I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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I know that many of you have been waiting for the next installment of “Our Favorite Authors Favorite Authors.” It’s been a long, and exciting road, haha ha. I’m so glad that we’ve all been able to take this journey together. To watch these lists go from nothing to, gosh, to, you know, where we are now. Thank you, all. And now for that moment we’ve all been waiting for:
I expected a lot from Jonathan Franzen’s list, inasmuch as I did for David Foster Wallace, they were friends after all, and had a mutual taste for literary flare.
I wanted to include a list with George R. R. Martin in it, however…well, it’s not that I cannot find his favorite books, and authors, it’s, to be honest, that they are too obvious. His favorite authors are exactly what you would expect them to be. And I legit got bored reading interviews, and looking up topics.
I met Neil Gaiman several years ago while he was reading/performing with his wife Amanda Palmer at The Jean Cocteau in Santa Fe, New Mexico. George Martin owns the theatre and the two, George and Neil, are good friends, Gaiman makes fairly frequent appearances as The Cocteau. It’s always interesting to me how the authors that authors often choose as their favorite often are within the same genre as the lists owner, maybe I just have a lingering hope that the lists are more varied, diverse. I don’t know.
The first book I read by Tom Robbins was Fierce Invalid Home from Hot Climates, it was unlike anything that I had read before, in a plethora of ways, he is more well known for his books, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Still Life with Woodpecker, both of which are great books, all of which you should probably make the time to read. It’s difficult to find the best novels that he lists alongside the author, so I’ve only included his favorite authors; with one exception.
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Most people have a general understanding of the fact that some things in our world might be collectible. Things that maintain either sentimental or intrinsic value for one reason or another, things that we keep laying around the house. My ex-wife and I used to collect shot glasses from the various places that we would visit. I’ve collected basketball cards, coffee mugs, milk caps (pogs), and other things throughout my life. We rarely think that anything we collect might actually be worth something, though we all do have that hope—hence the reason for Antique Road Show. We see some cool pieces, but the vast majority of items passed around are worth very little, if anything. …still, though…
I began collecting books several years ago. It always feels good to get ahold of a book that has an obvious monetary worth, books such as a First Printing of Charles Portis’ True Grit, Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart, and a Signed copy of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. However, discovering the true worth of something that you may not have known is exciting as hell! A lot of people find value in something only that has a price tag of a few hundred dollars (or thousand(s) dollars) or more, I get excited when I find a book for a couple of dollars that is capable of extending its value by even only half. Books are not worth all that much, most Harry Potter books, for example, after the third book hold very little value simply because there are so many printings, but a First U.K. Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (there were only 500 printings) has sold, recently for $20,000, and if you find a copy of that book that is misprinted (there is a misprint on page 53 within a list of items for each student to bring to Hogwarts, ‘1 Wand’ is listed twice.) it has sold for as much as $33,000.
There are a lot of books that you are giving away to used bookstores, and are selling during garage sales that are more valuable than you might know, and so what if their value peaks at $25? Consider the margin if you were about to sell it for $.25. If you’re not sure, visit the link here, I offer book appraisals (if you’re looking for the value of a single book or a couple of books that peak under $50, I’ll be happy to waive my fee), I also provide estimates for free. You never know what you might have, and even if you decide to sell it in the yard sale, put the proper price tag on it.
I’ve compiled a list of The Most Expensive Books Sold on abebooks since 2014, and will include them here over the course of two blogs, maybe more.
The Top Selling Novels of 2014 were:
Every book on this short list is, in many ways, a classic, and we’ve grown to expect that with collectibles, with valuables; and on the occasion, with classics, we associate age, but that is not always the case, and neither is it that they are always ‘classics.’ Most of you probably would not consider John le Carre’s Call for the Dead a literary classic. Which is to say that if you have a book and it’s not a ‘classic,’ that does not automatically mean it’s not worth something.
The Top Selling Novels of 2015 were:
The point that I am making in such a roundabout way, is that books are extremely fascinating in a number of ways. To find books by P.D. James, and Terry Pratchett on a list of books that sold for nearly ten grand, on the same list as As I lay Dying, a First Edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Career of Evil (2015), it’s amazing to me. These are extreme cases but some of the books that you’re getting rid of so effortlessly are so much more valuable than you know, and even taking them to a place like Half Price Books you’re only going to get a third of what the book is most likely worth. I like Half Price Books, and used bookstores, I love that they find good homes for lonely, needy books, and for the majority of your excess paperbacks that’s exactly what you should do with them, but take a second look at what you have. If you leave this post with anything I hope that it’s a renewal of interest for books, reading, collecting, and appreciating. They aren’t just sitting on your shelves to take up space or to provide some rustic or intellectual aesthetic, there really is something else there.
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There is something buried deep within our humanity that strikes a chord for us when catching even a small glimpse of the personal lives that our heroes and mentors lead, the psychology of it is exceptionally fascinating, though albeit a little irritating [for me]. Nevertheless I understand it, I mean, somewhere in my youth, eh my early twenties, I read somewhere that one of Johnny Depp’s favorite books was The People’s Act of Love by James Meek. At the time I was being told fairly frequently that I resembled Johnny Depp from the movie Secret Window, and since I had been a longtime fan of Mr. Depp something inspired me to seek out this book, and to read it.
To this day The People’s Act of Love remains one of my favorite books, and over the years a handful of Meek’s other books have joined the ranks, books such as: We Are Now Beginning our Descent, The Museum of Doubt, and Last Orders and Other Stories. I may not have discovered Meek had I not read that article about Johnny Depp, and, in a lot of ways, reading that book instilled in me, at a very impressionable time in my life, renewed passion for literature—I may not be the person I am today had it not been for that book.
And, so, with that in mind, I have decided to write a series of blogs dedicated to the favorite books and authors of our favorite authors (at times I might extend that to various people of influence). So, without further ado:
Stephen King is likely the most prolific and important author since Shakespeare, at least when viewed through the lens of a reader, and someone who consistently plants the seed for us to become writers.
One of my favorite authors, cause I mean Stephen King is great, because he’s Stephen King, but he’s honestly not a favorite of mine, is Haruki Murakami. Murakami is a great story teller, and is a fascinating human being, the only thing about his writings that I’m not thrilled about is that they all follow a very predictable formula, an outline. But whateves.
I may have mentioned, on the rare occasion, my understanding of the genius of David Foster Wallace, I may, too, have let it slip that beyond being my favorite author, his work is, in my opinion (though anyone who disagrees is unfathomably wrong) un-relatable to any that I have ever come across. This list, I should mention, is the most sundry of reading lists that I have ever seen.
I was going to include a few more authors in this post, but this is already longer than I expected it to be, so I suppose you’ll have to wait for the next installments where I’ll touch on the favorites of George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Franzen, Tom Robbins, and more…
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I tend to over-complicate my job as an independent bookseller, especially one who is selling books online. There has been a huge influx of independent online sellers since eBay and Amazon established themselves as the world’s leading eCommerce businesses, which isn’t news to anyone, I know. People developing, and maintain their own “eBay Stores” has become a huge independent means of alternative income. The book industry is no different. There is one aspect of it, however, that very few people understand. Similar, in a way, to that guy who bought Walmart out of their discounted products and sold them online for a profit in the regions that they…you know, would be profitable, there is a large community of people, in the book industry, that visit discount book stores such as Half Price Books and various other used stores where they buy books for cheap and then resell them, usually online, to people in regions where that particular title or edition or author is sought after.
I live just outside of San Antonio, Texas in the Texas Hill Country. I’ll often drive into San Antonio and visit the many Half Price Books bookstores where I scan the shelves for books that are, for all intents and purposes, underpriced, and I’ll buy them. However, a number of the books that I find under such circumstances I don’t resell, I keep them, for my collection, which is a little problem that I have. I once found a signed First Edition/First Printing of Wallace Stegner’s, ‘Angle of Repose.’ Signed! On the shelf at Half Price Books for $12. So, of course I bought it, and I could have turned around and resold it for more than a thousand dollars, and yet it’s still just sitting on my shelf along with the rest of my collection. Of course, to be fair to me, how often are you going to find a signed copy of Wallace Stegner’s ‘Angle of Repose?’ and for only $12?!
Another aspect of this type of business model is to find books underpriced—and I should probably clarify that a collectible, regardless of what it is, are priced, generally, according to their market value in that particular region: so a book you find in San Antonio may not have the market value that it might have in, say, San Francisco, for example, even in this internet age. If you find a book that is underpriced in one particular area it can often be sold for two, sometimes three times (maybe more) the price you paid for it, in another area. These regions may even be broken down within a single city. So, a book you find on the northwest side for cheap might resell for a profit margin on the southeast. There are a lot of people that make a living learning about the demographics of their city, and beyond, in order to buy and resell in and around their neighborhoods. It requires collecting data and doing some research, but the entire process is both fun and, clearly, incredibly rewarding, if you dedicate the time to it.
The nearest Half Price Books to me is near Huebner Oaks, off of Huebner Road in San Antonio, in a tiny shopping center called ‘The Strand.’ There are a handful of really cool books sitting on their shelves that I tell myself that I’ll return to later, partly because I always spend a ridiculous amount of money when I visit, but also because there is this girl that works there that’s really cute: shoulder length black hair, fair skin, thoughtful. I go in there looking for new opportunities to talk to her. It’s not within my purview as a male adult to approach women while their working with the intent of “asking them out”—simply because they are working. See, because they have to be there, they’re just trying to make a living. The last thing I would want is for someone to come up to me, on the job, and create a possibly uncomfortable situation—so no way! The conversations we do have are very nice, and as infrequently as I go into San Antonio—we’re just simple country folk—sometimes it’s even a pleasant surprise when I see her. But, wait, hold on, I’m not really there to socialize, right, I mean, I’m trying to make a living people—get off my back.
I know how appealing this sounds. A number of you might read this and think, “Hell, I can do that!” and hightail it to your nearest used bookstore expecting to quickly make your first million. Well, it ain’t comin’ that easily. Let me outline how this is going to go: you’re going to pull into the parking lot, and you’ll probably find an incredible spot and attribute it to how seamlessly the next hour or so, and subsequently the rest of your life will lead, so you’ll pull in to the spot, and you’ll get out of the car, and you’ll walk up the front doors, you’ll open them, and you’ll step inside, an employee will acknowledge your existence, and then you’ll stop and hesitate as you scan the entire store from left to right. Because you have no idea what you’re looking for, or how to find it. I mean, you’re not going to pick every single book up off of the shelf, flip through it, and then put it in your basket, right? What are you even looking for inside the book? It cannot just be a clean hardcover that looks cool. You really have to know what you’re looking at. (Lucky for you I did write another blog about the specifics of determining whether a book was collectible, or valuable—it’s not always the same thing—but as you’ll see you when you read this other blog here, even that alone cannot help you on your half-assed journey towards wealth and underground book industry fame!)
You have to do your research. You have to allow for trail-and-error. The process takes a while, so you’ll want to learn how to enjoy it. I love being surrounded by books, of course I have a difficult time letting some of them go, which makes the process, for me, considerably more difficult, hence the reason why I make bookselling more complicated than it should be. But that’s just me. I find other superficial ways to enjoy my job, maybe perhaps I’ll discuss it with the lovely black haired, fair skinned woman sorting through book buys/ and trades behind the back counter, either way if you don’t get attached to rare finds and collectible books it is a great way to both learn, and find a few extra dollars in your pocket.
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Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas
Robert Detman’s novel, Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas, is a thoughtfully formulated story that illustrates a unique display of the human condition. Detman’s strengths include a great aptitude to create and develop characters with depth enough to feel genuinely involved with, and receptive to, a lithe fluency of descriptive imagery. This is an incredibly complex story covering a range of topics from artistic expression, the philosophy of art, politics, ethics, and varying dynamics of psychoanalytic behaviorism.
I believe it is important to note that as with any character-driven story, Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas partially loiters through the first few chapters—they seem automated and somewhat contrived. However, shortly through the second part entitled "Memory," Detman’s writing style and skill at storytelling explode viciously—it took me equally as long to read the final 185 pages as it did to read the first 55, as I became totally absorbed. In "Memory," Detman truly begins to evolve his characters, Nathan “Basher” Thomas and Harry Ogletree, and does so through the use of appearance-driven devices, which allows Detman the opportunity to develop characters while also exercising his poetic usage of descriptive imagery and expressionism.
“Detman takes on the burden of these issues phenomenally well, doing so indirectly through the subtle development of all of his characters.”
The title character, Nathan “Basher” Thomas, is a photojournalist and indicates that he feels an internal conflict with photography as an art, as a form of political expression, and simply as a career. As a photojournalist, there is a point when art, propaganda, and expressionism can be manipulated; while on assignment covering social and political issues on a global scale, there are two attitudes that can be held toward a photographer: the unbiased observer concealed or hidden behind a camera or the subject of perception, in which case the photographer is no longer an objective preserver but a person who may be viewed, in some cases, as equal to those who may cause harm, and, in others, as a person doing nothing to help while people suffer—in any case, questions of ethics and culture will, of course, arise. Detman takes on the burden of these issues phenomenally well, doing so indirectly through the subtle development of all of his characters. It is not often that one encounters a writer who is comfortable and well-versed enough to challenge such issues and do so with such ease.
Harry Ogletree is, by default, the protagonist of Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas; the story is told both through Harry’s perspective and an unnamed narrator who shares Harry’s voice. Essentially, the growth of Harry as a character evolves without even his understanding because Detman has crafted the story in such a way that demands that Harry’s development is paramount to the development of the characters around him, including his life-long friend, Basher Thomas. The novel is ultimately an exploration of life and of death, the way the life of a single person might shape the lives of everyone around them, and the distinction created between our own perception of that person and the perception of others.
“This is a novel that will stick with you because of its poetical means of exploring the human condition and Detman’s uncanny ability to weave beautiful, and haunting, imagery.”
Detman has been compared to authors such as John Banville (The Sea, The Book of Evidence), Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy), and Denis Johnson (Train Dreams, Resuscitation of a Hang Man, Tree of Smoke). I also recognize the voice of Jack Kerouac, and the sudden appearance of grand footnotes toward the end rings of David Foster Wallace. This is the author's first novel, and it seems as if Detman felt comfortable exploring and experimenting with different styles—likely the voices of authors he had been reading before and during the writing of Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas. I initially doubted the comparison of Detman to authors such as John Banville, Paul Auster, and Denis Johnson—three of my favorites. However, after reading Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas, I have great aspirations for Detman as an author and believe that he will soon find himself welcomed in the ranks of such authorship.
This is a novel that will stick with you because of its poetical means of exploring the human condition and Detman's uncanny ability to weave beautiful, and haunting, imagery.
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Steve McCaffery (illustrations by Clelia Scala)
Alice in Plunderland
“… perhaps even within the dream of Plunderland long ago: and how eventually she would sell them hache to feed their own, now desperate, insatiable needs and find an inexplicably sadistic pleasure in all their evening agonies, screaming and scratching in unbearable withdrawals, remembering her own child-life and those happy junkie days.”
Steve McCaffery’s new book, Alice in Plunderland, explores the inner depths of an addicts mind as Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) might experience it. Written to the same structure and tune of Carroll’s original 1865 story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the reader is no longer left to ponder what Underland would be like through the eyes of a desperate junkie. And, as one might expect, following McCaffery’s version of Wonderland is as much of an undertaking and painstakingly difficult as any fiend’s attempt for an easy score when in dire need to use. The first and last chapters of Steve McCaffery’s Alice in Plunderland are the only two that a laymen—or anyone not chronically stoned—could follow without turning to the Joual Drug Slang Dictionary or A Short Glossary of Plunderland Terms for Grown-Ups.
“She was tripping out with Timothy Leary at a Vietnam War Protest in Tahir Square, but suddenly Adolf Hitler appeared in Pink Chiffon leotards waving a Nigerian Gonfalon. She hastily put down the bottle, saying to herself “Holy Crap! That’s quite enough …”
Alice finds herself in Plunderland after eyeing a young bank teller “with shocking pink hair” run by saying "Oh pshit! Oh phsit! I shall be late!” with a wad of hundred dollar bills in her hand, which would more than supply Alice’s coke habit for the immediate future. The teller jumps into the sewer via a manhole down the street from Alice’s spent ATM, and naturally, Alice follows. What ensues is a series of misadventures, which are an exact recreation of the course that Alice would have taken had she been in Underland (Wonderland) and not the aptly named Plunderland. McCaffery takes artistic license by adding a few characters: a mule named Damian, a coke-head executive named Troy, Ronnie the cop, Mavis the hooker, Father Patrick the priest, Cardinal Cruz the king of cocaine, Melinda the coke queen, and many others.
“Predictably, the junkie from Cheshire grinned when he saw Alice. He looked alive, good-natured, she judged: Still he had way too many track lines (that made him appear like an aerial view of Grand Central Station), and a great many missing teeth, plus ever so many lithium scabs, so she felt he ought to be treated with respect. 'Cheshire junkie,' she commenced her converse rather guardedly, as she did not at all know whether Aiden [Cheshire junkie] would dig the appellation: however, he only grinned a little wider …”
McCaffery takes the opportunity to employ several pop culture and political references, which kept me amused particularly when they appeared in the unlikeliest of places: “... I’m getting tired of the frigging crap. I vote the young lady tells us an addict story. Like the late William S. Burroughs did via his cut-up method of narrative composition.”
McCaffery’s exceptional use of association devices and prattle settles the reader by reminding them where Plunderland ends and reality actually begins:
“… taken by her mama and papa with her older sister several times to see The Godfather, a 1972 award-winning crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by Albert S. Ruddy, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and based on the best-selling novel by Mario Puzo, an Italian American writer born in 1920 to a poor family living in Campania, Italy.”
However, I still could not be sure with any absolute certainty who Steve McCaffery’s target audience might be— poetry aficionados? Alice freaks? Steve McCaffery’s transformation of Carroll’s original work is enough to pick up this unusual and sardonically respectful tribute to a timeless classic, and I imagine that anyone who has a sincere appreciation for Lewis Carroll’s 1865 publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the 1886 publication of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground--I have a collection of over 30 different editions—would enjoy sitting down and marveling at the level of McCaffery’s creative and bizarre transcription as well as Clelia Scala’s collaged juxtaposition of John Tenniel’s original artwork. It’s just a little easier for me to imagine a reader finishing the last paragraph, closing the book, setting the book on the nightstand, and asking, “What the f$&k just happened?!”
Nomadic Press Review
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AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING BY ROBERT MILTNER
And Your Bird Can Sing
Bottom Dog Press
A review I wrote for Nomadic Press about Robert Miltner's, "And Your Bird Can Sing."
Robert Miltner’s And Your Bird Can Sing captured me as soon as I had read the last line of the first story, “We Can Work It Out.” These stories are all inspired by, and named after, Beatles songs. I imagine Miltner sitting with his pen in hand, leaning over a desk, and staring into the deckled, yellowed pages of an old leather notebook, The Beatles amplified over aged speakers throughout the room. A number of the stories end abruptly, as if Miltner allowed himself one more sentence and then simply lifted his pen as each song came to an end. Miltner crafts his stories with a seemingly simple yet arched complexity that develops from an attentive understanding of John, Paul and George’s unique storytelling, and the author’s caustic handling of social and political absurdity through satire has culminated in a brilliant collection.
Only 30 pages into the collection, I was stunned and inspired by Robert Miltner’s use of subtle, descriptive devices that stimulate our emotional sensitivities, not only as a means to feature our surroundings but also as a means of exposing our sentimentality through the use of his ingenious poetic metaphor as often illustrated in "Drive My Car," the second story of the collection.
“Savoy Truffle” characterizes the demands of our society for plastic. Miltner’s characters, Jody and Will, suffer the implanted ideas of consumerism by a society that corrupts their understanding of success and accomplishment, and the two are left dismantling not only what they believe to be divine within themselves but also the idea of perfection and self-image. In one way or another, we can all relate with Miltner’s exaggerated account of suburban life. Some aspects, however, may be closer to home than many of us might be willing to admit, as is portrayed in the following excerpt: “Will and Jody go back home to the new two-story house in their development, Willow Crossing, surrounded by oceans of grass and no trees, looking carefully for their house number so they can tell their house apart from the others on the block. As they enter, a golden retriever whose name they do not know--hello, boy they say—waits in the living room ...” Contradiction and consumerism—brilliant.
And Your Bird Can Sing is an expression of Robert Miltner’s capacity as a writer, and no story describes enthusiasm and sorrow in this collection better than “Penny Lane.” Miltner’s usage of abstraction and metaphor to depict both the elation felt and the passing of time is evident in a simple, yet beautiful utterance: “while the leaves fall from trees out of sheer excitement.” The excitement is expressed upon witnessing presidential hopeful, John F. Kennedy, driving by in his convertible caravan as he campaigns in Ohio. A sixth grader recalls the moment as if “a lone Roman candle has gone off, one bright burst of sound and light and significance.” The same young sixth grader, only four years later, then recalls a similar feeling while watching President John F. Kennedy’s caravan in Dallas, Texas, as a, “second burst of sound like another Roman candle … tearing a hole in the fabric of [my] childhood."
As I finished the book, I applauded Miltner’s storytelling abilities via my own peals of laughter. I sat staring at the acknowledgments, slightly disoriented still from my appreciation of the stories that I had just read. When I realized that I had finished the book, I was neither excited nor upset. I simply laid the book on the table, nodded my head, and pictured reading it aloud to friends and family, picking through the stories as if playing "eeny, meeny, miny, moe." Recitations while driving, walking through the park, or playfully riding the merry-go-round after years of being "too old"—the stories soon lent themselves as accompaniment to imaginative escapades.
With every story, Miltner exercises incredible descriptive foresight and leaves nothing on the table. There is no way to know what to expect from page to page—the author has created a collection of short stories that rivals nearly any that I’ve read. The stories range in length from half a page to nine pages (most are closer to one or two), so finishing them on the bus or subway ride to work or your lunch hour is completely plausible. And Your Bird Can Sing will remain a collection that I’ll never forget and will sit bedside or on my writing desk until I unwillingly leave it on the coffeehouse table or sorrowfully part with it when placing it in someone else's hands.