The seventh of my Bowie Book Club covers is Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. It's a great book – and a great film too – so this one was particularly enjoyable to design. To begin with, I was determined to do something with typewriters, but that seemed a bit too on-the-nose for a story about writers writing. And didn't hit the right balance between clarity and mystery. So then I tried to do something with bridges, but that was more a reference to the film (which has a running motif of symbolic bridges throughout) than the book itself. It did help me find the image for the Hart Crane cover though, so that approach wasn't a a complete waste.

And so instead we have this: Marilyn Monroe. Or more specifically, Marilyn Monroe on the day of her wedding to Joe DiMaggio. Or even more specifically, Marilyn Monroe wearing a short black satin jacket trimmed with an ermine collar on the day of her wedding to Joe DiMaggio.

And if you want to know what that's about, read the book.

Virginia Woolf on the cultivation of taste

I have to admit that so far, my life has been absent of Virginia Woolf – unless you include that film with Nicole Kidman's nose – but this passage from the London Library's On Reading, Writing and Living with Books really grabbed my attention:  

It would be foolish … to pretend that the second part of reading, to judge, to compare, is as simple as the first — to open the mind wide to the fast flocking of innumerable impressions. To continue reading without the book before you, to hold one shadow-shape against another, to have read widely enough and with enough understanding to make such comparisons alive and illuminating — that is difficult; it is still more difficult to press further and to say, ‘Not only is the book of this sort, but it is of this value; here it fails; here it succeeds; this is bad; that is good.’ To carry out this part of a reader’s duty needs such imagination, insight, and learning that it is hard to conceive any one mind sufficiently endowed; impossible for the most self-confident to find more than the seeds of such powers in himself.

Would it not be wiser, then, to remit this part of reading and to allow the critics, the gowned and furred authorities of the library, to decide the question of the book’s absolute value for us? Yet how impossible! We may stress the value of sympathy; we may try to sink our won identity as we read. But we know that we cannot sympathize wholly or immerse ourselves wholly; there is always a demon in us who whispers, ‘I hate, I love,’ and we cannot silence him. Indeed, it is precisely because we hate and we love that our relation with the poets and novelists is so intimate that we find the presence of another person intolerable. And even if the results are abhorrent and our judgments are wrong, still our taste, the nerve of sensation that sends shocks through us, is our chief illuminant; we learn through feeling; we cannot suppress our own idiosyncrasy without impoverishing it.

But as time goes on perhaps we can train our taste; perhaps we can make it submit to some control. When it has fed greedily and lavishly upon books of all sorts — poetry, fiction, history, biography — and has stopped reading and looked for long spaces upon the variety, the incongruity of the living world, we shall find that it is changing a little; it is not so greedy, it is more reflective.

It may have been written 90-odd years ago, but this still seems remarkably pertinent. Everyone is a published critic these days, everyone is screaming their taste at everyone else. 


Here we are, my latest attempt to cover 100 of David Bowie’s favourite books: Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara. It’s only the sixth one, but I’ve also managed to stockpile quite a few of the others that I'm almost sort-of happy with. Working without a client or a deadline is surprisingly frustrating – it’s impossible to let go, to accept a final design. 

But this one, I'm definitely sort of happy with. Mostly because I love that 1965 photograph of O’Hara by Mario Schifano, like he would pose for the cover, but he really has to take this call and besides he’s just too damn busy being poetic and destroying literature, as per his manifesto for Personism:

Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody knows about … was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it. While I have certain regrets, I am still glad I got there before Alain Robbe-Grillet did. Poetry being quicker and surer than prose, it is only just that poetry finish literature off.

For more of this sort of thing, check out Jason Kottke’s post on O'Hara.

Brutal London

Our obsession with all things brutal shows no signs of abating. Of course, this means that apartments in places like the the Barbican Estate or Balfron Tower are now pretty much unattainable for us regular humans. There is one very small way you can get onto the brutal property ladder though: Zupagrafika's Brutal London. With words by John Grindrod and pictures by Peter Chadwick, it comes with nine kits for you to build your own little concrete/cardboard wonders and a bit of history of each building. It's a bit silly and all really rather wonderful. 

Barbican Centre by Andrew Murray

I found this print of a 1983 Andrew Murray painting on eBay ages ago. It's been sat in a drawer waiting for a decent patch of wall and a frame, but in the meantime I thought I'd share it on here. The caption reads "Barbican Centre, City of London. An interior view looking towards the the Sculpture for Light (by Michael J. Santry) and the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre". It's wonderful – so much life and colour within that familiar vast space, like an illustration from Miroslav Sasek's This Is Brutality (oh if only that was a real thing). I'm not really familiar with Murray's work, but I did find another 1980s Barbican painting by him the other day, which is equally lovely – I wonder if there are more there … ?