Books Aloud – October 2008

At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place
Kate T. Williamson
Princeton Architectural
Street: 05.08
I've enjoyed a slice of the graphic novel pie in my day, but it didn't taste anything like this book. At a Crossroads is about Kate, a college grad who returns home expecting to visit her parents for the summer, and ends up living with them for two years. Thrilling synopsis, right? I know. There's no twist either: no enemy, no showdown or even an outward conflict. So, while this book is very simple, it's the kind of simple that was Princeton educated. It's the kind of slow, dreamy narration that lets you forget all the hard work and craft that created it. Watch Kate go through her day: small conflicts followed by small pleasant solutions. Ahhhh. Williamson's watercolors are neat and clean and surprisingly expressive for their simplicity. A good quiet read. – Jesse Hawlish

Beer in the Beehive: A History of Brewing in Utah [Second Edition]
Del Vance
Dream Garden Press
Street: Pioneer Day 
After selling out of Vance's first print, this second edition of Beer in the Beehive is a compliment to Vances's original. Much like the first edition, this book introduces you to the prolific history of brewing in Utah, the sheer ridiculous nature of Utah's liquor laws and the church that is controlling them. Moreover, the second edition of Beer in the Beehive provides more emphasis on the status of the ongoing battle of prohibition still present in the U.S. and the religious zealots that are promoting it. Also included are more photographs of artifacts and information that Vance has obtained since the release of the first edition. There is also a little mention of Vance's forthcoming pub, The Beerhive Pub. With the in-depth knowledge of quality beers and breweries that we've produced in the bee(r)hive state, this book is killer for any beer lover, Utahn anarchist or veteran of the Utah beer drinking scene. Cheers. –Tyler Makmell

Butt Shot - Stowies ov a Bod Teechow (An Occult Naturalist of the Feminine)
Pete Xeros
Self-Published Street: 01.08
Forget the confusing title and the malfunctioning mechanics. Forget the meandering narrative structure, which reads like a bothersome bus mate. The problem with Butt Shot is its protagonist. Good characters are real people – inexplicable, contradictory, neither unabashedly loved nor thoroughly despised. They can behave themselves or stand bloody and savage, but no one is one thing 24/7. Hell, even Jesus tipped over tables and stole corn. But Xeros – a nice guy, I'm sure – recounts his adventures as a saintly pre-school teacher in a manner that indicates a closet stuffed with "Humanitarian of the Year" plaques. He forays occasionally into strip clubs or bars, in a weak attempt to complicate himself; yet the St. Elmo's Fire around his head still blazes brighter than any neon sleaze. Such flat characterization makes disbelief too heavy to suspend, and exacerbates an already clunky book. Ultimately, this book is too much Heart of Gold, not enough Hooker. –JR Boyce

Disaster and Resistance: Comics and Landscapes for the 21st Century
Seth Tobocman
AK Press Street: 07.08
Man's tendency to screw over his fellow man is probably the most widely accepted trend in the history of human existence. So much shit is so painfully fucking wrong in this world that the weight of today's and yesterday's atrocities can feel completely overwhelming. If you agree with me, then political activist Seth Tobocman has this to say to you: "Pal, you are a spineless bed-wetter. What makes you think we have time to be overwhelmed? Huh?" And then he'll poke you in the chest a few times. Tobocman's swift visual storytelling is never shy or ambiguous. He sticks your face right in the shit and says, "See. Smells like shit, doesn't it?" This isn't a bad thing: one often sees clearer with a face full of shit. The good people who voluntarily confront the shit, however, are equally important to Tobocman's agenda. His robust, active images reveal the unpublicized MLK Jr.s, Ghandis and Rosa Parks' of the 21st century. Disaster and Resistance rediscovers 9/11, Katrina and all the major shit shows of our generation with startling intensity. Woven into each current event is a story of the people who wake up every day and tirelessly shovel the shit with the hope that there might be a little less shit around here tomorrow. If this book can impel the laziest liberal ever (me) to want to reach for his shovel, then it can make you feel something too. – Jesse Hawlish

In the Miso Soup
Ryu Murakami
Penguin Street 01.03
Perhaps more than any other genre, the thriller carries the potential to engross an audience. Placing believable characters in believable danger causes empathetic adrenaline to course through the blood. The protagonist's safety/demise is, by proxy, the reader's safety/demise, which requires heavy investment. This doesn't often occur – unfortunately, most "thrillers" are actually grotesque images strung together by poor structure and juvenile writing. However, Ryu Murakmi's tale of sex guide Kenji and his murderous American client Frank is well-paced, elegantly simple and as sublimely horrific as the death of a Catholic martyr. Murakmi writes in a way that allows him to pad the climax with 60 pages of resolution and still engage the reader. While the translation from Japanese to English sometimes creates slight awkwardness in the text, it is easily forgiven when confronted with Murakami's easy-going antagonist who holds our attention as aptly as he holds our hero hostage. (Hard Boiled Book Club at Sam Weller's, Oct. 28th) –JR Boyce

Nicaragua June 1978 - July 1979
Susan Meiselas
Street: September 2008
The images held within the pages of this book are astounding. They often left me wondering how in the hell Meiselas managed to capture them without becoming a casualty of the civil war she was documenting. Originally published in 1981, the photographs in this book document the combustible state of Nicaragua from June 1978- July 1979. Luckily, they never glorify the violence that they depict. Some of the images contained within are almost surreal. "Cuesta del Plomo" is almost paradise like with its green rolling hills and bright blue skies, except that the location was regularly used by the National Guard to assassinate citizens, and the remains of a blown up body consume the lower half of the photograph. Then there is the image of a Sandinista hurling a Molotov cocktail over the walls of the National Guard's headquarters that made me wonder how Meiselas was so lucky to capture that precise moment. These photos show the violence on both sides, but never seem to make a statement as to which side was right. It's as amazing as it is horrifying. – Jeanette Moses

Things Grandchildren Should Know
Mark Oliver Everett
Thomas Dunne Books
Street 10.08
What is it about memoirs? It seems that every person out there has to explain to us how their good for nothing childhood has made them into the fabulous and amazing person they are today. Sure, I may have dabbled in some "feel sorry for me" story telling myself, but I would never go out of my way to write a whole novel about it. Now if I was the front man of the midnineties band Eels I would think it was necessary for the public to know about my unfortunate teenage angst that led me to my fame... Yeah, right. The story starts off a tear-jerking description of a lonely boy who found his father (who of course he never really got to know) dead. His sister is a suicidal drug addict and his mom is just the most amazing person you have ever met. Should I go on, or do we all know how it ends from there? My unsympathetic view doesn't just come from the fact that Everett followed step by step the recipe on "How to Make a Memoir" (no, that doesn't really exist). Additionally, between every misfortune he mentions, Everett name drops a few producers, a few big celebrities, record labels and oh, best of all... lyrics to some of his most "precious" songs. This all seems a little fishy, as though he's trying to prove to us that, yes, he really does matter. Everett also likes to make the point that his music is far more progressive and unique than anything of his contemporaries. I smell a pretentious musician who misses his fifteen minutes of fame. –Lyuba Basin

War Is Only Half The Story: The Aftermath Project Volume 1
Jim Goldberg, Wolf Bowig et al
Street: June 2008
Is it possible to be classic and contemporary? Because that's the only way I can describe the photography of Jim Goldberg. Goldberg's had his own style of photography since way back when (the 70s) and even his old stuff looks good today. Goldberg's style, for those unfamiliar, is classified as documentary photography. However, Goldberg is attracted to other mediums such as writing and collage. He tends to have his subjects write notes or draw on the actual photograph. For example, one photograph in this book has the words "My life is sick because of what they did to me" written on it (in Russian, actually). Being a fan of Mr. Goldberg, I was excited to review this book, but, I was a little let down. Sure, there are a lot of good photos in here from his recent project about Eastern European migration, The New Europeans. But most of those photos were also in that free magazine that RVCA clothing produces, so I'd already seen them. Also, Jim Goldberg only had a small section of the book. The rest of the book was littered with what looked to me like student work. Don't get me wrong, this book has some good photographs in it, especially if you like documentary photography or social commentary photography. However, if you're buying it because you're a fan of Jim Goldberg, I would suggest you wait until his next book project, The New Europeans, comes out. –Sam Milianta