Category: Books

What I’m reading.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which, ultimately, is a book that is all about life on the road.

P. 60 (HarperCollins Fifth Edition Reset, 1995, picked up at a bookstore in Cuzco):

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.

What I’m reading.

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain. A travelogue covering the author’s adventures through Europe and the Holy Land.

Page 137 (from the unabridged edition published by Dover in 2003):

We visited the Louvre, at a time when we had no silk purchases in view, and looked at its miles of paintings by the old masters. Some of them were beautiful, but at the same time they carried such evidences about them of the cringing spirit of those great men that we found small pleasure in examining them. Their nauseous adulation of princely patrons was more prominent to me and chained my attention more surely than the charms of color and expression which are claimed to be in the pictures. Gratitude for kindnesses is well, but it seems to me that some of those artists carried it so far that it ceased to be gratitude and become worship. If there is a plausible excuse for the worship of men, then by all means let us forgive Rubens and his brethren.

What I’m Reading.

A family in in Zapallal, a squatter settlement on the outskirts of Lima. (Image courtesy of Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann.)

I’ve been marinating in photographer Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann’s latest book Zapallal | Yurinaki for several days — a chronicle of two Peruvian communities that are connected by circumstance and economics, even as they stand worlds apart. Separated by the Andes, Yurinaki sits at the edge of the central Amazon. Zapallal is located on the outskirts of Lima, tucked into the dusty-apocalyptic hills that make up the Peruvian coast.

The latter settlement came into existence in the 1980s, after a series of economic crises and the country’s simmering Internal Conflict led hundreds of thousands of rural Peruvians to migrate to the capital. Many of the residents of Zapallal hail from or are in some way linked to Yurinaki. But they are connected in other ways, too: by poverty, by social class, by their lack of political power.

In these communities, Marroquín Winkelmann finds a rare beauty. A young man sits cinematically in a mototaxi. A cat howls from a rickety wood platform while a pig watches pensively. A little boy plays in a toy car without wheels; he has nowhere to go. Marroquín uses lighting to dramatic effect — even in daylight settings — for images that take on an almost baroque quality in tone and content. (Note the daughter, above, in an almost blessing-like pose with the fly swatter.)

In Peru — a country where nearly one in ten people live in extreme poverty, and nearly one in three live under the poverty line — the lives of the poor can seem almost like an abstract concept. But Marroquín takes the statistics and makes them human, recording dignity where most folks wouldn’t think to look.

Zapallal | Yurinaki is available at Dalpine. Plus, see some of the images from the series on Marroquín’s website. (The puny images on my blog don’t do it justice.)

What I’m reading.

Roman copy of a 5th Century BCE Greek bas relief depicting Hermes, Orpheus and Eurydice, from the Museo Arqueologico Nazionale in Naples. (Image courtesy of Skidmore.)

A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Page 214 (from the first Anchor Books edition):

He sensed the proximity of the Orpheus and Eurydice before he saw it, felt its cool weight across the room but prolonged the time before he faced it, reminding himself of the events leading up to the moment it described: Orpheus and Eurydice in love and newly married; Eurydice dying of a snakebite while fleeing the advances of a shepherd; Orpheus descending to the underworld, filling its dank corridors with music from his lyre as he sang of his longing for his wife; Pluto granting Eurydice’s release from death on the sole condition that Orpheus not look back at her during their ascent. And then the hapless instant when, out of fear for his bride as she stumbled in the passage, Orpheus forgot himself and turned.

Ted stepped toward the relief. He felt as if he’d walked inside it, so completely did it enclose and affect him. It was the moment before Eurydice must descend to the underworld a second time, when she and Orpheus are saying goodbye. What moved Ted, mashed some delicate glassware in his chest, was the quiet of their interaction, the absence of trauma or tears as they gazed at each other, touching gently. He sensed between them an understanding too deep to articulate: the unspeakable knowledge that everything is lost.

What I’m reading.

Rebels in Paradise, by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, a look at the SoCal arts scene of the 1960s. The book is a hot mess at the narrative level and it’s a bit of a Ferus Gallery retread (as in: non-white, non-male artists are virtually non-existent). But it’s laced with plenty of funny interviews and tasty anecdotes.

One bit on Robert Irwin versus a critic from Artforum on page 58:

The early 1960s was the apotheosis of reverence toward the automobile in Los Angeles; the new Corvette convertible had a role as memorable as any of the stars of the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. Irwin took the critic out to the San Fernando Valley to introduce him to a kid who was working on a 1929 roadster. “Here was a fifteen-year-old kid who wouldn’t know art from schmart, but you couldn’t talk about a more real aesthetic activity than what he was doing…The critic simply denied it.” Irwin tried to explain, but the critic refused to acknowledge the possibility that such an activity could be considered a form of art. Finally, an angry Irwin pulled his car over. “I just flat left him there by the road, man, and just drove off. Said, ‘See you later, Max.’ And that was basically the last conversation we two ever had.”

I’d love to hear the critic’s version of this story.

What I’m reading.

Eating the Dinosaur, by Chuck Klosterman. Stoner-like riffs (some of which are better than others) on various aspects of American culture, from time machines to Nirvana to Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto.

Page 259, (from the first edition Scribner paperback):

The Unabomber writes that society evolves irrationally, which is probably how he justified mailing people bombs. But what would a rational society look like? He never explains that part.

When it’s warm out, I like to sit inside air-conditioned rooms. This feels rational to me. It seems rational to want to be comfortable. But is it rational to expect to be cool when the outside temperature is 95 degrees? I suppose it isn’t. But why would it be irrational to build and use a machine that makes things cooler? Here again, that seems rational.

Yet what am I giving up in order to have a 70-degree living room in July?

Nothing that’s particularly important to me.

For the air conditioner to work, I need to live in a building that has electricity, so I have to be connected to the rest of society. That’s fine. That’s no problem. Of course, to be accepted by that society, I have to accept the rules and laws of community living. That’s fine, too. Now, to thrive and flourish and afford my electric bill, I will also have to earn money. But that’s okay — most jobs are social and many are enriching and unnecessary. However, the only way to earn money is to do something (or provide something) that is valued by other people. And since I don’t get to decide what other people value, what I do to make a living is not really my decision. So — in order to have air-conditioning — I will agree to live a in a specific place with other people, following whatever rules happen to exist there, all while working at a job that was constructed by someone else for their benefit.

In order to have a 70-degree living room, I give up almost everything.

Yet nothing that’s particularly important to me.

When Kaczynski wrote, “Technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom,” I assume this is what he meant.

Over at ARTnews: The art of comics.

Hey Folks:

If you’re into art and you’re into comics, check out this month’s ARTnews. I have a cover story on the growing overlap between the worlds of fine art and comic books, featuring established talents such as Gary Panter, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes (that’s his illustration above) — among many others.

You can find the story online. But if you want to see it with all its graphic goodness, be sure to pick up the October issue of the magazine.


What I’m reading.

Women, by Charles Bukowski. A novel of unrepentant womanizing, with nods to the writing life….

Page 140 (from the 8th printing by Ecco/HarperCollins):

There is a problem with writers. If what a writer wrote was published and sold many, many copies, the writer thought he was great. If what a writer wrote was published and sold a medium number of copies, the writer thought he was great. If what a writer wrote was published and sold very few copies, the writer thought he was great. If what the writer wrote never was published and he didn’t have the money to publish it himself, then he thought he was truly great. The truth, however, was that there was very little greatness. It was almost nonexisistent, invisible. But you could be sure that the worst writers had the most confidence, the least self-doubt. Anyway, writers were to be avoided, and I tried to avoid them, but it was almost impossible. They hoped for some sort of brotherhood, some kind of greatness. None of it had anything to do with writing, none of it helped at the typewriter.