Salvatore is an aspiring novelist and screenwriter, who lives under the reasonable fear that one day he will awake to find himself transformed into a giant insect. He owes this fear to the gift of modern literature; as a teenager, his father gave him a stack of books from his art school days, including Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre and Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs. Salvatore can be found in the wee hours of the morning writing, perusing local art exhibits, mountain biking, dancing (poorly) downtown, and expanding his record collection. If you happen to see him in the store, invite him to a lengthy discussion of the literary merit of the lyrics of David Bowie or Nick Cave, and be sure to inquire if he's finally decided whether his all-time favorite novel is Ulysses or The Brothers Karamazov.
This review might seem redundant (given that the word Orwellian is a part of our cultural lexicon) but I really want to impress upon you how, personally, this book was at least 75% wasted on me when I read it in High School. As an adult, I was really blown away at how obnoxiously good it actually is. George Orwell's mind is so razor-sharp and he is so well-reasoned, that this book does the best job of, perhaps any piece of fiction I've read, identifying the essential social and psychological mechanisms of totalitarianism. The highest aim of the Party is to control language, and in doing so they not only control how people speak to one another, but even more importantly, how they speak to themselves. In other words, Big Brother destroys language, therefore destroying the mind's ability to think and conceptualize beyond certain set parameters, and he effectively claims ownership over consensus reality. Orwell thought that this message was important enough, and that totalitarianism stemming from both extreme Far-Right and Far-Left governments was an imminent enough danger, that he desperately worked to complete this book, an artistic and political last will and testament, practically on his deathbed.
This book is among the great works of American literature, that somehow, inexplicably, fell into complete obscurity for many years. So often book blurbs speak in hyperbole, this one is compared to Dostoevsky on the back cover, and yet it's the rare novel where hyperbole is appropriate. The characters are so vividly, and often times, harshly, realized that I'm at a loss for words. Their physical environments and inner psychic turmoil are so beautifully rendered, you can't help but to see your own reflection in the darkest, ugliest of places, and those places are in turn humanized. It's a story that's quintessentially American, in that it is about lost people, living from orphanage to reformatory school and reform school to prison, suffering abuse after abuse, and struggling, as we all are, to find themselves in the dark. A word of warning: this book is bleak, hard-edged, and utterly real, it lives and breathes on the page. We owe NYRB a debt of gratitude for retrieving it from obscurity for us.
A bizarre love triangle that culminates in a tragedy of Greek proportions in Post-War Japan. The story rivals Dostoevsky in its highly psychological rendering of the three primary characters, while still coming in at about a third of the size of a Russian classic, written in the highly economic and eloquently beautiful prose typical of 20th century Japanese literature.
This book is direct and brutal, like a hammer blow to a soft-target. And, as the protagonist Joe is described, it is without a single ounce of fat. Ames utilizes the 97-page length masterfully, I read it in no more than a few hours and it left me shook. The protagonist is Joe, a gun-for-hire who suffered childhood abuse and PTSD from his service in the Gulf War and the FBI's human trafficking division thereafter. He specializes in locating abducted young girls, extracting them, and exacting vengeance on their abductors, with his choice weapon, a hammer. The risk in a book like this is that it will devolve into a crass celebration of violence or a revenge fantasy. But on the contrary the book is about the explosive and horrific consequences of violence, in particular abuse; whether it be physical abuse, psychological abuse, or abuse of power. And Joe is the living manifestation of these consequences.
This is not literature, this is the anti-novel. The writing is aggressive, caustic, and brutal. A bloodcurdling scream that scrambles any familiar notion of logic, eschews grammar completely at times, and inhabits a realm of violent surrealism. It takes place within the mind of a young girl named Janey, between ages 10 and 14, who is shaped into a role by patriarchy, capitalism, and sexual abuse. The only escape she can imagine is self-destruction. This story marches to the beat of its own anarchic drum, and the marching order is dictated by one of the most urgent feminist voices fiction has ever known. Ultimately the anti-novel’s effect is liberating, and it urges one to be creative with utter abandon. Though it was unnerving and extremely graphic, I am awe-struck by its full effect. After all, there is no better way to resist than to take the novel, a historically male object that’s gone largely unchanged since the 19th century, and tear it to pieces.
In spite of its flaws, ancient Greek society was essentially heroic. Look at the heroism of modern works like Ulysses by James Joyce or The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. They both state that everyday life, however innocuous, becomes grand once one ascribes to it a mythical sense of purpose. This is exactly what the ancient Greeks did. Their reality was alive with meaning; every detail of every moment was under the influence of Gods, Naiads, and Nymphs. They deified their aspirations and humanized their surroundings with a sort of metaphysical optimism, and this worldview advanced them into a cultured civilization. Hamilton does a wonderful job of illustrating this worldview in her retelling of these tales, breathing new life into ancient material, making them as vivid as the day that they were conceived by the poets who believed in them and lived side-by-side with their mythic reality. And this 75th Anniversary Edition is one of the most beautifully designed books I’ve ever seen, with modern illustrations, title pages, and family trees. This book is a truly heroic effort, in the classical sense of the word.
I should probably warn you, opinions of this book are split literally down the middle. So in that sense the initial response has been much like a cult film and I could really see it picking up steam in the coming years. Also, much like a cult film, the things I loved about it were the pure rawness and the unrestrained craziness of it. It is essentially an alternate history within an alternate history, a metatextual novel, the bulk of which is a manuscript written by a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD, and the repercussions of a radical form of therapy called "enfolding" that has come to prominence under JFK's uninterrupted 3rd term in office. The idea being to literally "enfold" traumatic memories within less painful versions of events, suppressing them within fictions we tell ourselves. This element of suppression works as an accurate metaphor for the entire novel, as even in a fanciful vision of America where Kennedy lived to lead us through the 1960's, the harsh, violent realities of that time will come bursting through all the same, leaving us with a utopia deranged.
Have you heard all the hype about Haruki Murakami but can't for the life of you figure out where to start? Well good news, this is the perfect spot! This was the first book I ever read by him, when it was still relatively new and I was just a teenager, so it holds a special place in my heart. It takes place, as the title would suggest, in the hours after dark over the course of a single evening, from just before midnight to sunrise. The plot itself is hard to describe, it's loose, dreamlike, as the random, yet prescient, strings of events unfurl and intersect across the nocturnal Tokyo cityscape. The characters are disparate and yet connected, seeming to gravitate one another with eerie celestial rhythms. It sits in a very special place, just between realism and surrealism, right on the edge, giving you a look into Murakami world without totally severing ties with the ordinary one. And it's a very quick read, the perfect thing to bring to a cafe or diner one night, where you might find yourself drawn into something special.
While I was reading this, Nick Cave was my superhero; like a gangling hybrid of Johnny Cash and Johnny Rotten; his wiry frame clad in funerary suits; his gaunt face and piercing eyes, snarling lyrics from behind a shock of black hair. I suspect young people of a particular disposition (and upbringing for that matter) will open this book and feel like they've come home. Right from the first pen-and-ink monochrome, this biography seethes with hyperbole and surrealistic folktale, culled from Cave's lyrical imagery. Far from being a straight biography, this account of Cave's life hopelessly, and wonderfully, intertwines his art and his myth. It recounts the journey of a musician antihero: spring-boarded from his dull Australian hometown—dreaming of Punk Rock and Dostoevsky—and passing through a procession of (now legendary) musical scenes, from ‘80s London to West Berlin, all the way to the end of the world in the fiery heart of the Hadron Collider; self-actualizing all the while through sheer arrogance and single-minded determination. I marveled at Kleist’s perfect illustrations, sometimes long after I had finished a page. I absolutely loved it, and I've had This Is: Nick Cave on repeat on Spotify since.
This is one of my favorite types of books, in the sense that it's a good reminder of the things that we all have in common as people, through universal experience and feeling. Which is an important thing these days, as people move further and further apart and our culture becomes increasingly divisive. And who better to deliver this reminder than Marc Maron? Who is both at once deeply affable and a bit neurotic, in his standup act he opens himself up completely, in an almost vivisectional fashion, and lays himself on the line for us as an audience. He does the very same thing in long-form conversational interviews on his WTF podcast, and his guests, ranging from John Oliver to Lorde, can't help but to open up to him in the same way, yielding deeply personal and revealing conversations. This book is a sort of compilation of some of the best pieces of those interviews, broken up into sections such as "Relationships", "Sexuality", and "Mental Health", and the sections, with well-worded intros by Maron, run very fluidly according to theme, delivering a majorly affecting, and even inspirational, dose of humanity.
Success alone couldn’t protect Paul Dini from insecurity and unhappiness. Late one night, while walking home from an unsuccessful date, Paul was ambushed, mugged, and violently beaten near his home in LA. The muggers smashed the side of Paul’s skull so forcefully that certain fragments were ground into non-existence. Blunt force left his upper body and thigh severely battered, and one of his eyesockets had to be reconstructed with pins and a metal plate. As taxing as the physical recovery was, the psychological recovery proved moreso, as his vivid imagination appears alongside his everyday life. The figure of Batman always looms close by, urging him to pick himself up and go back to work writing for Batman the Animated Series. His demons--anxiety, self-loathing, depression--are voiced powerfully by figures like the Joker, Scarecrow, and Two-Face. This wonderfully imaginative story speaks to comic book lovers anyone who has suffered trauma, physical or mental. It’s a story about stories, namely the most elemental story of all: the story about heroes and villains, about light and darkness, about human struggle and ultimate triumph.
At the age of 11, The Divine Comedy was the first work of literature with which I really fell in love. I remember spending hours in the library poring over its contents: the archaic language and historical references that had me consulting dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the internet; the grotesque, epiphanic, and mesmerizing woodcuts by Gustave Dore; the journey from lowest depths of constricted human suffering to the highest heights of ecstatic spiritual liberation. This translation by Jean and Robert Hollander is, bar none, the most inspired translation I've ever read. The fluidity and elegance with which they capture Dante's voice from the original Italian is awe-inspiring. The same can be said for all 3 parts of the Comedy, so if you get through the Inferno and find that you like it, I implore you to read their other two and complete the pilgrim's journey as was originally intended by Dante. Paradiso is after all, in my opinion, the best part.
I think people take James Joyce way too seriously, almost as seriously as James Joyce took James Joyce. People either approach him with too much fear or too much respect, or a combination of the two, and completely miss the rhythms and textures of his work. As if their intellectual credibility is entirely predicated on whether or not they "get it". Which is why I love this straightforward biography. I've heard a lot of criticism for its simple language and comedic overtones, but I think the tone is perfect. Joyce may have been a genius, but he was kind of a ridiculous person. This meticulously researched biography episodically illustrates the ups and downs of his life, representing him as a literary genius but making no excuses for his many vices and tendencies towards egotism and self-aggrandizement. Not to mention that it is breathtakingly illustrated by Zapico, who captures Joyce's Dublin, as well as the other European cities Joyce visited and resided in on his lifelong artistic pilgrimage, to breathtaking effect.
There's something about the images in a David Lynch film. This goes beyond the fact they're surreal, often disturbing and sometimes disorientating, or that they contain the distinct visual traces of a painter's eye (I.E. the shot composition, color palette, etc). It's the fact that each of them, in my opinion, feels genuinely inspired. In this book, Lynch does a really good job of conveying his creative process and philosophy, and explaining exactly why that is. And he does so in very short and sweet chapters, covering a variety of different subjects; ranging from meditation, to "catching" ideas, and the origins of various of his films. And yet somehow all of it is illuminating in some way or another to the nature of creativity, and inspiring no matter what type of work you're engaged in. It's the kind of book you could easily knock out in a single evening, but which personally I'll be going back to often.
Aside from the fact that he was an excellent songwriter, the next best thing about David Bowie is the range of his influences and the way he translated them into his art. David Bowie was the absolute intersection point between the world of music and the worlds of literature, fine art, theatrical performance, and film. Listening to his music opened entire worlds to me, from painters like Salvador Dali to writers like William S. Burroughs and George Orwell. There were no limits for him creatively and as a result he produced a body of work that, in the traditions of painters like Bosch or Chagall, represents its own self-contained cosmology of concepts and characters, designs and aesthetics. Author Paolo Hewitt traces the process of his development from album to album, providing context with Bowie's life, as life and art were inextricably linked, with insightful commentary and vibrant full-page pictures. In the process of which he sheds light on details even I, a confessed super fan, didn't know. If you're not already a fan like I am, this book could easily turn you into one, following an artist and human being's growth and development through that which was most important to him: the work, the albums.
Let me start off by saying that this is my favorite comic book series, by my favorite comic book writer of all time, the highly imaginative and ultra-weird Scottish phenomenon, Grant Morrison. The complete series deals with all range of bizarre and completely off-the-walls subject matter; such as UFOs, occultism, anarchy, fascism, counter-culture, psychedelia, quantum physics, 1960's espionage pastiche, time-travel, pop-culture, Gnosticism, race relations, gender politics, human sexuality, Voodoo, punk rock, the metaphysically conjured godhead of John Lennon, and much, much more. Even in its weaker points, the series is highly impressive in that Morrison boldly threw all of his ideas at the wall and managed to make them into a cohesive narrative with deep and developed philosophical undercurrents. This new Deluxe Edition of Book One is excellently put-together and a great place to start, containing the first two story arcs, "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell" and "Arcadia", as well a number of excellent one-shots from the series, which are in themselves as good as the longer arcs. One of them sympathetically tells the life story of one of the random henchmen who the protagonist shoots in the first arc, brilliantly examining the ethics of ending a hired thug's life with a witty one-liner, even in a fictional context.
I don't read too many kids books these days, but when I saw this one I had to pick it up and read it. Which I did, fast. Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of my all time favorite artists, and his work and life story has been a huge inspiration to me ever since I was young. This book shows his art as it was, despite his tragically short life, vivid and explosive, a celebration of life and free-expression. Each line reads like a running poem across pages that paint snap-shots of his life in the style of own paintings. I'm really glad that Steptoe made this story available to children, as it presents an artist who managed hardship and sadness through art and ultimately self-actualized through his own creativity and inner radiance.
Why don't more people know about Jonathan Carroll? If there's any one living author that I could magically uplift from obscurity, and place into the forefront of public consciousness, it would be Carroll. But alas, even with the praise of people like Pat Conroy and Neil Gaiman, he still hasn't seen the kind of success in his native United States that he deserves. And it's surprising, especially with the popularity of people like Gaiman and, not to mention, Haruki Murakami, both of whom he has plenty in common with, along with the complement of his own entirely unique vision. This may be his best book; it's the type of story that you can crawl into and get lost in. It's about a man in his dreary adulthood tracing the roots of his favorite children's book back to the town where the enigmatic author lived and work, where things quickly become very strange indeed. Carroll is a more than willing guide, clearly reveling in the art of storytelling, once having likened the moment that things take a stark turn from rational to fantastical to when a plane begins to pick up speed on a runway and lift up off from the ground.
As Bendis points out in his introduction, while not being as well known in the US as in its native Europe, this book has been ripped off and mimicked countless times in film and comics since it's release. It’s full of mind-blowing ideas and visuals, which for the early 80's were far ahead of their time and still resonate to this day. While it's been copied so many times, no one has been able to come close to striking the kind of magic that Jodorowsky and Moebius do together here. Which is one of those perfect marriages in comics between writer and illustrator that calls to mind the very best power-combos, like Gaiman and McKean or Morrison and Quietly. The story is about a lowly Class "R" Detective named John DiFool who comes into contact with an ancient, luminescent artifact known as "The Incal", which is a sentient source of cosmic power. The story quite literally follows the symbolic progression of the tarot, beginning at 0 with the Fool (DiFool, see what they did there?) and tracing the character’s journey to mystic enlightenment to the end as he battles with the forces of darkness and discord to quite literally save the universe. The book is loaded with esoteric symbolism and essentially serves as a heady, mystic parable with ideas and images that leap electric up off the page.
This is a book-worm's dream come true, the ultimate piece of fan-fiction penned by a master. Alan Moore clearly has an intense love for these characters because he realizes them in ways which live, breathe, and ring absolutely true to the intents of the original stories. The story itself takes place in a world in which every fictional story ever told exists, side-by-side with humanity--Cthulhu, Dracula, Prospero, James Bond, everybody. The setting is a Victorian London which is very fittingly almost someone's Dadaist idea of Victorian London rather than the historical reality, with industrial-revolution exploding in an endless scheme of construction across the city in spiraling, crudely mechanized structures ruled over by a shadowy, Masonic government with eerie occult undertones--brought brilliantly to life by O'Neill's artwork. Against this backdrop, the British Crown assembles a top-secret military group of exceptional individuals--ranging from Mina Harker to Captain Nemo. The series is in essence, a love letter to the craft of storytelling. And if all this doesn't sell you, the first book actually climaxes in a turf war in London's Limehouse district between Professor James Moriarty and Dr. Fu Manchu fought with Cavorite powered airships.
What do you see when you think of technology? Do you see perhaps the clean, pristine surfaces of the Apple store, the minimalist color scheme and architectural sensibility? What does it suggest? Efficiency, right? Cleanliness, sleekness. What do we associate efficiency and cleanliness with in our society? Progress, innovation. Unfortunately if we try and apply the same standards to all areas of human life, it clashes with many of our most basic drives and instincts. So if you establish this as our ends, the means would be to condition the human out of humankind. And at the end of this you are simply left with civilization, a well-oiled machine, smoothly running. This is the future Huxley presents in this book; it's bleak, it's depressing, but most of all it's frighteningly real. With all this renewed attention on Orwell's dystopia, maybe it's time to reexamine Huxley, who presented a culture defined by it's goals and values, inundated by pleasure and entertainment, the tools of technologies they didn't understand rather than their masters. After all, at one time entertainment technology gave us reality-TV stars, now it would seem it gives us leaders from the self-same source. Yes, maybe it's time to give Huxley another look.
Alright, so to give you an idea of how engrossing this book is, when I first encountered it I was shopping and I ended up picking it up, having known Jodorowsky as a cult filmmaker, only intending to glaze over the first two or three pages, but I found myself so drawn in that I read what was easily the first forty or fifty. It is excellent, I was absolutely captivated by the surrealist images, which Jodorowsky paints so well, and page after page of captivating idea--which while not being completely literal or realistic, touch on the very nerve center of human feeling; whether it be loss, love, hate, anger, or inspiration. In the novel, Jodorowsky attempts, in essence, to paint several generations of his family history as mythic narrative, very reminiscent of the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which there is no boundary between the material and immaterial, real and imaginary. And he succeeds, surpassing even the masters of magic-realism in pure scope, advancing the form into areas which can only be described as mesmerizing and kaleidoscopic.
This book is both simple and elegant, which may come as a surprise to those who only know Alejandro Jodorowsky through his films, with their highly surrealistic and unconventional narratives, or even his wildly imaginative science fiction comics or magic-realist novel--all of the above being simultaneously esoteric and zany in equal parts. But at the center of this fevered imagination, is a surprisingly sober authority on Zen Buddhist philosophy. His interpretations of the traditional Japanese Zen koans, stories, and haiku related in the book are deeply resonant and legitimately altered the way I look at myself and the world around me. It's clear within the first few pages of this book that he is a man who understands life and art, and the only prerequisite required to being moved by it is simply living, breathing, and having a little bit of wonder as to what that's all about.
This book is a must have for anyone interested in, not only the Beatles or George Harrison, but music and creativity itself. It vividly illustrates the spiritual development of an artist alongside his work, in his own words and those of the people closest to him. Unlike the earlier George Harrison: Living in the Material World, which was released in tandem with the documentary by Martin Scorsese, this book is almost less about the man himself and more about his works--which is fitting given that the title I Me Mine is a reference to the human ego, which Harrison sought to be free of through his spirituality. There are pages of lyrics to 141 of his songs alongside his explanations of their meanings and inspirations, which range from single paragraphs and several sentences in length to pages worth of explanations which discuss his thoughts on the Law of Karma, living, dying, and enlightenment in illuminating detail.