Monday, November 29, 2010

STACK 1: Spring Awakening, The Odyssey, Le Corbusier, The Paris Review

I'm going to start a new semi-regular series on the blog that will be called "Stacks" (at least until I come up with a better name). These posts will be very short, and will simply feature an aesthetically-connected stack of books (selected by myself and my girlfriend, an Interior Designer). The idea of staging books is something that I've always thought was interesting -- I can't help but connect the themes of the books along with their designs/colors, which often creates peculiar literary webs.

Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening (ARC from Faber & Faber)
Homer, The Odyssey (Penguin Hardback Classics)
Le Corbusier, Towards A New Architecture (Dover)
The Paris Review, Spring 2009

Currently Reading:
You Bright and Risen Angels, William T. Vollmann
Ayako, Osamu Tezuka

Currently listening to:
Saigon Rock & Soul, 1968-1974 (Sublime Frequencies)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where We Know: New Orleans As Home (Chin Music Press)

The folks at Chin Music Press were kind enough to send me a review copy of their beautiful new book Where We Know: New Orleans As Home. My love of New Orleans has unexpectedly seeped into this blog in past posts (Loujon Press books, specifically) and I'm always looking for an excuse to drift my mind back there. Many thanks to Chin Music for a stunning new window onto this incredible city.
What I'd like to focus on in this post is the wonderful design of the book. Chin Music has been the subject of previous entries--they've got one of the best understandings of how to make a paperback not feel like the "cheap" version of a better book. It's interesting in this case, as Where We Know is the second volume of a projected New Orleans trilogy, the first volume of which is an equally well-designed hardcover. You rarely see publishers change format/design in a series--this could be for any number of reasons (new designer, costs, who knows?)--but when the book is this well done it doesn't matter at all. In fact, I'm even more excited for the third volume. Will the format change again?
The book features about twenty true stories about how people interact with New Orleans as a home. The collection is a perfect balance of current and historical testimonials of the city: with pieces dating back to the mid-19th century, Where We Know puts today's post-Katrina sentiment into a surprisingly overlooked context.
It's difficult to explain why I think Chin Music's New Orleans books work so well. It's impossible to deal with this subject matter without tapping into the tragic, ethereal quality of the city. These stories hint at a place that won't be around forever, but Chin Music's created books that have an unquestionable permanence on your shelves due to their exquisite craftsmanship. It's a curious balance of subject and format, one that gives a feeling of reassurance for both the endurance of New Orleans and of publishing as an art form.

Currently Reading:
Madame Bovary (trans. Lydia Davis) by Gustave Flaubert

Currently listening to:
Bikini, "RIPJDS" EP

Sunday, November 7, 2010

REVIEW: Adam Levin, The Instructions

I'd like to direct you to one of the most enjoyable novels I've read in a long time: The Instructions by Adam Levin. Clocking in at over a thousand pages, The Instructions follows four days in the life of Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, a scripture-writing 10-year-old boy who may or may not be the messiah.

The Instructions is a deeply engrossing and genuinely funny novel, and I encourage everyone who follows contemporary fiction to check it out. I've written a thorough review over at, which you can read at the embedded link.

I'll admit that the "McSweeney's" aspect of this book made me very apprehensive; years ago I'd fallen out of touch with them and I didn't suspect I'd return. The Instructions not only is a great novel, but it's managed to rekindle my interest in McSweeney's as a publishing house. Not since William T. Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down have they gone so far out on a limb for something great, and it truly pays off.
The design of The Instructions is outstanding as well. The book is available in two other variant colors--one is bound in blue and the other in red. The printed boards and spine remind me of old Folio Society editions (and makes me want to post my John Buchan box set soon). I was also surprised that the book held up physically for four weeks of reading on the subway... McSweeney's has done everything right with this one.
Currently reading:
Luka and the Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie
Heavy Liquid, Paul Pope

Currently listening to:
Blue Water White Death
Group Inerane, Guitars from Agadez vol. 3

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Comics, Fall 2010

This post will take a look at three new illustrated books that came out this October--nothing especially collectible, but highly recommended nonetheless.

Just this week, Charles Burns released his new book, the first of a three-part series called X'ed Out. It's really an outstanding work, simultaneously telling the story of a mopey art student and a completely insane hallucinatory re-imagining of Tintin. Fans of Tintin will remember a story called The Shooting Star, featuring an island of exploding eggs-turned-mushrooms... here's some of Burns's monsters making omelettes out of Herge's iconic eggs.

Also, Chris Ware's latest Acme Novelty Library is coming out next week. This installment revolves around a character named Jordan Lint, who's childhood, teens and twenties were previously serialized in Zadie Smith's Book of Other People and issues of the Virginia Quarterly Review. Acme Novelty Library #20 chronicles the entire life of Jordan Lint, from birth to death. Ware's ability to match his drawing style with Lint's mental capacity at certain ages (simplistic when he's a toddler, borderline ADD during Lint's teenage years) is stunningly well done. And the design is beautiful, too-- take a look at the gold cover and cloth binding.

Lastly, and a little change of pace: Nobuaki Tadano's 7 Billion Needles. Published by the wonderful people at Vertical, 7 Billion Needles follows high school loner Hikaru who hears voices in her headphones after a meteor crash. It's really well-written Japanese sci-fi, and I'm very much looking forward to the subsequent three volumes. Love the retro artwork too--Vertical's Peter Mendelsund is one of the best designers I've found.

All these should be available at your local bookstore if you're looking for some comics to pick up.

For Fans of Charles Burns: I recently attended a presentation of X'ed Out at The Strand, and heard that Burns is currently working on a portfolio of prints with Galerie Martel in France. It's going to be a set of four prints, all of strange knock-off "translations" of his fictional Tintin book covers. I've seen the pictures and they look fantastic--stay tuned for more scoop.

Currently reading:
The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolano

Currently listening to:
Admiral Fell Promises by Sun Kil Moon
"Not in Love" by Crystal Castles, featuring Robert Smith

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Howard Jacobson wins the 2010 Man Booker Prize

Congratulations to Howard Jacobson for winning the 2010 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Finkler Question! I haven't read it yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it--I really enjoyed Jacobson's The Act of Love from a few years back.

This copy of The Finkler Question is a signed UK first in new, unread condition, and just might find its way on eBay soon. I've got my eye on a 1st edition of The Crying of Lot 49 and might try "trade" the two...

UPDATE: Looks like it sold!

Currently reading:
The Instructions by Adam Levin

Currently listening to:
"King Night" by Salem

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Puffin Designer Classics: THE SECRET GARDEN

I'm very excited to share this one with you: to celebrate Puffin's 70th anniversary, six designers were asked to re-imagine a Puffin Classic and design a limited edition book for their title. Just like Penguin's Designer Classics from 5 years ago, these are limited to only 1000 copies worldwide and each are housed in a plexi slipcase.

Those of you who followed the Penguin Designer Classics when they were on the market know how fast they sold out and how much their value has increased. Paul Smith's Lady Chatterly's Lover was the most popular, with copies now listing at around $1000.00. Fortunately, the Puffin line was announced far enough in advance for collectors to jump on the opportunity to put orders in early. Amazon had a bunch at one point, and I was able to grab a few.

What's interesting about this series is how modest most of the designs are. In my opinion there's only one standout/must-have for collectors, and the rest are really more for fans of the artist or the story. That one standout, however, is astonishing:
Francis Hodgeson Burnett's The Secret Garden was designed by children's book author and illustrator Lauren Child of "Clarice Bean" fame. The book is printed in blank ink on green paper, and is bound in an incredible layered cut-out cardstock. The front cover of the book has three different illustrated layers, which can fan open and create a wonderful effect:

Instead of writing the book's title on the spine, the information is written on a yellow ribbon with a small key tied to the end. The key and ribbon are held lightly in place by a small (and hardly noticeable) dab of adhesive that is stuck to the base of the book and a tree-less portion of the front cover.

Lauren Child's edition of The Secret Garden is limited to 1000 numbered copies; this is #724. Unfortunately the book is officially sold out, but you might be able to track a few leftovers down on online vendors.
Currently reading:
The Instructions, Adam Levin

Currently listening to:
Dreamend, "Maybe We Are Making God Sad & Lonely (side B)"

REVIEW: Michael Cunningham, By Nightfall

Just a quick post to say that my review of Michael Cunningham's new novel By Nightfall can be seen here. Hope you enjoy.

Currently Reading:
The Instructions by Adam Levin

Currently listening to:
Dreamend, "Maybe We're Making God Sad & Lonely (Side A)"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Philip Roth's NEMESIS, designed by Milton Glaser

The next book I'm slated to review on is the new Philip Roth book, Nemesis. As a big Roth fan, I was very excited when it arrived. I feel Milton Glaser did a fantastic job with the design, and I LOVE the book's spine. It's a little tough to see, but the publisher info comes first (centered at the top), leaving the title and author both for the base of the spine. So simple, yet so, so good.

(Unfortunately, this might be the best thing about the book... I'm under the impression that Nemesis is Roth's attempt at poisoning the Horatio Alger library, and by doing so he has ended up making a paranoid Americana book that just might actually be... boring? I've still got sixty pages to go, so fingers crossed that things get better.)


This is the 50th post at The Oxen of the Sun! I want to thank everyone for their continued support, and hope you all keep checking in. Occasionally I'll see that some readers were referred here from other blogs. For those readers who maintain a blog of your own, let me know! I'll add you to my blogroll and hopefully we'll each boost our readership.

Currently reading:
Nemesis by Philip Roth

Currently listening to:

Chris Kiehne, Pray for Daylight

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

REVIEW: Nicole Krauss, Great House

My review of Nicole Krauss's exceptional new novel Great House was recently published on Those of you looking for some great contemporary literature should definitely check it out:

Nicole Krauss, Great House

Great House will hit bookstores in the middle of October.

Coming up we'll take a look at Milton Glaser's outstanding design for Philip Roth's forthcoming novel Nemesis. Stay tuned!

Currently reading:
Nemesis, by Philip Roth

Currently listening to:
Barking, by Underworld

Monday, September 20, 2010

Novotny's Pain, by Philip Roth

Novotny's Pain is a 33 page short story by Philip Roth, published by Los Angeles bookdealers Sylvester & Orphanos in 1980. First appearing in The New Yorker in 1962, "Novotny's Pain" is the story of the recently-drafted Novotny whose mysterious back pain prevents him from being shipped out to Korea. It feels like the American sibling of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, as they both delve into grand themes of fate and responsibility to the world.

This is copy 209 of 330. There are 26 lettered copies, and four additional copies which were specifically made out to their recipient. The text looks beautiful printed on the book's thick, deckled Arches paper, and feels slightly raised if you were to run your hand along the pages. Similar to Roth's other elusive volume His Mistress's Voice, Novotny's Pain is a must-have for any serious collector.

Currently reading:
The Return, Roberto Bolano
By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham

Currently Listening to:
Black Moth Super Rainbow, Eating Us
The Go-Betweens, "Twin Layers of Lightning"

Thursday, September 9, 2010

In the Belly of St. Paul, by Karl Hyde and John Warwicker (Tomato)

One of my favorite recent acquisitions, In the Belly of St. Paul, is the second typographic publication by the UK-based design collective Tomato. Karl Hyde (of the electronic music group Underworld) has teamed with artist (and old musical partner) John Warwicker to create an incredible book that I'm very excited to share. Essentially the print version of a found-sound music collage, In the Belly of St. Paul is composed of overheard sound bites from the streets of London, all of which are rendered into an array of experimental fonts with a stunning eye (or ear) for design.
The book was published in 2002 in an edition of 500 numbered copies. Each copy is signed by Hyde and Warwicker, and includes an original photograph. At, owners can register their print in an amazing pictorial registry. Here is where I think this book becomes really exceptional--flipping through the photo album, you'll see the location of each copy and see how wide-reaching and international the book actually is. For a project that deals with a city's infrastructure in physical and social ways, it's astonishing to see how connected we all are.

Currently reading:
Great House, Nicole Krauss

Currently listening to:
Black Moth Super Rainbow, Eating Us

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

2010 Booker Prize shortlist announced

Wow, what a surprise. The Booker Prize shortlist was announced, and I'm shocked to see a book like Room made it over two exceptional titles like Skippy Dies and Jacob de Zoet. The list is as follows:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America
Emma Donoghue, Room
Damon Galgut, In A Strange Room
Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question
Andrea Levy, The Long Song
Tom McCarthy, C

It's fantastic that Tom McCarthy's on there-- C is a very difficult and truly mesmerizing read. But, Room? My less-than-positive review can be read here.

Currently reading:
Great House, Nicole Krauss

2010 Booker Prize predictions

Hi everyone! With only a day left for shortlist predicitions, I thought I'd weigh in with a wager of my own. I've read four of my six projected short-listers; the last two are based on reviews I've read and a few other factors that might influence the judges in their decision.

Here goes:

David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Tom McCarthy: C
Paul Murray: Skippy Dies
Rose Tremain: Trespass
Helen Dunmore: The Betrayal
Damon Galgut: In A Strange Room

I'll be sticking to these six for now, and will update tomorrow with the finalized list. For those interested, I have had two new reviews published on, one for Tremain's Trespass and one for Emma Donoghue's Room (which I imagine will be left off tomorrow's shortlist). Take a peek at the embedded links.

Another update will come tomorrow: fingers crossed for Mitchell, McCarthy, and Murray-- I suspect the prize will eventually come between those three.

Currently reading:
Great House, Nicole Krauss

Currently listening to:
Calexico, "Feast of Wire"

Saturday, September 4, 2010

REVIEW: Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

My review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom was recently published online and can be read here. As I continue to write reviews for, I'll post links here for any interested reader. And, if compelled, we can discuss in the comments of each post.

We'll be back to some more collectible titles shortly. Coming soon will be another rare Philip Roth edition, as well as an experimental typography book by an amazing art collective called Tomato. Stay tuned!

Currently reading:
Trespass, by Rose Tremain

Currently listening to:
Can, "Delay 1968"

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Skippy Dies (3-volume slipcased edition)

Paul Murray's Skippy Dies was released in the UK last February to some great reviews. It caught my eye because of the unconventional packaging-- similar to FSG's edition of Roberto Bolano's 2666, Skippy Dies was offered both as a large hardcover and as a 3-volume, slipcased paperback edition:

I'm happy to report that I'll be writing book reviews periodically for My first review was for Skippy Dies and can be read here.

Skippy Dies was longlisted for the Booker Prize earlier this month and very much deserves it. Not sure if it'll win, but I imagine it will certainly make it to the shortlist. The book will be released in the US in the same dual-format at the end of August.

Currently listening to:
Wilco, Summerteeth

Currently reading:
C. by Tom McCarthy

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crucifix in a Deathhand, Charles Bukowski limited edition from the Loujon Press

I recently was able to find a copy of Charles Bukowski's fifth book, Crucifix in a Deathhand, published in 1965 by the Loujon Press of New Orleans. Earlier this year, I featured another Loujon Press title, Henry Miller's Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel, which at the time floored me like no other book in my collection. And somehow, the Loujon Press has managed to wow me even more with Crucifix.
I think every book collector must encounter in their journey some acquisitions that force a certain degree of pause and reflection. This is that book for me; it's shown me that my "collecting"--which was once really nothing more than a hobby--has turned into something so much bigger and so much more special than I ever thought possible. It's a wonderful feeling to find the book that becomes the "nicest" book in one's collection. It's not the most valuable, sure, but just hold Crucifix in your hands and you can feel the unbridled passion for craft that the Loujon Press had.

These pictures will surely not do enough justice, but they'll have to do.

If you flip over the book, the wrappers open up to reveal a bound book inside--the black cover at the top of this post is actually the book's back cover. Similar to Order and Chaos, the preliminary pages feature the book's introductory notes printed on about ten pages of colored pages with roughly torn edges. The book begins with a facsimile of Bukowski's title poem--click above and you can read some.

The book also was originally packaged with a little paper wrapper, depicted it's original price tag of $7.50 and a great blurb (above).

As you can see, the book's typography is stunning as well.

Crucifix also includes a handful of etchings done by an artist named Noel Rockmore. They're pretty strange, but they fit the overall feel of the book perfectly.

Lastly, the book is signed and dated (3-19-65) by Bukowski on one of the final pages.

Hope you enjoyed taking a look at this! It's a real treat to be able to share it with you, hope you like it as much as I do.


While there were 3100 copies of this book printed, the book is still pretty rare. I found this copy on eBay, and made a random there's-no-way-they'll-accept-it best offer. Keep an eye out and make an offer when you see one... you might be surprised by some sellers.

Currently reading:
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

Currently listening to:
Henry's Dream, by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Albert Oehlen artist book from TASCHEN

"Abb", seen above, is a strange little artist book by the German painter Albert Oehlen. Oehlen's one of my favorite painters--I find his work to be practically euphoric, but it takes a bit of unlocking to get beneath the seemingly stand-offish surface of his art. He's a manipulator who challenges his viewer's conception of what painting is all about--his pallet is consistently jarring, but somehow he manages to make his colors work together in unimaginable ways. His style is ever-changing, too: some pieces incorporate mirrors, some are done entirely in gray, and some look as if he created the work solely on MS Paint.

"Abb" was published in the mid-nineties by Taschen in a signed, limited edition format. There are only 170 copies of this edition of "Abb", all of which feature gilt-edges and a black clamshell case (this is number 162).
The book does not feature a limitation page; Oehlen simply signed the book inside the front cover. Inside the back cover is a stamp in German and English detailing the limitation and the numbering of the edition.
What I like so much about "Abb" is that it challenges the form of the art book similarly to the way Oehlen challenges the form of painting. The book features no text (aside from the limitation stamp) and includes what seem to be numerous images from the Taschen archives: iconic shots by Helmut Newton and various fetish photographers are reproduced with paintings super-imposed on top of them. The book doesn't tell you anything about who Oehlen is, but it manages to show you so much more than any essay or introduction could convey.


I believe the book is still available from Taschen but the price has gone up quite a bit since it first came out. It's something that might need to be special-ordered, but certainly worth it if you're a fan of the artist.

Currently reading:
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Currently listening to:
Mark Kozelek, "The Finally"