Book Digest: November 12, 2007

Robert Birnbaum on: Sovereign Bones; Running the Table; Fidel Castro: El Líder Máximo, A Life in Pictures; The Principles of Uncertainty; Arnaldo Pomodoro: General Catalogue of Sculptures; Love and Language; &Fork; Legends of the Chelsea Hotel; Graphic Design: A New History; Will Eisner’s The Spirit: Book One; An Island Called Home

Norman Mailer died this weekend. I was a fan of Mailer’s and think I be may one of the few people who read his massive stinker Harlot’s Ghost. Nonetheless, I remember vividly the brilliance of Armies of the Night and how much it moved me. I remember seeing Mailer at the Grant Park Bandshell riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. He had a long and productive life: good for him and us. There is of course a deluge of verbiage devoted to Mailer’s passing—but Charles McGrath got something right with this remark in his obit:
Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match. He was the most transparently ambitious writer of his era, seeing himself in competition not just with his contemporaries but with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
Two movies are being released that use serious books as their texts (in a fashion): Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Two great works. Let’s see what happens.

Norman Mailer at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, copyright Robert Birnbaum
Norman Mailer at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, copyright © Robert Birnbaum
Sovereign Bones: New Native American Writing edited by Eric Gainsworth
Book Digest I’m not sure where Native Americans are today on the pendulum of trendiness but this book most certainly answers a need that Gainsworth puts this way: “…this anthology is offered as a monument to the survival of indigenous cultures and the integral contributions artists make to that survival.” It’s divided into four sections: “Repatriating Ourselves,” “Speaking Through Our Nation’s Teeth,” “Snagging the Eye from Curtis,” and “Rolling Those Sovereign Bones.” Interesting, yes? Oren Lyons comments in his foreword:
We are now at the beginning of the twenty-first century and we collectively face the rest of the world’s greatest threat to life as we know it—global warming. Ironically, again the world is listening to the voice of indigenous people. They are reaching for our philosophy of responsibility to the seventh generation—our tradition of long-term thinking, respect and support for the natural world and our understanding of the great life-giving regenerative systems of the universe…
Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler by L. Jon Wertheim
Book Digest The great film The Hustler with Jackie Gleason as the legendary Minnesota Fats secured for billiards and its demimonde a certain charisma and iconic fascination that allows a good tale to bubble up occasionally from its running undercurrents. Wertheim, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, found one in Danny Basavich, a bipolar, pool-hustling savant from New Jersey who takes on the nom de hustle of Kid Delicious. This book follows Kid and his sidekick Bristol Bob on a four-year journey through America’s pool halls—from the chic and urbane to the low-life bustouts. Large sums are won and lost nightly until Kid Delicious achieves a big-time reputation and stature.

» Read an excerpt from Running the Table

Fidel Castro: El Líder Máximo, A Life in Pictures by Valeria Manferto De Fabianis
Book Digest There are lots of people counting down the minutes, hours, and days until Castro passes away. As a young boy in the late ‘50s, I was enamored of Fidel and his bearded band; their tossing out of the United Fruit-supported thug Batista seemed like a great accomplishment. We know the story since then, so I won’t fulminate on the failures of U.S. foreign policy. This book contains a great number of interesting pictures—I like the one of Fidel standing at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial—many you may not have seen.
The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
Book Digest Artist Kalman has a number of books for children (of all ages) to her credit, and is a regular contributor to all manner of smart publications. Here she follows her well-regarded illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style with this hybrid chapbook/diary that collects her monthly columns that ran on the New York Times web site from May 2006 to April 2007. It’s an attractive package that melds her quirky and easily identifiable illustrative style with a deeply personal inner monologue. Serious fun, for sure.

» Read an excerpt from The Principles of Uncertainty

Arnaldo Pomodoro: General Catalogue of Sculptures edited by Flaminio Gualdoni
Book Digest Assorted works and pieces by octogenerian sculptor Pomodoro are collected in this special bilingual edition, whose oversized, nearly 800 pages (which arrive in a slipcase) are generously priced.

» See images from Arnaldo Pomodoro: General Catalogue of Sculptures

Love and Language by Ilan Stavans with Verónica Albin
Book Digest While Stavans is noted for his, uh, “dazzling erudition,” I am more familiar with his ungenerous, fussy nitpicking and wrong-headed reviews of writers like Francisco Goldman and Sandra Cisneros. Here’s what the publisher claims:
Roaming through millennia, across geographical boundaries, and from culture to culture, Stavans surprises us again and again with new perspectives on love—how we conceive of it, how it differs from place to place, what roles it plays in people’s lives, how it appears in art and literature.
Personally, I can’t think of someone who I am less inclined to read on the subject of love. Or language. But that’s just me.

» Read an excerpt from Love and Language

&Fork: 100 Designers, 10 Curators, 10 Good Designs
Book Digest Phaidon Press, not only known for well-designed and produced books, regularly creates original and useful compendia of various arts (see Spoon). In this tome they gathered 10 curators to survey the product design world, select 100 designers, highlight their work, and offer expert commentary. Design types and such will salivate over this book—wear a bib.

» See images from &Fork

Legends of the Chelsea Hotel by Ed Hamilton
Book Digest Back in the ‘60s, two middle-class Jewish kids from Chicago spent part of their honeymoon at the Chelsea Hotel. What possessed my first wife and I to venture forth in such a way escapes me now but seeing this book does remind me of the mythic stature of the Chelsea in mid-20th-century culture. Most famously, Sid Vicious may or may not have killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen there. A partial list of Chelsea Hotel residents includes Ryan Adams, Sarah Bernhardt, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, Charles James, Thomas Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, Madonna, Edgar Lee Masters, Arthur Miller, Sean Penn, Edie Sedgwick, Rene Ricard, Harry Smith, Patti Smith, Dylan Thomas, and Virgil Thompson. This was a fun bunch, dontcha think?

Graphic Design: A New History by Stephen J. Eskilson
Book Digest This comprehensive survey of the history of graphic design runs chronologically from the late 19th century to the present. Generously illustrated with nearly 500 hundred images, this tome sold me based on its devoting a chapter to book designer, novelist, and editor Chip Kidd.

» Read an excerpt [pdf] from Graphic Design: A New History

Will Eisner’s The Spirit: Book One written by Darwyn Cooke, art by Cooke and J. Bone
Book Digest Last month I mentioned Eisner and his newest book. I feel I mention him so frequently that it behooves me to note Eisner’s comic legacy continues in the hands of artists like Cooke, who, to his credit, has his own style, which ably complements the world and story Eisner envisioned in his creation of The Spirit.

» Read excerpts from Will Eisner’s The Spirit: Book One

An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba by Ruth Behar
Book Digest Cuba and Jews? Who knew there was a story there? Apparently University of Michigan professor and anthropologist Behar, who also has a MacArthur Fellowship on her impressive CV. Behar, who was born in Cuba and left at the age of five, has continued to think about the Jews who stayed behind. This book and her movie Adio Kerida tell that story. Oscar Hijuelos observes: “A fascinating and vital memoir about a rarely glimpsed cultural force in Cuba; both personal and far-reaching. An Island Called Home digs deep to reveal new things about the collective soul of the Cubans.”

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