Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Books:A Memoir

Despite having written almost 30 novels and being both a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Larry McMurtry has always considered himself a book collector above all.

In BOOKS: A MEMOIR, McMurtry writes about his endless passion for books: his adventures as an avid book man, from a boy growing up in a largely and unbelievably "bookless" world to one of America's most prominent bookmen with a private library of 28,000 books; and recounts with gentle humor the strange or eccentric characters and rich experiences he has encountered in his life of book-chasing (or should I call it book-scouting); and not forgetting, the books that have passed directly through his hands or through his store, Booked Up, which now occupies 6 buildings in Archer with nearly 400,000 used and rare books in stock. Whow! It's a long way to achieve this.

From the photos above, you can tell how vast is the collection. I wish I will have the chance to visit the bookstore in future, at least to pay my tribute to McMurtry.


Monday, January 26, 2009


Just return from my book-shopping spree in Hong Kong few days ago, and am still busy for dunno what.  Hopefully, I will be able to recommence my reading soon.  

Wish all of you a prosperous Chinese New Year !

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ten Tales of the Supernatural

What can I say? The covers of Penguin paperbacks are simply amazing all the time.

These recently released, total ten books which make up Red Classics Gothic series, are claimed to be some of the most extraordinary tales of the sinister and macabre ever written. 

"If these books do not haunt you or scare you or have you leaning closer to the fire then you are probably already dead." Wow!

You will get an exclusive poster if purchase the whole set from Penguin.

I strongly recommend that someone who likes Penguin covers should get Penguin By Design by Phil Baines to have a look at their rich and diverse cover design thus far. You will not regret.

Installation Art of Books

Since my first encounter with Xu Bing's installation art few years back, I've simply fallen in love with his art pieces, especially those blended with lots and lots of book and Chinese block text.

To me, these 2 are so far the favourites. 

Book from the sky

An installation that took Xu Bing over four years to complete. The artist invented 4000 Chinese characters and hand-carved them into wood blocks, then used them as movable type to print volumes and scrolls, which are displayed laid out on the floor and hung from the ceiling. The vast planes of text seem to convey ancient wisdom, but are in fact unintelligible. 

The Well of Truth

. . . ''The Well'' makes use of practically the whole of the ground floor of the venue ''La Gallera'' - a former arena built for cockfights which, after a period when it fell into disuse, was converted into an art gallery and is now a space for special projects of contemporary art. The twelve arches that support the upper floors and flank the central lower space have been blocked off with ''bricks'' of newspapers - as if they were building bricks, irregular slabs of stone - cutting off both physical and visual access to the inside. The public is then forced to go around the outside of this wall and go up to the second floor where it can, and only from here, contemplate the visual scene and spectacle happening on the inside of this kind of well formed by the wall of newspaper... On the bottom of this well, in what was formerly the arena of the cockfights, Xu Bing has placed a covering of natural grass (uneven, worn, and parched in spots, ''to transmit the idea that nobody has entered into this space for a long, long time'') and on it lie the skeletons of fowls, both large and small, some intact, others partially intact with scattered bones, naturally placed, as if time and destiny had scattered them randomly . . .

You can view his other works here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Egyptian Wall Painting

Currently, The Folio Society is offering this fascinating and beautiful book to members at very good price.

This is the latest edition from renowned art publishers Abbeville Press, featuring over 350 colour plates, with many printed on special matte paper that preserves and enhances the colours' richness and detail of the images that spanned over 3000 years. The book is also supplied with dust jacket and slipcase. 

Just look at those images.....aren't they simply extraordinary and breathtaking? I'm going to have a copy, no matter what.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Letterpress Poster

Look at this! A stunningly beautiful letterpress poster from Cameron Moll. Thought of buying one the very moment I saw it, but too bad, already sold out.

This poster, measures 16" x 24", was handcrafted character by character over the course of roughly 100 hours. Characters from the Bickham Script Pro, Engravers MT, and Epic typeface families form the edifice featured in the artwork, the Salt Lake Temple.

You can see more detailed photos of the project at Veer.  

Friday, January 2, 2009

Books + Music + Lifestyle + Cafe

With the unfortunate closure of the 70-year-old local bookstore The Shanghai Book Co. barely few days ago, I'm curious if Singapore still able to accommodate another personalized bookstore, especially in Chinese stream? Several local, traditional independent bookstores such as Grassroots Book Room and Select Books are trying hard to make ends meet solely by selling books. Few other viable indie bookstores which have mini-restaurants or cafés carry only English-oriented books.

Despite the worrying economic downturn, a new bookstore, Cat Socrates, was opened for nearly 2 months on the 3rd level at Bras Basah Complex, our renowned "book town". This nicely and deliciously deco'd store not only carries a nice selection of Chinese books and magazines on creative design, photography, film, arts as well as anything related to aesthetics of living , rare independent and underground music CD, novelty Lifestyle goodies, but also has a few tables and chairs comfortably placed near the rear end - without a doubt, a mini café!

The owners are a married couple, Zhang Zhen and Jiang Hanglei, both from Shanghai and less than 30 years old.

I've yet to visit the bookstore in person though. By looking through the online images, I would say that the deco, the lighting, even the display of books and music CD have a certain style, full of modernity. It is nevertheless a tasty, niche bookstore that does not follow the crowd, and provides an alternative level of experience.

According to Jiang, initially they just wanted to sell books and beverages, but decided that this would not last long, after all, with the by and by poorer reading culture among the local Chinese, they really need to carry more products like music CD, apparels, stationery, gift items to attract the young generation, hopefully will infect them with the charm of the Chinese texts, prompting them to read the books in turn.

Being small has limitations, but I believe, the owners can turn it into advantage with sincere and personalized services. As a result of taking care of their own bookstore, they naturally are, or should be, well aware of the characteristics of their products, and ready to recommend a good book and good music to customer.

So far, they had organized a few photo-sharing sessions, art film screenings and unplugged concerts in the shop. They also interact with their customers through their online blog, keeping track and absorbing the latest trends in the first time.

Besides EarShot and Casual Poet, this would definitely be my alternate choice to get away from the hustle and bustle on the street, to have a steaming cup of cuppa, and of course, with a good read. How about you, my friends?

The Monsters

I've by chance come across the mentioning of The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein in a mini-essay on today's newspaper.

Before I begin, here is a real story from the same essay which I find it entertaining.

A female writer was betting with her husband on who will be the winner  of the U.S. presidential election. At that time, Obama and McCain was having a fierce competition, many people were not optimistic about the "black" horse. Man said that Obama will not win the game with the opinion that skin color will eventually play a decisive role, and Americans are not yet ready to have a black president. Woman, on the contrary, partly succumbed to Obama's handsome and charming look, betted all her chips on him. The most interesting part was their bets - and that was fantastic too - who won, will receive the right to a "derailment" (to have an affair or seriously, an adultery). Oops! 

That was then this is now. Woman who won the bet, of course, does not physically "run off the rails", only to venture into an affair "spiritually". But by using such thing as the fruits of victory, one may ask, isn't it precisely the subconscious desire of many?

"We ordinary folks who live orderly (at least, we try hard to) in our life time, can not afford to go insanely wild, do not have the courage to leverage over friends and enemies, naturally yearn for the spirit of carnival. Mainly, I believe, the black carnival."

Do you think so? Anyway, let's talk about the book now.

On a dark and stormy night in 1816, five young people gathered inside the Villa Diodari, a luxurious summerhouse on the southern shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. They are: Lord Byron, 28, already the most famous English poet of the time; the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; Shelley's mistress Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley), who had eloped two years earlier, at 16, with the married Shelley; Mary's stepsister Claire Claremont, who had developed an obsessive crush on the talented, handsome, rich Byron (who was also married) and pursued him recklessly, and was then secretly pregnant with Baron's child; and Byron's physician, John William Polidori, apparently also the homosexual partner of Baron.

It all started with Baron opening a volume of German horror stories translated into French, and began to read from it. As the wind howled and the lightning flashed and crashed, and with his four listeners becoming more frightened and agitated, Byron challenged his friends to a contest to write a ghost story.

The famous result of that night was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a work that appeared in print two years later and has retained its hold on the popular imagination for almost two centuries. Less well-known was Polidori's work published in 1819, the first vampire novel, a story that inspired another classic novel, Bram Stoker's Dracula. And the evening begot a curse, too: Within a few years of Frankenstein's publication, nearly all of those involved were dead. Claire's child by Byron and one of Mary's children by Shelley died early. Mary's sister and Shelley's first wife were suicides in their twenties, as may have been Polidori, who was dead at 25. Shelley drowned at 29, leaving Mary a 24-year-old widow. Byron died of a fever at 36. The women lived on, but their lives seemed sadly diminished. Spooky, ha?

In short, THE MONSTERS tells the riveting story of the geniuses who refusing to abide by the society's rules, lived selfishly and loved promiscuously and passionately, bringing "the curse of Frankenstein" upon others, including innocent children whom they sired or to whom they gave birth.

Book by Book { II }

Few more witty passages/quotations I would like to share :

A horse does not understand that it has been born into the world to pull carts. It thinks it is here to be beaten. It thinks of a cart a huge object it is tied to so that it cannot run away while it is being beaten. - J.M. Coetzee

If a lady of means really wants an artistic husband, a composer is about the best bet, I imagine. Painters are notoriously unfaithful, and they don't age gracefully. They dry up and sour. Sculptors are of an incredible stupidity. Poets are either too violent or too tame, and terrifyingly expensive. Also, due to the exhausting nature of their early lives, they are likely to be impotent after forty. Pianists and singers are megalomaniacs; conductors worse. Besides, executants don't stay home enough. The composer, of all art-workers in the vineyard, has the prettiest manners and ripens the most satisfactorily. His intellectual and his amorous powers seldom give out completely before death. His musical powers not
uncommonly increase. - Virgil Thomson, Music Right and Left

We are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed. - Thomas Fuller