Friday, August 15, 2008

The Art of the Book, 2: Barry Moser, Booksmith

Dave and I became fascinated with the work of Barry Moser years ago. We found his illustrations and design work accompanying the poems of Paul Mariani and Donald Hall; we tracked his children's book illustrations in Hall's gentle New Hampshire summer and winter tales, and spotted his craft on a Joyce Carol Oates book, then discovered (with leaping hearts) his darkly wonderful ALICE books, his WIZARD OF OZ, his DRACULA. We began looking for the scarcer pieces -- his Dante's PARADISO for instance. And keeping up with the new releases: this year's HOGWOOD, a tale told by master narrator Howard Mansfield and brought affectionately to life with Moser's pigs and people.

But what turned us into ardent "fans" who'll travel several hours to a Moser event was an hour spent listening to him speak of his decisions around designing the type, the illustrations, and the pages themselves for his Pennyroyal edition of the Holy Bible. Son of a preacher, and a man of the pulpit himself in early adulthood, Moser now declares himself an agnostic, a person who has separated from church and other forms of organized religion. Yet his knowledge of the great books of faith and of the forms of religious commitment drives his work into multiple levels of human exploration. He takes entirely seriously the responsibility of grappling with the human questions and condition. Here's a bit from a CrossCurrents interview with him in 2001, titled "Blood & Stone: Violence in the Bible & The Eye of the Illustrator":

As an illustrator, I am reuired to imagine these events. Indeed, I am rquired by the narrative mandate of my art to re-present them. And in doing this I must see them clearly, and with no faintness of heart, no averting of eyes. I cannot allow myself the mummery of fabrication and equivocation. Nor will I, as an artist, allow sweetness and light to burrow in where bitterness and what I read. When I consider the slaughter of the Egyptians in Exodus, I must imagine just how God smote them, how they were attacked, scourged, struck, and killed by God's destroyer. I must behold the horrible ways in which the destroyer killed those innocent children. ...

I have been criticized, and will continue to be criticized, I imagine, for making images for the Bible that are too dark. ... And perhaps this is right, I don't know. But I do know that Paul (or Apollos) tells us there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22). Faith, hope, and love may be the enduring message, but for me the over-riding theme of the Bible is blood and stone -- the blood of sacrifice and thes rone of redemption. It is the eternal and omnipresent conflict between good and evil. The tension between light and dark.

Reading this for at least the third time -- as I've also read Moser's impressive collection of essays IN THE FACE OF PRESUMPTIONS -- I'm struck by the opportunity Moser's reasoning opens in this dark season of the world: that the presence of war and loss around and among us is not, then, a denial of the presence of God, but rather, evidence of the continuing labor by the forces of good, to redeem the disaster that falls among us. May it be so.

Kingdom Books shelves a wide collection of Moser's work. I must confess that we've kept copies of nearly all his great work for our own shelves, too. To browse through what we're offering, please do visit the Kingdom Books web site and click on Browse & Buy -- which places you into our ABE listings -- and then type in the author slot, Moser. E-mail us with questions; this is work we love to discuss.

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