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Entries in Books (25)

Monday
Oct012012

Little Free Libraries

Amid an economic downturn, and slashing budgetary cutbacks impacting publicly funded resources, the Little Free Library movement is taking hold. Part of a larger trend in America toward community, grassroots, and DIY mentalities, Little Free Libraries have been appearing in cities across the nation. The concept is simple; participants can purchase a ready-made, or build a small, house-like structure on a mounted post - about chest high, with dimensions of about two feet by two feet by one foot deep. The result is a small, single shelf brace of books, ensconced by a roof, and framed by a Plexiglas door. Makers ornament their Little Free Library to denote personal tastes and perhaps neighborhood decor. Librarians can get creative with design, and can tailor their offerings of books to reflect their reading interests. What emerges is a small stand on a person’s property, a tiny lending library within a larger network of participants. Participants register with littlefreelibrary.org, receive a number, and get placement within the non-profit organization’s database. Each Little Free Library becomes a steward of book lending - turning ordinary citizens into librarians.

Looking like roadside shrines throughout Catholic and Orthodox Mediterrania, tiny trailside commissaries along Alpine ranges, or even the stone dolmens of the ancient Celts, the Little Free Libraries act as beacons. Respite stops. Landmarks. Little shelves of possibility flanked in a cheery and inviting wooden box. Spines faced to the Plexiglas, a reader can browse. Exchanges happen with the Little Free Library - of books - of ideas, and it’s all done by regular people.

Monday
Aug132012

Axe Cop 

Since 2009 Axe Cop has been breathing fresh life into comics. The idea is relatively simple: take one five year old, and his unadulterated imagination exhumed and exhibited in play, and add one twenty nine year old half brother comic book artist eager for new material, and an organic way to connect with his younger sibling. The payoff: brilliantly fresh characters and storylines inked and drawn expertly.

The main character, Axe Cop, a 1970’s-ish, mustached, square jawed, aviator sunglassed police officer wields a fireman’s axe as his primary weapon. His main partner, Flute Cop, endures drastic morphology as he transmutes from human to Dinosaur Cop, to Dinosaur Soldier, and then into Avocado Soldier, then with the commandeered horn of Uni-Baby becomes Uni-Avocado-Soldier. Obviously. And the duo battle with villains such as Pretzel Head, King Evilfatsozon, Dr. Doo Doo, and the Psychic Brothers who at one time attack our heroes with a set of truck-chucks – a nunchuck-esque flail weapon fashioned from semi-tractor trailers. This electrifyingly creative realm that Axe Cop inhabits would be hard for an adult to concoct, save heavy psychedelic usage.

Malachai Nicolle, the young author, continues to create new and evolving storylines for Axe Cop, often reflecting his growth in imagination, with newer characters such as Abe Lincoln showing up, perhaps indicating an increasing sophistication in awareness of the world (history, politics) and even pop culture (Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter?). These evolutions emerge as innocent and pure observations from the author’s worldview, presenting the audience with a from the hip honesty adult readers wistfully remember and pine for, and an affirmation to younger readers that their outlandishly creative imaginings are indeed valid.

Older brother Ethan continues to maintain a blog and a website, and sketch the undiluted musings from the mind of Malachai. Published by Dark Horse Comics, Axe Cop has bred a new generation of young comic book fans, as youngsters flock to autograph tables at conventions, eager to engage in conversation the Nicolle brothers.

Sunday
Jul222012

Hinged Strung Stitched

Image Carlie Armstrong

There is a studio in the history-laden Olympic Mill Commerce Center in Portland’s southeast neighborhood that crafts products as rich in heritage as the community itself. It makes perfect sense; the creative forces behind Hinged Strung Stitched are about as in sync as it gets. The purveyors of old world artisan books and boxes operate in a simple chain of production. Molly Lewis, a seventeen year professional of the noble craft of bookbinding, continues to ply away with a reverential respect to aesthetic strength and minimalistic beauty, an artist in awe of her art. Michelle Johnson, also a bookbinder (with design and retail stationary management chops) designs and pushes the Hinged Stung Stitched vision to the authenticity minded demographic in search of such classic and worldly requirements. Together they are bringing their mastery of an age old art form back to its rightful, esteemed place.

Hinged Strung Stitched hand crafts their one of a kind snowflakes to the refined specifications of the client. It is a cocktail of high grade materials, archival nuances and a rugged, quality driven endgame when undergoing the experience of securing a Hinged Strung Stitched book or box. Longstitch albums and protective clamshell boxes are all in a day’s work for the ladies. The soon to be enamored client chooses the colors, perhaps opting for a gallant letterpress printed plaque for his or her future heirloom; other tailor made customizations are available upon request. Until it is perfect it remains unfinished.

Such a simple yet seemingly lost art, Hinged Strung Stitched stands as a lifejacket to an endangered era, an era where lifelong products were not a tagline, but the standard. The company also seems to be one of the chosen few, tasked with the responsibility of bringing traditional American bespoke service into the future, not as a new idea but as a continuation of what we were always meant to be.

We might be in danger, though; if such fleshy craftsmanship continues at organizations such as Hinged Strung Stitched, people might just start turning their computers off.

Monday
May212012

The Underwood Typewriter 

Alfred Hitchcock with his Underwood Portable

Recently I stumbled across a photo on a social media site. The image was of a home telephone, not the old rotary dial, but the art deco style with bulky neon buttons; cutting edge stuff for 1987. The poster of this photo was a 20 year old girl and the caption read: “I must have one of these antique phones.”

I died a little bit inside, my silent weeping an ode to the hourglass of life’s refusal to pause.

As I type on a magical electronic square that transmits my thoughts to the world in a nanosecond, I cannot help but imagine how fast the rotations must be as generations of writers are undoubtedly rolling over in their clichéd graves. The mere notion that the current mode of crafting the next great American novel requires a battery would surely not sit well with the Hemingway’s of the world. Though tragically hip in the same fashion that vinyl is still the preferred medium of sound to die-hards, the typewriter has effectively met its demise in writer heaven. But once upon a time, a word technician was required to be a mechanic. Mistakes came with no backspace button and spell check was a tattered dictionary next to a glass of Scotch. The stroke of a key was followed by a triumphant clack, as ink met paper in a beautiful crash.

The Underwood Typewriter was the glorious vehicle that drove the words from the recess of the mind to their physical enshrinement.

Upton Sinclair, who TIME Magazine called “A man with every gift except humor and silence”, wrote his culture shifting The Jungle on an Underwood. William Faulkner employed his trusty metal companion as he was shaping the Southern Literature movement; following him on an Underwood (as well as the genre) was To Kill a Mockingbird scribe Harper Lee ( who incidentally included a character named "Mr. Underwood" who is known to type on a typewriter all day long). And the brash, lovable “Laureate of American lowlife” Charles Bukowski was well known to fire away on his Underwood Standard when not preoccupied with his cats or bottles of vino.

“The Buyer takes on an ominous grey-green color. Fact is his body is making its own junk or equivalent. The Buyer has a steady connection. A Man Within you might say. Or so he thinks. 'I'll just set in my room,' he says. 'F**k 'em all. Squares on both sides. I am the only complete man in the industry.”

- Naked Lunch

William S. Burroughs, the enigmatic Beat wordsmith, was known as a repeat pawn customer, going through a myriad of typewriters to support his lifestyle. The preceding excerpt from his seminal Naked Lunch was written on a borrowed Underwood from fellow Beat iconoclast Jack Kerouac. Kerouac used his Underwood Portable to pen a little piece known as On The Road.

From Douglas Fairbanks to John F. Kennedy, the New York based Underwood Typewriter Company has, for over 100 years, manufactured the strictly utilitarian machines that compute the emotional narrative of our lives. In modern times the contraption has emerged as poetic as the prose it fabricates. Though painful to use the term, for the generations that are not impassioned towards the nostalgic, Underwood has had its share of cameos in pop culture. Film buffs might recognize Leo DiCaprio’s character in Catch Me If You Can as he forged counterfeit checks on a classic Underwood. An Underwood typewriter is used by the main character in the 2001 musical film Moulin Rouge. On the small screen, the clever character in the television show Murder, She Wrote began her writing career using an Underwood Typewriter; on Parks and Recreation, eternally old school man’s man Ron Swanson finds and restores an Underwood No.5. The legendary brand has even appeared in the mind numbing realm of gaming, as Underwood is integral to the plot of a video game entitled BioShock.

But at its heart, Underwood belongs to an era where only the finest Literary Fiction was worthy of our attention. And to many purists, this is the perfect climax. In a saturated world where hormonal teenaged vampires outsell Dickens, perhaps the prestige of an Underwood Typewriter should only be paired to literature of merit. To envision the iconic device being used to produce grocery aisle romance camp is more excruciating than watching the aforementioned Alexander Graham Bell masterpiece become relegated to a curious relic.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote it best. And he wrote it on an Underwood.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

–The Great Gatsby

Wednesday
Apr182012

Charles Bukowski

“Don’t try”.

So reads the epitaph on the headstone of one of the iconic forefathers of the Transgressive Fiction/ Dirty Realism movement in American Literature. Born in Germany around the same time Mickey Mouse was introduced to the world under the guise of Steamboat Willie, his life was a million miles from a Disney fairy tale. Abusive parents, dyslexia, social banishment and alcoholism were the nuances of his “normal”, the accoutrements to his life’s wardrobe. It was this DNA that filtered throughout his body of work and made his name royalty amongst the communities of poets, short story writers, novelists and screenwriters of the modern era.

Charles Bukowski.

Royalty, even if only amongst the working class. He was the scribe behind hundreds of short stories, the creative force that inked thousands of poems. His novels and smaller works produced over sixty books; in film, he has been immortalized many times over. His narratives were universal, largely penned with such themes as alcoholism, poverty, illicit debauchery with women and the drudgery of the workplace. It was these everyman vantages that made him the voice of the real and a curiosity to the fantasy peddlers in literature, the elitists with noses forever planted in the spine of the happy-go-lucky classics. TIME magazine dubbed him “A laureate of American lowlife”. A nation of these theoretically labeled lowlifes named him King.

Bukowski approached the trials and tribulations in his life with a jubilant acceptance that poured into his creations. His alter ego, the irrepressible Hank Chinaski, was Bukowski in high def- an unapologetic drunk who welcomed his demons and shunned a culture that judged him for his vices. Essentially, Charles Bukowski simply shrugged his shoulders at things that caused the more tightly wound citizens of his time to shriek in horror. Bukowski, who in earlier years halted writing altogether after unsuccessfully breaking into the publishing realm (opting instead for a ten year drinking binge-the “lost years”), simply wrote what he knew.

Ham on Rye, Factotum, Notes From a Dirty Old Man, Horses Don’t Bet On People & Neither Do I…a small scattering of genius that he left behind that stands as important a reference tool to an aspiring writer as an English Degree. Charles Bukowski may have very well been a poor man’s Hemingway, but in a world increasingly set upon a 99% versus 1% demographic, perhaps it was Hemingway who was the rich man’s Bukowski. Either way, both men had a masterful way of imbibing just a touch too much and creating the definitive reflection of the life they knew-themselves, in a visceral form.

Creating.

It brings us full circle to the headstone that marks Bukowski’s final drying out spot. And it is the perfect summary to his imperfect life, stolen from a letter the author wrote to a colleague in 1963, an absolutely brilliant piece of craftsmanship from a wordsmith that could only be Charles Bukowski:

On the set of Barfly with Faye Dunaway & Mickey Rourke

"Somebody at one of these places asked me: 'What do you do? How do you write, create?' You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: 'not' to try, either for Cadillac’s, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.”

Monday
Apr092012

Throwaway Kids 

We're pleased to announce the launch of Throwaway Kids, the first novel from American Project stablemate Jon Allen.

A hearty and well deserved congratulations Jon - AP Staff

Throwaway Kids Synopsis

Wesley Gamble is an also-ran, a lifeless drone whose descent into oblivion has been feverishly aided by his addictions. Tequila sunrises, liquid lunches and evening nightcaps fill the itinerary of his day, days that crash into one another in blurred chaos and delusion. Through a series of chemical induced missteps, he discovers a visceral and raw underground, led by a charismatic and dangerous man who will guide him to salvation and redemption-and perhaps an endgame that could crumble the shaky foundations of our society as we know it. Set against a gritty street aesthetic and punk rock backdrop, Throwaway Kids is a fast-paced, character driven tale that skewers our culture in a sometimes biting, often poignant, and always in-your-face fashion. Crafted with a disturbing and edgy style, author Jon Allen’s nihilistic vantage on what passes as normal in an increasingly lost society puts a chokehold on the reader while raising questions about an age-old grey area; right, wrong and the jagged little pieces in-between.

Available at Amazon in Print or Kindle format

Wednesday
Mar142012

The Writer 

“They had made a movie about us”- Imperial Bedrooms

American literature is a curious thing.

There are the stalwarts that have become a brand, the mechanized typing machines that could (and do) turn a boatload of drivel into a New York Times bestseller. There are the grocery store checkout lane pushers, scribers of campy romance novellas with bare chested Fabio’s painted on the cover. There are those few unapologetic, unabashed gutter heroes, like the inimitable Charles Bukowski.

There are the teen vampire exploiters. The Hemingway’s. The cliché dealers who are published and the unknown game changers that lie haplessly at the bottom of slush piles.

It is unclear where Bret Easton Ellis fits in. But somewhere in between the Don DeLillo’s and Chuck Palahniuk’s, he has left quite the impact. And the pages keep on turning.

Easton Ellis was a mere 21 years of age when his seminal Less Than Zero shook the publishing world. Dubbed then as a “Brat Pack” author, the voice of his generation, the shockingly frank and nihilistic reality of disaffected youth with too much money and not enough something has been considered to be the exposé of the 1980’s greed culture. It was an era the California born Easton Ellis contributed to, amongst the wealth and moral decay of Los Angeles. Hollywood wasted little time optioning the book for cinema, though they liberally concealed the true seedy underbelly of their own back yard, a criminal offense to purists. The book turned Easton Ellis into a lightning rod of controversy and subjected him to attacks from numerous groups for his supposed misogynistic themes. The attention, from either side, validated him. The void of socially relevant novels at the time was filled with the ramblings of dangerous melancholy.

A cult was born.

The marriage of Tinseltown and the written word continued with American Psycho and it's disturbingly lovable serial killer/Whitney Houston junkie, Patrick Bateman. Satirical and dark and obscene to the readers of commercial books that were traditionally entrenched in safety and shiny endings, this work cemented Easton Ellis as the premier mind behind a hellacious (and addictive) literary vision; violence, absurdity, and a dim worldview.

Glamorama. Lunar Park. The Informers. Imperial Bedrooms.

The lived-through-the chaos, memoir styling of Easton Ellis has created a niche for the author. Drugs, death, pornography. Despair, torment, an eclipse blocking the happy sunset. In a strange shot of irony, he may as well be considered a screenwriter; his work tends to find its way on film anyway. Cosmically, his too-dark-for Hollywood tales are an object of desire for industry types, while maintaining an edge and an underground credibility with his loyal flock. This malleability, this shifty accoutrement to his essence, the ability to slide back and forth between mediums and devotees is a portrait of his work. He is, to many, equal parts brilliant, disgusting, and an outcast (with keys to the clubhouse).

A social media maestro, Bret Easton Ellis has created a stir recently through that eternally necessary device known as Twitter. Inklings of a continuation of American Psycho have turned into literary fervor. Ideas and what-ifs between Easton Ellis and his hungry readers have been exchanged through this medium with gusto, leaving the author as an accessible brand without denting his myth. The salacious possibilities of a middle aged Patrick Bateman quenching his murderous thirst has heads buzzing.

We can just envision the yuppie-tastic sadism now. They’ll likely make a film about it.

And as we are prone to do in any Easton Ellis project, we will immerse ourselves into the recesses of our darkest guilty pleasures.

Disappear here.

Wednesday
Feb082012

Scout Books

Call it art within art.

When the folks at Pinball Publishing were brainstorming ideas for the following new year, a culmination of many lifetimes of production moxie and print design expertise led way to a novel concept. Scout Book was created.

Fully recycled and as green as grass, locally harvested and exclusively domestic, Scout Book takes the art of its consumers and collaborates on a DIY project; notebooks, with saddle stitched binding, pads with vegetable based inks. Like a tailor, but for words and expression. Whether the cover might be for a young Bohemian striving to notate his life experience for the next great American novel or streamlined as informative business-speak for a global conglomerate, Scout Book provides the canvas for whatever masterpiece is forthcoming.

The teenaged days of doodling on a composition notepad just got serious.

Wednesday
Jan182012

Banal Series #19: Books as Display Accents in Furniture Stores

Furniture stores unfold labyrinthine, in pods of wonder and possibility. Clutches of fat brown leather chairs and sofas around oversized coffee tables. Dining room sets in various heights and designs. Office bundles. A desk, a secretary. A swivel chair in tucked upholstery fit for an oil magnate. Shelves of deep stained oaks, and bare pines hewn in rustic slats. They all sit, waiting, with desperate and aging salesmen combing and roving, clutching tie and clipboard. Customers are here, and they are browsing.

The unsung of this breed are the books fashioned as display accents. They sit, perched in neat pyramids. Dust jackets removed, and their hard bound (always hard bound, never soft) spines speak of titles in muted whites and golds. Embossed in mild ferrules, often describing best sellers, or lesser knowns of bygone times. Reader’s Digest collections tend to be favorites of the furniture store display. They are, inherently, from the past, and often doffed in simple ostentations evoking vague ideas of The Classics, and of five foot shelves. The spines of these bear titles (usually in threes) of novels long forgotten and unheard of in the vernacular. These Reader’s Digest tomes are more than likely purchased in bulk from a second hand store, or culled from a relative’s attic. They look serious. Next to those might be a jacketless copy of a hardbound John Grisham novel. Maybe a Michael Crichton work.

Books in furniture stores, however, are not to be disturbed. They are meant to appear within these menageries of potential furniture for one’s home, as an accent of authenticity. Of something real, and tangible. To give the illusion of context, and meaning. Oddly, nothing will upset the stasis of the furniture store more than taking off shoes, making oneself comfortable and cracking open one of these unread books.

Wednesday
Nov022011

Bright Lights, Big City 

Jay McInerney's debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City, takes the reader into the tenuous realm of a struggling would be writer caught up in the cocaine fueled materialism of New York in the Big 80's. Oddly, the narrative is entirely written in the second person. This seething "you" becomes the reader, as lines between word and audience are blurred, and with each failing or yearning of the character, so goes the reader. The "you" is a risky endeavor; presuming wholesale acceptance of the position, the "you" as a perspective can have catastrophic shortfalls, not the least of which: the reader closing the book. Placing a napkin, or a toothpick, or an unwanted business card from some poor schlub firmly between a quire of pages, and clasping together the paperback binding. Leveled up on a shelf, with nebulous intentions to "give it another shot, maybe, when I'm bound by the trajectory of my Hoveround." Bright Lights, Big City keeps the reader with book in hand.

Through every gut churning transgression, the "you" becomes the "I" and the reader becomes this "him" in Big 80's New York. The reader feels the malaise of the "you" as parades of material and affectation trundle past, and "your" pining for the unrequited love of "your" estranged model wife. Something happened between "you" and the love of "your" life, and now "you" ramble around in the opulent sheen of Manhattan with a guy named Tad Allagash, whose glad handing, good times actions seem only in line with the smug vapidity that his name suggests.

Michael J. Fox starred in the 1988 film adaptation of the same name, interspersing second person narration with real time interaction. Kiefer Sutherland portrays Tad Allagash, and Phoebe Cates plays estranged wife Amanda. The movie is a great watch. The book remains, however, a gripping experience in the second person.

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