Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Posts Tagged ‘literature

Powerful books

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My great friend Tim Kreider is writing another article, this one about books that shape us in childhood, and “why literature and art in general loses its power to change our personalities and our lives as we grow older. ”

Since I have no idea if my response got to him in time for his article, or whether it’s useful, I’m posting what I feel relevant here. Fair warning: I’m a fast and careless writer more often than not. This isn’t wordsmithery, this is a hurried -but genuine and substantial, I hope – response to a request from a friend.

Hi Tim,

I’m not 100% convinced your thesis
is true of me, in that I still feel pretty moved by things I’m
reading. In fact, I’m reading and being influenced more than ever I
think lately, as I’ve begun to read more consciously. Your certainly
right that books in our youth shape us (for me- it’s Peanuts
again) but I think the subtle growths we are capable of in our
adulthood are still significant, even if they don’t appear so from the

But maybe my thinking about this is strange, and if so, for two reasons.

1: I may be overemphasizing the mature growth a conscious person goes
through. If I’m over-compensating, it’s only to not seem a stagnant

2: I’m a notorious blank slate. My memory is so horrible, I barely
remember my own efforts and conversations of last week, let alone the
books I read a long time ago. Often I think the only thing shaping me
-that I’m conscious of- are the things in my present.

That said, I’ll try to give a proper response to this.

Childhood: Peanuts books. Mad Magazine. Books about cartooning. Novels
about animals: Call of the Wild, Born Free, etc.
There was a silly children’s book about a pumpkin who goes trick or treating
as a spider that I rather liked.

Adolescence: Foxfire books. These were a series of (10?) documentary
anthologies about the skills and stories of Appalachian people.
I found the self-sufficiency and simplicity of their lives and
behaviors so incredibly powerful.

Douglas Adams. Any smart kid with a disbelief in the real world has to
discover these at some point. Lucky boys and girls have sympathetic
adults to lend them; I actually stumbled on these cause they were in
the first part of the fiction section that I was browsing in my local
book store. Then I found out later that everyone knew about them!

Vonnegut: Same as above. Disbelief and frustration with the idiocy
around one will lead one to Vonnegut.

Love and Rockets
. Cerebus.

A book of poetry by a guy named ANTLER. In the Whitman, Ginsberg vein,
poems about the woods, people doing simple things, slight
impeachments of our society, etc.

Age 17-20ish: Dharma Bums by Kerouac. Still to this day I’ve never
read On The Road, but I’ve read Dharma Bums two or three times. Again,
like the Foxfire books, it’s about freedom and simplicity, and
choosing actions that are coarse and simple, living close to the
ground for benefit of the spirit.

Understanding Comics.

Adult years 21-30:

Italo Calvino: Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities. Showing that literature
could be a sparkling creation, guided by curiosity, and intelligence.
Borges should have done this for me, but I never responded to Borges
as much. His erudition was beyond me.

(Image courtesy Mmothra blog- thanks!)
In Search of the Miraculous and other books about GI Gurdjieff.
(Hi Staats!) This
more than any other book maybe had an explosive effect on my
personality. This, coupled with two or three terrific acid trips at
age 21 or 22 (actually, I might not have read it all the way through
until 24 or 25) gave me my still governing principles about well,
Life, the Universe and Everything.

A Pattern Language– a hippyish book about the options available in
planning a city, a town, a street, a home. It made me realize that if
we create our surroundings using the needs of people as our governing
idea, we would be happy. What a crazy thought! But it also went into
the depth and the subtlties of people’s needs. Poetic needs, needs of
quiet and of loud culture, of ritual, bonding, but of solitude and

Small is Beautiful much like the above, about our economic systems.
See Hutch Owen’s Working Hard for regurgitation of that.

Philip K Dick. The Moomin Books by Tove Janssen.

Jealousy, and Towards a New Novel, by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Taking off where Calvino started
in my brain, Robbe-Grillet sling-shotted it even farther.
Link here from my blog posting after his death.

Lastly, two books about art. One, a comprehensive overview of modern
art, devoured while I was stranded and mostly alone in Morocco (and sent to me by
Jon Lewis- hi Jon!) gave me a brain opening primer into art from the 19th
century and on. My college experience woefully incomplete, books replaced
it where necessary.

Two, Classical Music for Dummies. Seriously! The entire world of
Western Classical Music was sealed and taped up and the windows
painted black til I decided to read something about it that would take
me through it. I can’t imagine living in a world without Beethoven, or
Debussy or Brahms now.

Later adult hood 30+:

Harold Bloom books on “The Canon” and “On Reading” this or that, helped me
understand how to read. Again, I never had good reading classes in
college, It gave me an appreciation for writers I haven’t read, but
now look forward to: Milton, Dante, etc.

All the comic books which through careful inspection have helped
teach me how to DRAW and think about comics. Tezuka published
by Vertical (go Vertical!).

Currently, every time I read Nabokov my brain explodes into thinking
about how to use words, and how glorious rolling around in them can
be. Further, Margaret Atwood makes me crazy for every reason,
Mary Gaitskill has a tailor’s approach to her raw materials that
excites me, and Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude is forever
burned in my brain. All this
has happened in the past few years!

Let’s hear it for the late bloomers!

Written by hutchowen

August 23, 2008 at 5:43 am

R.I.P. Alain Robbe-Grillet

with 4 comments

I missed the death of Alain Robbe-Grillet, novelist and theoretician about novels. I found his “For A New Novel” in an Austin bookshop and devoured it, or the first half of it anyway. It was a series of essays and the first few were so powerful I never went on to finish the rest. Robbe-Grillet argued for a novel that was cleaved from character and plot, those were holdovers from drama. What a novel should do is use language to trigger events, images, etc. in the mind. He was especially drawn to the image, to seeing and describing, in cold detail, what was seen. An apple is no different than a cat, or an adulterous wife.

I wrote about that book on my teaching page here.

His novel Jealousy (La Jalousie) remains my favorite. Through sheer concentration of visual detail, and repetition of moments, he created a manic, frightened, furious book. A book filled with emotion, stemming mostly from a feeling of paranoia. It’s one of my favorite books ever.

I never could figure out In The Labryrnth but I’m determined to try it again some day.

Robbe-Grillet wrote the script for Last Year at Marienbad. What most people don’t realize is that script was EXACTLY how the movie turned out. That wild, cryptic movie was not trick of editing, or a product of an explorative process. It all came out of Robbe-Grillet, exactly as you see it. What a nut.

Today I value just the opposite in art. I did then, too, when I was reading his book. I value happy accidents and sloppy creation ,but his goals and my values are the same: absolute belief that something else is available for this form.

The only person I ever met who had read Robbe-Grillet (whom I didn’t foist it onto) was a cook in Austin named Flash- one of the grouchiest guys I’ve ever met. He saw me reading The Erasers, I think, and assumed it must have been for class. He told me about the half dozen of his books he had read, crushed his cigarette out and went back to angrily mashing Sunday’s eggs and ham around the grill.

NY Times article
LA Times
google search

Written by hutchowen

February 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm