Happy official end of summer, everyone. Time to convert that adventure rucksack into a scholastic backpack, and trade in those beach reads for perhaps deeper tomes, say of poetry and history. To help, we’ve compiled a reading list of required — well, strongly suggested — titles in the back-to-school spirit that early September always elicits, even among us ordinary lifelong learners. With more than one newly expanded edition of classic prose collections; exciting verse from local poets; hybrid texts merging art, literature, memoir, speculative futures, and practical magic; an anthology surveying Indigenous art history and a monograph compiling the legacy of an interdisciplinary and rebellious community haven; a helpful guidebook to the best field trip destination in town; and to get us in the bookish mood, a gorgeous coffee table book of the most beautiful libraries in the world, from the year 766 to the present.
Massimo Listri: The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, 40th Edition (TASCHEN). True temples of knowledge, symbols and sites of learning, archetypal stars of dream and metaphor — libraries also are among the most memorable architectural wonders, and their own storied pasts can be just as fascinating as their collections. From the Vatican Apostolic Library to the Morgan Library in New York, a Franciscan monastery in Lima with a horde of Inquisition files, this classic photographic journey from Massimo Listri reveals the charms both famous and hidden of some of the most historical and exquisitely appointed libraries in the world, dating as far back as 766 and representing architecture and collections across the medieval, classical, baroque, rococo and 19th-century eras. The evocative architectural, atmospheric and detailed photographs are accompanied by in-depth descriptions of the buildings’ designs, histories, and most rare and unique holdings. taschen.com
Linda Ravenswood: Cantadora—Letters from California (Eyewear London). Poet Linda Ravenswood’s new book gathers 44 “hybrid texts,” words and concrete page poems that she describes as alternately maps, diary entries, manifestos, dream fragments, and lists. Ravenswood has a special gift for merging personal lived experience with an expanded context of centuries of land stewardship, invasion, colonization, layered thefts, imposed borders, environmental exploitation, trauma, revenge, and the rush of rediscovered, re-centered identities and histories — as well as narrative and more experimental forms of modern composition. Switching stylistic voices and macro/micro perspectives on the political and spiritual events that shape us, Ravenswood communicates something essential about California in these writings, having to do with the difference between its own facts and fictions. blackspringpressgroup.com
Karen Lofgren: emBRUJAda: Charms for the Living (Set Margins). In her affecting interdisciplinary visual art and adventurous research practices, Karen Lofgren pursues curative pathways through science, sexuality and spiritualism. Her international and interdimensional experiments proceed with a fierce feminist and decolonial perspective, investigating a set of traditions across botanical healing, psychedelic insight, cosmic eroticism, interspecies communication, witchcraft, ritual, and precepts of folk and contemporary art — especially talismanic and energetically activated mixed-media sculptures. This new book builds on a foundation of Lofgren’s art works, contextualizing them within voluminous field and studio notes, diagrams, spells, observations, advice, and dialogues with a cohort of like-minded women from the worlds of performance and music, art history, curation, ecology, activism, mythology and consciousness. setmargins.press
Amanda Maciel Antunes: Second Birth (Hexentexte). This book is but one result of the fertile collaboration between artist and writer Amanda Maciel Antunes (b.1987) and ghost of literary Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), with whom she shares a lifetime of biographical synchronicity, including unwittingly finding herself the occupant of Nin’s former home in Sierra Madre. They also share a certain spiritualist sensibility, a feminist manifestation across generations, a peripatetic existence as a sort of perpetual immigrant, a drive to define a powerful female voice — and most especially, a taste for keeping diaries and elevating them to an artistic and literary form. Combining extensive research of the Anaïs Nin Papers archived at UCLA with a maelstrom of lived experience, dream messages and radical attention to nature, Antunes offers a catalog of recent collages and writing with a timeless, vintage, surrealist intimacy. cindyrehm.com
Mashinka Firunts Hakopian: Institute for Other Intelligences (X Artists Books). This inventive work bridges speculative fiction and media studies, presented in the form of a session transcript from an AI conference — to be clear, not a human conference about AI, but a convention of the machine intelligences themselves. The story structure flips the perspective on the current discourse surrounding these emergent technologies, instead imagining those intelligences’ eventual and inevitable grievances with us, their creators, and the ways in which we failed in their construction. Channeling feminist, queer and critical media discourse — which as the author knows too well so often is invoked as a corrective rather than integral and foundational — the “trainings” presented in the book invite us to take the opportunity to do it right this time, from the start, before it’s too late again. With illustrations by systems scientist Fernando Diaz. xartistsbooks.com
An Indigenous Present (Delmonico Books). Conceived and edited by Jeffrey Gibson — a renowned artist of Mississippi Choctaw and Cherokee descent, who among his many accolades will be representing the U.S. at the next Venice Biennale — this hefty and highly anticipated new book represents an unprecedented and overdue survey of scores of Indigenous artists and creators. Native North American contemporary artists, photographers, musicians, writers, filmmakers, choreographers, architects, designers and performers demonstrate an eclectic array of approaches to the integration of Indigenous concepts, forms, shared histories, and materials into their practices. The dynamic range of those gathered in these pages explores both the non-monolithic yet essentially interconnected character of Indigenous creatives working today. delmonicobooks.com
KAOS Theory: The Afrokosmic Ark of Ben Caldwell (Angel City Press). Filmmaker, educator and community activist Ben Caldwell and the KAOS Network media arts center he founded in Leimert Park have left an indelible mark on Los Angeles history. Now a new book with author Taj Frazier gathers archives, graphics and illustrations, and oral and published histories from the center, placing Caldwell’s commitment to fellowship as a guiding social principle within his fascinating biography and personal creative works. Reaching back to his family history in the southwest, his own childhood there, his time at war, and his return to a society badly in need of change, the book traces the overlapping currents of American life, diasporic African culture, and the spirit of creative rebellion. angelcitypress.com
Los Angeles Watts Towers (LACMA). The Watts Towers mosaic of glass, shells, pottery and tiles was built over the course 33 years by one man — Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia — but its status as a cultural icon and international art pilgrimage destination will endure for centuries. A designated Cultural Heritage Monument, under the conservation care of the Getty and LACMA, the story of its creator and his creation is central to the longer history of Los Angeles, touching on multiple threads that remain emblematic to its character — the vision and skill of outsider artists, the uniqueness of the Watts neighborhood, the indelible role of immigrants in shaping the city, and a pretty good biographical mystery to boot. thelacmastore.org
Mike Sonksen: Letters to My City, second edition (Writ Large Press). Author, poet, essayist, professor, historian, tour guide, tirelessly curious citizen, and faithful, third-generation lover of all things Angeleno, Mike Sonksen is releasing an annotated and expanded edition of his foundational collection of prose and poems dedicated to it. The new edition features a freshly penned essay on his mentor, the late Mike Davis, beloved author of seminal L.A.-studies text City of Quartz; another on the local history of time and space as both ideas and an industry; and a teaching guide to help educators use the book in their curricula. In emotional and witty, eccentric and academic, rhythmic and detail-rich observations and celebrations, Sonksen reveals and reintroduces us to a city we could all stand to know a bit better. writlargeprojects.com
Dave Hickey: Invisible Dragon, 30th anniversary reissue (Art Issues). An expanded edition of Dave Hickey’s controversial essay collection organized around the fraught theme of beauty — considered outre and rather cringey by the art world arbiters of the day. Now 30 years on, generations of artists have come around to his way of thinking, embracing beauty and joy as powers of art. This edition celebrates that by augmenting its core Four Essays on Beauty, with a still-fresh profile of Dolly Parton written 50 years ago, a tribute to Richard Pryor, a light-hearted look at paintings by Ed Ruscha, plus more new materials and perspectives. As a special and unexpected treat, Art Issues also is releasing an album of Hickey’s original songs, country jazz ditties that he wrote and on which he both plays guitar and sings. After all, his first love was music, as a writer for Rolling Stone and a proud regular-guy Texan. Is it essential listening? That’s to taste. But essential art curriculum reading, definitely. artissuespress.com
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