While watching Dario Argento’s engrossingly decadent, nonsensical, phantasmagoric ballet-school horror film Suspiria at the IFC Center, the scales fell from my eyes. I had previously come to accept as an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that the great Italian films produced in the forty years after the Second World War—films by Rossellini, Fellini, Pasolini, Antonioni, De Sica, and Argento—had all their dialogue dubbed in post-production, with no concern for fidelity to the acoustical environment or the movement of the actors’ mouths. Whispers are deafening; sentences careen blithely on after an actor’s face has gone still; an actor’s mouth plainly repeats the same word over and over as the soundtrack magically produces the most varied eloquence. I assumed it a national quirk, like the French and their reverence for Jerry Lewis, and the price of admission to these masterpieces—to their sensuousness, their mixture of pitiless realism and old Hollywood glamour, their feel for the physicality of actors. Then, with Suspiria—in which these qualities are raised to the nth degree, in which pure style is predominant over any narrative coherence—I realized the atrocious dubbing, the flagrant lack of concern for dialogue, is inextricable from the very things that make these movies uniquely great. In essence, the Italians continued to make silent films deep into the sound era, with all the lost qualities inherent to silent film. The decoupling of dialogue from filming seemed to unchain the camera of the Italian filmmakers, free to roam at will, free to hold and hold on faces, waiting for the slightest barometric shift. In Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, far more information is conveyed by the choreography of two characters following each other through an apartment than by dialogue. The Italian film stars of the era—Marcello Mastroianni, Monica Vitti, Sophia Loren, etc.— are so vivid in memory precisely because their voices are indistinct. Compare them to a star like Humphrey Bogart, whose voice is so famous, and whose iconic moments—“Here’s looking at you, kid”—are so often bound up with dialogue. The aura of the Italian stars is visual, a silent luminosity adhering to them like the saintly halos in an icon. As the faded silent film star Norma Desmond says, contemptuously, in Sunset Boulevard: “We didn’t need dialogue—we had faces!” —Matt Levin Read More
In 2017, Honey & Wax Booksellers established an annual prize for American women book collectors, aged 30 years and younger. The idea took shape when Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, the bookstore’s owners, observed that “the women who regularly buy books from us are less likely to call themselves “collectors” than the men, even when those women have spent years passionately collecting books.” By providing a financial incentive, and a forum in which to celebrate and share their collections, O’Donnell and Romney hope to encourage a new generation of women. As they say, “The act of collecting books is often a private and obsessive pursuit, and that’s part of its appeal, but collecting is also a way to connect with others: to inform those who share your interests, and to inspire those who don’t share them yet. And by rescuing and recontextualizing pieces of the historical record, collectors contribute to a larger conversation across generations.” This year, one contestant wrote to them, ““I already feel more like a real collector just by applying for this prize.”
We are pleased to unveil the winner of the 2018 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize, who will receive a thousand dollars, as well as four honorable mentions, who will each receive two hundred and fifty dollars.
Jessica Jordan: The work of American illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon
Jessica Jordan, 27, is a former bookseller and current graduate student in English at Stanford. She has collected books designed by prolific American illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon. The Dillons’ experience as interracial partners (in life and work) informed their approach to graphic design over five decades. “We decided early in our career that we wanted to represent all races and show people that were rarely seen,” they wrote. Famously versatile and productive, the Dillons collaborated on an untold number of commercial book projects, from pulp science fiction (winning the Hugo Award for Best Artist) to children’s stories (winning the Caldecott Medal, twice) to iconic paperback editions of James Baldwin, Madeleine L’Engle, Chinua Achebe, and Isabel Allende. Jordan notes that “the Dillons’ work is unsigned on many of their early book covers – meaning that the burden of identification is left solely to my own abilities . . . as I have grown my collection, I have also been training my eye to see what others don’t, and nothing else puts a spring in a book collector’s step quite like that feeling.”
Honey & Wax says, “We admired the depth of Jordan’s collection, and the sense of discovery that animates it, especially as it relates to previously uncredited Dillon titles, and to the afterlife of the Dillons’ imagery in the Black Power movement.”
Margaret Landis: Women in STEM
Margaret Landis, 27, is a research scientist with the Planetary Science Institute, stationed in Albuquerque, NM. She has collected books by and about pioneering women in science, technology, engineering, and math. While the history of women in STEM is a newly popular genre in the wake of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, Landis “started looking back in publishing history to see if similar eras of popularity of women-in-science biographies had occurred.” That search drew her back to the early twentieth century, when Eve Curie’s 1937 biography of Marie Curie won the National Book Award, and Rebecca Joslin’s 1929 Chasing Eclipses showcased an amateur astronomer’s travels.
Honey & Wax says, “We admired Landis’s creation of a working library for students historically underrepresented in STEM fields, revealing that “people like them have been contributing since the beginning.” We were also impressed by the way that Landis refined her focus in the year since her first submission to the Honey & Wax Prize in 2017.”
Miranda Marraccini: Barbara Pym
Miranda Marraccini, 28, is a graduate student in English at Princeton. Her collection is devoted to English comic novelist Barbara Pym (1913-1980), including not only copies of Pym’s own books, but the works of dozens of writers that Pym quotes in her fiction, ideally in the midcentury British editions Pym herself would have read: “For Pym, books offer a kind of shorthand for character: often, she lists the titles on a character’s bedside table, or has a protagonist repeat the same quotation at different points in the novel . . . in her novels, we are what we read.”
Honey & Wax says, “We appreciated the originality of Marraccini’s intertextual approach to a single author, reflected in her bibliography annotated with Pym’s allusions, a lively portrait of the literary tradition that shaped a particular kind of English wit.”
Michelle Porter: The Golden Age of the American musical
Michelle Porter, 30, is a library technician in Rapid City, SD. She collects first edition libretti from the Golden Age of the American musical, 1930-1970. Porter’s focus is on the cultural history captured at the moment of performance: “Broadway, at that time, could be more risqué than Hollywood because the entertainment was limited to a fixed geographic location rather than being simultaneously screened nationwide. Whether subversive scripts indirectly mocked the status quo or waged outright war, reading them today gives a true impression of the mores of those times better than any sociology intensive.”
Honey & Wax says, “We admired Porter’s attention to these libretti as historical documents, and her account of how her project spurred her to develop the scouting and negotiating skills of a seasoned book collector.”
Marielle Stockton: The writings of Ella Rhoads Higginson
Marielle Stockton, 20, a college student in Everett, WA, for her collection of the writings of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940), a bestselling early chronicler of the Pacific Northwest. Focusing on “Higginson’s unusual position as a prolific female author in a sparsely-populated corner of the country,” Stockton collects Higginson’s now out-of-print books, as well as postcards and sheet music featuring her work, and books by her contemporaries and influences. “The collection currently paints a picture of the Pacific Northwest that Higginson lived in and wrote about, as well as the literary culture she was writing to and within.”
Honey & Wax says, “We enjoyed following Stockton’s energetic online pursuit of overlooked Higginson ephemera and signed material, inspired by an ongoing recovery project at Western Washington University.”
Honey & Wax would like to thank the sponsors of the 2018 Honey & Wax Prize, AbeBooks and The Rosenbach. They’d also like to thank the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Fine Books & Collections, the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, and all the others who helped spread the word about this year’s prize. Now on to next year.
An essay by cult manga star Tadao Tsuge, translated by Ryan Holmberg
My comics have been turned into a movie. It’s titled Vagabond Plain.
The script and the direction are both by veteran director Teruo Ishii. Officially, I am “author of the original story.” But to be honest, I feel a bit guilty about receiving that honor. Upon reading the script, my initial reactions were “?” and “ … ” and also some “!!” My crude and naked stories had been dolled up and transformed into something bold and wonderful.
The script was super fun. Director Ishii had laced together a number of my short and medium-length stories, then embellished them with his own wild-spirited sections, to spin a yarn that is truly bizarre. I hesitate to call myself the original author precisely because I am so impressed with Ishii’s additions. His parts are the overall narrative’s true jewels. Had the script followed my manga faithfully, the resulting movie would surely have been too bleak. It’s presumptuous of me to think this, but I wonder if Ishii consciously set out to combat the darkness of my work.
I couldn’t wait for the movie to be completed. The shooting of Vagabond Plain was wrapped up early last December (1994)—which means it took all of one month!
I went to see the initial cut at the Togen Laboratory in Chōfu (west of Tokyo). The movie was more fun than I expected. It had singing and dancing and eros and daring action scenes and the bizarre and grotesque. It had anything and everything, and all the charm of the “grand motion pictures” of yore. It wasn’t a movie that required difficult philosophizing. If you tried too hard to make sense of it, you would probably just get knotted up inside your own clever thinking. Read More
On October 6, 1964, at the height of the American civil rights movement, fifty-three-year-old Romare Bearden, a mature artist with a moderately successful career as a painter behind him, debuted nearly two dozen billboard-size, black-and-white, photographic enlargements of collages—Projections, he called them. Instead of the large abstract work he had been painting up to then, he filled his canvases with the faces of black people. Their expressions, unflinching and intense, dominated crowded city streets, southern cotton fields, and ecstatic rituals. Spontaneous passions seemed to erupt from these works, filling the walls of Cordier-Ekstrom, Bearden’s gallery on the Upper East Side of New York.
Some called his creations a sign of the turbulent times: the 1950s Montgomery bus boycott and Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling; 1960s lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides, the March on Washington, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the year of Projections. A surge of civil rights activism swept the country, compelling an urgent need for change. Figures in Bearden’s Projections embody that urgency, confronting their viewers like characters in a play caught in mid-action. At first glance the figures in Projections look ordinary, as if the artist were merely reporting a news event, except faces are fractured and dislocated, their hands swollen to twice their normal size, bodies pieced together from startling juxtapositions, including, as one commentator notes, “parts of African masks, animal eyes, marbles, corn and mossy vegetation.”
“Grotesque” might be too harsh a word to describe some of the figures in the Projections. Yet they evoke a history of distortions of black life even as they also re-envision that life. Bearden’s friend Ralph Ellison used the word “disturbing” to describe the figures in the work; their stridency, he noted, was completely out of character for an artist who, until that exhibition, was not known for representations of race. Why did Bearden so emphatically and comprehensively change the style and subject matter of his art? Read More
In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.
My family and I are what the newspaper headlines would deem immigrants. Living in a city where people of my kind are under constant scrutiny and threat has caused me to lose hope. I used to find solace in the community of poetry nights until I found myself subject to the same questioning stares there because of my headscarf. There are small acts of hatred that take place that don’t make their way into newspapers. My parents drop me off at university and their breath is suspended in the air until I text them, ‘reached alright.’ And again, they hold their breath till I walk through the front door at night.
I no longer think about my big dreams of writing or research. I pray for safety, for me and for everyone in need of it right now. Do you have a poem for this? For this feeling of being like a lost spaceship, floating with no promise of a return?
Lost in a Big Crowd and Scared
Throughout his life, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 -1926) wrote letters to close friends as well as individuals who had read his poetry but did not know him personally. At the time of his death in 1926 at the age of 51, Rilke had written over 14,000 letters which he considered to be as significant and worthy of publication as his poetry and prose. Among this vast correspondence are 23 letters of condolence. For nearly 100 years, most of their sometimes bracing and always powerful insights have been hidden in plain sight, or rather buried in a disorganized and partly irretrievable set of publications and archives on two continents. They have now been gathered for the first time into a short volume that offers Rilke’s highly original and accessible reflections on loss, grief and mortality. Together they tell a story leading from an unflinching and honest acknowledgment of death to transformation, just as Rilke’s well-known Letters to a Young Poet recounts the story from unflinching self-reckoning and the acceptance of solitude to serious self-transformation. Taken individually, each of the letters on loss, which Rilke wrote to different recipients but with the same single-minded intent to assist someone in mourning, may offer solace for anyone dealing with a personal loss. What can we say in the face of loss, when words seem too frail and ordinary to convey grief and soothe the pain? How can we provide solace for the bereaved, when even time, as Rilke stresses over and over, cannot properly console but only “put things in order”? These letters offer guidance in the effort to recover our voice during periods of loss and grief, and not to let even the most devastating experiences overwhelm, numb and silence us. —Ulrich Baer Read More