Moths! They’re the redheaded stepchild of the butterfly family (no, that’s not science, but it feels true anyway). They’re ugly and furry and yet, in Yumi Okita’s hands, they’re kind of… cute? Cuddly? Fuzzy and warm?
Not since I read A Girl of the Limberlost (a novel by naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter published in 1909) have I been so taken with moths. The book tells the story of a young Indiana girl named Elnora who sends herself to school with the money she makes selling insect specimens. She goes into the Limberlost swamp—what a wonderful, fantastical name for a real place!—where she finds all manner of strange flora and fauna.
I think Elnora (again, that name!) would love Yumi Okita’s textile moths. She makes these beautiful patterned winged things from yarn and string and fiber. You can’t tell from these pictures, but the moths are actually huge—each wing is about as big as a hand.
I particularly like these three, but Okita creates insects (and flowers) in all different shapes and sizes. They mimic real life, but they’re infinitely more beautiful than the average brown moth you see dive-bombing a lightbulb. Just look at the patterns! And I’m really loving this particular color scheme right now. Rose and dust and dusty rose and soft browns and warm ivory. See more of her work here.
What I’m Reading:
Mary Roach’s delightfully morbid, tastelessly funny Stiff. I’ve read Bonk before, Roach’s book on the scientific study of sex, and this one is similar, but I think much better. Stiff is all about cadavers (that word sounds too much like a food item for my taste, yet I like it more than “dead bodies”). How we care for them. How we use them. How we abuse them. In the introduction to the book, she describes the process of becoming so deeply obsessed with a topic that she pursues it for years—despite the fact that many people find her work off-putting and strange and her professional interests disturbing, even threatening. “I’m a curious person,” she explains. “Like all journalists, I’m a voyeur. I write about what I find fascinating. I used to write about travel. I traveled to escape the known and the ordinary. The longer I did this, the farther afield I had to go. By the time I found myself in Antarctica for the third time, I began to search closer at hand.” The world is full the strange and unfamiliar things, and Roach wants to find them, to peer closely at them, to play doubting Thomas and prod at their wounds. Reading this, I was reminded of a quote by essayist Kathleen Hale: “I never look for things to grab me. They just do, and once they do, the obsessions usually continue until I’m so sick of them—or of myself for enacting them—that suddenly, and with a sense of great relief, I’m repulsed.” When I read this passage, I wanted to find Hal and shake her. “You nailed it!” I would yell in her face. “That’s exactly exactly what it’s like!” To be obsessed, to be a voyeur, to be relentlessly curious to the point where you begin to wonder if it’s really healthy—I think maybe that’s what it is to be a writer.
What I’m Admiring:
To stay true to theme, I’ve been really digging the work of artist Travis Bedel. He use anatomical imagery as the jumping off point for his intricate collages, turning the human body into a lush and unsettling menagerie. I imagine if one dissected a nymph, or a citizen of Narnia, they might find this waiting inside. It’s a lovely visual depiction of the circle of life (dust to dust and earth to earth and guts to flowers and the worms crawl in and all that) or an eerie reimagining of what lies within. I personally think his work is very pretty, but then again, I consider Stiff light bedtime reading, so perhaps I’m a terrible judge of these things. (If you like his work, you can buy prints online at Society6 and Etsy.)
Angela Carter is the fairy godmother of modern fairytales. Twisted and clever, Carter turns the classics upside down, subverting them in sensual, strange, provocative ways. I like it! Can you tell?
And if there is anything I’ve learned from working at a magazine, it’s that great stories need great visuals. Well, maybe they don’t need them (the oral tradition would beg to differ) but they definitely benefit from the right images. Knowing that, The Guardian issued a call for entries for Carter’s best work. The results are just fantastic. My favorite is this one: Sidsel Sørensen draws “The Company of Wolves.”
See them all here.
When you read a really, really great book, it changes how you perceive the world. I was talking to a fellow writer friend about this a few nights ago. We couldn’t quite pin down what we thought about this—it’s at once freeing and scary, intimate and distancing. It feels as though you’ve invited another writer to come live in your head—or crawled inside theirs.
I tried to think about the last book that made me feel drunk on words, and I have trouble bringing one to mind. I think it must be The Empathy Exams, a series of essays by Leslie Jamison about pain, the body, compassion, femininity, and other slippery subjects. On the other, fictitious hand, One Hundred Years of Solitude still makes me feel strange and a little dizzy every time I read it. The Unbearable Lightness of Being turns me into a overly touchy yet emotionally reticent partner. Margaret Atwood makes me bubble and fizz with nebulous anger and self-righteousness and Toni Morrison makes my heart hurt in a way that is sweet and uneasy. I just hope that I don’t lose each of these tiny personalities that forms inside my skull. I like to think they snarl together (like a mental rat-king of great authors and ideas) and wait for when I’m ready to use them. Maybe they do.
It’s my goal in life to write one thing, one book, that changes the way just a few people look at things. I want my writing to ask people to really, truly look at each other. To see them in a new, hopefully more forgiving, light.
Image by Pablo Gallo
I don’t highlight Maine-based artists nearly enough on my blog, especially considering how much awesome talent is hidden away in our corner of the country. Including Josh Brill, the artist behind Lumadessa. He makes these fantastic geometric animal prints that I totally adore. While his shop has many colorful avian prints—including a stately blue jay and a pretty little cardinal—I particularly like the jungle animals. Made of stripes and blocks and other hard shapes, they are surprisingly light and sweet.
In unrelated news, I just finished reading Life of Pi. I expected to love it, and I didn’t. But I did close the book with a new appreciation for zookeepers. I’ve still never been to a zoo (an odd never-have-I-ever fact), and I’m not convinced I should ever go to one, but there is something to be said about animals loving their routines. I know my dog loves her simple life.
Anyway, if you want to buy one of Josh’s prints, you can do so here. 1% of profits go to animal and environmental charities, a fact that makes me feel mildly better about possibly purchasing yet another quirky, unframed print. I really need to find some good, cheap frames…
I just finished reading Was She Pretty? a graphic novel by Leanne Shapton that explores one simple, jealous, unanswerable question. Was she pretty? We ask our current partners. Yes, they say, with only slight hesitation. “But she was…” mitigates it slightly. But you know. Of course she was pretty, otherwise he (or she) wouldn’t have loved her. She was pretty and a dancer and she cooked him thai food every night. She was pretty and a filmmaker who hated blockbusters and could quote Goddard. Most importantly, she simply was.
While reading it, I found myself thinking not at all about my boyfriend’s exes. I didn’t think of my ex’s either, and what they must be doing with their new, pretty girlfriends who probably love hiking and are too sophisticated for boxed wine. No, all I could think was: I want to be one. I want to be reduced to a simple, lovely sketch. I want some essence of Katy to be distilled into a black-and-white series of lines and a romantic, mysterious caption. John’s girlfriend Katy liked to drive in barefeet and cut-off shorts. She could roll a joint and smoke it without veering from the center line. (High school). Jake’s girlfriend Katy loved watching horror movies with him. Her skinny arms would wrap around his torso, hungry face hidden in his chest. He stroked her hair and never called her by her proper name. (Or later) Josh’s ex-girlfriend Katy worked best in her own bed and hated staying at his house. She had the most dexterous toes he had ever seen, and loathed it when he made his bed.
It’s fun. I don’t sound nearly as romantic as a ballerina or an aristocrat, but with the right sketch, I think I could make someone jealous. Or someone fall in love with my two-line personality, like I did reading Shapton’s words, again, and again.
I think plants are just on my mind this week, seeing as it’s early spring and all. I spotted my first crocuses today when I was at a meeting up in Wiscasset today and I gave a tiny shout. My co-worker thought I dropped my coffee, but I was really just excited about FINALLY seeing a little flora in Maine.
I’m rambling a bit, and it’s probably because I’ve had a few glasses of wine, and while that didn’t exactly inspire me to post about Amy Stewart’s very cool sounding book, it does seem fitting, right? As I type this, I’m sipping at my own glass of alcohol and contemplating the grapes that made it, and all the many fruits and leaves and grains that go into a truly fantastic cocktail. In The Drunken Botanist, Stewart chronicles the vast variety of plant life that has been transformed by our greedy hands into creative libations and delicious intoxications.
Oh, and because I can’t not mention this fact, it’s a beautiful book with truly awesome typography. I should probably buy it for my boyfriend, who could frequently be described as a drunken botanist (when he’s not busy being a “mad scientist”).
Learn more here.
Some people say that print is dead, but I’m not buying it—probably because I am buying books, and so are plenty of other bibliophiles. However, I do think publishing is changing, and one way I can see it adapting to the digitization of the writer word is through making books that aren’t disposable, that aren’t simply a collection of characters, but rather objects worth owning (and collecting). Plenty of publishers, both the big guys and the indie players, are releasing special edition copies of the classics that are straight up gorgeous. I’ve written about my adoration for the Barnes & Noble collaboration with typographer and artist Jessica Hische a few times before (enough that my mom took note, and bought me a box set for Christmas last year), but today I came across a new object of literary lust: Sterling Publishing’s Shakespeare collection, as illustrated by papercutting genius Kevin Stanton.
Just look at Ophelia! It’s lovely and bold and sharp and fluid all at once. From what I can tell, the books have different color palates, from Hamlet‘s dramatic navy and red to the vibrant yellows of Much Ado About Nothing. If funds weren’t an issue, I would buy them all right now—especially Hamlet, because I’ve always had a soft spot for that faker.
Check out more of Stanton’s work here.
Ghent is already on my travel lust list, but when I heard about the pop-up library located in a vineyard… well, let’s just say it jumped a few notches. In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” Books and wine? What a lovely idea.
But even more lovely is the entire pop-up library concept. I’ve blogged before about mini-libraries, where books are made free to the public in microspaces like phone booths or bus stops, but a writer at GOOD has rounded up four great projects from around the world, from Israel’s outdoor information sharing program for refugees to Mexico’s free traveling library. More good stuff here.
I love this poster so much. Narnia has had such a huge influence on my literary tastes (I know the entire series practically by heart), so when I saw these literary images on Pinterest, I gasped out loud. They’re really beautiful and witty.
Travel destinations for literary destinations from cedarMyna on Etsy.