Monday, June 21, 2010

The Third Man by Graham Greene

This novella by Graham Greene was written with the sole purpose of being adapted into a screenplay. In the book's preface, Greene states that "a film depends on more than plot, on a certain measure of characterization, on mood and atmosphere; and these seem to me almost impossible to capture for the first time in the dull shorthand of a script." Which is an interesting observation, though I'm sure that there have been plenty of incredible films made since then without being written out in novel form first. Regardless, The Third Man is a classic film, full of suspense and intrigue and atmosphere, so I suppose Greene's methods worked for him. As a novel it is not Greene's strongest (it wasn't really intended to be a novel in the first place), but worth reading if you like the film (I'd start with that first though).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

My introduction to Daniel Clowes was actually for a college assignment--one of my first college assignments, in fact. (I remember thinking something along the lines of "Man, art school is awesome...they make you read comic books.") I recall the teacher saying that he found it so remarkable that a middle aged man had captured the voices of these two teenage girls so convincingly.

It was probably one of the first comics of its kind that I'd read (other than maybe Evan Dorkin comics like Milk and Cheese or Dork, although that's still not quite the same type of storytelling).

While Ghost World is a bit more realistic than some of Clowes's other work, there are still some random bizarre details, like the girl with the giant goiter on her neck (more like taking over her whole face).

Another great detail is all the self-referential "Ghost World" graffiti around the town.

I kind of love how these girls are total assholes, even though they do grow up a bit by the end.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The White Album by Joan Didion

I love Joan Didion. The White Album was the first of her books that I read and is definitely one that I should read again some day. This collection of essays touches on L.A. in the 60s, the Black Panther Party, a Doors recording session, prison meetings with Linda Kasabian, a former follower of Charles Manson (Didion had actually known Sharon Tate), Didion's own psychological issues, California politics, the John Paul Getty museum, second-wave feminism, traveling through Colombia, and so on. There's something about California in the 6os that is so fascinating, and Didion's spare and elegant prose style makes it all the more compelling.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Funeral Rites by Jean Genet

This is the first and only book I've ever read by Jean Genet. I've been meaning to read A Thief's Journal for awhile now but for whatever reason never got around to it. I became particularly interested a number of years ago when one of my college classmates was assigned to do a paper on it and was so offended by the content that she asked the teacher for another assignment (and was denied).

After reading this I think I might have an inkling why (although at the same time it seems silly to make such a fuss over a little explicit gay sex). Both sensual and brutal, Funeral Rites follows Genet's grief for his lover Jean, killed in the Resistance during World War II, and his perverse attraction to the collaborator Riton. As the cover copy on a later edition states, it is a "dark meditation on the mirror images of love and hate, sex and death."

I love how the cover has no title or author--just this great photograph of Genet taken by Brassai. (I've included the spine in the above image as well).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Journals by Keith Haring

This new edition of Keith Haring's Journals marks the 20th anniversary of Haring's death. After a few years working in publishing, the cynic in me imagines some editor looking through the backlist catalog and saying, hey, next year we can publish a fancy new edition of this book and call it a 20th anniversary edition and sell a lot more copies! Of course, the upside is the renewed attention to Haring's work that this brings about.

Anyway, it really is a beautiful package--the drawings on the front are debossed (that is, indented into the paper), which creates a lovely tactile sensation. As for the contents of the book, the journals span from 1977 to Haring's death in 1990. But they skip about quite a bit until 1986, when Haring began writing more regularly (1983 and 1984 only take up two entries and there are none for 1985). As a result, the bulk of the book covers the years when Haring was already famous. There's not much of a gradual rise to prominence--suddenly it's just there. I would have liked to read a little more about his early years in New York, before he was running around the world creating high profile murals and museum shows; at the same time, his voice does not change from beginning to end. His opinions and feelings seem unaffected by it all. Much of the entries read like a tedious cataloging of his shows as he travels the globe to create art, but are made interesting by his observations of people, politics, and art.

Here's one of the French flaps. You can see the indentations from the debossing all the way to the right.

One of Haring's early drawings from the late 70s. I really like this one, even though it's not indicative of his more well known style.

I love this picture, how he's literally painted himself into a corner.

An illustration from 1984, in Haring's classic style.

His illness is hardly mentioned at all in his journals. It is first brought up offhandedly when a dentist accosts him for not mentioning it before he begins to work on his mouth, and then again in September 1989 (five months before he died) when he says "In light of the new information I received last week about my health, I know I owe it to myself to think for myself for a change." That is about the most in-depth he goes in expressing any worries about his illness and mortality (though I imagine he must have had much more serious thoughts about this--just not on the page). He died incredibly young, and yet he had such a prolific career, despite its brevity. And yet, one has to wonder what might have been had he lived.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Floating Opera and The End of the Road by John Barth

This is a collection of John Barth's first two short novels. The Floating Opera is written from the perspective of the main character Todd Andrews, on the day he has decided to commit suicide. However, in the first pages it is disclosed that this day took place 16 years earlier, thus revealing that Todd did not end up commiting suicide after all. Despite taking all of the suspense out of it right away, you get to read about drunken sea captains, love triangles, legal disputes, and so on.

The End of the Road
also involves a love triangle, but with a much darker outcome. It takes place on a college campus, but the academic setting is rather incidental to the plot. In fact, the whole plot is rather incidental to the philosophical themes that Barth is trying to tackle.

I read The End of the Road first, for a college class, and I recall preferring that one to The Floating Opera. But this is yet another instance where I'd be curious to go back and re-read each of them.