April 24, 2010


Tom Stoppard's portable bookshelf (via NYTimes)

This is how I want to get my exercise! (via dvice)

Nice! (via odee)

The Bibliochaise (via Switched On Set)

April 14, 2010

Tahir Bushra

I met Tahir Bushra in Asmara in 1994. He was a Sudanese Nuban, and had moved to Asmara to be able to create his art in relative freedom. When I met him, he was making the most beautiful paintings I'd ever seen. Most were on wood. Some were the size of doors; others were barely a foot square. His materials were sand, shoe polish, white house paint, oil pastel, and ballpoint pen. Some of the symbols in his paintings are derived from Nuban body painting, scarification, and house decoration (see Leni Riefenstahl's The Last of the Nuba and People of Kau for wonderful examples). Others are taken from koujour, the Nuban shamanistic healing rituals.
Tahir was a strange, taciturn, wonderful person, prone to disappearing without warning. He either sold his paintings for exorbitant prices or gave them away. He was something of a legend among the artists in Sudan, and his style was enormously influential.
I later visited him in Addis Ababa, and traveled with him and an Australian friend to the Blue Nile Falls and Gondar. I heard rumors that he went to London, and then San Francisco. Unlike many of the other Sudanese artists I met, he seems to have little web presence. With the assistance of Ray Dirks, I have gathered here the few images I could find. I'm hoping that Google might bring Tahir aficionados to this post. If anyone out there knows anything about Tahir, please let me know . . .


According to the comments and emails I've received after posting this, Tahir is - or was until fairly recently - living in Iowa, and is still doing art (some of which incorporates chains!). You can see some blurry pictures here. Be sure to read the beautiful poem on Tahir by Abdulmuniem Rahmat Allah, and check out commenter Gassim Abdelkader's wonderful paintings on his website.

April 11, 2010

Egyptian Paperbacks

I love Egyptian paperbacks. Even classics by Naguib Mahfouz and Taha Hussein get this romantic, film-poster treatment. Most have a woman in the foreground and a handsome chap or two (often in cool colors, and often wielding a weapon) in the background. Some are quite risque. The interiors often contain excellent black-and-white line drawings or prints.

Abnaa Abi Bakr al-Saddiq

from Karnak Cafe by Naguib Mahfouz

(The Teacher)

Al-Zela al-Ula (The First Lapse)

April 3, 2010

On the Radio!

You can hear me mumbling about The Book on Fire on NPR's To the Best of Our Knowledge, hosted by the handsome Jim Fleming (in the photo above). I'm part of a show called "Writers on Writing," together with Nicholson Baker, Jane Hamilton, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Nick Cave. Show times are here. I'm in the first hour. The show will be available for streaming or podcast from April 5.

Remedios Varo

Creacion de los Aves, Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo, whose painting Magic Flight is the cover image of The Book of Flying, was born in Spain in 1908. She fled to Paris during the Spanish Civil War, and then to Mexico City following the Nazi occupation of France. In Mexico, she met Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and honed her unsettling, dreamlike style. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in her work, and several major retrospectives have been held. More of her paintings can be seen here and here.

Some of her interiors remind me of Antonello de Messina's Saint Jerome in His Study (below), a painting I adore. I love the little platform he sits on, surrounded by his books, and the weird potted tree by his foot, and the hideous dwarf lion pacing the tiles to the right, and the wonderful landscape outside the windows. You can zoom around in the painting at the National Gallery website.