Alberto Manguel — The Library At Night

Breezed through this philosophical musing on the meanings of libraries by Alberto Manguel whilst poolside in Key West. Half way through I realized he is the author of the Dictionary of Imaginary Places that I've owned since third or fourth grade, making it one of the oldest books in my own library!
Virginia Woolf once tried to distinguish between the man who loves learning and the man who loves reading and concluded that "there is no connection whatever between the two." "A learned man," she wrote, "is a sedentary, concentrated solitary enthusiast, who searches through books to discover some particular grain of truth upon which he has set his heart. If the passion for reading conquers him, his gains dwindle and vanish between his fingers. A reader, on the other hand, must check the desire for learning at the outset; if knowledge sticks to him well and good, but to go in pursuit of it, to read on a system, to become a specialist or an authority, is very apt to kill what it suits us to consider the more humane passion for pure and disinterested reading."

(From 'Hours in a Library' in The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume II, 1912–1918.)
And even paper and ink can sometimes survive a death sentence. One of the lost plays of Sophocles is The Loves of Achilles, copies of which must have perished one after another, century after century, destroyed in pillaging and fires or excluded from library catalogues because perhaps the librarian deemed the play of little interest or of poor literary quality. A few words were, however, miraculously preserved. "In the Dark Ages, in Macedonia," Tom Stoppard has one of his characters explain in his play The Invention of Love, "in the last guttering light from classical antiquity, a man copied out bits from old books for his young son, whose name was Septimus; so we have one sentence from The Loves of Achilles. Love, said Sophocles, feels like the ice held in the hand by children." I trust that book-burner's dreams are haunted by such modest proof of the book's survival.
Books lend a room a particular identity that can in some cases, usurp that of their owner—a peculiarity well known to oafish personalities who demand to be portrayed against the background of a book-lined wall, in the hope that it will grant them some scholarly lustre. Seneca mocked ostentatious readers who relied on such walls to lend them intellectual prestige; he argues for possessing only a small number of books, not "endless bookshelves for the ignorant to decorate their dining-rooms."

Phoebe Hoban — Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art

Jean-Michel's PIN code for his Citibank account was "So What?" after the Miles Davis tune.
Soon after the flight took off, Basquiat and his coterie were cozily ensconced in the first-class section. Basquiat took out a quarter-ounce of coke and dumped it on a cocktail plate. "I've never seen anything like it on a plane," says Gagosian, laughing. "It was like these four kind of rough-looking black kids hunched over a big pile of coke, and then they just switched over to these huge joints, and they sat up there and smoked them. It was just wild. They had their big hooded ski glasses on, and big overcoats. The stewardess freaked. I was terrified. I thought, 'Oh God, we're going to jail.'"

But Jean-Michel remained completely cool. "The stewardess came over and she said, 'You can't do that on a plane. The authorities are going to be waiting for you,'" recalls Gagosian with obvious relish. "Jean-Michel just looked up at her. He had perfect timing and he said, 'Oh, I thought this was first class.'"
Bird Lives! the Charlie Parker biography by Ross Russell, was one of his favorite books, bebop his favorite music. Like Parker, Basquiat left home at fifteen; like Parker, he was a terminal junkie and sex addict; like Parker, he quickly became conversant in the latest artistic vernacular, becoming a legend by the time he was twenty-one; like Parker, he was a clever and self-conscious bad boy. Basquiat must have found many passages in the book deeply resonant:

"Iconoclast, breaker of rules, master of the put-on, Bird was the first jazz musician who carried the battle to the enemy...The act of throwing his saxophone out of a hotel window, walking into the sea wearing a new suit, standing up the promoter of a Paris jazz concert, drinking sixteen double whiskies in two hours, eating twenty hamburgers in a sitting...the patronizing way he took his pleasure with any white girl who offered herself—every episode in the cumulative legend of the Bird, however ineffectual and childish, was seen as a blow struck against the forces of oppression...

Charlie Parker was the first angry black man in music. Because he was ahead of his time, he bore the burdens of loneliness and frustration. The futility of blows he directed at the establishment did much to encourage his dependence upon heroin and alcohol, adding to his loneliness and accelerating an inner drive towards self destruction...In spite of his successes and growing prestige Charlie saw no future of the music he played, or for his race in America. To live once, and to the limit—that was his game plan," writes Russell.
I liked this exchange from right before Basquiat dies where he predicts the rise of Jazz-Rap:
[Vincent Gallo:] He said he was going to buy a clarinet and we were going to do new music together. Jazz-rap. I said, 'What's that?' and he got that sparkle in his eyes and said, 'You'll hear it the first time when we do it.'
Lastly a quote from Jeffrey Wright who portrayed Basquiat in Julian Schnabel's biopic that makes me respect Wright even more and Schnabel even less:
"I think my performance was appropriated, literally, and the way I was edited was appropriated in the same way his story has been appropriated and that he was appropriated when he was alive.

"There's another parallel, that the mystery you are left with at the end of the film about who Basquiat was is the stuff that Julian [Schnabel] didn't know, so he assumed it didn't exist. The sense I got about him from his work and what I found out about his life was a profound sense of aloneness, not loneliness, because he had friends, but a real sense of isolation."

Ultimately says Wright, "Julian made him out to be too docile and too much a victim and too passive and not as dangerous as he really was. It's about containing Basquiat. It's about aggrandizing himself through Basquiat's memory. It's really fucking barbaric. But maybe our culture can't take the real danger of Basquiat right now."

Interestingly the movie, like Hoban's biography, couldn't get permission to use Basquiat's paintings. Schanbel's solution was to invent new ones.

I also made note of the the artists and songs Basquiat liked that were mentioned in the book:

Brian Eno's song Chemistry / Charlie Parker / David Bowie / Dizzy Gillespie / El Grand Combo / Gregory Isaacs / Lester Young / Maria Callas / Marvin Gaye's song After the Dance / Max Roach / Miles Davis / Ravel's Bolero / Run-DMC / Spoonie Gee / Steel Pulse

William Hope Hodgson — The Casebook of Carnacki – Ghost Finder

Discovered this book via Mike Mignola who called him one of his favorite authors. A series of Edwardian-era investigations by the occult detective Carnacki, who is armed with only his camera, his Electric Pentacle, and various ancient tomes on magic. Super-geeks might remember him as being a one-time member of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). You can place him right between Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft both in time and subject matter. He doesn't quite live up to either but who could? The best part of these stories is that you're never sure if the reported ghost is real or a Scooby-Doo type situation. Not only does it make it funner to follow along looking for clues but also makes it that much scarier when it turns out to be real! First off is some paranormal research that marks me as especially prone to par-human sightings:
"In the first place, it was obvious there was something genuinely strange in the house, which made itself manifest as a Woman. Many different people had seen this Woman under differing circumstances, so it is impossible to put the thing down to fancy; at the same time it must seem extraordinary that I should have lived two years in the house, and seen nothing, whilst the policeman saw the Woman before he had been there twenty minutes; the landlord, the detective, and the inspector all saw her.

"I can only surmise that fear was in every case the key, as I might say, which opened the senses to the presence of the Woman. The policeman was a highly-strung man, and when he became frightened, was able to see the Woman. . . In short, until a very strong degree of fear was present, no one was affected by the Force which made itself evident as the Woman. My theory explains why some tenants were never aware of anything strange in the house, whilst others left immediately. The more sensitive they were, the less would the degree of fear necessary to make them aware of the Force present in the house. . . It is impossible to put the thing into words because language is not enough developed yet to have produced words with sufficiently exact shades of meaning to enable me to tell you just what I do know."
As in Lovecraft (and Susanna Clarke), I love the imaginary magical reference titles he'll reel off:
"One other thing," said Arkright, "have you any idea what governs the use of the Unknown Last Line of the Saamaa Ritual? I know, of course, that it was used by the Ab-human Priests in the Incantation of Raaaee; but what used it on your behalf, and what made it?"

"You had better read Harzan's Monograph, and my Addenda to it, on Astral and Astral Co-ordination and Interference," said Carnacki. "It is an extraordinary subject, and I can only say here that the human vibration may not be insulated from the astral (as is always believed to be the case, in interferences by the Ab-human), without immediate action being taken by those Forces which govern the spinning of the outer circle. In other words, it is being proved, time after time, that there is some inscrutable Protective Force constantly intervening between the human soul (not the body, mind you,) and the Outer Monstrosities. Am I clear?"
Lastly, here's how to create your own paranormal defense at home!
I returned to the centre of the room, and measured out a space twenty-one feet in diameter, which I swept with a "broom of hyssop". About this, I drew a circle of chalk, taking care never to step over the circle. Beyond this I smudged, with a bunch of garlic, a broad belt right around the chalked circle, and when this was complete, I took from among my stores in the centre a small jar of a certain water. I broke away the parchment, and withdrew the stopper. Then, dipping my left forefinger in the little jar, I went round the circle again, making upon the floor, just within the line of chalk the Second Sign of the Saamaa Ritual, and joining each Sign most carefully with the left-handed crescent. I can tell you, I felt easier when this was done, and the "water circle" complete. Then, I unpacked some more of the stuff that I had brought, and placed a lighted candle in the "valley" of each Crescent. After that, I drew a Pentacle, so that each of the five points of the defensive star touched the chalk circle. In the five points of the star I placed five portions of the bread, each wrapped with linen, and in the five "vales", five opened jars of the water I had just used to make the "water circle". And now I had my first protective barrier compete.
This book collects all nine of Hodgson's Carnacki stories. Not included (since they were never written) are all the cases Carnacki would refer to offhandedly but never expand upon. I wish I had noted them all but here's what I remember:

The Three Straw Platters, the Yellow Finger experiments, the Black Veil incident, and the Grey Dog, the Moving-Fur, and the Dark-Light cases!

Woodland Flyover

While trying to learn when the second third of the High Line will be opening (mid-may?) I came across this upcoming feature that looks cool, The Woodland Flyover:
In response to the microclimate created by adjacent buildings, which supports dense plant growth, a metal walkway lifts off from the High Line level and allows the landscape to fill in below. While an undulating terrain of moss and shade groundcover blankets the High Line bed, the Flyover carries visitors upward, into the shady canopy of a stand of sumac trees.

On a related note, check out my friend Derek's mid-story forest photos he's been taking.

Typographic Map of the World

I want one of these very much. Designer Nancy McCabe's hand painted / typeset map of the world:


Voyager eat your heart out. Someone has assembled the thousands of photos the Cassini spacecraft took of Saturn and it's moons into an animated fly-by video!

Via NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.