Saturday, March 19, 2016

"The Crippled Giant: A Literary Relationship with Louis-Ferdinand Céline" by Milton Hindus

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
"The Crippled Giant:  A Literary Relationship with Louis-Ferdinand Céline" by Milton Hindus

Louis-Ferdinand Céline is endlessly fascinating.  For obvious reasons when I think of the publishing house New Directions, I always think of Céline along with that press.  I first started reading his work, due to the love of his stylist language, or at least, the english translation of his work.  There is something punk-like in the way he saw his world.  The fact that he wasn't exactly a huge fan of the jews, just added a 'wow' aspect to his work.  And by no means, a 'wow' in a good way.  Still, a remarkable figure who lived through the wars, and I think, suffered from them as well.  

"The Crippled Giant" is an interesting and odd book.  Milton Hindus, a literary academic type of fellow, as well as being jewish, became an acquaintance of Céline - in fact, he helped him a lot during the late 1940s, when he was exiled in Denmark, due to his kind-of-pro-nazi stance.  The fact is, I think Céline was just a miserable human being, but also a genius stylist - and Hindus had to deal with that fact.   The book starts off as a memoir of him knowing and visiting Céline, but then becomes a lit-crit of his writings.  The first two-parts of the book are very so-so to me, on the other hand, the last third of the book is devoted to their correspondence to each other.  That, I found much more interesting.

Through the letters, one gets a better (not always in a good way) impression of Céline's personality, and to be thankful, Hindus doesn't back down from him.  Yet, he was very supportive, especially arranging business dealings with New Directions in New York, as well as sending him coffee time-to-time.   Since I'm a publisher myself, I found the discussion between Céline and Hindus regarding the publishing world in France as well as in America, totally intriguing.   Their relationship didn't last, but, this book gives us a peak behind the curtain that surrounds the often-mysterious Céline.   And for that, I'm thankful for this book. 

Milton Hindus
- Tosh Berman

Monday, March 14, 2016

"West of Eden: An American Place" by Jean Stein (Random House)

ISBN:  9780812998405 Random House

"West of Eden: An American Place" by Jean Stein (Random House)

Hollywood will always be a mystical land that has a tinge of sadness and even worse, tragedy.  Not for me, mind you.  I lived in Los Angeles for my entire life, and I only know the joy of being in this city.  But then again, I'm one of those rare breeds who was born in Los Angeles, and stayed here as well.  On top of that, I'm not in the entertainment business!  But here, we have the roots of what became a certain type of Los Angeles culture.  Painfully rich, the five families that are profiled in "West of Eden," are mostly iconic families and some (at least to me) obscure.   It may be my nature but I find the obscure always the most interesting.  

Jean Stein, who is very much the queen of the oral history narrative, due to her early masterpiece (with George Plimpton) "Edie" has put together a book that is much more personal or in reality, her backyard.   The book covers five families: The Dohenys, the Selznicks, the Warners, her own family, the Steins (MCA), and the fascinating Jane Garland and her family.   What is interesting about Garland, is that she was not only a rich girl from a Hollywood family, but also quite insane.  What is even more insane was that she had a pair of male nurses: Walter Hopps and Ed Moses.  Hopps was the legendary curator and gallery owner of Ferus, and Moses is a great painter.  Both, are very much rooted in the art world history that is Los Angeles.  How these two eccentrics became a caretaker for Garland is both a fascinating tale, and an amazing map from fine art to the world of films.  

Each chapter (on each family) has a sense of sadness, and the reader is introduced to a world that although rich, is actually a landscape touched by  insecurity, madness, eccentricity, and to me, a perfect example of either an era passing or the death of a family's power and presence.  Those who are fascinated by the works of Truman Capote or F. Scott Fitzgerald, will find this book fascinating.  There is a fascination of watching the wealthy turn into dust - but there is also a beauty of that era, that won't be the same anymore.  There will always be the rich, but due to the American promise of riches and happiness - it is usually a bargain that fails in the end.  You get the wealth, but the happiness tends to unreachable.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tosh Berman's short story "Structure Equals Eros" in the current Pure Lust issue of BLACK SCAT REVIEW

I have a short nine page story in the current issue of Black Scat Review #14.  It is their "Pure Lust" theme book, and I have to say i'm a master of eros.  In fact, the story is called "Structure Equals Eros."  With an illustration by Elizabeth Yoo.  
Down below is the info:  

The first day of Spring is Sunday, March 20th, so get a jump-start on Spring Fever with the “Pure Lust” issue of Black Scat Review.
Over 100 pages of lusty art & fiction by an international roster of artists & writers—featuring Tosh BermanTom BussmannTheodore CarterElna HolstMonika MoriDerek PellEugene SchachtSybil ShwarzenbergMercie Pedro e SilvaYuriy TarnawskyMylene VigerTom Whalen, and Elizabeth Yoo.
Cover art by Giada Cattaneo

One can purchase a copy of the journal/book here: 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Black Wings Has My Angel" by Elliott Chaze (NYRB)

ISBN: 9781590179161 NYRB

"Black Wings Has My Angel" by Elliott Chaze (NYRB)

Fucking and crime are the basis of all classic noir, and clearly the novel, "Black Wings Has My Angel," has that in spades.  Elliot Chaze wrote a noir tale that is basically a definitive frame of what noir is.   A man against a system or himself, and falling for his weakness or the power of the sexual pull.  One's life starts from the bottom, and goes straight down to Hell.  It's a classic premise for a crime narrative, and Chaze's novel is another example of that shadowy world. 

The peaks of heaven are always cash in the pocket and the sexual urge being satisfied.  The beauty of "Black Wings" is that it is written beautifully and there is a tinge of real sadness that comes with the despair.  On the other hand, this book is very much the typical noir literature of the 1950s, but well thought out and written with great skill.   For me, nothing is better than David Goodis' series of novels of the underworld, and this book comes close to that insane landscape, but follows a guide rule to write the practical crime book.  Still, it's a pretty amazing read, and the crime itself is very livid with overtures of the definitive existential angst.   Lovers of noir will love it, and no one will be bored.   Enter and don't be afraid. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

"Sphinx" by Anne Garréta (Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan & Introduction by Daniel Levin Becker)

ISBN: 978-1-941920-09-1 Deep Vellum

"Sphinx" by Anne Garréta (Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan; Introduction by Daniel Levin Becker)   Deep Vellum

A really nice mood piece of writing here.  Anne Garréta gives the nighttime life of Paris and Manhattan a nice smokey touch, as this is a tale of lovers, one is a combination of professor and DJ, and the other lover is an American dancer in Paris.  What we don't know is the gender of either of the two.   Which must have been hell for the translator Emma Ramadan to do, since the French language has very strong genderistic touches to their language.   In all honesty, as I was reading, I was imagining that the lovers were women, and I'm not sure if it was just a stupid knowledge of knowing the author is female, or somehow the nature of the two main characters.   Garréta wrote this novel when she was 25, and she became a member of Oulipo five years after she wrote "Sphinx."   One can sense the playfulness of the language as well as the no gender specific of the two characters, but it's not as experimental as Georges Perec for instance.  The story reads as a doomed love story, a very smart and textured text, but one that conveys the loss of a presence.  

- Tosh Berman

Thursday, March 3, 2016

"I Hate The Internet" by Jarett Kobek (We Heard You Like Books)

ISBN: 9780996421805 We Heard You Like Books
"I Hate The Internet" by Jarett Kobek (We Heard You Like Books, 2016)

San Francisco has always been an odd city to me.  There are many wonderful things about it, but then the technology internet companies moved in, and sort of changed the landscape from the literary beats with great bars to Google world.  Yet the city houses one of the great bookstores in the world, the iconic (rightfully so) City Lights, but alas, the literary tradition does continue on, which is Jarett Kobek's novel "I Hate The Internet."   Yet, the novel doesn't prowl through the streets of Dashell Hammett or Jack Spicer, but the sorry state of Google, Facebook, which is now tattooed on the image of San Francisco.  On the other hand, it can be any city in America that embraces a technology that brings riches to a few, yet can leave a greater population empty - as in desire and promises not full-filled. 

I read very little of contemporary novels, but I have to say Kobek's book is really rooted into the "now."   I have never read a book that is so now, and not only that, it is a great novel.  It is my ideal of fiction writing in which it is about ideas, culture and politics. I imagine if Guy Debord wrote fiction it would be like "I Hate The Internet."  Kobek pretty much describes the dangers of the computer world, and what it promises to be, as in opening up new worlds for the consumer/visitor, but more likely the sole purpose is to either collect your personal information, or sell you something.  It's capitalism, but taken on to another tech level.   

There are characters, that are both real and fictional, or fictional real, but what is interesting to me is when Kobek breaks down the ills which are the American world, that is basically defined by Google and other sites.  Without a doubt, the Internet is quite useful, but there is also a price that goes with it, and in many ways, it is sort of the death of a culture that was once much loved.  Or, at least those who lived a long time, or have a memory of a life before the Net.  Excellent commentary on the American 21st century. 

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

February 29, 2016

February 29

It is almost like sinking into velvet.  If I can stop aging, or hold back the years, so I can totally focus on the day.   There is something beautiful about waking up early in the morning, before dawn, and one starts to paint on canvas with a beautiful young girl in front of you.   As I take a seat, with a persian cat on my lap, I take a brush to express what is in front of me.   People have commented to me that the girls in my paintings are a total mystery, but in fact, they are a mystery to me as well.  Youth is beautiful.  Aging is beautiful.  But since I’m born on February 29, I age not every year, but every four years.

I was approached by a young beauty for my hand in marriage.  I turned her down, because I couldn’t imagine myself being a property of one person, and therefore I had to buy her 12 pairs of gloves for her to hide the fact she doesn’t have an engagement ring.   “Yes”and “No” tend to carry the same amount of responsibility.   She was a stripper with remarkable skill, and the one thing she didn’t do, was to remove her gloves.  I often regret that I made that decision not to marry, because it made me reflect on my slow-pace aging. 

I had the opportunity to make a recording in 1965 called “Put Me Amongst The Girls, ” which wasn’t a hit, probably due to the public’s indifference between the career of a painter and singer.   Again the ugly head of “Yes” and “No” stuck out of the gopher’s hole, allowing fate to make the final decision.   A flip of the coin has always made me nervous at the best of times - at the worst… Well, I follow my desire.

All I know a day without yours truly creating or making something is like death approaching me in a slow cat-like pace.  If I had a tail, I would slowly flick it back and forth, till I capture the moment.   To explain what I do, is like being forced to use a language one doesn’t know.  I paint, I sing, and therefore that is exactly what I am. A gallery sent me a message that they wanted a bio from me.  I wrote back stating “No biographical details.  I’m a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures.  Regards, T.”