Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Strand Books Neon

I will grant that my neon-centric worldview has made me abnormally attuned to all things neon.  But on a recent visit to the Strand bookstore here in New York, neon seemed to be everywhere. 

The trend for fake neon in graphic design (as noted in this post from last year) continues, as can be seen in cover art for all sorts of books.  Some of these neon covers, like that of Sheldon and Stefan Nadelman's superb book called Terminal Bar, are at least tangentially related to the subject matter within.  Others, not so much.  

Over on the new releases table, we find Hermione Hoby's novel Neon in Daylight, named in reference to Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems ("Neon in daylight is a great pleasure . . . ").  O'Hara, incidentally, lived just two blocks down from the Strand, in an old building that was destroyed a few years back to make way for a junior sized luxury residential palazzo.

Better still, neon between the covers.  Some old New York signs (neon and other) get their due in Julia Wertz's lovely new book Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City


Up in the photography section, meanwhile, neon makes some resplendent cameos in "Modern Color," a monograph of works by photographer Fred Herzog.  

And then there's I See A City: Todd Webb's New York, an exceptional photographic freeze-frame of the city as it appeared in the 1940s and 50s.  If not the first compendium of NYC street photographs from this era, this is certainly one of the most engaging and drool-inducing I've seen in a long time.

Finally, over by the cash registers, one last little testimonial for neon's place in the iconography of the city:  a nice glamour shot of the Chelsea Hotel sign in a rack of postcards featuring classic images that define the city, from the Staten Island Ferry to the Brooklyn Bridge to the famed WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU coffee cup.  In the New York Neon book, I wrote that the Chelsea Hotel sign's neon tubes are "as much interwoven with the fabric of the city's identity as any landmark of brick and mortar." The sign itself has gone unlit for years now, leaving us to wait and see whether this particular icon will prove more or less ephemeral than its likeness in books and picture postcards.


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