January 17 – The Good Book

01-17 Bibliophile post

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
~Mark Twain

– – –

I have a massive collection of books. A massive collection.

Like many of my ilk, I’ve looked back and realized that I have always been a collector. My younger self collected a wide variety of useless things, from wall posters and semiprecious stones (every family vacation had me on the lookout for rock shops) to previously-viewed VHS tapes and pogs (when  those were in fashion – yeesh, how embarrassing). I continue to collect music, but the most obvious thing I collect, quite naturally, are photographs.

Thinking on it, I collected baseball cards even though I was never, ever a sports fan. Things went pretty sideways once I discovered that trading cards existed for comic books. Heck, my obsession even took me down the path of outright criminality; I got caught stealing Marvel Ultra trading cards at the local supermarket when I was probably twelve or thirteen. I was absolutely terrified by that experience, and painfully ashamed. I also survived and would you believe it, I didn’t steal cards any longer. Instead, I started collecting actual comic books.

The early 1990s were a wonderful time to get into comic books and, for twenty years, I’ve been waiting for those lovely creative people in Hollywood to tell some of those stories on the silver screen. The first major series I got into was an X-Men story-line called “Legion Quest,” in which Professor Charles Xavier’s son travels back in time to execute Magneto, thus preventing all of the damage Magneto has done in his lifetime. It’s another iteration of the “if you could go back in time and kill Hitler” thought experiment. I have always loved this about the X-Men stories. They’re thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Initially, the X-Men were a vehicle through which the authors discussed American prejudice, mirroring the experiences of ethnic minorities. Today, stories of exclusion and oppression also reflect the marriage equality movement. The world is always so quick to point at a group and shout “freaks!” And the X-Men, in these stories, are the freaks. It takes the anguish of real-life problems and de-contextualizes them, allowing us to think about these issues from a fresh perspective. It’s brilliant.

Hero stories are all morality plays in the end, and they’re infinitely more sophisticated than they might appear to be on the surface. It has been fun watching media like graphic novels and video games achieve the mantle of high art and experience legitimacy in the eyes of the wider public. Once upon a time, comic books were for kids and video games were nothing more than a waste of time (and yes, they still can be, so don’t get me wrong). The video game industry has now surpassed Hollywood in generated revenue, and graphic novels are now being made into feature length films.

Progress, ladies and gentlemen. The nerds have won, world. Deal with it.

The “Legion Quest” story-line was jam-packed with the what-if’s of time travel tales, and it laid the foundation for an even larger and monumentally engaging story: “The Age of Apocalypse.” I’m venturing to guess that this is what the next movie, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” will be presenting. It’s an exciting time to be a fan-boy, indeed!

– – –

Needless to say, graphic novels also led to plain-old books. Large-print illustration books, art history books, some first-edition Steinbeck novels, throwaway Vampire Chronicles and Stephen King tomes, and hallowed American classics from the greats like Conrad, Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Every move, from dorm room to apartment, apartment to house, city to city, has seen me lugging impossibly heavy twenty-eight gallon Rubbermaid containers stacked with books. I can’t seem to let them go, and I often will pluck a book off the shelf and thumb through it for inspiration. Hell, I rarely even sold my textbooks back in college.

The picture above is a studio photograph of a pocket bible. On the University of Arizona campus, probably my sophomore year, there was a day when a group of missionaries stood on damn-near every street corner, every intersection, and every entrance to the student union handing these things out. Green vinyl covers and tissue-thin pages. I took every single one that was offered to me as I crisscrossed the campus on my way to class – until there wasn’t any room left in my backpack. I probably made off with about thirty copies. I went immediately to task making art projects out of them, and a series of photographs like the one here. In retrospect, it was probably a little scandalous that I collected all of those books, but I don’t think the world is in short supply of King James Bibles.

I guess the jury’s out, but I’m banking on the Good Lord being as forgiving as they say.

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