Work / Bookshelf

This week’s bookshelf is from Charles Atlas, video artist and director of TURNING with Antony & the Johnsons

In August, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) is directing the Meltdown festival at London’s Sountbank Centre. His 12 day line-up of music, performance art, talks and films includes the likes of Marina Abramović, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed – so clearly excellent taste. Also billed is a truly extraordinary film by director/video artist Charles Atlas who collaborated with Antony in 2006 for a live concert, TURNING, which starred 13 unique New York women as they rotated on a platform as Charles created “intimate and hypnotic video portraits which are then captured, processed and projected on a giant screen.”

Charles, who is New York-based and best known for a longstanding collaboration with the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham, is also a pioneer of media-dance and electronic performance, and has been widely awarded and recognised as such. This week he is kindly hosting our Bookshelf feature with his five invaluable literary volumes…

Joe Westmoreland: Tramps Like Us

Tramps Like Us is the story of a guy coming of age in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s and coming out during the period after Gay Liberation and before AIDS hit. It’s a first-person narrative with lots of details about gay life in New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco. It’s a tale of wild youth pushing the boundaries of its new freedoms, complete with gay sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.

Then AIDS hits and the party boys grew up fast. Joe Westmoreland captures what it’s like to be innocent and exploring the dark underworld of urban gay culture. This book brings home how devastating AIDS was, cutting so many vibrant lives short. It’s one person’s story, but repeated by the thousands in the early to mid-1980s. Beautiful.

Laurie Weeks: Zippermouth

One of the funniest and most painful books I’ve read in a long time. It’s another first-person drug-filled narrative. This time the voice is surreal and lesbian. It’s a story of unrequited love in New York’s East Village in the early 1990s, before the artists’ migration to Brooklyn.

Weeks’ impressionistic writing reads like stream of consciousness. Her voice is so strong that the confusing drug-induced “ramblings” start to make sense. This book made me squirm, ache and giggle. It’s dry wit and delivery had me laughing out loud. Terrifying and hilarious.

Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Chris Hedges, has written an insightful critique of contemporary American society. He writes about the World Wrestling Foundation, the porn industry, the ideology of “positive psychology”, and the failure of elite universities. Hedges’ thesis is that there is a “culture of illusion” dominating the country, a great substitution of images for reality in which America is plied with entertainment while real power is robbed from it by self-serving corporate interests. He is also the author of War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.

Carl Hiaasen: Star Island

I spend a lot of time on planes. I often read mystery novels to pass the time. I can usually read a book from start to finish during the course of a trans-Atlantic flight and Carl Hiaasen’s books are among the most entertaining airplane reads that I know.

He writes about life in southern Florida – the actual and metaphoric climate of both its landscape and politics. In Star Island, he writes about vacuous celebrities, crooked politicians, and environmental destroyers. You can always count on Hiaasen to dish out just desserts in an unexpected way by the end of the book. His writing is sharp, funny and engaging – a very good writer.

Pam Johnson-Bennett: Cat vs. Cat, Keeping Peace When You Have More Than One Cat

Who knew two brother kittens could grow up and declare war on each other over small areas in a New York apartment? After lots of flying fur, growling, hissing and scary cat fights, I found this book.

It explained a cat’s need for territory and described warning signs that humans often don’t recognise.  It’s a lot about cat psychology, redirecting feline attention, and helping the little monsters adjust to sharing a small area.  What I learned from this book can be useful in dealing with human interactions as well!