Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part Two

Following on December 24th's "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part One," here is "Part Two." So much Beauty to celebrate, so much Truth to confirm, so much Love to feel. I will post "Part Four" as this year's final Lobster & Canary entry on Wednesday. "Part Three" is, of course, always reserved for Ian Dury and his cheerful Blockheads-- see the December 24th entry for more on that.

In no order of priority:

Jennifer Crow's "Tasting Books on her Lover's Hands" in Ideomancer (vol. 9, nr. 1, June 2010).
Click here for the original source, at Ideomancer. (Bravo to Ideomancer also for its handsome re-design this year.)

Kate Bernheimer, Horse, Flower, Bird (Coffee House Press, 2010), illustrated by Rikki Ducornet. One of my favorites for the year. Bernheimer, founding editor of The Fairy Tale Review (see my praise Dec. 19th for the FTR), is one of the best at reworking and re-imagining fairy tales. Less sanguinary than Angela Carter (less visceral than Margo Lanagan--but then who isn't?), less melancholy than Theodora Goss, Bernheimer has a style all her own: charming but with an edge, eccentric, sometimes reading like Edward Gorey, sometimes like Calvino or Borges. How to resist lines like these? "When first she found me, my friend and I and her sisters slept in a drawer" (p. 45). "And the girl's grandmother had a vengeance for birds. (She had very bad vision and once, mistakenly, got a chair upholstered in a fabric that depicted garish birds. Strangely, the girl's mother, whose mother this was, seemed to take some kind of wicked glee in the error, and never revealed it to her" (p. 97). Ducornet's delicate, shaded line-drawings perfectly complement Bernheimer's stories; each creature has his/her/its own personality, and -- as Bernheimer's prose does-- avoids mere whimsy with a sly turn of an eye, an enigmatic and possibly minatory gaze. Click here for more.

Kate Castelli's "Chairs at Twelve Chairs," an exhibition of her multitudinous studies of chairs, an exploration of line, form, and space. Kate makes us re-evaluate what we thought we knew about the most mundane of objects. Through March 1, 2011 at Twelve Chairs in Fort Point, Boston, sponsored by GLOVEBOX, a organization that links artists with non-traditional exhibition spaces. For Kate, click here; for GLOVEBOX, click here; for Twelve Chairs, click here.

Pascal's Triangle playing "Time Remembered" (by Bill Evans), at the Blue Note, NYC, in May, 2010. Pascal Le Boeuf on piano, Linda Oh on bass, Joe Saylor on drums.

Nicole Kornher-Stace's Demon Lovers and Other Difficulties (a chapbook produced by Goblin Fruit, 2009). I mentioned this in my 2009 round-up; I continue to immerse myself in Kornher-Stace's powerful vision. One passage to whet your desire: "Oh, I could draw you stars: such stars/ as shatter into tesseracts, a sun and moon/ contained in each, and angels wandering the vertices,/ wayward as a wish. ..." (pg. 11). Kornher-Stace tells a story, linking our daily reality with the fears and suspicions we harbor beneath. Her language is powerful without being overly rich, her imagery rooted in folktale and the European Romantics without being trite. For Kornher-Stace, click here. For Goblin Fruit (which I note in the Dec. 19th entry), click here.

Dutch Still Life Paintings from the 17th Century. Here is "Still Life with a Chinese Porcelain Jar" completed by Willem Kalf in 1669. I spend hours gazing at works like this (see also van Beyeren, Aelster, van Huysum, Heda, Bosschaert, Claesz, de Heem) losing myself in the virtuosity of the surfaces, the mimetic brilliance leading me into the painter's fabulistic world of roemer glass, half-peeled oranges, flowers combined out of season, reflections, hams with knives embedded, lutes, globes, skulls, ornate time-pieces, birds bundled and dead...and lobsters on platters. The Dutch "Golden Age" genre painters would be tickled to know that centuries later we are still fascinated by the calm worlds they purported merely to depict, and that we continue to debate their meaning.

Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear, "Mongoose" (in Lovecraft Unbound, edited by Ellen Datlow, 2009 from Dark Horse Comics), which starts this way:

"Izrael Irizarry stepped through a bright-scarred airlock onto Kadath Station, lurching a little as he adjusted to station gravity. On his shoulder, Mongoose extended her neck, her barbels flaring, flicked her tongue out to taste the air, and colored a question. Another few steps, and he smelled what Mongoose smelled, the sharp stink of toves, ammoniac and bitter."

Stories like this are rare for many reasons: collaborations seldom work well; humor, empathy and horror almost never appear (convincingly) in the same story; an action tale that makes you think is hard to pull off; getting us to believe in an entire universe within the span of c. 25 pages is a feat worthy of Poe or Lieber. Monette & Bear overcome all these challenges. You can hear the story told at Norm Sherman's The Drabblecast (click here, and go to Episode 170, posted July 3, 2010, and Episode 171, posted July 10, 2010). You also read their first story in this series, "Boojum" (published in 2088, and anthologized several times already), at the Wired site: click here.

Edith Wharton's gloriously named A Motor-Flight through France, originally published in 1908, and re-issued in 2008 by Atlas & Co., Publishers (NYC). Light-hearted, with superb renderings of the architecture, and especially the frisson one feels approaching a French town for the first time, through the inevitable allee of pollarded lime trees, into the central market place with its church to one side and cafes on the other. Although a memoir of a journey, the book might as well be a novel, given Wharton's technique and colorings. "After packed weeks of historic and archaelogical sensation, this surrender to the spell of the landscape tempts one to indefinite idling" (pg. 145). Indeed! Atlas deserves kudos not only for the authors they are republishing in their "Pocket Classics" series, but for the attractive book design and high-quality production at reasonable price to the reader.

Uncork a favorite wine, bring out your favorite cheese...reasons to be cheerful!

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