I’ll keep this one relatively brief, since I’d rather you spend the next minute of your life enjoying what’s behind door number one, either by clicking on the big type-laden image or this link right here. (There is sound, so if you’re supposed to be working on a spreadsheet or something, you might want to drop your volume a notch before clicking.) Yes, it is a Flash animation, which means neither you nor David Lynch can watch it on your iPhone. I apologize for that and I promise you I feel dirty over it. (If you have experience with getting Flash animations into a format suitable for upload to YouTube, please let me know–I’m pretty sure it involves rocket science, and rather than getting distracted by trying to become a rocket scientist, I’d rather buy you a six pack for pointing me in the right direction.) In any case, it’s a kinetic type animation, and it has nothing to do with books, despite the by-now-quite-tangential Henry Darger connection. It is the result of a project from the advanced vector design class I took over the summer, this being about one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve put my efforts into in some time, and, well, here it is. Let me know if you like it. And then, go buy a Vivian Girls album, so they don’t sue me for borrowing their song. (The album this song is from is called Everything Goes Wrong and it kicks all sorts of ass; I’m pretty sure I sold about three or four copies during the course of the class for which this video was made. I might suggest I’ve listened to this song perhaps even more than the band itself has listened to this song and I still love it. Strong endorsement.)
For the last two weeks, over lunch, I’ve been reading Imperial by William Vollmann. I’d actually started reading the book earlier this year, getting about 50 pages into it as part of a plan to read about 50 pages per week until I was done, before I promptly forgot the book existed after I had to move it off the coffee table and onto a high shelf, the quality of the hard cover being of a sort that my cat, it would seem, liked, at least enough to gnaw on, quite randomly, this being the sort of behavior that could not surprise me but which still took me off guard; he’d never eaten any of my other books. From time to time in the months that followed I’d notice the book, up there, near the ceiling, as I ran from one other priority to some other other priority, never thinking to actually take it back down during the slow moments to make good on the promises I’d made to myself when I’d first bought it, which is to say, to actually read enough of it before the paperback came out to warrant spending the cost of the hardcover (purchased either on sale or with a coupon or something I’m certain but still a fair dollar or two more than I’d be likely pay for a used video game, which, naturally, would provide far more immediate, gratuitous per-dollar-per-hour enjoyment than reading a chaotically long essay about immigration and irrigation in southern California) (and if there is a paperback version to come, which one would like to assume there will be, it has not shown up yet, at least, not according to my cursory glance at product listings on the Web). It was only a couple weeks ago that I finally took it back down and loaded it into my bag and took it with me to the day job, where it’s been sitting on my desk since, like some comforting dog, ready to attract the notice of neighbors, only to nip at their fingers when they go in for a pet behind the ears. Except, this book does not, in fact, despite its bulldog size, bite: it is, so far, I am willing to say, after 140 pages of semi-attentive, semi-distracted, sandwich-sauce-on-my-fingers, e-mail-buzzing-behind-my-head reading, about as compulsively readable a work by Vollmann I’ve yet to pick up and give an even semi-serious attempt at wading through—this is a book with so much love to give, can it help it if it puts its paws up on your shoulders, leans in deep, and slobbers all over your face? The sentences—that lovely fundamental unit of writing which, from book to book, paragraph to paragraph, Vollmann has (kindly) juggled with and (less-kindly) struggled with—are crisp, and have things to say, things to tell you, and never for a second lose sight of that fact; even if he goes long, even if he goes florid, it’s with intent to tell you something, to communicate facts and emotions to you, the reader, crushed under their weight of fur and bones. Yes, emotion: this may be a history, this may be a study, but it is an altogether, so far, a story, a human one, in which humans are creatures who do things that mean things to them—be it crossing a border, be it protecting a border, be it farming a land, be it sailing a river of shit, be it being in love, be it being out of love, be it writing a book. This is a book that for that reason is enjoyable to read, engaging, compelling; lunch time reading can be a trick, with everything waiting at the other end of the half-hour one might allot oneself if one is willing to feel like a bit of a slacker, and a book that does not compel can be an easy book to shove back in the bag in favor of answering a query or doing something else of value to somebody else. But Imperial, ah, Imperial—I want to remain in your embrace. Through the fatigue, despite the distraction, I will remain past the day’s goal of ten for an eleventh page. Or twelfth. Or another.
But okay, no, for serious: Stoner, by John Williams, is a great book, and is one of the best reading experiences I’ve had this year, or even in the last several years. In part because of context: I was working on my next book review when I read this one, and I’d read that book once, the review title book, and that one did things to me that I could not entirely define for myself yet, and so I knew I’d need to read it again, but I didn’t want to read it again immediately–I needed to step away from it, for a moment, the way you might step away from a mirror only to return to it later to find yourself familiar in some surprising way, like deja vu refracted through a glass of thick water. And that review title does a whole bunch of complex things in intriguing ways, and for whatever reason, I picked up Stoner off the perpetually one-foot-tall TBR pile, and, I mean, it’s cliche to say you can’t stop reading a book, but, like love, it’s so damn real and completely not cliche when you’re actually in it, all the more so since I hadn’t been in that specific place in a while, it seemed like–I mean, I’d read some other good books earlier this year, but usually in a, well, this is great, but I can also go rack up some trophies on the PlayStation, too, and have a good time tonight as well, right? Not so, with Stoner. I spent my days at work looking forward to going home so I could read more of it. This book reminded me that I had forgotten slightly just what the fig leaf a good book is supposed to do: strip away your modesty, leave you emotionally naked before it, make you need it. It is a book that makes you become a person. And this from a book that from its opening paragraph seems like it’s got jack-all to do or go toward–I mean, it lays out the fact in the opening paragraph that the title character lives a life and then he dies and it didn’t much matter to anybody except maybe to him. Which is pretty much a huge bummer but, what, now I have to read a couple hundred more pages about this fellow? No. Please. But! The thing is, the opening paragraph is a feint, or perhaps a huge lie; because, yes, spoiler alert, you are reading about the life of a guy who will, by the end of the book, die, except, in the time you spend with him, in the time you spend reading Williams’s perfectly reasonable, perfectly paced, perfectly rhythmic, perfectly unostentatious prose, he, Stoner, comes to mean a little more to you than most strangers ever will. At least, so it seemed to go for me. And it’s sad but it’s so strong. If I was the crying sort, I probably would have, around the time I finished. But I did not cry, and I set it down, and I returned to the book about which I was due to write a review, and I felt recharged, and refreshed, and ready to take this world of literature on again, one book at a time. My craving was reborn.
And so, tell me, please, because I would like to know: what book has done that for you?
Stoner by John Williams is a great book. Please consider this a heartfelt, enthusiastic recommendation; please consider reading the book.
Books! I’ve read a few this year. So far. I’m not expecting much in the way of surprise between now and the end of the year, though–seems like it’s all sort of mapped out. Like, there’s this guy, you may have heard of him, Jonathan Franzen? Yeah, he’s got a new novel coming out in a week. I’m looking forward to reading it. I don’t care that the entire internet is already tired of hearing about Jonathan Franzen and the fact that he has a new book coming out. I’m still looking forward to reading it. Marketing: it works! Or it does not work! Either way! And there are some other things I’ve got roughly slated out, seems like; there’s a book I’m reading now, which I’m going to be writing a review of for a place other than here for later this year. (I’ve got another review slated to come out in about a month for a place other than here, which I’m really looking to seeing hit the streets, and for the book to hit the streets, because I want other people to read the book, and then I want them to read my review, and then I want them to either whole-heartedly agree with me, or violently disagree with me, such that discussion of a civil or uncivil nature may occur. It is a book that after reading it twice and writing a review of it I am still struggling with my feelings and opinions about it, and more so than many books I read, I want not to feel like I am in a cultural vacuum of my own making with this one. So.) (Also, yes, no, I do not talk about the books I am doing reviews of, while I am doing the reviews of them, or before the reviews come out; I do this in part out of a vague sense of professionalism, a vague sense that if I’ve got a word to say about the book I really ought to save it for the review, a vague sense that if I start talking a book up outside a review I will curse the existence of the review which the book is intended for me to prompt–for vague reasons, in short, but reasons none the less, all of which is unfortunate in that it makes it seem like a book’s got to be targeted for me to write about it anywhere but here for it to get any play from me, which would be fine, if I was writing reviews full time, which I am not, nor do I see myself doing so any time in the near future, or even a less near future, so. It’s a thing. A situation. A sitch.) (And yes, I do mostly realize my blog-post writing style of late (or of ever) sort of makes me look like a jerk–people don’t read, Darby, you jerk!–but that is okay because something has to remind me that there is more to life than succinct customer-focused messaging. Ahem.) (Oh, but yeah, like I was saying up there, you know that since I don’t talk about books I’m reviewing outside of the context of the review before the release of the review, that the fact that I’m even almost writing about a book before a review I’m writing about it has been released means that I am positively bursting at the seams to talk about it and see it talked about. I want more for this book from me. Whatever that more may be.) (Whatever that more ever may be.) And there’s a new Rick Moody book out? Which is a science fiction future satire or something? Whatever, sign me up. And I’ve got a stack on the coffee table which seems to perpetually remain at the same height however many books I take off of it. Which isn’t that many, lately, what with school, and school, and work, and life, and other projects, and things, but still, I know I do read books, I see the small pile of books I’ve finished, but, like, the “to be read sooner than other books that are also very much to be read” stack seems stuck, like some tower made of hands? That are playing that sandwich game? You know the one? So like, I take one medium size book off, and then Francine Prose writes a glowing review of some books by Hans Keilson, and then there’s two more smaller books back up on the pile? It’s a rough calculus. And, I mean, Summer of Dostoevsky ’06, right? Gonna wrap that one up any day now? Am I? Am I. Point being, there’s no sense in me not starting to wrap up the year now by finally getting around to talking about the books I’ve read over the course of the year. It’s future-leaning retrospective. Yes. Books. I’ve read a few of them this year. And a few of them, I’d like to talk to you about them. If I may.
Issue number 13 of The Collagist is up. As Matt Bell notes in his Letter From the Editor, it’s the one-year anniversary issue. Which makes it all the more exciting to be a part of it; in this issue, you’ll find my review of Drowning Tucson by Aaron Michael Morales. Here’s how it begins:
Fill your book with blatant, modern-day classic, critical thematic concerns and a reviewer ought to have no problem calling them out in an easily digested bullet-point format. So we have Drowning Tucson by Aaron Michael Morales, in which, yes, race, sex, class. Gotcha revenge and mercy. Hello violence and suffering. Welcome to the party pedophilia, prostitution, human worth and dignity. All the above are on display here, ready to be picked apart and analyzed in essays and articles about narrative success and structures and interests. I ought to be able to phone this review in while mowing the lawn next to the airport.
Except, this book hurt. And trying to find a way to talk about that without merely repeating over and over again that this book hurt presents a far greater challenge.
This was a tough book to write about, because my reaction was so strong. Hopefully that all comes through in a more clear way in the review itself. Many thanks to Matt Bell for helping push this one in the right direction in some key spots. I’m curious to see how others react to this book.
Also in this issue of The Collagist, you’ll find a review by Gabriel Blackwell of Termite Parade by Joshua Mohr. I wrote about Termite Parade on this blog, and previously reviewed Some Things That Meant the World to Me for The Collagist, and I’m excited to see Mohr continues to get good coverage (which I’ve been seeing a lot of lately for Termite Parade).
My interest in visual communication as a thing that people do for/to/with other people is, in the context of my life to date, a new one, one I did not see coming until maybe two years ago; partially schooled, partially felt, fundamentally stumbled into, it’s the sort of thing that, whatever genius or drudgery might actually going on behind my eyeballs, were I to open up my keyboard fingers and start blogging about it full-time, or even at a rate one might say begins to vaguely approach part-time, I suspect I’d probably at worst make a total ass out of myself and at best sound at least inoffensive even while feeling mostly like a total poser in the background the whole time. A little gained-relatively-late-in-life working knowledge of grid systems does not make for Steven Heller mark II, and I’m not entirely sure how well my 101 level art history papers from college would hold up in the cold light of shmermumbleteen years later. That sense of total-poser-feeling-ness would apply doubly to most any discussion of graphic novels, comics being something I did not grow up on, the way I suspect, rightly or wrongly, most adult-aged graphic novel/comic book people did. There was a stretch of years there in gradeschool during which I faithfully read the funny pages every morning–except of course for the boring ones for adults that used a lot more black ink and in which the people all looked like actual real grown-up human beings–and I had a couple Transformers comic books that never got me too far–as, if I remember correctly, I was gifted a set of issues one through three in a series of four, four being an issue I never found or, in those days before the Internet, had any clue how to find–but I was never sparked to make a hobby out of collecting comics or learning the back stories of comic figures the way one might collect, say, baseball cards with the hope of striking it rich by getting that mint-condition rookie card that would some day net one a million bucks. And while my interest in literature has both deepened and thinned over the last decade, and my interest in graphic design and art (because I am young enough and naive yet to suggest there’s no discernible difference between the two, even while I know well that saying such things in the wrong company would be much like tossing a lit grenade into a dynamite factory) and the creation (whether personally or by others) of both has grown steadily over the last few years, the graphic novel, the comic book, that creature that one could safely suggest might in some way be the absolute marriage of the two (or three) realms, has lagged somewhere back with my interests in breeding sea monkeys. If you put the things in front of me, sure, I’ll stir up the waters a bit, as I’ve done with a couple graphic novels along the way, here; Asterios Polyp for one, Black Hole for another–but I’m not exactly going out of my way to make friends at this party.
That said: holy shit, you guys, David Mack.
I discovered his work today via a post on Imprint (a designer community group blog I think is going to turn out to be worth following in the long run) about comic artists relating their work to graphic design (read as: their work is graphic design), which itself is an interesting post, but, whatever, enough about that for now, I’m over here being totally gobsmacked by Mack’s work, what I see of it on his website at least. (It’s only the stack of books on my coffee table that’s temporarily preventing me from creating a stack of books on my coffee table.) Stunning stuff, particularly the works which use some mix of watercolor-y wash work and collage-like elements. Stuff like that Death print I linked to up before (want! want!) and this and this and this and…you get the idea. Want.
I admit I was probably doomed to be a bit partial to this sort of thing; since being introduced to the actual practice of design via, of all things, watercolor paint, I’ve held a certain special yearning for the brilliant colors and translucent stains they make so good on, and my girlfriend’s interest in collage, along with a trip through found object art in a 3-d design course, have all rubbed off on me to good effect. I think. (If one considered “feelings of crippling guilt when disposing of good clean cardboard” to be a good effect.) And while I know there’s more to his work than these elements there’s enough there to draw me in and get me looking at what else is going on there: shifting styles, new approaches. I’m not even touching the idea of story telling yet: I guess, I don’t know, actually, but I guess there’s story telling happening here. I’m not even looking at the words on these pages yet, other than, as, yes, there are words, integrated into the spreads; they’re of the work, intrinsic to it, but I’m not actually looking at the story they tell yet, much the way I’ve managed to scarcely heed a single word of the lyrical content of a single song I’ve heard in the last twenty years though I wouldn’t give up my favorite vocalists for the world. So for all I know the stories totally suck, who knows, but I know as much that looking at these well-constructed pages, built up each in interesting, dynamic ways, makes me want to keep looking, longer than is perhaps necessary or healthy; and that tells me I’ve learned a thing or two along the way here about what design is and does.
All that said: I’m still feeling pretty poser-like, and I have to imagine Mack’s work isn’t the only work of it’s kind out there. If anybody would care to educate me on other designers-as-comic-artists/graphic-artsits-as-designed, please, the comments are open, and my eyes are yours to fill.