Thursday, May 12, 2016

Missing cover

No, this is not about buying books without covers.  In New York in the mid 90s, I used to see sidewalk vendors with many paperbacks without their covers.  I usually restrained myself, but I probably did pick up one or two.  I do remember buying Les Miserables but never got around to reading it.  Anyway, this illicit activity probably still exists in some form, though I haven't seen it in a while.

As it happens, I was looking at upcoming art exhibitions in Minneapolis, and I saw that there is an on-going exhibition on modernism.*  This image caught my attention.

Louis Lozowick, New York, 59th Street Bridge, 1922

I am sure that this was turned into a book cover.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember whether it was a fiction book (something like Zamyatin's We or a J. G. Ballard novel) or an urban studies book.  I'm leaning towards a 1970s or 1980s paperback edition of some novel, and I probably have it in my collection somewhere.  Still, I am stumped for the moment.  If this rings any bells, please comment below.

Sometimes my admiration for a cover can impede my judgement.  I quite like this cover of V.S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival.  Given that the novel mentions the de Chirico painting (of the same name) several times, it is quite appropriate to feature it so prominently in the book cover design.

I had heard that this was an odd book, mostly a deeply contemplative book on the life of a writer, drawn quite heavily on Naipaul's own life, though not strictly autobiographical.  However, I had no idea just how boring this book would be (the equivalent of reading about watching paint dry).  It comes to life briefly in the second section, The Journey, when Naipaul discusses the boat trip from New York to England, but it still pales in comparison to Ondaatje's The Cat's Table for instance.  I will probably wrap this up this weekend, but it has been really painful.  I'm almost reading it just to see if it gets any better towards the end, though I have no idea why it should.  All that said, I am tempted to keep the book merely for the cover, but that is really a silly idea, and I will just memorialize the cover here and donate this to the library, after I limp across the finish line.

Somewhat tangentially related, I didn't enjoy Dany Laferriere's Heading South either, though I will write about that in its own review, probably tomorrow.  While I was seeing what others had thought about it (I was relieved to find that I am not the only one that thought this was a bad book -- and that Laferriere is drastically over-rated by the Quebec literary community), I was tipped off to this book, set in Port of Spain, Trinidad (which Naipaul's narrator briefly visits as well): Edgar Mittelholzer's A Morning at the Office.

I certainly like the cover, and the reviews have been quite positive.  It sounds a lot more to my taste than Laferriere's work, that's for sure.  It is also a short novel (just over 200 pages), so I may try to squeeze it in after I have read a bit more non-fiction (perhaps right after Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle, although the parallels break down a bit, since Darwin saw many islands on his formative voyage, but they avoided the Caribbean entirely).

* Of course, now I want to go to Minneapolis in October or November before the modernism exhibit closes and while the Walker Art Center Highlights exhibit is on as well, though I think it would be a hard trip to pull off, especially as Porter still doesn't fly to Minneapolis.  My wife actually has some interest in going to Minneapolis, but would rather wait a few years until Prince's mansion becomes Graceland North...

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