Thursday, April 29, 2010

Maigret S'Amuse and Maigrez Chez le Coroner by Georges Simenon

I recently spotted this pair of French editions of two Inspector Maigret novels by Georges Simenon, and even though I don't know the language I loved the cover art, not to mention the coordinating aspect, so much that I couldn't help buying them. The iconic silhouette of the pipe, the man on the back, the rings of smoke. Maybe I'll teach myself French so I can read them. (Probably not.)

If you open the book and lay it face down it looks like Maigret is smoking his pipe. Pretty awesome.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery & James Schuyler

I saw this book sitting out on a table at the Montague Book Mill in Western Massachusetts and was immediately intrigued by the fact that it was a novel written by two New York school poets. Then when I realized that the cover was designed by Joe Brainard, I was sold. The back of the book divulged nothing about the plot, but I didn't let that deter me. Even when the lady at the register told me the book wasn't "nearly as fun as you want it to be," I still bought it.

Written by Ashbery and Schuyler one sentence at a time over a number of years, this supposedly comic novel explores the pretensions of the suburban upper middle class--in this case, in Westchester County. More or less plotless, not too much happens beyond these people going out and eating and drinking and talking. I guess the next time a salesperson tries to deter me from actually making a purchase, I'll listen. At least it has an awesome cover!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blackstock's Collections by Gregory L. Blackstock

This is a collection of drawings by a retired dishwasher from Seattle, known for playing his accordion around town, who is also an artistic savant. His work consists of detailed drawings of objects, animals, and vegetables, each page devoted to the many varieties of each item.

From shoes (on the back),

to insects,

to tools, to plants, knots, instruments, fish, and the like, Blackstock's incredible undertaking of cataloging the minutiae of everyday objects is reminiscent of old field guides or biology books. His "visual lists" are not necessarily interesting simply because he is autistic, nor is his autism the driving force of his work--the drawings have a simple beauty all their own, and the dictionary-like quality is also kind of appealing.

The inside cover and flaps on each side feature handwritten soup recipes, of all things. I'm not sure how I feel about pineapple and cream of peach soup, but I like the sentiment all the same.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun

Set in the Bronx in the 80s, this debut novel is centered around Joon-Mee, a 12-year-old Korean-American girl who leaves her troubled family for a life on the streets. Over the next six years she lives in a homeless shelter, abandoned buildings and squats, finds work as an escort, a dancer, and an Avon lady, falls prey to drug addiction and petty crime, and tries to turn it all around. It's a bit depressing and bleak, but in a wholly compelling way. I really loved this book.

The book's small size--what I've found to be the "precious literary gem" size that publishers use when they want to speak to a certain audience--along with the spare understated design, lends it a reserved, elegant quality. (The gem size works!) And for some reason I love the hints of buildings peeking out at the top.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Adventures of Sock Monkey by Tony Millionaire

Tony Millionaire is one of my favorite comics artists. Perhaps best known for the darkly comic and violent Maakies, about a drunken monkey named Uncle Gabby and an even drunker crow, aptly named Drinky Crow, he also has drawn several comics for children, adapting his Maakies characters into lovable stuffed creatures. There is no violence or suicide or venereal disease (unlike in Maakies). But there is still something a bit subtly unsettling about The Adventures of Sock Monkey, and I think I might like them even more for that.

Millionaire drew much of his income in his early years from drawing people's houses, which shows in his work. There are always these incredibly detailed opening shots of beautiful Victorian homes.

He also has a propensity for drawing ships. Quite appropriately, he recently illustrated the cover of Moby Dick for the Penguin Graphic Classics series, and even though I'm not that interested in that book I am thinking about getting this poster.

Though his name in this book is Mr. Crow (not Drinky Crow), he does indeed love a good flask of whiskey. Again--not sure if these are really for children or not. But if there ever was a more poetic journey into drunkenness, I haven't seen it.

That might be one of the best aspects of the writing--a couple of toys with an old-fashioned and lyrical vocabulary. "A thousand pardons, sahib."

This page is a nice example of some of the situations Uncle Gabby and Mr. Crow tend to get themselves into--they mean well, but sometimes don't have a complete understanding of their surroundings. And I love that the little figures know the Latin for "Rodent-eating bat." And that the mouse is named Smalls.

This is really one of my favorite comics series!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen

Just a couple of weeks ago I noticed some very familiar-looking scenes on the Google home page and realized they depicted several of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. It turns out April 2 was Andersen's 205th birthday, and by a nice coincidence I happened to have been reading his fairy tales that same week.

As for the book itself, it's yet another one of Penguin's deluxe classics. I grabbed it off a shelf at work mostly because of the cover design--I love the illustrations.

The introduction to the book is one of the better ones I've read--it actually doesn't give away major plot points and sheds a lot of insight into Andersen's psyche, what drove him to write the stories he did.

Much like the Grimms' fairy tales, these translations are a bit darker and more violent than the more commonly told versions today. The little mermaid's tongue is cut out in exchange for her legs (which feel like sharp pins every time she walks on them). And I don't even want to tell you the real story of "The Red Shoes" (the basis for the 1948 movie about ballerinas).

Maybe the best part of the book is the paper cutouts (made by Andersen himself) accompanying each story. Above is "The Snow Queen" (perhaps my favorite of the fairy tales)

and here is "The Red Shoes."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yeti Seven

I already wrote about the sixth issue of Yeti magazine, and I'm happy to say that the seventh issue is just as good, if not better. Featured inside are interviews with comic artist Jim Woodring, San Francisco-based bands the Nodzzz (by way of New Jersey) and the Wooden Shjips, book cover designs by Joe Brainard, a rare manuscript by Abner Jay, and more. Plus, the cover art is by Mingering Mike (apparently it's supposed to be President Obama as a boxer).

One of the more fascinating articles is about Nancy Dupree (illustrated above), a Rochester music teacher who recorded her students singing original songs about James Brown, Martin Luther King, civil rights, and other issues that were relevant to them. (At the time it was released on vinyl as Ghetto Reality, and can be purchased here on CD or mp3 from Smithsonian Folkways.)

And I couldn't resist including this, even though it's actually an ad found towards the end of the issue. But maybe the best ad ever.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

First published in English last year, this is a diary kept by Werner Herzog during the making of his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo. The production of this film is legendary (it involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a mountain without the use of special effects), notoriously plagued with myriad troubles involving actors abandoning the project, Klaus Kinski's infamously difficult behavior (allegedly the Indians offered to kill him), grueling conditions in the jungle, and of course the task of moving a 320-ton steam ship over a mountain.

The text on the back (see above) is fairly indicative of the tone of the book: at once beautiful and bleak, somewhat hallucinatory and feverish. One of my favorite entries, hilariously terse, is from July 20, 1979: "San Francisco. Emptiness." Even July 13, 1980, "a beautiful, fresh, sunny morning," ends in tragedy when one of two newly hatched chicks drowns in a saucer containing "only a couple millimeters of water," the other one getting its leg and a piece of its stomach bit off by a "murderous" albino rabbit. "A sense of desolation was tearing me up inside, like termites in a fallen tree trunk." Oh, Werner, how I love your somber observations on the world. I'm reminded of a voiceover in the 2005 documentary Grizzly Man: "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder."

Overall, though, the point of Conquest of the Useless is the attainment of a dream in the face of impossibility. So it kind of has a positive moral.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On a Wave by Thad Ziolkowski

Thad Ziolkowski was my writing teacher during my freshman and senior years of college. He could sometimes be a bit harsh in his criticism but I learned more about writing in those two years than any other time in my life.

This book is a memoir of his adolescence, of the disintegration of his family, and growing up in Florida in the 70s. But mostly it's about his passion for and obsession with surfing. I remember reading it in two or three days--it was totally engrossing, and not just because I was reading about someone I knew. A Google search reveals that he was a Guggenheim fellow in 2008, which he used to work on a novel. I look forward to reading it when it is published.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, the Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound, by Paul Drummond

This book tells the story—or saga, as the subtitle refers to it—of the legendary 13th Floor Elevators, from their origins, to Roky Erickson's struggles with mental illness, to Tommy Hall's steering the band towards hallucinogenic substances (ostensibly to lead the world to higher levels of consciousness), to the band's legal troubles and battles with record labels, and their legacy. And quite a bit more—at 414 pages it may be a little too detailed, though it's still a pretty interesting read.

There's a color insert with some gorgeous spreads of photographs and psychedelic posters,

as well as great black and white photos throughout.

It's ultimately a pretty tragic story, particularly when you look at how Roky looked at 19, when the Elevators first started playing,

and what happened to him later on. Granted, he seems to be doing a lot better now that he's actually been on psychiatric medication (for more on that part of the story see the documentary You're Gonna Miss Me). But there were a lot of lost years before then (though he did produce some pretty weird and great music through some of them).