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Bob Dylan

the troubadour arrived unheralded
the mood sullen in the crowd
he had the reputation of trickster
hat and cape & concealing cowl…

 
* Poem to be completed following the concert

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Sherron has convinced me to offer some of my audio and spoken word pieces on the Bandcamp site.

Didn’t really cost me anything except time (uploads seemed to take forever) and now we’ll wait and see if this draws any more attention to my work. My audio stuff is available for free, as always; while BandCamp offers a decent selection, my complete output is only available here, on this site.

I notice that Amazon is now offering The Last Hunt as a pre-order; the Kindle version and e-book have been available for some time.

However you read my novel, in whatever format you favor, hope you enjoy my tall, western tale.

Tell your friends, get some word of mouth happening.

Help make this terrific indie release a huge success.

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Abject apologies for being such an inconstant correspondent.  It’s the holiday season, after all, and between celebrating Christmas, visiting relatives, supping and socializing with friends, there’s been rather a lot on my plate.

My preparations for the new year took up two entire days—I have this annual ritual, y’see, cleaning my office from top to bottom, rearranging things, paring it down, etc. etc.  I also take time to outline my anticipated schedule for the coming year and draw up a list of resolutions.

With regards to the former, well, schedules are made to be broken.  I thought I had 2011 figured out…until a western novel called The Last Hunt announced itself in February and proceeded to hijack the entire year.  To be clear:  as I wrote out my preview for 2011 on or around December 31, 2010, I had no idea that in the very near future I’d be taking a crack at a western.  My Muse can be quite perverse. Don’t get me wrong, I love westerns but I’ve never envisioned writing one.  Never even fantasized about it.  “Wouldn’t it be cool…”  Nope.

As for my resolutions, I generally do try.  Most of them I’ll keep to myself but one thing I’d dearly love to work on is enjoying myself more, having more fun with the entire process of writing.  Does it always have to be so freakin’ stressful and fraught?  Is there a way of easing up without damaging the power and integrity of my work?

Last year I made the pledge to read more, took on the “100 Book Challenge” and managed to make it (105 was my final tally, thank you very much).  In 2012, I want to keep up that momentum but this year I was to concentrate on BIG books, fat, smart books crammed with great writing and daunting ideas and notions.  I’ve already put a few aside:  William Vollmann’s Europe Central, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, Blake Bailey’s biography of John Cheever, The History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCullough and Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote.  Also want to re-read some of my fave Thomas Pynchon books: it’s been a long time and they’re bound to have fresh revelations for me.

Listening to a lot of music in early 2012, tunes by the likes of Brian Jonestown Massacre and A Place to Bury Strangers.  Not much in terms of movies so far, though I’m thrilled to announce we’ve already bought our tickets for this year’s “Silence is Golden” event. The 1924 version of “Thief of Baghdad”, projected onto a big screen, accompanied by a live orchestra.  The cinephile within is swooning

Sherron, bless her heart, bought me another book case on December 30th so for the next two or three days I moved books around, expanding my Film and History/War shelves, organizing and pondering.  It was fantastic.  I know, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it?  I am such a nerd. But in the Information Era, where computers and gadgets entice us with their tricks and shiny buttons, it’s nice to reconnect with my library.  I’ve spent my entire adult life assembling a pretty decent collection of tomes and I love having them available, on display, rather than stored in our ancient stone basement, vulnerable to all of the environmental hazards to which paper is prone.

Software comes and goes but my books remain—faithful, accessible, relics of other, less hectic, times.  I have all the novels and short stories Philip K. Dick published during his lifetime.  I possess every golden word the great James Crumley committed to paper.  The covers a bit tattered, the spines showing wear and tear.  A substantial proportion of my books are used, remaindered; cast-offs and rejects.  But they occupy places of honor on my shelves.  Most of the authors dead, many of them all but forgotten.  Preserved in my odd collection, my assorted odds and ends and incunabula. All of it reflecting the weird, far-ranging tastes and interests in its curator.  Eclectic, if you’re being kind, though a true adept might discern much, much more…

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One of the activities that’s given me the most pleasure in the past couple of years is creating music.

When words no longer suffice, I click on Garageband and commence work on some atmospheric, ambient melange, usually employing at least a dozen tracks before I’m satisfied the result is sufficiently whacked out and spacey.  I’ve posted the best stuff on my Audio page and you’re welcome to listen to it, download…have at it.

A couple of years ago I got it into my head to write a murder ballad.  I was raised on Johnny Cash and Hank Snow—one of the first tunes I can remember hearing is Johnny’s spooky version of “The Long Black Veil”.

I think I had that song in the back of my head as I sat down and wrote out the words to “Poor Mary”.  The song wrote itself very quickly—I recall there were only two or three drafts.  But once I finished, it was head-scratching time.  What in the name of God was I going to do with the bloody thing now?  I can’t read or write music, can’t play an instrument.

Ah, but I’m fortunate enough to have a pal who can pick and strum and carry a tune.  So I handed the lyric sheet over to Laird Brittin and asked him if it was possible to create an actual song out of the few lines of poetry I’d composed.  He liked the lyrics and came back with an arrangement that is nothing less than stunning.  If you like “Poor Mary”, the vast majority of the credit goes to Laird, who truly found the perfect “sound” for the piece.

To give the tune a listen (it’s only three minutes and some long), click on the following link:

01 Poor Mary

This happens to be my 200th blog post and I can think of no better way of commemorating that milestone than releasing “Poor Mary”.

Special thanks to Laird for recording, arranging and mixing this version.

My appreciation, as well, to the many, many folks who still make a regular habit of stopping by this blog and checking out my take on “the writing life”.  It ain’t a particularly rewarding or empowering existence/vocation, but I’ve never regretted my decision to go the “indie” route.

It takes its toll but if this approach allows me to fully express myself as an artist, as someone with a unique perspective on the multiverse, I’ll accept the consequences, come what may.

And, hey, if I get to occasionally turn my hand to songwriting, come up with something as fun and enjoyable (and good) as “Poor Mary”, then all I can say is fucking bring it on.

“Poor Mary”  © Copyright, 2010 by Laird Brittin & Cliff Burns  (All Rights Reserved)

No commercial use of this song is permitted.

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Another birthday rolling around, my 48th, and, natch, the critical, self-regarding mind casts its gaze backward, forward, hither and yon, seeking a pattern, a design, some semblance of order.

Usually in vain.

I’ve described my writing “career” as something of a train wreck and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.  I lurch from project to project, with absolutely no conception of how to “market” or promote myself, zero interest in shilling for my work, peddling it around like an itinerant vacuum cleaner salesman.  My writing doesn’t comfortably fit any niche, veering from genre to genre, encompassing everything from radio plays, to short films, ambient music and spoken word pieces.  My last two novels were supernatural thrillers, my latest is an old fashioned western.  Huh?

But that’s the glorious thing about the new technologies that have sprouted up in the past few years. They allow creative types to try their hand at a variety of disciplines, expressing themselves through different media.  I don’t discriminate between my various projects, no matter what form they take.  They all reflect my interests, fears, fixations and dreams.  They all originate in the labyrinthine depths of my mind.

* * * * * *

Thanks to one and all who have stuck it out thus far.  Popped in to this site for a quick look…and then lingered, read more and more of the entries, downloaded big swathes of my writing or tuned in to some of the weird music I’ve made available for free listening and downloading.

Through this blog I’ve become familiar with good folks and sharp thinkers.  Thoughtful, intelligent people who love the printed word as much as I do.

And I believe that somewhere among the tens of thousands of curious types who’ve visited this blog in the past 4 1/2 years there is at least one ideal reader, someone who has followed my career, read the lion’s share of my oeuvre and eagerly looks forward to each new release.  That’s the gal/guy who brings me back to my desk, morning after morning, my raison d’être, my secret admirer, number one fan and staunchest defender.  Every day I sit down and create purely for the purpose of entertaining, surprising and intriguing my I.R., presenting them with a narrative or tune or spoken word piece that startles them and causes them to re-appraise my work (yet again), examining it in a wholly different light.

I am prepared to go to any extent to unsettle and shake up my Ideal Reader.  I don’t want them getting complacent, taking me for granted.  For that reason, my work must never fall back on tried and true formulas or reinforce commonly held beliefs and preconceptions.

I have to to believe my I.R. would be very disappointed in me if I resorted to such tactics.

My Ideal Reader is as courageous and aesthetically demanding as I am.

And they’d know if I wasn’t giving them my best work…

* * * * * *

It’s become something of a custom for me to either release new work or make some kind of announcement around my birthday.

First, please note to “self-portrait” that accompanies this post.  A couple of Christmases ago, Sherron and my sons gifted me with a big fat scrapbook that I was supposed to play with; included among my tasks was executing a self-portrait on canvas.  Last month I finally got around to it and, well, see for yourself.  I have absolutely no acumen for visual art, couldn’t even figure out how to mix pigments—that’s why my picture is in black and white.

Okay, so I’m no threat to Vinnie van Gogh.

How about another strange, spacey, ambient tune, created a couple of days ago.  “Lapse (II)” clocks in at over seven minutes and I think it’s a worthy addition to my odd musical catalog.

Play…Lapse (II)

And, finally, a couple of updates:

Edits on my western, The Last Hunt, commence soon.  Looking forward to knocking that little beauty into shape.  Anticipating a March, 2012 release date.  I’ll keep you posted.

My science fiction novelette, “Eyes in the Sky“, should be up on Amazon/Kindle in the coming days.  It’s dedicated to “the Golden Age” and I think fans of the genre will understand what I mean.

No plans for my birthday, just another work day.  Forty-eight years old and maybe a tad wiser.  Still a long way to go and enlightenment continues to tease and then elude me.  Every time I think I’m getting close to some kind of meaningful insight into the human experience, something truly ghastly and horrific happens and I am forcefully reminded of the Alain Finkielkraut quote:

“Barbarism is not the inheritance of our pre-history.  It is the companion that dogs our every step.”

Amen.

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Lots of activity around Casa Burns of late, fascinating diversions and developments, including:

My son, Sam, finally overcame all sorts of technical glitches and released his latest cinematic effort, a short film titled “Snoop”.  It’s already garnered a good number of “hits” and positive comments from folks who’ve seen it.  I know I’m prejudiced, but I’m just amazed how well it’s framed and cut; the kid’s visual eye is nothing short of amazing.  Be sure to head over to YouTube and take in an eye-catching caper film.

Last weekend, I checked another item off my “bucket list” and participated in a sweat lodge out at the Sweetgrass Reserve.  My gratitude to Joseph Naytowhow and my wife, Sherron, for making the arrangements, and to elder Fred Paskimin for a once in a lifetime experience.  It’s going to take awhile to assimilate the power and intensity of that afternoon.  A lot of spiritual energy surging and buzzing around that cramped, sweltering interior…

A few of you have been pestering me for an update re: my “100 Book Challenge”.  All I can say is that I’m holding my own.  I just finished book #82 but I confess progress has definitely slowed over the past couple of months.  I’m going to have to pick up my game if I expect to make the cut.  Recent reads include Knockemstiff, a superb collection of short stories by Donald Ray Pollock, and The New Space Opera 2, a so-so anthology of SF tales that featured a couple of genuinely solid efforts, including “The Island” by Peter Watts, which was the high point of the book.

Spending too much time over at Jukesy, arranging playlists of strange, ambient tunes and discovering new groups to add to my personal soundtrack:  A Place to Bury Strangers, The Vandelles, The Radio Department, Hank Williams III…

Still researching my western novel, arranging my notes for the next draft, which should commence soon.  But there are distractions, including pricing out a new roof for our house (which turned 100 this year), tons of yardwork, a pressing need for all-season tires for the Toyota—

And, of course, my upcoming reading at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Saskatoon (Wednesday, October 12th).  In case you missed my previous plug, here’s the official invite, drawn up by my pal Alicia at M-R:

Hope to see you there.

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Couldn’t get into serious writing yesterday–still catching up on research on my western novel, The Last Hunt, and I’m not yet at the point where I can begin to tackle necessary revisions.

My science fiction story needs one final polish/run through before I send it off.  I’ll likely get that done today.

And so…yesterday.

Decided to create a little something with Garageband.  The first effort wasn’t very good but the second tune had promise (as soundtrack music for the creepiest film ever made maybe) and then came the third number…

Well.  I didn’t really set out to create a spoken word bit, but that’s how it came out.  I was poking around my notebook and came across a series of phrases that, if you put them together, would almost make a kind of narrative…

I plugged in the microphone and gave it a shot.  The very first vocal track was perfect and then I started building and shaping music around it.

The end result is “The Midnight Detective”, a 2 1/2 minute effort that plays around with noirish conceits and comes together for a rather tasty finale.

This piece should work on whatever audio player your computer employs (if it’s fairly new) and, of course, you’re free to download it and share it with pals and like-minded folks who might get a charge out of my whacked out, postmodern detective.

You’ll find more of my musical noodling and spoken word efforts on my Audio page.

Click here to listen to Midnight Detective

* This post is dedicated to Caroline Ames–Happy Birthday, kid.

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“Dysphoria”?

Know the term?

It’s…well…it sounds like this:

Dysphoria

 

 

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My wife and sons have temporarily departed for more northerly climes, visiting family members who live right next to a lake near Thompson, Manitoba.  Idyllic spot, natural and picturesque.

Why didn’t I tag along (you ask, impudently)?

Because my mind isn’t ready for a vacation right now.  Matter of fact, for some reason summer is the time of year when my Muse really puts the pedal to the metal.  A good number of my novels and best short stories were drafted during the months of June-August.  Maybe a hormonal thing, who knows?  So, while everyone else is outside, barbequing or going to the lake, renting a cottage, enjoying yourselves, you’ll find me in my sweltering 10′ X 12′ home office, my door open, the fan on high to make the environment livable as I toil away on some literary project.

This year is no exception.  My western novel, The Last Hunt, devours much of my time.  I’m supposed to be taking a break from it at the moment but I can’t help poking my nose in, doing more research, scribbling notes, conceiving questions for some of the historians who have generously offered to lend a hand with the scenes set in Yellowstone Park. They’ll provide me with historical background, period detail and invaluable advice and input (and God bless ‘em). I’ll be visiting that region of Montana later this summer, doing some on the spot scouting and location hunting.  It will be my first trip of any significance in a long time (I blush to say how long).  This borderline agoraphobic workaholic is trembling at the notion of being away from my desk for any length of time but I am utterly convinced of the necessity of this trip.  It will better establish the mood and setting of The Last Hunt and add some of the authenticity I think the present draft is lacking.

But I must confess I have another reason for remaining home.  It isn’t often I get the house to myself for days at a stretch and on those rare occasions that I do…well, I like to take full advantage of it.  I play loud music, from the time I get up to the wee hours of the morning.  I keep the windows shut, the drapes drawn and for one or two days I let myself go.  Stalk about in my bathrobe, unshaven, neglecting the laundry, neglecting to eat properly, neglecting to answer the phone or interact with the outside world.

It’s glorious and terrifying and, ultimately, beneficial.

I sit in my office, staring at my slippers while The Vandelles, A Place to Bury Strangers, The Replacements, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, etc. thunder from overhead speakers, loud enough to force me further back in my chair.  Lately, I like my music hard and dirty, a la the Vandelles’ “Lovely Weather” (crank it up!).

Meanwhile, I’m doing a good deal of scribbling—journaling and spontaneous or “automatic” writing like the Surrealists used to champion.  These writings represent Rorschach Tests and they give a pretty good idea of what’s on my mind, the preoccupations and fears dogging me.  Plenty of speculations on the spiritual front—I keep that up, I’m liable to end up with a gazillion page Exegesis, similar to Philip K. Dick.  And will likely be considered just as loony, should anyone happen to stumble across these errant, inexpert ramblings on God, the nature of reality and my own pitiful existence.

These writing exercises often trigger intervals of hellish introspection, long hours spent reviewing past sins and ruminating over the sorry state of my literary career, even after a quarter century of putting words on paper.  The mental boo birds come out and I subject myself to a great deal of vitriol before the nattering voices either subside, wear themselves out or are chastened by a very Bugs Bunny-like snarl originating from the depths of my id:

Aaaaaaaa, shaddap!”

I have trouble sleeping when my family’s away, find the nights hard to endure. I kill time by staying up and watching a double or triple header of movies.  Guy flicks and guilty pleasures; science fiction and thrillers given precedence.  This time around I’ve set aside flicks like “Michael Clayton”, “All the President’s Men”, “The Searchers”, “Shadow of the Vampire”,  “The Bad Lieutenant”.  Nothing too crazy, re: anything by Ken Russell or (shudder) “Eraserhead”.

And for reading material, Terence McKenna’s The Archaic Revival and Graham Hancock’s Supernatural.  Far-fetched stuff?  Pseudo-science?  To me, what these lads propose is nowhere near as crazy as some of the notions held by billions of people of all faiths around the world.  I am intrigued by what triggered that “monolith moment”, when our kind first opened their eyes to the possibility and mystery of the world and took a crucial evolutionary step, moving further away from their humble origins and toward a spectacular destiny.  This transformation coincided with the earliest cave art and the enactment of burial rituals, a species awakening to the existence of other realms and principalities.

Mebbe Bill Hicks is right and a certain humble fungus, naturally occurring, is responsible.  I guess we’d need a time machine to find out for sure.  Intriguing thought, though…

I suppose when all is said and done, my time alone is therapeutic, cathartic.  I miss out on a chance to hang out with good folks, do some boating and fishing in some of the most gorgeous scenery this country has to offer.  But the soul-searching, self-Inquisition and psychic ass-kicking blows off steam, relieves the accumulated pressures that accompany the creative life.  In my solitude, I can confront my demons and it’s a no-holds-barred, no quarter given bloodbath.  It’s not pleasant but it is necessary.  All part of the ongoing struggle to define myself as an artist, to better delineate the precepts and ideals I live by, requiring me to identify aspects within me that are working against those higher purposes and undermining my essential faith in the worthiness of my endeavors.  Demons, indeed, with hideous countenances, avid, savage expressions and appetites.  They are the worst parts of me and during the next few days I shall brawl, joust and treat with them, in the end probably settling for another draw, a few more months of relative peace on the emotional/spiritual front.

You say that’s not much of a bargain but, then, clearly your demons aren’t nearly as unreasonable, their intentions not as deliberately malign.

For that, count yourself lucky.

You are very fortunate indeed.

Photos by Sherron Burns

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“I…am…not…afraid…of…you.”

Standing before a tower of unread books, feeling a bit queasy but also defiant.  These are books that have bedeviled me for months, years, decades.  Tomes I know will be excellent, enlightening, life-enhancing…as soon as I find time to read them.  Others are volumes I read many moons ago and want to revisit.  Some big, fat, brain-building Pynchon titles, a few of the early Cormac McCarthys; works I read when I was young, stupid and trying to impress everybody.  Now when I read them, I’ll be a helluva lot more worldly, slightly smarter and apt to grasp more than I did during that initial encounter.  Can you really comprehend the magnitude of Gravity’s Rainbow or Marcel Proust’s convoluted, gorgeous prose at nineteen or twenty?

Never in hell.  I’m convinced human beings don’t start developing adult-sized brains until they’ve turned thirty and have popped at least one kid.  A teenager reading War and Peace is like handing a mandrill an iPad. Seriously.

This past week I was visiting The Big City and had occasion (okay, I lurked) to listen while a couple of teenage girls discussed their school reading assignments.

“This book,” one said, stabbing a livid finger at Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, “ought to be banned.”

“Did you read The Englishman’s Boy?”

“Only the chapter I had to.”

“Me too! Catcher in the Rye sucked too. What’s the big deal? The Outsiders--“

“That was half decent.”

“It was o-kay. But the main guy is such a whiner…”

And so on.  Book club night at the Stephen Hawking residence it was not.

What were those gals doing, hanging out in a book store?  Waiting for the rain to subside?  I wonder what sort of books they actually liked?

* * * * *

I must do something about my To Be Read pile. Make that piles.  It’s getting scary.  We’re running out of space.  Books are double-stacked on the shelves, some even (gasp!) relegated to the floor.  Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, essays…good God, things have gotten completely out of hand.  I catch my wife looking at me, her expression cagy: pondering involuntary commitment? What are the legal hurdles?  How much can she get for all these fucking books?

And now that I’m hooked up to the library system through the internet, I can log on and troll for more books, secure them free, via inter-library loans.  If three weeks pass and I need more time, I can renew the tomes in question with a few taps on my keyboard.

Sweet.

Or perhaps not.  It’s like having after hours access to the world’s biggest bookstore.  I get messages as soon as another book is ready for pickup at my local branch.  Can’t wait to get down there, scoop it up and bear it home…

Understand, I already have dozens, scores of books—wonderful books, classic books—waiting to be read but I’m still ordering more.  Isn’t that weird?  Isn’t that, well, nuts?

It’s called bibliophilia, folks, and I’ve got it bad.

I’m a collector on the verge of becoming a hoarder.  When I find a good bookstore, especially a good used book store, my hands get clammy, my stomach churns and I feel light-headed, like I’m suffering from some kind of sugar deficit. I kid you not. I’ve heard junkies say similar things when they find themselves in the vicinity of dope or paraphernalia. A feeling of anticipation that leaves you weak in the knees.

Have to say, when I visited my last big box book barn I didn’t experience anything like that.  The “New Release” shelves didn’t turn my crank at all—the majority of the fiction seemed to be geared toward women, and particularly stupid ones at that. The most dreadful shite. Spotted a number of offerings in the history section, including David McCullough’s bio of Truman, but the prices scared me off. After all my browsing, over an hour in the store, I came away with one thin volume, a beautiful little Penguin edition of Stefan Zweig’s novella Chess.  That’s it.

Pitiful, ain’t it?

But, of course, it isn’t just books.  I’m no longer part of the desired demographic, and that goes for music, movies, television, you name it.  I’m an old fogie with a critical brain and a handle on his spending.  Not exact a walking advertisement for consumerism.

No, the ones the advertisers, viral marketers et al are after are the 16-25 bunch, the gamers and mall crowd, armed with credit cards and completely lacking impulse control.  Unmarried, no kids, disposable income, too much time on their hands. The morons that have kept Michael Bay, JJ Abrams and Bill Gates filthy rich and reduced the popular arts to public urinals.  Thanks, kids!

We have them to thank for the current state of publishing/bookselling.  The explosion of graphic novels, the flood of zombies and vampires and knock-off fantasy and franchise novels, and media tie-ins…can you say dumbing down?  That extended period I spent in the big box store was most educational.  It told me that in their efforts to cater to their sought after demographic, traditional publishers won’t just go for the lowest common denominator, they are willing, nay eager, to debase the language, alienate their traditional clientele and reduce an art form to mere commodity.  The rot is evident in every genre—what little “literary” fiction out there is getting harder to find, forced off the shelves by establishments that offer whole sections devoted to the excremental writing of James Patterson, Jody Picoult and the like.

I turn on commercial radio, flip through the TV channels during a rare hotel visit, check on-line movie listings for anything that might look promising and I feel old.  Nothing in the entertainment world speaks to me these days.  I don’t look forward to the summer movies or check to see who made the Oscar shortlist.  Ignore the bestseller lists, rarely buy a magazine or new book…and we’re the last family I know of who still don’t have cable TV.

I’ve been a reader all my life.  Forty years with my nose in books.  Books have always offered me comfort and consolation.  In childhood, they were a security blanket, helping me escape the depredations of reality.  As I got older, they became my primary sources of learning, as well as steering me down spiritual/mystical paths I might otherwise have missed. Without books, I would not be the person I am today.  I would be one of them:  mall zombies, semi-literates, half-simian.

All this might go a long way toward explaining that ever-growing TBR pile. I never stop seeking out new Masters, new teachers; men and women who can perform alchemy with the printed word, transmuting it into something more than mere sentences on a page.

A casual scan of the pictures reveals not too many of the books are of recent vintage.  Most picked up from thrift shops, secondhand places or on-line purchases; heavily discounted, showing the effects of their time in remainder bins or battered about in the mail.

New and old enthusiasms:  Samuel Beckett, Walter Kirn, Ken Kalfus, Richard Powers, Robert Stone, Raymond Queneau, Roberto Bolano, Fernando Pessoa, J.M.G. Le Clezio, Denis Johnson, Tom McCarthy, Terence McKenna, Georges Perec, Jorge Luis Borges, Gert Ledig, W.G. Sebald…and that’s just scratching the surface. These Jpegs hardly do my TBR pile justice.  It goes on and on…

When am I going to find time to read the gorgeous edition of Don Quixote Sherron picked up for me at least five years ago (translation by Edith Grossman)?  How about the three volumes by the incomparable Louis Ferdinand Celine that are only an arm’s length away from where I sit, typing these words?  Will I ever tackle Madame Bovary, War and Peace or the 1,000+ pages of The Collected Short Stories of J.G. Ballard?

Not as long as I keep adding to that pile.

How many titles are on the “Wishlist” I’ve kept in the same steno pad for the past twenty years?  Two hundred?  Three hundred?  The roster constantly revised; one title acquired and crossed off, three others added…

I’m a sick man.  Addicted to the printed word.  Always seeking out the best of the best, authors who present fresh perspectives, re-ignite the language, push the envelope thematically and stylistically.  Just when I think I’m making headway, someone mentions Ben Okri or Joseph McElroy.  How could I have missed them?  Fabulous, unprecedented talents, my collection incomplete without them.

The kind of authors no longer being published by the trads and, thus, increasingly unfamiliar to today’s readers.

Creators capable of composing work that ennobles us as a species, presenting an alternative to the superficiality of the processed, plastic universe the corporate types are peddling, the reassuring sameness one is sure to find there.  Our souls would be impoverished without these artistes, our “culture” reduced to inanity and tiresome cant.  A nightmare I hope never to endure, a history I pray we avoid.

Photos by Sherron Burns

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