Happy Birthday, Ogdred Weary

February 26, 2010

It is hard to imagine a better day on which to celebrate the birth of Edward Gorey than this past Monday, February 22nd. Looking out the library windows one couldn’t help but think that the cold, gray, gloomy, windswept day with the black tree branches shrouded skeletally with fresh snow would have pleased Mr. Gorey immensely. The author and artist behind such ghastly amusements as The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, and The Epiplectic Bicycle was born in Chicago 85 years ago this week. In honor of the man, his life, and his charmingly disgusting and horridly bemusing body of work, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some suggested reading to help you celebrate all things grim and Gorey.

Amphigorey: A perfect place to begin your Edward Gorey exploration whether you are new to his work or a longtime fan looking for a quick fix of the macabre. This compilation of 15 of Gorey’s books includes such classics as the aforementioned Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest, plus such truly strange tales as The Willowdale Handcar and the salacious “pornographic work” The Curious Sofa (credited to Ogrdred Weary, one of Gorey’s many anagrammatic pseudonyms). This anthology is chock full of blackly comic weirdness, but beware, Death & Debauchery lurk menacingly around Gorey’s every darkly drawn corner.

Ascending Peculiarity: Now that you’ve jumped in and swum round and round in the bleak oddities that make up Mr. Gorey’s body of work, how about next wading through the inside of Gorey’s mind? This fine book collects a large number of interviews with the artist from throughout his career, and paints a charming, highly intelligent, and humorous portrait of the man. Find out what makes him tick, what informs his art, and what his obsessions are. From ballet (he was an absolute obsessive) to cats to bad sitcoms, Gorey ruminates on the subjects dear to his heart.

Elegant Enigmas: the Art of Edward Gorey: After you’ve devoured the basics of Mr. Gorey’s books, check out this brand new work, which delves deep into Gorey’s artwork and includes examples of designs he made for theatrical sets and costumes, book covers created for other authors, as well as unfinished sketches, doodles, and manuscripts, many of which have never been seen before. In addition to plenty of Gorey’s trademark black and white ink drawings, this volume also contains several beautiful examples of his watercolor work, including an amazing series of painted envelopes which he sent to his mother in 1948. If you think you’ve seen everything Gorey’s done, be sure to investigate this book and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Elephant House: or, the Home of Edward Gorey: And finally, if you’re really interested in exploring the life of Edward Gorey, what better way than to literally take a tour of the home where he lived? From 1986 on, Gorey lived in the Elephant House (so named because of its peeling grey exterior) in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. The house has since been turned into an Edward Gorey museum (with daily tours through the downstairs living spaces), and I can personally vouch for the wonderfulness of the house and the friendliness of its volunteer staff. But if you can’t get to the Cape, this beautiful book is as fine a substitute as you’ll find. Essentially a photo tour through each room of the house, the pictures within give a nice sense of the man himself. Although empty of all life (save fittingly–as Gorey was a great and kind animal lover–for a few cats lounging on sofas and staring out windows) you can feel a great humanity in the spaces depicted. Inside you’ll find Gorey’s abominably, yet charmingly cluttered home stacked and scattered in every spare corner and space with books and pieces of his innumerable collections. Gorey collected all manner of strange and humble items which for whatever reasons happened to strike his fancy, from salt and pepper shakers to antique bottles, stuffed animals to fishing lures, rocks to cheese graters. Looking upon the photographs it is easy to imagine Gorey existing among these strange talismans and lazy felines. Somehow it all seems to fit so rightly with the strange, eerie, beautiful, and above all, fun work he created. This book offers a wonderful and personal window into Gorey’s world.


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