“Recovering Lolita”

Recovering Lolita (via design blog Imprint) is one of the most visually/literarily fascinating and provoking posts I’ve seen this year.

Several years ago, blogger John Bertram held a contest inviting designers to create new covers for Lolita, citing a history of coy misrepresentation of Nabokov’s novel. In Bertram’s words, “We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core.” Yet as Imprint points out, “[Lolita is] chronically miscast as a teenage sexpot—just witness the dozens of soft-core covers over the years.”

Bertram was not that much more satisfied with the results of the competition, and invited 60 new designers (most of them women) to contribute images, accompanied by essays by both designers and Nabokov scholars, for a book entitled Lolita: Story of a Cover Girl. The book will come out next spring; in the blog post you can check out a number of the images submitted to the contest, as well as a brief interview with Bertram, in which he touches on the ethical considerations that accompany creating a cover for Lolita (or even simply enjoying it as a novel), and the way that book covers can, indeed, change our perception of a book and its meaning.

Some of the images in the post are visually pleasing but entirely noncommittal from a thematic standpoint (e.g. Kelly Blair’s); I think the best combine cool wit with a deep sense of the ominous and invasive, i.e. Jamie Keenan’s:


– E

The news gauntlet

Two bits of Caitlín Kiernan excitement:

  • The growing gallery of Kyle Cassidy’s photographic work based on Kiernan’s next novel, The Drowning Girl, forthcoming in March. The documentary clarity of Cassidy’s photos is unsettling in combination with the uncanniness of many of the scenes, particularly when angular, predatory Eva (as portrayed by model Sara Murphy) is involved. Other shots are intimate, introspective, rich and dusky in lighting. Prints from the collection are available for purchase, and one in particular is on sale.
  • An appetite-whetting interview over at Bloody Disgusting on Alabaster: Wolves, the forthcoming Dark Horse comic featuring Kiernan’s lonely, teenaged monster hunter Dancy Flammarion. Dancy first appeared in Threshold, and later in short stories collected in Alabaster (review).

Through all her earlier misadventures, Dancy has always been guided by an angel, this seraph, unless the seraph is only an expression of insanity, or some unconscious aspect of her that, inexplicably, leads her to these creatures. In the first issue, she breaks with her guardian angel, so to speak, and is on her own for the first time. She is reborn. Her will and her wiles become her only guiding force. I don’t want to drop too many spoilers, but Alabaster: Wolves is largely about Dancy finding her own way, and it’s a much darker road than she’s ever walked. Maybe this is a book about Dancy going sane. As to other themes, I’m really trying to address the grey areas between what we call good and evil. Dancy has always struggled with the idea that maybe she’s just another sort of monsters, and possibly some of the beings aren’t necessarily evil. You’ll see a lot of that.”

The strength (/blindness) of the earlier Dancy’s convictions made her both admirable and something of a psychological cypher, since she ultimately responded to any uncertainty or self-doubt by destroying external threats, and thereby, supposedly, restoring some measure of metaphysical order. I very much look forward to the new direction that the older and “rebooted” Dancy will take.


The Sindiecate is an artist collective (six members so far) who post tributes to independent comics, featuring a different series each week. I’ve enjoyed browsing their archives both to see art of familiar favorites (Mouse Guard, Umbrella Academy, Oglaf [link is to my favorite piece of the bunch, which is, predictably if you know Oglaf, very much NSFW]…), and to glean recommendations for future comic reads.


Check out The Open Road for a critical symposium spotlighting Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream (review). I haven’t had a chance to read all of the essays yet, but so far I’ve particularly appreciated M. G. Stephens’ reflections on the development of Selby’s voice – one of his most remarkable assets, alongside his urgently expressed compassion for suffering – and the creative milieu he occupied in bohemian New York.

– E

Go to:
The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba (2008), review by Emera
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen, review by Emera
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, by David Petersen, review by Emera
Legends of the Mouse Guard, by David Petersen and others, review by Emera

Undercover: Pretty Monsters

Here’s a photo-feature that I’ve been wanting to start for a while: a series featuring the subtle design quirks that I occasionally find under the dust jackets of hardcover books. First up on the plate is Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters, whose full cover design you can see here. Will Staehle’s enigmatic, Victorian-funereal (with horned women) design easily ranks in my top, oh, twentyish? favorite book designs of all time. That thar is a very rough assessment, but hopefully my point is clear: there are a lot of book covers that I like, but I really, really, really like this one.

The little monster-mark underneath just seals the book’s place in my affections:

Undercover: Pretty Monsters, by Kelly Link


– E

Hey! Oscar Wilde!

– It’s Clobberin’ Time!: artists (and authors) draw their favorite literary figures

One of my favorite websites to check at random intervals, Hey Oscar Wilde hosts a vast compilation of art featuring favorite writers, creatures, characters, and places from across the literary spectrum. Artists include Kate Beaton, Marvel Comics legend Frank Brunner, From Hell‘s Eddie Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli (love for his prodigiously mustachioed Dracula)… ; subjects range from oliphaunts to Vonnegut to Pippi Longstocking to lots of Draculas and Frankenstein’s Monsters.

Some other favorites: this Madeleine L’Engle portrait by Farel Dalrymple (probably biased by my love for Proginoskes); Scott Morse’s incredible watercolor rendition of the tiger from Life of Pi.

– E

Pieces of eight

And by eight, I mean news:


Ah–! Art Student Hand-Illuminates, Binds a Copy of the Silmarillion; Tolkien fans across the world experience heart palpitations.

Check here for an interview with the artist, and larger images of his gloriously detailed work.


And some incredible (belatedly posted, here) news for fans of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Since the release of the 1982 animated adaptation, Beagle had been denied payment of contractually due royalties for the film. At the beginning of August, Connor Cochran, Beagle’s business manager, sent this announcement:


Really. No joke, no fooling. It’s over. And everybody won. […] For now suffice to say that Peter has signed an agreement with ITV that (a) ends the whole mishagosh in a way that is great for him, and (b) great for ITV, and (c) great for LAST UNICORN fans everywhere, since now all kinds of things are going to be possible that could never be done before.”

This is news that I’ve been waiting to hear for years.

I’d been exploratorily rereading bits from The Last Unicorn, lately – exploratorily because I know I’ve been growing out of a lot of things that used to fill my head and make me cry. We’re safe; TLU still makes me cry. (It probably helps that I still feel completely unironically about unicorns.) I sound a little flippant, but it’s a deeply beautiful, wise, and timeless book. I don’t like recommending it willy-nilly because I know unironic books about unicorns and mortality and love aren’t everyone’s thing (even though it is sometimes ironic, too! and meta!), but consider this my sideways plea for more people to read it.

Hey, “unironic” and “unicorn” are almost anagrams. Coincidence? I think not.

Go to:
Peter S. Beagle: bio and works reviewed
The Last Unicorn comic #1 (2010): review by Emera
The Last Unicorn comic #2 (2010): review by Emera

Bookstores of Cambridge: Lame Duck Books

Lame Duck Books
12 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA

“We are internationally known specialists buying and selling important modern books and manuscripts with an emphasis on rare literature and primary works in the history of ideas in English, German, French, Spanish, Russian and other languages. Our shop features the most significant selection of 19th and 20th century Spanish language literature in the world, as well as important holdings of 17th and 18th century English poetry.”

Significantly fancy-pantsier than the bookstores that Kakaner and I usually feel comfortable rummaging through, clearly, but a fun taste of the high life. You enter this basement bookstore through a hushed, minimalistic art gallery (unaffiliated); the bookshop itself is similarly hushed and artsy.

Kakaner thought their prices ran a little high, for the books with which we were more familiar, but we had a good time regardless ogling such volumes as a first edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, another Atwood volume (forget which – K, do you remember?) that contained a handwritten letter of hers, and this J. Sheridan Le Fanu novel…

…with a seriously charming dedicatory doodle for someone named Phoebe:

Continue below the cut for a couple more photos:

Continue reading Bookstores of Cambridge: Lame Duck Books

Madame Two Swords, by Tanith Lee (1988) E

Date read: 8.1.11
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

This is one of my most treasured finds from Readercon, picked up from the fantastic Somewhere in Time Books: Tanith Lee‘s 1988 limited-edition novella, with illustrations by Tom Canty. From the title and pastel cover I expected a tale of genteel swashbuckling, possibly YA; should have remembered that Lee never goes in for gentility. Elegance, yes – Lee is manically elegant – but never gentility.

Madame Two Swords starts in a familiar place for Lee: a sensitive, fearful, recently orphaned young woman in an early 20th-century alternate France is treated cruelly by both circumstances and humanity; her only spiritual sustainment comes from a book of poetry discovered in a secondhand shop:

“The blue cloth binding was quite pristine under its dust. It was a slender book, without lettering. I opened it out of curiosity.”

“The book was my talisman. Other girls wore crosses or medallions.”

The narrator is unemployed and evicted, and finds herself in dire straits, chased from one end of the socioeconomic spectrum to the other: too middle-class for hard labor, too unskilled to be a seamstress, too unwilling to accede to customers’ advances to be a waitress in the seedier cafés. At the extremity of her despair – enter Madame Two Swords, a black-eyed old woman of terrifying intensity, in whose museum-like house the narrator comes to some strange realizations.

In this France, the Revolution was sparked by the poet-demagogue Lucien de Ceppays in the city of Troies. This Revolution culminated in the execution of the original revolutionaries, including de Ceppays, by the fickle mob, and the occupation of France by a fearful British monarchy. Inhabitants now speak “Frenish” as often as French, and labor in a depressed economy overseen by a puppet government. The narrator’s talisman-book is, of course, a volume of de Ceppays’ work, and contains besides a haunting watercolor portrait of him. The story quickly sees her devotion to his image and memory moving beyond girlish fantasy.

The final supernatural twist, when it comes, is powerful in effect, in large part because of the supreme delicacy with which Lee constructs the fleeting image central to the revelation. There’s an also-delicate but definite touch of gender-bending, which I wish I could discuss in more detail without being spoilery, but suffice it to say that I liked how Lee addressed its implications, a lot. This is a story that makes use of deeply Gothic-Romantic tropes (duh, Tanith Lee) yet resists being just romantic; it’s fierce and intelligent and ultimately insists on the dignity of all of its characters.

And so my love affair with Tanith Lee continues! If you like Revolutionary France and cross-lingual puns and intelligent Gothic fantasy, if you love Tanith Lee and beautiful books, you might consider treating yourself to a copy of Madame Two Swords.

Two more photos (can’t help showing it off!) under the cut:
Continue reading Madame Two Swords, by Tanith Lee (1988) E

Picture Book Report comes to an end

I was too scatterbrained to link to this while it was running, but I recently saw the sad news that Picture Book Report, a blog bringing together 15 extremely talented illustrators to create an “extended love-song to books,” is retiring after one year of operation.

Check out the blog for varied illustrations and associated commentary on classic and, more importantly, beloved works from Where the Red Fern Grows, to Sabriel, to Brave New World (the latter done by one of my absolute favorite illustrators, Emily Carroll).

– E