If you’re ever in downtown Salt Lake City with some serious book-reading blues, drop by Golden Braid Books (151 south/500 east on the grid) and pay me a visit. Chances are I’ll be chillin’, maybe giving someone an aura reading, maybe finding another collection of Native American poetry to bury my nose in, maybe even writing a pithy limerick on my third cup of coffee. (This is a conservative estimate of my activities, mind you.)
Why should you come to the Braid?
There’s a heavy conscious-living vibe for those of you wishing to seek refuge from the corporate zeitgeist, and most people who walk in for the first time immediately declare that the Braid is the single greatest place they’ve ever been to, and passionately compare it to a modern Shambala (well, something to that effect). Caffeinated five-star reviews aside, it’s just a really cool place to hang out. If you’ve ever been to the Phoenix & Dragon bookstore in Atlanta on Roswell Rd., it’s kind of like that, but with more space and less energy crystals.
One of the coolest things we do at the Braid is write little book ‘recommends’ and slip them between the covers of our most beloved reads. The reviews are glued to colored construction paper and cut to size, so that our favorite books look like bright flags of alluring readability amid the shelves. Because these blurbs can only be so long, this post won’t take more than a couple minutes to read (I promise!). Just imagine that you’re in a bookstore aisle, perusing paperbacks, instead of just reading this on your phone or whatever.
*The views, opinions and conclusions expressed in the following reviews do not necessarily represent those of the author Julian Mihdi…uh wait, yes they do.* 😀
Adventures of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
You are holding in your hands perhaps the premiere example of picaresque literature in the Western canon–but you probably knew that already! Don Quixote de la Mancha, himself, however, is so much more than a literary character. In fact, he’s the ultimate Rorschach test; who he is entirely depends on who’s reading. You can see Quixote as a lovable idiot or a heroic saint, and in either case you’d be incontrovertibly correct. Some critics have even said that there are as many Don Quixotes as there are people who have read the book. In that case, you have the opportunity to create your own Knight of la Mancha! Who will Don Quixote be for you?
The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov
If it weren’t for novels like this, it would perhaps be controversial to note that, of all the wonderful novelists who have passed through the English language, it was a Russian emigre (obsessed with butterflies) that plucked its deepest notes. James Joyce kind of descended from Mt. Olympus, it’s true, and yes, prose-masters like Melville, Poe and Faulkner independently wove their own modes of voice & vernacular into the English tradition…but, this Golden Braid writer is confident that none of them quite reached the heights of peak-Nabokov. Before I launch into a blur of giddy analogies, it’s important to note that Nabokov was a synesthetic–every word had its own rich color, which, in practice, made the writer something of a painter. No one has made our language sing quite like Nabokov. In his hands the written word is molded into something whose pure artistry transcends language. Peak-Nabokov is an overwhelming virtuoso, rhapsodizing the details of life in its heartbreaking minutiae while rendering humanity in the full color of its layered ironies, seemingly exempt from the limitations of human expression, capturing in page after page an impossible drop of mercury and displaying it to the reader in a clear vial. Reading The Gift is like attending a Chopin concert live: in this writer’s opinion, it–not Lolita–finds Nabokov in the full bloom of his linguistic charisma. In fact, the plot is almost secondary to style in this novel…and the plot is really awesome. The writing is so good that, at first, your rational mind might rebel against its crystalline clarity. The cognitive dissonance will come and go…just relax and let the paragraphs wash over you successively. It will make a trip to the movie theater seem tawdry in comparison! When The Gift concludes, you’ll feel like you’ve descended from a very tall mountain, and it might be hard to put into words.
I’ll put it like this: the world’s finest wine is almost too good to drink. Bonne sante!
Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna
Although his premature passing cost him a peek into the wonders of the internet era, Terence McKenna is a true luminary of the Information Age. He was an ethnobotanist, anthropologist, and mouthpiece of the Logos; he’s also psychonaut royalty, and his myriad talks on DMT and hyperspace comprise a YouTube gold-mine. Food of the Gods is a product of his peculiar genius. The sheer breadth of knowledge and research in this volume is typically astounding. Some of my favorite talking points in FoTG include McKenna’s theory that psilocybin mushrooms were the secret sacrament of the Eleusinian Mysteries as well as the elusive Soma of the Vedas, in addition to his scathing history of how coffee, sugar and alcohol became the drugs du jour of Western culture. And don’t worry, he delves into the psycho-chemical, shamanic magic of ayahuasca, too. He is Terence McKenna, after all!
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If an entire town knew about a murder before it happened but did nothing to prevent it, does every member of that community share responsibility for the incident? With the rarefied, Nobel-worthy skill to which his readers have become accustomed, Marquez bewitches us into witnessing a very avoidable crime which, nonetheless, is consummated with full and public transparency. Tragic, yes, but Chronicle captivates you more through its sociological puzzles than its pathos. There are a lot of things I love about this story. For one, it’s very brief, so that the whole dark affair flashes before your eyes without very much of a commitment on your part (I read the entire thing in our country’s friendly skies). Marquez’s genius lies not only in the book’s challenging contradictions, but in the execution of the narrative itself. Presented as a fictional piece of journalism, the narrator includes quotes and testimonials from the various townspeople, most of them lamenting their foreknowledge and describing in precise detail where they were on the fateful day. The narrative jumps out of order, so that you intimately understand the pretext and fall-out of the murder long before you ever witness the blood spill. Personally, I think the small-town “groupthink” is applicable to any scale, and I don’t doubt that Marquez had this in mind when he crafted Chronicle. Brief, lyrical, bizarre and a tad ‘chimerical’, this slim little novel is sure to leave a heavy impression and, more than anything, is probably a perfect gateway to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s longer works. In the meantime, always be suspicious of two guys with pig knives wrapped in newspaper!