The Random Walk

Every day in May of 2020, I posted a randomly selected pair of books from my personal library in a series I called the Random Walk. I’ve since removed all those posts from the archives to collect them here in a single page.

After completing the series, I wrote a short essay on chance operations, which you can find here.

(Some dead links still lurk amongst the posts, which I will try to fix when I can.)

❧ May 1st

looking for spinoza by antonio damasio and the first salute by barbara tuchman


Two books chosen completely at random from around the house. How random? I generated two hexagrams to select the shelves (24 and 37), then ran a number generator (1–36, 1–8) to select a book on each shelf (29, 2).

❧ May 2nd

Lu chi the art of writing and joanne kyger as ever selected poems

12:45 I found the Lu Chi (trns Sam Hamill) at the late great Sixth Chamber in 1998.

23:3 The Joanne Kyger was part of a big haul from City Lights in 2002. I love City Lights, of course, but whenever I’ve visited SF, I prefer Green Apple.

❧ May 3rd

collected poems by paul goodman and crime and punishment by dostoevsky

14:48 Better known as the author of Growing Up Absurd, he was a medium-well poet when raw was the rage.

30:14 This is the Monas translation. Coulson is good, too. Garnett, though loose, is always lively. You must do everything you can to avoid Pevear/Volokhonsky: not only sloppy but drab and bloodless.

❧ May 4th

an oulipo primer by warren motte and antologica poetica by federico garcia lorca

13:30 OuLiPo is one of several core inspirations for this series, so of course it seems significant that this book showed up. Seems.
50:12 One of my wife’s books from her long shelf of Spanish literature. Verde viento. Verdes ramas.

❧ May 5th

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan and the Compact OED

25:10 Such a gentle surrealist. Like Brian Wilson, he just wasn’t made for these times. (Speaking of yesterday’s OuLiPo, I wrote this brief note 17 years ago.)

63:15 I’m still amazed I landed my copy of the Compact OED for almost nothing. This is a cornerstone of my library.

a page of the Compact OED showing nine pages on a single page in extremely tiny print

❧ May 6th

In Europe's name by Timothy Garton Ash and Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman

37:7, 29:17

❧ May 7th

Tao Teh Ching translated by John C H Wu and A Field Guite to the Natural World of the Twin Cities

43:2, 49:3

(49:3 is a rare example of a misshelved book. It should be across the house with the other guide books, but I used it as filler so the shelf would look nice in the background of a video call. And then I forgot it was there. Sign of the times.)

❧ May 8th

The Dead by James Joyce and The Death of Picasso by Guy Davenport

62:9, 47:14

❧ May 9th

Storm by George R Stewart and The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

55:11 Storm is largely responsible for the practice of formally naming tropical storms. Such a clean, sharp writer. I highly recommend Earth Abides and Names on the Land as well.
3:13 This was a crucial book when I was a typographer. And Bringhurst is an excellent poet.

❧ May 10th

El reino de este mundo by Alejo Carpentier and Flower and Hand by WS Merwin

52:1, 23:29

❧ May 11th

The Cantos of Ezra Pound and Angelica Lost and Found by Russell Hoban

28:22 Poor old fool. Bold but deranged scholarship. Such hubris. Tempus tacendi, Nuncle. (O but what an ear!)
32:13 Hoban’s last novel, and one of the few I haven’t read. I’m saving it: there won’t be any new ones, and you can only read something for the first time once.

❧ May 12th

A Dictionary of Euphemisms and other Doubletalk and Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition 400–1400

4:1 Gift to my father from his sister, my aunt. He loved dictionaries (and spoke seven languages, the bastard).
5:1 Part of my life-long self-guided tour of Medieval history. During lunch breaks at shitty temp gigs in the ’90s, I’d take the skyway to graze the stacks and surf bibliographies.

❧ May 13th

Possession by AS Byatt and Metamorphosis and other Stories by Franz Kafka translated by Michael Hofmann

1:7, 26:3

❧ May 14th

Four Essays by Montaigne and The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald

62:26, 32:20

❧ May 15th

Ulysses by James Joyce and The Book of Evidence by John Banville

21:30, 25:20 Two Irish writers in Vintage International editions.

❧ May 16th

Terpsichore in Sneakers Post-Modern Dance by Sally Barnes and Non-Places an Introduction to Supermodernity by Marc Augé

4:22 The world my wife moves in, and what moves her, as choreographer and mover.
19:11 As part of my concentration in college, I studied the impact of public and private spaces on culture. This book is about the modern proliferation of spaces that are nothing and nowhere.

❧ May 17th

The Voyage of the Argo by Apollonius of Rhodes and The Authors' Book by the Macmillan Company

15:47, 61:8 The Authors’ Book was Macmillan’s style book for authors. A history of the company, a summary of the publication process, instructions on how to format a MS, and a glossary of terms. From when my father worked there in the ’50s.

❧ May 18th

Black Box by Erin Belieu and The Twentieth Century by Hans Kohn

11:14 I’ve been a fan of Erin Belieu since her first book, Infanta.
57:5 Should be called “The Twentieth Century So Far,” since it came out in 1949. (Another Macmillan book, which had been lurking quietly for years — and is now the newest member of my towering TBR pile…)

❧ May 19th

Tatlin! by Guy Davenport and Brother Cadfael's Penance by Ellis Peters

48:15 Shelf 48 is Davenport Central. (nb and tmi: I’ve done some reshelving since starting this Random Walk, so the contents of Shelf 47 have shifted one cubby to the right.)
31:19 I loved the TV series, but the books really are so much better.

❧ May 20th

Bleak House by Charles Dickens and How Nations Behave by Louis Henkin


❧ May 21st

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots by Calvert Watkins and Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

3:4, 64:18

❧ May 22nd

From So Simple a Beginning by Charles Darwin and Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eight Centuries by Ramsay MacMullen

33:25, 36:2

I tried commenting on these, but I got talking about dowries, genocide, potlatches, and fire, with stupid phrases like disastrous attempts at self-domestication; girl’s gotta have it; apex scavenger; chimp with a dayplanner…

Fuck it. Draw your own connections.

❧ May 23th

The Rise of Universities by CH Haskins and Shamanism by Mircea Eliade

5:13, 42:7

Today’s books represent two life-long preoccupations of mine. (Because I’m more hedgehog than fox, I actually see them, like yesterday’s books, as aspects of my single life-long preoccupation…)

❧ May 24th

The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath and Her Name was Lola by Russell Hoban

28:17, 21:13

❧ May 25th

Mawrdew Czgowchwz by James McCourt and The Mathematical Sublime by Mark Scroggins

17:16 Pronounced Mardu Gorgeous. Such a fun book, and exactly the sort of eccentric thing NYRB is so good at rescuing from obscurity.
16:24 (Click here for a dyspeptic divagation on one of the blurbs on the back cover.)

❧ May 26th

On Bullshit by Harry Frankfort and Plato's The Republic

29:19, 55:5 No comment.

❧ May 27th

The Vineland Papers edited by Green, Grenier, and McCaffery and Aion by CG Jung

22:13, 44:6

From a certain angle, this is so me. I could have carefully chosen seven important books for last week’s challenge. But 62 books (two a day all month), picked completely at random, seem to be working just as well at sketching an outline of my identity.

❧ May 28th

The Face of New York by Andreas Feininger and Susan Lyman and The Tulip by Anna Pavord

45:5, 16:5 Tulips and New Amsterdam. (The NYC book was published in 1954. Absolutely amazing photos.)

❧ May 29th

Dust by Joseph Amato and Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction by JD Salinger

2:19, 22:21

❧ May 30th

The Music of Failure by Bill Holm and Star Names Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Hinckley Allen

10:19, 6:7

❧ May 31st

The Goddesses' Mirror by David Kinsley and Isla Negra by Pablo Neruda

42:12, 23:44