The End Is Now

Hyperart: Thomasson by Akasegawa Genpei. Translated by Matthew Fargo. Kaya Press, 2010. 9781885030467. 416 pages.

Gene: The moment I heard this four years ago, I knew I had to tell you about it. I’m finally done with the book. And it’s yours, to celebrate the end of our time doing Book Threat.

(We listen to this episode of 99% Invisible, and you should, too — it’s one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite podcasts. It’s about vestigial parts of cities, architectural leftovers that are both maintained and useless. Think staircases to nowhere. Akasegawa thought these were a kind of art. He called them Thomassons, after Gary Thomasson, a great pro baseball player who was hired to play in Japan at the end of his career, where he didn’t live up to expectations (but collected a paycheck anyway). Akasegawa didn’t mean anything bad by naming these useless bits of architecture after him, apparently, but Gary Thomasson and his family aren’t happy with this eponym.))

Sarah: Roman Mars [the host of 99% Invisible] is obsessed with eponyms. He appears every year on the eponym episode of another podcast, The Allusionist, which the host does just for him.
Gene: Look at this book! I have tried to read it, but I have to confess I’m not able to read something like this cover to cover, I just kind of flip though it once in a while. These are the articles on Thomassons that Akasegawa published. Look at The Pointless Gate — it doesn’t go anywhere!
S: Think about the people who maintain it. They don’t want it to get ugly!
G: There’s a spigot in my basement that doesn’t do anything.
S: You can’t let that look like shit! I think about the houses in Levittown, post-war, the big symbol of suburban conformity. I saw a photo of one that had a big space under the stairs for a cabinet television and I thought about how quickly TVs changed shape and size. But that cabinet space is still there.
G: This is an awning above some hydrangea leaves. It looks like a shelf.
And here’s a triangle of space, with a handrail that separates part of the stairs from the rest of them and creates a space that there’s no good way into (unless you jump the railing). How did the building change to create that?
Every time I look through this book I find something I feel like I haven’t seen before.
S: A wooden telephone pole cut off at waist height.
G: It’s still got the metal band around it, and it’s next to the new concrete telephone pole.
S: There used to be an offramp to nowhere in Seattle.
G: I think the state finished it and it goes to where the stadiums are now, at the end of I-90. Stadiums? Stadia?
S: I had a water heater that had two emergency overflow valves because at some point someone must have said oh, this doesn’t have one. And they installed one but they just didn’t see the other, and now there are two.
G: Look, here’s my receipt for this book. I bought it in 2014 right after hearing the episode of the podcast.
S: That’s not too bad. I have older unread books than that.
G: But I read as much of it as I’ve read in about two weeks. I’ve been peeking at it now and then, and once in a while I even throw it in my bag and carry it around for a few days. But I can’t finish it. I don’t read nonfiction very much. And now it’s yours. It could be worth big bucks. It’s got a blurb from Yoko Ono on it. That is a book for you, a very 80s looking book, if you accept it.
S: I accept this book into my heart.
G: You don’t have to die with this book in your hands, though. I release you from having to hold onto it forever.

G: I’ve enjoyed our time reviewing books together.
S: I have, too.
G: I’m sure we’ll still talk about books, but privately now. And we’ll stop recording ourselves doing that…now. (click)

 

PS: Sarah is getting serious about a writing project, which is going to be awesome! Gene is going to keep reviewing books (mostly graphic novels), but he’ll be posting them on librarycomic.com and to it’s social media feeds starting in November 2018. (If you want to make sure you see them, please sign up for Library Comic’s newsletter or you can follow just the reviews via this link.)
Thanks again for sticking with us!

-Gene and Sarah

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Just leave it.

Abandoned Wrecks by Chris McNab. Amber Books Ltd, 2017. 9781782745204. 224pp.

Gene: This is a book that [our friend] Dawn had at the last WASHYARG meeting, and I asked her not to tell you about it. I had to get it from the library system where you work because Seattle didn’t have a copy.
Sarah: Abandoned Wrecks!
G: Already, it’s the book for you.
S: Yeah!
G: Ships first. I don’t care much about the boats that are underwater, that are becoming reefs. It’s the boats that are at least 1/3 gone —
S: Half in, half out of the water.
G: This is one of my favorites. It’s in Montenegro, it’s a small fishing boat that’s lost it’s entire back end. What’s that called? The stern?
S: Stern!
G: It’s a fishing boat wreck that’s been abandoned there on the shore. There are a few details about each one. Look at this.
S: That’s great! Like a tall ship.
G: It’s moving to look at — a tall sailboat with three masts on ice. It’s on Lake Ontario in Canada.
S: From 1914. That’s later than I thought they would be building that kind of boat.
G: This is a replica of a ship used by Jacques Cartier in the 16th century. This was repurposed — there was a restaurant on it at one point — but now it’s abandoned. It was even a Halloween party ship at one point. I’d have gone to one of those parties in a heartbeat.
S: Yes.
G: I bet there are still unsanctioned parties there.
S: Get your tetanus shot and come to my party.
G: These wrecks are reminders about how temporary we are — there are some bits about that in the book. What do you call them? Words.
(flipping the page) But nothing is more of a reminder of how temporary we are than a ship in a desert. This is a rusted hulk in Uzbekistan where there used to be a sea. But thanks to the USSR rerouting some rivers, there’s no sea there now. How great is that?

Like the worst 1/16th of an amazing photo from the book.

S: And some guy named Kevin went there and wrote his name on the hull.
G: I don’t think that’s an Uzbek name. I hope that guy never sees this photo.
And then it goes to trains. And I have to tell you, I don’t care about abandoned trains. I like old timey trains that move, but not these.
S: They’re interesting, but they’re not a destination.
G: I’ve seen so many trains just sitting next to highways my entire life, when we’ve driven east of the Cascade Mountains.
S: We’re familiar with it.
G: But this super old steam engine in Zimbabwe —
S: Looks like a tractor.
G: It’s from the late 19th or early 20th century. That thing rode the rails! And it’s not really decaying.
Then on to military vehicles — this is Kuwait in 1991, burned-out Iraqi military vehicles. And the next page are civilian vehicles on a different highway in Kuwait, same time frame, which I think is more striking because you saw the image on the previous page.
Here’s a Russian tank buried in some rubble, in front of a building, in Syria.
Then abandoned cars. Road vehicles. I’ve seen a lot of these in my life, whole neighborhoods near where I grew up could have had their front yards photographed for this book, so meh. Even cars rotting in the desert —
S: — RVs, busses —
G: Not my thing.

In case you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest and have never seen moss on a car.

But this, four moss covered cars in a forest in Sweden, wow. Even in the Pacific Northwest I haven’t seen a lot of cars covered with moss.
S: If you park too long, you’ll get some, but not covered.
G: I see this and think, oh, yeah, we’re all doomed.
And then my favorite section because of my fear of flying, Aircraft. A B-25 that looks very whole, that crashed in New Guinea. Military graveyards where they scrap old planes. An amazing crashed P-38 Lightning in Wales, half out of the water — the sand that’s burying the back end kind of looks like smoke coming out of the back.
Then here’s the freakiest and closest to us, the engine of a B-26 bomber that crashed in British Columbia in 1950, a bit buried in the landscape. They had to jettison their nuclear bomb after three of the engines caught fire. February 13, 1950.
S: Woah. There’s got to be a book about that. (There is: Lost Nuke: The Last Flight of Bomber 075. There’s also a movie.)

Curious, Volume 3

Curious Constructions: A Peculiar Portfolio of Fifty Fascinating Structures by Michael Hearst, illustrated by Matt Johnstone. 9781452144849.

Hearst’s previous collections, Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals and Extraordinary People: A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Some of the World’s Most Fascinating Individuals, were two of my favorite booktalking titles in past years. Hearst has a great eye for lesser known animals and people and includes the most interesting and entertaining facts about each. Now he has a book on constructions: from the famous (Stonehenge) to the humble (various Paul Bunyan statues scattered across the US) to the odd (El Pulpo Mechanical, a massive robotic octopus originally built for Burning Man). He even includes one that’s not man-made: the cathedral termite mounds in Northern Australia. Each gets two pages: one big illustration and a description of what it is and why it’s cool, along with an occasional quiz or poem. It’s perfect to pick up and browse. Hearst has composed albums for his previous two books, I hope he’ll do one for this, as well.

No Camera Required

Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph by Geoffrey Batchen. Prestel, 2016. 9783791355047. 200pp.

Large gallery show and museum catalogs are reliable repositories of reproduced art. In Emanations Geoffrey Batchen does more! And he made me sad I couldn’t take a trip to the Govett-Brewster gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, back in 2016, to see his work.

He disingenuously bemoans the lack of a general history of cameraless photography in an introductory 47 page essay with 33 “figures.” In addition to these smaller illustrations, there are an additional 144 “plates” where the large format and heavy, glossy paper make for breathtaking reproductions. Anyone wanting to author a general history of cameraless photography now has a fastidiously referenced place to begin.

The breadth of the selected works in the book might upset a reader’s established view of photography. As early as 1839, astronomer and botanist John Herschel painted his pioneering mix of photochemicals on writing paper so he could, in mid-letter, make a print of the plant he was writing about! Many of the artists in the 1920’s and 1930’s used photo paper post cards, conveniently available back then, and an easy size to work with. Others went big: Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil draped human models over large sheets of blueprint paper; Zhang Dai’s “Man and Woman on Bikes” was exposed on a 91 inch by 118 inch canvas coated with cyanotype media; and Robert Huarcaya’s “Amazonagramas” works were made using 30 meter (98 feet, 5 inches) rolls of photo paper!

Not all exposures are with visible light. Wilhelm Roentgen made sure to include the feminizing touch of his wife’s wedding ring when he made an X-ray picture of her hand. More recently, and more ominously, Shimpei Takeda used soil samples taken near the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex to expose his media.

The two most-represented of artists are Man Ray and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. Six of Man Ray’s “rayographs” and six of Moholy-Nagy’s works are reproduced.

In Emanations passion, vision, and inspiration are on display. There are also incidental traces of the history of photography as art, craft, and technology. It is both an ambitious and rewarding book.

Guest review by Robert (no longer in San Diego).

Doug, right?

The Collected Doug Wright: Volume One: Canada’s Master Cartoonist by Doug Wright. Introduction by Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse). Drawn & Quarterly, 2009. 9781897299524. Beautifully designed by Seth. 240 wonderfully oversized 240pp.

Gene: Do you know who Doug Wright was?
Sarah: No.
G: He was kind of…
S: Is he that Canadian guy?
G: He’s that Canadian who the Doug Wright Awards are named after.
S: Oh yeah.
G: I was going to say he’s kind of like the Charles Schulz of Canada? His comics don’t look much like Peanuts, but they were beloved. They ran for a long time in Canadian newspapers. His most famous was Little Nipper or Nipper, which became Doug Wright’s family.
What I really like is that this is an oversized book that has blown up some of his drawings, especially from the beginning of his career, and it shows you how amazing his comics were. They were mostly, I think, black and white and red, so black and red ink plus white space on the page. They’re all about a little boy, Nipper, and his family.
There’s a huge biographical essay in the book about Wright’s life, which I didn’t read much of. But there are some pieces of his art that are very cool. It’s supposed to cover 1949 – 1962, so it’s before this smaller format Nipper collection which I also have, which covers 1963 – 1964.
Look, his early comics were so old school.
S: Lots of detail!
Continue reading “Doug, right?”

Four More Years!

Liartown: The First Four Years by Sean Tejaratchi. Feral House, 2017. 9781627310543.

Sarah: It’s weird, I recognized the image of the possum on the cover because it was the author’s twitter icon. He’s one of those guys, I don’t know if I ever followed him, but everyone thought he was hilarious and retweeted him a lot, so I saw his tweets. Then once I got into this book, I realized I know him from like five other things. He’s super creative and you will recognize some of these pieces from his Liartown blog.
Gene: It’s a sort of Photoshopped looking cover.
S: Almost photo collage. Tejaratchi’s background is in design and among other things he makes props for films. He also makes the things in this book. One of the reasons I like it and thought you’d really like it is

we’re both really into book and magazine and album cover design. We can recognize things from different eras. We’re trash collectors of cultural items.
G: We’re trash collectors! That’s a good way to put it.
S: He absolutely is the same kind of person. Here’s the first pieces, grocery ads that are… weirdly confused? Like if you had a grocery ad written by someone with a severe head injury or…
G: Like an English as a second language thing? I see peanut loaf, river nubs… I like this because it looks real and you wonder “Why am I even looking at this?” and then, oh!
S: Everything in the book is like that. They absolutely look like real things, real books and magazines and ads, then the jokes sneak up on you.
Continue reading “Four More Years!”

Temps de l’Aventure

France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud’homme and Katie Pratt.  Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500519073. 208 pp.

Julia Child was a California girl who knew nothing about France and its cuisine when she and her new husband, Paul, took up residence there. She claimed she was astounded by the flavors of French food and was also shocked to be drinking wine during lunch. When Julia found out she and Paul were going to be living there a good while, she began cooking lessons to bridge her personal cultural divide. This anthology is filled with beautiful black and white photographs of the young couple, of French landmarks, and of course, of Julia teaching students how to master French cuisine. It is apparent through these pictures that Paul and Julia were very much in love with both one another and with their lifestyle.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.