Thursday, December 6, 2012
2013 Contenders: Face Book, by Chuck Close
As is fitting, given its subject, Face Book is heavily illustrated, not only with photographs of Close's artwork, but also with pictures of him in his studio, as well as personal photos. The book's centerpiece is actually a set of fourteen of Close's self-portraits, cut into thirds so that they can be mixed up, sort of like those old playground toys that let you put the head of a giraffe on a lion's body and an ostrich's feet. (The front cover shows one possible combination.) It's an excellent tool that lets children see how different art media can be used.
It's also, however, the sort of tool that often gets considered "gimmicky." Nonfiction books that test the boundaries of what a book can do don't tend to be recognized for the major awards. Often, that's a wise choice, but sometimes, I think it lets something genuinely useful go unrecognized.
Face Book is structured as an interview with Close, and the acknowledgments state that the book is based on an actual interview in which several 5th-graders were able to ask Close some questions. As such, most of the words are Close's, and he's listed as the author, but it's clear that the book was compiled and put together by someone else (the names Joan Sommers, Amanda Freymann, and Ascha Drake show up in the fine print of the copyright notice). Literary awards selectors don't generally like authorship by committee, so that's a second strike against Face Book being recognized right there.
Nonetheless, Face Book does a great job of getting inside an artist's head, explaining how Close chooses his subjects, discussing why he uses so many different media, and even giving readers an inside look into the process of overcoming his disability (Close suffered a spinal artery collapse in 1988, and lost much of the use of his legs and arms). I think the interview format and the liberal use of Close's art will make this a highly accessible book for young readers. Of all the children's biographies of artists that I've read, it's certainly the one that gets the closest (no pun intended!) to its subject.
So, despite the fact that it's constructed in a way that essentially precludes it from awards consideration, Face Book is a highly successful work. I'd recommend it in a trice to anyone with an interest in modern art.
Published in April by Abrams Books for Young Readers