It's been a crazy year, feels like I haven't had a moment to breathe through most of it, let alone time to read. I thought that perhaps I should sit down and review what I've read over the year and, I don't feel quite so illiterate now! While a pretty thin selection for me, with a lot of re-reads and shockingly, nary a sci fi novel in the list, here are the books I read this year, in the order that they stacked best for the photo!
- Tales of Ordinary Madness, Charles Bukowski.
Bukowski has always been one of my guilty pleasures. The poetry mostly, his short stories can be a little too in your face at times for my tastes but, after re-reading Factotum this spring, I happened to pull this out of the bookshelf and devoured it in an evening.
- Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad.
It's not (quite) Penguin Classics Heart Of Darkness but, it's closer than most get to perfection in prose. Whenever I read Conrad I marvel that English wasn't his first tongue. Conrad is actually Józef Teodor Konrad Nałęcz Korzeniowski, a Pole who settled in England in his 20's and proceeded to write better English than just about anyone this side of Shakespeare. If you've not read Conrad before by all means, start with Heart of Darkness but, be sure not to leave Lord Jim languishing too long on your reading list.
- On Photography, Susan Sontag.
Required reading for anyone who ever picked up a camera or looked at a picture. First read this 20 years ago, originally drawn from a collection of essays written almost 20 years before that it's prescience is astonishing. More relevant today than before, if you haven't read it you really must. I spent quite a lot of time with re-reading it this time, every page leading to a few hours of internet research boning up on photographer's she mentions. It's on my list to re-read again soon!
- Basmati Brown: paths, passages, cross and open, Phinder Dulai.
What could be better than sitting down and becoming fully engrossed in a book written by a good friend? Not a new book but, still a wonderful collection of poems. Phinder paints pictures that bring you straight into the Punjab. The only problem is, he hasn't published a new book since this! I must remember to give him a swift kick in the writer's gland next time I see him.
- Three Blocks West of Wonderland, Heather Susan Haley.
Of course, that's what could be better. To have read wonderful books by two friends in the year. Heather Haley's verse is best described as vivacious. Very much like the author herself. Don't read this if you're afraid of living.
- Factotum, Charles Bukowski.
A book I go back to time and again although, I must admit that it had been a few years. Jack Black's "You Can't Win", below, got me to thinking about it. Not only is the writing sublime, the very well worn Black Sparrow Press edition of this I own is just a perfect package. The paper, the cover, the binding, it's just a beautiful book to hold and read. Not luxurious, that wouldn't do for Bukowski. Just, well, perfect.
- Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco.
Just imagine if the DaVinci Code had been written by a masterful wordsmith at the height of his powers. Wait, you don't have to, Umberto Eco did just that some 15 years before that pulpy mess. This was my third time through since 1995 or so and, I could still feel Casaubon's fear as he hid in the museum as freshly as the first time around.
- Creation, Ernst Haas.
Oh, the fickle tide of fashion. Kids these days haven't a clue who Ernst Haas is. This book has been out of print, near as I can tell, since 1988. I still remember staying up until nearly dawn as a 15 year old staring at every plate for hours on end. I don't own a lot of books of colour photography. Colour is hard, there's not many colour photographers that can hold my attention for long periods of time. Mr. Haas has managed to do so for 25+ years. There's a damn good reason that this book sold an unbelievable 350,000 copies in it's day. I only wish my copy wasn't falling apart from use!
- 1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C. Mann.
Charles C. Mann paints a fascinating picture of what the Americas were before Columbus. Devoured this and had to run straight out and buy the follow up, 1493 (below)
- 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, Charles C. Mann.
The even more fascinating follow to 1491 that tries to unravel the world after Columbus. A must read.
- You Can't Win, Jack Black.
I owe a blog posting on the always wonderful Vancouver is Awesome for alerting me to this true gem of an all but forgotten book. So, there's this guy who spent the late 19th and early 20th century breaking safes, robbing trains, smoking opium in the Wing Sang Building and getting arrested (time and time again) all through the West? And, he got the lash from Raymond Burr's Grandfather? Had his portrait taken by Edward Weston? Hid out in Vancouver to quit Opium? Inspired William Burroughs? And, I'm only just hearing of this? Unbelievable. A great read, order it and consume it. If you live anywhere west of the Mississippi, you'll love it for sure.
- Caesar: Life of a Colossus, Adrian Goldsworthy.
As anyone who's ever googled my son's name might suspect, I'm a bit of a Roman history buff. When it comes to Roman History these days, Adrian Goldsworthy is the man for sure. This doorstop of a book is shockingly fluid and readable. Goldsworthy has a real gift for making history accessible without dumbing it down in the least.
- Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography, Peter Galassi.
Remaindered catalog from a 1981 MOMA exhibition I picked up from the Art Book event at the Vancouver Art Gallery this summer. Exploring the changes in composition in painting just prior to and after the invention of photography. Very interesting stuff, one of the better 'reading' exhibition catalogs I've picked up over the years and, a surprising number of colour plates for the period.
- Walker Evans: American Photographs, Walker Evans.
Sitting on the other end of the see-saw from Robert Frank's 'The Americans', this is one of the most important photo books you can own and, luckily enough, you can buy it now in a gorgeous edition with sumptuous reproduction.
- Americans: 1963, Dorothy C. Miller.
Another remaindered catalog from the VAG. This one is from a group showing of painters and sculptures at the MOMA in 1963, the most famous of which is probably Robert Indiana interesting but, not ground breaking. (the book, that is)
- Edward Weston: 125 Photographs, Edward Weston.
This one will just make it in under the wire, picked it up just this evening. Wonderful reproduction and, well, it's Edward Weston. What else matters?
- Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 Years, Michael Kluckner.
In which Michael Kluckner looks at what's transpired in the 25 years since his first Vanishing Vancouver, good and bad. I love his water colours of Vancouver and, the book is a treasure trove of information on how things got to where they are today in Vancouver. I certainly hope there'll be a 50 year edition too! Also, I must locate a new copy of the original, mine seems to have gone astray sometime in the last 20+ years.
- Alligator Pie Classic Edition, Dennis Lee.
This book will stand in for the many children's classics I have rediscovered at story time with Trajan in the last year. It stands out from the pack though. I had entirely forgotten about it until last week when it came up in a conversation on facebook. Knowing that Lisa was out Christmas Shopping, I picked up the phone right away and demanded that she pick up a copy. Tonight, it was the choice at bedtime. Trajan almost jumped out of his crib he was so excited and, a few pages in, I realized that I was only reading the first line of each poem and reciting the rest from some deep 39 year old memories of my parents reading this to me when I was not much older than he is now. Magical. Just magical.
- B.C. Binning, Thom Rogatnick.
A wonderful celebration of one of my favourite Vancouver artists, B.C. Binning. Not too terribly well known outside of Canada, a true renaissance man, artist, architect, educator. He should be so much more famous than he is. Next time you're downtown, go to the former Bank of Commerce branch at the corner of Granville and Dunsmuir, now a Shopper's Drug Mart, take the stairs to the second level, go to the back and spend an hour or two soaking in his wonderful mural, thankfully preserved after the bank closed.
- This Is the American Earth, Ansel Adams/Nancy Newhall.
A classic from the Sierra Club. Nancy Newhall's writing complements Ansel Adams' photos perfectly. I was lucky enough to pick up this excellent 1980's era reprint from the Art Book Week sale at the VAG library.