Thursday, February 10, 2005

BOOKS: Everything's Coming Up Sock Monkeys

If you know me (and by now don't you kind of feel like you do? Awww... now I'm blushing), then you know I love the sock monkeys. Now I know sock monkeys are all the vogue these days, but my hard-on for these woollen primates goes waaaay back.

Don't believe me? Let me present Exhibit A:

From left to right: The cover photo from my new favourite book, Sock Monkeys; Sid Luscious, the punk sock monkey I made for the fabulous Rizzo years ago; an illustration from a recent Christmas card I made for my husband, Rusty Iron; and Mr. Burke, a sock monkey I made for my housemate, The Don.

So, as you might imagine, I was pantswettingly excited when my good friend The Fair Danielle recently gave me -- for no good reason, mind you, other than the fact that she's a complete sweetheart -- a copy of a book I should've known about, but didn't: Sock Monkeys (200 out of 1,863).

It's a gorgeous coffee-table book filled with full-page black-and-white portraits of 200 sock monkeys owned by collector Ron Warren. The book is light on text, which is just fine with me. Warren's introduction explains the fascinating origins of sock monkeys and how he came to amass almost 2,000 of the creatures. Interspersed throughout the book are one-page essays (on the subject of sock monkeys, natch) written by contributors as wide-ranging as Neil Gaiman, Isaac Mizrahi, and Penn and Teller.

My favourite piece, however, is writer Peter Getty's ode to a sock monkey known only as "Earl":
Sock monkeys are, without a doubt, a very hardworking and patriotic segment of our society. But as with many of the world's displaced cultures, alcohol and dissolute living have taken a disproportionate toll on them, and since they tend naturally toward joviality and mischief, it is not always easy to tell which ones are simply having fun, and which ones might become a danger to themselves and others. An experienced observer, however, can usually see the warning signs, and so can you, if you know what to look for.
Getty proceeds to tell you what to watch for, but you'll have to read the book yourself to find out. Needless to say, Getty is on to something. Even if you've only ever given a passing glance to a sock monkey, you've twigged to the fact that there's something demented going on behind those button eyes and wide red smiles.

As charming as the writing is, it's the sheer range of dementia evidenced in this book's photos that's most impressive: who knew these wee Missing Links could take so many forms? And it comes as no surprise to learn that the photographer who captured these portraits, Arne Svenson, is currently working on a series of photographs of forensic facial reconstructions.

It's a dark world, this sock monkey jungle. But in a way, aren't we all sock monkeys deep inside?

Edited later to add: Most of you probably don't read the "Comments" section of this site (though you should, because that's where the smart people hang out), but some folks have posted a couple of cool links (wow, I used the phrase "cool links"... how 1994 of me) you should check out if you care about the sock monkeys:


Anonymous said...

Have you read Penn Jillette's book _Sock_? The narrator is a foul-mouthed sock monkey.


Anonymous said...

Isaac Mizrahi actually did a piece the sock monkeys in the book on his tv show. They went to Ron Warren's house to film and he had walls and walls of sock monkeys. It was just a bit creepy--like they could start moving in on you at any moment...Isaac had a dance instructor monkey who kept physically assaulting the ballerina monkey. Bizarre.


Anonymous said...

Artist Tony Millionaire has done a series of comic-like books for Dark Horse Comics titled "Sock Monkey"...They're beautifully rendered little stories, like Victorian picture books, and the main character is a very erudite sock monkey. But something always goes horribly, disturbingly awry. Anyway, they're beautiful. Google "Tony Millionaire Sock Monkey" and you can view the gorgeousness.

Tammy said...

I would indeed wear a sock monkey poncho and hat. I would wear it to the Sock Monkey Festival, and in it I'd have my picture taken with the seven-foot-tall sock monkey. I think that's the kind of adventure I'm going to save until my kid is 11 or 12, so I can max out the embarrassment potential.

I haven't read *Sock* or the Tony Millionaire book. I had no idea till now that this entire oeuvre even existed. They're on my wishlist for sure now.

Also, I didn't even know that Isaac Mizrahi had a TV show. My ignorance comes from living in the wilds of Canuckistan and from having a crappy cable package, I reckon. I'd love to see this segment, though. I don't suppose there's any chance that anyone knows if it's available for viewing online...?

Anonymous said...

wow - for some odd reason I was searching for sock monkeys...and to my surprise - I found your blog! But more so, a blurb about my sock monkey poncho and hat!!! Yeah - and one person said they would wear it!!! I'm so excited!!! I have a sock monkey site - but its being overhauled at the -- for those who love sock monkeys!