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Thu, 10 Dec 2009 09:00
In 1968 Stewart Brand produced the first edition of the Whole Earth Catalog. It had a picture of the earth seen from space on the cover and inside were lists of useful tools for transforming the planet by distributing power to the people. I remember seeing it in bookshops. Thrilling and demanding, it called on me to join my generation. Like Woodstock, student demos, dope, tie-dyed T-shirts and improbably flared trousers, the Catalog told us we were different.
We were. But now different has become mainstream. The Catalog was, above all, Green. It treated the planet as a single, finite system whose contents could be catalogued. Now the whole world is Green and the Internet lists its contents. David Cameron and Ed Miliband believe what only doped-out freaks in sandals and Afghan coats believed in 1968. And so Stewart Brand returns to take stock.
Whole Earth Discipline is immensely entertaining, moving and slightly confusing. The confusion is twofold. First, Brand is an unreconstructed cataloguer. The book is, at one level, simply a list of developments in biotechnology, climate science, urbanisation, agriculture and so on. This tends to leave one wondering if these things do tie together in quite the way Brand says they do. Secondly, much of the book is about the author's changes of mind. He is now, for example, pro-nuclear power and genetically engineered foods. This is honourable but it does cast a slight shadow of doubt over his latest enthusiasms (more)
Wed, 09 Dec 2009 12:37
The Seattle Times reviews a number of great, seasonal children's titles, including Christmas with Rita and Whatsit!, A Season of Gifts, The Story of Snow, I Love Christmas, The Secret of Santa's Island, Happy Hanukkah, Corduroy and A Chanukah Present for Me!
Hyper young Santa waiters, spinning dreidels and the special sounds of Kwanzaa await parents looking to freshen the holidays with new books for their kids this year.
Among them are noteworthy takes on classic scrooges, prancing reindeer and magical nutcrackers. There's also straight-up accounts of the birth of Jesus and the magnified science of snow (more...)
Wed, 09 Dec 2009 11:38
New York, early 1969: Andy Warhol, recently shot by Valerie Solanas because "he had too much control of my life", is recovering. At a party, he spies Willem de Kooning and hurries to pay homage. Instantly, de Kooning spins round so that the two great artists are face-to-face. "You're a killer of art, you're a killer of beauty, you're even a killer of laughter. I can't bear your work!" he shouts. The other guests are stunned but Warhol, turning away, merely shrugs, "Oh well, I always loved his work."
Art critic Arthur Danto relates de Kooning's rant in his incisive, essential account, Andy Warhol, just published by Yale as part of its Icons of America series. Tony Scherman and David Dalton's Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol is packed with similar anecdotes: for instance, a star-struck Andy, persistently ignored by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, whines, "Why don't Bob and Jap like me?" -- only to be told by a mutual friend, "How could they? You're too queer -- and your work is so commercial. It probably makes them uneasy."
It took a long time, Danto argues, "for Warhol to become intellectually respectable in America. Instead, he became an icon." (More...)
Wed, 02 Dec 2009 02:01
Patricia Highsmith, one of the great writers of 20th Century American fiction, "had a life as darkly compelling as that of her favorite 'hero-criminal', talented Tom Ripley. In this revolutionary biography, Joan Schenkar paints a riveting portrait, from Highsmith's birth in Texas to Hitchcock's filming of her first novel, Strangers On a Train, to her long, strange, self-exile in Europe. We see her as a secret writer for the comics, a brilliant creator of disturbing fictions, and erotic predator with dozens of women (and a few good men) on her love list."
The Talented Miss Highsmith is "the first literary biography with access to Highsmith's whole story: her closest friends, her oeuvre, her archives. It's a compulsive page-turner unlike any other, a book worthy of Highsmith herself."
Review, below, from the New York Times:
The photo on the cover of The Talented Miss Highsmith depicts the young, sultry author of Strangers on a Train holding one of her pet cats. There's no question which is the more spookily feline-looking creature.
Pretty as it is, this picture is hardly representative. As a pet owner Highsmith was much more remarkable for keeping hundreds of snails and for liking to watch those mollusks mate. As a sex object she was far more androgynous in affect than she appears in the photograph. "In Paris restaurants, where French waiters are uncomfortably good at reading gender code, Pat is sometimes directed to the men's lavatory," writes Joan Schenkar, Highsmith's enterprising new biographer. Ms. Schenkar adds: "Pat thought that waiters stopped her 'because I have big feet and skinny thighs.' She had to think something."
This is no ordinary literary biography. Ms. Schenkar, also a playwright, is not one of those thorough, respectful scholars who let the facts and the literature speak for themselves. Hers is an unusually assertive voice, which makes it well suited to Highsmith (as it was to Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece, who was the subject of Ms. Schenkar's earlier book, Truly Wilde). Her approach is innovative, sometimes confoundingly so. And her sensibility is sufficiently ghoulish to keep her undaunted by what she calls Highsmith's "hundreds of raspingly acute portraits of quietly transgressive acts," which is a relatively mild way of characterizing the shock value of Highsmith's tirelessly misanthropic work (more...)
Tue, 01 Dec 2009 02:14
A Paul Auster book is like an old-fashioned page-turner that you bring everywhere you go so you can keep reading and reading. But while you may get lost in Auster's world, the experience also can be unnerving. This is part of his enormous appeal as a writer and the basis of his unique stature in American fiction.
Invisible, Auster's edgy 13th novel, begins straightforwardly, set in New York City in 1967, but is subsequently told by different narrators from varying points of view. Adam Walker is a self-absorbed college student and an aspiring poet. He meets Rudolph Born and his girlfriend, Margot, at a party and is immediately drawn to them. Auster sets up the mysterious nature of the attraction masterfully: "The truth was that I had never run across people like this before, and because the two of them were so alien to me, so unfamiliar in their affect, the longer I talked to them, the more unreal they seemed to become -- as if they were imaginary characters in a story that was taking place in my head."
In the days that follow, Born offers to bankroll a literary magazine with Adam as editor, and Margot and Adam act on their mutual desire. Adam is skeptical of the magazine venture, but the force of personality of his new friends proves irresistible. Near the end of Part I, a horrifying crime shatters Adam to the core and alters his world.
Part II takes place 40 years later in 2007, told at first by Jim, a former college classmate of Adam's who has become a famous novelist. Now in his 60s, Adam has fallen gravely ill, and asks Jim to look at a chapter of the manuscript he has written -- the story he, the narrator of Part I, has been telling us. Adam's "nonfiction" narrative is now told in the second person, and the "you" perspective gives the action a relentless and febrile quality, heightening Adam's personal crises present and past, including the death of his younger brother when he was a child and an "incestuous rampage" with his sister, Gwyn (more...)
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