The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 2

Libraries and bookstores are, or should be, temples to books and the art of reading and in that role they should be places that people want to visit. As mentioned in part 1 of this article, there have been a surprising number of fantastic looking bookstores and libraries that have sprung up over the last few years which I would imagine have become architectural and retail destinations.

I explored a number of reasons for this return to the book in the previous article (The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 1), so I will move straight on to the buildings themselves. Most of these images come from the ever-interesting design website ‘designboom‘ and if you click on the titles you’ll link through to the original articles if you’d like to find out more information.

Zhongshuge Bookstore, Yintai Center, Chengdu, China

Wuguan Books, Dayi Warehouse Cluster, Kaohsiung City, China

Library of Birmingham, England

‘The Hearts of Kings’ by Hanns Heinz Ewers

So who is Hanns Heinz Ewers? I had certainly never heard of him until a few years ago and, reading about his life, he sounds as though he was quite a complex character.

Hanns Heinz Ewers (3 November 1871 – 12 June 1943) was, and still is, a controversial figure and until relatively recently his work has been extremely difficult to find (so that possibly the reason I’d not previously heard of him!).

The controversy is not necessarily related to his writings, which due to their content could be seen as controversial, but largely due to his association with the Nazi party. Apparently he was attracted by it’s nationalism but disagreed with it’s antisemitism. His differences of opinion with element of the party line, combined with his homosexuality and other ‘issues’, got him banned from the Nazi Party at one point, although he managed to successfully petition to be re-accepted!

Obviously, some people find it difficult to separate a writer from the written word and I understand why they it might be difficult to read his work knowing about his affiliations. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. Personally, if the work is of a high enough standard and does not preach or promote extreme political or racial points of view without challenging them, then I have no problem with reading it. ‘The Hearts of Kings’ is a case in point – it is extreme in terms of it’s subject matter, but not extremist in terms of ideology.

His most famous work is a novel called ‘Alraune‘, which is essentially a re-working of the Frankenstein story. It concerns a woman without morals, born of an unholy union, who some critics of the horror genre have called the ultimate Femme Fatale. It has been filmed a couple of times, most recently in a 1952 German version. Interestingly Ewers wrote the screenplay to 1913 film called ‘The Student of Prague‘ (partly based on ‘Faust’ and partly on Poe’s short story ‘William Wilson’). It was hugely popular on it’s release, but it is extremely difficult to find a decent print of now, which is a shame as I’d love to see it. It has been recognised as the first German art film and a significant influence on the Expressionist films that came out of Weimar cinema during the silent era (probably the most famous example being the astounding ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari‘)

Published in 1922, ‘The Hearts of Kings’ fits perfectly with post first world war Germany and the decadence which came to define the Weimar Republic. It is a very short story (a mere 44 pages) and is suffused with a decadent, almost voluptuous atmosphere, far from the more visceral nature of modern horror – and all the better for it! Essentially it is about a crazed artist who invites the Prince Royal Ferdinand Philippe d’Orléans to view and buy a series of paintings about his ancestors. When he visit the artist he discovers his family’s horrific legacy.

I do not want to give too much of the story away (well it is a very short story), but suffice to say, if you like the works of Edgar Allan Poe, then this would definitely be your sort of thing. Ewers has, by the way, been described as the German Poe (he also published a critical essay on Poe in 1916).

The copy I have of ‘The Hearts of Kings’ is a limited edition book published by ‘The Ajna Offensive‘ and is available through their website in the US (or from the UK based ‘Side Real Press‘, being the sole distributor in Europe).

It is quite expensive for such a short work, but there are a number of reasons why it is worth getting. Not only is it a cloth-bound limited edition hardback publication, it is also a rare taste of the rare talent that was Hanns Heinz Ewers. In terms of a monetary investment (as opposed to a literary, cultural or aesthetic one) it is interesting to note that copies of the book are already available on Abebooks for nearly four times their initial price, even though it has not yet sold out at the publishers! To add to the quality of the publication, replete with marbled end-papers, the original illustrations by Stefan Eggeler have been lovingly reproduced in all their gruesome detail. Here’s some information about them from the ‘Side Real Press’ site and some examples below:-

Originally published as a limited edition in 1922 as ‘Die Herzen der Könige’ this macabre tale by Ewers (newly translated by Markus Wolff) was complimented by the equally disturbing and wonderful etchings of Stefan Eggeler (1894-1969).  Both were created by artists at the height of their powers. Further information on both Ewers and Eggeler can be found HERE and HERE.
      The original edition (now quite rare) was printed on very poor paper and much trouble has been taken (in collaboration with the Eggeler estate) to render the tonalities of the illustrations accurately.

Having just looked at the Side Real Press website I found that Hanns Heinz Ewers ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice‘ (first published in 1910) is currently at the printers and will be available for sale later this year. This book was Ewers first novel and the first of three about a character called Frank Braun (a thinly veiled Ewers). The second novel, published in 1911, was the aforementioned ‘Alraune‘, which has already been published by Side Real Press and demands significant amounts of money on the second hand sites (I wish I’d known about it when it came out in 2010). By the way they also published a collection of his short stories (in 2009) which also commands high prices (if you can find it!).

News Flash – I’ve just completed my first Author Interview!

This is quite exciting – I’ve recently answered a series of questions about being an author and the subject of my first book ‘The Cenotaph of Dreams‘ (click on the title to link to the Amazon.co.uk author’s page and this one for the Amazon.com site).

If you’d like to read the interview and find out a bit about the book, it’s genesis and inspiration, or a little more about me for that matter, please follow this link. If you like what you read, or know someone who might be interested, please share it on any social media you can think of – there’s nothing like a bit of free publicity, is there! Thank-you!

The book is available as an e-book and as a paperback from the Amazon Kindle Store.

Where to Start – How About the End…?

So, what would the end of the world look like?

We live in crazy times (haven’t we always!). Wars rumbling on in the background of the West’s consciousness (Yemen), or wars that the world looks at but does nothing about (Syria), politicians who promote division to bolster and their own egos, gun crime, knife attacks, cars used as weapons…I could go on. The end of the world could come in many forms, but societal breakdown and the end of civilisation is probably more likely than being struck by a giant meteorite (I hope I’m not tempting fate there!). Amongst all this doom and gloom it is important to remember that for the majority of people living on this planet, life is much better than that.

Our perception of the state of the world is seriously eroded largely by negative press – camera crews and news reporters try to find the most appalling incidents to make the public tune in. That is essentially their job. Of course, it’s human nature to seek out bad news, but it’s important to remember that positive things are happening all the time that are never reported.

Just like the news reports, fiction often visits the darker side of the human condition (or not-so-human, depending on your genre). It is essential for the development of a plot for ‘something’ to happen. That ‘something’, or ‘trigger’, is necessary for events to take place and a story to unfold, and rarely is it something pleasant.

To write a story it can be quite difficult to actually begin, or ‘put pen to paper’ as the cliche goes. Sometimes it can be good to start with a dramatic event to draw people in, or at least a line or two to pique their interest or create bemusement. Something, anything to grab the reader and make them want to read on.

Another way to start is to imagine the ‘trigger’ event and work backwards. Think about what would lead up to the event taking place, or how and why the main character is involved or affected by it.

This is all well and good, but how to come up with the ‘trigger’ in the first place? Some people use random words, or suggested opening lines, or they look in the newspapers and magazines then extrapolate their own variations on the stories they read. Another way is to find an arresting image and to create a story that leads up to, or runs away from, what is pictured. That’s where this post comes in – hopefully.

The end of the world is a pretty dramatic event and has been illustrated numerous times throughout history – in art, literature and on film. The images below are interesting because they fuse photography and painting to create believable scenes (they digitally fuse the two media to create impossible ‘photos’). Created by Michal Karcz (an artist form Warsaw, Poland), his images appear to encompass post-apocalyptic, alien or parallel worlds and alternative futures/pasts. They could be a good starting point for a story/

What would you write inspired by these pictures? Or what do you use as a trigger for your stories?

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I originally discovered these images a few years ago on the designboom website at this address.

Mycelia – A New Magazine for New Weird Fiction

I have had this magazine in my possession for a number of weeks now, but have only managed to have the time to read about half of the contents of the first issue. I had hoped to review the whole thing, but at the rate I’m going it’ll be some time before I can do that.

I’m not exactly sure how I came across this, I think it was mentioned somewhere on Goodreads (which I very recently signed up to and am still getting used to). I decided to buy the two issues that have been released to see what it was all about and it’s already quite interesting.

Mycelia (published by Hedera Felix in Glasgow) describes itself as “a new biannual print magazine in Scotland for weird fiction, experimental literature and art.” From what I have read so far this is an accurate description. The first few stories (they are all quite short) cover a wide range of styles and subjects which can be classified as weird. Below is a photograph of both Issue 1 and Issue 2.

The first story features what I assume to be a genetically engineered sub-human/dog-like creature, another one concerns a boyfriend who has vegetative aspects which don’t seem to concern his partner, another is a hard Science Fiction story and another which is more old-school weird. It was this one which has been my favourite so far. It’s called ‘To Keep The Cold Away’ and is written by Daniel Pietersen. After inheriting a collection of netsuke (small Japanese carved ornaments to be worn with a kimono) the protagonist becomes strangely connected to them. It’s not quite clear, but either they wither and change physically causing the character to do the same, or she does first and they take on the change. Traditionally in this type of story there would be a curse or spiritual connection, maybe a pining for the original collector, but that is not evident here, which moves the story from the Gothic to the Weird.

There are a number of interesting photographs dotted throughout the magazine, some of which remind me of Surrealism. I particularly liked the two photographs by David Redford Palmer. I’m not sure if they have been manipulated or not; they are of natural subjects (a tree in one and cloud in another) but they possess a mood, a darkness, even a sense of dread. I would like to see more.

There is an odd almalgam of stories with a recurring seagull motif that seem to be trying too hard to be arty in a weird way. If there is a criticism of Mycelia, it would be that it tries too hard to be arty or experimental, to the point of complete abstraction and this can leaves one unable to make the slightest sense of it (but I guess that’s just weird in another way).

I’m assuming that the name Mycelia comes from the word Mycelium, which is quite appropriate. This is how it is described by Wikipedia:-

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro, especially within the fairy ring fungi. Fungal colonies composed of mycelium are found in and on soil and many other substrates.

Citation

If the rest of Issue 1 and the second Issue continue in this vein then I look forward to reading more in the future – who knows, I may even submit a few photos or stories – it’s certainly something worth supporting!

You can obtain a copy of Mycelia by visiting their shop, here, and you can use a discount code at the checkout to reduce the cost (it’s why I decided to buy both Issues!), the code is – SUMMER2019. You can also buy a copy at one of their stockists:-

Category Is, Glasgow
Good Press Gallery, Glasgow
Aye-Aye Books, CCA, Glasgow
Fruitmarket Gallery Bookshop, Edinburgh
Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh
Whitechapel Gallery Bookshop, London
Serpentine Gallery Bookshop, London
Coming soon to Book Art Bookshop in Hoxton, London!

The New Architecture of Libraries and Bookshops, Pt. 1

Over the last few years there seems to have been a resurgence in new libraries and bookshops all over the world (and for some unknown reason more abundantly in China).

Is this merely a case of the architecture of spectacle turning it’s eye to yet another institution? Previously architects have thoroughly expressed their egos in a range of areas, including commercial buildings – think The CCTV Headquarters (Beijing), LLoyds of London, or 30 St Mary Axe (better known as The Gherkin, of course). Or museums – The Guggenhiem Museums (New York and Bilbao), The Jewish Museum (Berlin), Pompidou Centre (Paris). Or arts centres – the Sydney Opera House, Sage Gateshead, City of Arts and Sciences (Valencia) and the Heydar Aliyev Center (Baku, Azerbaijan).

That may well be the case, and if they are in need of another area to develop I would suggest they design a rash of new cinemas – we haven’t really had many exciting cinema buildings since the 30’s, as far as I know!

Another reason could be that it is a reaction to the sterile, digital world of the e-book. We are analogue creatures, we like real physical things, we fall in love with books, but could we really fall in love with an e-reader? I doubt it.

The sensation of holding a book, leafing through the pages, the texture and smell (particularly of old books), are just a few of the aspects of reading a book that a series of zeros and ones can never come close to.

Whatever the reason, there are some amazing temples to the written word appearing and I thought it would be a good idea to stop writing and let the images of these places speak for themselves.

By the way, all these images are from articles on the excellent ‘designboom‘ website. If you would like more information on either the buildings or the photographers then search for the buildings on their website or click on the title and it should take you to the article.

Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore, China

The M.I. Bookstore, Harbin, China

Oodi Central Library, Helsinki