Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Story by Jennifer Shaw (Broken Levee Books)

A perfect book for a day like today. As New York braces itself for Irene, lets take a look a Hurricane Story, a photography book by Jennifer Shaw recently published by Broken Levee Books, an imprint of Chin Music Press. Readers of the blog will recall some previous posts on Chin Music--they're a wonderful press out of Seattle that focus their list on Japan and New Orleans. Although there are plenty of opportunities for Chin Music to dwell dolorously on the historically bad fates that these regions have recently endured, they manage to nurture these places with beautifully crafted, celebratory books that remind readers of all the good these places can offer.

Hurricane Story is composed entirely of Holga-shot toy photography that recreates the onslaught of Katrina and the birth of Shaw's son on August 29, 2005. Shaw's photography is hazy and deeply intriguing, and provides the kind of brief glimpses that make you want to see a wider scope with a heightened clarity.

I found myself reluctantly itching for more large-scale imagery, but then, if that happened her story would turn a bit more toward the likes of Jake and Dinos Chapman's "Hell":

By tightening her shots and limiting her canvas, Shaw makes Hurricane Story a much more personal book than a full-scale disaster chronicle. It's exactly what it should be: a very successful book of narrative photography, and one that will make viewers what to see what else she's capable of.

(This one I can very much relate to right now. Irene is on it's way--it's already looking a little dreary here in Brooklyn. We'll see what happens tomorrow...)

Currently reading:
There But For The by Ali Smith

Currently listening to:
"Tupelo", by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Sunday, August 21, 2011

William T. Vollmann's YOU BRIGHT AND RISEN ANGELS, UK 1st (with drawing)

After a bit of delay, I thought I'd come back with one of my favorite novels, William T. Vollmann's You Bright and Risen Angels. It's Vollmann's first novel and one that very much sets the tone for the rest of his oeuvre, both his fiction and non-fiction. Angels is one of the most insane books I've ever read and one of the most difficult to describe. If you could trade the cheekiness of Thomas Pynchon with something more vicious and incendiary you'd have something close to what Vollmann's up to.

First published in 1987 by Andre Deutsch, You Bright and Risen Angels is sort of an alternate-history novel. Set in what feels like a poisoned version of Horatio Alger's USA, an enigmatic figure named Big George runs the country, fueled by electricity and over-saturated branding. A revolutionary faction forms against Big George, led by a man named Bug and his army of insects and terrorists.

And Vollmann makes it work. It's an amazingly captivating novel and if you're at all intrigued by the above I suggest you seek it out. I apologize in advance for being so tongue-tied on this one--if you read it you'll understand where I'm coming from.

A major theme of the novel is the tension between insects and "electricity"... which makes this signed UK 1st even more exciting. Take a look:

After lusting after a similarly drawn-in copy at the now-defunct Skyline Books in Manhattan, I found this one on eBay and snagged it on a very modest "Best Offer".

Thought I'd also share a peek at the coda of the novel, written in some sort of glyphic alphabet:

(On a side note, I've finished 2 of my 6 picks from the Booker longlist, Jamrach's Menagerie and The Stranger's Child. I'm waiting on two more from the UK and will be back with an update when they arrive.)

Currently reading:
There But For The by Ali Smith

Currently listening to:
Light Asylum, "In Tension"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Two UK 1sts by Amitav Ghosh, (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke)

As Booker longlisted titles trickle in through my mailbox, I thought I'd share a pair novels by the previously shortlisted Amitav Ghosh (whose most recent novel was not longlisted last week, despite all my finger-crossing).

I just finished his novel Sea of Poppies (which was on the 2008 Booker shortlist) and was completely floored. Sea of Poppies is set in India on the cusp of the Opium Wars and follows the journey of the Ibis, an old schooner with its sails set for Mauritius. The novel reads with the adventurous spirit of a classic high seas yarn but maintains the expansive control of a Victorian novel. I highly recommend it!

(Here are the Sea of Poppies endpapers:)

What's most exciting is that Sea of Poppies is the first of a trilogy. The second volume of the Ibis trilogy, River of Smoke, was just published, and I really hope it gets a wide readership despite its omission from the 2011 longlist.

Not only is Ghosh an incredible writer, the UK editions of his books are exceptionally well designed. The endpapers to River of Smoke are above, and the spines of volumes one and two together are below:

I'll be back in a bit with a new post once the handful of longlisted titles I've ordered are in-hand. Stay tuned...

Currently reading:
Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

Currently listening to:
John Maus, "We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourseles"