(Current fiction & past quality fiction)
“When you walk in, you are immediately surrounded by shelves and shelves of books. It smells like books!”
Examiner had noticed that patron’s description on the inevitable (almost) Internet. She’d found Bookworks last October, one of the diminishing number of independent bookstores, this one in Albuquerque, NM on Rio Grande Blvd., a stone’s throw from the all-but-dry river.
So why not take a peek inside? Examiner slipped in quietly on Saturday of Easter weekend. Yes, the smell hit right away, instantly mindful of another quote, this one on Library Thing, “Old books and musty ink is the best, but new books and that ‘fresh from the press’ smell is great too.”
Fresh off the press from a small San Francisco-New York quality publisher were copies of Daniel Muller’s “Nights I Dreamed of Hubert Humphrey” (Outpost 19), a collection of 11 short stories. Each had been previously published in as many literary outlets, most sponsored by universities.
Their publication in “Nights” spanned a decade and a half since Mueller’s first collection, “How Animals Mate” (Overlook Press), had won the 1998 Sewanee Fiction Prize. That stunner wacked the literary establishment upside the head real good, drawing this from Nora Krug at The New York Times: “It takes a brave writer to risk insensitivity for the sake of finding beauty — albeit tainted — in the very places we’d least expect it.”
Least expected? Examiner glanced through the semi-circle of book lovers listening to a distinguished-looking fellow comfortably seated and reading aloud from “Nights.” He was (and still is) Daniel Mueller.
Publishers Weekly had joined The New York Times in praising Mueller for “Animals” in February 1999: “This impressive, grimly humorous debut collection . . . shows how the grotesque and the normal have so merged in American culture that moving from one to another is as easy as changing a channel . . . (The story) Birds is set in Albuquerque, where a lesbian poet/stripper who needs surgery returns to her old job at a strip joint. After a disturbing incident, presented with knife-edge keenness, she disposes of her life with sudden and traumatic clarity. Not for the faint-hearted, Mueller’s stories shimmer from the unique combination of the sensitivities displayed by each of his alienated protagonists as they try to negotiate between their own painful inadequacies and their limited, poignant, ability to affect their fates.”
Muller’s reading from the story “Red Cinquefoil” left both Examiner and most of Mueller’s listeners in stitches. Examiner left Bookworks wondering why on earth The New Yorker has not been publishing Daniel Mueller instead of secondhand works by such other professors as, for example, Joyce Carol Oates. Examiner greatly admires Oates, a professor at Princeton, but Daniel Mueller appears to have great talents that deserve wider reading. His writing has a relaxed terseness that’s marvelous.
Other professors? Mueller is an associate professor at the University of New Mexico. He directs the creative writing program at UNM and teaches on the permanent creative writing faculty of the Low-Residency MFA Program at Queens University of Charlotte. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Henfield Foundation, University of Virginia, and Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Examiner highly recommends “Nights I Dreamed of Hubert Humphrey.” With Evgeny Morozov telling you (and Examiner) in “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism” that digital perfection isn’t worth the price, it’s nice to know places that smell like books exist still and that folks like Daniel Mueller persist.