“You Will Go Blind If You Keep Doing That!”

“You’ll go blind if you keep doing that,” my mother used to yell at me. This when I was tucked into my bed, sitting up fully covered over, and reading a book with my flashlight! I would have to give her my flashlight, promise to not sit up in the bed, and try to go to sleep. I would then simply move my pillow to the foot of the bed, rearrange the covers, and then lie with my book on the floor in the shaft of light coming through the crack of the door. I was so fascinated by books and reading that I was not gong to be denied. I now have a Kindle and I can read in total darkness! Now that’s a scientific miracle I appreciate.

It’s a good thing because about all I read are the free books I can download from a blog. These are much easier to read, less complex, and yet sort of entertaining. There are also many classics that are available for free download.I can knock one out in a night and finish over breakfast the next AM. I have always liked to get engrossed in a book and read it until I am to tired to go on or until I have completed it. This entails staying up late, sometimes to near daybreak if the story is really gripping. But, then I can sleep all morning if I want to. This has been the biggest retirement benefit for me: being able to stay up late, and then sleep late the next morning. After a few of the free kindle books, I begin to feel like I imagine those who only read Romance Paperbacks must feel. I need some stimulation and some challenge beyond will he bed her or not? Will she get the job? Will the serial killer be stopped by the rehabbed ex cop? I begin to need a book that might permeate the dermis of my brain and actually intrigue my soul. Something that can sink in and be there for me to reflect on.

That means that it is time to make a trek to the library. Once in my life it meant I needed to surf on over to Amazon but eventually my wife and our accountant told me we are beginning to have more books than money, so get a library card. I will interject here that with some creative talk and willingness to buy used, ABE is a good and less costly place to find excellent books. This provides a gentle withdrawal from Amazon, but eventually you just have to go cold turkey—library it is. I made a final deal as I got my library card-$25 to belong to “Friends of the Library.” This sounded like a noble thing to do to all concerned. I quickly volunteered to sort books for the semi-annual book sale. It was like going off the wagon without danger, sort of like that alcohol free beer. I got to handle tons of nearly new books, many of them very good. I could spend time carefully looking at them under the guise of being accurate with the classification. I found that there were certain categories that I could not help with-certain people had been doing that category and display for years and it was guarded zealously. They in effect “owned” it. I did “Fiction” which was fine. Mainly had to cull out the mysteries and murder stories for that sub class of fiction. I also found some biographies and political screeds in the fiction. I put them in their own group although I thought much of that likely was fiction.

One of the benefits of doing this is that the volunteers are given a book at the end of their day’s work-not a bad deal. Some of the old timers at doing this said they did not take a book, they left it for the sale. I noted that amongst the younger or newer sorters there was less altruism. I came home with an earlier DeLillo novel in nearly new condition. Thursday, the big day of the sale, I was a cashier. That was the morning the used book dealers came. I always had a mixed feeling about them getting ahead of the people who just wanted a couple of good bargains.That day I changed my mind after talking to the dealers.Most of them loved books as much as I did.They also paid large sums of cash for the books and that all went into the new book fund for the library. I got another book for this work-older but in great shape, “The Piano Tuner” by David Mason. Fascinating, well written story, I am already re-reading it.

Friday was Book Sale Sale Day! All sale prices reduced another 50%. I called my son who likes to read, and off we went. A good chance to buy a book! An act from my past that I had sorely missed. There is just something about the transaction that makes you feel excited, stimulated and happy. We each got our Harris-Teeter grocery bag and headed into the room where the decimated stacks were. I got several novels I wanted to read—working on the Kite Runner at present, a couple of political books-Game Change and a treatise on the early part of FDR’s presidency; and a terrific book about Alfred Stieglitz at the family farm in upstate New York.

All in all, a good few days contributing to my community, looking at tons of books, talking to book lovers from all over, and being rewarded with several nice books for my still growing personal library. I have figured out that if it grows slowly my wife will just slowly accept the little piles of books scattered in most of the rooms of the house. With two library sales events a year, that will be enough to satisfy my book jones, and maintain the peace. After all this is definitely better than all those wrecked BMWs and Porsche 914s I had in the back yard of our house in Virginia!

Stack o' art books

Stack o’ art books

Another couple of stacks

Another couple of stacks

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Samuel Fosso-Master of the “Selfie”

Looking at the Lens photography blog at the New York Times site today and ran across an article about the rescue of the life work of African photographer Samuel Fosso. I admit with embarrassment that I did not know his work, in fact I knew nothing about him. I started reading about him and looking at his photos and rapidly became engrossed in the story. The story of the rescue is briefly told in the blog. The images are both interesting and provocative. In an interview with Jon Henley published in the Guardian Samuel said, “I’ve been taking pictures in my studio since 14 September 1975, when I was 13 years old. I was bored. I asked a photographer in the studio next to where we lived in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, if he would take me on, and he said yes. I worked with him for five months, then opened my own place, for passport and portrait and wedding photographs. It was called Studio Photo Nationale, and the motto was: “You will be beautiful, elegant, delicate, and easy to recognise.” I started taking self-portraits simply to use up spare film; people wanted their photographs the next day, even if the roll wasn’t finished, and I didn’t like waste. The idea was to send some pictures to my mother in Nigeria, to show her I was all right.”
I thought this might have been the birth of the “selfie” but then I thought that many of the selfies I had seen would not likely be sent to someone’s mother. I do think that sending these self portraits home or putting them on social media is a good way to let others know where you are and what you are doing. Just remember most of the world is not interested in how drunk or naked you are. In the group of photographs below he is posing as different well known people.
“Then I saw the possibilities. I started trying different costumes, poses, backdrops. It began as a way of seeing myself grow up, and slowly it became a personal history – as well as art, I suppose. In 1994, there was an exhibition of African photography in Mali. I looked out some of my self-portraits, and won first prize. Now my work has been exhibited in Paris, New York, London.”
He said that Cindy Sherman had been his inspiration. This makes much sense since most of her work and recognition comes from her photographs of herself costumed or playing the roll of some character in a “movie still.” She makes costumes, props and sets for her photos and then shoots multiple takes of herself posing.
Samuel does the same thing. He also makes himself into a composite as in the one of the African General at the top. About this he says, “This is the best. I am an African chief, in a western chair with a leopard-skin cover, and a bouquet of sunflowers. I am all the African chiefs who have sold their continent to the white men. I am saying: we had our own systems, our own rulers, before you came. It’s about the history of the white man and the black man in Africa. Because they may try to cover it up these days, you know, but underneath it’s still the same.”

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