Archive for the ‘New Book’ Category
In the best-seller The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler explored how the terminal decline of oil production had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. With World Made By Hand Kunstler makes an imaginative leap into the future, a few decades hence, and shows us what life may be like after these coming catastrophes—the end of oil, climate change, global pandemics, and resource wars—converge. For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is not what they thought it would be. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great expense of time and energy. And the outside world is largely unknown. There may be a president and he may be in Minneapolis now, but people aren’t sure. As the heat of summer intensifies, the residents struggle with the new way of life in a world of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses working the fields and rivers replenished with fish. A captivating, utterly realistic novel, World Made by Hand takes speculative fiction beyond the apocalypse and shows what happens when life gets extremely local.
Full disclosures: first, I like James Howard Kunstler. I like the way he thinks and I agree with a great deal of what he says. We also share the same middle name (although I should be bloody amazed if it was for the same reason). Second, his publishers sent me a review copy of the book. Which is to say, I’m kindly disposed towards it, him and them in turn.
That said, it’s an excellent book. Alan Weisman, whose review also graces the dust-jacket, describes the book wonderfully as provocatively convincing. Kunstler’s world made by hand is post-oil, which is to say agrarian post-science. It reminded me a lot of the Tripods (except far better-written, and without aliens), the Drowned World (except far easier to read), and the like. We are without oil, cars, plastic, electricity, TV, medicine – you name it.
A couple of great things about the book, and then I’ll stop.
One, in a world where we tend to be beset by the trials and heroisms of pre-catastrophe story-telling, I love having a book that is post-catastrophe.
Two, Kunstler never really deals with the catastrophe. We are let in, with vague detail, on what happened: increasing demand for peak oil, an attack, etc. We simply know that oil disappeared. With it went science, government, modernity. We are back to eating what we can grow and catch, trading whatever we can move up and down rivers.
Similarly we also never are told about the world. The next town is outside of one’s world. We aren’t made to read about what happened, exactly, to DC, or New York, or Canada. It’s just not within the world about which we’re reading. This is just one period in one town, as it makes a transition from occupying a dead world (this would be where the resemblances above come in) to re-crafting their own. The point at which a community lets go of electricity, of (big G) Government, of living in a past of food and clothing that just doesn’t exist, and won’t come back.
This includes, by the by, steam and coal, which are notably absent from Kunstler’s world, but more curiously so than problematically. We are allowed to believe that (a) perhaps they do have technology elsewhere, and/or (b) the technology died with the people in the big cities.
Anyway. Very cool book. One of those weird ones that really moves at a non-frenetic pace, yet manages to move a lot of events through the story.
Students a Democratic Society still exists, although it is not the SDS of the youth of your parents (or, to some, your grandparents). Actually they do not so much still exist, as exist after reformation in 2006. Famous for their Port Huron Statement in 1962, followed by increasingly radical activism amongst the heady politics of the 60s (the original incarnation did not make it to the 70s).
To many – I can think of a couple of my departmental colleagues – SDS were a great example of why/how hippie political lefties aren’t to be feared: they are simply too fractious to maintain any sort of unified front for long (anti-war marches of the recent past an excellent example, and we still miss Steve Gilliard).
Among the SDS’ fatal goals was the multivalency of them all – stopping a war (when, as we all know, such things cannot be done), pushing a class revolution, a ghetto revolution, ending racism. All while having a non-exclusionary membership, and while the ‘anti-red’ crap was out in full force.
To me, not surprisingly, not so much. They were an excellent example of just how difficult to manage properly devolved democracy actually is (the IWW a better example of relative harmony). The real fault that I have with ‘hippies’, loosely defined, is the lack of follow-through. All they seemed to do, ultimately, is galvanise the conservative movement (who really brought the fight and, ultimately, won a stranglehold that still exists) but not maintain their own fight/energy. Along the way they boomed as an ecologically unsustainable middle-class, sold out during the 80s and raised kids with too few rules or respect for ordinary classroom civics (although this complaint applies to both sides of the supposed divide).
It’s still cool to read about people who lived their beliefs – something that’s only mildly easier to do, these days, in many ways, and harder in others. If you live in NYC, Strand is selling it for around $11 or so, hardcover. From Publisher’s Weekly (or so I’m told):
American Splendor’s Pekar has been incredibly prolific in the last few years, and more recently he has taken on nonautobiographical projects to varying degrees of success. This newest effort works on a variety of levels. For one, Pekar is not the sole author. He constructs a narrative of the history of the Students for a Democratic Society, but frequently steps aside to allow actual participants in that history to tell their own stories, using his casual first-person model of storytelling. The narrative moves through the decade of SDS history and then moves into the participant accounts, offering both a macro and a micro vision of the times.
The artwork is mostly by frequent Pekar collaborator Gary Dumm, whose crisp, neutral realism may not be thrilling but does move the story along and does a fine job of conveying the various settings. As a whole, the book acts like a sophisticated handbook on an often misunderstood organization. It’s good comics and excellent history.
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is a love story, an irreverent travelogue of elaborate tales and snapshots detailing Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop’s thirty-three-day voyage on the Paris-Marseilles freeway in 1982. Uncovering the freeway’s hidden underbelly, they push life and literature to surreal extremes. This shot of sun is a satire on modern travel and the great explorers, and an intimate look at one of the greatest literary spirits of our time.
From the Quarterly Conversation:
The concept behind Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is so perfectly Cortazarian in its gamelike setup: Julio Cortazar and his companion Carol Dunlop decide to spend an entire month in 1982 living on the freeway between Paris and Marseille (the “Southern Thruway,” which was the name and topic of an earlier Cortazar story), stopping at two rest stops each day and staying overnight at the second. With only 490 miles separating Paris and Marseilles, they don’t actually drive for very long on any given day. Using words and pictures, they create a scientific account of their journey, their thoughts, their experiences, of living life in a Volkswagen bus at a snail’s pace, discovering the secret pathway right next to this modern creation designed to be experienced at a blur.
It’s a mad idea, but not without it’s charm.
From the long, dark, reflective pool of my scanner (since there is no preview to be had at Amazon):
The NY Times has a review, and there are a couple of other translated works by Julio Cortazar (“Hopscotch” is recommend highly by the Quarterly Conversation).
New book! Having marked my way through 175 Eco 1 mid-terms, Economics doesn’t interest me so much at the moment. So, art:
Calvin Tomkins first discovered the work of Robert Rauschenberg in the late 1950s, when he began to look seriously at contemporary art. While gazing at Rauschenberg’s painting Double Feature, Tomkins felt compelled to make some kind of literal connection to the work, and it is in that sprit that “for the last forty years it’s been [his] ambition to write about contemporary art not as a critic or a judge, but as a participant.” Tomkins has spent many of those years writing about Robert Rauschenberg, whom he rapidly came to see as “one of the most inventive and influential artists of his generation.” So it seemed natural to make Rauschenberg the focus of Off the Wall, which deals with the radical changes that have made advanced visual art such a powerful force in the world.
Off the Wall chronicles the astonishingly creative period of the 1950s and 1960s, a high point in American art. In his in his collaborations with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, and as a pivotal figure linking abstract expressionism and pop art, Rauschenberg was part of a revolution during which artists moved art off the walls of museums and galleries and into the center of the social scene. Rauschenberg’s vitally important and productive career spans this revolution, reaching beyond it to the present day. Featuring the artists and the art world surrounding Rauschenberg–from Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning to Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol, together with dealers Betty Parsons, and Leo Castelli, and the patron Peggy Guggenheim–Tomkins’s stylish and witty portrait of one of America’s most original and inspiring artists is fascinating, enlightening, and very entertaining.
Bloody fascinating. I picked it up at Jasper Johns: Gray, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An exhibition all about the use of one colour by one artist – who’d have thought? If you’re in NY it, too, is entirely worth your time.
The book covers a very large and long period in American art, through the 20th century. I’m a big (big) Jasper Johns fan, so the Rauschenberg/Johns/Castelli nexus of abstract expressionism/etc. is of most interest to me. You can pull up a lot of this book over at Google books. E.g.
Which is somewhat mis-representative. The book is about Rauschenberg, but its location of his life and art within (and, often, without) his community, through collaborative work with Cage and Cunningham, various dealers before Castelli, Johns, etc. makes for a truly fascinating insight into his career.
I’ve mentioned, previously, Brian Wood and the wonderful things he does. Anyone who’s seen my laptop may recognise some of his art on its cover. Now, the design book for Channel Zero (and, one would expect, Jennie One – both incredible pieces of graphic novelisation) is free to download (donation recommended).
New book! Actually not to so much: it is the second copy of it (Andy, I liked it so much I bought myself another one), but I badly wanted to read it again (gold stars, all ’round, for those who caught that one).
Used-new (and yet that’s a category) on Amazon for $1.92; $6.99 for express shipping. Go figure. I’m not complaining.
If you’re a Tintin fan, you really must read this one, at least once and at least part-way through. It is adventuresome, set post-books, and deals in no small part with Tintin’s timeless youthfulness. It will not appeal to all. It’s weird, it’s fantastic and fascinating. The writing is just incredible, but possibly too clever (meaning too awaredly clever) for a lot of people. It’s like a lot of Warren Ellis’ writing – my brain feels as though something inside of it is being altered, while reading.
Head over to google books, and have a better look:
The first several chapters are there in their entirety, in fact.
A few pages more from Notes From Russia, by Alexei Plutser-Samo. The sorts of similarities one can see between both the Soviet and modern Russian artefacts of government, economy and society and many other governments today (particularly including the likes of the US and UK) are quite astounding, really.
The world of Russian public notices is fascinating, bizarre and saturated in tragic-comedy: “An old woman. Left home and has not returned. Small, hunchbacked. Wears: a blue dress, red wool cardigan, a white handkerchief with red flowers on her head, grey slippers on her feet. Does not have memory.”
The authors and readers of these usually handwritten notices are members of Russia’s underclass, made visible by these acts of public address which so often go unread. In this secret economy of exchange and communication, you can swap a voucher for an airplane or help to find a missing earring lost “during the fireworks on the Day of Cosmonauts.” All over Russia, all sorts of surfaces, stationary or mobile, have been papered over with such notices. The folklorist, lexicographer and contributor to the related publications Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Volumes I and II, Alexei Plutser-Sarno, has been collecting these public notices from all over Russia for many years.
Notes From Russia features the highlights of Plutser-Sarno’s collection, which, combined with his commentaries, tells an alternative story of recent Russian culture. Designed as part of Fuel’s acclaimed Russian series of books, and printed on an unusual mix of white and brown craft paper, Notes From Russia is a moving and vital contribution to the documentation of vernacular graphics.
Do not be surprised if/when more scans of the book start showing up. It’s pretty bloody cool. For now:
New book (for me).
The more science tells us about the world, the stranger it looks. Ever since physics first penetrated the atom, early in this century, what it found there has stood as a radical and unanswered challenge to many of our most cherished conceptions of nature. It has literally been called into question since then whether or not there are always objective matters of fact about the whereabouts of subatomic particles, or about the locations of tables and chairs, or even about the very contents of our thoughts. A new kind of uncertainty has become a principle of science.
This book is an original and provocative investigation of that challenge, as well as a novel attempt at writing about science in a style that is simultaneously elementary and deep. It is a lucid and self-contained introduction to the foundations of quantum mechanics, accessible to anyone with a high school mathematics education, and at the same time a rigorous discussion of the most important recent advances in our understanding of that subject, some of which are due to the author himself.
It is very easy to follow, and quite interesting (so far).