Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Factory of Facts by Luc Sante

Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings, among other works, writes a memoir that is barely a memoir at all. Sante was born in Belgium and moved to America as a young child, only to move back and forth between the two countries several times throughout the course of his childhood—and thus never wholly identifying with either place as his own. Sante recalls the details of his life as if sorting through old photographs or boxes of ephemera in the attic, reflecting on his Belgian heritage and adopted American attitudes, almost attempting to call up all the factors, circumstances, and elements that have contributed to the man he has become. 

As for its readworthiness, I pretty much love anything Sante writes, and this is no exception.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Gigantic Robot by Tom Gauld

I saw this book out on a table at Atomic Books in Baltimore and knew I had to buy it for a number of reasons: the rounded corners, the thick pages, the simple black and white line drawings, and even simpler, yet darkly funny story. And of course the gigantic robot of the title.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Wonders of the Invisible World by David Gates

Yet another book by an author who was a writer in residence while I was at Pratt. I actually skipped all of his workshops that year after hearing some less than stellar reports, which is too bad, because this book--which I read the following year--is great. I've read several of Gates' novels as well as this collection of short fiction, but this is his best work. The thematic content isn't particularly uncharted territory, but his slangy, conversational prose style, often scattered with aging hipster references and goofy interior monologues, is what sets it apart. For example: "And, again yes, I know the Robert Frost thing about how the phoebes wept or didn't weep or whatever the fuck." And "I found the place okay--a name like J.P. Donleavy's, Something Something Somebody's."

I recall feeling reassured to find out that Gates didn't publish anything until he was in his 40s, and that he wrote stories while riding the Metro North trains to and from his job in the city. At one time I was also riding the Metro North trains to and from my job in the city, so I found some nice parallels there. Yet I somehow never actually wrote any stories on those rides. Maybe I'm no David Gates after all. I guess I have about 12 more years until I'll know for sure.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

In this novel set in the years before the start of the Vietnam War, the jaded British journalist Fowler and the idealistic and naive American Pyle are at odds with one another on both a personal and moral level. In some ways a thriller a la the works of John LeCarre, with numerous political subtexts and subtleties, it's a fairly quick read and not all that difficult to digest, though it does induce much post-reading deliberation and thought. It would probably be worth accompanying this novel with some nonfiction about the French Indochina War (not that I did).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Charles Burns is one of my favorite comic artists. His high-contrast black and white drawing style and subtly creepy storytelling are a perfect combination. In Black Hole, which is set in the Seattle suburbs of the 1970s, a strange, sexually transmitted plague has infected area teens.

Some develop a mouth in their chest,

or a cute little vestigial tail. Or molting skin, goiters, and other deformities. Black Hole is the grotesque and eerily beautiful saga of how they deal with this disturbing epidemic--whether by covering it up (if possible), or retreating into isolation, accepting their outcast status. Or committing murder.

One of my favorite aspects of the design is the inside front and back covers, a series of yearbook photo-like portraits. The front depicts the "before" shots, when they were normal teenagers.

The back page is the after shots, post-plague. It makes me thankful that my high school experience only involved alienation of the psychological kind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Prepare Artwork for Letterpress and Lithography

I picked up this pamphlet at an estate sale last summer. The woman who it belonged to was an artist, and she had so many wonderful books and furniture and things that I almost hated to take anything (okay, not really). While I'm not sure that I'll put this instructional brochure to practical use, I was quite taken by the illustrations found within. And who knows, perhaps one day I'll learn how to use a letterpress.

Most of the interior pages are this nice combo of black, white, and blue,

with a mixture of photographs and illustrations.

Then there is this lovely line drawing of a printing studio superimposed with blocks of bright colors on the inside back cover.

More blocks of colors on the back.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read this book on my own when I was in college, and I must say that it was not nearly as daunting as it seemed like it would be. While it is in part a novel of ideas, it is also a psychological thriller, a glimpse inside the mind of a murderer, and I can honestly say I found it to be a gripping read.

This edition has a supplement in the center that provides a "pictorial background of plot highlights" (for instance, the above "disreputable Russian hats"). I'm not sure how this is supposed to help the reader--is the inability to visualize a historically accurate 19th-century Russia that much of a hindrance?

I like the picture quiz at the end.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

It's been a number of years since I read this but I remember it really opened my eyes to the way many people live in this country. I was shocked to read about families living in motel rooms, or waitresses sleeping in vans in the parking lot of the fast food restaurant where they work. Many people ask why the homeless don't just get jobs (haha), not realizing that quite often the homeless do in fact have jobs, sometimes more than one.

This book has gotten a lot of criticism, due to the author's less than authentic journey into poverty. Yes, she allowed herself a safety net of a car and some starting money, not to mention a way out if things got too hard--all which she admits. And her experience might not be absolutely definitive of that of a truly poor person, as she makes decisions and purchases coming from the mindset of someone who is used to having money. Her conversations with co-workers--people who are actually in this situation, with no safety net or easy way out--are the real revelations. And I think that Ehrenreich ultimately makes her point--that wages are too low to meet the cost of living--quite effectively.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Best of LCD: The Art and Writing of WFMU, Edited by Dave the Spazz

This is a collection of covers, articles, comics, and more, from the pages of LCD (Least Common Denominator), WFMU's program guide. LCD's print run was from 1986 to 1998, and served as a visual supplement to the station's eccentric programming.

The book is brimming with creativity and energy, each page filled with drawings and comics. Even the weekly schedules were works of art.

A sampling of LCD's colorful cover art. I love the LSD-inspired one above--I remember my mother warning me against taking tiny pictures of cartoon characters from strangers (even though I had no idea what acid was at the time), probably right around when this was drawn.

The articles themselves are pretty entertaining, covering such topics as song poem artist Rodd Keith,

fictional stand-up comedian Neil Hamburger, the true identity of Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy," an appreciation of flexi-discs, anti-rock n roll books, the Kennedy assassination, and so on.

And then of course are the comics, with contributions from some of my favorites (Tony Millionaire, Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Kaz, Joe Sacco, etc),

as well as from some who I've never heard of. Michael Dougan, for example. I really like his above drawing of Little Richard. Great stuff!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger

Like a lot of people, I'm sure, Salinger's death has got me looking back at his books. The first day of class my freshman year of college the teacher asked us who our favorite authors were and nearly everyone, myself included, said "Kurt Vonnegut and J. D. Salinger." To which my teacher rolled his eyes. Ten years later I can understand why. (Although I still think Vonnegut is pretty awesome.)

The other day I picked up A Catcher in the Rye and skimmed through it, wondering if I should re-read it, but I don't think I could get through it. I don't understand the people who still enjoy reading this book even into adulthood. It was cool when I was 15 but now Holden Caulfield just seems like a pussy. And I'll tell you exactly where the ducks in Central Park go during the winter: they migrate to warmer climates. Any first grader should be able to tell you that.

Anyway, I remember preferring the stories surrounding the Glass family, and I think that still holds true, though I just re-read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and felt it was just kind of so-so. I don't want to re-read anything else of Salinger's right now, cause it'll just make me want to get rid of all those plain white books. But if any of the work he has been supposedly writing for the last 40 years sees the light of day now that he's dead, I might check out some of it out of sheer curiosity.