Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Once Again to Zelda by Marlene Wagman-Geller

This lovely paper-over-board book (kind of like a hardcover without the dust jacket) collects the stories behind the dedications at the beginning of a variety of books, both classic and contemporary. Sylvia Plath dedicated The Bell Jar to her friends who offered her refuge after the end of her marriage ("To Elizabeth and David"). Jacqueline Susann dedicated Valley of the Dolls to her poodle ("To Josephine, who sat at my feet, positive I was writing a sequel). And of course F. Scott Fitzgerald dedicated The Great Gatsby to his wife Zelda.

It's not exactly scholarly literature but it's an interesting concept and a breezy read, with a short chapter allotted to each story. It's somewhat troubling that most of the sources at the back of the book are from wikipedia, but if you can get past that, it's worth checking out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez

In one of the most recent installments in the long-running Love and Rockets series, Maggie is recently divorced, working as the manager and handy-man (err, person) of an apartment complex. She returns to her old neighborhood in L.A., the fictional (as far as I can tell) Hoppers, where she runs into her old friend (and sometimes lover) Hopey, who now wears an eye patch. There's also some slightly supernatural stuff going on, which is nothing new for the series.

This story also introduces the character Vivian (see above), who is not to be fucked with.

I love how Jaime Hernandez has aged the characters over the years. They started out as teenage punks, and with each new issue they become noticeably older--in Maggie's case, heavier--and more complex, often reminiscing about the old days.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Age of Reason by Jean Paul Sartre

As is typically the case, I think, Sartre is another writer who I more or less exclusively read while I was in college. This is the first novel in a trilogy, a portrait of a Parisian bourgeois living in the shadows of fascism. It's written in a fairly straightforward style, focusing on three days in the life of a philosophy teacher who needs to find some money to pay for an abortion for his mistress. I never managed to read any of the other books in the trilogy, though I've had one of them, Troubled Sleep, sitting on my shelf for about eight years. Maybe I need to ease off the hardboiled mysteries and read more intellectual novels for a change.

I love the Sartre seal on the front cover and the ornate type on the spine.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Weegee's New York

A few years ago I bought this book of Weegee's photographs of New York on a whim. I'm not sure why, not because his work isn't great, but because this is more of a postcard book than a nice photo book, which is probably what I should have held out for. (Maybe I'll upgrade one of these days.) Regardless, it contains some classic images.

Weegee was the pseudonym of a photographer working in the Lower East Side in the 30s and 40s, who got his name because he seemed to have an almost clairvoyant knowledge of when and where a crime, fire, or accident would occur, arriving on the scene mere minutes after anything had been reported to the authorities. His photographs largely depict the seedier side of life, of people in the back of a paddywagon, drunks, car wrecks, and murder victims.

He also photographed the upper crust, but in such a way as to convey a somewhat sinister or unflattering quality.

I love this one, of a cab and what I can only guess is part of a Macy's parade float--two otherwise innocuous elements, but together they look terrifying, like a giant monstrous hand is reaching down to grab the car, the driver desperately speeding away.

This of course is the best one by far. The bagel man coming out of the shadows, bringing the morning delivery. A beautiful sight (even though the lighting is a bit creepy).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Magic Christian by Terry Southern

This very short, somewhat dated-feeling, yet amusing novel is about an eccentric billionaire whose only goal in life is to use his vast fortunes to create disorder, and prove that people will do anything for money, no matter how degrading or distasteful--even crawl into a pit of steaming offal. This is a man who really likes not just to piss people off, but to completely mystify them in the process--kind of a mindfuck, if you will.

I love this cover, how Ringo Starr just blends right into the wallpaper. His character was created solely for the movie adaptation of this book (it was written solely for Ringo, in fact), so it actually makes sense that he's sort of nonexistent, as he doesn't appear once within its pages.

Apparently Peter Sellers (also seen on the cover) loved this book so much that he sent it to Stanley Kubrick, who was inspired to hire Southern to write the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove. Good instincts, Peter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

American Splendor by Harvey Pekar

I was really sad when I heard that Harvey Pekar died last week. When I saw the obituary notice I think I audibly gasped and let out an "Oh no!" at my desk at work. He was only 70, which seems far too young to me, and he was still working, still creating comics, most recently with the Pekar Project (the latest story was posted just under three weeks before his death).

Admittedly, I'd never heard of him until the movie American Splendor came out. After that I of course wanted to read his comics (how could you not?), and sought out this collection. At the time I'd say I was mildly interested in reading graphic novels, and I guess right after that I became a bit obsessed, hunting down anything that seemed mildly interesting (luckily I worked at a library at the time). I don't think it was a direct result of reading American Splendor, though at the same time maybe I was inspired to seek out even more.

Anyway, if you've somehow not seen the movie, Harvey Pekar was a working class guy from Cleveland who had the good fortune of meeting R. Crumb, whose work gave him the idea to use words and pictures to tell his own story. And because Harvey couldn't draw, Crumb agreed to take Harvey's words and make them into pictures.

As you can probably guess from this strip, they met through their love of record collecting. (Sorry about the blurriness--still figuring out my new scanner.)

This page is from a hilarious story that was brought to three dimensions in the film.

Throughout the years American Splendor was drawn by a variety of artists. Here Gerry Shamray illustrates a scene from the office where Harvey worked as a file clerk for many years. His answer to why he never brings in any food for his co-workers is pretty great: "I don't wanna give, I just wanna freeload."

Harvey ponders man's existence. I love his contemplative look in the last panel. His writing could be philosophical, thought-provoking, moving, or just plain funny. Or all of the above.

A view of the Cleveland train yards (I think).

The Comics Reporter invited a variety of comics artists to give their thoughts on Harvey, collected here, but I thought Seth said it the best: "[Harvey was] probably the first person who wanted to use the comics medium seriously as a writer. Certainly the first person to toss every genre element out the window and try to capture something of the genuine experience of living: not just some technique of real life glossed onto a story--not satire, or sick humor or everyday melodrama--but the genuine desire to transmit from one person to another just what life feels like."

I also love what Phoebe Gloeckner says: "I feel like Harvey can't die." And maybe in a way that's true--as cheesy as it sounds, he'll always be alive on the pages of his comics. But it's still so damn sad that there won't be any new ones.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon

A few months ago I visited the town of Marfa, TX, and realized that I had somehow managed to not bring enough reading material with me to last the week (this particular vacation was the kind that involves a lot of down time, like reading in hammocks--not the kind of vacation I'm used to). So I ventured over to the local book store and came up with this book by Georges Simenon. Like most of his repertoire, it's a slim volume, one of the recently repackaged "romans durs"--dark, noirish, economically written novels.

On his 48th birthday (which no one has remembered), a "successful" Parisian businessman realizes how unsatisfactory his life has become, and on a whim decides to withdraw 300,000 francs from his account and disappear to the French Riviera, where he makes a new life for himself cavorting with prostitutes, drunks, thieves, and other assorted low-lifes. At first he finds himself unaccustomed to this lifestyle, having been used to the finer things for so many years--"and yet there was something pleasurable about this slight pain," as he says. Of course, his old life invades the new one, and he ends up being pulled back, returning as suddenly as he'd left.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mao II by Don DeLillo

Have you ever read a book, knew you enjoyed it, but have no recollection of what it's about, or of the experience of reading it? Or maybe this only happens to me. I've had this book scanned and uploaded for two months but have been avoiding it because I have no idea what to say about it. Ever after reading a plot summary, nothing jogged my memory of it. I don't know what that says about me, or the book, but I've decided I need to just post this and move on with it. Maybe I'll try to read it again, but maybe not.

According to the back cover copy, "At the heart of the book is Bill Gray, a famous reclusive writer who escapes the failed novel he has been working on for many years and enters the world of political violence, a nightscape of Semtex explosives and hostages locked in basement rooms. Bill's dangerous passage leaves two people stranded: his brilliant, fixated assistant, Scott, and the strange young woman who is Scott's lover--and Bill's." (I love how that little bit at the end is supposed to be such a twist.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody

With one exception, I've read all of Rick Moody's books and this is still my favorite one. Set in the affluent town of New Canaan, CT, the novel centers around one dysfunctional family over the course of one night in winter of 1973. Parents swap partners--I'm pretty sure this book first introduced me to the concept of key parties (not that I've ever participated)--while their children experiment with sex and drugs, and an ice storm, both literal and symbolic (how d'ya like that one?), sweeps through the area. Yet another one to revisit some day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller

Just as war was breaking out in Europe, Henry Miller went to Greece, traveling around the country with the writer Lawrence Durrell, who lived there at the time. This account of his journey there is brilliant and intense with his feeling for the country and its people. As he describes it, "Greece is the home of the gods; they may have died but their presence still makes itself felt."

I love what he says he looks for in his travel accommodations: "I like hotels which are second or third rate, which are clean but shabby, which have seen better days, which have an aroma of the past." Words to live by!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Story by Robert McKee

I had to read this book for a screenwriting class, which was happening right around the same time that that awful movie Adaptation came out. In the movie Nicolas Cage goes to one of Robert McKee's screenwriting seminars (though it's not actually McKee; he's played by the actor Brian Cox) and manages to arrange a one-on-one with him. I'm not sure if that's why the teacher chose this book for the classhe specifically mentioned Adaptation when introducing the bookbut it's actually a pretty great tool if you're trying to write a screenplay. I guess that's what I'm trying to sayeven though the author is portrayed in a terrible movie (I realize a lot of people really like itthey're just misguided), his book is pretty useful for people who wish to avoid writing terrible movies.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Books by Raymond Pettibon

This book collects the zines and artists books that Raymond Pettibon made between 1978 and 1998, encompassing his early days drawing flyers and record covers for L.A. punk bands, to the recent past, by which time he'd been accepted into the art world, showing at galleries and world-renowned museums.

The book is pretty thick--about two inches.

Consisting entirely of black and white pen and ink drawings (with a few black and white xeroxes thrown in), Pettibon's imagery is dark and violent, but with a sick sense of humor. I've erred a little more on the conservative side with choosing images for this post (never know who might be looking at it...). Unfortunately the book is pretty hard to come by at this point but if you can get a copy of it I highly recommend it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Atlas by William T. Vollmann

This is a collection of short vignettes that take place in every corner of the world, from Thailand to San Francisco to Bosnia to Cambodia, a sort of meandering travel journal of dissociated experiences. In Northern Canada he meets a woman being eaten alive by mosquitoes; in San Francisco he watches a prostitute build a crack pipe out of a broken car antenna and a Brillo pad. As in all the other books of his that I've read, he seeks out people living on the edges of society, finding beauty in ugliness.