A LIFE IN BOOKS: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley
(Goff Books 2013) is an illuminated novel containing 101 books within it, all written by Lehrer’s protagonist who finds himself in prison looking back on his life and career.
A LIFE IN BOOKS: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley
(Goff Books 2013) is an illuminated novel containing 101 books within it, all written by Lehrer’s protagonist who finds himself in prison looking back on his life and career.
Nearly a year after the controversial author is thrown into a federal prison for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential source, he decides to break his silence. But it’s not as simple as giving up a name to the grand jury. Over the course of one long night, in the darkness of his prison cell, he whispers his life story into a microcassette recorder, tracing his journey from the public housing project of his youth, to a career as a journalist, then experimental novelist, college professor, husband, father, accidental bestselling author, pop-culture pundit, and unindicted prisoner.
In A LIFE IN BOOKS, Mobley’s autobiography/apologia is paired with a review of all 101 of his books. Each book is represented by its first edition cover design and catalogue copy, and more than a third of his books are excerpted. The resulting retrospective contrasts the published writings (which read like short stories) with the author’s confessional memoir, forming a most unusual portrait of a well-intentioned, obsessively inventive (if ethically challenged) visionary.
Written and designed by acclaimed author/artist Warren Lehrer,
A LIFE IN BOOKS is an extraordinarily original, funny, heartwarming and heart-wrenching exploration of one man’s use of books as a means of understanding himself, the people around him, and a half century of American/global events. Rich with stories that spring from other stories, this genre-defying novel orchestrates a multicultural symphony of characters from Bleu’s life and books: lovers, mothers, children, friends, enemies, teachers, students, runaways, rebels, thinkers, dreamers, believers, skeptics, the displaced and dispossessed. It chronicles the mysteries and contradictions of the creative process, and grapples with the future of the book as a medium, as well as the lines that separate truth, myth, and fiction.
This four-color, full-length novel—containing over 101 hilarious and scrumptious book cover designs (and book-like objects)—fuses art and literature, and distinguishes itself as one of those books you’ll want to hold in your hands, feast your eyes on, read and re-read, share with friends, and treasure for years to come.
7.5”x9.75”, 380 pages, 4 color throughout, hardbound, printed on acid free paper.
ISBN 978-1-939621-02-3 Distributed by PGW (Publishers Group West)
A LIFE IN BOOKS is the the lead title in the launch of Goff Books, a new imprint of ORO Editions, which features works of Visual Literature, and books on Art, Design, and Popular Culture.
Written, Designed, and Illustrated by Warren Lehrer.
Some illustrations were made in collaboration
with Melina Rodrigo Smyres and Donna Chang.
Jonathon Rosen collaborated on the cover art.
“In A Life In Books, Warren Lehrer has written a profound commentary on this nausea-inducing unique moment in the grand transition from Silly Mind to Machine Mind. Amusingly and smartly enough, he may have helped transition ‘the last great American novel’ to the first ‘great illustrated novel’ which is how novels started. A Life In Books is brilliant, beautiful, delicious for eyes and mind.”
Andrei Codrescu poet, novelist, journalist, public radio commentator
“In Warren Lehrer’s ingenious, one-of-a-kind novel, A Life In Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley, we see all the covers of all 101 books supposedly written by the narrator over the last several decades… A tour-de-force!”
Kurt Andersen Studio 360
“For anyone who has ever resisted judging a book by its cover, now’s your chance: In A Life In Books, author and graphic design visionary Warren Lehrer crafts a vivid kaleidoscopic odyssey that frames one man’s life through not one, but one hundred different books—and book jackets. In this quirky, yet unmistakably modern evocation of the illuminated manuscript, Lehrer’s book reminds us that we are what we do. And, for that matter, what we publish.”
Jessica Helfand graphic designer, writer, educator, founding editor Design Observer
“A meticulously illustrated chronicle… Lehrer’s 101 cover designs for Mobley’s books are pitch perfect. And like the best film title sequences, which establish moods or introduce plotlines, these fictional covers are vehicles by which Lehrer illuminates Mobley’s tale of success and failure… Lehrer has created a parallel art world”
Steven Heller The Atlantic
“A Life In Books is a book-lover’s fictional treat of books that never were. At first when we look at this extraordinary book, it looks like it’s going to be a funny book, with crazy, zany events. But A Life In Books is ultimately about how the sadness of life is transformed into art. The book is about survival, and how life requires constant adjustment, constant compromise, and the will to find the funny line at which you won’t compromise… By the end, Bleu Mobley is surviving in jail. We understand everything he does step by step because he takes us with him down his path, from the print shop of his junior high where he falls in love with everything about letters and words, to his reinvention as a writer of best sellers in order to support his daughter’s medical expenses, and his ultimate refusal to sell out a confidential source… As Whitman said, ‘I contain multitudes,’ and Bleu Mobley contains 101 books. Wonderful!”
Michael Silverblatt Bookworm, KCRW
“Warren Lehrer has spent a decade writing and designing a book that is way more than a book. A blend of writing and design, which extends to performance art… A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley is a typographical and design tour de force.”
Ellen Shapiro Print Magazine
“A tour de force of graphic design, illustration and writing. Exploiting a wide range of illustration styles to delight the eye, Lehrer offers a funny, thought-provoking and refreshing twist on the graphic novel… Guaranteed to bring a smile.”
Ken Carbone Huffington Post
“A Life In Books is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, boldly integrating illustration and typography into its engaging story.”
David Gutowski Largehearted Boy
“In A Life in Books, Lehrer has designed a sort of Chinese puzzle whose myriad ideas, stories and characters—from all parts of the globe—intersect, overlap, and dovetail… [It is] a tale of growing up, marriage, fatherhood, physical incapacity, healing, poverty, financial success, incarceration, and continuous self-reflection. Lehrer is adept at representing our multicultural society, which for him means not a sociological construct but the lives and struggles of real people. Like Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, and Ben Katchor, Lehrer participates in the search for fresh and innovative ways to show, as well as tell, his many stories. Astonishing.”
Robert Berlind The Brooklyn Rail
“In the era of cookie-cutter books and rubber-stamped stories, Warren Lehrer’s A Life In Books is fresh, original, idiosyncratic, beautiful, and important.”
Rabih Alameddine novelist and painter, author of Koolaids, The Perv, Hakawati, and I, the Divine
“Warren Lehrer’s invented bibliography is a brilliant, ambitious, and compelling novel… A bold work of the imagination, A Life In Books is an “illuminated novel,” in the sense of Mobley’s memoir being lit up by a retrospective monograph of his work, and so many visual touches that make dipping into the book so much fun. The essential backstory turns out to be about what the future holds for books as material objects. I truly hope this audacious novel gets the attention it so richly deserves.”
Nicholas Basbanes Fine Books & Collections
“Warren Lehrer is witty, ingenious, sly, serious, a graphic wizard and literary innovator. His crazily ambitious illuminated novel uses art and artifice to test our assumptions about how life is supposed to be in modern America… So much more than a book, A Life In Books is an experience… at once revealing and mysterious, a commentary on ego, celebrity and American society… It plays like literary jazz: Lehrer’s fingers pumping up and down on the keys, laying down pungent notes, sparkling phrases, lilting tunes about who we are and where we are going.”
Dan Bailes The Vision Thing
“In scope, execution and ambition, A Life In Books is an extraordinary book. Like nothing you’ve ever seen before… There is also a contest, a traveling exhibition with video, and a performance/reading tour…”
Lucy Sisman Wwword
“A Life In Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley, a gorgeously produced multi-color ‘novel,’ is a brilliant meditation on the state of publishing in the 21st Century. What is truth? What is fiction? Who is ‘me,’ am I my nom de plume, & how can I turn us into a franchise… or maybe even into two?! By the time you reach page 330 with pictures of Bleu’s Book Lamps, you’ll be laughing through your tears… I can’t think of a better gift.”
Tsiviah Huttner Second City Tzivi
“A Life In Books is unique, incredible, affecting, meticulous, the perfect hide-and-seek game, and honestly, one of those works that seems so obvious and fertile as a structure, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before. Am I gushing? I just love it. This is an important book.”
Stephen Farrell design innovator, Vas An Opera In Flatland and Toc: A New Media Novel
“The coolest book ever.”
Designers and Books
“A genre-defying night that fuses art and literature, prose and design into a multi-media presentation unlike any other.”
“Stories told with humor, pathos, poetry, drama and the absurd…”
“A Life In Books is a literary multimedia satirical romp through the last half century of publishing with all its conceits and marketing tricks from ‘Outsourcing Grandma’ to toilet paper poems and a childrens books on capital punishment ‘How Bad People Go Bye Bye.’ Wonderful!”
Edgy Lit Selected Best Books 2013
more videos coming soon!
In his performance/readings, Lehrer presents an overview of Bleu Mobley’s life and work with projections of his book cover designs and other biographical materials including animations and video performances of Mobley book excerpts by the band BETTY, beatbox poet Chesney Snow, actress/poet La Bruja, actress/author Judith Sloan, and others.
A Life In Books presentations are funny, entertaining, and thought provoking. They focus on: the creative process (how life events can influence an artist’s work and vice versa); the future of the book, reading and writing; and the lines that separate truth, myth, and fiction. Whenever possible, Warren likes to engage audiences in a Q&A afterwards, and sign books. In some venues, he combines an A Life In Books performance/reading with an overview presentation of his own 30+ year career as writer and artist. Workshops on Visual Literature for writers and artists are also possible.
Jan 3, 3:15pm College Book Art Association Conference Performance/Talk Salt Lake City, UT
Jan 7-8 Teton County LIbrary Lecture/Workshop + Performance Jackson Hole, WY
Jan 30, 4:30pm Neuberger Museum of Art Performance/Reading Purchase College/SUNY, NY
Feb 6, 4:30pm VCU Virginia Commonwealth University Performance/Lecture Richmond, VA
Feb 13, 6pm NYU Bookstore Performance/Reading New York, NY (Snowed out – Rescheduled for April 17)
Feb 22 Scripps College Performance/Lecture + Workshop Claremont, CA
March 14, 8pm LaGuardia Performing Arts Center Performance (resulting from Theater Residency) LIC, Queens, NY
March 26-27 Roger Williams College Performance/Lecture + Workshop Bristol, RI
March 27 AIGA, Providence Performance/Lecture Providence, RI
April 7, 4-6pm Rutgers Performance/Reading + Panel Newark, NJ
April 17, 6pm NYU Bookstore Performance/Reading New York, NY
May 9, 6:30pm Center for Book Arts Performance/Reading New York, NY
July 29, 7pm GSA Summer Speaker Series Performance/Reading Blue Hill, MA
Sept 21, 6-7:30pm NY Art Book Fair Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference Keynote Speaker PS1, MoMA, LIC, NY
Sept 19–21 NY Art Book Fair Exhibitor PS1, MoMA,
Oct 4, 4pm Quintessential Queens Conference Performance/Reading w/ Judith Sloan Queens College, NY
Oct 11, 7:30pm AIGA National Conference Book Signing Minneapolis Convention Center, MN
Oct 17, 5:15pm SAIC Chicago Art Institute Lecture/Performance and Workshops Chicago, IL
Oct 24, 7pm Boston Art Institute
Lecture/Performance Boston, MA
Nov 1, 7pm The Greene Space @WNYC
BOOK LAUNCH/Performance Reading New York, NY RESERVE A TICKET NOW
Nov 7, 7pm Art Center CollegeLecture/Performance Pasadena, CA
Nov 11, 7:30pm Skylight BooksPresentation & Signing Los Angeles, CA
Nov 12, 7:30pm The Booksmith BookstorePresentation & Signing San Francisco, CA
Nov 13, 7pm Book Passage Bookstore Performance/Reading Corte Madera, CA
Nov 23 Miami Book Fair, Performance/Reading Miami, FL
Dec 6, 7pm Queens Council On The Arts Performance/Reading Astoria, NY
In addition to the book covers, and catalogue descriptions, A LIFE IN BOOKS includes thirty-four excerpts that run anywhere from one to nine pages. Some early readers of A LIFE IN BOOKS have stated a desire for many of these excerpts to keeping going.
To answer this call, we’ve decided—in the tradition of Bleu Mobley’s own ‘team writing’ process—to ask readers to help complete some of Bleu’s books via a writing contest/crowd-source project.
We decided to begin this interactive reading and writing experiment with Bleu Mobley’s first short story collection, Spit Sonata.
The Spit Sonata Catalogue description:
Bleu Mobley’s first collection of short stories features interior monologues of people in very high places, including: Alexandria atop her fire-watch tower on Lookout Point, Rafael the roofer reslating a four-story Victorian, Frankie the phone guy up a pole in the Poconos, Vladimir the cosmonaut on rotation in his Soviet space station, and Corrie doing a tree-house sit-in to save the forest on Turtleneck Hill. In all, Spit Sonata portrays a dozen elevated yet down-to-earth perspectives on family, work, “progress,” and the phases of life.
1986, Terra Firma Books, Providence, RI
Contestants are asked to read the one excerpted story printed in A Life In Books, “Vigil On Turtleneck Hill,” and then write and submit one of the short stories/interior narratives described in the catalog description. (The tree-house sitter is already written. Consider the brief catalogue description of four other stories as prompts. Seven other stories are completely wide open except that they need to be written from the vantage point of someone in “a very high place.” Spit Sonata came out in 1986, so be mindful of the time period and the kinds of technologies that were and weren’t being used then.
Professional, amateur, and aspiring writers, teachers, students, creative writing classes, college freshman writing classes, readers who don’t even think of themselves as writers but were/are curious about the parts of Bleu Mobley’s books that are not excerpted in A Life In Books are invited and encouraged to give this a try.
Once Spit Sonata is completed, it will be published as an ebook. If your contribution is selected for inclusion, your name will be listed in the writing credits of the ebook, and posted on this website along with your excerpt. You will also receive an Official BLEU MOBLEY WRITING TEAM CERTIFICATE, as well as an 8”x10” inkjet print of the Bleu Mobley book cover (or image of a Bleu Mobley book-like object) of your choice—printed on 100% rag paper, and signed by Warren Lehrer.
Testimonials about CROSSING the BLVD as a learning tool
“Throughout the unit, I was struck by how the students talked in terms of people—real, live, and close to home—rather than of characters or images… Moreover, through Crossing the BLVD, Maine students discovered the diversity within Maine and within their own families… researching family names, interviewing relatives, and exploring their own border crossings—with exciting outcomes… The book, CD, and exhibition are an enormous inspira-tion and model for how storytelling and dialogue can transform persons and relations among people.”
Kristin M. Langellier, Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Maine
“Using Crossing the BLVD in our College Writing classes and Freshman Seminar has had a wonderful, transformative effect. My students have said that no single book they have ever read has made them go out and learn about “politics in the world” more than BLVD. They are attracted by its visually lovely flash look, but they are moved by the incredible writing and stories… If you are looking for a way to bring international issues into your classroom, this is a great entry. You can use it for conflict narratives. It also works very well in research units.”
Kathleen McCormick, Professor of Literature and Pedagogy, Director of Writing, Purchase College, SUNY
“As a Common Reader and teaching tool, Crossing the BLVD brings a fascinatingly broad and affecting human perspective to contemporary debates over immigration, assimilation and exclusion in the United States. Impressive for its comprehensive research, Crossing offers a unique, multi-voiced ethnographic analysis of Queens, New York, and dramatically illustrates ongoing and competing notions of what it means to be American. Crossing presents the immigrant center of Queens as seemingly chaotic microcosm for America, a place of unexpected bedfellows, unusual crossings, and in-between spaces that symbolize the nation, simultaneously reinforcing and challenging our evolving definitions of American identity. I heartily recommend the inclusion of this text in the classroom. And when Warren and Judith came to perform and talk to the students, the stories came to life again, and no one, students and faculty alike, will ever forget the experience. Rex Nielson, Ph.D, Bryant University, Literary and Cultural Studies
“Crossing the BLVD is a paradigmatic American studies text. It is an innovatively designed, beautiful, moving, funny, stimulating, horrifying, and illuminating book.”
Kirstin Swinth, American Quarterly, Chair, History Deptartment, Fordham University
“Crossing the BLVD defies the caricature of migrant ethnicity perpetuated in popular culture… It juxtaposes the lived complexity of the ways in which various (new and old) immigrant communities coexist, and how they encounter the “mainstream” and vice versa… helping the reader see that the man who drives the taxi may in fact be a poet…”
Mita Banerjee, Ph.D, The IntraNation Project, Emily Carr Institute
“Crossing the BLVD is more evocative and provocative than any instructional video I’ve seen and far less expensive. It serves as a model for what you could do in your community, organization or institution.”
Managing Diversity Magazine Harris Sussman
“A vibrant and inspiring collection of stories from immigrants… For people who have so often been otherized, stereotyped, and misrepresented, Crossing is an exercise in authenticity… The graphic style and approach to potraiture is revolutionary for the field, and the sheer volume and range of subjects, rare… Visionary!”
The Oral History Review Courtney E. Martin
“I’ve been working with refugees and immigrants as a cultural producer for twenty years, and Crossing the BLVD is simply the best project/book representing the real life experiences of immigrants in the new America.”
James Bau Graves, Director, Center for Cultural Exchange
“This stunningly innovative book goes beyond pathos, into the kaleidoscope of experience that defines real immigrant life, in all its complexity…” City Limits Debbie Nathan
“Crossing the BLVD collects the searing first-person stories of 79 Queens residents, recent immigrants from everywhere… The effect is dazzling but organic and appropriate. . . as vibrant as a live event. Strongly recommended for public and academic collections.” Library Journal Janet Ingraham Dwyer
“Spellbinding first-person narratives of people who hail from every imaginable point on the globe… The book has special interest to those of us in health care because recent immigrants bring special problems to medical practice… (How often is a question about torture part of our Review of Systems?) A book like BLVD can help us meet the needs of this special population by using both creativity and compassion.” The Permanente Journal Dr. Eric Schuman
“Crossing The BLVD reveals the impact of changes in immigration law through the oral histories of asylum seekers caught in mandatory detention, refugees fleeing war and persecution, and those pushed out of their countries struggling to re-create their lives. The significance of this extraordinary volume is that, ready or not, it provides a glimpse of the new America which is emerging.” Ron Daniels, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
A LIFE IN BOOKS can be used as a resource for teachers and students in a variety of ways.
Foremost, A LIFE IN BOOKS can be used as a springboard for ideas in Creative Writing, College Freshman Writing, Writing for Artists, Writing for Designers, Graphic Design, Illustration, Fiction Writing, Short Story Writing, Ethics, Semiotics, and Critical Issues (in Contemporary Literature and Art) classes, as well as for workshops in Unleashing Creativity, or any of the above subjects.
Warren Lehrer’s last book, Crossing the BLVD: strangers, neighbors, aliens in a new America (written with Judith Sloan), is being used as a text and common reader in colleges, high schools, ESL and other programs. Crossing the BLVD is a work of non-fiction that focuses on the human dimension of the new immigrant and refugee experience in the United States. A LIFE IN BOOKS approaches similar themes through illuminated fiction, while also exploring the creative process itself.
With the help of a STUDY GUIDE, students can use A LIFE IN BOOKS as a point of departure to generate their own book ideas, titles, catalog copy, cover designs, and book excerpts. By developing book ideas laterally, writing titles, catalog copy, and then excerpts (of short story length), students build confidence incrementally, leading them up to more long form writing. Students are encouraged to draw on their own experiences, as well as venture into subjects, places, and characters they are not as familiar with. Appropriate for beginning, intermediate, advanced liberal arts and studio arts students. Art and design students can develop their writing skills in conjunction with designing content they have written themselves. Students in Interdisciplinary classes and/or simultaneous sections of Writing and Design/Illustration or Art of The Book classes can collaborate on developing book ideas and writing/designing a (printed and/or electronic) book from beginning to end. Classes could also choose to participate in our Writing Contest, or select a particular Bleu Mobley title of their choosing to complete as a class or interdisciplinary set of classes (as is being done as a pilot program at Rutgers University, Spring 2014).
As a text, A LIFE IN BOOKS will stimulate thought and discussion about the relationship between an artist/writer and the work they produce. The novel balances satire with complex character portrayals, while tackling serious issues like mental illness, living with disabilities, war and peace, death and dying, interracial marriage/living in diverse communities, remaining true to one’s ideals/selling out, and the future of the book—all potential discussion points. Ethical dilemmas are raised throughout A LIFE IN BOOKS, as is the quest for freedom and the prospect of sacrificing freedom(s) for a greater cause.
The videos, text excerpts not included in the printed edition, interviews, articles, and other supplemental materials can also be used to study and discuss A LIFE IN BOOKS, and serve as an example of how creative writing can manifest itself (in other media) beyond the confines of a book.
Warren Lehrer has been teaching writing and design for over two decades (in the Designer As Author Graduate Program at SVA in NYC, and in the School of Art+Design at SUNY Purchase), and is available for residencies, workshops, and performance/readings in conjunction with classroom use of the book. The traveling exhibition can also serve as a resource for classes who are using the book.
A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley traveling exhibition includes all “first edition” cover designs of Bleu Mobley’s 101+ books accompanied by catalogue descriptions. It also includes “reproductions” of Mobley’s book-like objects including the illuminated book lamps, the book toys, poetry toilet paper roll, book clothing and accessories, and the Flying Book Project. In addition to the mounted prints, there is video: animations of pop-up books, ‘ad spots’ for Bleu Mobley books/projects, and videotaped performances of actors, musicians, and performers bringing Bleu Mobley excerpts to life. And of course, copies of the book are also on display.
This exhibition is designed to travel easily and inexpensively. It fits into a few boxes, ships at a reasonable cost, and is relatively easy to install. The art and text panels are archival inkjet prints mounted onto sintra board, with mounts on the back. The exhibition is ideal for university galleries and museums, art, design, and literary centers, libraries and bookstores with exhibition areas.
This funny, thought-provoking and beautiful exhibition tells the story of a [fictional] writer/artist through a chronological overview of his life’s work while reflecting on fifty years of American/global events, the publishing industry/the future of the book, and the creative process. There are two editions of this exhibition, so it can be on view at two locations simultaneously. The exhibit is also an excellent companion to using the book as a learning tool, and is a good example of approaching stortelling through a variety of media. The Crossing the BLVD exhibit connected to that book/project worked in this well, to great effect, and traveled to 15 locations including museums, galleries, and universities in New York, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee, Utah, and Ohio.