March 23, 2001

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On the local front:

Wburg Quarterly updates their content for a new Spring 2001 issue. Once again I am drawn to their ongoing “bookshelf” feature, this time a Brooklyn-centric selection. Subsequently I also found myself enjoying the Suzanne Wise “Stalking Writers” piece. She takes time to ponder a burgeoning writing life in the neighborhood and reflects briefly on the past,to overview famous authors who have graced the humble sidewalks here and then moves on to a few new ones too.

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Speaking of reading lists:

On my list of books this year to conquer is William T.Vollman’s¬†most recent novel The Royal Family. Weighing in at a daunting 780 pages of pure ambitious Vollmanisms, I think he is one of the more overlooked authors of today. Vollman is someone who doesn’t strike you as pining for the limelight,so I’m sure this lack of notoriety leaves him unconcerned, as long as he has the resources to continue the pursuit of writing.

That one fact is why I can almost applaud Mr. Guccione Jr. for sending this man to all faces of the earth, to research and photograph articles for Gear Magazine. While in general I abhor the content in the rest of the magazine,I always splice his articles from the copy we receive at work, for later reading.

This month he reports on his travels to Kazakhstan (he titles it “the bleakest place on earth”) to investigate the health crisis associated with the oil company Tengizchevroil (TCO).The article provides enough conspiracy confirming details to make you want to scream your head off over our said ongoing American “energy crisis”. Vollman’s journalism always concerns its self with the other side,or the smaller side of the story,and here he spends a lot of time trying to get to know the working class people in the area:

“I myself did not have anything against TCO. In fact, my plan was to compare the life of a worker at Tengiz with the life of a municipal worker in Old Town- say,a member of the “Moskva Brigade” of snow shovelers. The snow shovelers all liked me. I photographed them day after day. They told me to bring vodka some evening when their “general” had dismissed them from work, and we could have a party and I could ask all the questions I wanted. But TCO refused to grant me permission to visit their operation, which made my intended comparison rather difficult. So I decided to go to Tengiz with out permission, and see what I could learn outside TCO’s gates. I still didn’t have anything against the company. I was just curious.”

Vollman’s writing can range from the poetic and romantic in his historical novels (he is writing a lengthy ongoing “Seven Dreams” project) to the dark, concrete harsh-reality reporting found in his earlier journalistic work (and currently Gear). While I don’t always agree with his politics (he recently wrote an article for Gear outlining why he is pro-gun ownership)I think the inventive, intelligent and the powerful scope of his prose deserves the attention of anyone willing to be absorbed by his world.

Read a recent interview with Mr. Vollman.

Also read about the sometimes hilarious extremes he went to regarding the start of his writing career in this interview .

Hopefully I will now go on to read a book.