A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.
The fleeting choruses of Perry Shimon are often found in West Marin playing with light, sound, satellites, sadness, rare earths, bare chested Georgian men sitting around the table singing folk songs and short artist bios. We can connect @perryshimon on instagram to share thoughts on books and other things.
What are you reading now? Do you read one book at a time or several?
Usually several or I'll pick through a stack pertaining to a subject of interest. Currently I’m reading a catalogue from a museum show, opens a new window that opened this year at the ICA, opens a new window (Institute of Contemporary Art) in Boston called Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, opens a new window. This is one of the first major shows in the states about the way institutional Art has responded to the advent of the Internet. It’s a helpful consolidation of key thinkers and artists at this nexus. It brings to mind Hito Steyerl, opens a new window, who’s Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War, opens a new window also came out this year and I would recommend highly to anyone even moderately concerned with Art and the internet. I’m also reading Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, opens a new window, which is a multi authored collection that came out of a conference in 2014 at UC Santa Cruz and looks at our advancing understanding of microbial ecologies, how they relate to our understanding of self and the roles Art can play in addressing the manifold crises of the Anthropocene. There are some wonderful contributors like Donna Haraway, opens a new window whose recent Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, opens a new window and Anna Tsing, opens a new window's The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, opens a new window are two useful and beautiful meditations on this subject.
What’s in your stack of books?
I’m interested in the work of postcolonial Martinique poet philosopher Edouard Glissant, opens a new window, who’s writing is being amplified by an interesting constituency in the art world including Hans Ulrich Obrist, opens a new window - whose writing on art and curating is also interesting and comes along often. Glissant offers concepts like Mondialite - a kind of global dialogue to counteract the homogenizing force of globalization and the right to opacity which feels salient in this moment of the nearly complete colonization of digital life and it’s doctrines of transparency. German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, opens a new window takes up this theme in his popular and widely translated philosophical essays The Transparency Society, opens a new window and The Burnout Society, opens a new window, useful tools for thinking if you don’t mind the omniscient, western centric, mansplain-y great german philosopher tone. Fortunately they’re concise. While in the realm of mansplaining, few do it more broadly and more entertainingly than Tim Morton, opens a new window, who’s averaging at least a book a year with a formidable range of academic and radical publishers and showing up often in the forwards and bibliographies of Art related publications. His The Ecological Thought, opens a new window is a foundational work, which introduces the concept of Hyperobjects- a significant contribution expanded to book length that describes anything massively distributed in space and time relative to human scale and subsequent works which have been refining and remixing his core concepts. Last year's Humankind, opens a new window is on my shelf and Being Ecological, opens a new window came out this year. I’m interested in the work of Keller Easterling, opens a new window who I’ve been devouring in many media forms. Her Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, opens a new window (Verso 2014) is a recommended read to better understand and discuss the deregulated special economic zones which have become a powerful tool in Neoliberal Expansion, their normalization and the implications. McKenzie Wark, opens a new window compiled a collection of contemporary thinkers called General Intellects, opens a new window that I would recommend as entree to a number of relevant and emerging discourses. And because this is Marin County, I recommend Etel Adnan, opens a new window, who writes beautifully about here. I enjoyed her recent Night, opens a new window.
Are you a browser in the library or do you know in advance what you are looking for? Do you browse the library catalog or pick specific books? If so, how do you find out about them?
I browse, talk, visit, research and listen to the algorithms. I’m of the mind our branch has the most wonderful librarians and foot-for-foot the most interesting holdings in the system. That said, about half the titles I’m looking for are not in the system and the ones I do find are usually in LinkPlus, opens a new window, an affiliate lending program. This highlights a need for public institutions to collect more esoteric holdings. Specialized art libraries like the Brand, opens a new window in Los Angeles is a good model, opens a new window. Libraries like the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca, opens a new window, started by Francisco Toledo, is another inspiring model.
The Library is so much more than a collection of books. In this common space, with its ecologies and promises, are the seeds to a better way of living together. I go to big cities several times a year, usually New York and LA and visit my favorite book stores. McNally Jackson, opens a new window and Printed Matter, opens a new window in New York and Skylight, opens a new window and Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth, opens a new window in LA are some favorites as well as the book sections of contemporary art spaces. I like Alley Cat in San Francisco in the one part of the mission that doesn’t totally bum me out and the new owners of Point Reyes Books, opens a new window have been bringing in interesting titles.
What is the most interesting thing you have learned from a book recently?
That they can extend way beyond their bookness, relate in both digital and physical space in manifold ways. They can act as a unifying force in gathering people and catalyze multimedia explorations. I read most books in a kind of dialectic with an internet browser. I can see and hear the author/s speak and link to referenced titles and related works.
Do you have a favorite genre? Any genres that you never read?
I like work that isn’t easily shelved in a preexisting category. I enjoyed Mirtha Dermisache’s recent collection of asemic writing (Mirtha Dermisache: Selected Writings, opens a new window). I tend towards lyrical essays for their tone and openness, Maggie Nelson, opens a new window (Bluets, opens a new window) and Mary Ruefle, opens a new window (Madness, Rack, and Honey, opens a new window) come to mind. I know fiction is having a tough time and I don’t mean to pile on, but it does take a lot to get me interested. I like Ben Lerner, opens a new window and also his criticism, opens a new window and poetry, opens a new window. I picked up Arundhati Roy, opens a new window’s new book (The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, opens a new window) while listening to her read at the Brooklyn Library last month. I admire her activism. I’m increasingly drawn towards collections with many authors around subjects of interest. Ellen Mara De Wachter recently did a series of interviews with artist collectives that I appreciated (Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration, opens a new window). There are certainly publishers I pay attention to - Sternberg Press, opens a new window, Verso, opens a new window, Zone, opens a new window.
What was your reading experience as a child? A favorite book?
I read Bill Watterson, opens a new window and Gary Larson, opens a new window a lot - Calvin and Hobbes, opens a new window and The Far Side, opens a new window. Anything funny, with words and concepts that expanded my understanding of things.
Were there any books that made a strong impression on your work?
Is there a famous author that you ever wanted to meet?
James Baldwin, opens a new window, Anne Carson, opens a new window, Laozi, opens a new window, Plato, opens a new window, Pasolini, opens a new window, Sei Shonagon, opens a new window, Marx, opens a new window, Cage, opens a new window, Deleuze, opens a new window and Guattari, opens a new window... to name a few that come to mind…
What’s the last book that you recommended to a friend?
Carceral Capitalism, opens a new window, Jackie Wang, opens a new window. An urgent read on our expanding carceral condition and how racialized it is. And Mali Twist, opens a new window, the catalogue for a recent show on the Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, opens a new window. The pictures are wonderful and there are some nice essays including one by Manthia Diawara, opens a new window who’s work intrigues me.
What kind of characters draw you in as a reader?
Critical, unsure, self-aware with a compulsion towards beauty and sharing.
When and where do you like to read? Describe your ideal reading experience.
I like mornings in bed or outside on a warm day in the shade. Or aloud, words in the mouth with someone I love, on a cool thin marine marin morning maybe. With the faint sounds of shakuhachi and the earthen smells of roasted blue hubbard squash and rooibos tea. A like the idea of a bibliogeography, the words pregnant with the environs of their occasions.