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AFFINITIES

ON ART AND FASCINATION

An engrossing, subjective, intentionally meandering trek through the meaning of images.

Essays on images and the slippery feelings they evoke.

In this follow-up to Essayism and Suppose a Sentence, Dillon delivers a series of short, belletristic pieces largely concerned with photography, but he has no broad thesis on the discipline à la Susan Sontag; nor is this exactly criticism of individual photographers and filmmakers, à la Geoff Dyer. Rather, as the book’s title suggests, Dillon is looking to capture moods and resonances that artists collectively generate, “a type of criticism without criticism.” He appreciates Dada collagist Hannah Höch for how images in one of her books “collide and rhyme across double-page spreads.” He seeks to expand the understanding of Diane Arbus as more than a chronicler of “the city’s freaks” and instead as a more nuanced artist exploring New York’s larger atmosphere. William Eggleston, writes Dillon, was a pioneer not just in terms of color art photography, but also in his ability to collapse social strata in his work. The TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited captures “blazing innocence and exhausted experience,” while the cut-up images of John Stezaker suggest “that our fascination with [photographs] is at once visual and tactile, almost grisly.” The essays on the individual artists are too short and subjective to serve as primers on their work, and the multiple pieces on affinity don’t cohere enough into a definition. However, the book is more than the sum of its parts, and Dillon conjures an uncanny mood, as the individual observations combine to create a sense of how eerie and disorienting images can be. That feeling is underscored by melancholy personal essays about his migraine auras, his mother’s death, and a troubled aunt who obsessively photographed her property for fear of its violation. In such moments, he reveals photography as not just an art form, but also a failed attempt to clarify reality and resolve our anxieties.

An engrossing, subjective, intentionally meandering trek through the meaning of images.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9781681377261

Page Count: 320

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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THE BACKYARD BIRD CHRONICLES

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

A charming bird journey with the bestselling author.

In his introduction to Tan’s “nature journal,” David Allen Sibley, the acclaimed ornithologist, nails the spirit of this book: a “collection of delightfully quirky, thoughtful, and personal observations of birds in sketches and words.” For years, Tan has looked out on her California backyard “paradise”—oaks, periwinkle vines, birch, Japanese maple, fuchsia shrubs—observing more than 60 species of birds, and she fashions her findings into delightful and approachable journal excerpts, accompanied by her gorgeous color sketches. As the entries—“a record of my life”—move along, the author becomes more adept at identifying and capturing them with words and pencils. Her first entry is September 16, 2017: Shortly after putting up hummingbird feeders, one of the tiny, delicate creatures landed on her hand and fed. “We have a relationship,” she writes. “I am in love.” By August 2018, her backyard “has become a menagerie of fledglings…all learning to fly.” Day by day, she has continued to learn more about the birds, their activities, and how she should relate to them; she also admits mistakes when they occur. In December 2018, she was excited to observe a Townsend’s Warbler—“Omigod! It’s looking at me. Displeased expression.” Battling pesky squirrels, Tan deployed Hot Pepper Suet to keep them away, and she deterred crows by hanging a fake one upside down. The author also declared war on outdoor cats when she learned they kill more than 1 billion birds per year. In May 2019, she notes that she spends $250 per month on beetle larvae. In June 2019, she confesses “spending more hours a day staring at birds than writing. How can I not?” Her last entry, on December 15, 2022, celebrates when an eating bird pauses, “looks and acknowledges I am there.”

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

Pub Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 9780593536131

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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