Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Quite Difficult Book Quiz

2016 has been a pretty shit year in lots of ways. I studiously avoid politics on this blog but it can't be denied that this year has brought some fairly dismal surprises for anyone of a liberal and open mind. Alongside all that there has been a daily procession of abject misery on our screens from new kinds of wars across the world and with new kinds of displacement effecting millions of people, many of them here in Europe and nearby. A host of deaths of people who have been instrumental to shaping the culture of our times up to this point has perhaps only strengthened the sense that this year has been something of a tipping point.

Like so many others I have been asking myself, what the hell can I do? and it often feels like not a great deal. That said, I decided to try and do one positive thing before 2016 is out and so, returning to our shared life in books I have created The Quite Difficult Book Quiz. It's a traditional time of year to be doing in depth quizzes in the dark evenings (at least in this hemisphere) and if you would like to help, this is how.

1. Visit my Just Giving page:

2. Make a donation of any amount you can manage, large or small, to Firefly International, a charity who work with children and young people from Bosnia, Palestine and Syria: a small charity, underwritten by UK charity law and making a difference by partnering with local groups in those places.

3. You will then receive an automated thank you message with a link to a quiz.

4. The quiz has 100 questions designed to be not immediately accessible through our friend Google. There are 10 groups of 10 questions on all manner of fiction books and authors. Print it out. Keep it by the comfy chair, have a go at a few more questions every time there's a lull in the seasonal conversation.

5. You have until midnight on 31st December to get a list of your answers back to me and I will mark them, and the winner will receive a bundle of not very valuable but interesting books.

Just the smallest amount would be very welcome. The quiz has been running since the beginning of the month and as you will see, at the time of writing we have already raised over £280 which I am really very chuffed about.

Whether you are able to participate yourself or not, please consider blogging, tweeting or facebooking the details or just suggesting it to any bookish friends.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Austin Osman Spare at Atlantis Bookshop

The venerable but never stuffy Atlantis Book Shop in London, right by The British Museum is currently hosting an exhibition to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of Austin Osman Spare, artist and occultist. It is only on until the 18th of this month and being in the basement of a bookshop with an entry fee of a fiver, it is not the big, fancy London exhibition that it should be, but it is done with love and enthusiasm. It seems too, that this is the way Spare might have liked it: he spent most of his life avoiding the bright lights and big budgets of the London art world, which the quality of his work fitted him for, preferring instead to exhibit in pubs and to keep his secrets. 

There is barely an image or object here in this exhibition that doesn't speak to how astonishing this man was. The humble oil painting 'Self Portrait as a Magician' painted in his early 20s, shows a beautiful young man with an intense gaze and an ability to choose just a very few symbolic items to economically represent himself. The self-portraits from later life show a man who has lost none of the intensity of youth. The image above might not be the best choice for the cover of a program but in the flesh the two white specks in his eyes draw the viewers eyes into a netherworld behind the face. Spare's portrait of Crowley, his lover for a while, done from a photograph, is one of the many images that just leap from the wall: Spare draws Crowley's eyes as entirely black and it makes an intriguing contrast with the light in his own eyes. The paintings and drawings that come from Spare's magical work are compelling too as a kind of self-portraiture, a self-portrait of the very deepest recesses of a mind at its most atavistic.

As well as the artwork, the exhibition has two large cases of letters, artifacts and ephemera and it is here that glimpses of AOS's mind can be seen at work in a different way. There is a letter in which he requests the loan of one of these new-fangled "biros" for his "automatic work", presumably he had heard how a ball point pen glides smoothly across paper and wanted to harness that quality in his automatic drawing. As well as little insights of that kind there is also the opportunity to see his sketches and scribbles and manuscript writings, adorned as they are by the magical sigils that he reinvented as a part of his magical system, and one is struck looking at them that here is the very beginning of a hundred websites and probably more books all following his style. 

The exhibition is a must-see for anyone with an interest in outsider art, in 20th century art, or in 20th century occultism.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Fernando illustrates Lost Dorsai by Gordon R. Dickson

I must have read my way through every last book in Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai series when I was a teenager or close enough. Even at the time I think I realised that the military strategy that formed the centrepiece of the books and made The Dorsai into the most formidable fighting force in the known galaxy was pretty hazy... still, they were a good read. So I was intrigued to come across this Ace Books edition of Lost Dorsai which is really packed with black and white illustrations. The artist is credited only as Fernando, but I suspect this is Spanish comic book artist Fernando Fernandez. For the most part they are fairly standard 1970s/80s comic book stuff but there's a significant number that show a real sophistication, which tickle my love of inky black and white mark-making, and which seem to stand at a real junction between the psychedelic 70s and the over-glamorised 1980s.

Films and Filming: Second Haul

Strange to say that two days after I came across the first pile of Films and Filming magazines blogged a few days ago, I was in yet another bookshop and there was another small selection. There will be more to come from the insides of some of these in the coming days and weeks I'm sure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Todd Pratum's Collages

Bookseller Todd Pratum makes collages out of spare scraps of book  paper. From what he says, I don't think he would claim any great art in them but I have been rather enjoying looking through them... See a larger selection at his website here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Theodore Wratislaw. Fragments of a Life

Theodore Wratislaw. Fragments of a Life by D. J. Sheppard. With this publication from Rivendale Press one of the last obvious biographical holes of the 1890s is finally plugged. Wratislaw was one of the few great names of the 90s still crying out for a full-length treatment. I haven't yet read the book so this can't be a review but there is a lot of buzz around the book and it's all good so I can't wait to get my teeth into it. If you can't wait either then you can buy it from (NOT .com) or direct from Rivendale. Here is the blurb:

Theodore Wratislaw is one of the most biographically elusive figures of the ‘decadent’ 1890s. Though invariably named in accounts of the period, he remains a marginal figure, crowded out by more notorious contemporaries. When noticed, it is usually as an imposter who, whilst adopting the decadent – and, on occasion, homoerotic – pose in his poetry, lived the convention-bound life of a civil servant. The accusation of insincerity has stuck, and had a deleterious impact on the assessment of his work.

As the present volume reveals, however, the accusation is based on a mistaken view of his life. Contrary to John Betjeman’s assessment of the ‘buttoned up figure obviously longing to burst out of his narrow neatness,’ Wratislaw’s struggle was to maintain some semblance of bourgeois respectability rather than to escape it. Besides recurring mental illness, he experienced trials and tribulations in his private life on a scale to rival almost any of his peers included amongst Yeats’s ‘tragic generation.’

Hardback: 15.6 x 23.4 cm., 296 pp. 15 black and white illustrations

ISBN 978 1 904201 23 4
£40.00 / $50.00

Sunday, November 20, 2016

1950s Scout Magazine

The illustrator Pierre Joubert and the photographer Robert Manson pretty much had the image of the Scoutisme movement in France sewn up between them in the early and mid-twentieth century. These late 50s covers for Scout magazine show just how design conscious the movement was and how, though cheaply produced, they managed to create an image for scouting which was then completely contemporary and now, deliciously retro.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hamlet by Twins in the 1970s

I mentioned that we might be seeing more from Films and Filming; in their day they represented a gay 'eye' looking at the cinema of the time and so today they are great for discovering little-known films from the period that still have some resonance today. This page (below) for example which introduced me to a version of Hamlet from 1976, directed by Celestino Coronado and produced on a budget of £2,500 with just six onscreen actors, two of whom, twins Anthony and David Meyer, played Hamlet. Of the other four you may know at least two others: Helen Mirren and Quentin Crisp. Of course, Youtube comes to the rescue once our interest has been piqued. It's a uniqely 1970s production with near naked twins (Hamlet's two 'sides') cavorting with each other throughout and also playing both Hamlet and the ghost of Hamlet's father in an extended opening scene. The posing-pouched wrestling match between the two Hamlets towards the end throws shade on Oliver Reed and Alan Bates!

Halcyon by Pierre Herbart illustrated by John Harrison

Halcyon by Pierre Herbart, translated by Agnes Mackay and illustrated by John Harrison. Published by John Lehmann in 1948. Not a very valuable book but you can nearly always rely on John Lehmann for quality. I didn't buy this in the end, but now that I look back at the quick snaps I took of the illustrations I begin to wish I had. So apologies for the phone-quality photographs... another one that got away...

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