Saturday, February 13, 2016

Charles Burns, Incubation (Pigeon Press, 2016, R.I.P. Alvin Buenaventura)

I learned on Twitter this afternoon that Alvin Buenaventura has died. Absolutely dreadful news. I've featured his books on this website a handful of times and think that his vision for comics and publishing was one of the most passionate out there. My relationship with him exists solely on a consumer/comics-fan level -- if he recognized my name it was from nothing more than a mail order -- so I can't say much of anything on a personal level but I really think he did something special for the industry. He clearly had long-lasting relationships with a number of cartoonists, and I love how he'd get behind some incredible sketchbook projects, little editioned artist's books, and prints. The vibe I consistently got from him was one of support and steadfast belief in his artists' projects. I feel like he ran his business while holding on to the feeling of what it's like to be a fan, to love these artists' works, and that's something I wish more publishers would do.

Here's a stunning staple-bound book by Charles Burns called Incubation that Buenaventura put out on his Pigeon Press imprint. This retails for a modest $9.95 and is absolutely essential for any Charles Burns fan. It's amazing to see Burns' process, from thick, ink-pen drawings to scribbly, sketchy figures.

It's so sad to hear of Alvin's passing, and I hate to think no one's going to make these kinds of special books anymore.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Paul Bowles, Let it Come Down (Signed and numbered, Black Sparrow Press, 1980)

Published in 1980 by Black Sparrow Press, this is a signed and numbered reissue of Let It Come Down, Paul Bowles' second novel which was originally published in 1952. As readers of this blog know, I am a huge Black Sparrow fan and try to take advantage of any opportunity I see to get one of their rare editions.

Their design is top notch and I think their limitation tiers are particularly exciting: every book came out simultaneously in signed/numbered, lettered, and trade editions, with the lettered copies including something of particular importance like a holograph poem or original artwork.

This is one of 350 copies that have been numbered and signed by the author -- this is #117/350.

The signature is on a tipped-in page at the front of the book:

My copy has a slight stain to the top edge of the book. Good, clean copies should sell for around $100, still (a great buy, I think) -- the somewhat questionable condition of my copy brought the price down to $45 when I bought it for my library ten or so years ago.

I also actually just picked up a second copy for remarkably cheap on eBay (only $30!) and will be putting this into an inventory of sorts that my wife and I have plans to someday sell under the guise of an online boutique. We're excited at this prospect, and will be picking up various rare books and design items over the next year or so with the intention of building some stock before our shop goes live. I'll keep you all posted.

Currently reading:
Samantha Hunt, Mr. Splitfoot

Currently listening to:
Greg Dulli, "Modern Love"

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters (Arion Press, 1996)

Like many book collectors, I've long admired the work of the Arion Press out in San Francisco. I'd know about their Moby-Dick for a while and have a facsimile of the edition - even in a simple paperback reprint one can tell how fine Arion's design is. Although I hadn't handled one in person, I've wanted an original from the press for quite some time. When their 1996 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's travel journal The Silverado Squatters came up at auction for a relatively cheap opening bid, I figured I'd try.

The book also has a bit of a personal connection for me, as at work I helped put together a book for an artist that named his exhibition after the central line of Stevenson's text: "There are no foreign lands, it is the traveler only who is foreign." The book was an achievement of sorts of for me and this felt like a sentimental way to finish out that project.

The book is gorgeous, hand-sewn with boards bound in cork and a cloth spine. It's nice to see a "real" deckled edge, too:

This is in an editon of 250 copies signed and numbered by Michael Kenna, who provides sixteen color photographic prints for the book. 

My copy is signed by Kenna but out of series:

I remember when I bought this feeling like I'd paid too much. Bidding opened at around $150 and ended without a single counter-bid, but it was with a real auction house that charged a premium and a "professional" shipping charge. This isn't something I do often and I remember thinking suddenly I'd gotten in over my head and caught up in the moment -- at a little over $200, I could've put that money towards something that'd been on my want list for ages. I've since warmed up to it and think of it as quite a treasure - the book was originally $425 from Arion back in 1996, so I certainly feel like I got a great deal.

Currently reading:
What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

Currently listening to:
Underworld, "Second Toughest in the Infants"

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ursula LeGuin, The Farthest Shore (1973 Gollancz Edition)

This past holiday I was gifted the third volume of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy, thus completing my set of the 1970s Gollancz Edition with artwork by David Smee. I featured the first two books previously here, and it's a great feeling to finally finish what my grandfather more or less started before the books were passed down to me.

Here's a look at the beautiful wraparound cover of The Farthest Shore:

And, all books together. Upon revisiting Earthsea this weekend, I'm struck with how short and efficient LeGuin's prose is and how she doesn't jeopardize the scope of her book by tightening her plot. The trilogy clocks in at just under 600 pages! You don't need an epic page count to tell an epic story. To think, that in our pop-fantasy era, that final volumes are not only being adapted into films but those films are split into two...

Currently reading:
Adalbert Stifter, Rock Crystal

Currently listening to:
Bing & Ruth, "Tomorrow Was The Golden Age"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Infinite Winter, and a digital update

Infinite Winter, an online David Foster Wallace reading group that will be tackling Infinite Jest about 75 pages a week through May, will kick off on January 31. I'm very excited to be a part of this community, and will also be featured as a guest blogger later in the season (I'll surely post another update here when my comments go live). Details on Infinite Winter can be found here -- if you've ever had any inclination to read this massive book, I urge you to consider joining us. This'll be my first time through the novel and I can't wait.

I've also written a lead-up column for Infinite Winter which just went live today. Please click below for my thoughts on 1996, 6th grade, and how two decades can feel a lifetime away.

Jeff Alford: On 20 of My 31 Years, the Readers We Were, and Those We Strive to Be

In other news I'm tiptoeing into the world of twitter. If you're interested you can follow me @theoxenofthesun.

Currently reading:
Howard Jacobson, Shylock Is My Name

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover (Signed Deluxe Edition of 50 copies)

Happy New Year - hope the holidays were good to everyone. Following my "Best Books of 2015" post I thought I'd share an exciting edition of Ander Monson's Letter to a Future Lover. At one point in the collection, Monson alludes to this very edition, saying that there was an unbound version made which was the "intended" version of the book. I raced to an order page linked through Graywolf Press and Other Electricities and found that there was one copy left of the clothbound "deluxe" version. This book is limited to only 50 copies worldwide, signed, personalized, and numbered. A signed and number, non-cloth-bound limited edition of 100 is still available here.

This is a big unbound book in a clamshell case with black boards, red cloth sides, and metallic red lettering on the front. Inside, the right side is the book's unbound manuscript, ribboned for ease of removal.

To the left, a library pocket features a handwritten title card by the author, with my name written out as if I was the first to take the book out of the library. The title page is dedicated to me, "a fellow traveler", and signed by Monson. On the reverse, the colophon of the limited edition says this is copy 48 of 50.

Here's how the book looks fanned out:

Again, I think this is one of the very best books of 2015, and one of the most engaging non-fiction things I've ever read. It's an honor to have this edition. I think Letter to a Future Lover is a must for any lovers of readers and I strongly encourage you to take a look. My review at Run Spot Run can be read here.

Currently reading:
Magda Szabo, The Door

Currently listening to:
Jamie XX, "In Colour"

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Top 5 Books of 2015

It is always a challenge to narrow down a year's worth of reading to a list of only five books. Not only were there outstanding novels that I enjoyed beyond the five I will feature here, there are tons of books that I have not read this year: The Dying Grass, A Brief History of Seven Killings, A Little Life, My Struggle: Volume Four and Fortune Smiles come to mind as books that I will surely enjoy immensely but have not found the time yet to do so. 

This list is not what's "best" by my top favorites of a not-broad-enough swath of a year of contemporary literature. There are omissions, of course, both due to my arbitrary "eligibility" period (sorry Knausgaard) and my decision to pick only five (sorry to Will Self's Shark and to Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying, my six and seven). Still, I remain very excited to share with you, perhaps for a second time, these great books. In no particular order:

Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Big Green Tent

Not since Doctor Zhivago has there been a Russian epic of this scope and finesse. While Ulitskaya's story begins with Stalin's death in 1953 and carries into present-day, this is not a midcentury classic but is decidedly modern in its form. She jumps between plotlines like a illegal samizdat changes hands and sprints through timelines with a brazen disregard for a traditional epic's sense of drama. In The Big Green Tent, narrative "arc" is exchanged for a narrative "network"; it's a difficult read but an appropriate form for the politically expansive CCCP. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

John Banville, The Blue Guitar

John Banville is one of the best living British writers and can command a sentence with masterful grace. His beautiful, vital prose contrasts dramatically with his protagonist in The Blue Guitar, the scummy, cheating Oliver Orme. He's a washed-out painter and a relentless kleptomaniac who, perhaps in an effort to maintain some semblance of the rakish dandy he once though himself to be, steals the wife of his friend. Wryly written in a manipulative first-person narrative, Banville lets a heartbreaking subtext seep through Orme's wretched tryst, revealing much more that his character would comfortably, intentionally share. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

Tom McCarthy, Satin Island

I was shocked that this did not win the Booker Prize this year. I think McCarthy is a genius and that Satin Island has expanded the possibilities of what a novel can do. McCarthy writes as if he's challenging himself with an almost Oulipian level of constraints and limitations: 2010's C. was a dizzying and complicated novel about the history of communication, ranging from a school for the deaf to the dawn of radio, to seances and military transmissions. Satin Island trumps all that tenfold: this is a Kafkaesque novel about contemporary anthropology, written like a bureaucratic report, that manages to spin outward into a treatise about who we are as contemporary readers and writers and where to find artistry underneath our culture's glut of data. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire

The long-awaited conclusion to Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy Flood of Fire sticks its landing and delivers a finely composed epic of masterful storytelling of Tolstoyan caliber. The Ibis Trilogy follows the First Opium War between the Chinese and the British (all with India stuck in the quagmire): Ghosh's first volume Sea of Poppies began in 2008 and in seven years has sailed from the rural villages of India to Hong Kong's Pearl River, amidst British galleons and the threat of cannon-fire. Ghosh proves the vitality of a story and how a well-told tale can not just entertain but stay relevant throughout history. Exceptionally well-researched and flawlessly executed, Flood of Fire concludes what should be long remembered as an essential work of historical fiction. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover

I first discovered Ander Monson through his mind-expandingly good collection of experimental essays Vanishing Point. With Letter to a Future Lover he has become an essential voice and a beacon of hope for books and reading and critical theory. Letter to a Future Lover is a collection of short, two-page essays about marginalia and the often-unintended communication between readers across timelines. If I underline a passage in a book, and that same copy is read forty years later by someone who is similarly moved by the same words, the bond that's created between is is more powerful than anything its original creator may have ever imagined. As crazy as it sounds, Letter to a Future Lover is about those connections. My full review can be read here at Run Spot Run.

But there's more: "When possible, each of these essays was originally published (on a 6" x 9" card) back into the space (typically the book or library) that started it... Though they are bound here, no meaning is intended by their ordering." Absolutely fascinating, and enough for me to race out and by the last handmade, unbound limited edition of Letter to a Future Lover. That's the book's clamshell case above; I'll feature it solely here in a forthcoming post. It's a treasure of my collection.

I wish you all a happy holiday of family, books and fireplaces and will continue posting around this time next month. As always, thank you for reading.

Currently reading:
My Struggle: Volume Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard