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Saturday, February 19, 2011

A book to keep you in/sane: Giraffes in Hiding – The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack | Smash Cake Magazine

The sweetest birthday gift a writer could ever want.

Giraffes in Hiding – The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack
A review by Marcus Speh

Dear friends, I’ve been to a few places carrying this book of stories. At each site, I opened the book and found an excerpt that perfectly suited the environment and my mood.

For example, I visited a hobo camp near Vladivostok in Russia. The camp was full of shadows of dead hobos. It lifted my mood because they were all smiling. I read to these ghosts from “A Tourist in Siberia”:

In Siberia, the trains are exhausted from the smells of potatoes, onions and sots; and they are never fast enough. Frigid air leaks through the floor reaching for flesh, like knives. The passengers ache for the end of the line. Even those who disembark along the way gaze wistfully at the departing trains. They wait at the stations in suspended animation. What are the awaiting? Reindeer? Uncles? Camels? Nothing is comfortable, neither in nor out. Nobody really hopes for comfort in this terrain. Well, one does, but it’s not expected, even at the terminal. Others would laugh at the concept; well, others always laugh.

I also read parts of this book to my wife who instantly started painting after being blocked for months. This shows that the book is more than a book, it’s a guide to the right side of the brain, a corpus callosum of creativity, a bridge from the dreadful drought to the land of the dead and back. It’ll change you if you like. Here is what I read to my wife from “The Architect’s Play”:

The otiose man is in one of his moods. This morning he awakened with another red mole on his nose. He says the moles are taking over his nose and blames it on poisonous lunar fumes. The moles on the moon on the moon, the jester sings out of tune. That is not funny! says the man. He wants a spire on his tower, an acute scimitar of a spire to spear passing swans. He wants swans for his little Dovey.
The architect will spare no sense. He will create a ladder to curve like a swan’s neck bending into the sea. There will be a yellow gondola at the bottom of the ladder, a gondola to bear them to Tuvalu.

I looked up “lunar fumes”. The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere though. This book, however, does. It even smells like a good book. I also looked up “Tuvalu”. It’s a Polynesian island. Without wanting to go off on a tangent: I’d like to go there. With this book. And if I don’t get to go there, a little like you, at least not right now and perhaps never, this book can be a gondola to get you there at least some of the way.

But I do digress. This is regrettable but if you owned this book as I do, if you bought it, you’d also be prone to tangents and digressions: the book does this to you. It is all over the place, in a good, brainwave-like way.

The book has quotes, too, one by Lily Tomlin and another by Gertrude Stein – two chicks that I really dig, for different reasons of course. And men! There’re also quotes by Woody Allen and by Roger Penrose (admittedly not the manliest of men but we must accept it). The book also has illustrations that don’t look like illustrations. Let me explain: I loathe illustrations. I was introduced to them when I read Balzac’s La Comédie humaine – with engravings by Gustave Doré. I loved the drawings but I felt they took something away from the text much like a movie, no matter how good, takes away from a book it is based on. The illustrations in Giraffes in Hiding aren’t illustrations, though. They were created by fourteen different artists and they are a book of their own inside the book. If anything, they focus the author’s intention.

I live in Berlin where it snows all the time now. So I took the book to the Reichstag and walked up the spire, created by Sir Norman Foster, on top of the building. People followed me with their eyes. They seemed hungry for stories and I was glad I had the book with me. There were many children and I felt a story with animals might be best. At the end of the path, overlooking the city in all its white winter splendor, I opened the book and, thinking of an abandoned space station, I read this out loud from “Blah Blah”:

Nobody knows why the manatee hurled itself headlong off the curb into the oncoming traffic. Officially, the Secret Police don’t know, though of course one never can tell with them. Obviously, I stopped short the instant I noticed the animal, but I couldn’t help tossing the tee into the sky, and when the poor creature fell, it was mangled and inedible. Actually, I recognized it immediately as a mutant side effect of oil spill; its eyes were lopsided and one ear was missing. And you could taste the oil in the air, feel it seeping through the intricate loop-ah-dee-loops of your cerebrella if you hadn’t been lobotomized.

The faces of the parents told me that most of these parents did not like me reading this to their children. Perhaps they did not wish to hear about oil spills? Only the men of the Secret Police which was present of course, smiled and clapped.

Lastly, I traveled to India to comfort a woman who had had quintuplets. She was desperate. I read this to her from the story “What should I do with the babies” because it seemed suitable:

The babies are in the wash. Where else could I put them? Never mind you, now without teeth, memory all over the place, nothing to tell me. Just know I must feed the laboring men. They will come after they’ve herded the animals into barns, pens and stables; they will come stomping in boots like rocks and sit around this table here, tipsy from hunger, wanting moonshine, my breast, waiting to be fed.

and later in the same story:

People say lots of things. If you listen to them you’ll stay under the table with the dogs. Best to put your hands over your ears, I say.

This is a clear sign that there is a lot more in this book than just a book. It might keep you sane. Or it might drive you insane, it really depends where you’re at. But you need to get it to find out.
Giraffes in Hiding – The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack (September 2010) is available from Spuyten Duyvil Press or from Amazon, ISBN 978-1933132839. Novack is also the publisher and editor of Mad Hatters’ Review.

A book to keep you in/sane: Giraffes in Hiding – The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack | Smash Cake Magazine

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