(drawing of Nicole Lavelle by Vanessa Waring)
Nicole Lavelle is an artist, graphic designer, and researcher who lives in Lagunitas, works in Olema and Bolinas, and is on staff at the Hearsay as a Wednesday printer. Her first book, PAPER ROAD is on the shelf at the Bolinas Library. She has a history exhibit up at the Jack Mason Museum in the Inverness Library called “An Incomplete History of Community Publishing at the Edge of the Earth,” through February 28 (A handful of Bolinas publications are included!). In addition, she hosts a lecture series at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco.
What are you reading now? What’s in your pile of books?
Right now I’m reading a novel by Louise Erdrich called The Plague of Doves, an epic multi-generational narrative about the community on the Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota. It’s poetic and heartbreaking. I usually read fiction in the morning as the light comes up, when I’m too cold to get out of bed. Stacked up at home are like, a hundred unread New Yorkers, and back issues of the High Country News. I’ve got Playing Monogamy by Simon(e) van Saarloos (thank you Ansel!) and David Reinfurt’s A New Program for Graphic Design, both of which were published recently by sweet little independent arts presses.
Do you like to read paper or ebooks? Audio books?
I read fiction and books of essays on a tablet (borrowed titles from the library) and everything else must be paper! If there are any images or special layouts, the tablet just won’t do. I’m not an audio book person, though last year I read Sheila Heti’s Motherhood (paper library book!) and then immediately listened to the audiobook, too.
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 mostly put books on hold online and then come pick them up from Jane on Wednesdays! I rely on friends’ recommendations, or I’ll read about a book and look for it in the library catalog. When I get into research mode I make these long lists of books I need to find, somewhere, somehow. LinkPlus (where you can order books from other libraries) is my savior.
Sometimes I want a weird rare book that I have to ask an institutionally-affiliated friend to borrow for me.
Do you have a favorite genre? Any genres that you never read?
Favorites: Essays and experimental memoirs, mostly by women (haven’t we all read enough men by now?). I like it when people write like they speak. Poems about place. Books that have pictures where you didn’t expect them to be. I have a soft spot for zeitgeist contemporary fiction, those NYT Bestsellers that everyone’s talking about on NPR. I think of them as pop songs, I crush through them like they’re television shows.
I used to think I didn’t care for science fiction but then dystopian novels were my gateway drug and now I read space books and think about time travel and aliens and wild futures more than I ever have. I just inhaled the Patternist series by Octavia Butler, gobbled it up like a treat, it was so good.
What was your reading experience as a child? Did you grow up with a lot of books? A favorite book?
When I was in first grade, I bit my sister and was grounded from TV for a week. That week I learned reading was fun and I’ve kept the pace since then. I loved Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene), the Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin the Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner). I grew up with regular library visits and my mom always bought any book we wanted at the thrift store, no questions asked. It will surprise no one that I was really into historic adventure narratives with young female protagonists transcending society’s expectations to become their authentic selves.
Were there any books that made a big impression on you in your life? Perhaps a book that has impacted your consciousness a bit?
My dad gave me The Monkey Wrench Gang (Edward Abbey) when I was pretty young and said “don’t get any ideas.” I got a lot of ideas. More recently, Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local, landscape essays by John Brinkerhoff (JB) Jackson, and Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land have helped me understand what’s important to me, what I’m compelled by: language and landscape and time and identity and power.
What’s the last great book that you read and recommended to a friend?
I can’t tell enough people to read this pair of memoirs by Tamara Shopsin. The first one is Mumbai New York Scranton and the second is Arbitrary Stupid Goal. They’re brilliant in their simplicity. They’re of now. They speak in a voice I can hear. They really did it for me.
What do you plan to read next? Do you plan?
I put a bunch of fiction on hold for my tablet and then randomly I’ll get an email that it’s ready and that’s what I read next. It’s a nice surprise when it pops up weeks after I request it. I’m on an Octavia Butler train right now and I don’t want to get off. Maybe vampires next?
What books do you return to? Are there any books you like to re-read?
I rarely re-read so when I do it means it’s something special. I do re-reference a lot. I’ve combed through the The Lure of the Local a hundred times. I return often to A Pattern Language by Berkeley architect Christopher Alexander (et al.), it’s a nice reference. I recently revisited Denis Johnson’s Already Dead and oh wow is that a stormy glimpse at the North Coast of the 1990s… He was not kind to his female characters but I enjoy this book in spite of that transgression.
Do you have a collection of books at home?
I was gifted the library of my late neighbor and family friend, and coincidentally later moved into his house, so I live surrounded by this incredible collection of books that Brian curated. Lots of California and Bay Area history, books on architecture, books on Native American cultures, tons of stuff on utopian experiments and communal living. Places, environments, religions, and a lot of musty leather-bound classics. He collected books and treasured them as objects. We have a signed copy of Joseph Maillard’s autobiography: he was an ornithologist and at one time his family owned the entire San Geronimo Valley. That’s a special little volume, and is a good example of how the collection feels super unique to this specific place. I feel like I better understand where I am in place and time because of the books around me at home.
Do you organize them?
Stacked up in my studio are too many books… I need shelves! I organize them in sections because I can’t help myself: Marin, Mendocino, SF, Bay Area, California, Hippies, Folk Culture, DIY Building, Landscape, Art and Landscape, Design, Art, Grief, Fiction, Fiction by Men, Poetry, Memoir… and so on. This associative, “geo-spatial” strategy of organizing is inspired by the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, where I host a lecture series called PLACE TALKS as a long-term resident artist. Megan Shaw Prelinger, librarian alongside her husband Rick Prelinger dreamed up a geo-spatial organizational system that is an artist’s work in itself. You begin “where your feet hit the ground” in San Francisco, and six rows later, as topics ooze gradually into other topics, you end up in space! There is no catalog, only browsing. It’s the most special place, go visit!
You’re a reader, but you also make books, magazines and newspapers. What are they?
My preferred artistic form is something to read. Something you can flip through, hold close to you, carry in your bag, spill coffee on, and dent the corners of. So, books. I made a book called PAPER ROAD, which I call a “research document,” about my family’s history in Lagunitas. I am just about to release this exciting little magazine called OYSTERS, made with friends in West Marin. I also work on publications for my job as a graphic designer, the most recent being The End of Life Times, which you may have seen around the library! It’s a sprawling newspaper about death and dying, completed for an amazing non-profit client called Reimagine End of Life. I was excited to rope my friends into participating, so you might spot some locals / honorary locals in there (Gabe Korty, Vanessa Waring, Steve Heilig, Rob Moss Wilson)
It’s a real delight to create objects that people can have intimate relationships with, substrates for ideas and impressions, talismans they can cart around or pass along.
I read for the same reason I make books. They’re magic, they’re holy: an unsuspecting ubiquitous form that can contain multitudes. Universes. A few years ago, Kate Levinson (the former owner of Point Reyes Books) introduced Terry Tempest Williams before a reading at the West Marin School, and she referred to books as “most powerful sacred objects.” That really stuck with me. I keep that close. That is how I understand books.