Reub's journey

28 June 2013

Cephalopod Coffeehouse book review: Out of the Shadows

It's the last Friday of the month, time to own up to what I've read in the past 4 weeks, and for the most part it isn't a pretty picture. Buzzfeed online. The Funny Times for a newspaper. And a new low in fiction: Desperate Housedogs by Sparkle Abbey. My god, how embarrassing! Literary junk food for a whole month? Armchair Squid of The Cephalopod Coffeehouse wonders what my best read has been.


There is one book that sets itself apart from the summertime drivel: Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. It's a book about  a photographer who has fascinated me since I first heard about her a couple of years ago: Vivian Maier, the so-called "nanny photographer," whose thousands of undeveloped rolls of film were sold off at an auction in 2007 when she was ill and unable to pay for their storage.




Vivian died unknown in 2009. But John Maloof, who bought the spools of film hoping to find original material for a book he was writing about a Chicago neighborhood, soon realized that he was sitting atop a mountain of astonishing street photography, shot mostly in Chicago, but also in New York and France. Maloof's book Vivian Maier: Street Photographer probably contains more of Vivian's most powerful images than Cahn and Williams book, but less about the details of her secretive life.

Out of the Shadows' unedited photos accompany anecdotes gleaned from interviews with the families for whom she worked during the 50's and 60's. Imagine a nanny who took you on field trips to the Chicago livestock yards...that's pretty strange.


Maier's ability to capture forceful images on everyday walks with her young charges is astounding.


I highly recommend this book, especially in tandem with Maloof's book. I hope to see the documentary (just out this year) about Vivian Maier.  Check out the trailer here:





Writing this book review has made me  feel a little better about myself. One good book per month is better than none.

23 comments:

  1. :) I quite agree with your last sentence. I have a sense that the C(ephalopod) C(offeehouse) is going to have a positive ripple effect for all involved.

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    1. Yeah. Now I will keep in mind my choices:)

      I wrote this review quickly & just noticed a typo in the 2nd-to-the-last sentence. Thank you!

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  2. Those are wonderful photographs. Her pictures and story has been publicized here in Chicago recently. It is nice to see people appreciating her photos.

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    1. She revealed Chicago in all of its grittiness. There was an exhibition in Chicago 2 years ago & I would have loved to see it.

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  3. Vivian Meier sounds very interesting. What a shame that her work couldn't be better appreciated during her lifetime. I love photography. Digital is amazing but to me, there is something magical about the old black-and-whites crafted in the darkroom.

    For the record, I see nothing wrong with celebrating lighter reading fare. And hey, if the only book you finished was terrible, why not use the opportunity to warn the rest of us away from it? There shall be no shaming at The Squid!

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    1. Hey AS! Thank you! No shaming. I have noticed that the quality of books is pretty high this month over at the coffeehouse though. Impressive. "Desperate Housedogs" just wouldn't cut it.

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  4. My not usually mush for photography books, but this one sounds interesting.

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    1. Well hey Andrew, it's friday night, why not enjoy your shelf?

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  5. "Desperate Housedogs" by Sparkle Abbey: Come on, admit it — you read that one just so you could "confess" to it here! :) That is awesome. I love that that book is actually a thing.

    This book, and that woman, sound totally fascinating to me. I really want to know what the story is behind that haunting image, too, of the face behind the rebar.

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    1. Ha! I couldn't believe I read the whole thing. It was like a bag of damn potato chips. But then "confessing" did occur to me:) Sparkle Abbey is not (I know you're shocked) a real person, but actually 2 friends who write a series together, each taking one of the voices of a pair of sisters. One book is narrated by sister A, the next by sister B. Gotta admit that's an interesting way to collaborate.

      As for Vivian Maier, she is totally absorbing. The face behind the rebar is one of 1000s of shots taken at the beach (Lake Michigan) where she would go with the kids: a busted-up concrete jetty under a boardwalk where kids would hide.

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  6. Don't feel bad. We all read literary junk.

    This book you chose sounds absolutely fascinating. Just the small sampling of pictures you provided makes me want to see what she photographed throughout her years. And yes, she does sound like she would've been one strange nanny!

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    1. Thank you! I suspect you're right. How else can we know what really good fiction is?

      I never had a nanny but I bet I would've liked going around with Vivian...shooting all those pictures...wouldn't I have suspected that she was an artist?

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  7. I've seen many of her photos over the years and I'm always just blown away. The book is a must-have.

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    1. I think you would like this book, Hilary. With your knowledge of photography you would find Vivian Meier a really fascinating character, and the pics just stunning.

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    1. Vivian's story is powerful. Her compulsive need to capture the streets of Chicago-and share the dramatic results with nobody-is mind-blowing. She has been compared to the reclusive Emily Dickinson.

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  9. i was gifted that book not long ago and love it .. it inspires me to keep snapping things i spot that catch my eye

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    1. Ahhh! Of course you would have this book! It makes perfect sense.You would understand the joy of walking down the streets of a big city and noticing the details all around you.

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  10. I’ve read a couple of cringies too: recommended by another blogger, no less. Some books are so embarrassing you would never want to be caught with them.

    The photographer’s story sounds intriguing.

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    1. At least Housedogs was on my e-reader. Nobody actually saw me read it! That's one of the big advantages of e-readers.

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  11. I once read a book about tax abatements. It was a big book too, so....

    LOVE the last picture. ~Mary

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    1. ha! I don't know if I could 'fess up to reading a book on tax abatements...however...

      "The Big Book of Tax Abatements"...sounds like a board book for toddlers. a bored book for toddlers.

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