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Digital artist Ray Caesar talks about his life and reading.

An insight into Ray Caesar's reading life, with loads of interesting reading suggestions...

READERSVOICE.COM: I see from your website biography and of course your pictures that you have a love of fantasy, and I was wondering whether you read a lot of fantasy and if so, what books you’ve liked.

RC: I have never liked the word “fantasy” as it implies a rejection of reality and a form of escapism form the real world. To me, my so called “fantasy” life is another form of reality just as the dreams are the solid foundation that any worthwhile endeavor is built on. I give my subconscious and what many would call “mystical” observations as much credit as I do when dealing with what most would call the rational side of life. I read a wide variety of both fiction and non-fiction which mainly consists of novels of the past and present in most genres, and a lot of biography and of course books on art and art theory and practice.

I do like to read a lot of China Melville and Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman and have read most science fiction writers from C.S. Lewis to [Robert] Heinlein, [Philip K.] Dick, [Arthur C.] Clarke, [Sheri S.] Tepper, [Larry] Niven, etc etc but don’t read too many current SF writers as the genre has devolved into simple schlock novels about war and battles and those things bore me.

I have read other fiction one might call strange, like writers Murikami, Anais Nin, Mikhail Bulgakov. I do like a few good graphic novels and love The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and the amazing Dave McKean, and was an avid reader of RAW comics by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly ….and loved the Hard-Boiled Defective Stories written and illustrated by Charles Burns.

I seem to own a few really good Hellboy books by Mike Mignola and love anything by Tony Millionaire or an artist called Seth…not to be confused with the entity Seth channeled by Jane Roberts; I have read all his/her books too.

A recent graphic novel I read was White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet which is just a beautiful simple story about a tiny town in Northern Canada in the 1950s that was like a tiny paradise.

RV: You also mentioned a lot of things about dreams and biology in one interview, and I was wondering if you did a bit of factual reading along these or other scientific lines.

RC: As a child I had some difficulty with things I saw that no one else saw, but after a lot of convincing they went away …came back after the death of my mother and sister in the form of sleep paralysis, in which, upon waking, I see, hear and feel things. When this started happening I went through a very difficult time that culminated in illness and ending up in an emergency ward with chest pains and the desire to do certain things before I die.

I started making art again after that and spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out if I was losing my mind and trying to explain what was happening in a very rational way. I read a lot about the condition which is being studied at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and in doing so learned a lot and was able to accept it.

I commit it to an area of my life I call the “Irrational”; it exists on a very tidy shelf along with a few other things like “Art” and “Love”. I read several great books like The Holographic Universe, and Beyond the Quantum by Michael Talbot and The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge MD, and several other texts both very medical and some quite mystical.

The books that helped me the most were by Deepak Chopra and I would recommend anything by him. I am told by doctors that what I see are hallucinations brought on by a condition that is related to narcolepsy, but I think they are a bit wrong about that…in fact I know they are wrong. I don’t try to explain this in a rational way … don’t care if people believe it or not ….tired of hiding it …..It just happens! and I accept it and listen and look and use it for my work and sometimes I sit down late at night on my terrace with a cup of herbal lavender tea and I look out at the stars and for a time I am just full of wonder! …and that and making a few pictures is enough for me.

RV: If you haven’t already mentioned them, could you recommend a few books that have been important to you, and maybe say why you liked them, fact or fiction?

RC: I truly love and adore the book Persuasion by Jane Austen and think it’s her best work and should be on top of anyone’s booklist.

I watched the movie To Kill a Mockingbird many many times but only recently read the work by Harper Lee, and I now savor its re-reading once a year.

I loved the novels of Junichiro Tanizaki such as Diary of a Mad Old Man and The Makioka Sisters, as I love the glimpse into the kind of strange perversity that occupied this odd writer.

I love reading old Victorian ghost stories by writers such as Algernon Blackwood and The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford as this was the sort of stuff that kept me awake as a child, and those old Victorians knew how to scare the shit out of anyone….Try reading The Last House in C____ Street by Dinah Mulock. I absolutely love biographies of the 18th and 19th century and I am right now reading Madame Du Barry by Joan Haslip.

Ha, I could also spend a few hours reading old medical texts like Primary Anatomy seventh edition by John V. Basmajian M.D., or other old odd books I find in a little old bookstore run by two sweet old ladies on the street I live on, called Ten Editions Books… Just never pay them by credit card or they will bring out an old credit card swiper that will chew up your Visa like raw meat thru a grinder.

This is one of those old second-hand bookstores with old wooden shelves and ladders and just packed with amazing art and philosophy books. Some books I have got from them include Flowers of Delight by Leonard De Vries ..from the Osbourne collection of Early Children’s Books, and the 1910 edition of The Studio on “Old English Mezzotints” which I had to entirely cover in duct tape, to keep the thing together. ( I also think there are some tiny living creatures in the book so I keep it in a plastic bag just in case )….. which brings me to Children’s books such as the The Garden of Abdul Gazasi by Chris Van Allsburg or anything by William Joyce; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and books on poetry from Kipling or Byron or Auden or funny verse from ages gone by.

Love books like Frog Croaks, Haiku Tongue in Cheek by Carl Oldenburg, or Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine. I also love field guides on insects and plants both new and old. I can even waste a few hours reading an old order catalogue form the nineteenth century.

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