Monday, February 23, 2015

Olafur Eliasson, Contact (glow-in-the-dark limited edition of 291 copies)

This is the limited edition of Olafur Eliasson's exhibition catalogue Contact, published in a run of only 291 copies in conjunction with Eliasson's show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. (The show actually ended today!) This book is absolutely glorious in both the regular and limited editions, featuring an exceptional balance of metallic inks and black paper stock. The first half of the book is printed on black sheets that feel like construction paper, and each spread features a breathtaking ombre from black to metallic colors that echo photo-negative tones.

When it was still available, the limited edition was only 30 EUR more than the regular edition and it was absolutely worth it. 32 pages of Contact are silkscreened in fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark ink. These pages depict line-renderings of various rooms and hallways of the Contact exhibition and glow under a hot light. Take a look:

The second half of the book consists of a more traditional exhibition catalogue, but still has some exciting parts to it: in between essays, spreads of sketches appear, showing an interesting side of Eliasson's creative process. It's remarkable to see works as polished as Eliasson's in this format, reminding viewers and readers that even his most ambitious pieces started as a scribbled idea.

Currently reading:
Fire and Knowledge by Peter Nadas

Currently Listening to:
Bing and Ruth, "Tomorrow Was the Golden Age"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don DeLillo and Richard Prince, "The Word for Snow" (Karma/Glenn Horowitz, 2014)

The Word for Snow is a maddening one-act play by Don DeLillo recently published by Glenn Horowitz and Karma, a New York publisher/gallery/boutique. Karma produces artist's books and unconventional exhibition catalogues, ranging from small staple-bound zines ($5) to hardcover volumes with unique, illustrated covers by the likes of Julian Schnabel and Chris Martin ($300 and up). The great thing about Karma is they are constantly producing work, launching exhibitions in New York or Easthampton, and co-publishing with other galleries in a way that broadens their roster. They also track down rare exhibition catalogues, which all seem to sell out promptly.

The Word for Snow is a very strange book, a remarkable literary piece snuck out amidst a slew of books on contemporary artists. Illustrated sparingly with bleak photographs by Richard Prince, the majority of The Word for Snow is emptiness. DeLillo's play only appears on the right side of the gutter, with the left pages blank except for a few Prince photographs every five-or-so-pages. The text is in a slightly deteriorated, large typewriter font, almost as if a lost manuscript was scanned and bound together. The play runs less that 30 pages, but packs a world of apocalyptic terror in its sparsity.

The conceit of the play is that a Pilgrim has finally achieved an audience with a Scholar, secreted away in some "mud hut" on an "unnamed mountain somewhere in a lost corner of west-central Asia." His discussion with the scholar is filtered through a third person, The Interpreter, which quickly mutates their Q-and-A into a play for three distinct voices. The Pilgrim, to his dismay, discovers that the Scholar's past teaching are considered obsolete, and that focus must be shifted instead onto the "death wish of technology," when "all languages are one language" and "the word becomes the thing." Confounding, classic DeLillo, futurism wrapped in fearfulness.

Richard Prince's photographs of old run-down homes and basketball hoops look relatively innocuous at first glance, but they transform into an appropriate doomsday motif once DeLillo gets momentum. Seen alone at a gallery show, I would hardly be moved by these visuals, but in tandem with The Word for Snow they drift towards meaning.

The Word for Snow was available in an edition of 1000 copies, 125 of which where bound in hardcover and signed by Prince and DeLillo. Signed copies are available at $350 from Karma's website, but the rest of 875 are completely sold out. They occasionally come up on eBay for around $45 (think there's one there right now). Highly recommended.

Currently reading:
Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover

Currently listening to:
"Returnal" by Oneohtrix Point Never

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Haruki Murakami, Tony Takitani (Cloverfield Press, 2006)

Back in 2006, a small Los Angeles publisher named Cloverfield Press came out with a line of small chapbooks with letterpressed covers. There were eight in total, including The Boy from Lam Kien by Miranda July and Tony Takitani by Haruki Murakami. "Tony Takitani" is a beloved Murakami story, originally written in 1990 and published in the New Yorker in 2002 (and was even made into a film in 2005). The story went on to be included in the author's English-language Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman collection in 2006, but was first published that year in a standalone volume by Cloverfield Press. 

Cloverfield Press's thing was that they numbered every copy and stamped them with a notary-like seal. It was a great way of making their books collectible without having signatures in every copy. Due to Murakami's rabid fanbase, Tony Takitani sold exceptionally fast, and was fetching some surprisingly high prices on eBay at one point. I personally sold a few copies myself, surprised that people didn't figure out that you could buy them directly from the press. I accidentally left myself with a first edition / second printing, though!

Activity at Cloverfield Press vanished after this first line of books. Their site is still live (here), but it's a ghost town. Nothing's been updated in about nine years...!

This is copy 1135 (of perhaps 2000).

Lovely endpapers, inverting the cover illustrations:

Currently reading:
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Currently listening to:
Gaussian Curve, "Clouds"

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Charles Burns: Echo Echo, Deluxe Edition with original pencil sketch (Pigeon Press, 2012)

This is a rare Charles Burns book called Echo Echo that came out a few years ago under Alvin Buenaventura's Pigeon Press imprint. It was looking for a time like Pigeon Press would be the long-overdue follow-up to the sorely missed Buenaventura Press. Buenaventura Press used to put out some of the coolest small-print-run books and prints by the best names in comics, as well as the highly revered first seven issues of Kramer's Ergot. Buenaventura Press folded years ago (2010) but re-appeared, newly christened, with Echo Echo to launch their new book line. But, that was it. Echo Echo was snatched up by a lot of collectors, and nothing's been published since as far as I'm aware. Further, the Pigeon Press site has these books marked "currently unavailable", which suggests to me that they're not sold out, but simply not being sold anymore for some reason. There is a Pigeon Press Gallery, but that's hardly been updated much at all.

The book is a triumph. Beautifully reproducing Charles Burns's Black Hole sketches on transparent paper in an array of layered images, Echo Echo shows a side of Burns's artistry that is often overlooked due to the solid, black imagery that prevails in his finished product. He's an accomplished sketcher, and the book showcases how much manual work went into Black Hole, which in its completed form can look at times almost too perfect.

Echo Echo was offered in two versions, a regular edition of 400 copies and a deluxe edition of 100 copies, each with an original sketch taped inside the back cover. This is copy 61 of 100.

My drawing, framed, is below.

(Alvin Buenaventura: if you find this, please come back to publishing! Your vision has yet to be matched since you closed up shop.)

Currently reading:
Brian Boyd, Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

Currently listening to:
"Centralia" by Mountains 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (First Edition)

A great rule of book collecting that I learned far too late in the life of my hobby is to focus on just a few authors you'd like to have first editions of their work and pass by things that don't quite fit into your library. There was a time a while ago when I knew a lot about rare first editions but lacked the focus to do anything important with that knowledge; I'd wander through shops and pick up books by authors I'd not yet read, motivated by the fact that I knew the book I was holding was sort of valuable, hard to find, or whatever. What I found after a few years of this was that I was accumulating a lot of books that didn't mean anything to me, books that were essentially the product of a bored book aficionado looking to fill his shelves. It's an eye-opening thing to look at a set of books you own and realize that, although being signed, first editions, they just aren't by an author you like. What I decided a few years ago is to stop browsing aimlessly and try instead to stick to a shortlist of authors that I was confident would be forever-authors, ones that I was nearly certain that I wouldn't have a change of heart over in my later years, and try to find some nice editions of their work. Thomas Pynchon was my first pick, and with the exception of V., I've completed his oeuvre. Another one that I'm slowly getting into, is the wonderful Shirley Jackson.

This is a non-price-clipped first edition of her superlative novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I found this last week on eBay after spending a couple weeks browsing new listings during an idle few minutes here and there at work. I added a "Shirley Jackson" search into that terrible cycle of websites that a person spirals through mindlessly, and one afternoon I found this, listed just a few minutes ago, at a shockingly low price. The condition was satisfactory (by no means great), but there were no signs of the book being any later printing. I couldn't be sure it was a 1st/1st but I went for it and was pleased with the results.

The book's jacket has seen better days, with chipping at the top and bottom, and the spine itself has a slight tilt to it.

The book's been bookplated on the front endpapers by previous owner "Lois Haberland Smith" (Google tells me she was the wife of Philadelphia music critic Roland Gelatt, via a NYT obit). 

In all, this book is a great example of how patience and a diligent eye will yield good results! Now, on to The Haunting of Hill House, if I can just wade through all those strange large-print editions out there...

Currently reading:
Vladimir Nabokov, The Eye

Currently listening to:
"Atomos" by A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2014: A Year in Reviews

Happy 2015, everyone! Around this time each year, I like to compile a full year of links to book reviews I've written. 2014 saw some remarkable books, including my top 5 which can be found here. With the exception of one review that was published by The New Orleans Review, all my reviews were originally featured on Contemporary Lit. One of my goals for 2015 is to branch out to more websites and journals, and hopefully my 2015 summary of reviews will more diversified.

From The New Orleans Review:

From Contemporary Lit:

5 stars:

4 1/2 stars:

4 stars:

3 1/2 stars:

3 stars:

2 1/2 stars: 

1 1/2 stars:

1/2 star: 

Back next week with more books from my collection!

Currently reading:
how to be both, by Ali Smith

Currently listening to:
Jordan de la Sierra, "Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Top 5 books of 2014

It's always tough to put together my take on the year's Top 5 books -- I've read a lot this year but by no means everything. When the New York Times's "Notable Books" list came out, I saw that I was on a very different track than the general reading population: there were a lot of books I'd not yet read and a lot of books I had no plans to read at all. For instance, having read The Yellow Birds from a few years ago, I've little interest in reading this year's National Book Award winner Redeployment. I've also not yet made it to Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and A Brief History of Seven Killings, despite their positive reviews. There are other inclusions on the "Notable Books" list that I would object to: Denis Johnson's The Laughing Monsters, for instance, is unforgivably lousy, and Sarah Waters's The Paying Guests overloaded and uninspired.

Hopefully my list will illuminate a few books that have been left out of the more mainstream compilations. These five books have each entranced me this year in their own ways. They are all exceptional achievements and each get my whole-hearted recommendation. In no particular order:

Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

I've recently featured VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy on the blog, so I'll keep it brief: VanderMeer made a feverishly readable trilogy with Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, and introduced readers to the world of Area X in a wickedly memorable fashion. Annihilation follows an unnamed biologist who is sent with a team of women to investigate scientific anomalies in a mysterious jungle. The book is part Lovecraft, part Tarkovsky's Stalker, mixed with the conspiracy of the better arcs of television's LOST. Annihilation is maddening and gorgeously written, and although the subsequent volumes of the trilogy give VanderMeer's story a perhaps-unwanted level of clarity, Annihilation remains a fine example of literary horror and can arguably be read as a standalone book.

A longer review of Annihilation can be found here.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book Three

I do not understand the Knausgaard naysayers. If you don't like Knausgaard, chances are you're letting the glut of rave reviews negatively motivate your experience with the text. If you're reading something, anything, solely because "everyone says it's the best thing they've ever read", you're entering into a intellectual relationship with your fellow readers instead of with the author, and if that's the case, why read it at all? This may sound biting but I think a good reader is able to separate hype from a hyped book and can take a text for what it is without the clutter of press shaping one's enjoyment. A review and a recommendation should be an encouragement to discover something great, not a challenge, and if you end a book thinking "I don't see what the fuss is all about", then you may have started it for the wrong reasons.

Karl Ove Knausgaard is an exceptional writer, and the third volume of My Struggle is a fine example. It's a 400-page childhood memory, unadulterated by the author's penchant for philosophy and chest-puffing. In fact, those two traits may be the only reason I'd accept for not liking Knausgaard (he is wildly self-aggrandizing in other volumes), but if that's the case I'd still recommend Volume Three. This is pure memory, so simple there's very little to dislike.

A longer review of My Struggle: Book Three can be found here.

Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things

Michel Faber tackles religion and science fiction in a fine novel that abstains from leaning too heavily towards either theme. The Book of Strange New Things is about a missionary sent to the nearby planet Oasis in an effort to connect with the indigenous population. It's a far-fetched concept but Faber sticks it: he gracefully steers clear of sci-fi tropes and resists lapsing into the religiously polemical. As insane as the novel is, it remains devastatingly realistic. This realism is achieved thanks to the difficult evolution of Peter the missionary's relationship with his wife back on Earth. Much of the novel is built on their transmissions to each other. Their love, and the difficulty with which they try to connect, renders the cosmic fantasy of The Book of Strange New Things almost as an afterthought. It's a remarkable book.

A longer review of The Book of Strange New Things can be found here.

witzend, ed. by Wallace Wood and Bill Pearson

First published in 1966, witzend was an underground comic made with the intention of giving artists and writers a platform for sharing their work while retaining rights and creative control of their characters. In a gorgeous, two-volume set, Fantagraphics has compiled every issue of witzend, including all front-and-back matter from each. Not only are the comics great, but there's an even better "narrative" flowing underneath the series, between each issue. Amidst letters from readers, editorial manifestos, messages from Wood how to best support witzend, and Wood's resignation from editorial duties after four issues, the entirety of witzend becomes a story in itself.

A longer review of witzend can be found here.

William T. Vollmann, Last Stories and Other Stories

Full disclosure, I've only read a third of Vollmann's Last Stories and Other Stories: at a massive 700 pages, Last Stories and Other Stories is unapologetically dense. The heft of this book (as well as Vollmann's other novels) makes Last Stories and Other Stories a tough review: oftentimes, a perfunctory early review will be rushed out around the time of publication and a more meaningful review left for after the early press rush subsides. Dwight Garner's worthless July 8th review "Dead Girls as Objects, or the 'ick' in Lovesick" seems to have nothing to do with the novel I've read partially read, and its publication takes all the emphasis out of Kate Bernheimer's excellent Times review from August 15.

Although I'm only a little over 200 pages in, I'm confident that Last Stories and Other Stories is one of the best books of the year. Vollmann writes with an old-world mastery: these stories read as if lost in time, like they were passed down orally from generations. Stories of pirate treasure, monsters, and paranormally bleeding statues are interspersed among semi-fictionalized tales of embedded reportage during the author's time in Bosnia. The story "Cat Goddess" follows female surrealist (Max Ernst's lover) Leonor Fini, other stories echo Poe and Lovecraft and other classic horror authors. A vampire story is coming next. Last Stories and Other Stories reads like a fever and is one of the most riveting works I've ever encountered.

Honorable Mentions

These go to Richard Powers's Orfeo and David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, two great novels that got a little too caught up in their ambitious conceits. They're still both very good, but don't say I didn't warn you if you get a little frustrated!

That's it for me this year - my next post will be a summary of reviews I've written in 2014 and then I'll be taking a short break. Back in late January!

Currently reading:
Ada by Vladimir Nabokov

Currently listening to:
FKA Twigs, "LP1"