This weekend’s New York Times Magazine has a remarkable profile of photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank by writer Nicholas Dawidoff:
Frank absorbed artistic influences all over New York. Edward Hopper’s moody office-scapes, restaurant interiors and gas pumps were not in fashion when Frank discovered the painter: ‘‘So clear and so decisive. The human form in it. You look twice — what’s this guy waiting for? What’s he looking at? The simplicity of two facing each other. A man in a chair.’’ Frank’s creative day to day was informed by the Abstract Expressionist painters he lived among. Through his window, Frank studied Willem de Kooning pacing his studio in his underwear, pausing at his easel and then walking the floor some more. ‘‘I was a very silent unobserved watcher of this man at work. It meant a lot to me. It encouraged me to pace up and down and struggle.’’ He also saw the downside of an artist’s life: ‘‘I used to watch de Kooning work, and then I’d walk down the street and see him drinking and lying in the gutter. Somebody’s bringing him upstairs. You drink because you have doubts. Things seem to crumble around you.’’
Online, the Timesalso revisitsThe Americans, Frank’s best known work and “one of the most influential photography books of all time.”
“Parade — Hoboken, New Jersey,” 1955. Robert Frank
Sticking post-it notes to the front of books is a very real thing in the book industry — at least in the corners I’ve occupied — so perhaps it’s no surprise that they’ve made into cover designs too.
The first cover I can think of to incorporate a post-it was the hardcover of Heaven in Small by Emily Schultz, designed by Ingrid Paulson (House of Anansi in 2009).1 Interestingly, while the paperback, also designed by Ingrid (see below), kept the post-it, it no longer tricks the eye in quite the same way.
The last couple of years has seen a small flurry of post-it note book covers. I particularly like Nathan Burton‘s designs for rising literary star Valeria Luiselli, but post-it notes seem particularly in vogue for young adult covers, so we might well be seeing a few more in the coming months…
Readers go their own way, and this is what frustrates governments and tantalises publishers. You can drag the reader to the water with the most brilliant advertising and marketing campaigns, but you cannot make him or her drink deep of shallow words.
No one can define the quality in a book that makes it command passionate loyalty from readers, and while some bestsellers are predictable, others have leapfrogged every idea about what readers should love. This is where physical bookshops and libraries are so important to readers, in spite of the convenience and ease of making an online purchase. We need to be able to see all the books that we don’t know about yet. Bookshops encourage browsing, dawdling and discovery. They open byways that become high roads to new fields of understanding. They don’t nag; they suggest. To be a reader in search of a book is more than to be a shopper who already knows what he or she wants to buy. Bookshops and libraries are places where books and readers come out of the private world, and make their claim on the public space. They say, visibly, how important books are to us.
At the NYRB Blog, John Banville reviews Georges Simenon’s novel The Mahé Circle, translated into English for the first time and now available from Penguin Classics:
Simenon was a driven creature, who in his lifetime wrote more than four hundred books, drank and womanized incessantly, and, in his younger days, roamed the world in frantic search of he knew not what. His mother despised him; his long-suffering wife wrote a roman à clef in which she portrayed him as a rampaging egotist—“His voice rang through the house from morning to night, and when he was out it was as though the silence was awaiting his return.” Most calamitous of all, his daughter Marie-Jo, who adored and idolized him—as a child she asked him one day to buy her a gold wedding ring—killed herself at the age of twenty-five. He was, all his life, a spirit in flight from others and from himself, and he is present, often lightly disguised, in every one of his books.
Penguin are reissuing Simenon at an astonishing clip. Along side his ‘romans durs’ like The Mahé Circle, they are publishing new translations of all 75 Maigret novels with covers featuring specially commissioned photographs by Magnum photographer Harry Gruyaert:
Earlier this year, Scott Bradfield also wrote about the Belgian author for the New York Times:
In many ways, the Maigrets were a sort of comfort food — the books that Simenon wrote to recover from the physical and psychological stress of writing his better, and far less comforting, novels. In these non-Maigret “thrillers,” often referred to as the romans durs (but to most aficionados known simply as the “Simenons”), the central, usually male character is lured from the stultifying cocoon of himself — and his suburban, oppressively Francophile (and often mother-dominated) life — into a wider, vertiginous world of sexual and philosophical peril, where violence, whether it occurs or only threatens to occur, feels like too much freedom coming at a guy far more quickly than he can handle.
Writing at the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik considers the closing of La Hune in Paris, and what is lost when a bookstore closes:
The forces that brought La Hune down are, sadly and predictably, the same forces that destroyed Rizzoli, on 57th Street, or the old Books & Co., on Madison Avenue: the ruthless depredations of the Internet (Amazon is regarded warily in France, and pays a bookstore-protection tax, but it is there), alongside the transformation upward (or is it downward?) of the inner cores of big cities into tar pits for a mono-culture of luxury. Where La Hune last stood, Dior now stands.
These laments can all be dismissed as mere nostalgia—though, since nostalgia starts the very moment our experience becomes past, it can never be so easily dismissed. And the case for minimal regret about such transformations, or easy acceptance of them, is plain enough and not hard to make. Bookstores open and they close, following the path of bright young people as migratory birds follow the sun. In Paris, good bookstores have opened in, or migrated to, the popular quartiers of the 15th and 19th arrondissements, just as a few independent bookstores in [New York] have migrated to the sunnier climes of Brooklyn. Anyway (the more impatient counter argument goes on), a bookstore is only a platform for the purchase of literature, and platforms move and change with every new age, gathering and then shedding the moss of our memories as they roll on. Someday, someone will be writing a nostalgic account of one-click shopping on Amazon. Indeed, if videocassettes had lingered longer, we’d have sad feelings about the passing of Blockbuster. Some members of Generation X probably do now.
Yet the emotions that such losses stir can’t be dismissed quite so blithely—talking to Parisian friends, I found they shared my sense of something that it would be indecent to call grief but inadequate to call sadness.
I’m actually OK with it all being nostalgia. I just like bookstores, and it makes me sad when good ones close. That said, Luc Sante’s reality-check did make me laugh: