Sunday, September 14, 2008

September 11 - 14, 2008

Deb Olin Unferth
2008, hardcover, McSweeney's
10 cards

Sometimes McSweeney's Book Club's books come in the mail just when you need them, sometimes they accumulate before you get to them. Luckily this one just came in time; a time where I can't go on a vacation, this book's title immediately grabbed my attention. Next I realized I'd read a book by Deb Olin Unferth before and enjoyed it immensely. Hers was one of three books that made up One Hundred and Forty Five Stories in a Small Box. A perfect solution to the weekend.

Unferth's use of language is amazing. AMAZING I tell you! Sometimes so simply written, but within a few words a web of issues, observations, life, emotion, etc. are captured. This book is told by a number of characters and voices, sometimes identified, sometimes blurring into the others' stories. I've written about truisms in books before and Unferth provides some of those here too, but she also takes on the unanswerable elements of life, acutely observes them, and while offering no answers necessarily, the space she provides for them to rumble around in your own head can offer respite to life's ongoing puzzle and its missing pieces.

18- "Strings of parked cars receded away into a dense thicket of lots."
-"So Gray hasn't come home. The lesson learned her was to not ever, ever look forward to anything. ever. Crush expectation. Count on nothing but your own grave."
-"His own smallness, his solitude, the cul-de-sac of his mind."
-"He'd asked her to marry him almost immediately on meeting her. He knew right away he would love her."
19- "No one should spend their life going through places like this. One's mind and soul may look like this, but to have to see it outside oneself was really just too much."
20- "You never take vacations."
-index and lists
21- "Being in a hotel room does not mean you're on vacation."
23- "The day was invading through the windows and under the doors."
27- "There were also the mirrors, and other inaccurate reflections."
28- barrette
40- "She could be searching, not for something lost but for something not yet seen."
49- "The sun soaped the clouds."
50- "...gathered papers instead of writing them..."
60- "She did not heap up his heart in any way at all."
61-62- (I love you)
62- "You never saw so many normal people sitting around and calmly looking and not looking at each other."
75- "A sickening dream of water."
85- map
88- Esperanto
90- whistle
101- "He was already dying when he arrived."
104- "They walked back to the apartment and took up their lives."
111- " cannot care for every stone on the path."
113- "He felt like a verb..."
115- "But he disliked the city comprehensively..."
122- life story- book- time- "A man could spend a life telling stories."
123- untraining
-"I walk along my own line of footprints, following myself there and back."
125- "I'm a solo show."
-"You know how it is to want something. Desire builds like a little house in your head and it sits there, half-constructed in your mind. Women who want children are this way. Artists are this way about pictures. It doesn't go away. You may forget for a few months but then it's back, the unfinished pieces of what you want. I don't want anything. I'm fine."
130- no big loves- parents' marriage
131- "I had never been close to anyone, not really, and I wanted to try."
133- "Every man has a weakness, she said. Every man has a past."
134- jumping- Becauses
136- "The insane sound of the cicada."
138- "Where do you go when you leave?"
-"Nowhere, it turned out."
140- "There may have been things wrong with him from the start...his unrealized potential, what he hadn't done..."
142- "It's amazing how unobservant people are, how focused they are on themselves and their own crusades."
143- "A man with a book like that is a man with a place to be."
144- Corn Island- the map
146- "People do things like this, they do, and if it doesn't make them happy, at least it keeps them alive."
147- "I remained. Because that, it turns out, is who I am."
-"Leaving, staying, it's all to hard. I'm still walking around these same places. I am itinerant but steadfast. It takes bravery to care for someone....The risk involved is enormous."
-"Maybe everyone goes back. We chase the thing we flee."
154- giraffe
155- "the whole point of marriage being the guarantee that there exists one citizen on earth who is under contract to deal honestly with you."
161- "a papery existence"
167- "A man leaves a place..."
-"stubborn stuck nails that humans are..."
168- office of stamps
172- pirate ship
175- "Have you ever asked her anything at all?"
178- "A vacation is simply, you know, to vacate. The vacationer leaves the homes (leaves the mind), leaves the home empty (except for what he left behind (her)), that's all. No, no, that's not a vacation, if you simply move to a different spot. That's just looking at stuff, familiar stuff."
179- Coney Island
-vacation- writing postcards
182- Aquarium
190- "Sometimes in large churches, people are crushed beneath them and can't pull themselves out. Sometimes people tumble into the sea and are drowned."
202- "You don't surrender what's yours
204- cloud
206 (briefcase) "the rectangular prison of her husband's soul"
208- "There are many ways to see the world."
212- "All life is urgent."
213- bravest walk

July 10 - September 10, 2008

A Mythic Obsession: The World of Dr. Evermor
Tom Kupsh
2008, hardcover
7 cards

If you've been to Baraboo, Wisconsin chances are you've visited The Forevertron (or the Circus World Museum). On my second
trip to Baraboo I visited The Forevertron with Amanda. That day
Eleanor Every invited us into a trailer where we met Tom Kupsh,
the author of this book, Tom Every and Eleanor Every. At the time Kupsh was working on this book, but after our visit to the amazing House on the Rock, this was just one of many serendipitous encounters on that trip. Every and Kupsh, as Kupsh
writes about in the book, worked together on Alex Jordan's sprawling House on the Rock, this book brought the two men together again years after their initial work. While visiting the American Visionary Museum this summer, with Amanda also,
we saw one of Tom Every's birds on the museum's grounds, and
then I found this new book in the bookstore.

A Mythic Obsession documents one man's individual vision and ideas, adding details to the stories that are already out there. Kupsh begins the book with a very apt quote from Rumi, "Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you." Though in Tom Every's case, we think highly. An important reminder that what we should strive for is living an "uncommon life".

1- related to pirates
6- (Dad patching buildings with old signs) "...always trying to figure out how to do something with what you've got."
-Alex Jordan- boxer- fight
-"disease of all"
10- not attending the prom
15- (date with Eleanor) "We're going to go to the House on the Rock..."
16- "After you tear something down, what do you have to look at? Nothing..."
18- The House on the Rock
22- The Inferno
27- collecting and Alex Jordan and House on the Rock
29-30- Dr. Evermor and the Forevertron story
35- Tom: "I have to make a decision- whether to do this or not."
44- Edison bipolar dynamos
-"He is very proud of his collection, which documents the early history of motors and the generation of electricity; all of these silently play their part in the Forevertron myth."
47- "highball it to heaven"
50- "So they had to have somebody report back in to the rest of the nonbelievers. That's where the telescope comes in."
54- Magnetic Laser Love Guns
66- "fascinated by what he calls the 'spirit' of the tools and machines that he salvages, and he wants us to see them as alive with the spirit of those who made or used them."
-"...I like you, it's just fine the way you are."
-"...his work is not only a new work but also a preservation of the past."
67- "Tom believes that you have to lose yourself in your work to find yourself in your life."
-different time periods- time and place, malleable
-Tom the "Time-Binder"
72- "The Forevertron is all built on hopelessness."
-"He built this piece to heal himself- to take [and use] all the treasures that he found that no one else was going to do anything with- so it was healing."
75- "...Tom set about saying in metal what words and actions had failed to express."
76- birds- fantasies
91- Eagle's Head- Tom: "It's a piece that really brings home the message that everything is in the way that you look at it."
115- "dreams have two components- one is the time scale and the other is the spatial scale"
118- neighborhood- "a time when everything was within walking distance..."
125- "Just as his work is made by joining together a wide variety of components, so too his wide circle of friends seems joined together with him as glue."
126- Happy Hatter- tin foil hats
127- producing artist
128- (Tom) "welcomes everyone and accepts them just as they are
131- Joel la Troll
139- intuitive process
178- handwritten letters
182- "In its best moments, Tom's work invites us to join with him in our common struggle to be free, to excel, to rise above our own frail human condition, and to live an uncommon life."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

August 31 - September 2, 2008

by Philip Shaw
33 1/3 Books, 2008, paperback
19 cards

The first time I saw Patti Smith was on R.E.M.'s Monster tour in 1995. I was in high school. I didn't know much about her yet but I knew that she was someone to find out more about, much like R.E.M. pointed me towards The Velvet Underground. I don't remember the quote exactly but I recall Michael Stipe saying once how when he heard Horses he realized anyone could sing, that he could sing. R.E.M.'s music and interests gave me a perspective beyond the one-traffic light town I lived in. Because of Horses significance to Stipe, the bits I know about Patti Smith, and the concerts of hers I've seen since, I was excited to see that the 33 1/3 book about her focused on Horses.

Philip Shaw's story of musical discovery and research bears some similarities to mine, though his was guided by Ian Curtis and Joy Division and Patti Smith, who he knew first through the Horses cover. The format and approach for 33 1/3 books varies with the author. Shaw writes about Horses as a fan, as well as the necessary invocation of Rimbaud while also discussing it through other texts. As he says, "...Horses is about what happens when we listen as well as read."

3- "...but from Patti Smith I learned that the loss of control, a key word for Ian Curtis, need not lead to a suicidal walk 'upon the edge of escape' (She's Lost Control Again) As Land taught me, the loss of control could lead, equally, to the sea of possibilities."
7- Velvet Underground and Warhol
8- Bob Dylan
9- Robert Mapplethorpe
13- rigor and taking music seriously
-"Elvis Costello line (the attribution is disputed) 'writing about music is like dancing about architecture.'"
15- "unlike other cultural forms, music is where we are most likely to encounter ourselves"
16- "What music offers is the promise of release from the restrictions of everyday life. But such a release is, of course, illusory, and just as ideology works to convince its subjects that they are, in fact, outside ideology, thus rendering itself immune to critique and to the potential for revolt, so music, by concealing its origins in commerce, and by providing a sense of escape from the workaday world, operates as a lure to critical consciousness. To be lost in music, released form the nine to five, is to feel alive, but also, as Sister Sledge adds, to be 'Caught in a trap': for who, once they have experience such freedom, would wish to reflect on it? Might the act of close critical engagement ruin the illusion?"
19- "nothing is more heady in the sense of intoxicating, than the champagne froth of a radical new idea."
22- Benjamin
23- the Situationists
24- "With each song, Smith presents a sort of photographic negative, her characters inhabiting a shadow version of the land of the free."
28- Lacan: "A certificate tells me that I was born. I repudiate this certificate: I am not a poet, but a poem. A poem that is being written, even if it looks like a subject."
-"Patti Smith always distrusted the idea that human beings possess a fixed or stable identity."
29- "Yes, she is a poet, and she is a poem that is written."
-eye patch
30- Rimbaud- self-fashioning
33- Alice in Wonderland
37- Philadelphia Museum of Art
41- Illuminations
44- Piss Factory
-that photograph
49- drawings
52- "death by water"
-"how many tears on your pillow. crocodile or real. watershed."
52- T.S. Eliot
54- "the night stretched like a cloud"
55- (questions) "Perhaps all of these or none of these things."
56- PS: "I had to go to Paris to find myself as an artist, but I came back to New York filled with words and rhythms."
56- close alliance with Lenny Kaye
60- Sam Shepard- PS: Shepard's "whole life moves on rhythms. He's a drummer."
61- street angel
62- "her stress on the act of reading"
63- words, language
66- longing
67- Rimbaud quote- women
70- Artaud
72- Richard Hell: "The art-form of the future is celebrityhood."
76- Gross: "She was a woman who dared to get up on stage and not smile- not aim to please."
77-78- silences
86- Patty Hearst- "I am nobody's million dollar baby."
97- John Cale- mirror quote
98- Horses read as artifact
102- "Again, who is singing here, and to whom?"
106- Lacan, Zizek
121- album "form of memento mori, an artistic meditation on the limits of mortality."
122- Jim Morrison- the task
128- Voltaire- back to England- Louis XV- said to have asked him: 'What did you learn over there?' 'To think, sire.' (penser- to think), to which the King replied, 'Horses?' (panser- to groom horses)"
129- "Horses, then, is about thinking; or rather, it is about allowing oneself to be thought..."
131- Barthes
132- Lacan- child- mirror

Sunday, September 7, 2008

August 22 - 30, 2008

Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America
The Pill versus the Springhill Mind Disaster
and In Watermelon Sugar
1967, paperback
14 cards

One thing that has surprised me this year is the number of books, amazing books, that people have recommended to me this year. The thing is though that these recommendations come about much more casually than I anticipate. This book was suggested by Patrick, who a few years ago led me to reading Patricia Bostworth's biography about Diane Arbus, even though it too was mentioned casually. Have you read any of Brautigan's books? If the answer is no, you should. I'd never heard of Brautigan until now, but once I have of course he pops up in the most unexpected places (the book is in the corner of a photograph of The Kills in the New Yorker supplement Fashion Rocks).

Brautigan is not merely a symbol of hipness or rock 'n' roll, he's a writer who commands language, leading it to new heights and possibilities: "glass whiskers of the houses", "a tattered revolution of old blankets", and the way he describes things (the map drawn with dull pencil). Brautigan's writing also resembles life in the way that the little details add up to make the life lived.

Trout Fishing in America is a book title but also a person, a place, and maybe other things I'm forgetting. This multiplicity reminded me of Reena Spaulings- a book, an artist, a gallery owner and a gallery.

The Pill is a collection of poems. My favorites include: Karma Repair Kit, Xerox Candy Bar, Hey Bacon!, It's Raining in Love, To England, The Postman, A Mid-February Sky Dance, December 24 and The Harbor. In Watermelon Sugar could be described as a love story.

Some excerpts:
Trout Fishing in America
-cover photograph and the back cover
2- "It's sandwich time for the poor."
-"Was it Kafka who learned about America by reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin..."
4- "glass whiskers of the houses"
8- The Kool-Aid wino- "He looked up at me from underneath a tattered revolution of old blankets."
9- "'The dishes can wait'"
14- map
19- Tom Martin Creek- "It's good to name creeks after people and then later to follow them for a while seeing what they have to offer, what they know and have made of themselves."
22- (bookstore) "I drank coffee and read old books and waited for the year to end."
27- "The last thin in the world he had any use for were children."
31- "'Giraffe races at Kilimanjaro!' he shouted"
38- writing on the back of 1st graders
43- (boards over creek)- "...and the creek flowed over the top of the boards, invited like a postcard to the ocean a thousand miles away."
65- (baby and minnows) "We didn't want her to kill any of them because she was too young."
66- (bed leaning against wall) "It stays there for a month. You get used to seeing it and then you go by one day and it is gone. You wonder where it went."
68 and 70- 208 the cat- last cat in the world
104- "'How much are the birds?' I asked."
111- "The Eskimos live among ice all their lives but have no single word for ice."- M.F. Ashley Montagu, Man: His First Million Years
111 and 112- mayonnaise

The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster
8- Items 1-4
11- Xerox Candy Bar- "Ah, you're just a copy of all the candy bars I've ever eaten."
29- map
30- postcard
46- Hey Bacon!
49- "...I wander around the house like a sewing machine..."
53- being drunk, dinosaurs
58- Detroit Tigers
61- It's Raining in Love
78- "There are doors that want to be free from their hinges to fly with perfect clouds."
80- The Postman
81- A Mid-February Sky Dance
94- "God, I hate eating dinner alone. It's like being dead."
98- December 24
105- The Harbor

In Watermelon Sugar
4- "Just call me whatever is in your mind."
3- the tigers
4- that statue of mirrors
27- "'The heard is something else. Nobody knows what is going to happen,' I said."
28- "We who do not have regular names spend a lot of time by ourselves. It suits us."
33- watermelon sugar
40- hands
57- (note) "...and I threw it away, so not even time could find it."
69- "The Forgotten Works just go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. you get the picture. It's a big place, much bigger than we are."
83- "I was so sleepy now that my eyes refused to close. The lids would not budge down. They were statues of eyes."
107- book
110- "'Have you ever read a book?' I said. 'No,' Fred said. 'I haven't but I don't think I'd want to start by reading one about clouds.'"
112- "Everything is reflected in the Statue of Mirrors if you stand there long enough and empty your mind of everything else but the mirrors, and you must be careful not to want anything from the mirrors. They just have to happen."
118- "'Nobody's to blame. She had a broken heart.'"

August 27, 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson
4 cards

Writers in the previous post's n+1 pamphlet mentioned wishing they had read Emerson earlier and hold him up alongside Nietzche, if not above. As I make my way through Emerson this year it seemed like the time to read "Circles" since it was mentioned by them. Emerson, of course, offers all one could hope and more in his reflection on and about circles.

Brief excerpts:
252- the eye
-"Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning..."
-"Permanence is but a word of degrees."
253- "The new continents are built out of the ruins of an old planet..."
-"New arts destroy the old."
-"Everything looks permanent until its secret is known."
255- "Men cease to interest us when we find their limitations."
256- "Conversation is a game of circles."
257- "Good as is discourse, silence is better."
-"The field cannot be well seen from within the field."
-"Therefore we value the poet."
259- "'The worse things are, the better they are.'"
260- "I am only an experimenter."
261- "People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them."
-"Life is a series of surprises."
-"The simplest words- we do not know what they mean expect when we love and aspire."
262- "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
-"'A man,' said Oliver Cromwell, 'never rises so high as when he knows now wither he is going.'"