The Royal Family by William T Vollmann

Mike’s pre-amble

If you read my Used Bookstore section on my now defunct website (and I’m sure you all did, because, just like here, I had a ton of readers there), then this is nothing new to you, but I figured I’d put it up for a few reasons.

First, we haven’t put shit up in forever. VV has some stuff going on that’s a little more important than fiction books and I spent the last month or so immersed in a page one rewrite of a novel that was pretty bad the first time I wrote it, a little better the third time and then fairly muddled by the sixteenth and just needed to be started all over (I think it went well this time, but it’s hard to tell as I just wrote the last word yesterday and I’m still a little close and have done no editing at all. I listened to VV’s notes and she knows what she’s doing, so it should be better than it was at least. And, I believe it’s real novel length! But, for reasons too ridiculous to talk about here, I handwrote the whole fucking thing, so it’s hard to tell what the word count really is). I was on a roll, probably the best roll of my life (like several pages a day) and didn’t want to chance it by reading another author. It’s probably silly, but I didn’t want to have someone else’s voice sway me. This is something I do. Even when speaking, I do it. I’ll imitate the speech patterns of whoever I’m talking to, which is quite irksome to me and probably condescending to them. I don’t know. I don’t have a personality of my own, what can I say. The point is, it’s over now and I plan on reading again, have really been jonesing for a book (people are not addicted to reading) and am super excited to read again. I kinda want to just read for the rest of my life and never write another word ever again right now. But writing that sentence made me want to jump into editing.

And I decided to put up this particular review, because it points out my own hypocrisy a bit (see The Green Mile, which devolved into me running my mouth about the publishing industry). It mentions selling zines at an independent bookstore, which I certainly cannot do with Amazon. And I would have never bought this book from Amazon, but because it was there in the store, I picked it up.

Mike’s review

I traded this for zines at Book Zoo. Knew I would never read Vollmann any other way.

This is the first book I’ve read to capture the inevitable, lustless doom of modern-day San Francisco. The necessary, pre-defined failure. How cold and bleak it really is.

“[‘]If you have x amount of people in the county jail, so the county gets sued by the feds for overcrowding, what’s going to happen? A new jail![‘]” A great point, but really though, use some damn quotation marks.

I was high when they started selling retarded girls into prostitution and it almost ruined my life.

Do I feel like this is sick for the sake of sick because it is or because it offends me? I often hear this argument made at other works and think it’s an easy way out. Am I taking the easy way out by disengaging? Cuz it definitely feels like it’s there just to be sick.

Hopefully this isn’t just a stoned-and-I-missed-something question: Are the retards real?

I feel like this whole Feminine Circus is open section is Vollmann’s equivalent to Tyler going down the rabbit hole.

“[He] felt no desire for them because he was with the Queen now who filled his heart with a blissful muteness. He no longer sought to express himself; he did not want to plough greener pastures.” As wonderful a term as “blissful muteness” is, is fucking really a form of self-expression? Discuss.

“The Queen’s but a figment, mouthpiece of my pompous symbology, her whores only grimy cardboard props dripping with the semen of the vulgar; Irene similarly assumes a merely erotic aspect; Henry Tyler remains limited to being Henry Tyler, which is to say, a grey nothingness.” (I’m having some trouble reading my own handwriting, but I believe that’s the quote.) Summed that up nicely for me. Thanks. Now explain why I’m not thrilled by anthropomorphizing city streets.

“Book XXXII: The Fall of Canaan” Finally! This should’ve happened at least 200 pages ago.

Just make a different hobo book and end this shit already.

VV’s response

Mike, thanks for posting something, I dream of the day I can do nothing but blog about books. Until then, let us read page by page and carry on.

I never read a Vollmann book but I understand he is quite prolific and covers wide and vast subjects. This book sounds intriguing so I can see why you picked it up.

I agree that in bookstores we buy books encountered randomly. I never walk away from a yard sale without a book under my arm, usually just because it’s cheap. When I go onto Amazon, I am usually looking for a title or author. I haven’t read that whole Nation article yet but will… I think you can sell your zines in ebook format via Amazon when you self-publish  through various sites. We can look into this more once Scenic Utah is ready to go. I’ve begun another edit on it. I will send you the first story soon for your review.

Excited to read the revised novel, please send it when you’ve transcribed it. I find it to be commonsensical of you to avoid reading much when on a writing roll, all writers are influenced by what they are reading.

So what are you going to read next? I am still reading Interpreter of Maladies.

I would welcome you posting some of the Used Bookstore reviews here, as you are able.

Mike responds

In a time normally set aside for sleeping last night, I realized that my opinions of bookstores are irrelevant because I don’t spend money there. I can welcome their demise because there will still be a secondhand market at the Salvation Army.

I’ve started reading Cloud Atlas, which I want to say something about here, but will wait until finished.

Very excited to have something sent to me, thank you.

Off to read.


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