Unfortunately he was struck down by an attack of confluent smallpox, which he contracted while looking after a nephew who was suffering from that disease, and died at the early age of thirty-four.
From a brief biography of Henry Grey
Is any artist’s library complete without a copy of Grey’s? I’ve plundered mine countless times for inspiration and reference and always enjoyed coming across the traces of past owners, their notes and highlights. Until today however, I never noticed this line about Grey’s death. It was all the more powerful given the pandemic we are currently living through, and particularly poignant that he lost his life while helping someone else.
My photo for today was inspired by the work of Rosamond Purcell.
The title page of this lovely book has that most inviting of phrases, “with numerous illustrations”. And so it does.
Artist’s books are a fun genre—like medical books, the older they are the more fascinating I find them. I’m surely not alone in finding poetry in the crisp, confident presentation of information to be found in pages like these. “A very fine lake is made in the following manner…” It makes me want to drop what I’m doing and set off in search of raw pigments to grind.
The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road.
Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
On a certain day in June, 19—, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.
Little, Big, John Crowley
I began this post to comment on my love of the Bard Books/ Avon imprint. These books, once ubiquitous, are now are seen most frequently in used book shops. Charles Williams made me think of C. S. Lewis, of course, and the opening paragraph of Out of the Silent Planet made me think of the opening of Little, Big, and this is how works of literature speak together through us. It’s also why I will never thin out my library. There is no greater joy than following a trail of breadcrumbs through your collection of books.
For fun, here is a piece of art I did back in 2003, inspired by John Crowley’s Little, Big.
I have a terrible vice—book hoarding. I buy books, and then due to over burdened bookshelves in my living space, store them in the dreaded plastic bin (okay dozen plastic bins) in my basement.
Occasionally, I’ll go down there, brave the spiders, sow bugs and spent Christmas decorations to search for something that occurred to me. Usually, I have no luck finding what I’m looking for and come up with several things I wasn’t. Such is the case with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel.
What is extraordinary is that I haven’t read it yet. It is, as they say, up my alley. The art is amazing, the period is dear to my heart and it looks a hell of a lot less intimidating the Moore’s Jerusalem, which also mocks me from the murky depths of a Home Depot storage bin.
I finished re-reading Dune recently. When I first read it the first time, I was a teenager. Setting out now, I realized that most of what I thought I remembered came not from the book but the film directed by David Lynch—no monstrous Guild Navigator in a Baroque fishtank, or festering Baron Harkonnen here. Some great scenes in this one, and the story moves at a good pace, if a bit abruptly in places. I love this retro cover designed and illustrated by Jim Tierney.
But now, when I tried to see the whole affair from the point of view of the self interest of each of the parties involved, the anomaly came to me suddenly.
The Quincunx, Charles Palliser
I spent most of the Christmas break reading The Quincunx, which somehow I’d managed to put off since it was recommended to me sometime in the 1980s. At 781 pages, it it the longest novel I’ve read in a while. It also weighs a ton. I think it left a permanent groove in my chest. It’s dense, immersive and in places harrowing. For this image, I paired it with Philip Davies’ Lost London, 1870-1945, which is filled with beautiful archival images of London. Both books are highly recommended.
I write down what I observe in my notebooks. I do this for two reasons. The first is that Writing inculcates habits of precision and carefulness. The second is to preserve whatever knowledge I possess for you, the Sixteenth Person.
So many books are inextricably connected with friendships. I still remember the moment in the 1970s when a friend insisted I read Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis while we were waiting for his Greyhound in a snowstorm. He nearly missed his bus when we made a mad dash for a nearby bookstore. On another occasion I was leaving a friend’s house in Toronto when she handed me a copy of John Crowley’s Little, Big, a book that remains a favorite to this day. A few years ago, my friend Tim passed away. Our friendship was based on words – we never met in the real world, just online. Tim, a writer and instructor of writing during his life, was well read and often recommended authors to me. Here are few, which include some old friends and some yet to meet.
One of the great joys of venturing out as things gradually reopened from the Covid-19 lockdown was the discovery that the nearby used bookstore hadn’t packed it in. I drove there fully expecting to find the windows dark and some kind of sad goodbye in Sharpie block letters taped to the window. Not at all. Sure, there was a sheet of Plex hanging over the cluttered desk, and there was a limit to how many people could be in the store at any given time (surely a gesture of great optimism), but it was open for business, and within 60 seconds I’d found a trade sized copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (lots of luck finding that in a big box book store. All they have is the horribly inadequate mass market edition – trust me, I looked) and this beautiful book of Eugene Atget’s photographs.
I’ve known about Atget for years. I used one of his photographs as a reference for my drawing called Coincidental Misfortune. But this was a happy reunion. The photos of old Paris are sure to inspire my current writing, which is a second world novel that takes place in a crumbling old city – of course it does. The crumbling textures and mysterious windows will surely find their way into my drawings.
In another life, I would have loved to own a second hand bookstore. Maybe once and a while I would even have opened the door to share the treasure.