Oversized and lavishly produced reproduction of a fascinating but obscure artifact plucked from the archives. Hailing from a clerical family "well offOversized and lavishly produced reproduction of a fascinating but obscure artifact plucked from the archives. Hailing from a clerical family "well off, but not rich," Johnson, who lived from 1746 -1823, meticulously documented the clothing she had made for her, carefully affixing textile scraps to an old account ledger from a family friend and writing detailed descriptions of their attributes, uses, prices, etc. Now held by the Victoria & Albert Museum, its potential contribution to our understanding of Britain's Regency era is obvious: here's a small peek into mundane details of everyday life that are often lost to history.
But alongside the undeniable sociohistorical importance, I picked this up more for purely aesthetic reasons, as inadvertently Johnson created an early example of what later became known as an "altered book" (which is basically the catch-all term applied any time an artist creatively modifies the original form of a text in some way). Viewed from this perspective, as I flipped through the pages of this book the fanciful, intricate sensibility of Joseph Cornell constantly came to mind, and I imagine the celebrated 20th century surrealist would have been as utterly enchanted as I was by Johnson's efforts.
Offutt’s memoir/biography hybrid first piqued my interest after catching a few minutes of his conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, where they dOffutt’s memoir/biography hybrid first piqued my interest after catching a few minutes of his conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, where they discussed the unorthodox—and rather ingenious—habit his father developed as a kind of aid to his prodigious writing schedule (which eventually totaled nearly 400 books in all):
TG: “After your father died and you went through his books, you found that he had a cataloging system for writing pornography - that he had whole sections ready to go into, like, kind of cut-and-paste in the appropriate book. So it had pages with, like, 150 synonyms for pain. There were sections for descriptions of the mouth, for descriptions of the tongue, the face, the legs, for kisses, spanking, distress. So it sounds like he cataloged all of this and had it all ready to paste into the appropriate book, and then he'd kind of "X" it out of the catalog so he wouldn't use it a second time.”
CO: “[…] He would watch television at night with a big clipboard and write longhand, and we would all be sitting there watching television… He wasn't writing a novel or a short story, but he was just inventing descriptions while watching television. He liked to watch TV and write.”
As someone utterly fascinated by creative process, I immediately made a request for the book at my local library, curious if there were any other such tidbits to be found.
To my disappointment there ended up not being a whole lot, which I suppose isn’t all that surprising considering how secretive the elder Offutt was (which in turn made the sections, mostly contained near the end of the book, of unexpected discoveries made in the archive particularly exciting).
Despite the title, My Father, the Pornographer ended up being more about Offutt himself, a personal memoir about wrestling with the legacy of a father who sounds both impossible to live and interact with but whose professional accomplishments also can’t help but elicit admiration. Offutt fils has an agreeably spare, wry way of rendering knotty situations and complicated emotions, and a knack for capturing the unconventional rhythms of rural childhoods. So even if I ended up not quite getting what I was hoping for from from this read—and I would be interested in a bona fide biography about Andrew Offutt, if one was ever written—I nonetheless found myself generally engrossed by this complex dual portrait, captivated right up to the end. ...more