30 August 2009

reading whatever you want and like

Six years ago, my bookclub read the new translation in verse of Dante's Inferno by Robert Pinsky. At about the same time, the Mary Ryan Gallery held an exhibition of Michael Mazur's illustrations for the Inferno. The installation was spectacular with the etchings on the wall and the text on slanted reading shelves in front of the illustrations. Mazur died on August 18th at age 73. In his obituary published today, the last couple paragraphs were especially interesting to me:

"Although deadly serious as an artist, Mr. Mazur had a sly wit. In 1984 he wrote an article for the Op-Ed page of The New York Times proposing a W.P.A.-style project under which artists could decorate nuclear warheads, just as Renaissance artists embellished armor and weapons.

'It is not hard to imagine the vivid colors, bas reliefs, even graffiti, that would make spectacles of beauty of those dull cones,' he wrote. In time, he suggested, the warheads would find their way into private collections and museums, thereby ending the possibility that they might be deployed."

Always the pacifist and trying to be always the optimist.

In the Arts & Leisure section today, there's an article about upcoming shows of Sandow Birk's "Personal meditations" on the Koran at galleries in California. They look very interesting. In 2006, Birk was working on a film, using puppets, that used Dante's Inferno as its inspiration. That was just about the time of the attacks on the Danish cartoons that included what were seen as disrespectful representations of Muhammad. The Inferno bits disappeared from that film but Birk's project on the Koran has reached the point that it can be shared with all of us. If it promotes understanding of religious and cultural difference, that will be great.

Also in today's Times was an article about English teachers who are assigning students to read what they'd like to read rather than particular books. You can read the article for the full story but your reading is related to your age and predilection, intellectual and physical. I haven't re-read To kill a mockingbird since it was assigned many years ago but I'm sure I would react to it differently now. One of the other books they mention in the article is Moby-Dick which I don't think I read until a few years ago, another bookclub selection. I really enjoyed it and even read another Melville novel (Redburn) not long after. Reading them recently, as an openly gay man rather than a repressed teen or twenties year old, was wonderful. I could react to the bits of potential homosexual or homosocial as an adult. I don't think I would have gotten nearly as much out of them as a kid. Same with the Inferno. It's just too bad that there's so much to read. Well, no, it's great that there's so much to read. If the teachers letting the kids select their reading encourages them to read and find joy and knowledge there, it will be far more important than the loss of collective memory. Teachers can certainly compensate for the varied readings and the students may even find each other's discussions of their reading more illuminating and inspiring than discussion of common reading. We can hope, can't we?

24 August 2009

Barbara Kruger, book designer

So here I am, merrily adding books to LibraryThing, and I notice that the cover design for my copy of Medieval humanism and other studies by R.W. Southern (Harper & Row, 1970) is credited to Barbara Kruger.
Checking her biography, I note that she did indeed do magazine design and illustration after graduating from Parsons. The cover has the zodiac and the labors of the month and similar blockprint-like images in a circle against clouds and stars.

I've seen articles recently on Andy Warhol's early contributions to illustration, e.g., his album covers. I find it interesting to think about how the artist's "fine" arts are visible or not in the commercial work. Kruger's (or her editor's) use of moral images plays rather well into her polemical collages.

(Sorry about the image. It's "borrowed" from LibraryThing.)

09 August 2009

LibraryThing paradigm shift

I haven't talked here about LibraryThing in a while and my LT universe shifted a couple days ago. One of the features on your profile is a comparison of your library to those of others. There's a weighted, raw, or recent choice on the comparison. Since I started significantly entering my books, the nearest libraries in the weighted category have been libraries with strong gay collections. Now that I'm with my books here in Alfred, I've been cataloging a shelf or two of books almost every day. My nearest library just shifted to one that is strong in architecture and I've still got many shelves of architecture books to enter.

When I was in Chicago for the American Library Association conference in early July, I went to the Stonewall Book Awards brunch and one of the speakers was Marie Kuda who had long ago contributed a Chicago profile to a Queer Caucus for Art newsletter issue when we were about to meet there. I talked to her briefly after the brunch and she emailed me with thoughts about Tee Corinne, my co-editor. She also said my LibraryThing profile picture with clipped hair was not as much fun as my liberated hair (description thanks to Dan Eshom).


Sunday morning. The Times and pancakes. Thinking about Woodstock, mostly because of Jan Pareles's memoir of that magic "moment of muddy grace." I didn't go to the festival though my sister and her husband got close. They were a couple of the people that parked miles away but didn't keep going when it was clear that the mud and craziness were pretty overwhelming.

The Woodstock article continued on page 22 and the continuation was face-to-face with a profile of Milton Rogovin, optometrist turned photographer after his business was decimated for not testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. An interesting conjunction of peace, love, and justice. The words trip so easily out of the brain, and trip too on the thoughts of how the world could be better.

This weekend has been New York Green Fest 2009 here in Alfred. I didn't go, partly because the registration was $85 (not that I haven't spent $85 less wisely) and there seemed to be no session registration fee. My brother Doug, who has been involved with the planning, said I probably could just attend (aka sneak in). But I decided to do my own little green fest and picked up a bunch of cans, bottles, and trash from one of the sites on Pine Hill where people clearly go for partying. Most of the cans and bottles had been squished and broken so the can/bottle refunding opportunity was slight. But then I wasn't doing it for the money.

Maybe it's the misty air that's bringing on the contemplation too. No problem. I like thinking and musing.