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Posts Tagged ‘books’

The Junket-Eater

February 26, 2015 | by

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An illustration from Junket Is Nice.

New York Review Children’s Classics has reissued so many wonderful forgotten texts: novels and picture books and nursery rhymes and even the occasional cookbook. But for my money, none is weirder than Dorothy Kunhardt’s 1933 Junket Is Nice.

The prolific Kunhardt is best known for Pat the Bunny, but long before Daddy’s scratchy face was even a twinkle in her eye, the author was animating a far more sinister beard: that of the mysterious Junket-Eater. The plot of Junket Is Nice is as follows: a fat man with a Rasputin-like red beard sits at a table consuming a massive bowl of junket (“a delicious custard and a lovely dessert”). This intrigues everyone; the people come running to view the spectacle. Between gulps, the Junket-Eater challenges the populace to guess why, precisely, he is eating this enormous bowl of junket. They put forth ever-sillier hypotheses, to which the Junket-Eater screams, “WRONG!” for all the world like a red-bearded John McLaughlin. And then a little boy stands up and tells truth to power: “JUNKET IS NICE.” For which effort he receives SOMETHING NICERead More »

The Suffering of Books

February 25, 2015 | by

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Alexis Arnold, San Francisco Phone Book, 2013.

For centuries, books have enjoyed the benefits conferred on inanimate objects, chief among which is their immunity to pain. So lucky they are, so smug, sitting painlessly on their shelves, passing the time. But it is winter, and it is cold, and now our books must freeze as their readers do.

To that end, Colossal has introduced me to the work of Alexis Arnold, who, in her Crystallized Book series, dips found books in a borax solution (is this proprietary? Can I buy some?) that freezes, crystallizes, destroys, or preserves them—whichever verb suits your fancy. Arnold aims to return books to a kind of prelapsarian state as aesthetic, functionless objects, unburdened by the complications of text. Her frozen books, she writes, are “artifacts or geologic specimens imbued with the history of time, use, and nostalgia. The series was prompted by repeatedly finding boxes of discarded books, by the onset of e-books, and by the shuttering of bookstores.”

See more below, and here. Read More »

Four Poems by Richard Milhous Nixon

February 16, 2015 | by

ab028100ee5176959782b685451434d414f4141Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, and Jimmy Carter all published collections of poetry—and I don’t mean to diminish their stately, often tender contributions to arts and letters by what follows. But the simple fact of the matter is, their poetical efforts pale in comparison to Richard Nixon, who was, and remains, the most essential poet-president the United States of America has ever produced.

The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon, a slim volume compiled by Jack S. Margolis and published in 1974, stands as a seminal work in verse. Comprising direct excerpts from the Watergate tapes—arguably the most fecund stage of Nixon’s career—it fuses the rugged rhetoric of statesmanship to the lithe contours of song, all rendered in assured, supple, poignant free verse. Below, to celebrate Presidents’ Day, are four selections from this historic chapbook, which has, lamentably, slipped out of print. Read More »

The Chinese Photobook

February 13, 2015 | by

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Cover and interior selection from Pictorial Review of the Sino-Japanese Conflict in Shanghai. Shanghai: Wen Hwa Fine Arts Press, Ltd., 1932. From The Chinese Photobook (Aperture, 2015).

Even with the advent of digital photography, it’s never been easy to publish a book of photographs: time, labor, and production costs ensure that such projects can’t be undertaken casually, at least not well. There’s something inherently lavish in a book of pictures, something that makes the eyebrows rise. A photobook, with its unwieldy trim size, its color printing, and its demanding design constraints, always answers to a grave question of purpose: What does it do? Why did it need to exist? Does it serve merely to bring prestige to your coffee table, or can it act to didactic, moral, or even geopolitical ends? If some publisher’s going to pony up, those questions are less rhetorical than they might sound.

The Chinese Photobook,” a new exhibition at Aperture Gallery curated by Martin Parr and the Dutch “artist-duo” WassinkLundgren, surveys more than a century of China’s rich photo-book publishing history. It surprises both in its complex portrayal of Chinese history and in the depth it gives to photo-book publishing as an enterprise. Read More »

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$190,000 Birds, and Other News

February 6, 2015 | by

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Image via AbeBooks

  • Latin, the most famous dead language, is enjoying another of its many posthumous lives: “A language can fall out of everyday use, its forms can cease to change, and yet writers will still use it to do new things. This happened to Sumerian and Hebrew—and it happened to Latin too. People all over the Mediterranean world and beyond continued to use Latin after Virgil and Cicero—and they did so in endlessly creative ways.”
  • The hazards of open endings: Why does so much literary fiction refuse to provide a real resolution? “An authorial strategy now so widespread to have almost become the norm in literary fiction was so ‘unfamiliar’ back in 1925 that Woolf suggested readers ‘need a very daring and alert sense of literature to make us hear the tune.’ ”
  • A 1765 book about ornithology has sold for $190,000: “Published in Florence in Italian in five volumes, it contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the book took ten years to complete … Some consider the book to be a commentary on 18th-century Italian high society because the bird poses are almost human.”
  • Technicolor turns 100: “We realize that color is violent and for that reason we restrained it,” an early adopter once said. But today, Technicolor has developed “this very vibrant, saturated palette ... When these films started getting more colorful, that's what audiences reacted to. They loved this artificial, fantasy, over-the-top palette. And that’s the way color shifted. It’s idealized.”
  • Running a bookstore is hard. Running an anarchist bookstore is even harder. And not because of the anarchy, it turns out—because of the antianarchy. At San Francisco’s Bound Together, “there’ve been plenty of adventures, like the time when the bookstore was threatened by Neo-Nazis in the eighties and members slept in the space nightly to protect it. There was also an attempted arson in the eighties, when someone dumped gasoline through the mail slot and tossed a lit match in to start a fire.”

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Man in Hole

February 4, 2015 | by

Turning novels’ plots into data points.

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Kurt Vonnegut

Motherboard has a new article about Matthew Jockers, a University of Nebraska English professor who’s been studying what he calls “the relationship between sentiment and plot shape in fiction.” Jockers has crunched hard data from thousands of novels in the hope of answering two key questions: Are there any archetypal plot shapes? And if so, how many?

The answers, his data suggest, are “yes” and “about six,” respectively.

Jockers, it should be clear, is pursuing a different meaning of plot than the one we conventionally reach for—he conceives of it as an emotional concern more than a narrative concern. His research was spurred by a concept called syuzhet, one of a pair of terms coined by the Russian formalist Vladimir Propp. As Jockers explains, Read More »

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