Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Idiot, designed by Ron Arad (Penguin Designer Classics)

Here's an older selection from my library that I thought I'd share with you: this is a rare edition of The Idiot, designed by Ron Arad and published in an edition of 1000 copies by Penguin as a part of their Designer Classics series from 2006. (I had previously featured FUEL's Crime and Punishment in one of the first posts on this blog, which can be read here.)

Ron Arad is an Israeli industrial designer and architect who is arguably most famous for his futuristic furniture design. His work consistently shows how limitless industrial design can be, whether you're looking at a chair fit for a space station or a bookshelf that coils around itself across a wall. He was appropriately selected to exhibit at the MoMA in 2009--an installation view can be seen here:

A little research online will bring up a number of new projects Arad's been working on, including a line of designer eyewear. Fascinating, challenging stuff.

Naturally, such an ambitious designer would tackle a book project with similar bravado, and Arad nails it. In this case, the "book" of The Idiot is a stack of bound-but-unboarded pages. The top of the stack is the first page of the novel, and the bottom of the stack is the last. With no covers, the design here is strictly limited to the edges of the paper. "The Idiot" is written across one side, the Penguin logo on another, and "Dostoyevsky" down the longer edge.

The white-on-black scrawl is very striking and very much compliments the mostly white of the novel's first page.

This pile of paper is held in place by small tabs on a perspex tray, which allows the 600-or-so pages to sway a little. Whether this is intentional or not, the paper's shift seems to further disorient the structure of the book.

Finally, this tray has a cover, which seems to seamlessly encase the book within its perspex shell. The top of the case has radial lens built into it that causes a very cool effect when you look at it straight on: despite is rectangular form, through the lens the book looks trapezoidal and all five sides can be seen at once. Very cool.

Currently reading:
The End of War by John Horgan

Currently listening to:
Light Asylum, "Shallow Tears" 12"

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Peter Nadas's Parallel Stories: a call for discussion

Yesterday, I finished Peter Nadas's
Parallel Stories and I think it might be one of the best books I've ever read. I'm conflicted, though, as I don't think I could sincerely "recommend" the book to anyone. It's over 1100 pages long, consistently X-Rated, and depicts some of the most emotionally and physically cruel scenes I've come across in print. But still, Nadas's control shines through this darkness, and it's wickedly clear that he's orchestrating not only a multi-generational epic but one that challenges literary conventions to their limits. I want to discuss this book so badly with my friends, but I can't in good conscience send them through its vicious genius without feeling somewhat responsible for whatever happens.

The plot revolves around a family living in Budapest, and loosely spreads out, across generations, through the stories of tangentially related family members and acquaintances (and at times even completely independent plots). But, to try to connect all these threads would likely result in frustration--I was befuddled for the first hundred or so pages before I surrendered to Nadas's command. Once I gave into his deliberate, scathing eye, I was astounded with how much subtlety and nuance Nadas could inject into his slow-paced scenes. (The New York Times was so right by comparing the pacing of Parallel Stories to "24-Hour Psycho", Douglas Gordon's video installation that slowed down the frames-per-second of Hitchcock's film so that one screening lasted 24 hours.)

At this pacing, Nadas could drift backwards through history and jump across memories like Laurence Sterne and Marcel Proust.
And this would be a dreamy effect if it wasn't so nightmarish. Parallel Stories is what happens when you drift through the collective memories of a family that lived through World War II and endured the gamut of national and personal atrocities.

I could go on. And on and on. In ten years, Parallel Stories will surely have tomes upon tomes of essays, criticisms and annotations to accompany it and when that happens I will surely buy them and read them all. But, what do I do until then? Aside from this interview, there's a bit of a dry spell out there about this novel. I've been scouring the internet for some substantial discussion on this book, and all I can find are early negative reviews that just say to me that those critics were all working with unreasonably firm deadlines.

There's so much to discuss, and I'm sure there are connections and details that we all missed.

So, here's what I propose. If you, like me, just finished this book and are going through some sort of withdrawal, let's discuss. Leave a comment, let me know what puzzled you, enraptured you, something, and I'll do the same. Hope to hear from you soon.

Currently reading:
Anything I can find about Parallel Stories

Currently listening to: