A Life in Books: A very quirky writer’s latest.
Warren Lehrer, an award-winning self-described writer/designer, multidisciplinary artist, oral historian and educator, writes books that are very hard to describe and must be hell for bookstores to categorize. They’re picture books with a lot of text, but the genres vary. The newest is fiction (what Lehrer calls “an illuminated novel”), A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley, written under the guise of Lehrer’s protagonist, Bleu Mobley, recounting his autobiography from jail—through 101 books that Mobley has written and Lehrer has created on the page. The 101 titles (all Mobley’s published works) serve as chapters, each with at least one cover (some have multiple titles) and original catalogue entries. Some have excerpts, and others have pages as well. Got all that? Its 400 pages amount to at least three books in one—or do I mean a hundred and one? A Life in Books has been described as a “quirky, yet unmistakably modern evocation of the illuminated manuscript,” and, like a monk’s painstaking production of an illuminated manuscript, it took Lehrer seven years to pull off. There’s also a contest, a travelling exhibition and a tour with video and readings. And did I mention that it’s funny? In scope, execution and ambition, it’s an extraordinary book.
Lehrer’s other books are equally unique: take Crossing the Blvd: strangers, neighbors, aliens in a new America,, which he wrote in 2003 with the performer/writer, audio/radio artist and oral historian/educator Judith Sloan, who also happens to be his wife. It’s another 400-page book, this one full of photographs, maps, charts, quotes and stories portraying the lives of new immigrants and refugees who live in the most ethnically diverse locality in the United States—the borough of Queens. To give another idea of the range of his productions, Lehrer calls French Fries, published in 1984, a book/play—but frankly it’s almost impossible to describe. All Lehrer’s books look and read like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Lehrer, who is a professor at the School of Art and Design at Purchase College at the State University of New York, and a founding faculty member of the Designer As Author graduate program at New York’s School of Visual Arts, has exhibited and performed his work, co-written four plays and one opera and co-composed two audio CDs. He also co-produces public radio documentaries and audio works with Sloan. Together they are the founders of EarSay, a non-profit arts organization “dedicated to uncovering and portraying the lives of the uncelebrated in print, on stage, on the radio, in exhibitions, concert halls, electronic media, and through educational programs in public schools, community centres, and prisons.”
Here are eight of the 101 covers, chosen at random. See more here.