The Literary Chick Review – Phantoms On The Bookshelves. Jacques Bonnet

The Literary Chick Review – Phantoms On The Bookshelves. Jacques Bonnet

There is no joy akin to two bibliophiles finding each other. First, you see the sudden sharp look in the eye upon the suspicion that they may have found another of their own. Then the coded test, as one – affecting nonchalance – drops the name Pérez-Reverte. A lightning bolt links the eyes of both. Everyone else is cut out of the conversation. The two fairly resurrect in their own world that would-if-it-could-but-it-can’t have room for you.
Jacques Bonnet’s Phantoms On The Bookshelves, is a love letter to bibliophiles everywhere and anyone who needs their own library, even if that library has but a single, treasured book. Bonnet divides “bibliomaniacs” into two basic categories: collectors and manic readers. Sometimes they overlap.
For the bibliomaniac, “the book is the precious material expression of a past emotion, or the chance of having one in years to come, and to get rid of it would bring the risk of a serious sense of loss. Whereas a collector frets obsessively about the books he does not yet possess, the fanatical reader worries about no longer owning those books – traces of his past or hopes for the future – which he has read once and may read again someday.”
Books grant an internal freedom. They enable one’s mind to travel, learn, and experience limitlessly. How can one be away from the very object that contains this magic? (Hello, my name is Marilyn and I am a bibliomaniac – Hi, Marilyn!)
Bonnet has a chapter devoted solely to the question that few bibliomaniacs ever feel totally satisfied with – Organizing The Bookshelves. By alphabet? By Color? By Genre? And there are some proximities that simply cannot be! What if your Vargas Llosa found itself next to your Garcia Marquez after the former blackened the eye of the latter for the way he found his good friend ‘consoling’ his wife after a marital spat? You could very well have a book brawl on your hands.

Bonnet understands the feeling of leafing through a book from your younger days and wondering, What the hell was I thinking? He never would have imagined that upon a re-reading of Anna Karenina, he would feel more touched by the plight of Anna’s cuckolded husband than by the passion of her feeling for Vronsky. The angels sang when someone else articulated what I felt when revisiting Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction that was my go-to book in college. And I was appalled at what my snarky younger self had said about Virginia Wolfe that got me thrown out of Perry Meisel’s class in NYU (although in all fairness, Perry Meisel had snark running through his veins and I secretly think he didn’t like when one of us spoiled brats gave it back to him).

Phantoms is quite simply, a gem of a book.  And it is sure to give any true bibliophile the warm fuzzies by finding a kindred soul in Jacques Bonnet.

A word on Pérez-Reverte, the secret code of bibliomaniacs.  Read Dumas’ The Three Musketeers first.  Or if you want to cheat, check out Johnny Depp in The Ninth Gate.

For more from The Literary Chick, check out www.theliterarychick.com

The Literary Chick Interview – Lily Morris

The Literary Chick Interview – Lily Morris

What do you think the purpose of art is?

The purpose of art is limitless and different for everyone. It’s a receipt of your life force, a map, a fantasy world, a mirror… so many things. If you’re asking what the purpose is for me, right now? In This 4am online chat with my brilliant friend Michael Corvo, he distilled a sentiment that can really relate to.

“I just think the way to fight superficial goal-oriented media-driven living is to make art that recognizes the vulnerability of the solitary human spirit.”

What is your background?

I grew up on the small island of Martha’s Vineyard in an incredibly close and loving community. People value creativity and nature above all else. My parents make political documentaries and are involved in human rights work and so I was around their artistic and soul fueled pursuits from day one.

Your recent show, American Dream, featured hyper realistic paintings of icons of the American Dream with a singular disturbing element shattering that dream, a man on his magnificent yacht with his head bowed in despair, a glamorous celebrity being started down by the eyes of wolves, an Architectural Digest type house with a dead deer in pool. What led you to take this approach?

I wanted to depict images where one element brings the entire story and nature of the scene into question. A person betrays the fantasy of luxury by being totally depleted or internally deprived. The ultra-modern dream-home with its chlorinated pool intended to replicate nature, creates problems for the actual nature that lives around it. And yet these luxurious places are feats of human effort, they’re beautiful and places I would dream of living myself. I made these paintings as a way to think further about shared cultural aspirations. 

In your series POV, (which refers to Point of View), we are placed in the position of voyeurs of couples in moments of intimacy and also with slight resistance in that intimacy, such as in Meeting. What motivated you to do this series?

The paintings in this series are about intimacy. I struggle with the desire to polarize everything. A great connection, a good partner, a terrible relationship, a bad chapter. These paintings deal with reconciling impulse, desire, and successful closeness.
The goal with this was to make more room in my definition of love and what it means to be close to someone else. Including myself.

What reactions or feelings do you hope to arouse in people who view your work?

My ultimate goal is to have other people see my work and reach into their own bank of experiences, their own thoughts, feelings, and realizations. We all share moments of intimacy and questions about the future, I’m just a person asking other people through imagery, have you felt anything like this? Am I alone here?

Your paintings seem to be reality superimposed with unreality. What led you to formulate that cerebral contradiction?


The simple fact that no one knows what life is and the experience of being alive is so ever changing, I’m confident that they hold equal merit and are often the same.

Do you paint from principals, images, or from what directives and why?

I pursue strangers and friends to pose for me. right now I’m working with images of people fighting, falling, sneezing, wasted… moments when they’re totally unselfconscious. I’m fixated on the honesty in people when they are out of their heads, the honesty contained in that gesture. 

You’ve had a history of slashing your canvases. Why leads to that kind of expression, or rather, destruction?

If it’s a weak composition, instead of pushing through because I can, I’d rather make that impossible and be freed to start something that’s more clear.

What artists/thinkers living or dead have you been drawn to? What in their oeuvre spoke to you?

My current influences are Avery Singer, and Christain Rex Van Minnen for how they deal with the intersection between painting and technology.

Jordan Wolfson has a poignant and often biting sense of humor that he incorporates into his art that I really delight in, along with his acute sense of emotional self-awareness.  

David Altmedj creates figurative sculptures that although sometimes grotesque, for me generate a feeling of spiritual seeking and chaos. I find comfort and wonder in his sculptures. 

Can you describe what a typical day in the studio is like for you?

-Coffee
-YouTubing videos of animals and insects
-Screenshots of textures or colors I love
-Checking in with the other vampire painters I’m connected with through social media
-Putting on a podcast to hear another human voice while I get ready to paint
-Tricking myself into starting by doing one small “fix” 6 hours later I’m ready to stop
-Sitting on my steps outside and looking at the sky
-Wandering around the garden lifting the bowed heads of my monster sunflowers
-Feeling like an alien
-Imagining the people I love and laughing out loud like a crazy person
-Laying in different strange configurations among the trash of my studio and looking at my work, either elated or filled with despair.

Lily Morris’s paintings will be featured in Bird Box, with Sandra Bullock, coming out December 21, 2018. 

For more on Lily Morris, check out http://www.lily-morris.com/

The Literary Chick Review – Blood Brothers

The Literary Chick Review – Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

The play “Cabaret” heavily informs modern perceptions of Weimar Germany. We recall garter clad Liza Minnelli and elegant Joel Grey slinking their way through a decadent underworld of sex and style. It all seems so glamorous, but the reality for most Germans at the time was colder, duller and much more miserable.

Blood Brothers, a novel written by journalist Ernst Haffner in 1932, delves beneath the glossy veneer of Berlin nightlife to relate the story of a gang of German street boys on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power.

Haffner’s writing is of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity or realism, which rejects romanticism. He writes a collage of the exploits and exploitation of these boys in a non-emotional, journalistic style, relying on facts to indict German society and social inequality rather than the gang members. In this, his prose pairs well with the vitriolic caricatures of anti-Nazi artist Georg Grosz, a contemporary of Haffner’s who left Germany for the US in 1933. Haffner’s tough, troubled, vulnerable boys are not the picturesque blond blue-eyed gods the Nazis sought to portray their youth as. They are social outsiders, the type of people the Nazi’s labeled “Asoziale” and persecuted.

Haffner, in Blood Brothers, deftly shows the absurdity of society demonizing those who steal in order to live their very lives.  He writes, “Their birth and early infancy coincided with the war and the years after.  From the moment they took their first uncertain steps, they were on their own.  Father was at the Front or already listed missing.  Mother was turning grenades or coughing her lungs out a few grams at a time in explosives factories.  The kids with their turnip bellies – not even potato bellies – were always out for something to eat in courtyards and streets.  As they grew older, gangs of them went out stealing.  Malignant little beasts.”

Jonny, their leader by virtue of his cold cunning, intellect, and ruthlessness guides them through the cold, hostile streets, organizing their thievery. He is the thread that gives these vulnerable boys a sense of belonging and safety. This kind of life can’t be lived for long without something going wrong, and something does.

In addition to Jonny, we read of Ludwig, who is arrested when he is tricked into attempting to claim a stolen baggage ticket, and of Willi, who runs away from a home for underage youth after he is hit once too often, making his way to Berlin by strapping himself beneath the train for the journey, and of Fredrick, who advocates graduating from petty crime to major theft, resulting in the gang’s downfall.

One cannot survive the streets of Berlin alone.  “Berlin – endless, merciless Berlin – is too much for anyone on their own… If there’s two of you, it feels different.  A night is only half as long and half as cold; even hunger is only half as bad.”

Haffner’s humane depiction of the gang members in his book might have been a grave political error. The Nazis burned and banned Blood Brothers within a year of it being first published. Sometime after, the writers’ union affiliated with the Third Reich, the Reichsschrifttumskammer, summoned him to appear. It is believed that Haffner complied. He was never seen again. If Jamal Khashoggi’s recent disappearance is alarming, it’s because we’ve seen this sort of thing before.

The Literary Chick Interview – Dave Barbarossa

The Literary Chick Interview – Dave Barbarossa

What books are currently on your nightstand?

== I have a kindle. Just finished reading ‘High Rollers’ by Jack Bowman. I think I’ll take the ferry after reading that.

What is the last great book you’ve read?

== erm…‘The Human Stain’ by Phillip Roth.

What moves you most in a work of literature? In music?

== Escape. To be transported.

What 3 authors are you most drawn to?

I am drawn to scores of great authors. I loved John Updike and Dickens, Henry Miller growing up. I admire the modern big hitters: Donna Tartt, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan etc.

What kind of reader were you as a child? What were your favorite books?

== I devoured everything. I’ve had to have a book with me for as long as I can remember.

Who are your favorite literary heroes?

== Sam Spade and ‘Boris’ in The Goldfinch.

If you could have one book on a high school curriculum, what would it be?

== Probably ‘Catcher In The Rye’…pretty sure it is a curriculum staple. I left school at 15 so I don’t know.

Why was that?

== I was expelled from school at 14, actually. I was working at 15. I was a very angry and disruptive child. I came from a violent family. I simply couldn’t cope with school. I write about it all in Mud Sharks.

What was it like as a teenager in West London at that time?

= I grew up in Hackney, so that’s north/east London. As a teenager I was bullied and battered at home and in school, but I had the music of the glam rock, tamla motown and dub reggae to keep me sane. I had books too. I loved reading. Then I found the drums and my real family, the musicians I’ve been so honoured to work with.

I feel self-conscious talking about my childhood. It was easier to create a character that suffered these indignities in my book, than talk about them myself.

Mat Johnson. I was at a VONA Voices faculty reading and this dude read a short story about a guy trying to start a career “henching” – working as a henchman for some low-level wannabe supervillain. It was hilarious and violent. I was like, “Word? This is a thing?” So I read a bunch of Mat and eventually met him and did a workshop with him. Mat took a lot of time reading Knucklehead and giving me feedback that was absolutely priceless. He helped me take the book to the next level. This all would not be happening without his mentorship.

Congratulations on your new novel, Mud Sharks. How much of this book would you say is autobiographical?

== It’s a book about my childhood, school days and early years in the punk scene. It’s a fabricated story based on true events…a novel. That make sense?

What inspired you to write Mud Sharks?

== I just felt it rising up. I wanted to explain to my children why I was like I am.

Mud Sharks deals with many issues pertinent today, such as racism. How do you think the problem of racism has evolved or devolved since you were a teenager in in London?

== It has been a lot less blatant since I was a kid at school. Sadly, it is raising its pug ugly head again…maybe not in the black v white way it did in the 70’s, but in an insidious cultural sense. Troubling.

What things if any, socio-economic, human, political, media do you think exacerbate racism?

== Always fear and poverty.

Do you think music and art can be used to combat racism?

== I think that all art can touch the most unreasonable person, and from there, melt their hearts and deliver them amazing grace.

You’ve quite a career as a musician, Adam and the Ants, Bow Bow Wow. . .were you a writer all this time as well? Journals, short stories or the like?

== No, never dabbled. I came off a world tour playing the drums for Republica and said, ‘right, that’s enough of that, time to write!’, sort of.

What were your musical influences growing up?

== Too many to say. I love all music…I love all writing. It’s quality I’m into. I’m that sort of a bloke.

Whom would you want to write your life story?

== Paul Hawksby (Talk Sport presenter)

What do you plan to read next?

== Don’t know. Exciting!

Do you have any signings or events coming up?

== I’m appearing at The Dublin Castle next Wednesday 7th at the ‘Rock and Roll book club’ where I’ll be interviewed and read from my novel Mud Sharks. I’ll also play a little drum solo.

TLC Little Free Library

Renovations are the sign of a new birth.  Sometimes they give birth to unexpected things.  In 2009, Todd Bol of Wisconsin was renovating his garage when he ripped off the door and paused before discarding because he truly liked the wood.  He decided to build a small box to post outside his home with books for passers-by as a tribute to his mother, who had been a schoolteacher.

People were intrigued and when he had his garage sale, a brilliant idea dawned on him.  “I put up my library and noticed my neighbors talking to it like it was a little puppy,” said in an interview with The Washington Post in 2013. “And I realized there was some kind of magic about it.”

Assisted by Henry Miller, an Amish craftsman, Mr. Bol began building these mini-libraries and started the non-profit organization, Little Free Library, to provide a place where people could purchase or get instructions on how to build these libraries for their own neighborhoods.

The idea quickly took off.

As many people from Rockaway Beach and surrounding areas remember, Hurricane Sandy devastated many areas, literally sowing the earth with salt.  We suffered deaths, massive destruction, and privation.  I myself remember being stunned as my basement windows burst shooting forth gushes of sea water as in the movie Titanic.  Following Sandy, we were stranded with no homes, food, hot water, with people desperate for gasoline to operate generators to pump out water if they were lucky enough to gain use of one.  Walking around my ravaged neighborhood in a surreal state of shock, I felt like I was in the apocalyptic movie Road Warrior.  Titanic and Road Warrior are not movies one imagines being in until it happens.

A perhaps less life-threatening, but also sad result was that the public libraries in The Rockaways and other areas were flooded and unusable.  Having heard about the Little Free Libraries, I created two of them that I installed outside my home.  In thanks to rocker Patti Smith, also a Rockaway resident, for all the spiritual help and organizational effort she dedicated to help rebuild Rockaway, “Stone by stone”, I dedicated the adult one to her, installing a plaque commemorating The Patti Smith Free Library, and I named the other one the Kids’ Rock-A-Book Library.  I stocked them with books of my choice that I wanted to share, and my neighbors enthusiastically joined, once it became clear that they were not birdhouses.

The Rockaway Times was kind enough to do an article on them back in 2014 and it has since thrilled my heart to watch as people make use of the “Take A Book, And Leave A Book” concept of both, resulting in constantly changing inventory.  My sweetest memory is seeing a little girl pull her grandfather by the hand, urging him to “Come, I’ll show you how it works!” opening the door and proudly taking a book out.

Soon another Little Free Library appeared in a few blocks away and my heart sang!  I believe there are three now in Rockaway.  Little Free Libraries are worldwide, thanks to Todd Bol, even stretching as far as the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, for reindeer herders and their families.

When Todd Bol died recently, library stewards were asked to put a white and silver ribbon on their libraries in commemoration of this extraordinary man’s life. It was with great sadness that I and my daughter Marlene tied our ribbons on the libraries.  While the world has lost a real live Book Angel, his spirit lives on in every Little Free Library in the world.   

For more information, or to start your own Little Free Library, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org

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