Books Aloud! – July 2008

187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971 – 2007
Juan Felipe Herrera
City Lights Publishers
Street: 02.08
Despite the fact that the Mexican population is growing greater in the U.S. every day, many people choose to remain ignorant of the history of our neighbors from South of the border. After reading Herrera’s new book I felt like I had gained a great deal of insight about the experience of living in the U.S. as a Mexican. Herrera compiled over thirty years of “undocuments” consisting of poetry, journal entries and essays, in which he discusses everything from food to freedom marches. Some of his writings are longwinded and repetitious, while others snap to the point with powerful thoughts and imagery. To get the most from this book I’d recommend grabbing a Spanish-English dictionary—it’d be a shame to miss something important just because you don’t understand it. –Ben Trentelman.

American Hair Metal
Steven Blush
Feral House
Street: 11.2006
WOW! If you have any illusions that butt-metal bands were into making music for any other reason than taking tons of drugs and getting laid, think again! From the picture of Aqua Net adorning the first page of American Hair Metal to the leopard-spandexed buttocks of Mike Tramp of White Lion on the last, you will take a rip-roarin’ tour through the mid-to-late 80s like you’ve never before experienced. Welcome to 170 full-color, glossy pages of over-the-top fashion and grandiose quotes from Warrant, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, Motley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Kix and more. Steve Blush, also the author of American Hardcore, takes a nostalgic, thumbs-up look back at the hair-metal movement, but puts in some ironic quotes for balance. Don’t get me wrong, his irony ain’t no Decline of Western Civilization II, but his observations on girl bands oversexualizing their acts to get any sort of respect in the scene (Vixen, Femme Fatale, Poison Dollies) and the wholesale sexual exploitation of worshipping prepubescent females at concerts everywhere, is definitely poignant. The best page might be the series of press quotes from Nikki Sixx between the years '85-’90 running the gamut of “I don’t do drugs! Why does everyone think I do drugs?” to “Yeah, rehab sucked.” That’s Mr. Brownstone for ya! –Rebecca Vernon

The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin
Cioma Schönhaus
Da Capo Press
Street: 01.07
Over the years there have emerged countless tales of survival and valor amid Hitler’s reign over Germany during World War II. One such story is The Forger, a remarkable first-hand account of how Russian-Jew Cioma Schönhaus escaped from his hostile home of Berlin in the 1940s and lived to tell the story. With vivid detail and imagery, Schönhaus chronicles his experiences as a graphic artist whom was determined to save himself and as many other Jews seeking salvation from the Nazi party as possible. By forging passports and identification cards, Schönhaus was able to spare many Jews the fate of being sent to concentration camps and even made a pretty good living for himself. The talented and cunning young man did not live the typical life of a Jew in wartime Berlin as he dined in fancy restaurants and occasionally spent nights with a certain German officer’s wife. It is no surprise that there is already a film in the works, though I’m not sure how well it is going to adapt to the screen. Regardless, The Forger is as inspiring of a story as you will ever read, making it a hard book to put down. –Michael DeJohn

The New York Trilogy
Paul Auster
Penguin Books
Street: 03.2006
City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room all feature such thematic communalities as private eyes, mistaken identities, trailing a mark and guns. In this way, they are identifiable within the oft-depreciated genre of detective fiction. However, with their emphasis on the limited abilities and implications of language, the function of story-telling, and the basic principles of existentialism, Paul Auster takes a formulaic (if not delightful) genre and turns it on its head. While these novellas contain variations on the typical narrative framework of a mystery novel—the summons, the trail, the snag, the breakthrough—the case ostensibly being worked on in an Auster story will probably be abandoned for more universal queries. The identity the protagonist ends up obsessing over is usually his own, the clues being less likely a smoking gun and more likely being a strange turn of phrase. Like Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, The New York Trilogy can be viewed as Sam Spade with a dose of Jacques Lacan, Phillip Marlowe visited by Wittgenstein. However, unlike Pynchon, Auster utilizes intertextuality, deconstructionism, and existentialism in way that even the reader unacquainted with continental philosophy can enjoy immensely, without feeling entirely unschooled. –J.R. Boyce