Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.
On the horizon, zippers of far-off lightning opened the blue and black of the sky.
Beneath the Bonfire: Stories by Nickolas Butler
|One part of my Penguin colony|
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But when the book is a classic, you don’t have to—that book has already been judged many times over whilst sporting wildly different covers. A classic book has survived and endured great and egregious designs; it carries its world in its title and the name of its author. It is more than the sum of its covers. This leaves the designer and artist free to play.The ratio of egregious to great leans heavily in favor of the latter on my shelves. I’m hardly done collecting my Penguins (and, to the groans of my wallet, I’m sure this new book will only serve to add more volumes to my shelves), but what I do have proves, as Niffenegger writes, they are “intellectually sexy, these flowers of culture.” The Penguin gift-wrapping around these volumes can be exotic or literal, playful or toe-the-line, but it is rarely (if ever) ugly. That’s why I curate and continue to grow my collection. I try to keep my bookshelves a no-ugly zone. One thing I most like about Penguin cover designs is their eagerness to push the boundaries of our expectations. When it came to Middlemarch, for instance, Elda Rotor (vice president and publisher of Penguin Classics) said they had an in-house rule: “No bonnets!” Instead, the Deluxe Classics Edition sports a white leather glove inscribed with a map of the village. Paul Buckley, creative director and editor of Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, puts it like this:
When Jimi Hendrix played “The Star Spangled Banner,” it was those two things coming together that made the world stand up and go, “YES.” When you find a mashup that should be so wrong but it just comes out so right, that is what art can do with material you thought you knew.
Classics have been packaged so many times, over so many years, and often this is what freaks designers out—“oh my god, it’s been done 100 different ways already, how am I going to come up with anything new?” Instead of walking through the front door, come in from the back door, come down the chimney, climb through a window, and turn off that goddamn waltz. Bring new music, open the windows and let some fresh air in, mix up some cocktails and have fun with it. Make it a costume party and give the protagonist a new set of fun clothes to party in.I like the way he thinks.
I just love the ornate lettering and the fancy borders and, well, everything about these old book covers. What works of art. I loved the idea of doing a modern spin on them, something that retained the lavishness but also added a hint of the whimsy that is a part of the book. The two books I drew the most inspiration from were…The Count of Monte Cristo, published by George Rutledge and Sons, Limited. I wish there were an easy way to find out who created these covers. The listing where I found this book said that the book is illustrated with 20 etchings by M. Valentin, but the cover artist was probably someone completely different. The second is a book called Burns Illustrated. I know nothing about this book except that it was published in 1871 by Belford, Clarke and Company. I loved the typography and the title banner in this one. And the nearly non-stop ornamentation. I let myself soak in these fabulous book covers like some fancy, gilded bath, and I picked and chose what to glean from them, musing on how best to incorporate all the elements we needed, including a kick-ass blurb by Brian Doyle. Then I used a color scheme that was reminiscent of the classic red and gold but updated into something modern. Funny to be tootling around on Adobe Illustrator, making minute movements with a mouse, creating something electronically that nonetheless hearkens back to book covers that fabulous artisans created, more than a century ago, using such a very different process.
Not everyone can say what they feel in words, especially words on paper. Not everyone can look at a camera and make their face do what it has to do to show a feeling.A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. I’ve meant to read Butler’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection of short stories for years—nay, decades—but it has always somehow eluded my grasp. There’s always something newer, shinier, louder to snag my attention and good intentions fall by the wayside. Last week, I figured enough was enough. Damn the new Michael Chabon and full steam ahead into these stories of Vietnamese immigrants living in New Orleans. Collections of this size typically have one or two weaker stories; I’m halfway through A Good Scent and I haven’t found a single stinker. On the contrary, these tales are strong, strong, strong.
There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.Barchester Towers to me in his velvet-lined, dulcet tones. There are approximately 54,987 characters in this novel and it can be a chore to keep them all separate and distinct from one another—especially when one is only sipping at the audiobook in the short 12-minute drive to one’s workplace—but Mr. West more than fulfills his role as Best Audiobook Narrator I’ve Ever Heard in the way he fully inhabits each of Trollope’s residents of the fictitious cathedral city of Barchester. Over time, I’ve come to think of Septimus Harding, Mr. Arabin, Bishop Proudie (and his hen-pecking wife), the Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni and, especially, the oily Obadiah Slope as comfortable pieces of furniture upon which to sit. By the way, Barchester Towers and A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain are part of my five-year Essentials Reading Plan (on which I’m making decent progress).
The paradox of auto tourism brings the natural world close up but it remains, figuratively if not literally, beyond the windshield: closer but still removed, beyond the footlights...we often remain seated, passive, and virtual: spectators at least one remove from sensory participation in the mountain scenery. The outside is magnified yet we remain within a theater of glass walls, bodily detached. We love to sit, especially behind or above an engine.Exceptional Mountains was as high on my much-anticipated list as a climber summiting Mount Hood, I’m not exaggerating. Now that I have a copy firmly in hand, I’m happy to report the wait was worth it. The book is a fascinating and illuminating study of why and how we love, revere, and abuse our favorite Pacific Northwest volcano-mountains. A lifelong climber and outdoorsman, Weltzien takes us on a sociological, cultural, political and ecological tour of the slopes of Mounts Rainier, Hood, Baker, Adams, St. Helens and others. While visiting my daughter in Tacoma last week, I’d hoped to take a quick trip up to Mount Rainier, Exceptional Mountains in hand, to get a selfie (a “bookie”?), melding the wonderful cover design with the actual mountain itself; but alas, I never made it to the park. I had to settle for a distant, cloud-shrouded view of Rainier and comfort myself with the zoom-in, telescopic pictures Weltzien paints in his pages. I heartily recommend Exceptional Mountains to anyone interested in how we interact with our wild places.
But by night Martin sat alone, tousled, drinking steadily, living on whisky and hate, freeing his soul and dissolving his body by hatred as once hermits dissolved theirs by ecstasy.Main Street and moving through Babbitt and now Arrowsmith, I’m hitting Sinclair Lewis’ greatest hits (also part of my Reading Essentials plan). Up next: Elmer Gantry and then I’ll wrap up with Dodsworth (I don’t have the time to read the entire Lewis canon, for Pete’s sake!). While Arrowsmith isn’t as scathingly satirical as Babbitt and Main Street, it shows a definite maturity in Lewis’ ability to develop his characters. I’ve gotten so deeply involved in this saga of scientist-doctor Martin Arrowsmith trying to find a cure for disease that when I mentioned I was reading it to my wife, she said, “Oh, just like the rock band.” I’ll admit I had a Stupid Moment right then and there; somehow, I’d never made the linguistic bridge between the rockers and Mr. Lewis (though, according to at least one source, the novel was not the original inspiration for the band’s name).
He had...“an extraordinary energy of speech, a very great diversity of ideas, a certain air of frenzy in his look, speech and gait, a frenzy half comic, half melancholy.”Sinclair Lewis: An American Life, trying not to get too far ahead as I read Lewis’ major novels in chronological order. Schorer strikes the right balance of scholarly reportage, respect for the author’s work, and forthright, painful honesty. To wit, the first sentence of the biography: He was a queer boy, always an outsider, lonely.
I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It dominates. There’s not much I can do about it. Trust me. It doesn’t go away. It’s there whether I like it or not. It’s there when I eat. When I go to bed. It’s there when I sleep. It’s there when I wake up. It’s always there. Always.I’m Thinking of Ending Things has held my attention for the past two days. I was initially attracted to the book not only by those unnerving opening lines quoted above, but also by the blurb by Nick Cutter (author of The Troop), who said, “Here are some near-certainties about I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Number One: You’re going to read it fast. Over the course of an afternoon or an evening. The momentum is unstoppable—once you start, you won’t be able to stop. And Two: once you race to the end and understand the significance of those final pages, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.” Well, I haven’t finished the 210-page novel in one sitting, or even in two days (I blame my octopus hands), but I am certainly thinking about it during nearly all my waking (and troubled-dream sleeping) hours. I’m midway through and I don’t know where it’s heading, but there are enough odd, scary things getting under my skin that I think I’ll probably swallow the rest of this book-pill today. No guarantee of sleep tonight, of course.
It had come a sudden shower.
This old girl wasn’t much to look at, but she took a shine to me that wore me down after a while.
She hears the dogs coming round now, bugling louder as they draw near, bawling out in unbridled rapture.Indeed, I’m expecting plenty of “unbridled rapture” in the pages to come. These are stories I can take a shine to.