Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

NOTES ON COLLECTING

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NOTES ON COLLECTING

I think writers are natural collectors. Books, baseball cards, mugs with owls on them, pretty rocks — it doesn't much matter what the objects of fixation are, only that they can be collected into a series. Because if there's a series, then there might be a pattern. And if there’s a pattern, there’s something to study.

I used to live with a very smart guy who was a real collector. He read densely written French post-structuralist critical theory that dissected the mind of the collector. I have not read densely written French post-structuralist critical theory that dissected the mind of the collector. And I am not a real collector. I’m a dabbler.

I am not a completist, but I do like gathering images and ideas into clusters. Then I tend to lose steam when I feel like I’ve learned what I’m going to learn from them. I go through phases. I abandon the collections when I fall in love with something new. It’s like a fever that passes. I used to love Garfield. Now I love Lasagna Cat.

My most recent collecting obsession is Avant Garde magazine. I discovered it a couple years ago when I found two issues at a used bookstore in Detroit. It was published within what I think of as an aesthetic sweet spot: 1968-1971. (Because of my upbringing, I have a major hard-on for the art, music, and fashion that emerged into popular culture between 1966 and 1972.) Wikipedia says there were 16 issues, but most other sources say there were 14. If there were indeed 14 issues, I’m now only missing two out of the full set (issues 2 and 4 specifically). And suddenly I really want the complete collection. I accidentally bought one issue twice due to the fact that it was published with multiple covers. But I also like having both covers, so it’s no big loss.

Avant Garde was a ridiculous magazine — it was oversexed and over-designed and I love it. It featured profiles on underground artists and musicians like The Fugs, erotic photographs and illustrations (almost all of which are naked ladies, though a certain Linda Wade Walker in Knoxville, Tennessee, wrote in demanding that the mag feature some male nudes — the letters to the editor are fantastic), anti-war articles, and dirty poems and stories by the likes of Auden and Mailer and Genet. It’s all so wonderfully dated, as good ephemera that survives always is. Mailer’s story in the May 1968 issue, “The Taming of Denise Gondelman,” starts with the line, “On this particular morning, when I awoke, there was a girl propped on one elbow in the bed beside me, no great surprise, because this was the year of all the years in my life when I was scoring three and four times a week, literally combing the pussy out of my hair, which is no great feat if one knew the Village and the scientific temperament of the Greenwich Village mind.” That sentence alone is a portal into the socio-political absurdism of its day. (It reminds me indirectly of the great Jack Lemmon movie, Save the Tiger, which I highly recommend.) It’s often pretty piggish — the perspective is relentlessly male and tirelessly lascivious and smugly upper-middle class liberal — but I still find it fascinating. Even the ads — especially the ones for the magazine-sponsored swag, like stash bags and inflatable chairs and safari jackets — are interesting.

I’m a sucker for style, too, and Avant Garde magazine was nothing if not stylish. Its eponymous font, created for the magazine by Herb Lubalin, is enjoying a renaissance right now, though it was used into the ground in the seventies. And the magazine itself is becoming more and more collectible — I hear the actor Jason Schwartzman bought a complete set this summer. (You can watch him shop at Borders for eight minutes with Wes Anderson here if you’re that kind of fan. They both have good taste in music and movies. But I dig their work, so I'm not surprised I think that.) Of course, this all means that it’s going to be that much more difficult for me to score the issues I’m still missing.

If you’re interested in checking out Avant Garde yourself, I know The Monkey’s Paw has some issues on the shelf. And if you see issue numbers 2 (the Marilyn Monroe cover I’ve attached) or 4 in your travels, please let me know.

I have no idea what happened to the Garfield stickers and plush toys I collected as a kid, but I genuinely thought it was funny stuff back then. I can't believe that I couldn't see how deeply depressing those strips were at the time. Well, there's nothing like recontextualization.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Damian Rogers

Damian Rogers lives in Toronto. Paper Radio (ECW Press) is her first book.

Go to Damian Rogers’s Author Page