Staff Picks from the Green Table: October

Literati bookseller John on his instructively unsettling picks

Photo by Mike Gustafson

Each month, a different Literati Bookstore staff member curates a table of favorite reads and recommendations. For October, Event Manager John Ganiard selected nine distinctly destabilizing favorites.

See John talk about these titles in the video below.

Video by Ifeyinwa Arinze

October got me thinking about, well, the general spookiness we associate with the month, and then I realized that a lot of my favorite literary moments involve, if not exactly the standard fare of spooky and scary, then certainly the uncomfortable.

But that’s a broad term, a feeling with a lot of latitude, so this is a selection of books that at different times and in different ways made me feel unease. I think books should always do that to us — should make us encounter what we do not expect, and would not otherwise seek out. — John

Grove Press (1/11/1994)

Blood and Guts in High School, by Kathy Acker

“Even if we die // If we have to / become monsters // and / everyone / hates us, // we have to read the book be- / cause it will teach us how to / avoid the alligator’s jaws, the / wolves who wait in the forest, / the huge snakes, and how to be- / come birds.”

New York Review of Books (3/19/2013)

Speedboat, by Renata Adler

“We may win this year. We may lose it all. It is not going as well as we thought. Posterity, anyway, does not know everything. The simplest operations of life — voting in booths, filling out returns, remembering whether or not one has just taken a pill — are very difficult. Jim leads an exemplary life and I can’t cook. As is clear from the parking regulations, however, there are situations in which you are not entitled to stop.”

Picador USA (9/1/2009)

2666, by Roberto Bolano

“If it were possible to convey what one feels when night falls and the stars come out and one is alone in the vastness, and life’s truths (night truths) begin to march past one by one, somehow swooning or as if the person out in the open were swooning or as if a strange sickness were circulating in the blood unnoticed. What are you doing, moon, up in the sky? asks the little shepherd in the poem. What are you doing, tell me, silent moon? Aren’t you tired of plying the eternal byways? The shepherd’s life is like your life. He rises at first light and moves his flock across the field. Then, weary, he rests at evening and hopes for nothing more. What good is the shepherd’s life to him or yours to you? Tell me, the shepherd muses, [...]where is it heading, my brief wandering, your immortal journey? Man is born into pain, and being born itself means risking death, said the poem. And also: But why bring to light, why educate someone we’ll console for living later? And also: If life is misery, why do we endure it? And also: This, unblemished moon, is the mortal condition. But you’re not mortal, and what I say may matter little to you. And also, and on the contrary: You, eternal solitary wanderer, you who are so pensive, it may be you understand this life on earth, what our suffering and sighing is, what this death is, this last paling of the face, and leaving Earth behind, abandoning all familiar, loving company. And also: What does the endless air do, and that deep eternal blue? What does this enormous solitude portend?”

Liverlight (2/7/2017)

The Twenty Days of Turin, by Giorgio De Maria

“Even those infamous contributions, those dialogues across the ether that were later purged by the Library, helped break that cycle of loneliness in which our citizens were confined. Or rather they helped to furnish the illusion of a relationship with the outside world: a dismal cop-out nourished and centralized by a scornful power bent only on keeping people in their state of continuous isolation. The inventors of the Library knew their trade well!”

Peguin Books (11/17/2015)

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

“The terror of being judged sharpens the memory: it sends an inevitable glare over that long-unvisited past which has been habitually recalled only in general phrases. Even without memory, the life is bound into one by a zone of dependence in growth and decay; but intense memory forces a man to own his blameworthy past. With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man’s past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame.”

Farrar Straus and Giroux (6/24/2014)

The Silence of Animals, by John Gray

“If there is anything unique about the human animal it is that it has the ability to grow knowledge at an accelerating rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience […] Unlike scientific knowledge, the restraints of civilized life cannot be stored on a computer disc. They are habits of behavior, which once broken are hard to mend. Civilization is natural for humans, but so is barbarism.”

Farrar Straus and Giroux (3/27/2012)

Double Shadow, by Carl Phillips

“Like / signs of struggle in a field where nothing / stirs, I think / to be useless doesn’t have to mean / not somehow mattering.”

“It’s not a perverse desire to be disturbed; it is instead both a recognition that heightened vision can’t occur without disturbance and a realistic understanding of the world as a place where pleasure and its opposite forever coexist.”

Melville House (1/17/2017)

Glaxo, by Hernan Ronsino

You can read this breathtaking and ominous work in a single evening, but you will inclined to spend then next four days re-reading each of its four temporally disjointed sections and untangling each deception and each double-cross, each slight and each indignity, each truth and each falsehood. Ronsino has crafted and eerie historical timeline of his country underneath something like a domestic fable, but it of course also serves as something more — a dark & timeless examination of how man’s small-scale cruelties and petty jealousies mirror the churning destruction of his historical movements.

New Directions (11/8/2016)

The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald

A narrator that is and is not Sebald takes a walking tour of the coast of Suffolk, but what we mostly receive of it are his serious meditations on Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial (and Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson”), holiday towns in disrepair, the fate of war dead remains on forgotten battlegrounds, the cultivation of silkworms, the legacy of Roger Casement, and much more as he, ghostlike, glides along the coast. Filled w/ allusive, often spectral photographs, Mark O’Conner has commented in The New Yorker that within Sebald’s elliptical prose are stirring narratives of “shame and historical occlusion.” This is a work beyond the plotted narrative, featuring a voice of moral inquiry and historical consciousness.

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