Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks

When I was in high school I went through an "old Hollywood" phase--not sure where that came from but I watched Mysteries and Scandals on E! all the time and my room was plastered with images of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and so on.

I'd seen and loved some of these actors' films (The Wild One, Rebel without a Cause, All About Eve, etc) but never any of the silents from the 20s--yet I still managed to fall in love with Louise Brooks. Maybe it was her image, her story, her attitude.

Lulu in Hollywood is a collection of essays written by Brooks (she was smart! maybe that's what I liked about her) detailing her early life, experiences in Hollywood, her rejection of Hollywood (a refusal to play by the rules--another great quality that appealed to me), and her life after she stopped acting in films altogether.

I've since seen and loved Diary of a Lost Girl and purchased Pandora's Box (though I haven't watched it yet), and they are both ahead of their time.

Okay, I know I said I hadn't yet seen Pandora's Box but the above still is from one of the first (maybe the first) lesbian scenes on film--so I feel pretty confident in my assertion.

As for the book, Brooks's writing is witty, unsentimental, and fascinating.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Void by Georges Perec

This 1969 French novel is written entirely without the use of the letter "e"--an impressive enough feat, but the fact that it was translated into English (i.e. the word "the" does not appear on any of its nearly 300 pages) is downright incredible. The original title, La Disparition, translates to The Disappearance--so right there in the title is the first challenge.

As far as the plot goes: "The year is 1968 and as France is torn apart by social and political anarchy, the noted eccentric and insomniac Anton Vowl goes missing. Ransacking his Paris flat, his best friends scour his diary for clues to his whereabouts. At first glance these pages reveal nothing but Vowl's penchant for word games, especially for "lipograms," compositions in which the use of a particular letter is suppressed. But as the friends work out Vowl's verbal puzzles, and as they investigate various leads discovered among the entries, they too disppear, one by one by one, and under the most mysterious circumstances..."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

I find that when I try to remember what this novel is like, I can only picture the Sofia Coppola film--the dreamy soundtrack, the gorgeous colors. (Sigh) Perhaps another one to re-read. Am I the only one who doesn't remember anything about the books they've read (other than whether or not they liked them)?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yeti Six

This is the sixth issue of Yeti, a Portland (OR)-based art/literature/music journal. But it is the first one I have read. And looking at the contents of the current issue (#7), I think I might have to purchase a subscription.

The contents of this issue include paper cuts by David Fair, interviews with The Clean, Sun City Girls, Sic Alps and Eat Skull, and articles on Mingering Mike (whose yeti drawing can be seen on the above masthead page) and folk photography (written by Luc Sante), and much more great content.

Paper cuts by David Fair

From "Folk Photography" by Luc Sante

Photographs by Ted Barron

Photographs from the Sydney police archives, from an interview with Peter Doyle

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury's classic chronicles of man's expeditions to Mars. This was one of my favorite books in high school.

This particular edition is illustrated by Dutch painter Karel Thole. The drawings are extremely dark and not particularly evocative of the stories themselves (they might be better suited for Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft) but I like them anyway.

Boring Postcards USA by Martin Parr

This book collects vintage postcards depicting a variety of so-called boring locales: highways, gas stations, hotels, diners, shopping malls, banks, airports, etc. There is something strangely fascinating about the images, many of which feature locations that no longer exist--they're almost endearingly dull. The plain, kraft brown, no-frills cover makes a nice contrast to the saturated, technicolor beauties contained within.

Picturesque, indeed.

I have a thing for postcards of old motels (I've picked up quite a few of them over the years, at thrift stores and the like). I love the couple sitting by the pool, hands clasped politely, just waiting to greet their guests.

Can't you just picture it?

Did you know that Mondrian was inspired by French Lick Sandstone?

I like how the photographer tried to spruce this up with a sprig of flowers.

A poetic statement on the bleak uniformity of hospital rooms--oh, so typical.

Dude, check out the new wheels!


I think this one is officially the most boring postcard in the book. Or at least the ugliest. The blank white wall and puke-colored rug really don't do justice to the sofa. Or do they?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Vermont Notebook by John Ashbery and Joe Brainard

A 1975 collaboration between the poet John Ashbery and painter Joe Brainard, who wrote the wonderful book I Remember.

Ashbery's prose poems, largely comprised of long and short lists and made-up diary entries, are accompanied with pen and ink drawings by Brainard.

The drawings bring out the beauty in simplistic, mundane objects such as a cup of coffee,

Or a toilet,

Or a letter.

The original 1975 Black Sparrow Press edition was long out of print, but Granary Books reissued it in 2001, happily.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis

This innovative novel is written backwards--meaning the characters grow younger instead of older (and not quite like Benjamin Button since everyone ages in this way), walk backwards, regurgitate their food and reform it into whole pieces on the plate, etc. While this might on the surface sound like a gimmick, I assure you there is an artistic reason for this device, inherent to the telling of the story, and it is a very good one.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Big Numbers #1 by Alan Moore

This is the first issue in an unfinished comic book series by Alan Moore. Only the first two of a planned twelve issues were published (in 1990), and Moore says there is no possibility of the series ever being completed.

The illustration by Bill Siemkewicz is an interesting style that mixes photorealism with abstraction, utilizing a variety of techniques such as oil painting and collage. I love the smeary pencil lines.

From wikipedia: "Another level of understanding Big Numbers is through fractal geometry, chaos theory, and the mathematical ideas of Benoit Mandelbrot. The series intended to show that patterns existing at the large scale (the effect of the town) would have existed at a micro scale (the effect on individual characters' lives."

It makes a bit sad that the series will never come to fruition, as I think the ideas behind it are fascinating. One wonders what might have been, whether the series is an unrealized classic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Make the Music Go Bang: The Early L.A. Punk Scene, Edited by Don Snowden

This chronicle of the original L.A. punk scene consists of essays by legendary figures in the scene such as Keith Morris, Exene Cervenka, Claude Bessy, Brendan Mullen, and so on, as well as lots of black and white pictures.

Many books about punk have too broad a scope and in their attempt to chronicle everything manage to gloss over most of the interesting, more obscure bands in favor of what you already knew anyway. This book at least focuses on one particular scene in one particular place and time, but I seem to remember that most of it consists of reminiscences of too much partying and drugs (in fact, that's all I remember about the book).

The layout is also kind of boring and amateurish, but there are still some great photos contained within--for instance, this Germs fan in neckbrace, and protests outside the Starwood (which has made for great punk flier imagery by yours truly).

Come to think of it, I've also used this image of Darby Crash schmoozing with the son of Ozzie and Harriet star David Nelson on a flier as well. And while still photography does not quite capture the Minutemen's live performance (from what I've seen on film), it's still cool to see.

Darby wheatpasting PiL posters, Paul Reubens hanging out with the punks--pretty good stuff all around.

So in short, I'd say the book is worth reading but not exactly a classic work, or even a classic book on punk (if such a thing exists).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

There is a surprisingly sweet aspect to this 60s cover of Nabokov's classic Lolita, with its explosion of flowers and butterflies. Except for the subtle knowing look in the girl's eyes, you might not guess the contents of this controversial novel.

Just the second book by Nabokov that I've read (Pnin being the first and perhaps my favorite of the two), reading Lolita has only made me want to read more of his work.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kill All Your Darlings by Luc Sante

A collection of essays published in various journals and newspapers between 1990 and 2005 from the great writer and critic Luc Sante. While perhaps not quite as strong as his previous, more cohesive works (The Factory of Facts, Low Life), this is certainly worth reading despite the incongruity of its contents, which include writings about New York City, cigarettes, working in factories, Bob Dylan, Tintin, René Magritte, and so on.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller

This is a nonfiction account of Henry Miller's travels through the United States in 1940 and 1941 after returning from a lengthy stay in Europe. From the title you can probably guess how he felt about his native land.

It has been quite awhile since I have read this--another one for the re-reading list.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

William Eggleston's Guide

"William Eggleston's Guide was the first one-man show of color photographs ever presented at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum's first publication of color photography. The reception was divided and passionate. The book and show unabashedly forced the art world to deal with color photography, a medium scarcely taken seriously at the time, and with the vernacular content of a body of photographs that could have been but definitely weren't some average American's Instamatic pictures from the family album...The Guide contained 48 images edited down from 375 shot between 1969 and 1971 and displayed a deceptively casual, actually super-refined look at the surrounding world. Here are people, landscapes, and odd little moments in and around Eggleston's hometown of Memphis." (From the product description)

This reissue of an early show catalog by one of my favorite photographers is a faithful facsimile of the original. The texture of the cover makes it very pleasant to handle.


This book contains more photographs of people than most of his later work.

Whitehaven, Mississippi

What I love about them is how they quietly hint at the story behind them, imparting a bit of mystery. What is this person doing in the garage? Are they hurt? Just taking a nap? Squatting there?

Jackson, Mississippi

Black Bayou Plantation, near Glendora, Mississippi

I love this one--how did the bottles end up there? It implies the presence of someone who was in the frame not long before.

Jackson, Mississippi

I love the lighting in this one.

Sumner, Mississippi

Morton, Mississippi

I imagine there is a good story behind this one.

Outskirts of Morton, Mississippi, Halloween, 1971

Huntsville, Alabama

This one feels a little uneasy to me, like he is contemplating some grave thoughts.

Near Jackson, Mississippi

It is hard to articulate, but there is something so beautiful about this colorful coat hanging on a bare, filthy wall.

The man behind the camera.