence. In his book Literary L.A., Lionel Rolfe writes:

Papa Bach was significant, I think, because it was the closest thing Los Angeles ever had to a City Lights bookstore and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m not sure that Harris himself would have thought he was on that level, for the synergy of Ferlinghetti and San Francisco are a peculiar and special chemistry. But John Harris was a good if not great poet, and his Papa Bach was a bookstore, a cultural center, a publisher and an important link between many things. Harris made no bones about it; he had burned out.

Papa Bach was to limp along for another ten years or so, but the heart of it as a bookstore was no longer there. I was not and still am not interested in Harris’s poetry events or publications: It was the merchandise that had drawn me. Once the bookshelves started showing lots of blank space between isolated books, I knew that the end was in sight.

For a while, the building occupied by Papa Bach’s became “The Writer’s Computer Store,” which I assumed was a shill for Apple software products. Then the building was torn down and replaced by an Enterprise Rent-a-Car agency.

 

 

GRUBERG: The Papa Bach Story 1

Original (1960s) Bookmark from Papa Bach Books

It was early 1967: I was still exploring my new Los Angeles home on foot and by bus. (It was to be almost twenty years before I began to drive.) On the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of Sawtelle, sat a big bookstore with a sign that said Papa Bach Paperbacks. Even at that early juncture, I was a bookstore aficionado of long standing, a habitué of Schroeder’s on Public Square in Cleveland and the Dartmouth College Bookstore in Hanover, New Hampshire.

I still have the books I bought that day: It was a two-volume set, the Vintage Turgenev comprising seven of the Russian author’s novels: Smoke, Fathers and Sons, First Love (in Volume 1), On the Eve, Rudin, A Quiet Spot, and Diary of a Superfluous Man (in Volume 2). The two books cost $1.65 and $1.95 respectively.

It wasn’t long before I moved to an apartment near Mississippi and Sawtelle, just four or five blocks south of Papa Bach’s. For the six months or so that I lived there, I had to catch the bus to UCLA across the street from the bookstore. In addition, there was a nifty used bookstore called West L.A. Books just across Sawtelle. During that time, I stopped in at Papa Bach’s at least four times a week, each time coming out with one or more purchases. I was in hog heaven.

The Picture of Bach That Was on the Logo came from a German Stamp

I got to know the original owners, Ted and Eva Riedel, and spent hours talking books with them. They had a quote contest in which, if you guessed the book it came from, you got a copy of the book. The first quote, if I remember rightly, was from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Not only was I the all-time winner, but I volunteered to letter the quotes myself with a Magic Marker on a roll of paper that was displayed near the cash register.

Alas, Paradise does not last forever. In the early 1970s, Ted and Eva sold the bookstore and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ted told me that he planned to start a Papa Bach Bookstore there, but I have found no evidence that that ever happened. I even checked out the Jackson Hole phonebook when I was there in 2008, but found no listing for Papa Bach or the Riedels. I liked them, so I can only hope that things went all right for them.

Tomorrow, I will describe the bookstore under its new owners.

BTW, the GRUBERG on the bookmark is a mnemonic for their phone number at that time, namely 478-2374.

 

The Happiness Trap

Ernest Hemingway Poses with a Water Buffalo in Africa, 1953-1954

Having just read Ernest Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa, I begin to understand why he shot himself in 1961. I had not read any Hemingway for over thirty years, and I realize now there was a reason for this. There was Papa H in Africa, frequently asserting how he loved the place and the people. Yet he is envious of another member of his hunting party, Karl, who is more successful in grabbing the big trophies. Even when he kills a kudu, which he has been trying to do for the whole length of the book, he has this dialog with Pop, the leader of the group, conscious that Karl has bagged a bigger kudu:

“We have very primitive emotions,” [Pop] said. “It’s impossible not to be competitive. Spoils everything, though.”

“I’m all through with that,” said. “I’m all right again. I had quite a trip, you know.”

The only problem is that I didn’t believe him. Again and again, Hemingway is hyper-conscious of competing, of looking good in the eyes of his fellow hunters and his native assistants. He talks about Droopy, a native tracker:

M’Cola [another tracker] was not jealous of Droopy. He simply knew that Droop was a better man than he was. more of a hunter, a faster and cleaner tracker, and a great stylist in everything he did.

At another point, Papa talks of his “wanting to make a shot to impress Droopy.”

Hemingway, too, was a great stylist—in his own way. The prose of The Green Hills of Africa at times rises to the level of poetry. In this, he falls victim to the happiness trap, of always wanting to be happy, of always overcoming hurdles and progressing from one triumph to another. But life is not like that. One must appreciate the little things, to behave prayerfully and thankfully when he has taken the life of some splendid game, to grab at the moments of happiness that are fleeting and resolve to slog manfully through all the merde with which a life is interlarded.

 

 

A Book Designed to Last

The Statement at the Lower Left Used To Be on All Dover Paperbacks

As long as I can remember, I have been a big fan of Dover paperbacks. I was reminded of this as I started reading Howard Carter and A. C. Mace’s The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen (1923). There, at the bottom of the back cover, stood this bold claim:

A DOVER EDITION DESIGNED FOR YEARS OF USE:

We have made every effort to make this the best book possible. Our paper is opaque, with minimal show-through; it will not discolor or become brittle with age. Pages are sewn in signatures, in the method traditionally used for the best books, and will not drop out, as often happens with paperbacks held together with glue. Books open flat for easy reference. The binding will not crack or split. This is a permanent book.

Alas, this claim does not appear on more recent Dover paperbacks. In my collection, I have at least several hundred Dover books on chess, Shakespeare, ghost stories (a Dover specialty), mysteries, G. K. Chesterton, Anthony Trollope, John Lloyd Stephens, and numerous classics in the public domain. Not only were Dover books well made, they used to be relatively inexpensive. No more. I still follow them at their website and still occasionally order from them.