Tuesday, November 6, 2007


One of the real benefits of living on East First Street in Manhattan is that it is within walking distance of ST MARK'S BOOKSHOP.

It is the BEST bookshop in the United States.

I have not been to Denver or to Portland so until I have seen the bookstores there I am willing to admit that possibly there is a better bookshop than St. Mark's in the US.

One quick test of your local bookshop would be: go in and see if they have up front a copy of the new selection of essays by Raymond Queneau LETTERS NUMBERS FORMS from the University of Illinois Press as did St Mark's on Sunday night.

Of course you know the work of Raymond Queneau: Zazi, The Bark Tree, We Always Treat Women Too Well, The Sunday of Life, Children of Clay

Sunday night I noticed that Queneau has a teasing sort of essay about the diary of Julian Green...

(I always write his first name Julian since I approach him always as an American writer who happens to write in French; I well know that in France he is Julien Green)

And while it will be another day before I write about the necessity of reading Julian Green--- I wanted to acknowledge one of the genuine good reasons to be living on East First Street.

If you can not WALK to a good bookstore--- and I have just defined one above--- you are not living a civilized life. As to why this is true I am going to avoid answering that question beyond saying: as you continue to read these lines if you do so you will come to understand in a way superior to that easy simple answer I could well construct for my question.

Finally further substantiation of the above: a week ago I discovered not up front but on the ordinary shelves at St Mark's Bookshop ENERGY OF DELUSION by Viktor Shklovsky (Dalkey Archive)--- written in Shklovsky's 88th year--- is the best critical book to be published this year for those who like to think in such terms: concerned with the idea of plot in novels... but that title: Shklovsky quotes a letter from Tolstoy who is consoling a friend who has been experiencing difficulty,

"I know this feeling very well-- even now, I have been experiencing it lately; everything seems to be ready for writing--- for the fulfilling my earthly duty, what's missing is the urge to believe in myself, the belief in the importance of my task, I'm lacking the energy of delusion; an earthly, spontaneous energy that's impossible to invent. and it's impossible to begin without it."

Shklovsky is the great formalist critic who makes us aware of novels as novels, stories as stories. He takes them apart and shows how they work as if they were machines made of words and words made into sentences arranged in a particular way. His writing is crystal clear, unburdened by jargon and his authority comes from his own literary works separate from his critical work: ZOO OR LETTERS NOT ABOUT LOVE and A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY: MEMOIRS, 1917-1922--- just as the authority of T.S. Eliot as a critic comes from THE WASTE LAND and FOUR QUARTETS, just as the authority of Ezra Pound as critic comes from his poetry and THE CANTOS...