My Reading List, No. 1: Open City

"Open City: My Reading List, No. 1," oil on birch panel, 24x24in.

One of the things I miss most about school is the chance to read and discuss readings with others, and not Oprah's latest pick but demanding texts, niche texts, texts that push buttons and provoke. At best these days, I'll discover that a friend has read the same book and exchange a thought or two about it. Of course I live with an official, living, breathing historian, so I do have that outlet, too.

My latest brainchild is yet another series of paintings, this based on the books I've been reading and thinking about. The idea is to do something more than merely consume the reading, but pick at it a bit more, linger, digest it, ruminate. I've always been appealed by the challenge that illustrators, much more than painters, take on: encapsulating ideas in visual form. It ain't easy—I've designed a few book and CD covers and they were tough. But satisfying. (BTW, I'd love to design more, if anyone out there has the hook-ups).

My first book, upon which I based this painting, is Open City by Teju Cole.

The narrator, Julius, is a med resident (psychiatry) who lives in New York City and spends his time, when he isn't working, wandering. When he is lonely, he walks. When he needs to think, he walks. When he is confused, he walks. Walking is therapy, but also the way to live in the city, in any city—at ground level, rubbing elbows, slowing it down, rolling with the mini-dramas that get thrown in the path.

Plot or suspense don't drive the novel, but rather it's Julius and the insights he gleans from close observation, and the ways he assimilates this sensitivity into a coherent worldview. I'm a huge admirer of this kind of story, the kind where nothing Blockbusterish happens but you eat up the character and want more all the same. You feel close to the author and think, gee, there are sane people out there after all, a thread easier to drop than hold on to these days.

By the way, this weekend is the L.A. Festival of Books. And that's where I'm heading right now.