One stunning collection of photographs and stories. Janet Fulton Alt has really captured something here, reminding me of Robert Polidori's superb coll...moreOne stunning collection of photographs and stories. Janet Fulton Alt has really captured something here, reminding me of Robert Polidori's superb collection, After the Flood. Fulton's collection, much slimmer than Polidori's, does include stories she heard from former residents of the Lower Ninth Ward during her time with the "Look and Leave" program. These stories might not sound new to those who have already spent a lot of time reading about Hurricane Katrina, but Alt manages both through the stories's short length and her accompanying photographs to capture a unique perspective on the Katrina disaster, as well as contributing to our understanding of that disaster. This is a small book, but substantial throughout.
The difficulty with a work like this is that her pictures are so striking aesthetically, that I almost get distracted by the wonderful compositions and forget just what I'm looking at: a real life horror story. Granted, 'reality' depicted here is still subject to the camera's gaze, but this documentary photography as presented by one with a very good eye. For some, getting distracted by the artistic skill is to take away from the subject presented - we lose track of why we want to look at a book of post-Katrina photography. In this regard, the stories help keep us grounded and focused. At lease, that's what seemed to happen with me. The balance between visual image and written word was strong and successful in keeping me engaged; the book made me wish to learn more about what happened down in New Orleans and then do something productive with the knowledge I gained. This is a really great book. (less)
I do like The Velvet Underground. But this is the first book I've read about them and I thought it a nice place to start. I'm fairly familiar with the...moreI do like The Velvet Underground. But this is the first book I've read about them and I thought it a nice place to start. I'm fairly familiar with the band's history and thought this book did a good job talking about the historical context of the album and all those popular stories surrounding the band and this album, while also giving some good thoughts, insights, and analysis that made the band and the album seem that much more interesting.
This was an easy, quick read that I breezed through in a day. Entertaining stuff that also helped me understand The Velvets and this disc better than I did before. For people who haven't read widely about The Velvet Underground, this might be a nice place to start learning some things, even though it focuses on VU's first (and perhaps best) album.
I also like Joe Harvard's enthusiasm for the album. You can tell he likes it, maybe even worships it, but his reasons for doing so seem fair and good. Harvard's enthusiasm feels more like that of a musician than a critic and that can be really cool to read. Sometimes our reasons for liking the music we do has less to do with our enlightened, critical ear, and more to do with our emotional gut reaction to what we're listening to. A combination of both the critical and the emotional seems healthy, and Harvard seems to have managed to capture that balance pretty well in this book. He made me excited to listen to the album again (which I did), and for me that's a good enough sign that this book was a worthwhile read. (less)
Chris Ingham seems enthusiastic about Metallica, and heavy metal in general. So enthusiastic that he has peppered this book with so many exclamation p...moreChris Ingham seems enthusiastic about Metallica, and heavy metal in general. So enthusiastic that he has peppered this book with so many exclamation points that I imagine an audiobook of this work would feature Ingham screaming the whole time, with chopping guitar chords as added emphasis in case we missed THE POINT he wanted to make. Harping on his hard rock punctuation and average writing might seem like a cheap shot - this is essentially a really large Fanzine after all - but it still bugged me. I do think even fan books, equipped with pictures upon pictures, can and should still feature good writing and substantial content. In the case of this Metallica book, it struggles on both counts.
Now, before all the haters start ripping into me, lemme say that I thought the first half of this book was quite good. The material was substantial enough that I could overlook the writing. (Most things have limitations and we can be charitable enough readers to work through those weaknesses and focus on the quality within the work.) The background info on the bands that influenced Metallica (mainly Lars) was interesting and good at showing where the band was coming from. The section on the Kill 'em All album was nice, because Ingham seemed to acknowledge the ridiculousness in much of the album's lyric, while still showing an affection for its youthful, bratty, metalhead fervor. This seems really nice to me. The lyrics on Metallica's first album are silly thrash fodder that are often simply secondary to the music, which is blazing along at hyperspeed. It's teenager doing what they do sometimes, and there's something kind of amusing and cool to some of that high school emotional intensity - my own high school creative writing classes and theater experiences remind me how great a whole lotta angst can sometimes be.
The book stays interesting through the Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets albums. Ingham does a decent job showing James' considerably improved lyrics and why these two albums really are important, excellent metal albums. But what's blaringly lacking is discussion of, in my mind (and I'm not alone on this one), Metallica's best instrumental, "Orion". He gives it about two sentences, then moves on, whereas the other instrumentals receive much deserved attention.
He also spends no small amount of praise on Cliff Burton, who seems to have reached mythic status in the Metallica/heavy metal universe. Sure, Burton was great, and his influence on Metallica is without question huge, but the band certainly didn't crumble into a group of benign saps after his death. Ingham tries to support Jason Newstead and acknowledge that filling Burton's spot would be impossible for anyone. Except Ingham seems to still want Newstead to do just that; he acknowledges how Newstead was never fully included and on the same level with Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett, and probably got a real raw deal (his few writing creds as one example). But Ingham never gives Newstead his due either. He glosses over his contributions as if to say, "yeah, yeah, Jason helped too, sometimes."
Fast-forwarding to where my biggest problem with this book is: the Load and Reload albums. These two discs have been the target of no small amount of controversy among "fans", be they "die-hards" or "posers". The ranting about Metallica selling out and becoming an alt-metal or pop-metal band has been huge. As to selling out, it seems a dumb argument. Metallica has been filling arenas almost their whole career. They've been the most popular metal band for a really long time. Have they really been outside the mainstream? Tons of people claiming not to be metalheads still like Metallica, and that's before the 90s. Ingham hardly tackles these issues, and instead, seems to avoid the controversy by writing as little as possible either in support of or in opposition to Load and Reload. He just kind of glosses over it with a shrug and some limp comments about how some fans felt about those albums. If all he's gonna do is say what a couple of fans said, what the crap is he writing a book for? He acknowledges (correctly) that "Where the Wild Things Are" contains some of Hetfield's best lyrics, but doesn't delve into it at all, like he's scared of being pounced on by some "die-hard" fan who is still screaming that Kill 'em All is the only Metallica album worth anything. Pretty spineless of Ingham, if you ask me.
Basically, Ingham praises what is safe to praise, and says nothing about the things where opinions are mixed. He can knock on the production of ...And Justice For All because everyone has already bagged on that. He can praise "Enter Sandman" and "The Unforgiven" because there's enough support behind those songs to smoother the dissenters. He can praise "Until it Sleeps" because it was also a hit; his comment that it's remarkable that such an angry song as "Until it Sleeps" was such a hit seems to forget about songs like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Nine Inch Nails' "Closer", and (cringe) Limp Bizkit's butthole anthem "Break Stuff" that all received substantial radio play and all feature some pretty pissed off lyrics. But Ingham can't defend songs like "The House Jack Built" or "Where the Wild Things Are" because too many people would get upset at him. He's pandering to the blandest of Metallica fan, and it's obnoxious.
Perhaps I'm getting carried away and not being fair. Maybe the book deserves three stars. The first half certainly does, but the second half drops off so hard that I just got upset. But I guess I can hardly put all the blame on Ingham, afterall, even Metallica seems a touch wishy-washy when talking about Load and Reload. And maybe that's the biggest problem with those albums. Nobody was ever fully committed to what was happening there and so the albums stand no chance. That same lack of commitment exists in this book. (less)
This is a fabulous, fascinating, humorous, and all together enjoyable look at music fans. The photographs of these fans in their fan garb are pretty g...moreThis is a fabulous, fascinating, humorous, and all together enjoyable look at music fans. The photographs of these fans in their fan garb are pretty great. The photos show, and Desmond Morris' forward explains, how fashion is used to show our allegiance to a certain group. Often we get caught making fun of goths or shoe-gazers or whoever for not actually being as individual as they might claim their fashion makes them. This might be true, but this book points out that we're missing the communal/tribal aspect of those "individual" fashions. A fashion is basically the simultaneous expression of the individual as well as the community that individual belongs to - community and individual remain ever connected.
The devotion these people have to their music god(s) is pretty fascinating for me, since I feel pretty passionate about a number of bands (some of them are in this book), but I look at these fans and don't feel that I quite fit into any of these fashion groups. So that's an interesting personal thought that doesn't really relate to the quality of this collection, except to show how Mollision's photographs really make me think about somethings. The title is completely appropriate, for these fans really do seem to be the Devout of the devout. I salute them all. (less)
The Hard Case Crime series sounds like a very fun idea, and I'd like to find some more titles in the series and see how they are. This was my first Ha...moreThe Hard Case Crime series sounds like a very fun idea, and I'd like to find some more titles in the series and see how they are. This was my first Hard Case book, which might not be a good intro to the series, since it's a different kind of crime story than I was expecting from a series that claims (and this book's cover suggests) to be bringing back pulp hard-boiled crime.
Stephen King's contribution is hard-boiled in the sense that there isn't a story here at all and the point seems to be more to meditate on the nature of stories and mystery rather than on a conventional tale - a different kind of hard-boiled than we're typically used to. It's not really about crime, pulp, or any of that at all. It's more an experiment in storytelling, where the whole thing is a conversation between two old newspapermen and a young woman interning for them. This is a story within a story, but where we never get pulled into the main story, like we generally are (i.e. Heart of Darkness, Wuthering Heights. Here we're always kept outside, at a distance from the story (that's not a story), watching these three, My Dinner with Andre-style, talk about the mysterious death of the Colorado Kid. In a way it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter", where all the action happens elsewhere and someone tells us what happened. It's an interesting stylistic choice for subjectivity and perspective reasons, but in both the case of this novella and Poe's story, it leaves me feeling less than enthralled. It makes for a solid two star (it was ok) rating, but I can't say that I liked it - it never caught my attention enough.
I also thought that, even though it is a novella, it could be slimmed down even more. What I've read of King's more recent work has shown this very good storyteller getting rather wordy. It's frustrating because he still can tell a good story, it just seems like he's slipping - in that aging grandparent kind of way, they just take longer to say things.
The cover is the best part of this novella. (less)
The Wilco Book seems to me a very understandable and appropriate contribution to the Wilco project. That's not to say this book is as wonderful as the...moreThe Wilco Book seems to me a very understandable and appropriate contribution to the Wilco project. That's not to say this book is as wonderful as their albums, I don't think it is, but it contributes nicely to the feel of the band, perhaps tangentially saying the same things as the songs do. I think it demonstrates through its disconnected, fragmented, collage approach the process the band went through when making the A ghost is born album. Their creative philosophy towards creating music is mirrored in The Wilco Book.
The CD of outtakes and fragments is a real treat. The opening instrumental track, "Pure Bug Beauty", terrifically sets the tone for the whole disc. The CD's tracks are as disjointed and incomplete as the different sections of the book, yet, like the book, all those incomplete ideas and meandering doodles add up to something rather interesting and worthwhile. I listened to the disc while reading/looking at this book, and I thought that somehow helped me enjoy and understand the book more. Is that weird? I dunno. Maybe I'm just blowing smoke. The CD is the best part of this book for me; it brings it all together. I give the disc four stars.
The interlude essay I found very interesting and fun. The critical essay at the end did sound a bit pretentious, but the ideas were cool. Wilco is a revisionist and experimental band, and this book feels rather experimental as well. Three stars for The Wilco Book. (less)
Then There Were None is a perfectly structured book; it knows what it wants to do, and executes it through a remarkable balance of photographs, quotes...moreThen There Were None is a perfectly structured book; it knows what it wants to do, and executes it through a remarkable balance of photographs, quotes, poems, and historical information. This is a quick, concise, and substantial little book that packs one solid punch.
Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey Buyers states in the book's forward that the book "is not a tale of blame or victimization." Well, it doesn't need to be. The devastation of the Hawaiian people and their culture hardly needs to be told through finger-pointing and victimization. Simply recounting the history and showing their culture is enough, as this book proves.
I also quite like the preface, which asks:
"Has any history text, however objective, quelled the troubles between [warring cultures:]?
No, because history isn't what divides them. what fuels the division is emotion.
It is an emotional voice we wanted to offer. If the heart's wounds, the spirit's ache are laid bare, healing balm can reach the injury and ease the pain."
It makes a lot of sense to me. The book does elicit an emotional response, but through a controlled, leveled presentation that doesn't seem negatively manipulative or entrenched in hateful bitterness. Any anger I felt while reading this book is a product of my own rash behavior and not the wishes of the author.
The archival photos are effective both as visual documentation as well as additional narration. They aren't extraneous, but rather work in tandem with the text, using photography's strengths to enhance the narrative beyond what text can do. Since Martha H. Noyes first told this story through a documentary film of the same title, the skillful use of photos comes as no surprise.
What a lovely little book. The cover photo is excellent, the size is great, the length is just right, and the information is substantial throughout. A sad, but wonderful little book.(less)
This was a good looking book. The layout and stills were good, making this a cool book to flip through. The (only) essay was also quite good, laying o...moreThis was a good looking book. The layout and stills were good, making this a cool book to flip through. The (only) essay was also quite good, laying out the arguments for and against music videos quite well.
The problem is that there's only one essay. The rest of the book contains biographical sketches of notable music video directors and accompanying stills from some of their videos. This is a problem since the book is basically using one essay, director bios, and a bunch of stills to argue for the relevance and artistic value of music videos. Music videos are accused of always putting style before substance, and creating a youth culture with a shorter attention span (as explained in the essay). This book seems to be both of those things - a slick design that gives us a few stills from a few videos, and that's supposed to prove the artistic relevance of the form. Seems flashy and short, making this book much more fun to flip through than actually read; the director bios are nice, but not that useful in proving the value of the form. Nor are stills enough either; they can show a lot, but not all of the formal elements used in the video - it's rather reductive and void of explanation as to why these stills count as much more than style. Basically, the book largely caters to music video fans, who already know the videos highlighted by the book. Maybe this problem could be fixed by simply changing the title. As is, the title suggests more discussion and analysis of the form, but that isn't this book's intent.
Maybe I'm being too picky, but I feel the book wanted to be substantive, but then just slid back into being something you flip through really fast, without thinking too much about what you're looking at. It made me wanna see some of these videos (functioning then as advertising), but it does little to help me understand them.(less)
To start, I never really understood why this book was titled The Last Great American Hobo. It's a nice title, but I never felt it was the best title f...moreTo start, I never really understood why this book was titled The Last Great American Hobo. It's a nice title, but I never felt it was the best title for the book. It's a rather romantic title, and the book tries to resist romanticizing and mythologizing the hobo life. So, I don't get it. Moving on now.
This was an interesting read; Dale Maharidge writes a nice account of his interactions with Blackie and the other hobos and homeless River People. The story is an interesting one, though at times I felt that Maharidge was holding back and intentionally leaving some thoughts, feelings, details out. While I understand that sometimes some events and feelings just can't be written - at all, let alone accurately - in this case I thought there were moments when he was keeping me at a distance that mildly frustrated me. But maybe I was just not connecting with his point - I haven't read many books about hobos, the homeless, and/or poverty. His chapter on reality got a bit finger-pointing and accusatory in a way that made me feel like he was blaming me, which was also a bit annoying, but I also see his point - just the delivery felt off to me. The concluding chapter was the best and seemed to explain some of his personal tensions surrounding conventional life vs. the hobo life. Maharidge concludes by focusing more on Michael, the photographer, and it was really fabulous. Michael's story of poverty, isolation and eventual disappearance was really something and made the photographs that comprise the second half of the book even more poignant than they already were.
Michael's photos were the real joy of this book. Several shots said vastly more about the lives of the people in this book than Dale Maharidge's essay was ever able to do. Actually seeing Blackie, Shorty, Luke, and the others was really fabulous and, I think, vital to the objectives of the project. Alone the pictures are good and the essay is nice, but combined the pictures and essay provide a good look at a subject often overlooked and misunderstood by general society. I probably still don't understand it, but this book helped me see things a little more clearly and think about things in new ways. I'm glad I read this. (less)
For whimsical young adult fantasy, Howl's Moving Castle is one of the most charming stories. Especially in the first half, it often doesn't feel like...moreFor whimsical young adult fantasy, Howl's Moving Castle is one of the most charming stories. Especially in the first half, it often doesn't feel like much of a story at all, rather it just ambles along, often sitting back and taking its time, simply enjoying watching Sophie interact with these interesting, humorous characters. I liked just watching her interact with Calcifer, Michael, and Howl so much that I didn't really care if the story ever went anywhere. Almost like Sophie herself, I kept forgetting that she actually wasn't supposed to be an ornery, yet endearing old woman, and that there really was an obstacle for her to overcome. Jones' style is light and fun, but never void of substance. She has a point to this novel, but she has a rather round-a-bout, light-hearted way of expressing herself. By novel's end, I understood why the first half felt like such a non-story - the story is in the details, even details missed or at least not understood. Like a Dickens novel, Jones brings all the strands - including the seemingly tangential, extraneous ones - together in an entertaining and illuminating way. Kinda how life's lessons often come after the related events are passed and we can look back on what happened, Howl's Moving Castle shows that what might appear to be something friendly, threatening, or unimportant can actually be just the opposite. Sometimes we've gotta be paying closer attention and willing to reevaluate our initial judgments. It's a nice lesson, told through light and whimsical means, in a delightful little world that I wouldn't mind spending more time in.
My only issue is one of taste: she uses too many adverbs, especially in the first half of the book. By the latter half, she reigns in the adverbs pretty well. This is a small complaint, and one that I'm very willing to overlook so as to spend more time thinking about all the great things about this book. I know this is a popular book, and I'm aware that I'm a late-comer to Diana Wynne Jones' work - so how good this book is might only be news to me. But if you have already read it, remember, it's a fast read, and a fun read; so, if you have the time, why not revisit this lovely world?(less)
This is really stunning stuff. Some of these pictures just jumped right out at me. Such a stark, unique perspective. I don't know anything about the c...moreThis is really stunning stuff. Some of these pictures just jumped right out at me. Such a stark, unique perspective. I don't know anything about the complexities behind Jungjin Lee's photographic process, but I know what it felt like to look at these pictures, and it was a good experience. A lot of this collection was shot in the southwest, and this really was a new way of looking at landscapes I sometimes think I'm relatively familiar with. Lee showed me that there are still more ways off seeing the landscape. Very cool.
The only frustration with this collection is that the pictures were all split across two pages. That's a publishing complaint, I know, but it's becoming a big one for me.(less)
The more time I spend with Patti Smith, the more awesome she becomes. Stefanko's photographs and brief comments on Patti and their time back in the 70...moreThe more time I spend with Patti Smith, the more awesome she becomes. Stefanko's photographs and brief comments on Patti and their time back in the 70s are really wonderful at capturing both the artist and the things she's interested in. This book sheds further light on the subjects of Patti Smith's own art. I think this comes from Stefanko and Smith's friendship, which is as long as their careers as artists. These pictures show them interact with each other and their environment in a way that just feels good and important. These photo shoots feel like they really matter, which is how Patti Smith's stuff always feels to me. These moments meant something. I really like that.(less)
A solid intro to postcolonialism that approaches its subject from a less theoretical perspective and from a more activist, humanitarian viewpoint. Rob...moreA solid intro to postcolonialism that approaches its subject from a less theoretical perspective and from a more activist, humanitarian viewpoint. Robert Young is insistent that the best approach to tackling postcolonial issues is not from the top down, but from the ground up. Using examples and ideas from Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Vandana Shiva, Ghandi, and others, Young rather nicely shows just how important and valid some of the actions and philosophies of these radical activists and revolutionaries are. These people that are often so negatively described by the developed western world actually have some legitimate grounds for resisting the controlling force of western politics and capitalism.
Especially good sections in this book include chapter four on hybridity. The section on Raï music in Islamic culture is a fascinating look at how fusing musical styles and genres creates its own unique for of protest, as well as an assertion of a people's unique cultural identity. The concluding section of chapter four on the veil in Islam was perhaps the best part of the whole book. Young writes with a clear and illuminating precision about the evolution of meaning surrounding the veil, both within Islamic culture, as well as how it is seen by the western world. This was the best section for showing how each culture views things through their own cultural lens, and can so often misinterpret another culture's traditions. Really terrific stuff.
Overall, this was an enjoyable and illuminating read. At times I think Young's writing lost me a bit. In some sections it felt somewhat disjointed, like it needed to be just a touch more cohesive. But then other sections were really compelling and clearly written. Ultimately, the book is a successful introduction that I'm happy to have read. (less)
It was fun to pull this quirky collection of (bad/silly) poems off the shelf and read them again. They're typical Burton; if you're into his stuff, yo...moreIt was fun to pull this quirky collection of (bad/silly) poems off the shelf and read them again. They're typical Burton; if you're into his stuff, you'll like this, if you're not into it, you won't like this. I'm still fond of these poems, though I don't completely know why. They're just really amusing. I suspect that Burton knows these aren't great poems, and that the kitschy, dopey rhymes are part of the point. These stories address common Burton topics, like: outsiders, alienation, unobtainable love, and familial anxiety - infidelity, birth, strange children, negligent parents, etc. Another look at really unpleasant things in an amusing, laughable, and ridiculous way that might perpetuate as much as it alleviates any personal anxiety we might have towards the topics of this book. (less)
A very interesting collection from the Manifest Hope exhibitions. The artist movement for Obama's election campaign was really fascinating and pretty...moreA very interesting collection from the Manifest Hope exhibitions. The artist movement for Obama's election campaign was really fascinating and pretty cool. This book shows the wide range of styles and forms of expression collected for the exhibition. It was fun to look at how a collection of subjects - Obama, heath care, change, hope, peace, unity, the environment, etc - were all addressed through a unique perspective by each artist. It reminded me again about how each person has something unique to say about a subject that is important to all of us. There is no singe way to talk about or see something. I think that's pretty cool.(less)
Howard Zinn is pretty fabulous and thought-provoking. The essays in this short collection are an inspiring look at Zinn's own activism, which he has f...moreHoward Zinn is pretty fabulous and thought-provoking. The essays in this short collection are an inspiring look at Zinn's own activism, which he has fused to his work as a historian. Making no attempt at being unbiased, Zinn takes a firm position, laying out arguments that are insightful and challenging, which made me think about things in a larger sense than can sometimes be comfortable. Granted, it is fair to say that I'm basically on Zinn's side of these issues, but even though I already agree with most of what Zinn is talking about here, there were things I hadn't thought about before. Zinn's essays helped me rethink and revise some of my views on art, history, war, and activism in very healthy, valuable ways. That to me, is some of the best kind of discourse, and Zinn excels at it in these essays.(less)
James Naremore writes a good little analysis of Psycho, which still feels relevant today, though he wrote this in the 70s. Some might think his summar...moreJames Naremore writes a good little analysis of Psycho, which still feels relevant today, though he wrote this in the 70s. Some might think his summary of the film to be pointless, since he only wants people who have seen the film to read his book, but it can be useful to quickly summarize the film being examined just as a quick refresher. This is a stylistic choice, and doesn't really have much to do with his analysis, which is clear, detailed and enlightening. He emphasizes the first third or so of the film - Janet Leigh's part of the film - feeling it to be more substantial than that second half. From his careful analysis of this part of the film, I can see and understand his point, though I am wary of overemphasizing the Marion Crane storyline. Norman Bates is the real main character of the film and Naremore does a good job examining some of the issues surrounding Norman. I especially like his concluding analysis of Psycho's effect on cinema and what we tolerate watching. He really nails the continuing trend in mainstream cinema to show more spectacles of violence and gore in horror films; he could really see the general direction the genre was headed in. This is a great little analysis and fans of the film I think would find it an enlightening read. (less)
I wanted to like this collection, but it just never fully caught my interest and attention. The first one, "Outbreak" was really incoherent, with too...moreI wanted to like this collection, but it just never fully caught my interest and attention. The first one, "Outbreak" was really incoherent, with too many story lines all stumbling over each other and leaving me rather confused. "Nightmare Asylum" seemed the most coherent and strong of all the works in here. But even it seemed to rely on rather bland, one-dimensional characters and themes sadly stripped of real substance, rendering the Alien concept's potential rather stagnant. The cynical attitude towards humankind, military, religion, and the corporate man often came across as someone whining rather than having something substantial to say. Too bad, this coulda been a good one. (less)
Janet Leigh's book on Psycho is nice, especially the first half. It starts out pretty focused on the making of the film and her experiences during the...moreJanet Leigh's book on Psycho is nice, especially the first half. It starts out pretty focused on the making of the film and her experiences during the making of Psycho. This is the most interesting part of the book for me, for it is pretty well focused on the film. The second half begins to wander a bit and talk about other things Leigh was doing after Psycho. Fans of Janet Leigh will perhaps find this part equally interesting, but for me Psycho is the more interesting part. So I started to get a bit tired with the second half. But it was still a nice book.(less)