Saturday, May 28, 2011

Best books: some non-musical selections

Here are several books that have been valuable to me creatively over the years.  

The Adding Machine by William S. Burroughs
Great essays about art, language, and the craft of writing. Along with Exterminator!, my favorite Burroughs book.
"When Anthony Burgess was teaching a course in creative writing, a student asked him: "Why should you be up there teaching writing and not me?" A good question; and I wish I could give as definite an answer as can be given in regard to other subjects where the technology is more defined. No one, unless he is an experienced pilot, asks why the pilot of an airliner should be in the cockpit and not he. The answer is that the pilot knows how to fly the plane and you don't. Nor would a student of quantum mechanics, engineering, or mathematics ask such a question; the teacher is there because he knows more about the subject than the student. To say he knows more presupposes that there is something definite to know, that a technology exists  and can be taught to qualified students.
How many writers have taken courses in creative writing? James Joyce for one, took a course with some literary lady who had her students imitate the styles of well-known writers ... write Hemingway for a month, Graham Greene for a month, and so forth. A good exercise I think. But there are certainly, I think, more writers who have not taken courses in writing than writers who have. How many pilots have taken courses in flying? All of them, we hope. How many physicists have taken courses in physics? All of them. Which brings us to the question I intend to raise in order, I hope, to arrive at some answers: Is there a technology of writing? Can writing by taught?"  

The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides
One of the great modern method books on drawing. Here are instructions for making a contour drawing, one of the best exercises for learning to really use your eyes:
"Sit close to the model or object which you intend to draw and lean forward in your chair. Focus your eyes on some point- any point will do- along the contour of the model. (The contour approximates what is usually spoken of as the outline or edge.) Place the point of your pencil on the paper. Imagine that your pencil is touching the model instead of the paper. Without taking your eyes off the model, wait until you are convinced that the pencil is touching that point on the model upon which your eyes are fastened. 
Then move your eye slowly along the contour of the model and move the pencil slowly along the paper. As you do this, keep the conviction that the pencil point is actually touching the contour. Be guided more by the sense of touch than by sight. This means the you must draw without looking at the paper, continuously looking at the model.
Exactly coordinate the pencil with the eye. Your eye may be tempted at first to move faster than your pencil, but do not let it get ahead. Consider on the the point that you are working on at the moment with no regard for any other part of the figure. 
Often you will find that the contour you are drawing will leave the edge of the figure and turn inside, coming eventually to an apparent end. When this happens, glance down at the paper in order to locate a new starting point. This new starting point should pick up at that point on the edge where the contour turned inward. Thus, you will glance down at the paper several times during the course of one study, but do not draw while you are looking at the paper. As in the beginning, place the pencil point on the paper, fix your eyes on the model, and wait until you are convinced that the pencil is touching the model before you draw."
A Book of Surrealist Games compiled by Alastair Brotchie
A book of strategies, games, and artistic techniques created by the Surrealists in the 1920's and '30's, for the purpose of subverting the artist's conscious will. I could've really used this book in 1988-91, but it didn't come out until '95. As it was I had to piece together whatever information I could about these methods from random sources.

"Using the style and format of the Directions to be found on the labels of household products, D.I.Y. kits, and other ordinary items, apply them to items that do not require such instructions. 

Its combination of instantaneous and eternal action ensures that DEATH is absolutely harmless to man and mammals.
Remove the self-preserving seal, hold DEATH vertically, valve upwards, and apply by pressing the stopper. 
For heart complaints: Use DEATH centre-stage. A few seconds only is sufficient.
For gambling debts, dishonour, tedium vitae, etc.: Apply DEATH liberally around the edges of the room, near skirting-boards, in cracks in the floor, in any dark cranny. Repeat every four to five hours. 
For mystical ecstasy: Use DEATH having placed yourself approximately one metre from clothing, curtains, carpets. 
DEATH can be used in wardrobes and wall-cupboards. 
Shut them immediately after each application.
DEATH  is recommended in Spring, from April onwards. 

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town / Tales of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski
A lot of people read some Bukowski and immediately move to try their hand at being an amateur drunk, or  a chauvinist, or general A-hole, all of which completely miss the point. These are two volumes of very raw short stories- he used to hammer these out in a night, for publication in an LA underground paper. I used to read these if I ever felt depressed about my work, career, or both, and needed a course correction. From the story All The Pussy We Want:

"You know," said Duke, "it mighta been that those guns blew open an old treasure chest."
"Whatever it is, there's gold out there."
The thought about it a while longer. 
"How do you know," asked Duke, "that after you gather all the gold I won't shoot you out there?"
"Well, I just gotta take that chance."
"Do you trust me?"
"I don't trust any man."
Duke opened another beer, poured another drink.
"Shit there's no use of me going to work Monday is there?"
"Not now." 
"I feel rich already."
"I kind of do too."
"All a man needs is some kind of break," said Duke, "then people treat him like a gentleman."
"Where's this place at?" asked Duke.
"You'll see when we get there."
"We split down the middle?"
"We split down the middle."
"You're not worried about me shooting you?"
"Why do you keep bringing that up, Duke? I might shoot you."
"Jesus, I never thought of that. You wouldn't shoot a pal, would you?"
"Are we friends?"
"Well, yes, I'd say so, Harry."
"There'll be enough gold and pussy for both of us. We'll be set for life. No more parole officers. No more dish washing gigs. The Beverly Hills whores will be chasing us. Our worries are over."

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