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Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday Reading Worth Reading

Here are a few books to spark the imagination over the holidays, a time when perhaps we have time to read.

Bowl of Cherries
Millard Kaufman
This book gets the award for best cover and slip jacket design of the year. In this instance judge that and let it convince you. While Kaufman has written for Hollywood, this is his first novel, at the tender age of 90 which should give lots of hope to all those still-struggling writers. A man in prison in the Middle East awaits a death that will come when he is prodded to fall off the top of a building onto stakes. As he languishes in jail, he recounts his life. Now, you know me well enough to know that I'd never recommend a book solely on plot and what really whipped my frenzy on this one was the writing. It's brilliant, sparking, witty, and everything you could want from an Xmas read.

Artists rejoice! I mean visual artists this time. There's a book for you out there too:
Letters to a Young Artist
Art on Paper Magazine
Evidently the kind editors at the magazine faked a letter from a person saying he or she was recently out of art school, moving to NYC, and wondering how to make a go of it without selling out to commercial galleries. They sent the letter to many big name visual artists and received responses, with only one or two sniffing out the fact something felt wrong with the tone. Rilke be darned. The artists responded. Some responded with ego and a little help, others responded with lots of great advice. It's a small and quick read, but one that I'm seriously considering using for a class text as a flash point for discussions. It's a wonderful pocket book. It's wonderful. It says what needs to be said -- everything we learn over time, like painting is solitude, don't worry about market trends, we have more power than we believe we have, shake up the existing dialogues, be true to what you want. Can we ever read enough of this stuff? Artists are a small army with a big voice -- books like this are our odes.

The seasoned writer (pun intended) will have to rush out to get
How to Write
Richard Rhodes
now an ebook for $11.95 for those who can read books that way. The subtitle is, Advice and Reflections and as it says, this is not a book that is about how to write, although there are many salient points about that job. It is full of reflections and as I read, there was something in this book that crept up on me like some sort of Buddhist meaning, not looked for, not particularly wanted, but whole soul invasive. It is powerful stuff, maybe because his process and my process are so similar so it fits my norms. He describes writing a few of his books without flinching from the terrible moments. He makes me feel the my process is one that is both natural and supported. He speaks like a valued mentor, and in this fact, he writes a book quite unlike most books on writing out there.

Finally, here's a book you can say you're buying for a kid when actually you want it for yourself
The Watchmen
Alan Moore and David Gibbons
Website annotating every panel for the completely obsessive here.

First off, this is NOT one of the 100 greatest novels written in the English language as Time Magazine said. Maybe the publisher and Time are both under the aegis of the same company. At any rate, that sort of hype stinks like yesterdays press agent. Now preface my next comments with this warning: I am not fond of superhero cartoons. I like graphic novels but mostly when the story spins into the very weird arty area. Think of Richard Pettibone's limited edition comix in this regard or the great Terminal City. Now that I've clarified my bias on the subject note that I'm recommending this book. It revolves around washed up superheros with lots of interesting references to other works and the past (it takes place in the Nixon era) and it has enough metacritical dialogues to keep it interesting. The writing is a bit rambling and sloppy but hey it's a graphic novel. Just enjoy it.