2008

  • Ficciones

    Jorge Luis Borges

    Image of Ficciones

    I’ve wanted to read something by Borges for a while but I always felt intimidated by his reputation of “superhuman erudition.” Most of this book is pretty cerebral with stories that are really academic-sounding fake histories; yet as the book progresses, the stories edge into the accessible range.

    I took too long to type this up and don’t have the patience to page through and find all the parts I liked. I recall “The Library of Babel” was one of my favorites. Oh, I also related the bizarre gambling outlined in “The Babylon Lottery” several times....more

  • The Boat

    Nam Le

    Image of The Boat (Rough-Cut)

    “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is probably the best story in this book. Largely autobiographical, a writer in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop follows the drunken suggestion of a colleague to mine his father’s experience in Vietnam because “Ethnic literature’s hot.” His father conveniently arrives for a visit, and he feeds a new page into his Smith Corona (a friend claimed “he’d broken his writer’s block by switching to a typewriter”) and types “ETHNIC STORY.” The ensuing exchanges between him and his father are just brilliant. I love that this story also references other stories in the collection, which makes the whole book feel like part of that one story.

    Le is into...more

  • Logotypes and Letterforms

    Doyald Young

    Image of Logotypes & Letterforms: Handlettered Logotypes and Typographic Considerations

    In the strongest sense, letterforms do not age but become fixed to a period of time primarily in their application. Longevity is often precluded by blatant design approaches that are banal, modish, and consequently ephemeral. Many products and graphics are designed to seize the moment and cash in on a popular idea.

    When I first browsed through this book, I didn’t realize all of Young’s logos are hand-lettered. After reading the introduction, I delved back into this catalog of work much differently. I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked looking through it — it seems I always take out huge art books and then ignore them until they are overdue — and barely read much of his accompanying text. I’ll...more

  • Here is New York

    E.B. White

    Image of Here is New York

    It was a little funny to read this slim little book directly after Play it as it Lays, as they are both wrapped so much in hot weather and it’s been colder and colder lately.

    Originally written for Holiday Magazine, the extended essay is a nostalgic look at New York City (Manhattan, mostly) from the perspective of White, who had lived and worked in the city years earlier but had since relocated to Maine. He returned one summer to write this piece, observing how much the city had changed. But yet with a few shifted details, one could easily put the same words to the New York of today, still offering its gifts of loneliness and privacy (though I...more

  • Play It as It Lays

    Joan Didion

    Image of Play It As It Lays: A Novel (FSG Classics)

    There’s something soap-operatic about this terse novel detailing a vaguely successful Hollywood actress’s nervous breakdown. Avoiding histrionics, the story details all the gossipy founders of Maria Wyeth with glances to her similarly challenged friends. Despite the concise nature of Didion’s prose, she manages to paint nuanced settings, from the freeways Maria drives all day for a while just to fill her time to later when she joins a film crew in the desert.

    By day the thermometer outside the motel office would register between 120º and 130º. The old people put aluminum foil on their trailer windows to reflect the heat. There were two trees in the town, two cottonwoods in the dry river bed, but one of them was

    ...more
  • Bottomfeeder

    Taras Grescoe

    Image of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

    A few years ago I abandoned my vegetarianism and started adding fish to my diet. Mostly I felt like I needed variety in my protein sources, but also there are a lot of nutritional benefits to eating fish. I’ve looked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Guide many times, but have always found it difficult to consistently remember what to avoid. Reading the stories behind key “avoid” fishes (as well as a few fish that are good eat) should help me navigate the fish world a little easier.

    The core of Grescoe’s international survey of fish is that we have overfished the larger predators (like tuna and cod) and the only way to help the fish come back is...more

  • Make it Bigger

    Paula Scher

    Image of Make It Bigger

    An attractive tight-back bound book with edge-stained pages, Make it Bigger is at its heart a survey of Scher’s work from the 70s through the 90s. Yet it feels more like a memoir or a study of process than just a portfolio of her work. I loved her discussion of discovering how to “sell down” designs at CBS Records (get the highest decision maker on your side and everyone else will fall in line). The various hierarchies of her different positions and the diagram of a meeting are some of my favorite parts of the book.

    I felt she was a little more humble than some in talking about her career — Chip Kidd often sounds a tad self-congratulatory in...more

  • Collected Poems

    Paul Auster

    Image of Collected Poems (Paul Auster)

    Reading this book on the subway was probably not the best approach, but I managed to struggle through it. Auster’s earlier poems have some overwrought tendencies, but in a way all of his poems fit together as a larger work, making this collected volume very useful. He’s attached to images of stones and whiteness and snow among other things, and many common images are threaded across his work. He has a tendency towards oxymoronic lines and a knack for good poetic punchlines, endings that could almost sit on their own:

    We dream
    that we do not dream. We wake
    in the hours of sleep
    and sleep through the silence
    that stands over us. Summer

    ...more
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

    Raymond Carver

    Image of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories

    I’ve somehow managed to never read an entire collection of Raymond Carver’s short stories, despite being somewhat of an enthusiast of the form and having read a few of his stories in passing. This one caught my eye at the library, as I’d guess Murakami played off this title with his recent memoir. It turns out the title story is the one The New Yorker published a draft called “Beginners” last year — the version in this collection was heavily edited by Gordon Lish (the story behind the changes). This collection also includes “So Much Water So Close to Home,” which the film Jindabyne was adapted from, so it was kind of the ideal collection to pick...more

  • Where I Was From

    Joan Didion

    Image of Where I Was From

    Maybe I’m just a hater this week but I couldn’t find much to latch onto in Didion’s exploration of her history with California, including her pioneering ancestors’ treks to get there. Though it’s kind of a personal history placed within a larger context, even the parts about her family read strangely impersonal. It seems like each chapter starts out interesting and then gets laden down with too many facts without any real narrative structure. One begins looking at the painter Thomas Kincade — and I love her description of his paintings:

    A Kincade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap

    ...more

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