An Open Letter to The New York Times Book Review

I recently read a blog entry about the swarming masses at the New York Art Book Fair. But one thing nagged me about the post. “Although technically the fair promoted mostly art books,” says the writer, “there were also a multitude of stands that showcased philosophy books (at the M.I.T. table), activism books (at the Yes Men stand), books on the new media and digital revolution, and so on.”

True, but the art books weren’t just a technicality. These books are a thriving and vital art form. The writer then then goes on to use a ‘real’ author, the novelist Paul Auster, to justify the notion that print isn’t dead. Auster is quite eloquent on the subject:

“Human beings need stories, and we’re looking for them in all kinds of places. Whether its television, whether its comic books, or movies or radio plays, whatever form, people are hungry for stories. Think of your own childhood – how important the bedtime story was, how important these imaginary stories were for you.”

But this brings me back to art books. For me, art books are the ultimate extension of children’s literature. They are the creative weaving of text, design and image between the tactile covers of a book. No parent would tell you that the children’s book is in danger of extinction. Toddler’s want to gnaw on board books, not iPads. The same is true for artist’s books.

When I returned from the art book fair and opened up the New York Times Book Review yesterday, guess what I found: The Children’s Book Supplement. As big as the Book Review itself with 25 or so reviews, it seems to come out every few months. Additionally, of course, the Review does regular children’s books reviews.

But where are the art book reviews?

They simply don’t exist. Week after week I read the Book Review and hope to be proven wrong, but it doesn’t happen. Okay, there are comic reviews (Auster mentioned comics, after all). And of course there are the biographies of artists. Last week featured a biography of Grant Wood. But an actual artist’s book? The only hope of that is in the rare ‘Visuals’ column or the even rarer annual ‘Holiday Books’ section.

But even then artist’s books are nearly always absent.  Here is a list of the last books featured in the most recent Visuals column (on August 20th):

HE FIRST SIX BOOKS OF THE ELEMENTS OF EUCLID: In Which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols Are Used Instead of Letters for the Greater Ease of Learners
THE FORM BOOK: Creating Forms for Printed and Online Use
STRANGE AND WONDERFUL: An Informal Visual History of Manuscript Books and Albums
PENGUIN 75: Designers, Authors, Commentary (the Good, the Bad . . .)
MAIRA KALMAN: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)

And here’s the list of the books featured in the last Holiday Books Section (December 2nd, 2009)

TYPE: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles, Volume I, 1628-1900
THE BOOK OF CODES. Understanding the World of Hidden Messages: An Illustrated Guide to Signs, Symbols, Ciphers, and Secret Languages
MANGA KAMISHIBAI: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater
SKETCHY PAST: The Art of Peter de Sève

In short, the only true artist’s books being mentioned are coffee table books by New Yorker illustrators. (Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of Maira Kalman, but these are pretty slim pickings).

“If you harbor even a speck of doubt about the continuing viability of hold-in-your-hand-and-turn-the-pages print publications,” Holland Cotter wrote last year in the New York Times, “check out the New York Art Book Fair. You’ll find thousands of new books — smart, weird, engrossing, beautiful — that will never be Kindle-compatible. They’ll make you feel good.”

Is it too much to ask for New York Times Book Review to take at least one of these publications seriously?

I ♥ my team

Many thanks to LBM designer Hans Seeger and VP of Mushroom Distribution, Charlie B. Ward, for their hard work and good spirit. You guys are the bee’s knees.

Carrie Thompson has recently been visiting The Miracle of Birth Center and is the best Human Resource ever.

Lastly, thanks to our new pals Jason Polan and Seth Lower.

LBM will get back to work tomorrow, but today I just want to spread the love. I’m incredibly lucky to work with such cool people.


Flickr Assignment #3

Writing about Manuela Costalima’s (iwhishiwereinvisible) winning project for the 2nd assignment, I asked, ‘Why are amateur photographs so damn good?’ I’d like to follow up on this question with Assignment #3:

1) Take a picture of a non-photographer
2) Have this person take a picture of you (with the same camera or another camera)
3) Put these images side by side in a single file
4) Briefly describe who this person is (friend, lover, stranger, child, etc).
5) Submit as many of these double-portraits as you wish in a set entitled ‘From Here To There: Assignment #3’ on our Flickr Contest Page.

The deadline for posting is November 26th. The winner will be announced on December 1st.

Flickr Winner #2

I love everything about these Flickr assignments except for one thing: having to pick a winner. How can I choose between 9Stars infectious enthusiasm (1,2,3 assingments!),  Ashly Stohl’s sweet story, Jen Trail’s Facebook discovery, Worsham’s trailer park, Steven Lang’s palm sander, Meghan Rennie’s childhood neighborhood, Ramon Mas’s Jesus or Al Cafone’s wild night?

So many good stories…and good pictures too. But some of my favorite images were the ones that Ben Roberts found during his story: five slides, five great pictures.

Why are amateur photographs so damn good?

Then I saw the pictures of Manuela Costalima (iwishiwereinvisible). Maybe not ‘professional’ and maybe not perfectly edited, but there is something irresistible about these images. In many ways they reminded me of the light touch of Italian greats like Guido Guidi and Luigi Ghirri. The images have the feeling of an everyday glance. They already feel just as good as vintage amateur pictures.

Congratulations to Manuela! Along with her Flickr project, check out her website.

Flickr Assignment #2

In the 1st Flickr assignment, I often found myself responding to the story behind the picture. So for assignment #2, I want participants to tell a short story. But to get the story going, I’ve added the following steps:

1) Find and photograph a stranger
2) Ask the stranger to show you something (their house, their car, their cat, their body, etc).
3) Based on what they show you, make another picture, or series of pictures.

For example, photograph a man you meet you meet on the side of the road. Ask the man if he has any hobbies. If he tells you he builds model airplanes, go to his house and photograph his airplanes. Then go to a model airplane club.

The only rule is that all images should be new. The deadline for posting is October 25th. Post all of your images together in a set marked ‘From Here To There: Assignment #2.’  Add text captions to the images when necessary. Winners will be chosen by November 1st.

To join in, go to the “From Here to There” Flickr page. (and be sure to check in now and then to the Walker Art Center Visual Arts Blog).

TBW Books

Exciting news from Oakland! Paul Schiek and his lovely home brewed publishing company, TBW Books, is releasing its third subscription series with books by Mark Steinmetz, Elaine Stocki, Dru Donovan and Katy Grannan. I was proud to have my book published in the 2nd series and can’t wait to get this new quartet.

Visit TBW and also check out their new blog.