Monday, October 22, 2012

The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud


Later printing of The Magic Barrel published by FSG in 1967
Bernard Malamud's collection of 13 short stories pictured above won the National Book Award in 1959, his first of two, and solidified his presence as a major emerging American writer. Writing largely about Judaism and its people, The Magic Barrel collects some of Malamud's finest short stories from the beginning of his writing career, some published as early as 1950. Malamud came to be considered a master of the short story, publicly praised by many of his colleagues, and now has a short story award named after him given out by the PEN foundation. The eponymous story from this collection is about a young rabbi named Leo Finkle about to begin his congregation, who is in search of a bride in order to get a bigger flock. Finkle sees a marriage coordinator, who gives him pictures of potential brides, except the one he likes most is the coordinator's daughter and comedy ensues. This later edition, which is virtually identical to the first edition, has amazing jacket design by Milton Glaser, the famous designer who made the I ♥ NY logo among many other things. Pictured below is Malamud's simple, script signature on the front endpaper.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Poema a Fumetti/Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati

First Italian edition of Poema a Fumetti from 1969
Poema a Fumetti, or Poem Strip in English, is Italian novelist Dino Buzzati's graphic masterpiece; it tells the story of singer Orfi and his quest to reclaim his girlfriend Eura after she disappears through a small door into a mansion on their street, the via Saterna, that isn't located on any maps. Loosely based on the myth of Orpheus, Buzzati's graphic novel is in many ways the first of its kind—it is literally an illustrated novel roughly the physical size of an average hardcover that traces Orfi's decent down into the mansion. Poema a Fumetti was entirely written and drawn by Buzzati himself, and features beautiful, surreal cityscapes and even more beautiful nude women (a healthy sampling of both are pictured below), clearly drawing on influences from Fellini and de Chirico. There are a bevy of weird characters and scenes, particularly a talking jacket among them, as Orfi navigates the netherworld looking for Eura. Buzzati's work remains standing as a perfect sampling from the height of 1960's Italian avant-garde art and literature. Originally published by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Poema a Fumetti was most recently republished in English by NYRB Classics in 2009 and is well worth the quick, bizarre read.



 





Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

First edition of Tree of Smoke published by FSG in 2007
I'll start by saying that Tree of Smoke is one of my favorite books; it tells the sprawling tales of Skip Sands and the Houston brothers, among others, during and partially after the Vietnam war. Focused largely around the CIA's involvement in the war during its formative years, Tree of Smoke is told from many intertwining points of view, including Vietnamese intelligence officers, German assassins, and world-weary Colonels. Johnson's novel even has a complete, masterful recreation of the Tet offensive that is insanely gripping. Readers of his other work will remember the Houston brothers from his first novel Angels, which takes place later in time during the 1980's. Johnson's novel isn't particularly weird or rare, having won the National Book Award for 2007 and being a bestseller, but it is awesome, as is my copy he signed pictured below. This first edition hardcover also features great jacket art and design done by Susan Mitchell, which is increasingly rare these days. I strongly recommend picking up a copy especially seeing as they're not in short supply.
 
An inscription made out to me on the title page—note that he initially misspelled my name so there's an e with a dot over it

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

62: A Model Kit by Julio Cortazar

First US edition of 62: A Model Kit published by Pantheon/Random House in 1972
Julio Cortazar's fifth novel is an offshoot of chapter 62 from his mammoth book, Hopscotch, which is only a few pages long and recounts the outline for a potential novel from a few scraps of paper that the character Morelli is planning to write. The primary basis for the novel is that it takes place in a world wherein human behavior is indefinable by psychology. This novel, 62: A Model Kit is at the same time a continuation of that brief chapter about Morelli as much as it is a follow-through of the novel upon which the notes were based. Cortazar's slimmer, semi-sequel to Hopscotch isn't quite as good as its progenitor, but it is still a whimsical, interesting read about a pre-ordained world only Cortazar could have created where anything can take place. It can also be read independently of Hopscotch, which may appeal more to first-time Cortazar readers not brave enough to commit to a 500+ page read. This first edition features great companion cover art to Hopscotch by Kenneth Miyamoto—George Salter unfortunately died five years earlier, otherwise I'm pretty sure it's safe to say he would have done the jacket design for this book as well.