The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Publisher, film distributor and rebel Barney Rosset has died aged 89. The Associated Press obituary is here:

As publisher of Grove Press, Rosset was a First Amendment crusader who helped overthrow 20th century censorship laws in the United States and profoundly expanded the American reading experience. Rosset had an FBI file that lasted for decades and he would seek out fellow rebels for much of his life.

Between Grove and the magazine Evergreen Review, which lasted from 1957 to 1973, Rosset published Samuel Beckett, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Jean-Paul Sartre, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence and William Burroughs. He was equally daring as a film distributor, his credits including the groundbreaking erotic film “I Am Curious (Yellow),” and art-house releases by Jean-Luc Godard, Marguerite Duras and others.

Music and American History — Simon Reymolds profiles author and music critic Greil Marcus for The Guardian:

For Marcus, listening rapt at the cusp of the 60s and 70s, rock was growing up in the richest and most unexpected way. What’s more, his two great passions, music and American history, had converged. “Their music sounded like a new way to understand who you were, the fact that you weren’t just a product of your own willfulness but also a product of the past,” he says of the Band, the subject of Mystery Train‘s most compelling section (although the chapters on Sly Stone and Elvis Presley aren’t far behind). “There was this sense that they were opening a door to your own country and your own history.”

A Bunch of People in a Room — An interview with Chip Kidd at Smashing Magazine:

I very much try to downplay the jacket as a sales tool, because I think that publishers invest too much intellectually in this concept, and they can actually make my work much, much harder than it needs to be. And certainly with the advent of buying books on the Web, you’re not going to buy a book from Amazon because of the way it looks. It’s just not the nature of how that works. The problem arises when you get a bunch of people in a room looking at a jacket and determining the fate of the design based on preconceptions of how the book will sell, about how this design will help the book to sell.

And finally…

Flawed Monster Heroes — Legendary comic book artist Neal Adams on Marvel superhero Spider-Man:

A weakling kid is bitten by a radioactive spider and decides to become…a circus performer? Yes, that’s right, Peter Parker is more interested in using his “gift” to find a paycheck, not a damsel in distress. Until, with all his power, his weaknesses cause him to fail to save his Uncle Ben. Soft monsters as superheroes. Not sparkly-toothed-born heroes…but flawed monster heroes. Then came the incredible Steve Ditko… Marvel had found a… creator who got it, who totally understood the concept: Flawed monster heroes. It was a new idea, born out of a touch of coincidence, a touch of history, a massive amount of brilliance

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