Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chris Ware, Ira Glass and Tim Samuelson, LOST BUILDINGS ("an on-stage radio and picture collaboration")

As a fan of Chris Ware, I've seen this book Lost Buildings circulating on eBay and abebooks for close to a decade and only recently did I finally pick one up. Like Ware's first book Floyd Farland, Lost Buildings had a strange sort of "rarity" surrounding it that I suspected wasn't particularly sound. It always struck me that there was a shop somewhere in Chicago that had tons of these, and nobody took the effort to sell them online beyond a handful of flippers who could dictate the price. Years ago, this was selling for $50-$100, but this copy (although dinged up a little) ran me about $15. Strange how time can wind down the hype. (there's a $15 Floyd Farland on eBay right now, if you're so inclined.)

Lost Buildings is a fun little book, around five inches square, and looks, at first glance, nothing like you'd expect from Ira Glass and Chris Ware. Lost Buildings tracks the history of Louis Sullivan's architecture in turn-of-the-century Chicago. Tim Samuelson, a Chicago historian, takes the lead throughout the Lost Buildings book, but if you dig deep, so much of Ware's essence (and Glass's narrative quirk) shines through Samuelson's stories. To think of the architectural paean that was Ware's Building Stories and his forays into journal-editor with old-timey Ragtime Ephemeralist makes Lost Buildings click into place.

The book also includes a DVD of Ware, Samuelson, and Glass's "on-stage radio & picture collaboration," to be viewed with the text in tandem. Lost Buildings is a curious little volume and a delightful expansion of my Chris Ware library.

Currently reading:
Quicksand by Steve Toltz

Currently listening to:
"b'lieve i'm goin down" by Kurt Vile

Sunday, September 27, 2015

John Banville, The Blue Guitar (signed first edition with link to review)

So far, I think John Banville's The Blue Guitar is the best book of the fall season. I'm surprised it wasn't included in this year's Booker Prize, as I think the book is simply masterful (far superior to books like The Green Road and The Illuminations). Banville's story here is nothing new -- a pompous man prone to petty thieving steals his friend's wife -- but the way in which Banville renders this narrative is absolutely exquisite. His sentences are delectable, made for rolling over the tongue like tasting a fine wine.

I wrote a lengthy review of The Blue Guitar over at Run Spot Run. Please go take a look!

Now, as a reviewer I get scads of galleys and I think it's a particularly telling moment when I find a book that I want to upgrade to a hardcover for my collection. I reached out to Knopf to see if Banville had pre-signed any first editions and sure enough, he had. I was told the only copies he signed were sent out west to The Elliot Bay Book Company and one other store in California I've since forgotten. Strangely, this ended up not being completely true... after I placed by order with the exceptionally accommodating Elliot Bay Book Company, I saw a copy sitting in the window of Crawford Doyle, up the street from my office. Oh well!

Banville's signature appears on a tipped in page, like below:

It's really a spectacularly good book and I encourage all you literary-minded readers to seek it out.

Currently reading:
Jiri Karasek ze Lvovic, A Gothic Soul

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon collaborative zine from David Zwirner Books (signed from NYABF)

While my wife and I were at the New York Art Book Fair this weekend, we put in our time to a very lengthy line to get a signed copy of Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon's new collaborative zine. The book is amazing and published by the year-old "David Zwirner Books". Of course all major galleries publish exhibition catalogues, but it's exciting to think of Zwirner taking it a step further and operating more officially as a publishing house. I hope they continue to put out books as bold and creatively curated as Dzama Pettibon.

Dzama Pettibon is a full-color digital offset staple-bound zine, printed in an edition of only 200 copies. I'm sure at least 100 sold on Saturday at the book fair. Dzama and Pettibon graciously signed copies for about an hour and a half doing illustrations in everyone's books. Dzama would start with a bat or some kind of spooky thing and pass it to Pettibon who would sign with some kind of iconic (and often incongruous) imagery. Below, take a look at a Dzama bat, signed "ALL OUR BATS", with a Pettibon-added "AND ALL MY MFCKN BASES" (which might be a reference to this?) Who knows! All very cool and crazy to see the zine's completely gone already. 

Currently reading:
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last

Currently listening to:
This Mortal Coil, "It'll End in Tears"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Man Booker Prize shortlist announced

As I expected, this year will be a fight between Satin Island and A Little Life but who really saw those other four books coming? Not this guy.

Full list is as follows:

Satin Island, Tom McCarthy
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagigara
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota
A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
The Fisherman, Chigozie Obioma

Have you read any of the longlist? Between Tyler, Sahota, James, and Obioma, what should I check out next?

The winner will be announced 13 October.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015 Booker Prize Shortlist prediction (official announcement coming Tuesday 15 September)

On Tuesday 15 September the Booker Prize shortlist will be announced. In years past I'd kind of given up on following the prize but the inclusion of Satin Island, one of my favorite books of the year, pulled me back in.

The longlist this year is quite good - as usual, there are a lot of book's I'd skip out of a general lack of interest (A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, for instance, doesn't appeal) but there are some really fantastic outliers here.

I've read four of the thirteen books so far: Satin Island, The Illuminations, The Green Road, and Lila. A Little Life (pictured) is on my stack of books to get to and I have very high hopes for it. I hear it's absolutely fantastic and I have a strong hunch it will be carried to the shortlist and even has a chance of winning.

I've written about a few of these for Run Spot Run, which can be found here:

The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Green Road by Anne Enright

I do *not* expect O'Hagan or Enright to make it to the shortlist. These two novels are perfectly fine and expertly crafted but aim for a relatively low mark (dysfunctional family returns home in the Enright, aged woman fades into dementia in the O'Hagan). These two are great books by great authors but they're not remarkable works. It's a difficult line to establish but I would hold them back from the semifinals.

Satin Island should win; the book pushes the limits of the novel and I think McCarthy is a genius. He deserves the award.

All that being said: here's my prediction of the shortlist, including books I've not read but think have a chance based on reviews and the prize committee's attempts at creating a diverse list.

Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (I've got a signed/limited coming from Powell's so fingers crossed for this one)
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

I'll update again on Tuesday when we've got the final list.

Currently Reading:
Two Years Eight Months Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fall Fiction Stack (to read and review)

With Summer winding down and the Fall reading season gearing up, I thought I'd share a look at what's in my "to read/review" pile.

This stack includes:

A Gothic Soul by Jiri Karasek Ze Lvovic
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
Quicksand by Steve Toltz
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

I'm looking forward to jumping into this pile of exciting fiction -- I've written about a few of these writers already and am excited to see what's new with them -- Paul Murray's Skippy Dies (2010) was one of my first reviews published online and could be considered a turning point in my reading life, heralding a major critical shift in my literary endeavors.

In other news, I've recently had the following reviews go live, including one on the exceptionally good novel The Blue Guitar by John Banville.

The Blue Guitar by John Banville
The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan
Purity by Jonathan Franzen

I took last week off and read the new Harper Lee (which is not a masterpiece but totally fine, people!) and Marilynne Robinson's excellent Booker Prize nominee Lila. The Booker will contribute to an interesting few months, as there are a lot of strong candidates on that list... I'll post on that next week before the shortlist is announced. Stay tuned!

Currently reading:
Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

Sunday, August 23, 2015

William T. Vollmann, "The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War" (Signed First Edition)

Always an exciting, daunting moment when William T. Vollmann unleashes another brick: this is The Dying Grass, the "Fifth Dream" of his "Seven Dreams" series on the conflicts of colonization in North America through history. The Dying Grass focuses on the Nez Perce War of 1877 in the Pacific Northwest, but I expect it to sprawl across multiple timelines and narrative reliability in typical Vollmann way. Although I'm very excited to dig in to The Dying Grass, it is a book to clear the schedule for - it is a massive 1300 pages and I'll need to power through a lot of this year's major fall novels before I feel ready to take this one on.

I'm a huge Vollmann fan and have featured a lot of his books on this website, many of which are signed and limited editions. The Dying Grass surely has a very small print run in its hardcover sate (if its list price of $55 is of any indication) and I was determined to get a signed copy for my library. Vollmann did only a handful of events out west, and I reached out to the Haight Booksmith in San Francisco to see if they could get a book signed on my behalf. They were thrilled to help and kindly coordinated this personalized copy for me:

I'm very happy to have given them my business and even across the country I felt like I participated in their book launch event. I'm surprised collectors don't reach out like this more often - having put together a few of these events myself, a genuinely excited absentee phone order is a wonderful thing to facilitate (and the sales don't hurt either). Don't be shy to call your not-so-local bookshops!

Currently reading:
So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano

Currently listening to:
Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta"