Books, Comics, Music

Fascination Vacation

"The Yearling", Donald Lipski. On the grounds of the Denver Public Library, here looking toward the Denver Art Museum. Hands down my favorite public art in the city. It captures the transporting magic of reading and fantasy.
“The Yearling”, Donald Lipski. On the grounds of the Denver Public Library, here looking toward the Denver Art Museum. Hands down my favorite public art in the city. It captures the transporting magic of reading and fantasy.

Both my daily news cycle and my own personal bathroom are leaking a disgusting slime. While waiting for the plumber, escape is imperative, so I’m moving to my go-to in pleasant subjects- reading.

I finished Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub. It collects his Believer Magazine columns, in which he lists what books he’s bought and what of those he’s read. I’ve mentioned that I like writing about books as a way of procesing what I’ve just read. Here, Hornby humorously processes the very act of choosing what to read. I doubt I’ll ever read most of the things he mentions, but I’m including a short list of prospects culled from his blurbs below, along with my reason for choosing them.

Here’s the thing about the reading list I began to append to the blog: it’s meant to document a thought process. I used to diarize about my thought process in the studio, but I rarely have time for that this year, so I’m diarizing about time spent on the couch.

I read mainly in the mornings, with coffee; or in the evenings with a glass of wine, times that for various reasons, I’m now constitutionally unable to convert into quality studio time.  Yet my best art ideas often come when I’m reading, and the verbal component of an idea- title, story metaphor, often come before I ever enter the studio. One can easily see why well-limned graphic novels hold such a high place in my reading life.

I’ve often thought of reading as part of my creative process, and Hornby’s funny memoir is unexpectedly profound in its implicit treatment of reading as a creative process in itself. Reading really is about wishing- to be somewhere, or even someone, else. That really is possible, if only fleetingly in moments snatched from societal and infrastructural invasions.

“You have to admit that when… books this good get read […] I’m the one who has to be given most of the credit,” Hornby declares in one of this book’s many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a good summary of why reading is in itself a creative act- one wishes  a story into being by encountering the book, then completes it by reading it. Later, we fumble to describe our uniquely epiphanic experience of that story to blank-eyed friends. Well, I do. Hornby, not so much.

His column is built around two lists, “Books I Bought This Month,” and “Books I’ve Read This Month”, which tread the mysterious line between the creative wish- and its fulfillment. I’ve kept my own private list in a journal for a few years now. It grew partially out of my quarterly stints working in a college bookstore and unpacking interesting texts (the actual books, that is, not the ideas within- that’s what this blog is for.) The list was mostly for illuminating my thought process for that particular time.

My wish list evolved from discovering titles of interest to me while stacking the shelves in the college bookstore with the various books ordered for the English, History, Sociology, International Studies &etc courses offered each quarter. Later I just type title and author into the search box on the library web site. These titles along with the ones I find simply browsing, suggest other titles. I think I can trace separate ( but sometimes unexpectedly intersecting ) lines of exploration in areas such as early comics history, women in comics, feminist thought, and feminists in comics. One wishes to fill in gaps, then winds up in another thread altogether. Hornby communicates a lively and not at all didactic delight in this process, and it’s inspired me. 

Wish List: First the ones culled from Hornby, then some of my own ongoing obsessions, then what I’m actually reading now. 

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell: A very original word smith from McSweeney’s, here writing about the Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley assassinations, or at least her research into them- too weird not to be interested in.

Austerity Britain, David Kynaston: In post war Britain, they never recovered their global preeminence, and their empire quickly dissipated, but soon to come were the Fab Four, Swinging London, and the World Cup. I have to know why.

Game Change, Heilman, Halperin: Obama, Palin and the Clintons, ‘nuff said, really.

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, Will Hermes: In 1973, When the Brit Invasion was petering out, and American radio was turning to insipid pop such as Doobie Brothers and Carpenters; NYC downtowners such as the Ramones, NY Dolls, Patti Smith and Phillip Glass were saving American music, even as Hip Hop was just beginning and Jazz and Salsa were enjoying a renaissance. A no brainer, I think, but note to self: don’t order it until the iTunes budget is robust.

Comics and feminist thought- can’t get enough right now.

Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics 1941-48, Noah Berlatsky: I’ve been reading a lot on WW, and writers have been writing a lot. Many, including her own publisher, would like to ignore this strange, and yes, wondrous part of our cultural history, but it’s far too compelling, for very complex reasons. I’m certain I’ll post more about this when I get a copy. 

Against Love: A Polemic, Laura Kipnis:  I read and summarized her earlier book Bound and Gagged on porn and censoring fantasy. There are many intelligent feminists writing from all different angles of the women’s rights debate right now, and she’s definitely a unique voice.

What I’m actually reading right now:

The Middle Ages, John Gillingham and Peter Earle: I read a book about Shakespeare’s England, and this led to a history of the fall of the Tudors, the Puritan wars, and the beginning of the Stuarts. So I guess I just wanted to know what came before. For a nation stereotyped as fuddy-duddies and twits, England has a quite lurid history. Edited by Antonia Fraser, who wrote a book about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, inspiration for Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, as well as all those proliferating Guy Fawkes masks seen in Anonymous tweets. Another massive reading thread, coalescing like summer thunderheads.

The Better of McSweeney’s Volume 1: Found in the $2 pile at the library book sale. Lots of great stories in here, of course. This book covers the first ten issues; I only began to follow it with #’s 6 and 8. McSwy’s does publish non-fiction, however, so I give special mention to William T. Vollman’s jarring “Three Meditations on Death”, and Sean Wilsey’s somewhat deadpan rumination on Donald Judd’s West Texas legacy “The Republic of Marfa”, which continues in #6, “Marfa, Revisited”

The Ganzfeld, No.3: Continuing my browsing in this very odd yet compelling journal of comics, graphics, and other stuff the editors thought interesting. Comics by cutting edge cartoonists Blexbolex, Marc Bell and Jonathon Rosen, and a close reading of a Bruegel painting, “Peasant Dance” described by its author, Lawrence Wechsler as a “prolegemena”. Hmm. “Prolegomena”, presumably. Curiously, it’s the second time I’ve run across the word in my current couch binge. Yes, I should get out more, though I don’t think an intervention is necessary at this time.

However, if you have opinions or recommendations on any books, please comment.