Guilty Banana Monday, Jun 11 2012 


I love bananas. No lie. Alone or as a garnish, a flavoring, a thing to heft, a television trope. In slapstick comedy, in the lowbrow, on the bunch or alone. Without bananas what would we split? We’d have no banana boat song, my third favorite Woody Allen movie wouldn’t exist (well maybe, but it would have been under another title, though undoubtedly less fun), and that incredible 1997 Jenny Piccolo album that shaped so much of my attitude in my teenage years, Information Battle to Denounce the Genocide, would never have been possible without the installation of vicious dictatorships in South America made possible by American corporate moguls seeking to get rich off of, yep, bananas!

Oh, but that last part is actually impossibly tragic isn’t it? Through no fault of the banana itself, the exotic fruit has found itself a lucrative placeholder in the world economy. It’s not necessarily the sort of thing we find ourselves chatting about at whatever local watering hole all that often, but  once or twice in a while book is printed on the matter of bananas, their history and trade, because as is the nature of any commodity powerful enough to shift the global market, powerful and dangerous men are drawn to it, involving in business of stately highs and grim lows. Bananas feed good stories, or so it seems.

Rich Cohen (Sweet and Low, Tough Jews) has penned another odd tale of American History, the somewhat biblically titled The Fish That Ate the Whale. It’s the rare story of Samuel Zemurray, America’s banana king, who made his home here in New Orleans while conquering the world of international fruit trade. While I missed the galley myself (I was slogging through the 200+ pages of cruel dismemberment that garnishes the middle part of 2666 at the time and bananas would have been inappropriate to have on my mind), the mix of international relations, corporate intrigue, local interest, and flat out insurgent violence makes promises for compelling reading. Cohen has been known to cover tales such as these blending skilled research and a clever sense of humor. I’m looking forward for my next chance to pick it up, and even more so for my chance to broach the topic publicly. Where is the venue for this conversation?

Nate Martin over at Room 220 has been kind enough to read and proffer a fine piece of review on Cohen’s book. Look HERE if you are further interested. Recommendations come in high.

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The Work of Lee Kyle, Now at Maple Street Uptown Wednesday, Apr 18 2012 

The other day local artist Lee Kyle was kind enough to stop by the Maple Street Uptown location(s) to drop of some of his work in the form of post and greeting cards. Each card is individually hand printed and packaged by the artist himself. The image content ranges from the tourist oriented, focusing on New Orleans architecture and cuisine, to the more appropriately categorized as  “local interest” cards, which turn the light to what I think of as our ambivalent relationship with certain local, er, pests.

So if you happen to be in the neighborhood doing a little book browsing, take a look at Lee’s stuff while you’re at it. It’s pretty work and painstakingly done, there’s plenty more designs that I’m not posting here to save some mystery of exploration, and, while I hate to close a post on some kind of trite “only in New Orleans” jazz, you really just can’t get them anywhere else. Fact.

New Beginnings, Old Locales, Odd Volumes Tuesday, Apr 10 2012 

Dear You,

Allow me to introduce myself. Clark Allen, 28, most recent addition to the Maple Street Book Shops’ staff, now servicing and, to the best of my ability, curating the used and rare shop. I began working at the used store not quite two months ago, having arrived in New Orleans just a few prior. Having spent a long episode of my life working at a labyrinthine bookstore in California, I made a decision to bid fond farewell to my home and head Southeast to New Orleans, as has been demanded by numerous visits and a lifelong fascination, which I could prattle on about for far too long. In an effort to my personal introduction succinct however, I’ll move on immediately toward my bibliophilic tendencies.

The dive straight into Maple Street’s used and rare shop was exciting. I’d begun my work at the start of a rainy spell, so the creaky old shop, shelves near buckling with volumes to be excavated paired wonderfully with the thunder and lighting, at once unfortunately yielding a slow week but serendipitously giving me the time to explore, familairize, and begin organizing as I see fit. It felt appropriate, so I plucked a used copy of Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances to skim for the good parts I remembered reading a couple of years ago (this has since been sold) between perusing for unusual finds, and it was not long before a few unearthed themselves. Following are what I considered the three most notable discoveries upon my first foray in this old-but-new-to-me store.

First:

It Happened Like This by Daniil Kharms
Largely denied the right to publication in life, Soviet absurdist, Daniil Kharms found his only living acclaim in the world of children’s literature. The little of Kharms’ work I’d previously been familiar with was Today I Wrote Nothing (pub. 2007, more than fifty years after his death), so in finding this 1998 reprint of his children’s work had me lit up. Founder of Oberiu, Kharms work as a children’s author is practically subversive to the none too welcoming of tomfoolery era of Russia in which he penned his work, an assumption I feel confident in making considering his death by starvation incarcerated in Leningrad.

An excerpt:

THE FOUR LEGGED CROW
Once upon a time there was a crow with four legs. To tell the truth, he actually had five legs, but there’s no reason to mention that.

    One day the four-legged crow bought himself some coffee, and he thought, “Well, now I’ve bought myself some coffee but what do I do with it?”
    At that moment, by a stroke of bad luck, a fox came running by.
    He saw the crow and cried out to him, “Hey, you ol’ crow!”
    The crow yelled back at the fox, “You’re an old crow yourself!”
    The fox yelled back at the crow, “And you, crow, are a real pig!”
    At this the crow was so offended he spilled his coffee. The fox ran off. The crow got down on the ground and walked away on his four, or actually five, legs to his horrible house.

(being that I purchased this title for myself, I’ve happily transcribed the rest of the book for anyone interested on my personal blog, here)

Second:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. &  Eric Carle
Clearly, not a particularly rare book, but clean and well cared for first edition signed by Mr. Carle himself is not exactly the type of thing you immediately expect to pull from a section lackadaisically perused by children on a daily basis. I’ve pulled the title and put it behind the counter to prevent the inevitable fate it would have faced, so collectors be aware! It’s safe for your inspection now.

On a side note I’d also like to mention we’ve got a couple of the non-rare, much more affordable editions for those who are just looking to introduce their children to one of the better quality picture books out there for the first time.

Third, and at last:


The Rebellion of the Hanged by B. Traven
Mystery author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, B. Traven’s true identity was never properly discovered, though there are theories.  His works were written in Mexico, published in Germany (hence the image of the German edition I’ve included here) and then translated to English. The idea that the single author was in fact a number of literary pranksters with similar ideologies is the possibility I most favor, although it’s not necessarily the most likely- I just like it. Identity aside, “his” books, all, are adventurous novels with an anarchist lean. The Rebellion of the Hanged chronicles a tale of slave revolt in a Mexican mahogany plantation preceding the Mexican revolution, and it rests on my staff picks shelf, just to your right as you enter the store. Next on my list of his work to overturn is The Death Ship, the story of a New Orleans sailor stranded in Antwerp, but who knows when that will rear its head.

So, there you have a brief introduction to me, and hopefully some insight into a few interests of mine, things I’d be more than happy to discuss in length with you. Hope to see you in the shop soon, and welcome from me to you, and I hope from you to me.

Sincerely, myopically,

-Clark