Category Archives: New Books

TBR: 2014

Jessamine Chan -- December 27th, 2013

In 2014, I want to promise that I’ll become the sort of reader who always finishes one book before starting another, but honestly, I’m usually reading four books at a time and a more reasonable goal might be to finish the following titles by the summer. Here are some selections from my personal To-Be-Read pile: four titles forthcoming in the new year, plus one children’s classic.

barkBark: Stories – Lorrie Moore (Knopf, Feb.) : Though the rest of the world was clued into Lorrie Moore’s genius years, nay decades, earlier, I was introduced to her stories by my teacher, Rebecca Curtis, in 2009. How I survived my twenties without her fiction, I do not know, but I’ve made up for lost time by becoming a loyal, intense fan.

 

on such a full sea

On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead, Jan.) This author plus this spooky cover plus a dystopian plot means that I will make time for this book.

 

 

the giverThe Giver – Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993) A friend lent me this children’s book just last week, with the short explanation that it’s super dark, also dystopian, and has a perfect ending.

 

 

blood will outBlood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, A Mystery, and A Masquerade – Walter Kirn (Norton/Liveright, Mar.): In the new year, I will read more true crime. Kirn tells the story of his 15-year friendship with “Clark Rockefeller,” who turns out to be a serial imposter and double-murderer.

 

 

in the course of human eventsIn the Course of Human Events – Mike Harvkey (Soft Skull, Apr.): It pleases me to no end that my former PW colleague Mike Harvkey’s debut novel publishes in the spring. All I know about it is that it’s dark, violent, set in the Midwest, and the result of many years of Mike’s hard work.

For the sake of levity, I will also (finally) finish Anna Karenina, and hopefully tackle The Portrait of a Lady.

Some Choice Quotes from Important Science books of 2013

Alex Crowley -- December 19th, 2013

These three science books should be on everyone’s radar because they are fantastic.

————

The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society

David Waltner-Toews (ECW)

the origin of feces“Our language reflects our thinking, and our thoughts determine the kinds of options we can imagine to the challenges we face in life.”

“In part because of this lack of respect for the humanities, and in part because previous global narratives (Christianity, Islam, State Communism) have so often been catastrophically bad, the story many of us have told ourselves has focused on what we have seen to be the ideological ‘neutral’ tale of technology and progress. We have deluded ourselves into believing that this is not a belief system, because it uses science to achieve its ends. But where this has led us, in the past century, is into a place where our stories have been constructed around single problems or built on narrow-minded academic disciplines. We have lived with the illusion that we can solve our problems one by one until they are all solved.”

“Wicked problems… are poorly bounded and contradictory. They are difficult to solve because information is incomplete, or the requirements of those who want the problem solved keep changing. They can be defined from a variety of apparently incompatible perspectives, so that there is neither a definitive problem formulation nor an optimal solution. Worst of all, the solutions to some aspects of the problem may create or reveal other problems.”

“At the core of the wicked mess of shit, food, and ecological sustainability is a challenge of theory. We have developed ad hoc solutions, using a Henry Ford, linear, industrial model of nature. This theory works in a factory, or in a laboratory, but wreaks havoc in the world outside those confines.”

“From an ecological perspective, when we observe the production and management of manure, we should be thinking not only of contamination and health in relation to individuals, but also about the implications for seed dispersal, movement of water, elements, and nutrients; bacterial ecology; soil replenishment and impoverishment; and the long-term flourishing of life on Earth.”

“We cannot assume that any of the organizational strategies we have built over the past few millennia will enable us to adapt to what is coming tomorrow.”

“The prices for human excrement were so high in eighteenth-century Japan that stealing human shit was an acknowledged crime, punishable by imprisonment.”

“Global trade in human food and animal feeds—more generally, our particular ways of manipulating the services ecosystems provide—represents an unprecedented transformation and re-distribution of organic matter in the biosphere.”

“Viewing politics and governance only as they relate to individuals and states is not helpful in solving the challenges of living in an overcrowded, unstable, interactive, extremely puzzling world.”

———

The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution

Henry Gee (U. of Chicago)

the accidental species“There is nothing special about being human, any more than there is anything special about being a guinea pig or a geranium.”

“Darwin… used the word ‘evolved’ to mean growth and development of a complex form from a simpler one, and used it to draw an analogy with the altogether grander process in which life itself would from simple beginnings become more diverse, elaborate, and complex. Darwin had a term for this process to which evolution was a mere analogy: he called it ‘descent with modification,’ a much less loaded term than ‘evolution.’”

“Evolution has neither memory nor foresight. It has no scheme, design, or plan…. The patterns we see in life are the results of evolution, and are contingent. In and of itself, evolution carries no implication of progression or improvement. Absolutely none. Zip. Nada.”

“The beautiful thing about natural selection is its simplicity. All it requires to work are four things, three of which are readily apparent with eyes to see. They are heritable variation, the ever-changing environment, superabundance of offspring, and the passage of long periods of time.”

“The evolution of the human brain, like the evolution of anything else, must be thought about in terms of Darwin’s tangled bank, rather than the misreading of evolution as linear, progressive, and governed by purpose.”

———

Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients

Ben Goldacre (Faber and Faber)

bad pharma“Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments…. Aside from all this, for several of the most important and enduring problems in medicine, we have no idea what the best treatment is, because it’s not in anyone’s financial interest to conduct any trials at all.”

“[R]egulators don’t have all the trials, and they don’t share all the ones that they do.”

“Only half of all trials get published, and those with negative results are twice as likely to go missing as those with positive ones.”

“[T]he pharmaceutical industry overall spends about twice as much on marketing and promotion as it does on research and development.”

“In medicine, brand identities are irrelevant, and there’s a factual, objective answer to whether one drug is the most likely to improve a patient’s pain, suffering and longevity. Marketing, therefore, exists for no reason other than to pervert evidence-based decision-making in medicine.”

“The ‘serotonin hypothesis’ for depression, as it is known, was always shaky, and the evidence now is hugely contradictory…. But in popular culture the depression-serotonin theory is proven and absolute, because it has been marketed so effectively.”

“The story of the serotonin hypothesis for depression, and its enthusiastic promotion by drug companies, is part of a wider process that has been called ‘disease-mongering’ or ‘medicalisation’, where diagnostic categories are widened, whole new diagnoses are invented, and normal variants of human experience are pathologised, so they can be treated with pills.”

“So, medicalisation is a mixed bag. We may well find new safe and effective drugs for conditions most of us have never thought of as medical problems before, and they may well improve people’s quality of life, in all kinds of different ways…. But the greatest risk is that we fail to notice that our models of personhood, and what is normal, are being quietly engineered by a $600 billion industry.”

 

Eminent Victorians

Jessamine Chan -- December 13th, 2013

my life in middlemarchI once read Middlemarch in three days. Circumstances: age 20, studying abroad at Oxford, taking a tutorial on “The Victorian Novel.” (Apparently, real Oxford students read two or three novels for each of the weekly essay assignments, whereas we fee-paying Americans only had to read one). My Middlemarch experience: sleep, eat, read read read, eat, something something Dorothea, something something Casaubon, 500 pages to go, oh gosh, I still need to read secondary sources! Though I remember few details from the novel, I remember loving it, just as I loved all the books for that course: 850 pages of repression and longing followed by 150 pages of feeling feelings, usually with some richly metaphorical weather. Continue reading

Avant-garde in Istanbul: A Chat with Duygu Demir

T Fleischmann -- November 5th, 2013
Artist: Nilbar Güreş

Nilbar Güreş, The Living Room, 2010

Critic and curator Duygu Demir works out of Istanbul, where she is a programmer at SALT. She is also one of twelve curators chosen to represent their home city in Art Cities of the Future, published in September by Phaidon. Below, she talks about the contemporary art scenes that flourish in Istanbul as well as some of the considerations that come along with Western attention and influence.

What was your process for selecting the artists included in Art Cities of the Future? Did you set out to show the broad range of concerns, modes, and styles that they represent, or did that range come naturally as you curated the text?

My process of choosing the artists was guided by a few different concerns. First and foremost, I wanted to reflect the equality between female and male artists here, because I think unlike many other fields in Turkey, in the arts the practicing artists are more or less equally distributed. I wanted my selection to reflect this. Also, I identified while working on my text that there are about three generations of contemporary artists in the city that are still practicing, Gülsün Karamustafa, in her late 60s, represents the oldest generation, Halil Altındere and Esra Ersen, both in their early 40s represent the mid-generation, and the youngest generation, which features the most artists, is comprised of Cevdet Erek, Köken Ergun, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Ahmet Öğüt and Nilbar Güreş, who are all in their 30s. Another balance I had in mind was to include artists who work in a diverse range of media, the selection reflects artists working in painting, installation, video, sound and performance.

As a curator and programmer, what about Istanbul most holds your attention and keeps you working there, rather than locating your practice somewhere else on the international circuit?

First and foremost, I am from Istanbul, and it is important that I understand its dynamics as best as I can. As I am quite young, I think it is important that my own formative years are spent here, where the city’s art institutions are also in formation. My practice is very much intertwined with what I experience here, and I have been involved with SALT—an interdisciplinary cultural institution which only opened in 2011—from the beginning, which allowed me to think about how to program in a city that has two distinct audiences for its institutions; an advanced but much smaller group of people who are part of the international art circuit, and another larger group, who are curious, but with much less exposure to art. It is an inspiring challenge, and I feel most fulfilled when I am giving tours of exhibitions to the public or high school groups and it does not always click but you sometimes get to see a slight change in sensibility after the encounter. Also, there is a lot of archival research to be done here, many more artists and collectives and exhibition histories to uncover, areas in which even the most preliminary art historical work has not been done, let alone over-studied, of course this is due to a lack of state structures. Here the private sector is trying to fill in those gaps (of course not without their own agendas) but it is a completely different system compared to more established Western European or North American examples and their support structures, and it remains to be seen how it will work. But in short, there is a sense of excitement and curiosity here that fuels dynamism, which is crucial.

What is the working artistic community in Istanbul like? Do these artist socialize together and collaborate, or do you see them more as representing distinct aspects of the city’s artistic life?

One of the key aspects that the editors of the book wanted us to keep in mind while selecting the artists was that the artists played an active role in the city’s artistic community. The artists I selected all know each other and do socialize together. Perhaps due to residencies and travel that is required for their work they are not always present; however, they are all very invested in Istanbul. Since the city’s art circuit is still in its formative stage these artists take on more responsibility than just their own artistic practice; they participate in discussion groups, give tours, teach either at universities or through workshops. They are very involved with the community and outspoken. And since the Gezi protests, I think the artistic community here even got closer and other channels of communication opened up, there is a new sense of urgency for unity.

You end your introduction with a question, wondering whether artists in Istanbul will “continue to look critically at identity formation, unexcavated histories and local complexities, or succumb to the comforts of commercial patronage.” How much did the sometimes problematic implications of commercial patronage and Western influence weigh on your mind while framing Istanbul for the audience of Art Cities of the Future?

Very much so. I keep saying that the art scene here is rather new and still in formation, and it will sound like a contradiction when I say this, but of course things never happen overnight, except perhaps the commercial interest. As I try to explain in my introductory essay, avant-garde practice in Istanbul has a long history, which nowadays gets easily overlooked because of the hype around what is happening now. It was quite a closed-circuit perhaps until the 1990s, but there are figures still working today such as Sarkis, Nil Yalter or Fisun Onur who were all educated in the West. It is not the Western influence but the commercial interest that is worrisome in my opinion.

And finally, are there any upcoming exhibitions to which you’d like to draw our attention?

The very contested Istanbul Biennial this year has just ended, but perhaps selfishly I would like to draw attention to the Gülsün Karamustafa survey at SALT which will be on view until January 5, 2014. It spans 40 years of artistic practice, and the exhibition also reflects the recent political history of Turkey, as events such as the formation of the Turkish Republic, two military coups (1971 and 1980), population in Istanbul jumping from 1 to 15 million over the course of a few decades through migrations from the countryside to the city, are all reflected in the works of the artist, whether through personal memories, family stories or first-hand experiences, such as her Prison Paintings (1972-78), made right after the artist was imprisoned for her political activism.

ART CITIES OF THE FUTURE book shot

Phaidon 2013

 

Books for the Digital Citizen

Annie Coreno -- October 15th, 2013

Before you read Dave Eggers’s The Circle and swear off Twitter or the internet forever, read these books. Like it or not, we’re living in a technology-crazed world. Rather than sulk about it, it’s time we embrace the change. Here are some new books to help you do so.

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Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance by Heidi Boghosian

>_National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian’s purpose is not necessarily to dissuade you from using technology but rather unveil how your personal information is being used and the various implications of its use.  Michael German, a former FBI agent, says its best in his blurb: This book provides “the answer to the question, ‘if you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you care if someone is watching you?’ ”

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Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian

>_An inspiring tale of success in the internet age. Reddit cofounder Ohanian leads by example showing readers how to harness the potential of the internet by sharing his own success. More importantly, Ohanian shines light on how politics threaten the open internet.

 

9781594204456.jpgSmarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson

>_When it comes to technology, Clive Thompson sees the glass half full. Rather than a definitive take on technology, this book is more of a counter point to arguments against the digital revolution. Thompson engages readers while leaving room to debate. It’s a stepping stone for skeptics.

Tough Questions about Families and Technology

Jessamine Chan -- October 4th, 2013

TheBigDisconnect hc c2

In the past week, I’ve told every friend I’ve seen about this book. Some have toddlers and found the scary anecdotes to be too much. A friend who is 6 months pregnant was intrigued. While reading about how texting has replaced normal conversation or even email for today’s kids, I felt so guilty that I phoned my parents and best friend 90’s style and left voicemails and played phone tag. Remember phone tag? (My mom pointed out that she only texts with her daughters because we never pick up the phone.) One friend whose children are grown worries that maybe it’s too late—maybe technology is so much a part of children’s lives, the damage can’t be undone.

But it’s not too late, and you, blog readers who are parents or soon-to-be parents, should all read this book. The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, Aug.) by clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, writing with Teresa H. Barker, charts the negative impact of the digital revolution on parents and children. Continue reading

An [Imagined] Oral History of Oral Histories

Annie Coreno -- September 3rd, 2013

To mark today’s publication of the much-anticipated Salinger biography by David Shields and Shane Salerno and the release of the accompanying documentary later this week, I decided it was time to further explore the book’s format and the “oral history” book fad.

As those who have taken on the topic before know, it begs to stay true to form. So here is how I imagine a written oral history of oral history books might sound–errr–read.

PW EDITOR: It was the summer of 2011 that I really started to see this trend emerge. At first we were all a little confused by it. An oral history in written format? Is that even possible—it sounds like an oxymoron. But as it turns out, it can be done and actually has been around for a while—more so in magazines and eventually the blogosphere. But it wasn’t until 2011 that it really started to pick up in the book publishing world. First came the the ESPN book, then I Want My MTV the following year.

REVIEWER: It seemed to be especially popular for music and television related books. Please Kill Me and Live From New York being the books that really lead the way for the ESPN, MTV and Nickelodeon histories. They often take on a gossipy, behind-the-scenes feel.

READER: I’ve read several of them. Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests is definitely one of my favorites. They are always entertaining though sometimes a bit long. Usually pretty easy to get through—because you’ve got all those different voices in there.

HISTORIAN: Good history books usually incorporate multiple first-person account—and in a more authoritative fashion. These so called oral histories aren’t exactly books in my opinion! They are more like a bunch of transcripts copied and pasted together, no coherent voice, not enough analysis. If you want to read a history book, read one of Robert Caro’s book–now there’s a man who can write history.

CULTURAL CRITIC: I personally love the format. It feels very fitting for the times. The internet provides an avenue for anyone and everyone to have a voice.

POST-STRUCTURALIST: It’s easy to forget that the interviews are taken out of context and woven together. Every response is directed by an answer that is not always made obvious in the narrative. Remember there is no truth. Everything is a social construct…

HISTORIAN: Sighs Here we go again…

REVIEWER: They definitely tend to cater toward trade publication, less academically focused. The author is not defining history as much sewing together a narrative. It’s up to reader to assess story along with the credibility of its sources.

READER: I plan on reading the biography and seeing the documentary and then comparing the two!

Of course, this is all heavily based in my imagination, but who knows with the publication of Salinger and Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age among others in the upcoming weeks, there may be some REAL voices to form this narrative.

When Librarians Write: On The Riot Librarian

Annie Coreno -- August 20th, 2013

RiotGirl_cover

A few weeks ago we ran a starred review of The Riot Grrrl Collection edited by Lisa Darms.

Having just finished my degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Toronto, I was particularly excited to learn that Darms is not only a librarian but also the founding archivist of the collection showcased in the book (and a Canadian to boot!).

There are lots of librarians who write books (for example, see her, him, and a personal favorite, him). But usually we encounter these writers in their role of author rather than librarian. This is not surprising considering that librarians have long struggled with the issue of visibility and are most recognizable by their physical workplace rather than the nature of their work. Defining librarian without mention of the library is not that easy of a task—even in Merriam Webster, the librarian is defined as “a specialist in care of or management of a library.”

This is precisely why Lisa Darms’s book is such an achievement: It is not about libraries, it’s about a punk-rock, feminist movement. It does not tell you what librarians do, it shows you.

The book itself, much like the collection, aims to document “the process of zine-making, being in bands, and activism, as well as, the finished products of these activities.” Darms writes, “It isn’t intended as a coffee-table book, despite the fact that many of the documents are beautiful in their own right. Our goal is to make the content of these smart, radical texts more broadly available.”

Although the collection “makes up less than 1 percent of Fales [Library]’s physical holdings, it already accounts for 15 percent of our research use, and is further accessed by hundreds of students in classes that the Fales staff teaches on riot grrrl, feminism, queer activism and zine culture.”

If I learned anything during my two years at library school, it’s that the value of the library is not so much in the physical components of the library itself but the activities which go on inside: whether it’s the process of reading a book, making photocopies of a zine to distribute, or meeting with a group. It is the librarian’s job to encourage, empower, and enable patrons to partake in these activities. Darms, in her book, hones that energy and transports it outside the library and into a wider world.

 

PW Best Books 2011: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Mike Harvkey -- October 26th, 2011

Leading up to the November 7th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2011, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100.  Here’s the latest post:

Johnson begins his deceptively slim book with “In the summer of 1917 Robert Grainier took part in an attempt on the life of a Chinese laborer caught, or anyway accused of, stealing from the company stores of the Spokane International Railway in the Idaho Panhandle.” This compact paragraph blooms into a brief scene of the attempt which, like the book, resonates with meaning greater than the sum of its small moving parts. Grainier helps three railway men make “every effort” to chuck the guy off a bridge. But he has a desperate hold on life and breaks free; either frustrated or impressed, his would-be executioners are by then happy to let him go. He squirrels his way to safety and Grainier, on his walk home with a bottle of Hood’s Sarsaparilla for his nursing wife, sees the man everywhere: “Chinaman in the road. Chinaman in the woods. Chinaman walking softly, dangling his arms like ropes. Chinaman dancing up out of the creek like a spider.” Again and again Johnson uses a moment to reveal character and show how easily the trajectory of a life can be changed.

The novella traces Grainier’s life, with Johnson flitting dexterously in time, sometimes covering decades in one chapter and then, in the next, a single event. Always, he uses a few precise words to convey a great deal. As in this sentence, which ends the attempted killing: “Though astonished now at the frenzy of the afternoon, baffled by the violence, at how it had carried him away like a seed in a wind, young Grainier still wished they’d gone ahead and killed that Chinaman before he’d cursed them.” What a wonderfully odd choice Johnson has made to repeat the “a,” evoking wind in the singular and complicating the rhythm of his sentence. This is a expertly-crafted book, more etched from granite than written down, it seems to me. Continue reading

Comics and Graphic Novels at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Calvin Reid -- September 19th, 2011

The Comics Writ Large and Small Panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival (l. to r.) Meg Lemke, moderator, Craig Thompson (Habibi), Anders Nilsen (Big Questions) and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve).

Comics and graphic novels have always been a part of the Brooklyn Book Festival, held this past weekend on a beautiful fall Sunday September 18 at Borough Hall and surrounding sites. But this weekend the Brooklyn Book Festival 2011 seems to have really ramped up the involvement of comics artists at the one-day literary festival, incorporating cartoonists into a wide range of literary panels along with prose authors in addition to all-comics and youth comics panels.

The Quick Draw panel (l. to r.) Laura Lee Gulledge, Dave Roman and Raina Telgemier.

Indeed Meg Lemke, acquisitions editor at Teachers College Press and a member of the BBF youth committee, told PW that the festival worked to incorporate comics throughout the show’s programming. And Lemke was the moderator for one of the hottest tickets at the show, Comics Writ Large and Small, a public interview with three of the most acclaimed cartoonists of the moment about their newest works: Craig Thompson (Habibi, Pantheon); Anders Nilsen (Big Questions, Drawn & Quarterly) and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve, D&Q). The event was held at the St. Francis College Auditorium, a block away from Borough hall and one of several additional venues (which included projection capability in order to show off comics and visuals) added to the festival to accommodate the growth in attendence.

And the show is definitely growing. The plaza at Borough hall was jammed with visitors from the time this reporter arrived around 10am on Sunday to moderate—if that’s the word—a  panel on drawing for kids featuring three cartoonists. The panel, Comics Quick-Draw!, was more of a tongue-in-cheek sports event  than a conventional panel—it was a packed outdoor tent full of parents and young kids, who were asked to tell the cartoonists to draw any kind of crazy thing—like, say, aliens eating bagels on the moon!—and the intrepid cartoonists did their best to comply. Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy), Raina Telgemier (Smile) and Laura Lee Gulledge (Paige by Page) were great troopers and expert draughtspeople and the kids were screaming with delight by the end of the session (they also bum-rushed the stage at the end to claim the drawings). Comics aimed at kids were well represented with a combination of panels and workshops throughout the day featuring such cartoonists as Nick Bertozzi and Sarah Glidden.

Continue reading