Library of America eBooks

Library of America, which publishes classic American literature, has announced that it will offer e-books starting in 2011. It will have 30 titles available for the Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony Reader. The list of titles will be available on LOA‘s website in January.

Additionally, LOA will publish Six Novels in Woodcuts by Chicago-born artist Lyn Ward (1905-1985), which are edited by Art Spiegelman. Ward was a pioneer of the graphic novel form and illustrated more than a hundred books. He won a Caldecott Medal for his contribution to children’s literature.

Mary B, Reader’s Services

Artists, Samella Lewis and Richard Long at Woodson Regional Library in August

Renowned artist and art historian, Dr. Samella Lewis,  and author, Dr. Richard  Long, will present a lecture at Chicago Public Library Woodson Regional Library at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Agust 14. The two lecturers will speak at length about James Richmond Barthe’ (1901-1989). Dr. Lewis is the author of,  Barthe’: His Life in Art. For information, call (312) 747-8184.

Susan M.

Red Beans and Ricely Yours

You kids today with your iTunes and your iPods and your customized playlists, burned CDs, and superslick Photoshoped homemade CD covers think you’re pretty hip, eh? Well nobody will ever out-hip Mr. Louis Armstrong who was making and decorating mix tapes before such a thing even existed. As if Satchmo needed one more claim to greatness, one more way in which he pioneered cool and brought it to the masses, it turns out the man was something of a dabbler in the visual arts, in particular creating and designing homemade cut and pasted (and yes, that’s “cut and pasted” not “clicked and dropped”) covers for mix tapes and bizarre sound collage records which he made just for fun.

Word has it that while traversing the globe, Louis did not travel light, lugging with him reel to reel tape recorders everywhere he went so that he could record whatever he wanted, including favorite songs, conversations, concerts, his own music and words, and whatever other sounds caught his fancy. And then, like any good mix taper, Armstrong went nuts with the scissors and the tape creating collaged artwork for the cover of his tapes (and if you’ve seen reel to reel tape boxes then you know what a great sized canvas they make for inspired art–plenty of room to stretch out and play, unlike the CD inserts and–gasp!–old school cassette sleeves of more recent mix taping days).

Armstrong’s collages featured everything from photos, news clippings, handwritten notes, concert programs, advertisements, bits of old greeting cards and movie stills, as well as frequent references to marijuana and Swiss Kriss (Armstrong’s laxative of choice). Sounds a lot like the crushed-out mix tape covers you spent hunched over hours on in your bedroom back in high school and college, right? (Um, apart from the laxative bit, that is).

Well, like most things, Louis did it first and showed us the way. And as the man himself humbly describes his craft: “Well, you know my hobbie (one of them anyway) is using a lot of scotch tape. My hobbie is to pick out different things during what I read and piece them together and [make] a little story of my own.”

For more information on Mr. Armstrong’s art of the mix tape, including pictures of some of his creations, check out the Spring 2008 issue of The Paris Review or stop by the library to place a hold (or do it all by your lonesome online at on Steven Brower’s book Satchmo: The Wonderful World and Art of Louis Armstrong. And if you’re feeling particularly inspired, put on a pot of Louis Armstrong’s Red Beans and Rice (tomorrow is Fat Tuesday after all), fire up the old cassette deck (or the old iTunes), and make up some mix tape goodness of your own. Mmm . . . just like Louis used to make.

Have You Read . . . ?

The Red Couch: A Portrait of America by Kevin Clarke & Horst Wackerbarth

When most people decide to take to the highways and road trip across the country, the idea is generally to travel fast and light and leave all excess baggage behind you in your asphalt wake. Taking an 8-foot red-velvet couch along for the ride doesn’t figure in to most sane road tripping plans. But that’s just what photographers Kevin Clarke and Horst Wackerbarth did over the course of a four year art project begun in 1979.

In 1976, while moving the couch from a NYC apartment onto a moving truck, a shaft of morning sunlight fell across the couch sitting in the middle of street. Photographer Clarke (who had been sleeping on the couch at a friend’s loft) was struck by the beauty of the scene, decided to take a photo of the couch sitting in the road, and an idea was born. Along with his West German photographer friend Horst Wackerbarth, Clarke began planning and raising money for the project: they would rent a van, cart the bright red sofa around the country, and photograph the artistic results of placing this large, slightly garish, and incongruous piece in the middle of everyday American life. After having a replica couch made, Clarke and Wackerbarth both began touring around the country, working independently of each other, and snapping photographs of the couch. Some of the images are just pictures of the couch in strange and beautiful places, but the more interesting photographs feature people that the photographers met in the course of their travels and asked to pose with the couch. These pictures feature everyday people (and a few celebrities for good measure) in the everyday situations of their lives, from a stockbroker on the trading floor, to a family that has just been evicted from their apartment building.

The fixed visual element of the couch lends a powerful unifying element to these photos of incredibly diverse people and places. What would otherwise be a fine collection of portraits depicting the vastness of the American experience is here given a strange and surreal edge by the constant presence of the couch. In this age of Photoshop, where virtually no image is what it appears to be, looking at these beautiful, sometimes eerie photographs it is often necessary to remind yourself that these pictures are the real thing. The bright red couch you see sitting in the middle of a Long Island landfill, or attached to a window-washer’s scaffolding high above the ground, or straddling a canoe in the middle of a glacial lake in Alaska was actually hauled, hoisted, or dragged into position by hand, not by the click of a mouse.

The Red Couch is definitely a  strange and beautiful book to be hunted down off the shelves. With an unusual visual surprise on nearly every page, it is a welcome reminder that art and magic can be found on any day, in any direction you care to look.

Have You Read . . . ?

Pictures From a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture by Bruce Jackson


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and paging through this simple yet riveting book breathes a powerful new breath of truth into the tired old adage. The book is comprised of old prisoner identification photographs of inmates housed in Arkansas’ Cummins prison during the first half of the 20th Century. Writer, photographer, and filmmaker Bruce Jackson discovered the faded photos in a drawer in 1975, and these many years later using today’s advanced photo restoration technology he has restored the images and presents them here in large, portrait sized prints. The tiny mug shots he found were originally taken as prisoners entered or exited the prison system, but Jackson says, “I always wanted to make them big. The whole purpose of photographs like this is to make people small, to make people part of a bureaucratic dossier. They’re nameless.”

pictures4But Jackson has done powerfully right by the subjects pictures3here–they still remain nameless, but he has restored to them some of their humanity and their dignity. And to look upon their inscrutable faces and to return the stares of these long vanished human beings is to be sucked into a dark and teeming well of human emotion, surrounded by every permutation of grief, anger, fear, defeat, and defiance imaginable. These photographs are haunting and absolutely mesmerizing, capturing not just visible light on the film’s emulsion, but also burning the lives and stories of these lost individuals onto the images.