Friday, February 1, 2008

Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

One of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films is The Killing. As Sterling Hayden is assembling his team, he visits his friend, the large, almost unintelligible muscle, who spends his days at a second-floor business in that strange urban center where men pay to play chess all day. I've always thought that was the oddest little business. So imagine my surprise to find Ben Katchor's strange little timelost, dreamlost New York, where that chess establishment would have fit right in.

Devlin at Bizarro Wuxtry, America's finest comic shop and a place too ordinary for Knipl's excursions, recommended this book some time ago, but a couple of pages didn't sell me. I didn't understand it, couldn't find the sort of characters I enjoy or a plot to follow. But a $4 copy at Book Eddy, that remarkable bookstore in Knoxville I simply will not stop talking about, sold me as worth the risk for the price. And it still took me several pages - much of the book is collected from a weekly strip that runs in NYC's The Forward - to figure out this book has nothing to do with character or plot, but setting.

It's a city populated by incredibly strange businesses, newspapers and professions. Citizens suffer umbrella-related eye injuries, or try and avoid sleep at the Stay-Awake-Atorium. They give themselves amnesia by drinking Oblivion, and prove their love to a beautiful woman by shoplifting jars of cherry tomatoes from every deli in town. They go on vacation and visit the Pygmy Penitentiary, they hire licensed expectorators to avenge trivial slights. It's a city of dreams, and I was not entirely surprised to see that the book concludes with a lengthy storyline about a daily newspaper which reports the dreams of citizens as though they were newsworthy, all of these stories told in a casual, there's no other word for it, dreamlike manner. It's a remarkably strange book, but very compelling. I need to see whether Bizarro Wuxtry has more Katchor in stock next time I'm in Athens.

(Originally posted February 01, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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