LIKE SHAKING HANDS WITH GOD: A CONVERSATION ABOUT WRITING with Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer

Moderated by Ross Klavan, photos by Art Shay
(Seven Stories Press) $15

Why on earth anyone would cough up $15 for this thin volume (64 pages, including photos) featuring two transcribed conversations between Lee Stringer, the talented author of Grand Central Winter, and Kurt Vonnegut, author of many fine books, all of them written decades ago, is almost beyond comprehension. Until, of course, you remember the huge number of people who flock to hear Vonnegut speak every time he comes into town, even though he will repeat the same stories he repeated last time.

The function of this book seems to be to cash in on Vonnegut's popularity with the masses. More ghoulishly, it banks on the future--that is, Vonnegut's impending death. After all, at 78, Vonnegut is creeping closer to the last pages of his life--why not make a little memento mori for collectors? The poor quality of the conversation, marred by Vonnegut's feel-good ramblings, led me to this cynical conclusion. The foreword claims that the reader will "feel [God] in the writings--and the talk--of both these men." Then Vonnegut is recorded making statements like: "Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone.' [Applause]." Aha--God is actually Jack Handy! Lee Stringer, however, manages his end of things valiantly, and says many intelligent things that would be better delivered in a magazine article. Photos weren't included in the galley I was given, but the final book will include many Vonnegut close-ups and smiles all around--a memento of a time long past. NOVELLA CARPENTER


EXOTICA: FABRICATED SOUNDSCAPES IN A REAL WORLD by David Toop

(Serpent's Tail) $19.99

David Toop has an unusual mind. His books jump from subject to subject in a concentrated stream of disjointed but somehow connected images. The effect can get disconcerting and his tangents too abstracted, but no other music writer goes the places he goes. In 1995's Ocean of Sound, all about ambient music and the accompanying aesthetic, he jumped from Sun Ra to Debussy to Bugs Bunny with the impatient curiosity of a channel-surfing child. And yet, where in other books such brief mentions would be no more than soundbites, David Toop successfully distills his subjects down to their essence.

In David Toop's mind, it's logical to start a book with his wife's suicide, jump to his African travel diaries, then to a transcript of a conversation he had with Lassie about Varese, Italy. That's how he starts his latest book, Exotica, before beginning his careful delineation of that previously ignored musical genre. Although exotica has survived as just another ironic instrument in the hipster's postmodern arsenal, David Toop attempts to revive it with a straight face, making it understandable by placing it in its context.

Exotica includes passages on lounge luminaries like Les Baxter and Martin Denny, but Toop once again manages to extend his radar beyond the obvious. In addition to including obscure personal hero Van Dyke Parks, Toop shows exotica's big influence on heavyweights like Duke Ellington and Brian Wilson. The book's only regrettable aspect is its failure to cover contemporary exotica-influenced music, from Euro-trash favorite Stereolab to the incomparably twisted Tipsy. Instead of showing the progress, he leaves you hanging in the jungle, dangling from a vine. David Toop would probably agree--hearing Tipsy's psycho-lounge album Trip Tease as the soundtrack for MTV's Real World Hawaii--that today's exotica is electronic and everywhere. PHILIP GUICHARD


LOST AND FOUND

OF WALKING IN ICE by Werner Herzog

Translated by Marje Herzog and Alan Greenberg
(Jonathan Cape, 1991) Out of print

My recent interest in Werner Herzog was inspired by my love of Harmony Korine's work. I'd seen interviews with Korine where he touts the German's cinematic endeavors; he even cast Mr. Herzog in his new film, julien donkey-boy.

I'd heard it was hard to find Herzog's books of prose and was somewhat surprised to find this book on my first attempt at a used book store. While reading a few passages each night, I also rented videos of Herzog's work to get a fast education on this man who was hated by his own country, and had a nearly murderous relationship with his frequent star Klaus Kinski.

In 88 pages, Herzog documents his walking trip in the winter of 1974 from Munich to Paris to visit historian Lotte Eisner, who was seriously ill. The trip took three weeks, often in stormy conditions. This book has fewer of the odd touches of his movies, offering instead a more documentary-style tone. Skip through the meandering descriptions of how sore his feet are in favor of Herzog's amusing takes on befuddled townsfolk and the places where they drink. On many of the nights, Herzog finds abandoned huts to sleep in and keep up this diary (first published in 1978). Near the end, he begins to speak to himself and seems to be going crazy with visions and strange thoughts, some of which I recognized as parts of later films. This is the most entertaining part of the book and it ends too quickly. At least we have the movies. KEVIN SAMPSELL

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