Atlassed

Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartography edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist, introduction by Tom McCarthy. 2014, Thames & Hudson, 9780500239186.

Guest book review by Robert in San Diego

I like maps and atlases, but grit my teeth when I find mistakes. The town up the coast is Solana Beach, not Solano Beach! And if you ever visit San Diego, I’d like to apologize in advance for Friars Road and Pacific Highway being grade separated and having no interchange.

When I feel the onset of mapping rage, I calm down by thinking of Mapping It Out — a witty coffee table book and fantasy atlas. Its staid red buckram cover, reminiscent of mid 20th century reference books, conceals 131 astounding “maps” by a wide range of contributors. These maps cover topics in a range from the DNA of artificially created organisms to memories of the New York City art scene in the 1960’s. Editor Obrist curated an art gallery installation along similar lines as part of the 2012 London Olympics. Mapping It Out is a followup project.

On each page, a section of text describes the contributor and their motivation. The rest of the page is their map. Marcus Du Sautoy, who identifies himself as a mathematician instead of an artist, uses his map to compare the “Seven Bridges of Konigsberg” problem (which helped launched the study of graph theory) with the modern city of Kaliningrad’s water crossings. The much-lionized Tim Berners-Lee shares his map of the World Wide Web; it looks like a sketched map of a role playing game’s world, right down to the dubious entities inhabiting marginal lands. Albert-Laszlo Barabari’s map of the relationships between human diseases is remarkable. Artist Qin Zhijie’s fantastical “Mapping the 21st Century” includes a Nuclear Battery Store and the ominously named Food Shortage Crisis Park.

Rereading Mapping it Out calms me down when confronting the little discrepancies between a map and the territory.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest review!

Foreign Everywhere

Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini. Rizzoli, 2013. 9780847842131.

This is a huge, heavy book printed on textured paper that is really satisfying to touch, and the colors in the illustrations are bright and eye catching. The book itself is in an unknown alphabet, but you can recognize the layouts of chapter headings, tables of contents, illustration captions, and sidebars. (It reminded me of Lewis Trondheim’s book A.L.I.E.E.E.N, which is also written in an unknown language.) It appears to be some sort of guide to a bizarre world: one diagram shows the life cycle of a plant that grows into a finished chair, another shows a picnic table built on a slant so that crumbs fall to the ground while a plate is perched on a wedge that keeps it level. There are pages of bizarre machines, alien flowers, and outlandish costumes. (It reminded me of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, too.) Some of the illustrations are visual puns, others are just plain odd. Aside from some nudity and one (non-explicit) sex scene in which the couple gradually turns into an alligator, I think this is a great book to share with kids: it made me think about how information is structured, plus every page would make a great story-starter.

Argyle Socks: A Sign of True Love

People Knitting: A Century of Photographs by Barbara Levine. Princeton Architectural Press, 2016. 9781616893927.

In my reference class in library school, I had to pick a subject to look up in each book we studied. Since then, I’ve used the same technique to explore historical archives and databases. My current go-to searches? Accordions and knitting. So of course I’ll pick up a book of historic knitting photographs! Since this is an ordinary occupation, there is usually another reason each picture was taken: there are casual snapshots that contain incidental knitting, formal portraits of women holding their knitting, pictures of celebrities knitting while waiting for their close-ups, and a whole lot of images of people knitting for world war efforts (both I and II). The pictures are charming!

A 1918 postcard shows George E. Hill, bald and white-bearded, knitting alongside a picture of the 100th pair of socks he knit for the war effort. Those were for President Woodrow Wilson, complete with Wilson’s name and an American flag stitched in the cuff! The text on the reverse says Hill did his knitting from 3 am to 7 am and on Sundays, when he could finish a pair of socks in a day. I want to know that guy’s whole life story.

There’s a wonderful excerpt from a 1918 magazine article about Colorado’s “Rocky Mountain knitter boys:” when they were knitting, they didn’t fidget with their pencils or throw erasers in class. Now I’ve got an idea for a new school outreach program!

And if you’re a knitter, the pictures are even cooler. A photo of a maintenance man knitting in front of a furnace has a caption that says he’s knitting for the baby he and his wife are expecting. He took up knitting to relax, on the advice of his doctor, “and he’s since become an expert.” No kidding! He’s doing intarsia with five bobbins of yarn on size one needles!

Wow: Stick Man

Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. 9781568989761. 208pp.

Gene: Patrick Dougherty is a sculptor who works with sticks. (opens book)
Sarah: Oh wow!
G: I know.
S: Are those elephant butts or faces?
G: He works onsite at museums and gardens and parks. When he goes in (he needs a bunch of volunteers to help) he has to figure out what kind of sticks will work with the site. Sometimes the site is trees or a building or the inside of a building. And then he has to find a source of sticks nearby. The intro says that because of urban expansion, trees are often cleared from lots, and small sticks will grow there. Before a lot is cleared again for final construction, there are enough sticks for him to harvest. Dougherty works in different layers, and the first phase is anchoring bigger sticks in the ground to act as structure. Then he weaves in smaller sticks, and keep weaving them in until shapes appear.
This book includes not just photos of freestanding structures but big swirly shapes, some look like they’re windblown or organic…
S: Like they’re put together by birds.
G: And others look like big houses. It’s a look at his career up until the publication date.  (looking at another photo) This is a giant swirly pattern in a room. It’s not quite as full as some of the other sculptures. It really looks like if you sketched the wind.
S: It’s cool that he uses local sticks. That makes it more environmental, right?
G: It’s renewable, and the sticks would be removed anyway…
This is one of my favorites, Holy Rope.
S: Twining through a tree…oh, you can go inside it!
G: It was in Chiba, Japan. It’s a swirl of a treehouse, and there’s a photo of two people inside looking out at us.
This is Little Big Man and it was in Denmark. It’s a weird guy who looks like he’s made of wind. He’s just above a pond or marsh.
S: Spooky.
G: Creepy as hell.
Continue reading “Wow: Stick Man”

Dark Dollhouses

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corrine May Botz. Monacelli Press, 2004. 1580931456.

Sarah: So in the 40s and 50s there was a woman who was born into money, an heiress — this is a true story — she got into forensic criminology and then used some of her money to sponsor forensic criminology classes and a department at Harvard. She ended up working for a police department, training police officers. To do that she made incredibly detailed 1/12th scale dollhouse murder scenes.
G: What???
S: This book is The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which was the name of her project.
G: (flipping through the book) Oh my God.
Continue reading “Dark Dollhouses”

The Big Book of Surgery

The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery by Max Aguilera-Hellweg. Bulfinch Press, 1997. 9780821223772. 128pp.

Gene: This is a Wow, but it’s also potentially an Ick. What I love about sharing books with you is that I’m digging into books that I’ve kept for a long time and asking myself why I’ve kept them, and if they’re worth hanging on to. This book freaks me out.
Sarah: Ugh!
G: It’s photographs of surgery. I’ve looked at it so many times, but so quickly, that I didn’t realize before the other day that a lot of the pictures are of the same surgery. I never read the essay before (I did a little this time) because the photos take over my brain and then I have to stop looking at it. Continue reading “The Big Book of Surgery”

Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)