Autodidact: self-taught

Oct
28
2014

Top of the Lake

by V. L. Craven

Top of the Lake

Continuing in the series of reviews of shows about female law enforcement taking no guff (previous posts were The Fall and Happy Valley ) is Top of the Lake.

The previous two were set in Northern Ireland and England, but this outing takes us to New Zealand, where a twelve year old girl tries to drown herself. It’s quickly discovered she’s pregnant and soon after she disappears. Sydney detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss), who is in Laketop to be with her ailing mother, is asked to join the team to find her as well as the person responsible for her pregnancy. The search brings her face-to-face with parts of her past she’d thought she’d left behind.

The missing girl’s father, Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), is shady as a bank of willows, volatile and entirely unwilling to assist the police, feeling he and his similarly shady associates will be able to find her on their own.

He’s also not above illegally interfering with the real estate concern of an area called Paradise, which has just been bought by a spiritual guru named GJ (Holly Hunter) to be used as a commune for women to heal their psychic wounds.

Robin finds herself once again entangled with Mitcham’s son, Johnno (Thomas M. Wright), rekindling a relationship from their teenage years. This displeases both their parents, but not for the reasons they originally think.

As time passes, it begins to seem that everyone in Laketop is hiding something. And they still have to find a little girl who only has a few weeks before she’s going to give birth.

And the opening is iconic. Simple but haunting.

Written by Jane Campion (The Piano) and Gerard Lee and directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis, this six or seven episode series (it depends where you see it) is dark but beautiful. New Zealand itself is practically a character the nature shots are so gorgeous. The cast is expansive but well used and GJ’s all-female commune is so painfully accurate words fail me.

There are plot twists aplenty, as well as brutality. Trigger warning for a rape scene in the fifth episode of the 45 minute shows. I don’t know when it happens in the 60 minute show–probably the fourth episode. If you know, please leave a comment.

Gripping, it’s the sort of television where you don’t want to stop after one episode. Luckily, the entire series can be viewed in one day like they did at the Sundance Festival. Definitely a 5/5.

Oct
24
2014

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

by V. L. Craven

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

 

Rare book collector, Adam Diehl, is found in his secluded home, his hands severed, his books and papers in disarray. Upon inspection, it appears he was a forger of long-dead author’s signatures, which would increase the price of already valuable books many times over. Among the suspects are his sister’s boyfriend, Will, who had been a prolific and talented forger and who is also our narrator.

Meghan, the deceased’s sister and protagonist’s girlfriend, is also in the book trade, as she owns an independent bookshop in Manhattan. She found out about Will’s little hobby along with the rest of the world and stuck by him as he paid his penance. She’s the best thing Will has ever had in his life, which is why, when someone starts threatening him, using Arthur Conan Doyle’s handwriting, no less, he keeps it a secret, in an effort to protect her.

He doesn’t know who’s sending the threats nor what they want nor why they want it, all he knows is he’ll do what needs doing in order to keep safe the one bit of happiness he has, and to keep the promise he’s made to Meghan, which is that he’d stay out of the the forging game. But someone is trying to force his hand.

On the surface this book should have been right up my street–it’s about the book world and I worked in independent bookshops for years–but it fell a little flat. The main character was a criminal, but not a very interesting one. He kept saying how solid his relationship was with Meghan and how they fell for one another at first sight, but I didn’t feel it. That could be because Will wasn’t a real person–at one point he talks about forgers also forging who they are and not being true humans, which I interpreted as a type of sociopathy. He definitely has that flat affect going on and not seeming to really engage with the world, only being concerned with protecting his own hide, as well as being close to only one person. I definitely don’t need to like a character–any of the characters of a novel, really–but they do need to be interesting. Will wasn’t.

Writing-wise it was better than most books out there, but it wasn’t up to par with Morrow’s The Diviner’s Tale, which was excellent. The text suffered from ‘had I known-itis’, which is where the narrator kept telling us that things were about to get a lot worse or that his bubble of happiness was to be short-lived. It’s something of which lesser authors are often guilty but I found it surprising in this author.

The plot was what kept me reading–needing to know who did it and what was going to happen next, which is why I read it in two days. It moved at a clip, which is what you want in a thriller. I didn’t know where things were going and, though I worked out some things before the end, I still didn’t know the particulars.

I would recommend this one to fans of John Dunning’s Bookman series and people interested in literary thrillers like Matthew Pearl’s books. 4/5 stars.

[I was given a free copy of this book to review.]

Oct
21
2014

Happy Valley

by V. L. Craven

Happy Valley

At the start of the first episode of Happy Valley, no frills police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is called to the scene of a young man doused in petrol, threatening to set himself alight. While she’s talking to him, stalling so the negotiator from the nearest town can arrive, she says:

I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m 47. I’m divorced. I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroine addict. I’ve two grown up children. One dead. One who doesn’t speak to me. And a grandson. So…

The guy asks why he doesn’t speak to her and she says, ‘It’s complicated.’ Which is one of those English understatement sorts of things. ‘Complicated’ barely begins to cover her life, as the person responsible for her daughter’s suicide has been released from prison that day and is back in town.

Then there’s Steve Pemberton, in a rare dramatic role, as Kevin Weatherill, an utterly useless sort of individual. When his boss denies him a pay rise so that his daughter may go to a nicer school, he makes a decision that will devastate multiple lives.

James Norton (playing Tommy Lee Royce) rounds out the primary three characters. Royce, an unrepentant, violent criminal, has just been released from prison and winds up being connected to Weatherill’s plan. He is also determined to insert himself into the police sergeant’s life.

These three are the good (Cawood), the bad (Royce) and then the grey area between the two (Weatherill). As the show progresses we watch each character change (some more than others, but there’s change all round). We are reminded that no one is all good or all bad and desperate circumstances make for desperate, and sometimes violent, choices.

Lancashire’s performance is spot on, as is everyone’s, really, but Pemberton’s character was particularly surprising. His growth from nonentity into … well, no spoilers here, but the show is dark and our man owns the role. Lancashire’s Cawood behaves in ways unusual for female law enforcement on television, which was refreshing.

Happy Valley is ultimately about the far-ranging consequences of the actions of the few and the imperfect people trying to right those wrongs. It’s compelling television.

And there’s blood–people get booted in the face and slammed against brick walls and other things I don’t want to spoil for you, but the make up people don’t go easy on the viewers. But it wasn’t gore-for-gore’s sake, either.

From the writing to the directing to the acting it was outstanding television and we need more of it. Happily, it’s been renewed for a second series, though no word yet on when that will air.

Oct
17
2014

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

by V. L. Craven

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

The story begins in Okinawa with Quasar, a member of a doomsday cult, who has released a nerve agent in a subway in Tokyo and is now attempting to keep from being captured. He’s following orders from His Serendipity, a man who professes the abilities of teleportation amongst others. The doomsday in question is a comet that will be colliding with Earth in a few months. It will be up to Quasar and the other enlightened ones to rebuild society.

From there we move to Tokyo and a young jazz enthusiast experiencing his first love, then to Hong Kong where a financial lawyer’s illegal activities are catching up with him, then to Holy Mountain in China, Mongolia, St Petersburg, London, Cape Clear Island (Ireland), Night Train (a radio show based in NYC) and finally the Underground.

Each section appears to be unrelated to the others, but characters from sections before makes an appearance in the current section until we get a clear view of the plot and the fate of characters from other parts. His characters often make terrible choices, but those choices make sense in their minds and to us, being there with them.

Ghostwritten is David Mitchell’s debut novel and it’s impressive in its beauty and complexity but also simplicity. Each section/character is completely believable, even when that character isn’t an actual person.  The section in Mongolia is told from a disembodied spirit that moves from person-to-person through touch. And Night Train concerns an AI obeying Asimov’s rules.

The characters are the stars, to my mind, the plot is interesting and I did want to know what was going to happen, but what person Mitchell was going to introduce next and how utterly real they were going to be was what I was most intrigued by. How was he going to blow my mind next?

I’ve read his Black Swan Green and 1,000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, both of which are completely different from this one and one another. The only thing all three have in common are a deftness with the English language readers don’t see every day, unpredictable plots and fully-formed characters. If I’d read the three books without knowing the author I wouldn’t have guessed they were written by the same person, which isn’t something you can say about many authors–that depth of imagination and versatility is rare.

Very highly recommended. 5/5

Oct
14
2014

The Fall

by V. L. Craven

The Fall

I can be a little slow on the uptake with popular media. Sometimes it takes a prod or two. This article about shows featuring British women taking control finally got me to press play on some television that had been in my Netflix queue for awhile. So that’s what I’ll be reviewing in the upcoming weeks.

First up is The Fall .

DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is brought in from the Met in London to help the Belfast police on an unsolved murder. The night she arrives there’s another murder, which is initially treated as a separate incident, but which Gibson connects to the original case. When they realise Belfast has a serial killer on their hands she’s assigned the full case and they begin looking for previous killings that could be the work of the came person.

Simultaneously, we watch the killer (Jamie Dornan) living his life, playing with his daughter, doing his job, stalking the next woman. He likes to break into their homes once or twice and hang out, leaving one small thing out of place, before the night of the actual kill. And when he discovers his pursuer is an attractive woman he becomes intrigued and wants to engage.

Stella Gibson is the coolest detective on television. Not sunglasses and leather coat cool, but never raising her voice no matter the situation cool. Utterly unflappable. She has her one big fault, though, as all television detectives do. I’ll not spoil it for you, but it’s not something I’ve seen before. She’s also operates within a moral grey-area, which is refreshing to see in a woman, as usually it’s male leads who get to decide they’re not going to operate within social mores. Gibson lives her life and eloquently calls anyone on their double standards.

Dornan’s killer, Paul Spector, is chilling in that dead-behind-the-eyes sort of way. He plays the part well and there are moments it’s clear ice water runs through his veins. But the more Gibson pushes him–even without knowing what he looks like–the more his exterior begins to crack.

The secondary characters are also used well-enough, though I would like to see one in particular, PC Danielle Ferrington (Niamh McGrady), developed more in the next series. The relationship between the two women is a dynamic that could be something viewers don’t see every day.

It was interesting to watch something set in Northern Ireland that wasn’t entirely based around politics. They were always questioned as a motive, as would be expected, but when you live in a place where there’s a constant threat of violence it becomes more commonplace and The Fall shows that. During a scene when people are throwing glass bottles at an ambulance trying to save someone’s life, Gibson comments to a police officer, ‘This is one fucked up city you’ve got here.’ And by the time she says that you’re right with her, as the show does rather paint most people from Belfast as violent lunatics just looking for a reason to turn someone into a stain on the pavement, including some of the police.

Nevertheless, it’s compelling watching and I’d recommend it to fans of Prime Suspect, though it’s less gritty.

The second series is due to begin in November, so roll on November.

[Vulture also has a longer list of places to stream shows about British women getting things done --not just on crime shows.]

Oct
13
2014

Back in the Net(Galley)

by V. L. Craven

Back in the Net(Galley)

When I purchased my first Kindle (what was then called a Kindle Keyboard) in 2010 I had no ebooks, but there was a wonderful service called NetGalley that would remedy that situation. Publishers listed soon-to-be released books with the service and provided a digital copy to readers in exchange for a review.

I read like a crazy person. All of these books! For free! And all I had to do was write a review of them, which I would have done anyway? Remove yourself from my proximity because I don’t believe you. Happiness ensued.

I got to read several excellent books I otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. It was like the days of being a bookseller when the big white box arrived with all the ARCs (advance reader copies). Except I didn’t have to get off my sofa.

Eventually I fell away from NetGalley–it wasn’t intentional–I acquired my own ebooks and read physical books I had at home. I was writing, I fell into a depression and stopped reading, etc. These things happen.

Then, last week, a lovely person from Grove Atlantic contacted me through this site and asked if I would be interested in reading Bradford Morrow’s newest book, The Forgers. I’d really enjoyed his novel The Diviner’s Tale , so I said yes. She sent the link through NG and I went in (after working out my password) and found this info on my profile:

Back in the Net(Galley)

Now, maths and I… we have a long history of just… we’ve decided to ignore one another as much as possible. But even I know that 100% is as high of a percentage as a person can earn.

I thought that since I’d read 16 books, somehow the algorithm they use had given me 100% for all 16 books, but on the page that explains the Feedback to Approval Ratio it says that 80% is if you’re approved for 10 books and you review 8. So exactly what you’d expect 80% to mean. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when I submit my review of the Morrow book (which is compelling–look for that review in a couple of weeks). Will the algorithm correct itself? Will I suddenly have 1700.0%? Stay tuned!

–Queen of Impossible Numbers

Oct
11
2014

Steering Toward Normal

by V. L. Craven

Steering Toward Normal

Diggy Larson is thirteen and smaller than his peers, but for the past four years he’s raised a steer from a calf to an adult weighing nearly a ton and entered it into the State Fair for 4-H. Last year he won a blue ribbon (the second highest honour) this year, though, he plans to win purple–Grand Champion. However, he hasn’t had his calf two days before a truck pulls up at the end of the road and out falls Wayne Graf–a boy from his class–and his suitcase falls out with him. His mother died three weeks prior and during that time it came out that Diggy’s father was also Wayne’s father, which had been something of a shock to the man who’d been married to Wayne’s mother and had raised the child as his own.

So now, on top of trying to raise the best steer the state of Minnesota has ever seen, Diggy is stuck with someone who claims to be his half-brother. All he wants is to spend time with July, a girl he likes–the one who won Grand Champion the year before and who’s left it up to him to win this year, but Wayne has arrived and disrupted his happy life.

I haven’t read a book intended for the nine to thirteen set in a few years, but Steering Toward Normal is excellent. Rebecca Petruck doesn’t shy away from some grown up subject matter–abandonment of a child by a parent, alcoholism and how difficult it can be to quit (Wayne’s father takes being widowed badly) and what impact that has on children. There’s also laughter and love and the importance of family and compassion. Every character is fully-formed–even the steers have their own personalities.

This book is the very definition of heart. Steering Toward Normal is full of heart.

The plot takes place between Diggy getting his calf and showing at the State Fair a year or so later. It moves at a clip and can feel a bit rushed at times, but Petruck probably didn’t want to saddle a nine year old with a 500 page book about raising a steer. Though, I must admit, the process was fascinating. Those kids put an impressive amount of time, energy and love into bringing up their animals.

There was one other subplot that concerned Diggy’s other hobby that seemed slightly unbelievable in terms of time–he was spending hours a day with his steer and had to do homework and presumably chores and had to eat and sleep–I simply wasn’t sure when he was working on this other, seemingly time-intensive hobby. Still, that didn’t take anything away from my enjoyment of the book and I would definitely recommend it to middle grade students, whether they were interested in farm animals or not, as they most certainly would be by the end. 4 of 5 stars.

[I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

Aug
29
2014

Orange is the New Black (book)

by V. L. Craven

Orange is the New Black (book)

This review has spoilers for the book (which will be behind spoiler tags), but not the show. They’ve changed so much for the show you can read this with no worries. If you plan to read the book, here be spoilers. If you’re just curious as to what they changed between the book/real life and the show, read on.

First, in real life she was in Danbury in Connecticut, which is the prison Martha Stewart requested to be sent to, if that tells you anything. The book takes place during Stewart’s trial and sentencing so that plays some part of the plot, as it were (she was sent to a prison in West Virginia, ultimately) . The real prison was much nicer (for a prison) than the one in the show.

Second, the real life Piper is annoying like you wouldn’t believe. She’s regularly telling us about how the other prisoners are grateful for her presence and love her so. And how none of the guards can figure out why she’s in there. She also has the unending support and love from every single family member and friend (and friends-of-friends) on the outside.

People send her dozens of books a week to read. And she keeps all of them in and on her locker in her bunk (complaining about lack of space) rather than donating them to the rec room. In the second series of the show you see her going around taking all of her books back from people–even the ones she’s already read. That’s the real Piper. Who cares that you’re bored and will get yourself into trouble or fights without something useful to do like reading. Give me my books back!

Her visitors’ list is full (25 people) and then her counselor breaks the rules and lets her put on as many people as she wants. Rather than refusing this as it’s not fair to the others she just goes on and lets all the worshippers come to visit.

I’m sure it was difficult being away from her regular life for thirteen months, (she was sentenced to fifteen but got two months off for good behaviour) but if I hadn’t been reading it to try to work out who each person was in the show I would have put it down ages ago. They made an excellent decision in focusing on other characters in the show. The book would have been loads better if Kerman had spent less time talking about how great she was and more about other women. She says she learned to be less inside herself but you wouldn’t know it.

The most interesting parts of the book were about the travesty that is the criminal justice system and the real prisons, which she ends up in a couple of times during trials. It’s inhumane what’s going on, but this is not the book to tell you about it. I would only recommend this to hardcore fans of the show. 3/5 absolute tops. And I love fish-out-of-water stories.

On to:

Differences Between the Book/Real Life & the Show

Larry’s love and devotion did not waver for one second. He was there to visit every chance he could.

Piper was good friends with Pensatucky.

Piper was never in the SHU. Indeed she didn’t seem to witness any fights or actual sex.

Piper did not get furlough. (Her grandmother did die whilst she was in prison.)

Piper was not involved with any women in prison—she never told anyone she had ever been involved with a woman in the past.

Alex (in the book called Nora, in real life called Catherine) was in a different prison.

Piper knew she was going on the transport plane to Chicago. Not when, but she knew it was going to happen. She was then flown to Oklahoma to a hellhole of a prison (it’s the U.S.’s hub of the federal prison transport circuit) for several days and no access to phones. Nora/Alex was there, though for their first meeting in over a decade. As was Nora/Alex’s sister who was also involved in real life.
They were then flown to Chicago together to await their turn to testify and that prison was an even bigger hellhole than the one in Oklahoma, incredibly.

The person they were testifying against was a lower player in the group than on the show. It was someone Piper had never even met.

Characters from the show & Who they were in the book

Kerman changed the names of real people for the book and then most of those names were changed again for the show for some reason. I’m trying to work out who everyone is suppose to be. Drop me a note with your thoughts if you’ve read the book.

Piper Kerman = Piper Chapman
Nora Janson = Alex Vause
Pop = Red [In the book Pop is an enormous homophobe, which is clearly not true on the show]
Crazy Eyes = Crazy Eyes [completely different race, though]
Big Boo Clemmons = Big Boo Black [in the book she has a 200+ pound girlfriend named Trina]
Yoga Janet = Yoga Jones
Miss Malcolm = Miss Claudette [in the book she never got into a fight with a guard]
Vanessa = Sophia [she arrives after Piper in the book and isn’t accepted as well as she is in the show]
Delicious & Pom-Pom = Taystee? [it seems like this character is bits of both of those women]
Warden Kuma Deboo = Natalie Figueroa
Mr Butorsky = Mr Healy
Gay Pornstar = Pornstache
Annette = Anita
Miss Luz = Miss Rosa
Sister Ardeth Platte = Sister Ingalls [Sister Platte was one of the few people who allowed Kerman to use her real name in the book]
Joyce? = Nicky?
I’m not sure who Morello is based on, either. Perhaps Nina?

Aug
22
2014

A Study in Scarlet

by V. L. Craven

A Study in Scarlet

I’ve recently undertaken to read all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories in chronological order.

The first is the novel A Study in Scarlet, (1886) wherein a doctor who has been through hell after being injured in the military decides to rejoin life and needs to find a flatmate in order to remain in London. He’s introduced to Sherlock Holmes—an unusual sort, but compatible in domestic affairs—and they go in on a flat together.

Odd sorts from all strata of society show up at all times of the day and night, much to Dr Watson’s bemusement, until Holmes explains that he’s a consulting detective. He helps people with problems the police can’t or won’t handle.

Speaking of the police, Holmes is summoned by Tobias Gregson and Mr Lestrade of Scotland Yard to assist on a case. Gregson and Lestrade are in constant competition to be the better detective, which Holmes lets them get on with whilst he continues his investigations.

In brief, an American man is found dead in an abandoned house—apparently murdered, but with no visible wounds. There is blood on the scene, but it’s not from the victim—and it has been used to write the letters RACHE.

The reader is introduced to Sherlock Holmes through John Watson’s point of view, who finds him intriguing, as one would do. In this first novel we learn about Holmes’ general approach to life and how his mind works.

The book happens in two sections—the first taking place in the present day (that being 1886) and the second section going back several decades to explain how the American man came to be on the floor of an abandoned house in London. The second section was a surprise—I’d expected to remain in Victorian England the entire time, so to spend quite some time in a very different climate was something of a shock.  To have that very different climate be populated with Mormons… well… I thought some errant pages had made their way into my copy. Trust Conan Doyle, though.

Still, it was excellently written and intriguing. I absolutely recommend it for fans of Victorian literature or detective fiction. Or that show with the guy with the cheekbones and the Hobbit.

Aug
21
2014

Wonder Boys

by V. L. Craven

Wonder Boys

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys is one of my all-time favourite films. I’ve seen it close to a dozen times and it makes me laugh every time. The screenplay captures the feel of the book, I think, and that’s something, because I really loved the book.

And how could I not? It’s about a professor, it’s about writing. It’s about a writing prodigy. And many mad-cap adventures of a rag-tag bunch that’s throw together of a weekend. The book is profound and lovely and funny and human and the film handles all of that beautifully.

Wonder Boys is about middle-aged professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) whose wife has left him, again, though this time it looks like it’s going to take. His previous novel was a smashing success, but that was several years ago, and his editor, Crabtree, (Robert Downey Jr fresh out of rehab, this was 2000) really wants his follow-up novel. Luckily, it’s the weekend of Word Fest, where visiting authors and literary types descend on the Pittsburgh university, giving him all the reason he needs to show up. It’s also the weekend that Tripp’s most gifted but morose student, James Leer, (Tobey Maguire) decides he’d rather hang around his professor than go home. Crabtree is all right with this, as he takes rather a shine to Mr Leer.

During all of this Tripp is trying to deal with his crumbling marriage, as well as the fact that the student who rents a room from him (Katie Holmes) has a bit of a thing for him, all the while fending off his editor’s questions about the next book. And then Tripp gets some news from his girlfriend that probably isn’t going to go over so well with her husband… And the weekend just keeps on getting better.

And, as if going for some sort of trifecta–the film also has one of my all-time favourite soundtracks . Including two of my favourite songs by Dylan.

When I was doing research for this review I came across this review that compares Wonder Boys to another professor-has-midlife-crisis-in-Pittsburgh film Smart People. It’s a good review–give it a look.

 

Aug
04
2014

Journals by Dragos Man

by V. L. Craven

In the age of ereaders (and I love mine) bookbinding is becoming a lost art, but Dragos Man has elevated something that can be a utilitarian way of attaching pieces of dead trees together into an art-form. His journals and albums appear to be antiques, as well they should since every element of them has been crafted by hand by someone who clearly knows (and loves) what he’s doing.

Journals by Dragos Man

A Tale from Transylvania

(See more photos of this journal here . On Etsy here .)

As soon as I saw Dragos’s journals on his Etsy site,  Dragosh , I had to have one. Then, when I started looking at his other, special order journals on his Facebook page in order to design my own I wanted to talk to the artist who makes them. Happily, he agreed to answer some questions.

I’ve never had a more difficult time choosing which photos to use with an interview, however, so be sure to check out all of the links provided–they open in other tabs so you won’t lose this page.

Per Dragos’ request I have edited some of his responses for clarity, as English is his second language.

Journals by Dragos Man

The artist and his best mate, Igor

Bookbinding is an art-form but you take it to the next level. How did you become interested in bookbinding? Did you study formally or are you self-taught?

I chose many paths in my life trying to find my real one and I worked in different fields just trying to find my way, like many others have. I always had the instinct to leave life to make choices for me and I just follow them–no matter how crazy that choice seems to be at that moment. And life just guided me here.

I started bookbinding 11 years ago without any knowledge about it because I needed to make some photo albums… and I started with some ugly albums, but I was so proud at that time.  In time I started to learn basics in bookbinding little by little and my products started to look acceptable, technically speaking.

For the “next level” my wandering through different fields of work in the past and the fact that I learned from my mistakes not from some school were my aces, because I didn’t have any prejudice about how I had to do things and I applied some unusual techniques from sculpture, metal working, wood working etc.

Journals by Dragos Man

Antique style journals

 (More photos of these journals here . Etsy listing here .)

Take me through the process of making a journal for your shop–not a special order, just a regular one. From having an idea for a new journal to putting the finishing touches on.

It starts with the idea, of course. After that I make a basic design–many times just in my mind–a design that I mostly don’t respect at all, because in time comes new ideas that usually add improvements. I don’t usually plan every detail at the beginning, it’s more interesting to leave your mind to wander all during the process. Sometimes I stay stuck on a small detail like a deer or a car headlight for days. This is frustrating but this is a part of the process. In this situation I put the work aside to wait its answer and start another one.

Journals by Dragos Man

Hammer of Thor journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

How many pieces are you working on at any given time?

Few, as I said before, sometimes I just have to wait for ideas and leave some work aside for a bit. The problem is with custom orders when you know that clients are waiting for news and I cannot provide any, this can put a little pressure on me, but fortunately all the clients that I’ve had till now were very patient and understand this without any explanation.

Sometimes the opposite happens and I do four week’s worth of work in one week… it’s all about the inspiration of the moment.

Journals by Dragos Man

Steampunk Leather Journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

In many of your descriptions you say you hand colour the leather. How do you do that? 

The leather can be coloured industrially, like in tanneries, for example, on the entire surface. I use sponges, cloth, brushes or airbrushes, even my finger sometimes to apply the color in different shades or in different amounts for every place on the cover to create different effects.

Journals by Dragos Man

Stone Journal

(More photos of this album here .)

Journals by Dragos Man

Wood-like Journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

How long, in hours, do you think it takes to make an average journal? When you’re actually, physically working on it.

I really don’t know how to answer this, I don’t count only physical work. It depends on so many things: complexity of design, materials, how many items I make at the same time with similar basic characteristics. For example when I sew book blocks I sew more than one in same day; when I prepare cardboard or leather I do this for more journals at once. In this way I can save a lot of time.

Journals by Dragos Man

La Marelle Couture album

(More photos of this piece from start to finish here and  here .)

Journals by Dragos Man

Another La Marelle Couture album

(More photos of this piece here .)

Though your Etsy shop   has beautiful pieces, the special orders featured on your DeviantArt and Facebook sites are particularly incredible. What would you consider to be your most ornate piece?

It is not as important what piece was most ornate as much as what piece was most difficult to make. And for this La Marelle Couture albums, both of them, are on top. It all started from a few scrap vintage pieces that Marelle sent to me and a logo. All the rest was: “do what you think” and I had to make the albums to be similar to her style. Fortunately she is a wonderful woman and we had good communication in the process and the result is visible. We are good friends now and this says everything.

Other difficult orders were ” The Red Devil’s Flight Log ” and the ” Sleeping Beauty “, you can see them on my Facebook page.

Journals by Dragos Man

“Called and Chosen” journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

You’ve also done an impressive, and quite large,  violin display case . How different was that process from making journals and albums?

It is not a big difference. The principles are the same: first you have to think about the functional part, second about strength and third about design. The rest is just work.

Journals by Dragos Man

Vintage Violin Journal with violin peg as closure

(More of this journal here .)

Speaking of violins–they feature on several of your journals. As do ships and the death’s head. Can you talk a little about what each of those symbols mean to you–why you keep coming back to them?

Well, here you touched my sensitive chords. About the violin, as shape it is the most feminine instrument in the world. As sound it is the same, can be very tender or very hysterical, depending on the hands that touch it. And as women, she cannot develop her beauty alone, she needs a pair, the arch. You can say I never put the arch on the covers of journals… I make the violins, the arches are the responsibility of writers.

About the ships and skulls… we are what we used to read or listen to in our childhood and I was in love with the books of Jules Verne, Jean Bart, Herman Melville, Jack London etc and as teenager I loved rock music. And I still love those books and that kind of music.

Journals by Dragos Man

Pirate Journal with Slipcase

(More photos here . Etsy listing here .)

You mentioned liking rock music–do you listen to music when you’re making journals?

Yes, often, and I choose the music regarding the kind of work that I’m doing at the moment, it is a good source of inspiration.

Journals by Dragos Man

My Fair Lady Journal

(See more photos of this journal here .)

Your pieces have an old world feel about them–as though they were meant to be used by people who’d never heard of the internet or even electricity. You don’t use modern methods, either, why did you make that decision?

Most of my tools are hand tools, but for some of them I use a modern advantage, like electricity, for generating heat. I also use a computer for some calculations, for choosing fonts or even for some design parts. I use that little help from technology for saving time and energy. It is the same reason like why you don’t use a hot coal heating system when you’re ironing shirts–you use electricity.

Journals by Dragos Man

Sapphire Green Journal

(More photos of this journal here . Perfect for the Slytherin in your life.)

Do you have a favourite type of tool to use or journal to make? In terms of steampunk or Victorian or Medieval, etc?

I like any hand tool, I cannot choose a favorite one or another. My favorite is the one that I need now. My favorite kind of journals are those that have a story behind, at least in my mind. In terms of Steampunk, Medieval etc, I like them all equally, it really depends on my state of mind.

Journals by Dragos Man

The largest photo album. Ever.

(More photos of this massive beauty here .)

What part of the journal-making process do you enjoy most?

Every part. When I feel inspired I enjoy the documenting and designing part and experimenting with new things, methods of work etc. And sometimes I am too lazy to think about new things so I prefer the routine part of work like sewing, preparing materials etc. And this is what I consider a healthy way to work: not to adapt my mood to the work I have to do, but to make the work that I feel right for the moment. In this way I enjoy every moment at work.

Well it certainly shows that you enjoy every second. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

For more of Dragos’ work check out:

Dragos Man’s Facebook Page

His DeviantArt Site: The Book Whisperer

Most importantly you can place an order on his Etsy shop: Dragosh

You can also follow him on Twitter: @Dragosh_Man

He also has a personal blog if you’d like to see more of his work and learn stories behind some of the journals.

Jul
11
2014

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

by V. L. Craven

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

S. is the name of the book that you purchase, which is in a slipcase and shrink-wrapped. The book in the slipcase, however, is titled The Ship of Theseus and is purportedly by ‘V.M. Straka’. It looks like a library book from the 50s or 60s completely with stamps and the paper even looks properly aged. A friend of mine (dragornaked89) pointed out the book doesn’t smell old, though, so it wasn’t 100% authentic, but it was still a marvel in printing. (Particularly for $35US.)

Part of the mind-bogglingness of the book is attention to detail. There’s a conversation being carried out in the margins between two university students—a male and a female. The book is left in the library for the other to pick up and leave further comments on both what they’re reading and what’s going on in their lives. The book is read three times by the characters (you only read it once) and it’s easy to tell by the handwriting and pen or pencil used which pass you’re reading. (It sounds complicated but I promise it’s not.)

And there are all sorts of bits and bobs between the pages—photographs and letters and hand-drawn maps on napkins and postcards that only add to the realism. Pro tip: I found the code wheel that was meant to be used right from the start near the end of my reading—it had got stuck to the inside of the back cover so I didn’t get to play along with some of the code-breaking. Check the inside of your back cover.

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

It’s that round thing. It was hiding from me.

The book, The Ship of Theseus reminds me of Nabokov in a way. That story is interesting on its own—a sort of nowhere but possibly European dream-state novel. I would like to discuss it specifically with anyone who’s read the book. I have some ideas of what certain elements represented but I’d like to discuss it with other people.

The overarching theme of the entire work is the question of identity and what it is—what defines us. This is embodied in S., who has amnesia and is trying to figure out who is he, much like the students—an undergrad nearly finished with a degree she took to make her parents happy but now doesn’t know what to do with her life; and a grad student studying Straka whose work has been taken from him, leaving him with nothing to show for his years of scholarship. Then V.M. Straka may or may not be a real person but whomever or whatever it was that wrote several incredible books still made a huge contribution to the world of literature—so does it matter if he was real?

Jul
10
2014

Russian Ark

by V. L. Craven

Russian Ark

At the beginning of Russian Ark , you wake up, somehow transported to … someplace unfamiliar. You discover you can speak Russian, though you’ve never spoken it before. Before you, you see a group of boisterous people alighting from horse-drawn carriages. They’re in elaborate dress on their way to some sort of party. And they cannot see or hear you. Perhaps you’ve died.

Then you are joined by someone else, visible only to you and dressed in clothes from a different century. ‘The European’ guides you through the rooms of this grand palace, commenting on various pieces of art. The palace, though never named, is the Hermitage Museum  and the European is meant to be the Marquis de Custine , who was quite the critic of Russian culture.

Each room or section of the film depicts a different era of Russian history, though not in chronological order. Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Nicholas II and his children all make appearances. It has the feel of a European dream-state novel–I often felt as though metaphors were sailing past my head, but then another piece of art would come into view and it wouldn’t matter.

The film itself is sumptuous. The art is beautiful, obviously, (there’s a wonderful 360 close up shot of The Three Graces by Canova) and the hundreds of costumes are breathtaking. Shot in a continuous 96 minute take and featuring over 2,000 actors and three orchestras, with an opera and an elaborate dance sequence it was no small technical feat, either. The documentary about the making of Russian Ark is called In One Breath (it’s available on the DVD, the first part of five is here  on You Tube) and it’s worth the watch to see how they did it.

The more you know about Russian history the more you’ll get out of the film (which I admittedly know very little) but it’s still gorgeous to look at and is probably the closest I’ll get to visiting the Hermitage. So I highly recommend it. 5/5.

Jun
20
2014

Lapham’s Quarterly: The Death Issue

by V. L. Craven

Laphams Quarterly: The Death Issue

When I heard the Fall issue of Lapham’s Quarterly was to be called the Death Issue I knew I had to have it. It’s my introduction to the literary journal so I thought I’d put down my thoughts.

This being my first experience with any literary journal (and being an unemployed individual) my initial reaction was to the price ($16US) but it’s over 200 pages of high-quality material (both physically and content-wise) so after the shock subsided, I took it home.

It is truly a thing of beauty. The covers are that texture that’s become quite popular for electronics and book covers that feels like rubber and suede had a few too many drinks and decided to spend a freaky night together. (It’s called Soft Touch.) The paper is a heavy-weight stock, as well–it’s not the sort of periodical that finds its way to the recycling bin after it’s been read.

The layout is artful–nearly every page has a photograph or artwork concerning the issue’s theme. There are small poems and quotes tucked amongst larger pieces, as well. Longer poems get their own pages, like Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’.

Besides poetry and quotes there are facts about death rituals from around the world, graphs and timelines about causes of death and numbers of deaths during various catastrophes and tables of resting places of some of the most famous people in history, amongst other things. It’s a macabre trivia-lover’s dream.

There are non-fiction pieces–letters, diary entries, interviews and excerpts from books. The section on How We Die was spectacular. Mary Roach’s excellent Stiff was excerpted. Anatole Broyard’s excerpt is heart-breaking. A piece on the funerary rites of the Rus  written by Ahmad ibn Fadlan in 922 was quite interesting.

And fiction, of course. The entirety of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ was included, much to my delight. There was an excerpt from Nabokov’s The Eye and Philip Roth had a darkly comic bit from  Sabbath’s Theatre .

There are also myths and tales from philosophers and histories meant to teach the reader about living wisely. A bit of Herodotus’ The Histories was particularly enlightening.

Entries are widely varied both in time (the earliest is a section of ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’ by Euripides written in 1200 BCE) and scope, as they come from many nations and cultures–some long extinct.

There is nothing negative to say about this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. The selections come from people approaching death–some literally, some only in contemplation, some in the wake of losing someone close to them. And the contents reflect the myriad ways humanity responds to those situations. I highly recommend this one.

Jun
19
2014

Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance

by V. L. Craven

Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance

 

Carl Panzram  was arrested for murder and confessed to an impressive number of crimes including thousands of robberies, larcenies, arson, 22 murders and over 1,000 instances of sodomy on males. This was in 1928, when that level of depravity was simply unheard of. How could anyone be that evil?

This documentary is partially about Panzram himself, but it’s largely about the penal system, and its failings. Panzram got his start with the U.S. justice system very early on when he was sent to the Minnesota State Training School when he was twelve, where beatings to the point of bruises and blood were the rule of the day. He ran away on more than one occasion and was always punished with much vigour upon being caught.

Several experts weighed in–one of whom was Katherine Ramsland , a professor of forensics psychology. She pointed out that often serial killers will blame their behaviour on other people–Panzram blamed his poor treatment by his parents. Ramsland points out Panzram had several siblings who all turned out all right, intimating that their childhood could not have been so bad. Perhaps she wasn’t taking into account his brain trauma, which is a key part of the triumvirate of causes of sociopathy. (The other two being extreme abuse and mental illness.) Or that he was severely beaten and humiliated at school, which his siblings weren’t? Or that the siblings of serial killers don’t generally turn out to be serial killers themselves.

One of the other people consulted was artist  Joe Coleman , who is something of an expert on the man, having done an intricate painting about his life. Coleman’s pieces are always painted with a paintbrush with one hair. His contribution to the film was a highlight.

Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance

A large portion of the documentary is about Panzram’s memoirs, which were written with the help of a guard in one particular prison. The guard brought pencils and paper and would take them away again once he had filled the pages. If either had been found out they both would had been in trouble. One more than the other, though, obviously.

One of the most striking (and disheartening) features is how little the penal system has changed in the decades since his imprisonment and death. People are put into a dehumanizing system and are then expected to behave like model citizens. Panzram’s thoughts on this are particularly eloquent.

Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance was an interesting enough documentary about one of the U.S.’s first well-known and most brutal serial killers and the way the criminal justice system has (not) changed. I’d rate it 7/10.

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