Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gary Panter - Untitled (?)

On Saturday I happened to be passing by one of my new favorite stores, Desert Island Comics, and decided to stop in on a whim. I left with a stack of books, including this collection of Gary Panter prints. I'm not quite sure what the deal is with this publication, as there's no information printed anywhere on it. I thought maybe it was called "The Waters Leading to Hell", but I think that's actually the title of the painting on the cover, rather than the book. But it's over-sized (about 11.5 x 15), staple-bound, printed on heavy paper, and looks awesome!

As a bonus, I was invited to choose from a box of "weird, 80s music trading cards" and managed to score this one of Harley Flanagan from the Cro-Mags. Pretty awesome (and yes, weird).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Fires by Joe Flood

At this point I've read a lot of books about the history of New York City, so much of the content of this book was nothing new to me (in fact, I recognized a lot of the material cited from Robert Caro's The Power Broker and Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities). However, its main thesis was rather unique--that the majority of the fires ravaging parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan in the '70s were caused by a flawed computer model, and not greedy landlords hoping to collect insurance money. In the '60s Mayor Lindsay teamed up with the RAND corporation, a think tank established to provide research and analysis to the U.S. army, to develop a way to govern the city more efficiently and statistically, starting with the fire department. But their methods were deeply flawed, resulting in severely reduced service in the neighborhoods that needed it desperately and new stations opening in sleepy suburban areas that really didn't need them at all. Added to that were lax building codes--it seems like most of the serious fires detailed in the book were made far worse because of illegal constructions the FDNY was unaware of--and firefighters' lack of proper training on how to approach a truss-style building.

The Fires doesn't really succeed much in painting a vivid picture of what conditions were like in the fire-ravaged neighborhoods. But maybe that's not really the point of the book. I'd never heard of the RAND corporation before, and found those aspects of the book to be pretty interesting.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2666 by Roberto Bolano

My god has it been a long time since I've posted anything. No excuses, really, other than laziness--but I'm coming back with something good.

Robert Bolano's 2666 is a 900 page novel that was published posthumously as a boxed set of three paperbacks (as well as another edition in one volume). Such a beautiful package--I love the brown paper slipcase, the red lettering, and the design of each of the individual books inside.

Each of the covers wraps around from left to right to create one large image.

As for the content of the book, it's actually divided into five parts, each one loosely connected to the next, from a group of critics in search of a reclusive German author, to an untold number of serial murders in Mexico, to the Eastern front of World War II, and back again. I love a good literary mystery, and while it didn't follow that storyline for the entire book, I nonetheless enjoyed it. I didn't read it all at once, taking breaks between some of the sections, so that by the time I got to the end of part four I'd nearly forgotten how it started, but it didn't bother me. It may be sprawling, and at times feels a little aimless, but by the end the many plotlines come together.

I wish all long books were published in parts, as a 300 page paperback is much easier to cart around on the subway than a 900 page one.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Here's one I should definitely re-read. In Cold Blood is widely considered to be the first non-fiction novel, the story of a 1959 murder of an entire family in rural Kansas and its aftermath. Some have challenged the authenticity of the story, accusing Capote of changing some of the details to suit the book that he wanted to write. Whatever the true story might be, it doesn't change the masterfully chilling and elegant writing. I bought this copy without a cover at a used bookstore in Nashville, not sure which one, shown here with the spine. I wish I'd found one with a dust jacket.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Expelled from Eden by William T. Vollmann

My first introduction to William T. Vollmann came in an interview in BookForum about five or six years ago. I was intrigued, and decided to start with the then recently published Expelled from Eden, which collects excerpts from all of his novels, as well as essays, journalism, interviews, and letters, providing a window into Vollmann's voice, style, and breadth of work. I'm not sure I read the whole thing (certainly not straight through), rather leafing through it, reading bits of it here and there. Since then I've endured a number of his books (I think endured is the right word--while beautifully written, the subject matter is often bleak and horrific) and intend to read more. Eventually. I haven't worked up the nerve to tackle Imperial yet (1,200 pages about the California county right on the Mexican border) but I'll get there.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Type and Typography by Ben Rosen

I bought this typography book at an estate sale a couple of years ago. (Please excuse the slightly blurry and unappealing photo.) The books were so cheap that I just kept adding more to my pile (I walked out of there with more stuff than I could carry and it all came to about $8). A 1960s typography book? Why not? I'm not a graphic designer but I do have an appreciation of type and letters in general, and lately find myself paying more attention to the typefaces that I use and what they communicate.

A closer look at the logo on the front, which I love. Although I must say, I love the front of the paperback edition even more.

Most of the typefaces showcased in the book are pretty basic--this book was published nearly 50 years ago after all--though still widely used today. (By the way...I just noticed that the letter R appears twice in the above example. Anyone have any idea why?)

There's also something I find visually appealing about looking at all of these alphabets, especially when some of the letters are blown up to be very large.

There are also a few pages illustrating how type can be used in advertising and other commercial work, and that's where it gets a little more exciting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Lime Twig by John Hawkes

The Lime Twig is a surreal, avant-garde novel melded with pulp crime fiction. (Many a review describes it as something like Dick Francis meets David Lynch.) The basic story—a race horse heist gone horribly wrong—is told in nightmarish, impressionistic sequences. The cover of the book, featuring a grainy, blurry mess of images that only come into focus when you really concentrate, is a pretty apt translation of my experience of the book.

I can't remember how exactly I first came across John Hawkes—in some chain of online links—but only a couple weeks later I found a copy of The Lime Twig in a used bookstore and excitedly picked it up, thinking it a nice coincidence. As I was paying for the books, the store owner stopped at The Lime Twig and got a funny smile on her face as she explained that John Hawkes had been her college writing teacher (which explains why the book was prominently displayed on the wall). I'm not really sure of the point of that story but it's what I remember most about the book when I see it.