BOOK FOR A CRATE-DIGGING VINYL SNOB
How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life (2000)
by John Fahey
Drag City Books, $15.00
Do you have one of those uncles who has more square-footage of used records than he has money in the bank? Does he sometimes wonder aloud what America’s premier fingerstyle guitar luminary thinks about the films of Michelangelo Antonioni? Or the ways in which folk festivals approximate fascistic regimes? Even if the answer to all these questions is no, this is the tome with all the answers. John Fahey revolutionized the way the acoustic guitar is treated in American music, and he was a notable collector of rare vinyl and a notorious crank. This is his truth-stretching memoir—one “memory” revolves around Fahey’s participation in various suburban street-gangs, which is almost certainly total horseshit—was published by the record label Drag City, home of avant-literary weirdoes Smog and Will Oldham. Score obscurity points by nabbing up a first edition.
BOOK FOR A COUSIN WHO WEARS “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” T-SHIRTS AND PLAYS MAGIC, THE GATHERING
The Occult: A History (1973)
by Colin Wilson
This is a fairly tall glass of Kool-Aid (especially the part about the moon’s moving closer to earth and causing the mythological flood and also making early humans nine feet tall because of the shift in gravity), but if you take a couple sips, you’ll be in for a long weird haul. Colin Wilson spins a freaky web of interconnectedness revolving around something he calls “Faculty X” and its various permutations in what we have come to call “Occult knowledge”—the iChing, Tarot, Scientology, alchemy, etc. But it isn’t a New Age-ey book of spells and crystal diagrams—it’s a serious (sorta) academic history about expanded consciousness. And you can help your cousin score freaky points in the lunch room, or by getting him kicked out of Sunday school once and for all. Either way, win.
FILM FOR A FLANNERY O’CONNOR OBSESSIVE
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2003)
dir. Andrew Douglas
BBC Films DVD, $20.00
This BBC documentary has a relatively simple premise: a film crew follows alternative country singer Jim White as he buys a junker for a couple hundred bucks and drives around the back roads of the American south talking to people. The result is a transcendental piece of Southern Gothic poetry. The color palate is grey, the coffee is bad, and the music is gnarled. Johnny Dowd—a singer who makes Tom Waits sound like Dean Martin—sits in a junkyard and sings a murder ballad: “There’s a body in the bedroom / Another one in the hall.” Other notable scenes include an interview with author Harry Crews about the proper way to bury the corpse of a possum (eyes pointed down), haggling over the purchase of a light-up Jesus lawn statue, a nighttime river baptism, and diner-discourse about Hell. Despite the fact that it’s a film made by a crew of Europeans, it never falls into easy answers or cliché History Channel-style proclamations about the “nature of the American South.” It presents its subject with the great dignity and complexity of one of O’Connor’s stories.
POEMS FOR A POET WHO ONLY READS NEW POETRY OR SOMEONE WHO REALLY LIKES PEPSI
The Sonnets (1973)
This collection somehow still manages to rankle, surprise, push poetry buttons—and it’s forty years old. Had it been published yesterday, it would seem futuristic but also nestle comfortably alongside the new Susan Wheeler collection Meme and everything by CA Conrad. This is both a testament to Berrigan’s influence (like The Velvet Underground & Nico launched a thousand garage bands, The Sonnets launched a thousand small presses) and to it’s reverberating significance in the ongoing “poetry conversation” (barf).
One last plug—here’s the entry for 1962 on the Chronology at the beginning of his Collected Poems, edited by Alice Notley and his sons Anselm and Edmund: “Finished his master’s thesis, ‘The Problem of How to Live as Dealt with in Four Plays by George Bernard Shaw.’ Upon receiving his MA from the University of Tulsa, he returned it with the note, ‘I am the master of no art.’ Met Kenneth Koch during Koch’s office hours at Columbia. Took one semester of classic Greek at Columbia, earned money writing papers for Columbia students. Met and married Sandra Alper in New Orleans over the course of a weekend, traumatic difficulties ensuing with Sandy’s family. Began writing The Sonnets.”
James Franco, put your money into making THAT movie. It should star Will Ferrell.
POEMS FOR PRECOCIOUS AND EMOTIONAL TEENS
The Duino Elegies (2001)
Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Edward Snow
North Point Press, $11.00
Know any moody eighteen-year-olds who are too smart/nerdy for their own good and also interested in being writers? Maybe they’re studying German? Or even if they’re not, get them a new translation of the DuinoElegies. (And it’s pronounced Rhyner—lest the precocious teen correct you.) Don’t be surprised if they retire to some magnificent cold castle to eschew eating and drinking in order to write as brilliantly as Rilke.
POEMS FOR SUSPICIOUS ADULTS, AMONG OTHERS
Words for Empty and Words for Full (2010)
University of Pittsburgh Press, $14.00
Know anyone who is all-grown-up, but will only accept sincere emotion if it is mostly wrapped in a sarcastic-funny-contemporary bacon? Bob Hicock’s Words for Empty and Words for Full has enough of the right kind of vitamin for anyone.
A NOVEL FOR AT LEAST ONE PERSON’S NEPHEW
Know a nineteen year old nephew who says he really wants to “get in to” vinyl, smokes clove cigarettes, and claims Thomas Pynchon as his favorite writer even though he never finished The Crying of Lot 49? Get them Tom McCarthy’s C.
STORIES FOR SOMEONE WHO IS CURIOUS ABOUT EMOTIONS, YOUTH AND THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE AMERICAN WEST
Claire Vaye Watkins
Know anyone who loves brilliantly written short stories about confused young people or people who are confused by young people? If they also happen to be fascinated with deserts, casinos, housing booms, ghost mining towns, ruminations on the Manson family, and just about everything else that makes Nevada a pretty decent metaphor for our country at the moment, get them Claire Vaye Watkins Battleborn.
POEMS FOR A CERTAIN KIND OF FATHER
The Abundance of Nothing (2012)
Dad-Rock Poems (a book for your father, who called recently to let you know how much he’s really starting to dig “The Wilco”).
POEMS FOR GENERAL PETRAEUS
How the Losers Love What’s Lost (2012)
Patrick Ryan Frank
Four Way Books, $12.00
Should he happen to have made your X-Mas list, this might be a good choice.