November is a month full of thanksgivings: harvests, elections being over, the beginnings of gathering gifts for gift-giving, and the holiday that brings those things together in feasting with family and friends. Like a horn of plenty, independent bookstores have a bounty of newly printed books pouring out of our shelves, hungering to be held and read, perused and percolated through the minds of their readers. We celebrate this nationwide every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with Indies First, a celebration of authors, bookstores and readers in indie stores like ours. It's fun, a pleasure, and you get to take it home with you in the shape of wonderful new books!
John & All DIESELfolk
Over the years I've read a lot of comparisons between books and jazz. Though I adore jazz and spend most of my free time reading, I have to confess that most of the time I had no idea what the comparisons meant. And so my ignorance remained . . . until I read Tram 83. This book oozes style, which declares itself -- very loudly -- on every page, as a sort of narrative improvisation bent on bending every constraint around it. In the process, Mujila obliterates the parameters laid out for the traditional "African novel." There is no Savannah in sight. What we have instead is the pulsing beat of a big city in a big country, with big sins to commit. Tram 83 will be a lot of people's favorite book of the year. -- Brad J.
Like the circling camera in the Hitchcock film of the same title, the language in this story-cycle loops and swerves, reeling back to move forward, enacting an uneasy relationship to the world and to words. Often inhabiting a defamiliarized space between two extremities of emotion, language or geography -- "the first effect of abroad is strangeness," she tells us, "it makes me strange to myself" -- Walsh's narrator observes herself and her quotidian life largely from outside, speaking of love and death, betrayal and jealousy, department stores and oyster restaurants as if encountering them for the first time. Her own dark secrets are unspoken or merely whispered; her intimacies all the more present for their apparent absence. It's too tempting to make comparisons to film (Walsh is also an accomplished illustrator, and the stories are full of sharp visual detail) but days after closing the book, my thoughts keep returning to the late Chantal Akerman, whose protagonists are always receding into the background, present but not present, their restless turns of mind encrypted in the uncertain movement of the camera's eye. Walsh's ambiguities are just as quietly precise and stunning. I want to be like her when I grow up. -- Katie A.
From the celebrated travel writer Pico Iyer comes a meditation on staying put: The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. In this small book, taken from a recent Ted Talk, Iyer draws from the contemplative lives of Proust, Gandhi, Dickinson and Cohen. "Going nowhere," as Cohen described it, "was the grand adventure that made sense of everywhere else." Another favorite, from Blaise Pascal: "All the unhappiness of men arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber." In an age of harried activity tethered to technology, this is an ode to the relevance of quietude.. -- Mia W.
I've known Enrique Martinez off and on for the last twenty-five years, from when he had his first art show at our first store in Emeryville, California in 1989. I've followed his paths through artmaking, occasionally catching up with him at an exhibit here or there. I have always loved his artwork and respected him as a friend, artist, writer, and thinker. He has gathered the bases for this well-founded respect together into a beautiful book of aphorisms on art, the artist, and art-making. The writing is culled, and reworked, from teaching notes at Anderson Ranch in Colorado over the years. The book is for anyone concerned about the direction of their art, or their life, or their work life. It supports a valuable questioning of your own orientation to these things.
It is also a fascinating glimpse into one artist's process of creating art and living an artist's life. It is divided into sections such as "Art as Experience" and "The Studio," but it reads smoothly all the way through. He is a beautiful writer, and I am a deep lover of aphorisms like these. For fans of Wittgenstein, or Kafka, Blake or even Emerson, there are similarities arising out of that careful, precise attention that aphorisms demand. These are clear crystallizations in language of the conceptual, emotional and physical vicissitudes of creative work. They are meant to be prompts rather than pronouncements, providing help and support to refine and intensify creativity.
This is a book I will be reading over and over again, sometime start to finish, more often in fits and starts. It's a good friend, a good book. And this is one of those. Thanks Enrique! --- John E.
Reading Utopia Parkway is like riding shotgun with Deborah Solomon as you take a Sunday afternoon drive through suburbia, stopping by the home of the local eccentric artist, Joseph Cornell, for a bit of cake (he had a wicked sweet tooth). There he lived with his mother and his younger brother who had cerebral palsy. Cornell spent most of his days in his basement studio, which he called "The Habitat." It was here that he created his unique assemblage pieces from the castaway bits he collected and thoughtfully stored in themed boxes: glasses, love letters, pegs, plastic shells, etc. When he did venture out, he was quite fond of exploring New York City, a silent observer of its sights and sounds.
Though Cornell was a bit of a recluse, through his art he befriended artists over the decades like Salvador Dali and Yoko Ono. He enamored many women from afar, from waitresses to starlets, but was anxious in their presence and would never pursue them socially. Instead, he would occasionally create a piece reflecting his admiration for a particular woman, which not always met with favorable results.
As with most artists, Cornell's work was influenced by his upbringing, surroundings, and interests. From Harry Houdini and amusement parks to feeding the birds and viewing constellations, all of these things shaped what he created. Cornell was a self-taught artist, a true original. His work was like that of no other, yet it has influenced many since. There is a pureness in his art that is not contrived or gimmicky. Utopia Parkway expounds on all the nuances of Joseph Cornell's life, detailing how a lone soul from the suburbs became a pivotal figure in Surrealist art. -- Cheryl R.
At long last we have a new Andy Goldsworthy monograph, and it was worth the wait. This book is everything an Andy Goldsworthy lover would hope it to be. For anyone who doesn't know this magical artist, it's a superb introduction. His materials are found in nature: stone, clay, wood, branches, leaves, flowers, sand, and ice. He has worked with these materials all over the world, from his home in Scotland to the Arctic, New York City, Australia, New Mexico, and more. These ephemeral works mark the passage of time and the seasons. Describing them exactly in words is difficult, but this book captures their essence for us in 367 glorious pages. -- Alan D.
Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is a little like another princess you may know. She's cursed to prick her finger on a hamster wheel on her twelfth birthday and sleep until the spell is broken by a kiss from a prince. But unlike other princesses, she doesn't wait around for it to happen. Instead, she figures out that she's invincible until her birthday and decides to take up cliff-diving and ogre-bashing. All these adventures leave her well-prepared to stand up to the evil fairy and change her fate. From the glitter on the cover to the spin on the traditional fairy tale, this is a story for all princess-loving, newly-independent readers. It's also funny and entertaining with some sophisticated touches (like a "mansplaining" prince) which are fun for parents to read aloud. -- Clare D.