Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Meets the White Rabbit: A Little Golden Book

I've had this Little Golden Book, an adaptation of the Disney movie adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, since I was probably about five years old (give or take). I know I've had tons more but this is the only one I kept.

As a simplification of a Disneyfied version of the book, the story is of course a far cry from the original, but I've kept this for the illustrations, which have a great 50s look since they're based off of the 1951 animated movie. (Even better, though, are the concept drawings for the movie painted by Mary Blair, a good selection of which can be seen here.)

I knew someone who collected Little Golden Books, and I must say that the thin silver spines looked great all in a row on her shelf. But I think I'll just stick to this one.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski

The stories in this collection are all exceedingly short (ten pages at most, but typically more like four or five), which is fine with me. It's not Bukowski's best, but certainly worth reading if you're already a fan (I wouldn't recommend starting there though). The first sentence of the first story in the book is "'Balls,' he said." Which I love. I'm also happy that this title hasn't yet been repackaged, though I'm sure that will come. I only wish I could look at it without conjuring up thoughts of the band that named themselves after it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tumble Home by Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel was the writer-in-residence at Pratt my senior year. She visited our class once, and while that in itself was not particularly momentous, the photocopied interview with her from the Paris Review that was distributed prior to the visit was quite illuminating. I underlined passages and referred to them again and again while working on my thesis. She was able to clearly explain the hallmarks of good writing that had before seemed so mysterious and somehow unteachable. So while writing style--precise, poetic, and minimalist, the stories giving the impression of being pieced together from bits of conversations and images ("Joy's designated runner, Cousin Zeke, ran to first, the ice cubes in his gin and tonic clacking like dog tags in the glass..."It's not who wins--" their coach began, and was shouted down by some of the boys, "There's first and there's forget it.")--was not a direct influence on me, her advice and insight absolutely were.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Journey to the End of the Night by Celine

Charles Bukowski referred to Journey to the End of the Night as "one of the best books written in the last two thousand years," which is what led me to seek it out a number of years ago. According to the back of the book, "Written in urgent and explosive language, Journey to the End of the Night is a literary symphony of violence and cruelty. The story of the improbable travels of the petit-bourgeois antihero Bardamu--from the trenches of World War I, to the African jungle, to New York and the Ford factory in Detroit, and finally to life in Paris as a failed doctor--takes the reader by the scruff as it hurtles toward the novel's inescapable conclusion." Despite that rather compelling description, I find that I can't remember much about reading this book, but regardless of Celine's questionable politics, after looking over the first few pages I think I'd like to try it again sometime (sure, just add it to the list).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Complete Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman

This very nice hardcover book collects all 69 photographs in Cindy Sherman's "Untitled Film Stills," a series of images designed to look like stills from imaginary movies. Sherman dons wigs, makeup, and costumes--and she really does an impressive job of disguising herself--creating invented worlds that one can really envision being out of some forgotten noir film or B-movie. I love the grainy quality of the stock, made to resemble the cheap 50-cent publicity photos of the day.

I always like to imagine the plots of the "movies"--a troubled Hollywood starlet on a bender? Having an affair at some secret seaside hideaway?

This woman is either being stalked or followed by a private eye. Or maybe she's on her way to deliver a mysterious package (ransom money?). I could go on.

Many of them almost recall a particular style of film. For some reason this one reminds me of early Woody Allen movies.

This one evokes for me the British "kitchen sink" dramas of the 60s.

There's a Hitchcock blonde if I ever saw one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau

In this short novel by Raymond Queneau (of Exercises in Style fame), the precocious pre-teen Zazie stays in Paris with her Uncle Gabriel, who happens to be a drag queen, for two days while her mother visits with her lover. The only thing that Zazie, who has a mouth like sailor and a mischievous streak to match, really wants to do is ride the metro, which is shut down because the workers are on strike. Disappointed, she manages to evade her uncle's watch and sets out to explore the city on her own.

This slim little book is hilariously silly and charming. Queneau's use of word play, puns, and phonetic spellings make for a veritable linguistic adventure.

An illustration of Zazie in the first pages of the book. That striped shirt is so French.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

This Southern Gothic novel is peopled by heretics, bogus preachers, and fake religions ("The Church of Christ Without Christ"—hilarious), not to mention killers in gorilla suits. Overall I prefer O'Connor's short stories to this novel, but it's certainly worth reading if you haven't already.

Just came across this image of the first edition—looks pretty good. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Portfolio by Robert Frank

When Robert Frank came to New York from Zurich in 1947, he brought along a portfolio of 40 photos to help him find work. Steidl recently reissued a facsimile version of Frank's early portfolio, which contains some of his earliest photographs as well as the work of others that he had retouched.

It comes in this plain white envelope.

And then inside is this slim volume. I love the cover.

The images represent Swiss life, both rural and urban, landscapes and people. While the photographs aren't nearly as incredible as those of Frank's later ouevre, the book is an interesting artifact representing the inception of the career of a legend.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Likeness by Tana French

This is the follow-up to French's In the Woods, and features one of the same characters, Detective Cassie Maddox. The body of a woman is found in an old stone cottage outside of Dublin, and the dead woman and Cassie are identical. Even more bizarre, the name on her college I.D. is the same as one of the fake names that Cassie went by as an undercover cop several years back. The police report the victim to be injured but alive, allowing Cassie to go undercover once again, to step into the life of her doppelganger, into the lives of her four housemates, in an attempt to uncover the truth.

The book was totally engrossing. I can't remember the last time I was so rapt up in a book that I didn't want to put it down, and more importantly, that I didn't want it to end.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

In this psychiatric mystery by Richard Powers, a man slips into a coma after getting into an accident with his truck, emerging with a disorder called Capgras syndrome, a kind of amnesia in which the sufferer remembers everything about his life but cannot make emotional connections. He does not recognize his sister, accusing her as being an impostor, part of some grand conspiracy.

The book touches on some interesting concepts about the brain, consciousness, and identity, but overall I was a bit disappointed with it. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting--maybe a different book altogether. I found myself annoyed with the characters, bored of hearing more of the same "tell me where my sister is!" routine, not much caring about what happened after awhile. But I'm not totally deterred from checking out more of Richard Powers' works.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

This 1884 novella was written as a satire on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. The noteworthy part is that it takes place in a two-dimensional world occupied by geometric figures, line segments, and regular polygons.
The narrator, a "humble Square" is visited by a three-dimensional Sphere who introduces him to the world of Spaceland. Once his mind is opened to the possibility of new dimensions, he tries to convince the Sphere of the theoretical existence of a fourth spatial dimension. Offended, the Sphere returns him to Flatland in disgrace.

I really wanted to like this book. The concept is so nerdy that it's awesome, and there are all these great mathematical line drawings throughout. But when you come down to it, I'm really just not a math person.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fucked Up & Photocopied: Instant Art of the Punk Rock Movement by Bryan Ray Turcotte and Christopher T. Miller

This is the--dare I say--definitive collection of late 70s/early 80s US punk flyers and posters. Organized geographically, every page is filled, right to the edges, with (mostly) black and white cut and paste art set against colorful background graphics and photographs. It's an overall great-looking book, with a mix of both classic, well known imagery and less-seen flyers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Quitter by Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel

Here Harvey Pekar tells the story of his early years as a child of Jewish immigrants: his sense of alienation in his own neighborhood, his struggle to find his place in the world. The title refers to Pekar's not uncommon tendency, as an adolescent, to give up when things didn't go exactly as planned.

Though R. Crumb is certainly my favorite artist to illustrate Pekar's stories, Dean Haspiel's style complements the story rather well.

At the back of the book, a great spread of photos of the real-life quitter.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante

One of my favorite books by the oft-overlooked writer John Fante, in which the last days of an Italian stonemason, domineering father, alcoholic, and womanizer, are chronicled by one of his sons. This was the last novel Fante wrote before going blind, a complication of diabetes (the very last one, Dreams from Bunker Hill, was written via dictation). It was optioned for film shortly after publication in the late 70s, to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola, but that never came to fruition. One wonders what might have been had it actually been made--would it have become a classic, exposing a wider audience to Fante's work?

I love the simple grapes against the brown weave of the cloth cover.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Snowmen by David Lynch

In honor of this snowy New Year's Day, this is a small book of photographs by David Lynch, better known for such films as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and so on.

As you can tell from his decidedly minimalist introduction, it is a series of black and white photos Lynch took of his old neighborhood in Boise, Idaho, of snowmen in various stages of melting, exploring the strange and alien quality these fairly commonplace sights take on.

This one, limbless and with torso severed from its lower extremities, is a great specimen. Misshapen, almost deformed-looking, and yet still smiling--something a bit unsettling about it.

And this one, faceless, and yet with well-defined shoulders (almost stump-like) and legs.

In all, it's a pretty short book and most of the text is in French, but it's worth getting if you like David Lynch, or weird photographs of snowmen. Or better yet, both.