Reading and Resolutions

The other day I stumbled on an article on Slate, "My New Year's Resolution: Read a Book Every Day" wherein the writer, Jeff Ryan, resolves to read a book every day in 2012. And then he actually he does it (audiobooks, comics and short books were the secret, apparently). On paper it's certainly an impressive achievement, but my main takeaway from the piece--other than that Internet commenters seem unfairly dismissive of audiobooks--was mostly amazement that someone could, in adulthood, approach the task of reading as would a fourth grader trying to win his class a pizza party. I'm not saying that Ryan necessarily shouldn't be reading books with a number goal in mind; it must have been satisfying to polish off Book No. 366 and overall probably a better use of his time than skimming articles online or playing videogames (the two activities he curbed in order to reach his book-a-day goal). But his piece overlooked one of the best perks of growing up and being out of a classroom setting, namely that it really doesn't matter how many books you've read, or even which ones. Because no one else cares. Once you move beyond assignments or quizzes or trying to impress people (which never works anyhow, and mostly just makes you insufferable), it's a pleasure done solely for its own sake, and if you would like to be challenged or enlightened or comforted or fed a tale about vampires, there is a book that will suit each one of those perfectly reasonable desires. "Reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing," Nick Hornby once pointed out. "Because here's something no one else will tell you: if you don't read the classics, or the novel that won this year's Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do."

A few days before New Year I started listening to Half Empty by David Rakoff, the second chapter of which wound up being the right thing to hear at the right time; he captured the strain of being an artist and an unhappy person at the exact moment I was feeling both of those things, and needed someone more articulate than myself to phrase it right for me. Which is the whole point of reading, at least for me.

The Bachelor Cat, and other updates

1. I finished a mini comic, The Bachelor Cat, which you can purchase on my shop for $4. All actual Cat Bachelors--they know who they are--can have one for free. Sorry, ladies. 2. I am going to be participating in a group show at Delicious Spectacle in Columbia Heights called One of Five, which opens this Friday. My work will be on display with the lovely and talented Project Dispatch artists.

3. I updated my What Should I Read Next? flowchart to include some favorites from 2012 and did some other reorganization. You can see it and share it on Visual.ly.

4. If you are voyeuristic and/or curious about my work environment, I created a Studio Viewer, where you can see my studio, annotated. It's Beta now (read: still thinking of ways to make it better) and  I'm thinking of expanding this project, so drop me a line if you'd have suggestions or want in.

What Should I Read Next? A flowchart

It turns out that my previous flow chart is going to be used as a teaching tool(!) for a workshop on writing artist statements. So, following on its heels I've created one on reading. I mean, in case your book club needs a few pointers. This might be a first draft though: I really need to add One Day, How to Be Good, The Things They Carried and some other favorites that wound up getting excluded for no good reason.

What Should I Read Next - Dana Jeri Maier

How to recommend a book

Mrs Phelps - illustration by Quentin Blake

  1. Don’t expect them to read it.
  2. Don’t inquire if they’ve read it. Ever.
  3. If there’s a book that's truly worth your proselytizing, buy a separate copy and never ask for it to be returned. Lending someone a book is essentially the same as saying, 'here, do this thing you probably don't have time for.'
  4. Know your audience. Don't be the guy who hands off Franzen to the girl who only reads chick lit novels.
  5. Never recommend a book to improve someone, or enlighten someone--that's just arrogant, and will likely backfire anyhow. Instead, recommend good stories.

Travel notes

I spent the ten days after Thanksgiving traveling throughout Barcelona, Avignon, and Paris with my mom. It was my first visit to Barcelona, and I was curious to see the Gaudi buildings, since the dripping architectural stuctures in my drawings have been compared to him (okay, one guy said that, one time, but I took it to heart). We went to the Sagrada Familia on a Monday in November, already swarming with fellow tourists at 10:00 AM, but as the guidebooks tell you, nothing prepares you for the impact of seeing it for the first time. That thing is not only huge, it's...bizarre, but wonderfully so, because it's not how a church is supposed to look. Sagrada Famillia - Barcelona, Spain It reminded me of a cartoonist I once heard giving a presentation, talking about how he never was able to finish panels. "I just need to add more stuff," was how he put it. And I knew exactly what he meant. A lot of artists don't know when to say when, which I don't mean as a criticism, but as the highest possible compliment. It's the kind of obsessiveness that gives you thinks like the Sagrada Familia, or Chris Ware cartoons, or anything else that requires devoting oneself, full-throttle, to some sort of grand artistic cause, regardless of whether or not it's sensible.

The images below are the four small drawings I did while I was traveling (mostly in cafes, or on the train while looking at the countryside and listening to the new Steve Jobs autobiography, which I highly recommend). I also have high quality prints of works available at the Pleasant Plains, which has a closing party this Tuesday, if you still have last minute Christmas shopping. Barcelona - Dana Jeri Maier

Fiction vs. non-fiction

It’s funny how so many readers are divided into fiction and non-fiction camps. I swing both ways personally, but have often heard, “Oh, I don’t have time for fiction” from the latter (mostly from students, or the type of people who think that reading is wasted effort if it won’t result in making you sound smarter at parties) and “I can’t read that, it’s non-fiction” from the former (even when I’m sure to qualify that the book I’m recommending, “reads like a novel!”). My old man is a fiction guy, which probably makes sense to anyone who knows him. He read my latest website entry, and had this to say in an email. I’m posting it in its entirety because no one expresses a thought quite like him, and also for the benefit of anyone who wants a book recommendation or two:

You haven't changed your blog in quite a while now and I find myself just a little bit haunted your remarks about book neurosis. I find myself washed over with really good material and although it's not necessary to go through the stuff, it seems to help.

Who wouldn't like Noir Detective novels? What's not to love about Elmore Leonard knock offs? James W. Hall does stories about a Key Largo fishing guide who solves crimes and in the last one I read has an uncanny talent for making fishing lures. The stuff is beautifully put together and actually very informative--some of the best descriptions of the Florida Keys and its tourist trap towns as you'll find anywhere and all narrated by Frank Muller.

And driving around under a full moon listening to the English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, with its rich layering of historical and emotional memory--that's in Erica's car. In Mom's it's the latest Dexter book, not with the characterization and pathos of the TV show but worth it if you have any kind of obsession.

Or Andrew Vachss--after going through a disc of his arch descriptions of the New York low life, the juvenile prison system and child torture, I do my research and learn the fellow is a NY lawyer who only represents children, did time in Biafra, is married to a prosecutor who specializes in crimes against children. Well, he lives the life of his stories.

Does this stuff help me get on with the business of the day? Well, maybe. But you get an idea of the mix that the We Need to Talk About Kevin disc is a part of and maybe how each of these stories manages to throw out references to the others. Spooky.

And from me personally--I just finished listening to two pop-psychology books that were splendid, if rough on my self-esteem--Being Wrong, and The Invisible Gorilla, both of which aim to alert you in inaccuracies you (and everyone else) experience in everyday life. Next up on the list is the new Michael Cunningham book about the fictional New York city art world, which I am expecting great things from after reading his snappy interview about it on Art Info. So, book neurosis has passed! Now onto art neurosis, as it should be.

Book neurosis

There's a quote from a bookstore owner of Idle Times I read a few months ago on BYT:

Why must people live so safe? Find a book, and if you hate it, well, that’s life. Would you rather discover what you love through trial and error? Finding a good book is like ordering at a restaurant, find something with ingredients you like and try it. People are too safe. Before they go somewhere they have to look up on the Internet if they will like it. Just go! Maybe you hate it but oh well, you know not to go there anymore. You discovered something about yourself, about your preferences.

That is very good advice I am unable to follow.  I am horribly guilty of book-researching, falling prey to the mindset that I can’t read just anything.* I just finished the Downtown Owl, and while I'm still haunted by the ending, I'm now stuck in that anxious, familiar spot; I need something to read RIGHT NOW, and it has to be something good, and that I know I'm going to like.

People with good taste taste similar to mine can recommend good books, but it's still a bit of a crapshoot, and so far I haven’t found that one source who can unequivocally tell me what to read next. I would very much like to meet such a person though, or at least read their blog. A Book Recommender is right up there with Travel Buddy or Awesome Roommate; meet someone who possesses those real life qualities, and it’s probably as close as you’ll ever find to a soul mate.

*My audiobook addiction is probably to blame for this--don’t want to waste my monthly credits, after all.

Definition of an artist, as per Chip Kidd

From, "The Learners," by Chip Kidd:

"He was the most astonishing contradiction of components I’d ever encountered. Shy yet fiercely communicative when putting an idea into your head. Vocally astringent regarding his own abilities but not to the point that he couldn’t produce—he was as prolific an artist (yes, an artist, and I never use the term, especially regarding people I like) I’ve ever seen. But I could feel it. Everything he sketched, penciled, inked, made—was a payment, one he could scarcely afford; as if it physically hurt him to put pencil to paper. Yet that only seemed to spur him on, to live far beyond his means. He was unable not to. For Sketch, to draw was to breath, and so the air became lead—silvery in the right light, dark soot in the wrong; heavy, slick and malleable—into shapes he brought together in glorious orchestration, with a child’s eye and a rocket scientist’s precision, all fortified by a furious melancholy, a quiet engine of sourceless shame and humility.

When it came to another’s work, he longed to praise it but then couldn’t resist critiquing it all within an inch of its life, analyzing deficiencies with uncontrollable abandon and laser accuracy. He was sharp as his Radio 914 pen nibs, and as pointed.

And then he’d apologize. Oh, he would apologize: Oh my GOD, forgive me, please don’t hate me, I’m SORRY, don’t listen to me, why am I saying things, what do I know, I don’t know anything, why do you listen to me you should just tell me to shut UP, I’m awful, forgive me, you hate me, don’t you? Tell the truth. Please don’t hate me. Please don’t. Please."

Two reasons I'm looking forward to fall

Both of which are Nick Hornby related. There aren't many authors who make me giddy with delight, but he's one of them. My autographed copy of A Long Way Down that he inscribed, "Love, Nick Hornby" (!) at a book signing for Slam is on my 'sentimental things I'd save if there were an apartment fire' list. I adore all of his novels, and the movies that were based on his novels--an impressive feat for an author to pull off, at least for me. Usually when I see film adaptations I spend the whole time thinking, "Oh for crap's sake! That character would never do that! They left out the best part!" and so forth, which is why I find Harry Potter movies virtually unwatchable. But A Long Way Down is my favorite. It's about four people who meet on top of a roof  intending to kill themselves for separate reasons, but instead decide to go the non-suicide route, and begin the messy process of living their lives. I recommended it to my mom and two friends (one of whom I had to force-read it to, until he conceded it was worth his time) and all three of them agreed it was very good, for what it's worth.

Anyway, in October An Education gets released in the States, which Hornby wrote the screenplay for:

And in September his new novel, Juliet, Naked comes out.

Related:

Nick Hornby quotes from his books.

Hornby on why recommending books to other people is presumptuous, but he's going to give it a shot anyway.