Sunday, 10 January 2021

Radio Caustic

If you'd like to hear my dulcet tones blathering on about book design and recommending obscure books on the Australian national broadcaster, have at it

Or listen here:


(NB: To my knowledge I don't usually sound as though I'm 4 feet tall and trapped in a metal bucket)


For anyone looking for the awful, awful book covers (like that above) referenced in the interview, start here.

For 70 more obscure book recommendations, try here.


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Inside the Red Circle



Anyone who has spent any time in my presence will have been bored to tears by me going on about how much I love: 
  • novellas
  • translated fiction
  • beautifully designed books
so it should be no surprise that the Red Circle Minis series does it for me.



Red Circle is a small publishing house dedicated to bringing Japanese writers to the attention of English readers, and its opening salvo is a series of novellas. What is particularly interesting and commendable is that, though 5 of the first 6 six books are in translation, for all of the books this is their first publication anywhere.



The books themselves cover a wide variety of genres: science-fiction, historical fiction, reality TV satire, domestic crime and more. I initially bought several of them as ebooks due to me being a fool, because when I got hold of the physical books I found these really are beautifully designed objects. 



The books are all designed by Aiko Ishida, about whom I have been able to learn almost nothing. Her design work makes use of textures and patterns from traditional Japanese textiles, building materials and garden designs, against traditional paper textures, to give a consistent but timeless look to the series which is simple and elegant. The two books by Kanji Hanawa use the same elements with different colours and textures. You'll also note there's not a cliched cherry blossom to be seen.




Red Circle has more books planned, and it will be very interesting to see where this insider's guide to contemporary Japanese literature will take us.


The online magazine Red Circle publishes is a good guide to the company's ethos and interests. If you like good books or good design then you need to look at the work they're doing.



Monday, 16 November 2020

Ramona Quimby age 65: The Art of Ramona Quimby [A Guest Post]

A guest post by Lisa Morrison, who previously wrote about the art and reality of Last Suppers.

As an eight-year-old girl in 1984, I didn’t like my teacher and was increasingly anxious about going to school. A local librarian recommended Ramona the Brave to my mum, among a selection of books that might help me. Here a lifelong love of Ramona books began.


In the pages of this children’s novel, I felt understood, entertained and inspired to be courageous. To this day, I still marvel at how author Beverly Cleary knew, or could remember, what it was like to be a child: the worries and enthusiasms, frustrations and misunderstandings.

I read all the other Ramona books, was super excited when a new one appeared and was never disappointed by them. The final Ramona book, Ramona’s World, was released around the time I was having problems with someone at work and about to be married. It was so comforting to return to those characters I loved so much.


I’ve always read Ramona books as a cosy treat as an adult. But the even greater joy is how much my own daughter, now seven, also loves them. Now, as a parent, I also find myself identifying with Ramona’s mum, Mrs Quimby. Beverly Cleary was just as on the mark about how adults act and the universal things they say to children. The Quimby’s money worries, scheduling issues, car breakdowns and job dissatisfaction seem so adult and serious now. But, as a child reader, I hardly noticed them.

Every Ramona reader would have their own remembrances and fond feelings. So it is such a joy to see the Ramona books and their illustrations celebrated in Anna Katz's The Art of Ramona Quimby. And Beverly Cleary, at 104, is still around to see it.



Anna Katz takes us through each Ramona book in turn, showcasing the work of the five main illustrators that have drawn this spunky girl over the years. They are Louis Darling, Alan Tiegreen, Joanne Scribner, Tracey Dockray and Jacqueline Rogers. Interestingly, the work of Thelma Lambert, who illustrated my edition of Beezus and Ramona, is not mentioned.

Cover art by Joanne Scribner

The artwork is always at the forefront, combined with summaries and extracts and spare commentary about how different illustrators have interpreted the same pivotal episodes in each book.

Artwork by Alan Tiegreen

 



Alan Tiegreen’s illustrations will always be my Ramona; and it was lovely to see some of the covers I knew as a child again here, which are different to the paperbacks I own. 

Artwork by Louis Darling




Louis Darling was the original Ramona illustrator, and his depictions of the younger, very 1950s, Ramona are also delightful. I hadn’t seen many different illustrators’ work before this collection, and am particularly taken with the recent imaginings of Ramona by Jacqueline Rogers. They are detailed, emotion-filled and endearing. They capture Ramona more realistically and less cartoonishly, and I want to go out and get editions drawn by her. Illustrations by Tracey Dockray and Joanne Scribner have their charms but don’t seem quite right to me.

Cover designs by Tracy Dockray




The Tiegreen image of Ramona’s father trying to remove burrs from Ramona’s hair after she made herself a nature crown—and which I recall making into a shoebox diorama for Mr Parson’s class in Year 5—will always stay with me.

Artwork by Alan Tiegreen (above) and (below) the same scene illustrated by Tracy Dockray




Readers who have not read Beverly Cleary’s compelling memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet, will enjoy discovering that Cleary, like Ramona, also ate the first bite from many an apple and discarded the remains and was also tormented by hearing a teacher call her a nuisance.

Inclusions of facsimiles of letters between Louis Darling and Beverly Clear at the end of the book are so enjoyable, as is the afterword by Jacqueline Rogers about being chosen to illustrate the Ramona books.

Click to embiggen

The Art of Ramona Quimby is a joy for any Ramona fan!


Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Classics Reconsidered

 You think you know the classics of world literature? But do you? Do you? Do you REALLY? Well, then, please explain the output of Sheba Blake Publishing:











































It's like the glory days of Tutis, all over again.