Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fourteenth Secessionist Exhibition catalogue, featuring Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven" frieze (facsimile edition)

My wife and I were traveling for a good potion of August and had the pleasure of spending three days in Vienna two weeks ago. Vienna is an incredible place, full of some of the finest art, architecture and design I've ever seen in person. One of the highlights was the Secession Building, which featured Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven" frieze. The frieze was made for the Secessionist group's fourteenth exhibition; the focus of this show was Max Klinger's statue of Beethoven, which was presented in the center atrium of the building. It's strange to think of the great Klimt in a support role, but his frieze was essentially that, presented in a side foyer of the building with spaces planned throughout the frieze so that viewers could see Klinger's statue.

In the gift shop of the Secessionist Building, I found this incredible facsimile of the XIV Exhibition catalogue - it's full of gorgeous woodcuts and Secessionist designs. Here is the title page and the endpapers:

The book's entirely in German, which unfortunately is lost on me, but the text is set beautifully with illustrated dropcaps:

And here's a great spread of Secessionist members' signatures (it was a blast to see these crop up in paintings throughout the Leopold and Belvedere):

This facsimile was limited to only 300 copies -- at only something like 30 EUR I thought it was a must-buy. A beautiful souvenir from a fantastic city.

Currently reading:
Krazy by Michael Tisserand

Currently listening to:
Frank Ocean, "Blond"

Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016 Man Booker Prize longlist / Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen (signed, first edition)

The 2016 Man Booker Prize longlist was announced last Wednesday. Readers of The Oxen of the Sun might recall that each year I declare it my last year collecting signed first editions and playing the game of predicting the winner for the sake of my library. The Booker going global last year was a big game-changer for me, and not in a good way - as a US-based reader, the Booker was a window into a literary realm that I wouldn't really encounter on my own. Now, the longlist is full of familiar faces (including an old professor of mine from undergrad) and far less eye-opening and horizon-expanding.

I'm underwhelmed by this longlist, and will certainly not be scrambling for a ton of rare UK editions, but I can't help but be intrigued. Paul Beatty made a splash with the New York Times notable book list last year, David Means and Ottessa Moshfegh have been all over the major literary journal circuit for the past five or so years. I quite liked Deborah Levy's Swimming Home, was nonplussed with Black Vodka, but am a little curious about Hot Milk. Elizabeth Strout's The Burgess Boys was not particularly good and makes me suspicious of Lucy Barton, but she did win the Pulitzer. Ian McGuire's The North Water looks like the only other title up my alley. I'll check that out but probably skip the rest.

Here's the full longlist:

Paul Beatty (US) – The Sellout
J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) – The Schooldays of Jesus
A.L. Kennedy (UK) – Serious Sweet
Deborah Levy (UK) – Hot Milk
Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) – His Bloody Project
Ian McGuire (UK) – The North Water
David Means (US) – Hystopia
Wyl Menmuir (UK) – The Many
Ottessa Moshfegh (US) – Eileen
Virginia Reeves (US) – Work Like Any Other
Elizabeth Strout (US) – My Name Is Lucy Barton
David Szalay (Canada-UK) – All That Man Is
Madeleine Thien (Canada) – Do Not Say We Have Nothing

I read The Paris Review and am a big fan of all of Ottessa Moshfegh's short stories that have been included in the journal. Her work is terrific and strange and she's a writer that I've been particularly keen on watching over the past few years. I picked up this signed copy of Eileen from the Community Bookstore in Park Slope last year. Even if she doesn't make it to the shortlist (although she should), I hope her inclusion in the longlist tips more people off about her talent.

Currently reading:
Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Barkskins by Annie Proulx (Signed, slipcased "indiespensable" first edition)

I started Annie Proulx's Barkskins this weekend and am tearing through it. Proulx's a masterful, transportive writer and so far I've been consistently thrilled by her story and the way in which she tells it. I've only made it into the second sub-section of the novel, but I'm excited and relieved to see that she's sticking with the story from Part I (and telling it from a new perspective) rather than jumping, David Mitchell-style, into an entirely different realm. I'll be reviewing Barkskins at, which will likely be live in about two weeks.

I subscribe to Powell's "Indiespensable" series, which means every 6 to 8 weeks I receive a signed, first edition novel in an exclusive slipcase. Although I see a lot of local bookstores are stepping up their 'signed copy' game, and a lot of books are being offered with tipped-in signatures, I really like the Powell's subscription and think it's a great thing to support and be a part of. Look how pretty this is:

And take a look at her tiny signature:

Barkskins will surely make an appearance this week on the Booker Longlist when it's announced on July 27, and I expect it'll be involved in Pulitzer discussions next year.

Currently reading:
Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Currently listening to:
Ork Records: New York, New York (Numero Group)

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1st US edition)

My wife and I will be going to Vienna, Prague and Budapest in August for our holiday this year and I've been working through a themed reading list for the past month or so. I picked a number of books from each realm, from Franz Kafka to some more obscure Czech titles from the wonderful Twisted Spoon Press. 

Milan Kundera may be one of the biggest names in Czech literature, but somehow The Unbearable Lightness of Being has evaded me until just a few weeks ago. I have a number of friends who call Unbearable Lightness one of their favorite books and consider it a masterpiece, and I think the resultant high expectations had an inverse effect. But, with this trip coming, I decided to go for it and picked up a nice-looking hardcover.

It's great. Perhaps discovering it at a particularly formative era in one's life might elevate the book in a person's mind to masterpiece-status, but it wasn't quite there for me. The ideas in the book are immensely rich, but their presentation as a novel felt a little too 'serial', as if he could have better mapped out his ideas beforehand. Still, absolutely worth a read: as a "literary philosopher", Kundera is a tremendous voice.

Currently reading:
Marketa Lazarova by Vladislav Vancura

Currently listening to:
Blood Orange, "Freetown Sound"

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Gertrude Stein (Black Sparrow Press, 1971, signed and numbered limited edition)

Here's a strange new addition to my library: Black Sparrow Press's 1971 book A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Gertrude Stein, edited by Robert Haas. The book is absolutely gorgeous and features a slipcase of marbled paper and a red and and tan silk binding. Photo below, along with the wonderfully '70s' title page:

For this compilation, Haas has compiled a 1946 interview along with twelve texts by Stein that each represent an era of her craft. Two critical essays round out the collection's "gradual understanding"; one by Gertrude Stein Raffel and one by Donald Sutherland. Take a look at the title page:

Here's where things get even more interesting: this book was originally issued an edition of 500 hardcover copies and 60 numbered copies, each with a pasted-in holograph (ie, hand-written) signature by Stein. This in number 53 of those 60. I've never seen anything like this. Of course with this book being published 25 years after her death, it would be impossible to make a signed edition with the traditional Black Sparrow limitations, so it appears they found 60 instances of Stein's signature to paste into the colophon:


This brown rectangle is a thin sheet of paper that's been glued in. It is indeed Stein's signature (matching all the ones I've seen online) - perhaps these came from letters or some sort of set of expendable documents? Absolutely fascinating.

Currently reading:
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka

Currently listening to:
"Wish" by The Cure

Sunday, June 26, 2016

John Pham, Epoxy Cartoon Magazine (self-published)

I first discovered John Pham through his excellent Sublife books that Fantagraphics published in 2008 and 2009, but something happened after book 2 and he dropped off my radar. Now, with the publication of the most recent Kramer's Ergot anthology (which features a searing fluorescent-pink cover by Pham) I'm on a rush to catch up with what I missed. Turns out Pham was consistently busy throughout his Fantagraphics foray on a self-published magazine called Epoxy, and it's become one of the most stunning comics publications out there. The books are handmade, risograph printed and feature curious excitements like nested sections of smaller-trim 'zines', stickers, and fold-outs. After five issues of Epoxy, Pham just came out with the first Epoxy Cartoon Magazine, a massive 16 1/2 inch by 10 1/2 inch supplement that features full-page spreads of sugary trippiness and two pages of J&K comics.


The book is inspiringly gorgeous and I've honestly just thrown down the money to buy everything else that Pham's ever made. You should do the same here. I'll surely feature some of these other comics here, so stay tuned.

Currently reading:
James Salter, The Art of Fiction

Currently listening to:
Preoccupations, "Anxiety"

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Best Books of 2016 (so far)

Instead of saving my big recap of the year for December, I thought it might be nice to check in on the ranking so far, now that June's winding down. This has been a great year full of fantastic novels, many of which I'm sure will fight for the top spot on critics' year-end lists.

Zero K by Don DeLillo

I'm surprised at how many negative reviews I've read of Zero K, a book I found chillingly relevant to today's digital era. The novel is about how the fact that we all die is the last thing that separates the top 1% with the rest of the world, and how an experimental cryogenics facility may relieve the wealthy of that plebeian burden. There's no need to weigh Zero K against the rest of DeLillo's body of work: taken alone it's still miles better than a lot of books out there. My review of Zero K can be read here.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

I just finished a review of Imagine Me Gone (here) and am still floored by its deeply affecting prose. The book is about a family of five coping with the loss of their patriarch to suicide. This is one of the best family-dramas I've read and is hugely successful due to Haslett abstaining from trying to make his book more than just about his characters. No agenda, no cultural mirror. Folks like Franzen could learn something here.

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

A short novella of an American teacher in Bulgaria and his love affair with a local gigolo named Mitko, What Belongs To You may be the best love story I've ever read. It finds a relatable center in what should be a difficult, foreign story, and absolutely soars. My review can be found here.

Beverly by Nick Drnaso

Beverly is a masterful debut by cartoonist Nick Drnaso, composed of six interlocking stories about repressed suburban sexuality. It's devastating, disgusting, absolutely icky and ridiculously compelling. His artistic style is equally unsettling. I have a review of Beverly in the Summer issue of Rain Taxi and described his characters as looking "as if they came straight from the casting call for a medical pamphlet: in another life, they could have advised us how to react when someone is choking or how to get through puberty without feeling so clueless and alone." If you like comics, I insist you check out Beverly.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

This inclusion is cheating a little bit, as The Year of the Runaways came out in the UK last year, where it was a shortlisted contender for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Sahota's novel is a packed story that traces the lives of three Indian men living illegally in London. The Year of the Runaways is a transportive masterwork and one to get absolutely lost in; my review can be read here.

So far so good. What's on your top 5?

Currently reading:
A Bouquet by Karel Jaromir Erben