Thursday, December 31, 2009

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Written in Virginia Woolf's stream-of-consciousness style, To the Lighthouse is divided into three sections. The first and longest takes place over the course of two days at the Ramsay family's summer home off the coast of Scotland. The second, shortest section occurs over the course of many years, signifying the passage of time (in fact, it's called "Time Passes"), and the last section comprises one afternoon in which the family, years later, returns to its long-neglected vacation spot. I love this book, though it makes me a little sad just thinking about it--the quiet way that Woolf expresses how things change over time, how you can wistfully look back at a summer long ago and reflect on how much has happened since then, at how different your life has come to be. Heartbreaking, really.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Even though I'd already read, owned, and gotten rid of a copy of Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust years ago, when I spotted this new edition from New Directions, I couldn't resist picking up a copy and revisiting these two short novels. Each set in the Depression, one in New York, the other in Hollywood, they're even darker, bleaker, and more powerful than I remembered. In Miss Lonelyhearts, a New York newspaper advice columnist starts to break down under the pathetic and futile letters he receives from people begging for advice for which he has no answer. The Day of the Locust is a scathing look at Hollywood, exploring its seamy underbelly--seedy apartments, violence, desperate people dreaming of fame, people who have, as the narrator says, "come to California to die."

I love the simplicity of the design (which is what caught my eye in the first place)--the black hearts and bars (or are they film strips), with their hand-drawn quality, against the pink and blue.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two

Typically, Betty Crocker cookbooks are not the type of thing I buy.

But this one is illustrated by Charley Harper, so it's not exactly typical.

Harper's beautiful illustrations appear throughout the book. They're not quite as stylized as some of his classic work, but they're lovely nonetheless, and you can still spot some of his well known whimsical style. Observe:

As for the actual contents of the cookbook, it doesn't look particularly helpful. Most of the recipes are too simplified (i.e. "Make cookies according to directions on package of Betty Crocker mix"--wow, thanks a lot Betty). Either that or they sound absolutely disgusting. Take the above "Blushing Pear Salad". The two pears in the drawing are adorable, but dyed pear halves mixed with lime Jello on a bed of lettuce does not sound all that appetizing to me. Is that really what people in the 50s ate?

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I had been curious about this book after Viking did a big push for it during Comic Con, so when I found a copy at work, I was pretty excited. It's kind of a mix of Harry Potter (not that I've read any of those books, but I imagine that in setting much of the book at a college for magicians it must bear at least some similarity to that series) and the Chronicles of Narnia, but with sex, drugs, despair, and a whole lot of f-words. I've read some criticisms claiming that the purpose of reading a fantasy novel is to escape from all the negative aspects of real life (despair, for one), and thus this book cannot really be considered a fantasy novel. However, for someone who doesn't really delve too deeply into the genre, if it's got magicians, magical worlds, talking animals, and centaurs (and this book has all four), then it's pretty safe to say that it's a fantasy novel. The real life troubles and heartaches only serve to make it all the more compelling. So take that, nerds.

I love the map of Fillory (the stand-in for Narnia) printed on the endpapers. It's one of the reasons the book actually made it to my shelf. As for the read itself, it wasn't a bad one (I loved the first couple of Narnia books when I was a kid, so that might be part of the appeal), but not particularly exceptional. I'll read the sequel though, should one ever be published.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Every Christmas Dave and I like to break out this book and read the stories out loud to each other. Department store elves, brutally honest holiday newsletters, Christmas whores--it has all the makings for a new holiday classic, perfect for reciting in front of a crackling fireplace (not that we have one) while sipping Silknog.

It was reissued in hardcover last year, but I have to say I prefer the old package. It's so nice and small and stocking-stufferish. The one thing the hardcover edition has going for it is the addition of six new stories (that's twice the number in the old one!), including the hilarious "Six to Eight Black Men," which I strongly recommend you read this very instant.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Twelve Terrors of Christmas by John Updike and Edward Gorey

This teeny little book consists of dark and dryly humorous spins on twelve aspects of Christmas, from Santa, the man ("Something scary and off-key about him, like one of those Stephen King clowns...") to the fear of not giving enough ("Leads to dizziness in shopping malls, foot fractures on speeded-up escalators...").

Okay, so it's not the funniest thing I've ever read, but it is illustrated by Edward Gorey, which is all that really matters in this case.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes

First serialized in Eightball #1-10, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron is one of Daniel Clowes' earlier collections, and one of my favorites of his. After seeing a bizarre film of the same title as this book, the protagonist, Clay, goes on an equally bizarre quest seeking more information about said film. With elements of 50s noir, as well as the surreal and grotesque, the result makes for some uncomfortable—sometimes downright disgusting—moments, but overall it's a really compelling read. In fact, just flipping through the pages makes me want to read the whole thing again.

This dog reminds me of something out of Dr. Seuss. Only sadder.

And here's Tina, another one of the characters Clay meets in his travels. There's a scene later on in the book that might make the faint of heart puke. Poor Tina.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Season of Violence by Shintaro Ishihara

I bought this book over the summer at a great used bookstore in Northampton, MA. I picked it up based on the cover (which is incredible), and then was sold after reading the cover flap: "Violent, sensual, and seemingly un-Japanese, the stories in Season of Violence nevertheless depict Japanese teenagers of the present* in compulsive but often unconscious revolt against the moral codes of "old Japan." Yet these stories tell of youth who offer no real, modern morality to replace the old--only the anti-morality of indiscriminate sex, brutality, and living for today's pleasures and sensations. These are stories of teenagers who came to be known as Taiyozoku--the Sun Tribe."

Part of what interested me is that I was reminded quite a bit of some of the films coming out of Japan at that time. And with good reason, as I later discovered that the author wrote the screenplays for many of those films, including the classic Crazed Fruit.

I love the title page.

And the cloth cover with the embossing (maybe hard to see from the scan) is absolutely beautiful.

*"The present" being the 50s.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

John Waters: Change of Life

I just went to the John Waters Christmas Show on Friday, so I thought I'd take a look back at Change of Life, which was published in conjunction with an exhibit at the New Museum of Contemporary Art about five years ago.

It originally had a dust jacket with the title on it but I liked the one underneath so much better that I threw the regular cover away. The image correlates to a series of photographs in the book.

Most of the exhibit consisted of these montages of photographs that Waters took of his television, juxtaposing various movie stills in one long strip, in a way creating a new film. Pictured above are sections of "Mental" and "Grace Kelly's Elbows."

"Puke in the Cinema" is a great one. What else would you expect from "the prince of puke"?

Also featured in the exhibit were various artifacts from Waters' collection, such as these vintage books. He actually made reference to books starting with "I" in the Christmas show—in fact, he went on to discuss how books are the best gift you can give, and that if someone gives you a book for Christmas you should reward them sexually. Which strikes me as an incredible marketing platform for the holiday gift-buying season. So Mr. Waters, as an employee of a book publishing company, I propose that next year you develop this idea into a full-fledged advertising campaign. I'm kind of serious. It would be far more interesting than the usual crap we come up with. 

Moving along...

More from his collection. The toy electric chair is pretty incredible.

Some vintage candies from his collection. I wonder why dingle berries never caught on...

And finally, perhaps the best part of the show was the screening of Waters' earliest films in constant rotation. I got to see Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, Roman Candles, and Eat Your Makeup, three films that I will probably never have a chance to see again (at the Christmas show Waters was asked by an audience member if he would ever release them; he said no). Eat Your Makeup, pictured above, is the best of the three—it features a young Divine as Jackie Kennedy, part of a reenactment of the Kennedy assassination.

Now I need to go watch some John Waters movies. I wish I owned a copy of Female Trouble—it'd be a nice addition to the holiday viewing I've been doing. Nice girls don't wear cha cha heels!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

First published in 1890, Hunger is a pretty apt title for this book. A starving writer wanders the streets of Oslo, desperate for nourishment, or at least a few kroner so he can buy a bit of food. He needs to publish a story to make some money so he can eat; but he can't write without food to fuel his brain. Both his mental and physical decline are excruciatingly recounted. In that way, it's kind of a hard read--you're desperate for the narrator to eat a decent meal, cursing him for turning down a prison breakfast because he doesn't want to admit that he's homeless (for chrissakes!), almost feeling the hunger along with him. Might I add, for a 120-year old book it feels remarkably modern.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hamburger Eyes Issue 011: Hamburger Ears

This issue of the photo zine Hamburger Eyes is comprised entirely of photographs of musicians. Hence the title of the issue, Hamburger Ears. Get it?

The issue is comprised of photos from various decades, from photographers of varying degrees of notoriety. I love how this often-seen Charles Peterson photo of Kurt Cobain is paired with an image of a marching band member*--infamous right alongside unknown. Everyone gets the same treatment.

Another great thing about this magazine is the layout, the way it's just filled with photographs printed right up to the edges. The one downside is that there's no index at the end detailing what's in each photo. So even though I feel like I should know who these two gentlemen are, I have no clue.

I love the top one--the cowboy boots, her hair whipping around. And that girl in the striped shirt? I wouldn't want to mess with her. (Although that guy seems to be enjoying the punch.)

Here's one by Jim Jocoy, which fits in right along with all the rest of the photos of L.A. punk scenesters found in his book, We're Desperate. (I'm not sure if this one is in the book. It very well may be.) And that is some pretty incredible hair on the left.

What an amazing baby picture. I wish someone had stuck me in front of some Black Sabbath graffiti when I was just a wee lass.

I'm really liking this guy's Devo tie. And the fact that he is surrounded by empty chairs.

*Actually, I don't really know who she is (due to the lack of captions). So maybe she's totally not unknown after all. Or not even in a marching band (and just dresses up like she is). But you get my point: religious cults and street performers share the pages with James Brown. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13, Edited by Chris Ware

This issue of McSweeney's is edited by Chris Ware and, as you might guess, is focused on comics. The packaging, as usual, is incredible, with a comic by Ware serving as the removable dust jacket (author bios are on the other side, after you unfold it). There are even a couple of mini-comics by John Porcellino and Ron Rege Jr. tucked into the folds.

Underneath the dust jacket is this beautiful cover, with gold embossed black cloth spine. I can't decide which one I like better.

Just in case you like neither (doubtful) there's a third cover, drawn by Charles Burns, a couple of pages into the book.

Even the table of contents is extra stylish, giving a little nod to the advertisements in comics of yore. Speaking of contents, this issue features short pieces from such comic artists as R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, Gary Panter, Kaz, and so on, plus essays from Chip Kidd and John Updike, and appreciations of Philip Guston, George Herriman, and Charles M. Schulz. It's a pretty good volume of stuff.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

This is actually an advance reading copy of Steve Martin's autobiography, which I found on a shelf at work, oddly enough, though I don't work for the company that published it. I was pretty excited to find it though, as I love Steve Martin's earlier work--you can't go wrong with The Jerk--which is what this book focuses on: his formative years, how he got into stand-up, and his first experiences with fame. I was a little disappointed with it though. He keeps much of his private life private, choosing not to reveal some personal details; at the same time, it's not like I was hoping for some sort of juicy tell-all. Still, there was something missing from the book, and I can't really say what that is. It wasn't necessarily a bad read--just not of the caliber I was hoping for.

There are some pretty great photos throughout the book though.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Squandering the Blue by Kate Braverman

My first introduction to Kate Braverman was in the form of a few photocopied short stories from this book, which is inexplicably still out of print, even after some of her other novels have been reissued in the past decade (though it isn't too hard to track down a cheap used copy, as I did). These stories are all set in Los Angeles--whether in Beverly Hills or seedier locales, the characters deal with addiction and abandonment (by men, by their mothers, by their children). Might be worth a revisit.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reading Comics by Douglas Wolk

This is a collection of essays, some about comics in general, some about specific comic artists, from Steve Ditko to Los Bros Hernandez to Alan Moore to Chris Ware and so on. I bought a copy for my brother for Christmas last year and he pooh-poohed the gift, saying something like, "I bet I could have written this book," as he obviously already knew everything in its contents. Oh well, too bad for him. I know I learned a little bit, and it was great to read about the artists I was already familiar with as well. And it doesn't hurt that it has a great cover too.

I also love the back--the thought bubble, the different typeface for each author and series.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

L'├ętranger by Albert Camus

This was my mother's copy of the classic existential novel, which she read for a French literature class in college. She hadn't realized she would have to read all the books in French when she signed up, and only stayed in the class because if she dropped it they would have to cancel the class for lack of students.

I've heard it's a good book to read in French for a beginner. I'm a bit too much of a beginner to try though (that is, non French speaker).

She's taken a lot of notes in the margins.