Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On Mike Simanoff (from Mike's friend Gabriel M)

Like most friendships that begin over the Internet, my
first meeting with Mike had to happen twice, once online and once in person. The online acquaintance must have occurred gradually during 2002, when Mike and I were both members of various literary forums on the Internet. Mike was a humorous and intelligent contributor and his tastes proved remarkably similar to mine. We both enjoyed the short stories of the neglected American writer fantasy Avram Davidson, the psychic detective novels of Jack Mann, the graphic novels of Alan Moore and the music of Wilco, among other things.

At some point Mike and I realized that the other also lived in New York and we arranged to get together. We agreed to meet at the monthly reading of fantastic fiction that editors Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant hosted the third Wednesday of each month at the KGB Bar in New York’s East Village. I admit I was a little concerned about meeting Mike, simply because individuals in the flesh don’t always turn out to be quite like their online personas. To my relief, Mike turned out to be as charming, funny and sharp in person as he was online and we quickly became good friends. We attended the monthly KGB readings with some regularity and would meet for dinner from time to time.

Mike and I were at different points in our lives when we first met. I was married, relatively established careerwise, and my wife and I were expecting our first child. Mike was single and at the time just finishing up his master’s degree in library science at NYU. In some sense I felt toward him as an older to a younger brother. As well-read as Mike was, I was still able to point him down some interesting new literary byways, and he returned the favor by re-educating me in the indie popular music scene I had been abandoning for jazz and classical music. His honest enthusiasm for whatever he was enjoying reading or listening to was infectious, and his fundamental gentleness, particularly in a city as consumed with aggressiveness as New York, endearing and refreshing

On one occasion Mike paid a visit to my home. He had been interested in seeing my library, which had acquired somewhat oversized stature in his mind -- and even brought a camera to take pictures of the bookshelves!
After looking over some volumes and meeting my family, we went to a Mexican
restaurant nearby where we drank a pitcher of sangria and Mike let me know that he would soon be moving to Atlanta. I was obviously disappointed that he’d be
leaving the city, but at the same time excited for what seemed like a new
career opportunity for him. I also knew that we would endeavor to keep in touch.

I did not see Mike in person for some time after that, but we continued to correspond and to meet online. At one point, after some of the Internet forums where I had been posting ceased to interest me, I asked Mike’s opinion about setting up a new forum, mostly as a way of keeping in touch with him and various other serious readers I’d grown to appreciate over the years.
Mike was enthusiastic about the idea and promised to participate. The forum began in December of 2004, and although it has always been quite small by Internet standards, Mike checked it at least daily and contributed almost as often, posting over 500 messages under the name “Angry Thoat”, a reference to an Avram Davidson story. He informed us he would be moving to Chicago, told us
once he was settled in (“I have settled into an apartment in the West Loop (good enough!). I'm on the 48th floor of a high rise! Incredible view”), and,
true to form, promptly compiled a Chicago bookstore map. He made fun of my
interest in the soccer World Cup (“Like most Americans (the ones who aren't
apathetic), at this point I have randomly selected another country to follow.
Go Portugal! Wait, is Portugal still in this thing?”
). For a thread on
quotes from what we were all reading he jokingly posted an excerpt from the
Oracle Database Client Installation Guide (“Sorry, it’s been one of those
”, he mock apologized). He appreciated the recent novels of Naomi
Novik, heaped (with me) aspersions on the new edition of the Annotated Sherlock
Holmes, rhapsodized over Jan Morris’s HAV (“perhaps one of my top three
favorite books
”) and the stories of Gerald Kersh (“tied with Avram
Davidson for my absolute favorite short story writer of all time
recommended recent albums from Centromatic, The Flaming Lips and The National,
and changed his mind (for the better) about the music of Surfjan Stevens.

Mike’s last post was on the night of Saturday, August 12, the weekend he died. He recommended a recent book by the author Louis Bayard and provided a short review:

I am halfway through THE PALE BLUE EYE and finding it as good as MR TIMOTHY. This is a first-rate historical murder mystery narrated by a retired New York City detective, who has retreated upstate to a quiet house on the Hudson, in 1830. There has been a disturbance at the nearby Military Academy at West Point, and, well--when is a good detective ever allowed to retire? He quickly meets a queer first-year student named Edgar Allan Poe, who is so unintentionally hilarious and consistently drawn that the reader has no problem accepting him, as the narrator does, as an assistant to the detective for this case. The book sparkles with wit and humor as it does with action and mystery.
It has been rare to find a writer who can tackle a historical thriller with an
ear for the prose and the dialog of the time but the narrative sensbilities of
a contemporary potboiler. I don't know how anyone can be disappointed in books
like these. I hope there are many more to come.

I last saw Mike late last year when he visited from Chicago on business. We went to a restaurant in Tribeca and then to a bar for drinks. We talked about our lives and his new job in Chicago, but as always with our conversations we ended up circling back to the things that had brought us together, the books and music that we loved. The time passed effortlessly.

Mike’s literary interests were not strictly confined to being a member of online communities. He volunteered time to Jeff Vandermeer’s small press Ministry of Whimsy, in particular editing the book A NEW UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY by the Welsh writer Rhys Hughes. He also contributed interviews with writers to the website Fantastic Metropolis which was run by his good friend Luis Rodrigues, formal book reviews to other sites and occasionally even wrote fiction.

Mike could be very funny. At one point Fantastic Metropolis ran a feature asking various writers and editors questions about the physicality of books. Mike was one of the subjects. In response to the question “Do you have any memory connected to books that you would like to share?” Mike answered: “When I was a kid, my dog Chelsea used to chew on the corners of my books (humans in my family do not generally bite books). She would do this for hours, until she was caught and shooed—and immediately forgiven. You had to see her eyes. I believe she enjoyed them tremendously.”

A few days ago I was browsing in a bookstore and chanced upon a somewhat rare edition of Edward Hoch’s stories featuring psychic detective Simon Ark. My immediate first reaction was to think “Mike will love to hear about this”, followed a second later by a pang of grief. I will miss him very much.

Gabriel M

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice, Gabriel.

The Mike I remember was a smart, funny, active guy who loved reading and was constantly curious. He sent me a monograph on crayfish names while at his job at the library in NYC. It was one of the funniest, coolest things I've ever gotten from anybody. (You'd have to see it to understand why.)

He also did a lot of work for me in my role as editor at Ministry of Whimsy Press. He performed well under pressure and I think he liked doing something involving publishing from the inside looking out.

One of the most memorable nights I can remember was in NYC when I met Mike in person for the first time, along with Gabriel and Michael Cisco and Alan Ruch from the Modern Word. We had a wonderful evening and Gabriel even invented a fake language out of bits of paper.

Ann and I liked to tease Mike because he got that kind of likeably bashful look when you did, but also because he had a quick wit and talent for the quick comeback.

We enjoyed him immensely. It came as a complete shock when he passed away. It didn't seem possible. Or probable. I thought it was some kind of sick joke at first.

It really makes you doubt the fairness and purpose of the universe when something like this happens.

At least we have our memories of Mike and some of his presence online, and although that is not enough, it is something.

I'm not at all religious, but I hope that somehow Mike knows right now how many people loved him and that he was very special. And that he is in our thoughts. He is not forgotten.

Jeff VanderMeer