Category: Book Review

More Books for the Pen & Paper Set

The Notebooks by Jean-Micheal BasquiatThe Notebooks Hardcover by Jean-Michel Basquiat is a reproduction of pieces from eight of his handwritten notebooks that Jean-Michael Basquiat kept filled with strings of words and phrases and doodles. The book recreates a simple composition notebook and Basquiat’s recognizably 80’s street-style all caps writing style in what looks like a felt tip or Sharpie marker. Are these overheard snippets, words that popped into his head, things he saw or a combination of all of these? It looks like a fascinating glimpse into what a notebook can be. Its not a perfect documentation of his life or his work or his motivation but things that may have inspired or fascinated Basquiat in those moments and leave us to wonder. If you are a fan of Basquiat’s art, there are not a lot of drawings included but if you are curious about notebooks and writing, this might be a fascinating glimpse into the power and potential of notebook-keeping.

(Tip o’ the hat to The Cramped for bringing this to my attention)

The Red NotebookI recently read The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain which is a short novel about a man who finds a woman’s handbag and uses the contents, including an enticingly entertaining red Moleskine journal to find the owner. In the process, a bit of a fascination ensues. I found the book to be part Amelie and part While You Were Sleeping. It felt very cinematic in its writing and was a lovely, enjoyable read. If you want to whisked away on a Parisian getaway filled with quirky characters and a whimsical plot then I recommend spending an evening with The Red Notebook. I devoured it in about two evenings and it was just what I needed in these midst of the hectic, stressful holiday season.

The Little Paris BookshopNext on my “to read” pile is a book called The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George about a floating barge bookshop upon which the proprietor can recommend a book to mend a broken heart. Of course, the proprietor too suffers from a unmended broken heart which is what must be repaired in the course of the story with the help of friends and an adventure. Sounds like a charming and delightful tale.

I’ll probably tip into The Little Paris Bookshop as soon as I finish Letters to the Lost which I mentioned in my last post. I’m well into that already and I’m quite enjoying it. I look forward to the book club discussion next month!

Books for the Pen & Paper Set

woman-with-blue-pencil_webOccasionally, a book will cross my path that I think will be very interesting to Well-Appointed Desk readers and I think Woman With A Blue Pencil by Gordon McApline is just such a book. The premise of the book sounds both strange and intriguing blending noir detective tale and WWII Japanese-American internment camps and the book publishing world and so much more. Every review I’ve read makes me scratch my head since no one seems to describe the book the same way. It makes it even more intriguing.

More information and reviews can be found on GoodReads.

The book is available in both hard copy and ebook formats but it seems appropriate to read this one in hard copy, though the choice is yours. If you do read it, please let me know what you think of it.

typewriter-revolution

The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century by Richard Polt is a book about typewriter’s for the modern enthusiast. The books contains both the history of typewriters as well as how and why people are using typewriters in the 21st century. There’s information on cleaning on old typewriter, how to trouble shoot why your machine might not work and how to “gussy it up”. There’s lots of photos of typewriters throughout history both machines that you’ll recognize and others that are strange and marvelous devices. One of the coolest touches of this book is the bookmark ribbon which is, of course, a  red and black ribbon like a typewriter ribbon.

typewriter-mockup-cover-web_1024x1024

While I’m talking about typewriter books, I must include The Typewriter: A Graphic History of the Beloved Machine from Uppercase. This is a huge coffee table tome that was exquisitely and lovingly produced by Janine Vangool of Uppercase magazine. The book includes hundreds of photos of typewriters, advertisements and ephemera in 300+ pages and organized by decade from the turn of the century through the 1980s. Often with Uppercase publications, once the book sells out, it is not reprinted so if this is something that might be of interest to you, I’d order it now. I pre-ordered my copy last year and I’m so glad I did.

For an inside peek, check out this video included on the web site.

Letters to the LostLetters to the Lost by Iona Grey is the latest selection chosen for the Letter Writers Alliance online book club. The live video chat will be Sunday January 10 at 12:30 CST so there’s plenty of time to pick this up and read it, especially with the holidays approaching. I just got a copy from my local library so I’ll be reading it by my non-working fireplace with a blanket, a cat on my lap and a cup of tea between now and New Year’s Day. And this book sounds tailor-made for me. An epistolary tale about World War II? Sign me up!

Do you have any pen-related books to recommend? Leave a comment and maybe I’ll start a regular series with books for the pen & paper set!

Book Review: Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum by Liza Kirwin is a wonderful peek into the notes, doodles and letters from artists, writers and poets. There are typed notes and handwritten notes, some legible and some unintelligible.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Ah, Franz Kline’s grocery list is as unremarkable as mine but his liquor bill is extravagant!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

I love this list of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings written by his father N.C. Wyeth. The penmanship is beautiful.

 

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is a close up of the Wyeth list. Look at the grey ink and stub italic!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

Kinetic sculpture artist Alexander Calder drew these lovely sketches in a letter. Clearly also fountain pen. It looks like he added water to tone some of the areas. So interesting!

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is a close-up of Calder’s address book in a warm sepia ink.

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum

This is probably my absolute favorite page. It’s Adolf Konrad’s packing list, beautifully illustrated in gouache. I love the addition, on the next page, of Alfred in his skivvies like a paper doll self-portrait.

Needless to say, I recommend picking up this book if you get a chance. Its printed on a smooth, uncoated stock and bound with a softcover that feels a bit like a notebook rather than a fancy book. I thumb through it often and enjoy the detailed information on the accompanying pages. Its interesting to see how sloppy and how tidy some of the most loved artists and writers actually were. So telling!

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying UpIn the wake of the new year, I decided I might try to read up on how to get more organized. One of the first books to come into my field of vision was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Its a thin volume with a very repetitive set of instructions on how to best de-clutter and the order in which to tackle the task.

As I was reading it, there were some keen observations. I specifically liked thinking about her suggestion to “hold each item in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you joy”. While this is appealing in theory, the practical application is not. I read Tif Fusel’s review of this book and her husband’s response: “my leaf blower and lawn mower bring me no joy, i do not need to hold them in my hand to know that. shall i thank them, then get rid of them so we can slowly be buried under a pile of yard waste?” And this, is the crux of my issue with the whole book. There are lots of things that we keep in our homes that bring us no joy — snow shovels, for example — but that we need to keep for those moments that require their use. We might be required to dress in a certain way for work that may provide us with no joy but is required like a suit or uniform. Though I suppose from the book, we could glean that we should limit how much this un-joyful stuff should take up in our homes and our hearts.

However, we also keep many things in our homes that bring us no joy, that we hold onto out of obligation (“But grandma gave it to me for Christmas!”) and things we think we might need one day (I really want to learn to arrange flowers, needlepoint, whittle, play the harp, etc). These are the things that Ms. Kondo is trying to convince us to unburden ourselves of keeping.

There is a large focus in the book about weeding out excess clothing, books and papers that is at the core of many people’s personal clutter. She did not go into any detail about how to balance the clutter of work-at-home offices or anyone with a specific hobby that may occupy a good deal of space. She filed all of this in her “miscellany” category which I think is a bit short-sighted.

As a product blogger, much of my excess is in the form of piles of notebooks, pens, inks and other office supplies.  I have some ideas about how to remove a lot of the excess from my stash but it will require time and effort on my part which is why I haven’t tackled it yet. Sadly, for me, its not laziness but a limit to the amount of time I have to accomplish MANY tasks and a need to prioritze which gets done this week and what has to wait. I think that applies to many people as well. Whether its cleaning out a clothes closet or sorting through bank papers — how much time to we have to devote to these tasks rather than spending time with friends, family or a favorite book.

Ms. Kondo also talked repeatedly about removing bags upon bags of garbage. The environmentalist in me got itchy at the idea of all this stuff ending up in landfills. As I attempted to integrate some of her ideas into my own life, I made bags and boxes for charity and put my paper shredder to use so that most of the paper materials I got rid of could be recycled. I’ve already taken three bags to charity and four boxes to the second-hand bookshop and that’s just the tip of my efforts to get rid of excess.

In the end, the perspective that she provided about thinking through what we own and why we hold onto things was enlightening. And her parting message is that by clearing away the detritus — those unloved, ill-fitting, no-longer-interesting things from our lives — we leave room for new things and new experiences. This is that part that was appealing.

Book Review: Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

While I’ve been under the weather, I’ve been catching up on my back log of reading, including Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter-Writing by Liz Williams. Its a pretty book with short pieces about the history of letter writing as well as common references, quotes, books and movies where letters feature prominently and other tidbits about our favorite paper missives.

“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” – Lord Byron

This book is definitely for the letter enthusiast though it will not probing new information on the subject. As a gift to a young person, it might spur them to start writing but does not necessarily provide compelling analysis or deep investigation about the topic. Kind Regards is written in short blubs, often less than a page, which makes it easy to thumb through or read an entry or two over coffee in the morning.

Williams clearly loves the written word and provides enough interesting facts to inspire me to tackle that pile of incoming correspondence again. If you’re looking for a little something to nudge you back on to your letter-writing path, then Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter-Writing might be the ticket.