Professor Noah’s Spaceship by Brian Wilsdsmith. First edition hardback by Oxford University Press, 1980; distributed through Macmillan Book Clubs. Design, cover, and art by Brian Wildsmith. This book is too beautiful.
See Again, Say Again by Antonio Frasconi. First edition oversized hardback published by Hacourt, Brace and World, 1964. Cover design, fonts, and woodcuts by Antonio Frasconi.
Do You Hear What I Hear? by Helen Borten. First edition hardback reprint by Flying Eye Books, a division of Nobrow; the book was originally published in 1960. Illustration and design by Helen Borten. Nowbrow kindly sent me a copy of Do You Hear What I Hear?—the book is beautiful, the text is lovely—Borten’s technique is to represent sound—or rather the feeling of sound (which is to say, the feeling of the feeling of sound) through language and art. Like any great children’s book, Do You Hear What I Hear? is best read out loud, and my five-year-old son loved it so much that I had to read it again to him immediately after the first reading. We’ve read it a few times since then. Great stuff.
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.
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.
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).
Pierre, or The Ambiguities by Herman Melville. First edition hardback, Harper Collins, 1995. Color illustrations, many blatantly erotic, including the cover, by Maurice Sendak (in the mood of Billy Blake). Design by Cynthia Krupat. The editor Hershel Parker has reconstructed the original, shorter version of Pierre that Melville sabotaged (according to Parker) by adding convoluted subplots (in revenge against the Harper brothers who did not wish to publish the book). This is the so-called “Kraken Edition”; the title comes from a letter Melville sent to Hawthorne. If Moby-Dick was the whale, Pierre was his giant monstrous squid.
My Romance by Gordon Lish. 1993 Norton trade paperback. Cover design by R.D. Scudellari. There are two paragraphs in this 142-page novel; the first starts on page 1 and ends on page 142; the second begins and ends on page 142 and is all of one sentence.
Erotic Poems, an Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets collection. Borzoi/Knopf, tiny hardback 1994. Jacket design by Barbara de Wilde. Happy Valentine’s.
Angels by Denis Johnson. 1989 Vintage Contemporaries trade paperback. Cover design by Lorraine Louie. Cover illustration by Chris Moore.
Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson. 1986 Vintage Contemporaries trade paperback. Cover design by Lorraine Louie. Cover illustration by Rick Lovell.
The Stars at Noon by Denis Johnson. 1988 Vintage Contemporaries trade paperback. Cover design by Lorraine Louie. Cover illustration by Rick Lovell.
Airships by Barry Hannah. 1994 trade paperback by Grove Press. Cover design by Rick Pracher. The cover painting is Chrysanthemum by Hannah’s contemporary, the photorealist painter Glennray Tutor. Hannah wrote an essay about Tutor’s work called “Deep Pop,” declaring
Once one’s amazement at the astonishing precision in the paintings of Glennray Tutor has had time to sink in, the opportunity arises to contemplate the visual eloquence in his depictions of the small artifacts of life, and how such compositions can say profound things about the nature of our existence.
I reviewed Airships on this blog some years ago.
Ray by Barry Hannah. 1994 trade paperback by Grove Press. Cover design by Rick Pracher. The cover painting is the center panel of Glennray Tutor’s triptych Whistling Moon Traveler. I reviewed Ray on this blog the same year I reviewed Airships.
Bats out of Hell by Barry Hannah. 1994 trade paperback by Grove Press. Cover design by Rick Pracher. The cover painting is the left panel of Glennray Tutor’s triptych Dragon Boat. I did not review Bats out of Hell, but some of the sketches contained therein appear in Hey Jack!, which I did review.
J R by William Gaddis. 1993 trade paperback edition by Penguin. Cover art is a detail of an Associated Gas and Electric Company stock certificate “Courtesy of William Gaddis.” No designer credited.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. 1997 first paperback printing edition by Abacus (Great Britain). No designer credited.
The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara. First paperback printing by Aurora, 1998. Cover design by Todd Michael Bushman.
The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller. 1964 paperback by Penguin Books. Cover drawing by the English cartoonist and art critic Osbert Lancaster.
The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir. 1964 paperback by Penguin Books. Cover art by Anthony Common.
The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann. 1961 paperback by Penguin Books. Cover art by the English artist Brian Wildsmith, who is perhaps most famous for his marvelous children’s book illustrations.
Last week on Three Books, I featured three books I kinda sorta maybe plan to read in 2016. Here are three more:
Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon. First edition hardback by Little, Brown (1984). Jacket design by Fred Marcellino. I’ve only read “Entropy” from this collection so far. (I actually tried to use it in my Intro American Lit class—it’s in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. E, somehow—and no, it didn’t go over well, but hey).
The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz; English translation by Adrian Nathan West. First edition trade paperback from Dorothy (2015). Cover art is Anonymous by Hella van ‘t Hof. Book design by Danielle Dutton. I started this as the chaser to Ishmael Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers—proved to be a false start (went on a Le Guin jag instead). Feels like a one-sitting read.
The Easy Chain by Evan Dara. First edition trade paperback from Aurora (2008). Cover and design by Todd Michael Bushman. Does anyone want to read The Easy Chain with me?
Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte. English translation by Cesare Foligno. 2005 trade paperback by NYRB. Cover painting is Odd Nerdrum’s The Dentures; cover design by Katy Homans. Bought this a while ago and have been meaning to take a serious crack at it for some time now.
1982 Janine by Alasdair Gray. 1985 trade paperback by Penguin. No designer credited, but I’d bet money Gray did the cover illustration himself. Picked this up after loving the hell out of Lanark, but I keep getting pulled away from it: another one to try in 2016.
The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen. Trade paperback by New Directions (no year given, but “Fifth Printing” noted). Cover art is a photo of Patchen’s manuscript for the volume; no photographer or designer is credited. Shelved next to the Gray; will attempt again this year.
Homesick: New & Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin. Lovely Black Sparrow trade edition, 1990; design by Barbara Martin. An amazing book, a revelation to me. I picked it up looking for the posthumous collection A Manual for Cleaning Women (that track is collected here) based on, well, the hype. But the hype was more than right, and I feel simultaneously abashed that I didn’t know Berlin before and grateful to know her writing now.
Three Hainish Novels by Ursula K. Le Guin. An omnibus collecting Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions. 1967 hardcover by Nelson Doubleday. Jacket design by John Lisco; cover illustration by Jack Woolhiser. I finished City of Illusions this weekend—probably the most accomplished of her earliest (non-)trilogy, synthesizing high adventure into a philosophical exploration of truth and lie. A reread of The Left Hand of Darkness is next.
Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas. 1988 trade paperback by ARK. No designer or cover artist credited. I dug this out at some point in my big Le Guin read/re-read, and it’s been hanging around since. Can’t remember why.
Masquerade and Other Stories by Robert Walser. English translation by Susan Bernofsky. 1990 trade paperback published by The Johns Hopkins UP. Cover design and lettering by Ann Walston. The illustration is a detail from Adolf Wölfli’s 1917 Arnica Flower. This was the first Walser I read.
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. English translation by Archibald Colqhoun. A 1966 trade paperback from Time Life Books. Cover design by Jerome Moriarty. I’m not sure why, but I just love the design of this book—I love that there’s no blurb on the back too.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. First printing of an Ace Books mass market paperback. No designer is credited, but the cover art, reminiscent of Gustav Klimt, is by Leo and Diane Dillon.
Speedboat by Renata Adler. 1988 trade paperback edition by Perennial Fiction Library (Harper & Row). No designer credited, but the cover illustration is by Steve Guarnaccia. A strange and funny (anti-)novel.
The Uses of Literature by Italo Calvino (trans. Patrick Creagh). 1986 trade paperback by Harvest/HBJ. Design by Kaelin Chappell, with a cover illustration by Saul Steinberg. A book to never finish.
The King by Donald Barthelme. Features wood engravings by Barry Moser. 1990 trade paperback by Harper and Row. No designer credited, but surely Moser had a hand, no? This is the only Barthelme novel I haven’t read. Every time I pick it up I think, But then there will be no more. Fool. One can always reread.
Usually, these Three Books posts come from my own library (with scans of the covers and not photos). Today’s post features books from my uncle’s library (my family stayed with my aunt and uncle for the Thanksgiving week and had a marvelous time—thanks for asking). Anyway, my uncle had a tremendous early influence on the books I read—he turned me on to Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson, for example.
The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway. 1986 hardback by Collier. Ruth Kolbert is credited with design; the cover painting is Woman with a Basket by Juan Gris. I reviewed the novel here.
Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut. 1976 first edition hardback by Delacorte. Design credited to Joel Schick.
Little Birds by Anaïs Nin. 1979 hardback by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Jacket design by Milton Glaser; photo credited to Richard Merkin. I surreptitiously read Little Birds—this particular copy of Little Birds—over and over again one summer that I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s. I reread the first three tales in the volume again. Good times.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1948 Grosset & Dunlop hardback. The designer credit goes to Oscar Ogg, but the dark and often violent images (many in full color) are by Lynd Ward.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A 1986 oversized hardback edition from dilithium Press. No designer credited, but he illustrations are by Milo Winter (from a 1915 edition, actually).
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A tiny little pocket hardback edition by Hamlyn Publishing/ Chancellor Press (1987). No designer credited, but the cover illustration is by Arthur Wakelin. There’s an inscription on the first page from my grandparents, who gave me the book in 1989.
Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. 1978 mass market paperback by Bard Books, a division of Avon Books. No designer or illustrator credited. I picked this copy up after giving away the edition I read this summer. An amazing novel.
Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down by Ishmael Reed. 1977 mass market paperback by Bard Books, a division of Avon Books. No designer or illustrator credited—but the cover illustration seems to be signed “Andrew Rhodes.” Haven’t read this one yet.The Free-Lance Pallbearers by Ishmael Reed. 1969 mass market paperback by Bantam Books. No designer or illustrator credited. I finished this last week—a slim, strange, dazzling work.
Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban. 1983 Summit Books trade paperback edition. Cover design by Fred Marcellino. A stark and funny retelling of the Orpheus myth, Hoban’s second novel obsesses over illness and art. Fans of Tom McCarthy might dig this one.
The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz by Russell Hoban. 1983 Summit Books trade paperback edition. Cover design by Fred Marcellino. Hoban’s first novel. Not my favorite Hoban. Pilgermann by Russell Hoban. 1984 Washington Square Press trade paperback. No designer is credited, but look closely under the horse’s fore hooves and note the signature “Rowena” — Rowena Morrill. (Note also the pig and naked lady). Pilgermann, Hoban’s follow-up (and somehow-sequel) to Riddley Walker, was the occasion for this Sunday’s Three Books post. I was reminded of this strange, wicked, dark, funny, apocalyptic book as I finished a reread of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and began Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant this weekend. Pilgermann is difficult but rewarding, and probably underappreciated, even as a cult novel.