Cometbus #56 a Bestiary of Booksellers
Living as we do in the remote wild of Kansas sometimes we want nothing more than a city story to escape the routine of weather and farm chores and quiet. We want Augie March or we want Joan Didion's lost LA or the Savage Detectives; maybe we want Quiet Days in the Clichy (because the quiet I speak of here is different than Miller's shades of Paris grey).
A Bestiary of Booksellers is a New York story but it's not Jim Carroll and it's not Woody Allen. It's a New York story I can relate to, the kind of story you feel "gets" you as much as you get it (is that what they call a half truth?) Reading about the feral lives of New York City booksellers while sitting by the window as the chickens peck in the snow and the big hereford bull calls to his herd by the trout pond is like listening to the Carter Family or reading the Foxfire Books in Bushwick--escapism, but a healthy kind, a nourishing kind.
The picked library sales and charismatic assholes, the tough risers, those of odd-shaped ambition, the dollar racks and storage loot, these things are a world foreign to us (who sell our books out of a farmhouse) but it's not that foreign. I read about the hustle and about the hunt for true love (because this is a love story too) and I get that. I get the grim, stormy characters because I know that kind (we're just distanced from them; geographically, I mean. They can't come in full of Hulk Smash and break a chair over the Pioneers Press work-table but I like the idea that they have done that/might do it again).
Bestiary is a sad story too because cities change and people get old or disappear and because great things are going away all the time, but it's also such a part of my particular culture it can't help but feel good (in a decidedly nonfeelgood way). If I remember right, in his Spirit of St. Louis, Aaron ended the story with the words "Fuck life." Of course like any story with enough blown opportunities and shit luck and people who live ungently there's a bit of "Fuck life" to this one too but what we're left with is something better. Or easier, more satisfying. What this story says can't be summed up in two words but you (you being me, at least) walk away feeling like maybe it's time to get that "every day I'm hustlin'" tattoo after all and that maybe the hustle is as good and as sweet and as funny as you want it to be (this book is Aaron's funniest, to be sure; which sounds reductive, sorry). Or maybe it's just good to read about cramped rent-control apartments and tall buildings and dickish city folk without having to share the same space as them. Whatever it is, these are the things I'm left with having read this excellent book. -AG