Good days

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

weekend

I spent last payday’s wages on books…I went a little crazy, online.

I ordered back issues of the literary journal Granta, collected works by Graham Greene and a novel by William Faulkner. I snapped up some short story collections of Latin American writers, in Spanish. I took out two literary magazine subscriptions: Overland, and The Lifted Brow. I impulsively put Taschen’s massive full-colour art books of Egon Schiele and of Peter Beard, in my shopping cart, and paid for them with my eyes half-shut, and without looking at what the total came to. Then I ordered Dan Eldon’s The Journey Is The Destination, because he was influenced by Peter Beard.

Finally, and already made extremely uncomfortable by this binge of book-buying, I threw the last of my sensibility (and money) to the wind and bought the out-of-print, hard-to-find monograph produced in Germany of the works of Expressionist artist Jeanne Mammen. She was an amazing painter, and so little is known of her…apart from this one monograph of her work, there are no books, illustrated or otherwise, about her.

I know what you’re thinking: did I rob a bank…or am I printing the money at home? This sounds like the online shopping spree of a person with lots of disposable income, but I’m actually just a salesgirl in a shop, I work three days a week, and I send a third of my income to help an elderly parent.

The decision to enrich my life with books means that I give up other things. For the last four days I have lived on pots of coffee and boiled spaghetti with salt and garlic—which is the only thing that I have on my boat— because I can’t afford to go grocery shopping for a week or two.

Do I care? Not really. I love elaborate cooking, and among my friends I am known as a bit of a foodie. Just a bit. But I love books. I love them first. I love them more. If I were to be completely practical and honest about things, food is ultimately just fuel for the body to run on. (My foodie friends will have heart attacks when they read this blasphemy). I could have a whole Instagram account dedicated to what I eat, but can I tell the difference between a five dollar meat pie and a 70 dollar three-course dinner, in the…um…at the…end? LOL

Besides, we all eat too much, these days, so that a few days off food won’t hurt. I don’t mind eating salted chickpeas out of the can with a spoon as my one meal of the day, if it’s because I have just bought some fabulous books on art, or literature.

I found that I didn’t really want to eat, these past four days, anyway. I was lost between the pages of my books—some of which have started to arrive from the booksellers—and wasn’t hungry for anything but beautiful prose and inspiration.

 

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Some Books in Spanish

bookshop finds

The bookstores here have a very limited range of titles. Importing books would cost too much, and local publishers can only afford to print titles chosen for the moral or educational instruction and improvement of the nation. Still, we found Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, both of whom we always enjoy reading, and then a couple of authors we don’t know at all, but seemed promising. (N.B. Romulo Gallegos, who wrote Doña Barbara, was once President of Venezuela)

Bookstores here don’t have open shelves that you can browse. The books are under glass, or on shelves behind the sales counters, so you sort of have to know what you want, and the attendant will bring the book over to you. Still, they were very helpful, suggesting other writers and giving us a basic idea of what each book was about. Most of these titles were under a dollar, new.

We were told there is a flea market around the corner from the marina where we stay, and that locals sell their second hand books there. Definitely going to look into that…hoping people’s old, personal libraries will yield a more eclectic range of books.

Brazil’s beautiful books

This is not my photo. This is Ademar Ferreira Mota, a.k.a. Chocolate, 63. He is a camelo from Itajai, Litoral Centro-Norte, and was the star of a documentary called O Vendedor de Versos . Click on the image to see the report and a youtube video of Chocolate.

Cycling along the very touristy Tambau Beach on his way to the money changer on Avenida Nego, Kris stopped to check out a camelô (street vendor with a rolling/moveable cart) selling cheap little pocketbooks on the esplanade. With ugly paper covers and dark grey paper inside, the tiny books are just something for people to read as they lie on their towels in the sun, and then throw away before leaving the beach. Just seeing books for sale on the beach was weird: to think that people would choose to read! Kris assumed they would be nasty little romance, crime, or espionage novelettes— bite-sized disposable pulp fiction for the masses, but when he browsed the covers he was amazed to find authors he knew well: Julio Cortazar. Mario Vargas Llosa. Dostoevsky. Joseph Conrad. Dickens. Chekhov, of all people. It was astounding. To occupy themselves while sunbathing, Brasileiros read the classics. God almighty.

I found the same thing when I went to check out the bookstores in João Pessoa’s shopping malls; what strikes us is the high quality of the books available.

Livraria LeituraI mean two things by “quality”. First, the selection of titles/ authors is delightful. Charles Bukowski’s poetry, for instance, is conspicuous. I saw the complete essays of Virginia Woolf, in a gorgeous edition, with a jacket covered in velvet-flocked scarlet leaves and flowers; a massive tome of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, with all the fantastic illustrations Harry Clarke did for them. The Complete Odes of Pablo Neruda (this one had me sorely tempted.) Just hundreds of the best literature, art, philosophy books, all beautifully presented and prominently displayed at the front of the bookstores, not just relegated to a small shelf in the back.

I also mean the physical forms of the books themselves, the books as objects. Fine publishing seems to be alive and well in Brazil; there were so many really beautifully produced books: embossed jackets, stamped foil titles, gilt or coloured page edges, ribbon bookmarks, sometimes a mix of different papers in one book, coloured printing on thick, soft ivory paper like cloth. Sometimes the text was printed in colour, too. Some of the books had deluxe finishing touches, like embroidered fabric bellybands, or clamshell boxes with leather straps and buckles. Some of the art books were oversized, nearly two feet long and a foot wide, with black & white photographs printed in silver halide.

A bookstore here is like a church for people who worship good design and beautifully made things. I spent hours in every one, looking at everything, though I could hardly buy these books (and I really longed to be able to buy these books in English. Some titles, like Neruda’s Complete Odes, are out of print in English. Very sad, as they are poems rich enough to eat…)

Once or twice I found a pretty book and was pleasantly surprised to find that it cost the same as a cheap hole-in-the-wall lunch, so I skipped lunch, bought the book, and snuck it home.

Po de Lua (Moondust) by Clarice Freire

Books from Brazil

Ivory pages with blue edges, this pretty book looks like someone’s Moleskine sktchbook, with all the text written by hand, and little drawings in coloured pencil. Not sure if it’s a poem, but the subtitle is “To lighten the seriousness of things”; I think it’s light, inspirational philosophy.

Freire is a young Pernambucana, from Recife (just two hours away from here). She plays with the way words are made up, connecting different parts to each other like Lego, coining new ideas and meanings.

Books from Brazil

Books from BrazilClarice Freire’s Po de Lua website has more of her drawings and poems.

Books from Brazil

Por Que Oxala Usa Ekodide by Descóredes M Dos Santos, with illsutrations by Lenio Braga, 1966.

Books from Brazil

Ekodide is a feather from an Amazon parrot, used in the initiation rituals of Orixa (Orisha) and Candomblé. This beautiful book, with its quirky handwritten text and powerful drawings by Lenio Braga, tells the story of how the ekodide came to be used in the rituals.

Books from Brazil

Books from Brazil

Fantasias by Flávio de Carvalho, with poems by Katia Canton

These gouache paintings were done by Carvalho, an architect and designer, as costumes for the ballet performance A Cangaceira, in 1953. Contemporary poems by American Katia Canton accompany each of the 15 designs.

Books from Brazil

Books from Brazil

Books from Brazil

Books from BrazilBuying brand new books is A Big No-No on this trip. Our budget can’t handle such extravagance and the rule is self-imposed. We are supposed to stick to second-hand bookstores, or (better yet) swap the books we’ve finished reading for different ones on the yacht club’s shelves (usually a dismal, ragtag selection of pulp novels), but I simply couldn’t resist these three art books, and bought them as my souvenirs of Brazil, as well as for the inspiration.

Yinka Shonibare’s ‘The British Library’

In Yinka Shonibare MBE’s new installation, The British Library, he explores the impact of immigration on British culture by covering hundreds of books—written by those “both celebrated and unfamiliar” who, as immigrants, made unique contributions to what is now accepted as ‘British’ culture—with his trademark Dutch wax (batik) fabrics. Gold tooling on the spines declare the names of all these individuals who, at some point, came to Britain as immigrants, and made their mark.

The British Library asks us to evaluate our attitudes to immigration and immigrants.”

I am always impressed by Shonibare MBE’s work…but especially love this installation, for the sheer joy of seeing whole book shelves crammed with books that have been covered in bold, parti-coloured Dutch wax fabrics. Fabulous! Although not actually bound in these fabrics (I don’t think Brighton Library would let anyone change the covers of their books…the fabrics are merely wrapped around like dust jackets) it certainly sets my own bookbinder’s imagination daydreaming about actually binding my own library in similar, flamboyant fashion.

I did say it was a daydream. 🙂 As though I didn’t already have enough to do for 5 lifetimes…

www.yinkashonibarembe.com

House Festival 2014.

Released in the morning

released in the morning

This small handful of journals and watercolour books that I put together yesterday spent the night tightly clamped between smooth, hard boards…like unruly winos locked up for their own safety.

A favourite way to start the day is to pour a cup of coffee and sit in the breeze on deck as the sun comes lancing over the tops of the mangroves, and release the previous day’s work—what was a loose and motley collection of disparate pieces held together with runny glue and faith in the powers of synthesis—from the grip of the press, to find that everything has come together with a grace and finesse that still takes my breath away.

kidskin and marbling watercolour book

Yesterday: paper, thread, fabric and leather scraps, glue, grey-coloured board.
This morning: a dense, well-made, glowingly beautiful book that feels precious as it sits in my hand.

tea journals

Magic. I will NEVER become blasé about the transformation.

Week 4 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

10 journal concepts

I quickly revised my problem from last week, and drew 10 new concepts for this week’s homework, submitted yesterday. In them, I’ve re-focused on the journal, with most of the storage space for things like postcards, ephemera, trinkets, pressed flowers, and all the other little bits and pieces that one collects along the way when moving through an unfamiliar place. Some of the books still have a little storage built in for things like a small tin of watercolours or pencils, pens, but I stopped thinking in terms of an entire bag dedicated to rolls of tape, glue sticks, and big fat tubes of acrylic paints or whatever else a person uses to artfully fill his/her journal.

I had to do these concepts the same week that I was actually supposed to be building prototypes. It took forever to make the leap from a concept, on paper, to actually making something. I dawdled ever so much! I think I was scared of finding out that my concepts were impossible to make in the 24 hours I had left before submission deadline. I’d done so well, so far, that I hated the idea of slipping behind, now that things were really getting interesting. My two chosen concepts involved techniques I didn’t have much practice in. Much of what I thought I knew was theoretical…like I figured it couldn’t be too hard to stitch a zipper on a pouch! But I’d never really tried, before. Finally stopped faffing around yesterday and put concept D together in three hours. Amazing how much theory and preparation you can do without once you stop overthinking and just do it.

Concept D: Journal and Jacket

prototype D

It’s VERY ROUGH, but the gist of the idea is there. A flexible wraparound cover jacket, with pockets and pouches on every available surface,
prototype D

and a leather strap that hooks into the book, through the little hollow between cover and text block that all my hand-bound books have, and snaps down on the cover to hold it in place.

prototype D
prototype D

This snap was a serendipitous find. I didn’t have any snaps, nor a snap setter, but as I was rummaging through an old toiletries pouch of buttons and buckles for something else to use, I saw that the pouch itself had a snap. Took a utility knife to that pouch in a flash, and stitched it on with rough and impatient abandon.
prototype D

Concept C is almost identical to Concept D; the only difference is that the book pages are bound to the cover in C. This sort of binding (a limp, or longstitch/linkstitch binding) would allow me to space the signatures out a bit more, accommodating the things to be added in by the user. But the idea of the re-usable jacket and journal refills seemed, on the whole, a more considerate and practical solution. I can work out how to space the pages in the journal itself later, I hope!
 prototype D

Concept I: Dos a Dos book and box

prototype

I used two books, bought at the second-hand bookstore years ago, intending to use them in altered book projects I never started. They’re very faux elegant, pretentious things…fancy goldstamping on some horrible ‘leather-look’ textured paper, and only one edge of the pages is gilded: the top edge, which visitors are sure to see when this deep red set of Australia’s Great Books sits on a bookshelf. The other three sides of the text block are left plain.
prototype

I took the text block out of Adam Lindsay Gordon, and replaced it with clamshell box ‘jaws’. They’re uncovered, in these pictures, because I had to submit photographs an hour later, but I went and covered them afterwards. Then I simply glued the two books together, back-to-back and topsy-turvy, to resemble the binding format known as dos a dos (two to two).
prototype I

Some letters, photos, and trinkets in the clamshell box, to heighten that feeling of travel treasures…
prototype
prototype

And the completely indigestible, utterly boring pages of that great Australian classic—that nobody I’ve met seems to have read, but of whom everyone here speaks in hushed and reverent tones—We of The Never-Never on the other side. I read three chapters. I am thinking it’s time to do that altered book project now, and paint or draw on these pages.
prototype I

So, which one do you like better, D or I? And if you had to buy a travel journal, would you consider buying one of these (provided it was made properly, not out of placemats or old books)? I’m only asking to test how successful the designs were, but would love to hear what you think!