Book Hunting in San Francisco: Wallace, Wallace Stevens

I love San Francisco. Especially the book stores and thrift stores. The Community Thrift Store in the Mission has been a goldmine for me the last six years and each time I come here I check in and check out with jewels for about $1.50 each. I remember going there and finding the first six issues of NOON for $.50 each. Last year there were two first editions of Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist and one of his The Hundred Brothers. Ardvark Books in the Castro also has great finds. The first two days of my trip there was, bookwise, delightful.

-from The Community Thrift Store

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – First Edition. Mint. This is the first Foster-Wallace book I’ve ever bought.

The Crossing – Hardcover. Fourth Printing. I’ve read this book out loud to someone, even the Spanish. After Blood Meridian and Suttree, I think it’s his best book. Cowboy sees the testing of the atomic bomb in New Mexico. Did you know such a scene is in this book? I already have a copy, but I often like to give books as gifts. My friend Irvin was very thankful and remarked on the deckle edges.

The Quarterly #18 – A rare find. The all-women issue. Even though it doesn’t say so. Three stories from Christine Schutt’s Nightwork.

Home Land – Lipstye’s second novel.

The Wings of the Dove – Paperback to coincide with the film release. The typeface was carried over from previous editions. And it has James’s Preface. I read the first few pages at daybreak. This is from the description of Kate Croy:

She had stature without height, grace without motion, presence without mass. Slender and simple, frequently soundless, she was somehow always in the line of the eye–she counted singularly for its pleasure. (32-33)

A nice lesson at dawn on characterization and prose rhythm and sss’s.

Wallace Stevens – By Frank Kermode. This was my most exciting find. First, it was in the fiction, yet poetry was the supreme fiction for Stevens. It a Faber and Faber book and not so easy to find ($16 used on Amazon). Slight in page count, it is the perfect introduction to Stevens and one of the best books I’ve read on him. Kermode writes with a reverence for his subject and without long-winded proclamations boils down Stevens’s art into swift, potent explications:

he…was something of an all-around man, unlike the philosophers of the East; like Horatio rather than Hamlet, illustrating the difference not between those who meditate and those who act but also…’between the man who can talk about pictures and the man who can afford to buy them.’ (18)

The accretion of footnotes from letters, remembrances, and the verse, as well as how the essays in The Necessary Angel relate to his poetry are perfectly placed. Heartbreaking is an account of a lecture and reading he gave at Harvard. As he began to read his poems (only reading those not yet published, no favorites from Harmonium), some people began to leave, making some disturbance as they shuffled out of the room. He announced the next poem he would read: “As You Leave the Room.”

-from Ardvark Books

The Collected Works of Paul Valéry – Dialogues – This is a very exciting find. Another rare item, in perfect condition for $7. This volume of the famous Bollingen Series has two prefaces by Wallace Stevens. William Gass list one of the dialogues, Eupalinos, or The Architect, as one of his fifty literary pillars. In it Socrates and Phaedrus have a chat in a sort of afterlife. They expound about thought, beauty, and the artistic struggle:

One does indeed feel the presence of a person, the first flower of a woman, the harmony of a charming being. It vaguely awakens a memory which cannot reach its goal; and this beginning of an image of which you possess the perfection, does not fail to incite and confound the soul. (82)

I’m almost halfway through this dialogue and look forward to sharing more thoughts on this in the future as there is scant information about this wonder on the internet.

The World Within the Word – I was reading this from the library just before I left New York and had only half-finished. Like magic it appeared after I moved another book out of the way on the fiction shelf. There are excellent articles on Valéry, Faulkner, Malcolm Lowery, suicide, as well as the seminal 60-page essay on Gertrude Stein, called “Gertrude Stein and the Geography of the Sentence.” Also notable is the lecture called “Carrots, Noses, Snow, Rose, Roses,” a brilliant detailing what happens when “language is ontologically transformed in the direction of poetry.” One kernel: “The poet struggles to keep his words from saying something, although, like the carrot, they want to go to seed.” (297)

Travesty – Paperback. Are you ready to read this for Big Other’s book club in October? Take a line of John Hawkes’s from anywhere: “So you think that my brain is sewn with the sutures of your psychosis.” (120) A few weeks before, I was on lunch hour near The Strand and something told me to look at the dollar bins, though I didn’t really want to. Sitting on the end of one of the carts was The Lime Twig, another of Gass’s literary pillars.

2 thoughts on “Book Hunting in San Francisco: Wallace, Wallace Stevens

  1. Lord help me … except for THE WORLD WITHIN THE WORD, I have read none of these. I did just order more Valery though not this one and very much would like to read at some point Eupalinos, or The Architect. need I point out that I am thoroughly envious?

    • The prefaces by Stevens really celebrate that dialogue. One of the biggest conjunctions of this trove is that Kermode extensively quotes from those prefaces in his book, while Gass also celebrates it in his Valery essay. And I would venture Gass read those prefaces closely – they both mention Valery having to limit the size of the dialogue to precisely 115,800 letters, so it would fit in a folio format with the correct pagination. McCarthy also used a quote from Valery for Blood Meridian, the “blood and time” quote – it is from the dialogue “The Yalu,” “…a sprawling meditation on the difference between Eastern and Western culture.”

      Also, the prefaces by Stevens were the last thing he wrote before he died, except for a poem or two – this according to his executor, not The Judge.

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