Since I gave up buying books, it seems like I have more books than ever. For years, my little hoarding problem expressed itself as a compulsion to collect all kinds of paper: books, magazines (remember those?), clippings from newspapers (ditto), random health pamphlets from the dermatologist’s office, Jack Chick comics, 10-year-old bank statements… . And by “collect,” I mean stuff into boxes and bags and make a big pile in every room in the house. But when I saw a documentary about the people who are paid to go in and clean out hoarders’ homes, I got scared straight and I have been slowly dealing with the mess.
Although I’ve stopped buying books (sort of), I haven’t stopped reading. I do go to the library, which not only is free but they make me give the books back after a few weeks, so I figure it doesn’t do any harm. A senior boss at my dayjob gave me her old Kindle, which had about a hundred books on it (many of which I deleted because I really do not need to read dozens of novels about the modern-day grandchildren of World War II survivors); I really like the Kindle, because it takes up a lot less space than seven boxes of books in the middle of the dining room. But there are still a lot of actual, physical books coming into the house, because my good friend A. sends me boxes of discarded review copies from her job.
Friend A. has a good idea of my taste in reading material, so she sends me lots of nonfiction science-y books, and books about food and cooking, and photo and art books. It’s fun to open the packages from her, because I never know what’s going to be inside and sometimes there’s something pretty amazing. The last box was the most amazing of all, because it contained both Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits, by Matthew Rolston, and Dulce Pinzon’s The Real Story of The Superheroes.
Talking Heads is an oversized volume of close-up, full-face portraits of the ventriloquism dummies (is there a more “correct” name for them?) in the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. Being faceblind, I usually don’t quite get the point of portraits, especially when they’re just, you know, headshots, but Talking Heads is different—very different. And creepy, and weird. The Vent Haven Museum is where dummies go when the person who animated them retires or dies. It’s like a giant mausoleum of creatures that are not really dead, because they were never, technically, alive. Or were they? Oh, I wanna go there so bad! I would totally take a roadtrip there, and I wonder if we could set it up as a WFMU meet-up, and all the Listeners would meet there and we could all be in awe of every painted head, and get the shivers, and then go eat anything but that awful five-way chili, and drink some Kentucky whiskey, and all go home. That would be the best trip ever! We’ve already missed Vent-Con 2013, or whatever they call it, so until I can arrange our meet-up there, I will make do with this creepy, creepy book.
The other photo book Friend A. sent me was Dulce Pinzón’s The Real Story of the Superheroes , which is wonderful in a whole different way. It’s a collection of photos of the people who bus tables and deliver groceries and wash clothes—all the necessary work of the city, the jobs that can be easy to ignore, often done by people who come here from someplace else to work hard and live in poverty in order to give their families back home a better life. Pinzón recognizes the heroic nature of their sacrifice by dressing her subjects in the costumes of appropriate superheroes and photographing them at their jobs: Spiderman washes windows; Mr. Fantastic serves food by stretching from lunch counter to table; Robin turns tricks in Time Square. Each picture is accompanied by a caption that gives the subject’s name, job, place of origin (almost all are from Mexico), and the amount of money he or she sends home. Here’s a guy dressed as Aquaman, gutting fish: “Juventino Rosas from the state of Mexico works at a fish market in New York. He sends home 400 dollars a week.” The last page is a selfie of Pinzón at a machine in a factory. The caption says, “Dulce Pinzón from Mexico City works as a photographer …” Her costume is Sue Storm: The Invisible Girl.