Photography-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2016
Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in 2016 containing embedded photographs. If you know of a book that I have not mentioned, please let me know in a comment. My thanks to the many Vertigo readers who have already pointed out books that I had not known about. [Revised January 29, February 11, April 4, July 23, September 13, 2017, February 20, 2018, July 14, 2020.]
Jesse Ball. How To Set a Fire and Why. NY: Pantheon, 2016. A rather wild high-school girl who reads authors like Antonin Artaud and Alfred Jarry decides to join an Arson Club as her way of rejecting modern life. The novel contains a single photograph – a very grainy version of a well-known image (from a stereograph) of several men standing around the open coffin of Jesse James.
Nick Bantock. The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine’s Lost Correspondence. SF: Chronicle Books, 2016. Heavily illustrated. A continuation of the famous series.
Carmen Boullosa. Before. Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2016. Translated into English from the 1989 Spanish title Antes by Peter Bush. Boullosa’s incandescent novel about “the non-verbal world I invented or inhabited as a child” contains a single, very blurry photograph of a landscape with a waterfall. See my review here.
Tom Bullough. Addlands. London: Granta, 2016. A novel about Wales and the Welsh borderlands with several photographs of trees, presumably by the author.
Jan Brandt. Against the World. London: Seagull, 2016. Translated into English from the 2011 German title Gegen die Welt by Katy Derbyshire. Contains five photographs of advertisements and documents. The book contains reproductions of handwritten notes in the margin and between the lines of the text and several pages are deliberately printed with a pale (sometimes scarcely legible) font. Brandt’s novel about life in a small German town across the last few decades is written in what he aptly calls “manic realism.”
Michael Chabon. Moonglow. NY: Harper Collins, 2016. A vaguely fictionalized memoir of Chabon’s grandfather. Contains a single photograph of a 1958 advertisement for a scale model rocket for children, produced by Chabon Scientific.
Don Mee Choi. Hardly War. Seattle & NY: Wave Books, 2016. In this book of poems, Choi blends several languages, photographs, and drawings into a unified whole. She has a distinctive voice that is playful and confident, and Wave Books, as always, has produced a brilliant design that turns Hardly War into a bravura visual performance. Choi was born in South Korea and her father was a photographer and cinematographer who mostly worked in Asian war zones – including the Korean War and the Vietnam War and she deploys photographs by her father and others in this book. Choi borrows wordplay tactics from nursery rhymes and other forms of children’s poetry to give her writing a slightly sinister innocence, and she creates a strange and wonderful mashup of American and Korean cultures. See my review here.
Jack Cox. Dodge Rose. Victoria: Dalkey Archive Press, 2016. This novel contains eight b&w photographs, one of which (an image of a bathroom) is repeated six times on different pages. In addition, the photographs of a 19th century envelope on the front and rear cover are an important part of the text. Jack Cox’s debut novel is a literary tour-de-force that impressed me more than anything I have read in recent years. On the surface, it’s a comic novel about two young women trying to claim their inheritance. Cox’s great coup, in Dodge Rose, is to have written a book that is essentially about the indigenous peoples of Australia while keeping this aspect of the story utterly and almost invisibly submerged beneath the inheritance narrative. This hidden narrative of the indigenous peoples exists mostly in coded words and phrases, in the long-buried histories of names mentioned in passing or monuments casually encountered on the street. See my extended review of this novel here and here.
Julie Doucet. Carpet Sweeper Tales. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. Canadian artist and cartoonist Julie Doucet formally retired from cartooning more than a decade ago, but here she returns with word/image stories using photographs from 1960s and 1970s fumetti – or photonovellas. Her humorous stories “play upon the disconnect between 1970s imagery and our modern world” (publisher’s blurb).
Joshua Edwards. Castles and Islands. n. p.: Liang Editions, 2016. Poems about travel and place along with beautiful landscape photographs by Edwards.
…I have chosen an occupation
that demands I take many journeys and
know very little…
From “Lost Rivers”
Thalia Field. Experimental Animals (A Reality Fiction). NY: Solid Objects, 2016. Includes many photographs and other reproductions, credited to the author and other sources. “What morality says we can’t do to those like us, science authorizes us to do to the animals.” In this rich novel about the marriage of Fanny and Claude Bernard, Field explores the moral arguments that exploded around the role of vivisection in 19th century science and medicine. Physiologist Claude Bernard was an early pioneer of experimental medicine, but used live animals of all kinds to achieve his results, much to the growing horror of his wife, who had to put up with the animals he collected off the streets of Paris every night. Much of the novel consists of or is drawn from documentary sources – letters, newspaper articles, speeches, diaries, and so on, plunging the reader into the Paris of the 1840s-1870s. Among the important figures that appear in the book are Charles Darwin, Victor Hugo, Emila Zola, François Arago, Étienne-Jules Marey, the Goncourt Brothers., and the British anti-vivisectionist Anna Kingsford.
Stefan Hertsmans. War and Turpentine. London: Harvill Secker, 2016. Translated into English from the 2013 Dutch title Oorlog en terpentijn by David McKay. Illustrated with numerous black and white photographs “from the author’s personal collection” and a number of other credited photographs, most of which are reproductions of works of art. After a delay of some thirty years, a man finally decides to read the two notebooks left to him by his grandfather, an amateur painter, in which he wrote about his early life, his great love, and his horrific experiences in World War I.
Mary Hogan. The Woman in the Photo. NY: William Morrow, 2016. A photograph of a 19th century relative leads a young woman to learn more about the woman’s life and her experiences during the great Johnstown Flood of 1889. Contains photographs from the Johnstown Flood Museum Archives and the National Railroad Museum.
Jeff Jackson. Novi Sad. n.p.: Kiddiepunk, 2016. A novella about several teenagers who find themselves in a ravaged, nearly abandoned city. With torn, scratched, burnt, and otherwise mutilated photographs by Michael Salerno, who runs Kiddiepunk press.
Tyehimba Jess. Olio. Seattle: Wave Books, 2016. Poetry with a historical photograph of two trains colliding and portraits of poet Paul Dunbar and minstrels Bert Williams and George Walker. Additional photographs demonstrate how to convert specific pages from Olio into folded or curled shapes, including a torus and a möbius.
John Keene. Grind. n.p. ITI Press, 2016. Keene and Nicholas Muellner appropriated the text and images from queer hook-up apps, then turned the texts into poems on one page and on the opposite page displayed the photograph with the identities of the people obscured.
M. Kitchell. Hour of the Wolf. n.p.: Inside the Castle, 2016. This edition is a “heavily revised and edited” version of a very limited 2013 edition. Narratives about nighttime, nightmares, mysterious activities during the “hour of the wolf” between 3 and 4 AM. The book’s blurb refers to the text as a “hypnagogic incantation.” With numerous uncredited photographs – some are very grainy, as if photocopied, some torn. Dedicated to the artist James Lee Byars.
Alexander Kluge. “In Medieval Angelology, There Are Nine Orders of Snow: Twenty-two Stories on Some Lines from Ben Lerner’s The Lichtenberg Figures.” Paris Review 219 (Winter 2016), pp. 105-124. A short story sequence based upon lines from Lerner’s 2004 book of poetry. Includes seven uncredited photographs.
Alexander Kluge and Gerhard Richter. Dispatches from Moments of Calm. Chicago: Seagull Press, 2016.
Javier Marias. Thus Bad Begins. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2016. First English-language translation of the 2014 Spanish title Así empieza lo malo. This cinema-infused novel about spying, secrets, and post-Franco Spain contains a reproduction of an unidentified painting and an uncredited news photograph showing Mariella Novotny being arrested in New York City for prostitution by an FBI agent. Novotny was a jet set call girl, a friend of Christine Keeler, and reputedly slept with John F. Kennedy.
Elizabeth McKenzie. The Portable Veblen. NY: Penguin, 2016. A novel with fourteen b&w photographs, eight by the author and six historical photographs (mostly related to Thorstein Veblen) credited to a variety of sources. One of the main characters is a translator and an “amateur scholar” of Veblen.
Onuma Nemon. États du Monde. Paris?: Mettray Éditions, 2016. A mammoth 862-page book with many photographs, credited to a wide variety of sources. The back cover indicates that this is the sixth volume in his “Cosmologie” series.
Lance Olsen and Andi Olsen [writing together as “Alana Olsen“]. There’s No Place like Time: A Retrospective. Lake Forest, IL: &NOW Books, 2016. The first clue that a mystery is afoot is the front cover of the book, which is dated “December 2018.” From the website of the book’s distributor, Northwestern University Press: “a fictional catalogue of a real retrospective of experimental films by a videographer who never existed…A collection of critical and biographical essays, stills, and reminiscences about Alana Olsen (a character who first appeared in Lance Olsen’s novel Theories of Forgetting, 2014)… Author Lance Olsen and filmmaker Andi Olsen have already begun staging Alana Olsen’s faux retrospective in galleries in Berlin and elsewhere… [curated by] her equally fictive daughter, Aila.” With numerous black and white photographs.
Geoff Page. Plevna: A Biography in Verse. Crawley: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2016. Using the second-person, Page tells his version of the biography of Sir Charles Snodgrass “Plevna” Ryan (1853-1926) directly to Ryan himself. Embedded within this book-long poem are seven photographs (plus an eighth on the cover) that Ryan took of life in the Australian trenches at the battle of Gallipoli (1915-16), where he was serving as a surgeon. Ryan died of a cardiac infarction on board an ocean liner as it approached Melbourne:
You tell your fellow voyagers
there’s nothing to be done
and that, in twenty minutes,
you’ll probably be dead.
Nicholas Royle & David Gledhill. In Camera. London: Negative Press, 2016. Painter David Gledhill acquired a flea market photograph album that once belonged to an East German family and he started to make large monochromatic oil paintings based on some of the photographs. Nicholas Royle created a story based on some of Gledhill’s paintings, a story of a girl who borrows her physician father’s camera and overhears his consultations with patients. Gledhill’s paintings – especially when reproduced in small format, as in this book – accurately mimic photographs. This struck me as a wonderful twist on the concept of photographs embedded within works of fiction.
Dušan Šarotar. Panorama: A Narrative About the Course of Events. London: Peter Owen, 2016. English translation by Rawley Grau from the 2014 Slovene original of the same title. A blend of fiction, history and journalism that is a “meditation on loss and change and on time, migration, language, ocean, love and war.” With many b&w photographs. See my review here.
Josephine Wilson. Extinctions. Crawley: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2016. Wilson’s novel of Frederick Lothian, a retired professor of structural engineering living unhappily in a retirement home, contains numerous photographs, most of which depict modernist design and architecture. These images reflect one of the main themes of the book – modernist design and architecture. Lothian collects modernist furniture and the designs of Dieter Rams and his engineering projects focused on cleanly designed things like modern bridges. But in the eyes of his family, this passion turned him into a monster whose opinions on all matters “were set in concrete so as to render them more akin to truths.” Wilson is given one final chance to atone for his past.