The Visionary Walks by Night — Ben Smith

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The Visionary Walks by Night, 2011 by Ben Smith (b. 1977)

Poisoned Well with Chimera — Jacek Malczewski

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Zatruta studnia z chimerą (Poisoned Well with Chimera), 1905 by Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929)

Three Books

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Mass market paperback by Bantam, 10th ed., 1986. No designer credited, but the cover illustration is a 1981 painting by Doug Johnson, and it is the sole reason that I’ve held onto this copy for over a decade now, since I first used it as part of a class set for an eleventh grade English class I used to teach. Perhaps from a technical standpoint, I stole this book.

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Chimera by John Barth. Mass market paperback by Fawcett Crest, 1973.  No designer credited, and the cover artist isn’t named in the colophon or on the back–but the cover is signed. Perhaps the original hardback, which shares this illustration, credited the artist. I read this book in the right place and at the right time—I was a junior or senior in college, obsessed with postmodernism as a technique (rather than postmodernism as a description), and Chimera’s intense gamesmanship enchanted me. I’m pretty sure I read it after Lost in the Funhouse, and that after Wallace’s Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way. I bought this copy eight or nine years ago (having read it first as a library book), and attempted a reread and was…less impressed. Still, it would be hard for me to overstate how much Chimera did for me—how much it showcased the possibilities of literature and storytelling.

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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories by Carson McCullers. Mass market paperback edition by Bantam. No designer or cover artist credited—which is too bad because I love the image. The most recent date on the colophon is 1971 but I am pretty sure the book was published in 1996. I bought it in 1997. It was assigned reading for a creative writing class, and that—along with Johnson’s Jesus’ Son—were the only good things to come out of that misery. (My instructor would not shut the fuck up about “craft,” and he singled out the simile I was most proud of in one of my stories as “a bit much”).

Today’s Three Books’ mass market paperbacks are part of a small cadre of a once-large selection, winnowed away over the years, usually given away to students, etc. (I have an extra copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in my car, should you need one).

Where the World Navel Intersects the Threshold of Adventure

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Hey you. Yeah, you. Were you the guy that borrowed my copy of John Barth’s Chimera and never had enough human compassion/decency to return it? No? Not you? Never mind. I picked up another copy last weekend specifically for the diagram above (I also wanted to re-read “Perseid.”) Now that I look at it again, I’m not sure that it’s so much enlightening as it is mystifying. In any case, it’s an intriguing bit of navel gazing. Fun stuff.