Nostalgia is one thing, history quite another.
Nostalgia calls up a past for comfort’s sake; history remembers it to clarify a confusing present and an even more confusing future. Comfort, or even terror, follows as indicated, but that’s not the point.
So it’s local history – not nostalgia – that conjures up visions of Buffalo Bookstores Past at holiday time: stacks of Charles Addams cartoon books and Eloise books as high as your waist at the old Ulbrich’s on Main and Court Streets in the 1950s. Or, a half-century later, buzzing lines of gift buyers at the once-wonderful Borders on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga, lining up 15-deep at the cash registers.
History to remember.
The printed word has a different place in a digital world. Information can always be crammed on the fly onto cellphones or iPads or laptops. On the other hand, the printed word in newspapers, magazines and books is the province of those for whom reading will always be one of life’s luxurious and necessary nourishments and pleasures.
Any Kindle, Nook or other tablet can show you a painting by René Magritte, a poem by Louise Glück or the contents of graphic novel. An entirely different pleasure is the experience of seeing Magritte in a beautiful art book (a “gallery without walls”), or holding 500 pages of Louise Glück’s poems in your lap, or encountering pieces of a graphic novel housed in a book package as large as the average Airedale.
Lest anyone think that the Age of Information and its concomitant digital explosion have rendered bookstores ghost communities, we’re providing as many reasons to celebrate them between covers as we can. Yes, it’s true they’re also online for those of us who know exactly what we want and enjoy shopping in our robes while sipping breakfast coffee.
We’ve bifurcated the word into digital and non-digital worlds. But The Book – and the places that sell it – still offers things available nowhere else. There is no greater pleasure than offering you a seasonal selection for those who know how luxuriant they are.
Here, for instance, in a wonderful anthology from Ronald Rice called “My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop” (Black Dog and Levinthal, 373 pages, $23.95) is Buffalo novelist and Canisius College professor Mick Cochrane writing about Jonathan Welch’s two Talking Leaves bookstores in Buffalo: “There’s not a single copy of anything by Ann Coulter, but there are more volumes of poetry than I have seen anywhere else – Buffalo has always been a tremendous poetry town – a great wall of contemporary poets, Addonizio to Zagajewski. The self-stated goal of Talking Leaves is to make available life-changing books, books that ‘open us up to new worlds, or illuminate more clearly our own,’ books that ‘stretch and deepen our vision and our comprehension of the universe and its creatures, cultures and ways.’”
Here are books seasonally guaranteed to please the right recipients, available in many places (always online as a last resort) that do some or all of that. Or, at least, amuse more than adequately.
“René Magritte: Newly Discovered Works, Catalogue Raisonne VI,” edited by Sarah Whitfield (Menil Foundation/Yale University Press, 162 pages, $65). The works of René Magritte, more than any other surrealist (including Dali), are so matter-of-factly original that they’ve come to stand for surrealism and often modern art itself in the public mind. Some of the imagery is almost as familiar, in an entirely opposite way, as an advertising image (the Beatles loved Magritte’s apples). Here is a treasure trove of remarkable and previously unknown works that a committee of scholars has authenticated as Magrittes – the leaning tower of Pisa leaning against a giant spoon, for instance, and giant apples wearing masks as if going to a masquerade.
About the sponsoring Menil family from Texas: “Perhaps only they could have orchestrated a photograph – by their daughter Adelaide – of this famous painter watching a Texas rodeo while wearing a cowboy hat.”
“Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years,” by Mark Rosenthal et. al. (Metropolitan Museum, 304 pages, $60). The exhibit at the Met in New York ends Dec. 31. It was “the first full-scale exploration of his tremendous reach across several generations of artists who in key ways, respond to his ground-breaking work.” It includes artists from John Baldessari to Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman and others.
Julian Schnabel: “I had this nine-by-ten piece of velvet and he basically stood in front of me as I painted it, just like that. He kind of looked like Peter O’Toole in ‘The Ruling Class.’ His skin looked like it was almost sculpted, like a mask of what was underneath it.”
“Building Stories” by Chris Ware (Pantheon, unpaginated, $50). There are 14 separate stories in this marvelous box of narrative – some in folded pieces no larger than a small DMV pamphlet or scurrilous eight-page comic book of days gone by, some as large as newspaper broadsheets. Utterly unlike anything else out there.
From the book: “Woman Seeking Men: Before Winter Starts, 27, 5’7”, 142 lbs., reasonably attractive. Not a moviestar lookalike but few amputees are. Yes I’ve got one leg – well, one and a half. I live in a third floor walkup.”
“I Say, I Say … Son!: A Tribute to Animators Bob, Chuck and Tom McKimson” by Robert McKimson Jr. (Santa Monica Press, 231 pages, $45). For those of us who love Foghorn Leghorn, who could resist three brothers who helped give us Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil and the original Speedy Gonzalez in the hallowed “Termite Terrace” of Warner Brothers’ cartoon studio?
He was designed as “A tall mouthy Leghorn rooster with a Southern Drawl…[who] was initially featured with Henry Hawk and Barnyard Dawg, who is Foghorn’s constant target. One of the rooster’s ongoing gags was provoking Barnyard Dawg until he chased him which ended up choking the poor pooch when his leash reached his limit.”
“Clint Eastwood: Master Filmmaker at Work” by Michael Goldman (Abrams, 231 pages, $40). I like to think this would have been published even if they knew Clint’s empty chair routine at the Republican Convention was on the way.
Oscar-winner Sean Penn, whom Eastwood directed in “Mystic River”: “Clint will do as many takes as you want, but you [arrive on the set] knowing that he is ready to go, and knowing everyone will bring their ‘A’ game on the day.”
“American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s,” edited by Gary K. Wolfe (Library of America, two-volume box, 1,672 pages, $70). Everything from Richard Matheson’s “The Shrinking Man” (famous from Jack Arnold’s film adaptation) to lesser-known beauties like Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination” which Neil Gaiman has called “the perfect cyberpunk novel.” Other authors represented include Fritz Leiber (“The Big Time”), Robert Heinlein (“Double Star”), Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth (“The Space Merchants”), Theodore Sturgeon (“More Than Human”) and Leigh Brackett (“The Long Tomorrow”).
“The spider rushed at him across the shadowed parks, scrobbling visibly on its stalklike legs. Its body was a giant, glossy egg that trembled blackly as it charged across the windless mounds.”
“The Onion Book of Common Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopedia of Existing Information,” (Little Brown, 244 pages, $29.99). The definitive celebration of the highly advanced modern practice of knowing things while remaining totally ignorant, as in its description of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” as “a brilliant, ground-breaking work of artistic genius that has unfortunately been completely invalidated because the man who made it later gained weight.”
“Electoral College. A flawed system that everyone agrees is obsolete but is thankfully only used to elect the President of the United States.”
“Rock Chronicles,” edited by David Roberts (Firefly, 576 pages, $29.95 paperback). Visually lavish rock encyclopedia from AC/DC to ZZ Top.
“Few bands polarize opinion like The Doors. For some, the six studio albums they released between 1967 and 1971 burn with a seductive fire of hallucinatory imagery, paeans to sexual incitements to riot. For others, they represented an over-rated grab-bag of proto-prog rock pretension.”
“The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music from Adele to Ziggy, the Real A to Z of Rock and Pop,” by Dylan Jones (Picador, 882 pages, $25 paperback original). Personal and idiosyncratic – sometimes to the point of absurdity – it’s from the editor of British GQ magazine and weekly columnist for the Daily Mail.
Crosby, Stills and Nash are like “a varnished log cabin.” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are like “a varnished log cabin with an unvarnished door.” On Kurt Cobain: “In a nutshell, Kurt Cobain killed grunge.”
“More Than Human” by Tim Flach (Abrams, 312 pages, $65). These are some of the most amazing photographs of animals you’ll ever see. Flach’s previous books have concentrated on horses and dogs, but you’ll find hallucinatorily clear photographs of a whole zoo here – owls, pandas, bats, armadillos, lions, orangutans, cobras, elephants, porcupines, bullfrogs, chimpanzees, wolves, cobras, tigers.
“Jellyfish are perfectly adapted to our planet. In all the oceans (which is to say the majority of the earth’s surface) in waters ranging from the shallows to the depths, and back through time as far as 700 million years, medusae have glided and pulsed. They were here before us and they may well be here after us. In fact, as they are now thought to be in the ascendant, thanks to the warming seas and the disappearance of many natural predators due to overfishing, it looks like we might have to develop a taste for eating them, too. Large blooms of jellyfish have disabled power plant cooling systems and damaged desalication units and yet most of them manage to do this to us without the benefit of a brain.”
“Storyteller,” by Tim Walker (Abrams, 256 pages, $75). Prudes, pedants and other P-word malefactors would probably consign Tim Walker to the world of fashion photography and leave it at that. On the other hand, it doesn’t fit Walker anymore than it fits David LaChapelle now or used to fit Cecil Beaton, whether the major source of his income. See the disembodied head of model Christina Carey amid apples fallen from trees. Or Rollo Hesketh-Harvey ready to take off in a biplane made out of giant baguettes. Or a vintage Cadillac convertible erupting with peacock feathers in Mongolia.
“I’m always walking a fine line. You are playing with motifs that are perilously close to being bad and you’re walking on that edge and trying to bring them back to being beautiful and real.”
“A Question Mark Above the Sun” by Kent Johnson (Starcherone Books, 266 pages, $16 paper). It’s a novel, really. But in this “thought experiment” of “Documents on the Mystery Surrounding a Famous Poem ‘By’ Frank O’Hara” (dedicated, no less, to the memory of Vladimir Mayakovsky), Kent Johnson “proposed the following possibility: that ‘A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island’ may in fact have been authored … by Kenneth Koch, not Frank O’Hara.” The next step after Nabokov’s “Pale Fire.”
“And let me say too against the grain as it may be, that I strongly suspect Frank O’Hara would have been perfectly delighted that true questions remain.”
“Poems: 1962-2012,” by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Ecco, 635 pages, $40). A much-honored, much-praised and marvelous poet (with Pulitzer Prize, Bollingen, National Book Critics Circle and all the prizes any poet could want – or stand), Glück hereby collects and celebrates a half-century of often stark poetry with the directness and clarity of prose but the continuing echo of great poetry.
“First Snow – Like a child, the earth’s going to sleep,
or so the story goes
But I’m not tired, it says.
And the mother says, You may not be tired but I’m tired –
You can see it in her, everyone can
So the snow has to fall, sleep has to come.
Because the mother’s sick to death of her life
and needs silence.”
“The Poems of Octavio Paz,” edited and translated by Eliot Weinberger (New Directions, 606 pages, $39.95). No 20th century poet in Spanish – certainly not a Nobel Prize- winner still much-revered after his death 14 years ago – could ask for a better English translator in 2012 than Eliot Weinberger, who is himself one of the most original essayists and writers we have. “This is an overview of an extraordinary life in poetry,” says Weinberger, “almost 70 years of recurrent themes and continual stylistic innovation, a poetry about nearly everything.”
“Certainty – If it is real the white
light from this lamp, real
the writing hand, are they
real, the eyes looking at what I write?
From one word to the other
what I say vanishes
I know that I am alive
between two parentheses.”