Monday, January 31, 2011

Printing by Hand by Lena Corwin

I've been wanting to delve more into textile printing lately, so I dug out this book that I've had sitting in my closet, more or less untouched, for about a year. I felt a little silly, as most of the techniques outlined seem so simple and easy that the fact that I haven't been using it points to pure laziness.

This spiral-bound book outlines various printmaking techniques, from stamping to stenciling to screenprinting, with basic descriptions of and suggestions for each method,

as well as specific projects employing each one.

The careful and clear step-by-step instructions also feature accompanying photographs.

I like the photos of all the various materials needed for each technique.

There's a little pouch in the back of the book containing all of Lena's designs, should readers wish to use them in their printing projects. While I like to come up with my own, it's a nice touch to include them--and a lot of the patterns are pretty nice. (My favorite is the one in the second image in this post.)

Now I just have to sit down and get to it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lithium for Medea by Kate Braverman

Here's another author I was introduced to by a college teacher, through a few photocopied short stories distributed in a class. I decided to check out Braverman's first novel, a tale of addiction, unhappy relationships, and dysfunctional families in 1970s Los Angeles. At the time it was out of print (it's since been reissued), but I found this first edition copy online somewhere. The cover seems weirdly minimalist, though maybe that was the design trend at the time. (I do like the type treatment, but not the font of the author's name.)

A very young photo of the author on the back.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Asterios Polyp, is a professor and architect (though none of his designs have actually been built). After his home is struck by lightning and burns down, he flees to become an auto mechanic in the middle of nowhere, both location and occupation seemingly arrived at randomly.

The book alternates between present and past, including scenes from his childhood and failed marriage, as well as more abstract and imaginary scenes, such as those narrated by his stillborn twin brother, Ignazio, and digressions on aesthetic philosophy.

The characters are associated with a particular drawing style, color scheme, and visual motifs. This page makes me think of Will Eisner, maybe because of all the rain.

Also, I have to say that the characters have some pretty fancy digs. Even Asterios's parents live in an amazing midcentury house with Saarinen chairs and whatnot.

This seems like the type of book that you need to read a few times to absorb all of the layers and depths of meaning. I'm only on read #1. I'll have to let you know when I manage to find time for read #2.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre

Of all the books I've read over the years by Sartre, I think "No Exit" is probably the one that I was most engaged by. It's probably his most accessible, and maybe I was intrigued by the "Hell is other people" aspect. Though apparently that line has been misunderstood for years. According to Sartre:

"'Hell is other people' has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because. . . when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, . . . we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. . . . But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First Stop in the New World by David Lida

I've never been to Mexico, even though I lived about four hours from the border for several years. After reading this dissection of the culture, politics, and mindset of Mexico City, I'm interested in checking it out, though I'm pretty sure I don't want to live there.

The author, David Lida, did just that--an American journalist, he decided to do some sightseeing during a layover at the airport, fell in love with the city, and within a few years he had moved there permanently. That was in 1990; the book is written with 18 years of experience, from the unique perspective of one who is both an insider and an outsider--someone who deeply understands the place and its inhabitants, yet who is not really of them exactly. From the lively outdoor markets and cantinas to the wave of kidnappings by people posing as taxi drivers (this happened to Lida, though he got lucky) to extreme sexual harassment ("I have heard three separate stories of women whose backs were the recipients of the ejaculate of guys who masturbated while riding [the subway]") to the cult of Santa Muerte, Lida portrays a place that sounds completely insane, in both good ways and bad.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Maps: Fields, Paths, Forests, Blocks, Places, and Surrounds drawn by Nigel Peake

I've been watching the work of illustrator Nigel Peake for a little while now--I've previously written on here about his Ghost Houses and one of his zines. This short collection of drawings is themed on maps, which I'm particularly interested in--though Peake's maps are not the typical kind.

From the book: "Documenting small time adventures and excursions outwith a mile radius from where I call home. From train rides facing backwards, to crammed bus rides in tiny hill-top towns, to bike rides through the backyards of Europe. Records of the vast, unyielding concrete miles of Shanghai, to the paths between mountains and forests in late night French countryside to the old paint splattered wooden floor in London that I sleep on from time to time. In addition to this there are also some imaginings of possible places - cities built from train tunnels and underground arches to invisible concrete cities."

I love the illustrations, the different interpretations of maps, the watercolor lettering, the colors.

"What makes Nigel's maps so beguiling is the delicate poise between politics and imagination. Each map, he says, is a 'fictional reality.'" (From an essay in the middle of the book)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mystery Train by Greil Marcus

Originally published in 1975, Mystery Train is Greil Marcus' first book, an examination of six bands and musicians, the overall thesis being that rock and roll provides a lens through which American culture can be interpreted. The subjects are divided into “ancestors”--a fairly unknown one-man band from the 30s and 40s named Harmonica Frank (Sun put out some of his records in the 50s), and legendary bluesman Robert Johnson--and “inheritors"--The Band, Sly & the Family Stone, Randy Newman, and Elvis Presley.

When I mentioned to Dave that I was reading it, he very decidedly asserted that "I hate him." Seems he was deeply offended by Marcus' book Lipstick Traces, which compares the Sex Pistols to Dadaists, and stated that Marcus draws uninformed comparisons and writes it off as brilliance, and generally is very pretentious.

Some of that might be true, and since I haven't read Lipstick Traces I can't say for certain. Mystery Train might be pretentious, but I enjoyed reading it--there's a bit of that comparison-drawing I just mentioned, but the writing is colorful and engaging, bestowing an almost mythical quality on the subjects. Sly Stone becomes a 70s-era Stagger Lee, and there's enough lore behind Robert Johnson's story before Marcus even gets to him. I might steer clear of Lipstick Traces, but this one's a keeper.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grounded by Seth Stevenson

Slate writer Seth Stevenson and his girlfriend spent several months traveling around the world without ever leaving the ground--crossing the Atlantic on a cargo freighter, driving through the Australian outback, traveling the Trans-Siberian Railway, bicycling in Vietnam, and so on. The concept of this book seemed really interesting, but I have to say I was pretty disappointed in the execution. Most of the book is spent describing the modes of transportation, which is certainly important to the story, but there's not a whole lot about the places they visited, namely because they never seemed to have enough time to actually see anything. They went out of their way to go to New Zealand, only to have about two hours to race around the city, mostly trying to find some clean clothes to buy. I guess it just goes to show you that air travel, while less romantic, is a bit more practical. At least that way you actually have time to see the place you're traveling to!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog

In November 1974, film director Werner Herzog learned that a friend of his, Lotte Eisner, was on her deathbed. Eisner, a concentration camp survivor, was a legendary German film critic who had worked with Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinemateque Francaise. Herzog avowed that "This must not be, not at this time; German cinema could not do without her now." He somehow became convinced that if he walked from Munich to Paris—about 500 miles—to visit her, she would be saved.

And so he decided to make the three week trek through Europe on foot, in early winter, armed with a small rucksack, a compass, and a new pair of boots, stating that "I want to be alone with myself." Which just seems so quintessentially Herzog.

He documented his experiences in a diary, published a few years ago as Of Walking in Ice. I love how austere the packaging is—the plain white cover (perhaps emblematic of the snow and ice he traveled through), the matte finish cover, the small understated type.

As one might guess, the journey was extremely physically unpleasant. Herzog endured rain, ice, snow, and wind, suspicious farmers, and of course fatigue: "Hail and storm, almost knocking me off my feet with the first gust...Along with the storm and snow and rain, leaves are falling as well, sticking to me and covering me completely. Away from here, onward."

At one point his thoughts turn to Eisner—"How is she? Is she alive?...If I actually make it, no one will know what this journey means." But mostly they are dark, gloomy, and a little bit existential. "Unimaginable stellar catastrophes take place, entire worlds collapse into a single point. Light can no longer escape, even the profoundest blackness would seem like light and the silence would seem like thunder. The universe is filled with Nothing, it is the Yawning Black Void."

With only one side trip, to the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Herzog did make it to Munich to see Eisner. And she went on to live nine more years until her death at the age of 83.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Barry McGee

This 90-paged full-color book (which doesn't seem to have a title) is a record of a 2004 Barry McGee installation at Brandeis University. McGee, a San Francisco-based painter and street artist who is associated with the Beautiful Losers scene, has been influenced by Mexican muralists, hobo graffiti, skaters and surfers, and it shows in his art.

The book reflects the various aspects of McGee's work--his graffiti and paintings, alongside snapshots of detritus, urban blight, and desolate street scenes.

I love this one on the right.

The photos and graffiti help set the tone, but the best part is the paintings, the weird, abstract faces,

juxtaposed with bold geometric patterns.

This is a gorgeous book, full of color and life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Paris and Elsewhere by Richard Cobb

I can't remember where I first read about this book--I was convinced it was in some essay or review by Luc Sante but now I can't find it (though it makes a lot of sense why I would think that). Richard Cobb was a British-born historian who, after a brief stint living in Paris just before college, became a devout Francophile. His interests lay in the history of people and places on the fringes of society--that of murderers, prostitutes, dives, flophouses, and the like. This collection of essays offers the reader a glimpse into a side of 1950s Paris unseen by most, providing a picturesque, richly detailed portrait of a bygone time and place.

Friday, January 7, 2011

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

I was introduced to the work of Tobias Wolff by the movie adaptation of his memoir This Boy's Life, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Deniro. It describes the author's adolescence as he and his mother travel the country in search of a better life, fleeing one abusive husband for another one. I saw the movie by chance on TV when I was in high school so I'm not that sure if I would still be particularly moved by it today, but it inspired me to read the book, which inspired me to read the rest of his fiction. As I've said before in this blog, Wolff was a huge influence on my writing while I was in college. I haven't read anything of his in awhile but maybe it's time to pick up a short story again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Dwindling Party by Edward Gorey

I gave this book to Dave for Christmas a few years ago. It tells the unfortunate tale of the MacFizzet family, who one by one disappear during a visit to Hickyacket Hall. The best part of the book, after the Edward Gorey illustrations, is the fact that it is a pop-up book, with monsters and structures practically leaping out of the pages. It's very sadly out of print, but hopefully this will be corrected soon!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts!

In 1979, Andy Kaufman wrestled a woman on Saturday Night Live as part of his act. Proclaiming himself the "Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World" and taking on a classic villain wrestler persona, he offered to shave his head and pay a $1,000 prize to any woman who could pin him (he later also said she could marry him).

This book collects some of the hundreds of letters sent to Kaufman by women who wanted to take him up on the challenge. Some seem to be in on the joke, others not so much. It's amazing to see the variety of correspondents, from young girls ("I can beat you easily...P.S. I'm only ten") to tough broads to sex kittens, as well as the range in tone, from polite ("If I'm chosen I'll do my very best") to lonely ("It'll probably be the closest I get to a man all year") to vitriolic ("I'll give you a tracheotomy with my bare hands!"). He also received a few letters from men ("I've seen bald women in porno mags and they're kind of kinky!").

I love Andy Kaufman, these letters are hilarious, and the whole book looks awesome. Great stuff all around.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John

Dave gave this to me as a stocking stuffer for Christmas because it reminded him of the dinosaurs we visited about a month ago. It's a tiny little book, perfectly sized for the aforementioned purpose.

It takes about two minutes to read, but it is a two minute roller coaster ride of hilarity. (Sorry for the lame description.) The back of the book describes it as the "saddest funny book you'll ever read", which is pretty true. At every page I find myself laughing and "ohhh"ing at the same time. See below...

I like the dinosaur end papers.