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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Cover Art

August 29, 2014 | by

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Looking at this pretty slideshow of circa-1900 book covers, one is struck by a couple of things. First, the beauty and elegance of the design. And, second, the fact that the titles are all unfamiliar. Of course, beautiful, striking covers are produced every day: talented art departments work hard to accommodate an ever-changing market and far more cooks (so to speak) than designers of old ever had to please. One imagines in the old days, the author would take his Art-Nouveau swags and like it; agents rarely figured in the picture, and if you’d envisioned, say, a pine rather than a stylized laurel tree on your novel—well, forget it.

It’s also a change in tastes, or of standards; like so many old buildings, whose standard-issue marble work and penny tiling now seem like models of beauty and lost workmanship, these ornate covers were the rule, not the exception. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, well, that sort of works for beauty, too. Maybe not the tragedy part. As to the titles’ relative obscurity? That's also modern hindsight. And who knows what hopes the publishers had for The Story of Ab: A Tale of the Time of the Cave Man? One thing’s for sure: these were not disposable objects.

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Charmed Objects

August 25, 2014 | by

Phantom-Shelf

An example of a Phantom Shelf. Credit: EM Photography

People talk about a “Keeper Shelf” for those books they love more than any others. Those which, I suppose, are worth owning in this time when owning a physical book means something more than it once did. (Or, as much as it once did.) For my money, though, there is no better proof of love for a title than not owning it—that is to say, having given it away. Call it the Phantom Shelf.

When my coffers are in a particularly robust state, I will sometimes indulge in the extravagance of replenishing those favorite books I am most inclined to give away. It is always the same few—titles that I need to share with someone like-minded, right now!—and by the same token, those which I always miss when they are gone. Read More »

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Future Library

June 26, 2014 | by

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© Katie Paterson; commissioned by Bjorvika Utvikling and produced by Situations

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© Katie Paterson

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© Giorgia Polizzi

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© Katie Paterson

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© Katie Paterson

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Photo © MJC

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© Giorgia Polizzi

Right now, one thousand new trees are growing about twenty minutes outside Oslo. In the city’s new library, a window from a quiet room on the fifth floor faces out onto the nascent forest, which you can see across the harbor. These—those trees, this room—are the basic components of the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s Future Library, a century-long project that contemplates the full scale of the publishing process, with its many tangibles and intangibles:

It will be 100 years before the trees are cut down to provide the paper for an anthology of books—a Future Library for the city of Oslo—read for the first time in 2114 … Every year from 2014 to 2114, a writer will be commissioned to contribute a new text to a growing collection of unpublished, unread manuscripts held in trust in a specially designed room in the new Deichmanske Public Library in Bjørvika until their publication in 2114.

That room, intended to be “a space of contemplation,” is lined with wood from the felled forest; once the initial clear-cutting was complete, Paterson and a group of loggers planted the new saplings themselves, as photographed above.

An eight-person trust will guide the project into the future, with a small editorial panel—including the Booker Prize’s Ion Trewin—selecting the writers, the first of whom will be announced in September. Writers have no obligation to say what they’ll write or how long their manuscripts will be; they can produce whatever they want. A particularly ambitious or deranged author could take it upon himself to write an epic, laying waste to a significant percentage of the forest in so doing.

Paterson has also designed a limited run of certificates made from the trees that were cut down to make the new library. The double-sided print features a graphic of a tree trunk and functions as a deed or a share, entitling its owner to receive the anthology of Future Library books in 2114. New York’s James Cohan Gallery is showing the certificate in “The Fifth Season,” a group exhibition whose opening reception is tonight at 6 P.M.

“It grows in the mind,” William Pym, a curator at the gallery, said of the project. “There’s really not much to see.” Given its duration, Future Library is destined to be “forgotten and then remembered again,” he added, noting that attention paid to the project will ebb and flow over the years as new writers are chosen and as printing technologies advance.

The project foregrounds the most easily or willfully forgotten part of bookmaking: the trees. A bound book sits at a far remove from the natural world it came from—Future Library reminds us of the geographical realities of publishing, of the time and resources necessary to make paper. And as, presumably, digital media will continue to proliferate over the next century, Paterson’s art is resolutely, provocatively analog: every part of its process is tethered to the physical world. A visitor in Oslo can stand in the library and point to the source of the paper.

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Rules of Civility

June 24, 2014 | by

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Detail from Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Two Girls Reading, ca. 1890.

Over the weekend, someone asked me how I’d argue for the survival of the print book. I was taken aback; it felt like being asked to defend food against Soylent Green, or sex against the exclusive domain of artificial insemination. But I considered the question carefully, and aside from the obvious arguments, here’s one way I like to think of it.

When I was younger, I used to think setting people up would be sort of like recommending a book you loved: whether or not it worked out, a friend would know you’d tried in good faith to match her tastes and interests, and not hold it against you if you’d gotten it wrong. At best, her life would be enriched; at worst, she’d still be able to recognize what you saw in the other person. In any event, once you’d made the introduction, the arrangement ceased to have anything to do with you.

Instead, I discovered that setting people up is more like recommending a movie—specifically, a comedy. And if a friend doesn’t enjoy—doesn’t get—a comedy you like, somehow both of you feel betrayed, and some small part of you thinks less of the other. And there is the horrible knowledge that the person who dislikes always has the advantage. Read More »

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Razed in Cincinnati

June 19, 2014 | by

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Photo: Cincinnati Public Library, via Flickr

A few days back, MessyNessyChic—let’s not dwell on the name—posted a series of photographs of Cincinnati’s old public library, erected in 1874 and demolished in 1955. Even if you’re disinclined to fetishize the past, it’s hard not to greet these images with awe and a certain degree of wistfulness. This was one hell of a library, with a checkerboard marble floor, soaring shelves, cast-iron alcoves, and several stories of spiral staircases. In the grandeur of its design, it’s something on the order of McKim, Mead, and White’s original Penn Station—a work of architecture so self-evidently valuable to the contemporary eye that its demolition can be met only with bewilderment and righteous despair: What clown authorized the wrecking ball here?

But aesthetics were not then, and aren’t now, a high municipal priority—as evidenced by the criticism of the time. Harper’s Weekly once wrote about the library, “The first impression made upon the mind on entering this hall is the immense capacity for storing books in its five tiers of alcoves, and then the eye is attracted and gratified by its graceful and carefully studied architecture …”

It seems backward, and dismayingly utilitarian, to note the “immense capacity” first and the “graceful” design second—by that logic, the world’s warehouses and hangars rate among our architectural marvels. But maybe they do; we won’t know for sure until we start tearing them down.

The Cincinnati Library’s Flickr collection hosts even more photographs of the building—they’re much easier to digest if you pretend it’s still standing. Read More »

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Relativistic Finesse

June 9, 2014 | by

deep foot

Above is an advertisement from our seventieth issue—published in the summer of 1977—for Deep Foot and its sequel, Deeper Foot, two apparently seminal avant-garde novels. Click the photo to see the ad in full; it merits scrutiny.

Anyone seriously seeking Truth, Love, and a real and true ALTERNATIVE to the deadness and shallowness of the American Dream, rather than merely seeking people or trips to become dependent upon: THESE BOOKS ARE FOR YOU!

“This generation may hide these masterpieces under their beds,” the ad goes on, “but the next generation will more likely use them like a Bible!”

I’m of that next generation, and I can tell you: we most certainly would, if we only knew where to find them.

Information on the whereabouts of Richard M. Vixen has been hard to come by—we appreciate any tips you can offer. We do know that Avant-Garde Creations, of Eugene, Oregon, was in existence as recently as 1981, when the company took out an ad in Yoga Journal—a questionnaire, in fact, whose first prompt is “Are you conscious of a deep desire to be in an environment in which you could choose to be with any of 20 (or so) people, all of whom you love and who love you?”

Evidence indicates that Mr. Vixen wrote, in addition to the series advertised here, The Game of Orgy (with a foreword by Robert Rimmer) and The Magic Carpet and the Cement Wall, for Kids from 8 to 92. A rhapsodic Amazon review of Deep Foot describes it thus:

A triumphant, voluptuous novel about a woman's enlightenment. A mercilessly erotic, tenderly passionate journey into love and awareness.

When Lotta escaped from her prison of beliefs (about what she thought her life was supposed to be about) she found a whole new world of love and beauty awaiting her, and she fell in love with … Everyone!

A dissenting critic writes, “Reading it felt a bit like watching a non-lethal crash between two clown cars happen in slow motion.

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