Books Aloud – September 2008

99 Ways to Cut, Sew, Tie & Rock Your Scarf
Faith Blakeney, Justina Blakeney and Ellen Schultz
Potter Craft
Street: 03.04
Welcome to episode three of creative ways to recycle your old clothing into something fresh and fun. From the three crafty ladies who brought the world 99 Ways to Cut, Sew, Trim and Tie Your T-shirt into Something Special and 99 Ways to Cut, Sew, and Deck Out Your Denim comes a book with 99 different ways to do something with an old scarf. Although some of the patterns contained in this series of books are a little hit or miss, the scarf book misses more often than not. As always, the directions are easy enough that anyone could follow them, but the real bummer is that many of the included ways to rock your scarf just aren’t that innovative or cute. There are a few hits – I was a big fan of the winter handkerchief skirt – but I think the reconstruction of clothing may be better suited for heartier fabrics like t-shirts and denim. Call me old-fashioned, but ultimately, I’d rather rock my scarves in my hair or around my neck than as an ill-fitting dress or a flimsy bikini bottom. –Jeanette Moses

All That’s Left
Jack Hirschman
City Lights Foundation
Street: 04.15
Political poet and revolutionary, Jack Hirschman is from an older school of dissent. The poems collected in All That’s Left showcase his tenure as poet laureate of San Francisco, with a small selection pulled from a few of his fiftyodd volumes of political street-verse. Hirschman’s reputation aside, enjoyment of this book of poetry depends largely on the reader’s relationship with headline issues of the past few years. But to be fair, enjoyment isn’t exactly the point here. Subjects span Katrina and Virginia Tech, our war, our parents’ war and their parents’ war, and the verse is deliberately blatant and unflinching. The majority of the poems are invested in the truth of things, much more than their beauty. I’ve always been pretty bad at current events, and these poems were either too simply stated to affect me, or they referenced names and details I didn’t understand. If you’re poorly informed or a little apathetic about today’s global humanitarian issues (be honest now), then do not expect All That’s Left to generate much inspiration. However, if you’ve picketed in the last week, or you’re an informed and compassionate individual, then Hirschman is your man. The first chapter is an interesting transcription of an autobiographical inauguration speech, but all in all this volume of lyrical street corner politics is most readily appreciated by the previously involved. –Jesse Hawlish

Architecture of Authority
John MacArthur and Richard Ross
Street: 09.01
Richard Ross moves the reader through socializing environments, from the kindergarten classroom to confessional. I was reminded of the anxious feelings waiting on the hard fiberglass chairs to see the principle in the linoleum clad hallway and of longing to be the line-leader. Ross’s images play to our suspicion that authoritative architecture is used to dominate and control. However, he mixes in shots of the United Nations General Assembly Room, which made me reconsider the idea that authority is inherently negative. What Ross presents is a narrative of unchecked control. His few shots of religious and court buildings are ambiguous – much good is done through constitutional rule of law and religious organizations. Once Ross gets to Abu Ghraib, however, we understand that there is nothing ambiguous in the use of control to break down the potentially innocent. This is not what government or religion intends to do, but architecture reinforces authority, which too often controls and subordinates. –Collin Smith

The Fashion Book
Editors of Phaidon Press
Street: 06.03
Jared Gold once said, “Fashion is a dangerous mistress.” My question would be, is she a whore too? Check out your local Kohl’s department store and you can find something made by Vera Wang. Or maybe even something designed by Zac Posen at Target? Like most great art forms – it eventually becomes available to the masses.There is a trickle-down effect on all sides of a prostitute of this nature, including the books that catalogue the art in question. Many fashion books have been released that are very similar to this one. They try to be all-inclusive encyclopedias of the history of fashion. An obvious coffee table book, the selected articles are very well notated and informational. My complaint is the pressing of the book as a paperback does not carry the weight of the original hardbound edition. I can’t help but feel this is a shoddy knock-off of the original. –Andrew Glassett

Takashi Homma
Street: 05.2008
Placid, detached and isolated – Takashi Homma’s pictures of Tokyo seem sterile and distant as they show booming industry and steady growth. His collection of photographs (taken over a 10-year span) shows a city that he seems to hate but can’t get enough of. Opening with pictures of Denny’s, McDonalds and other “American” institutions, Homma’s pictures show a Japan that could just as easily be Minnesota. Is this a critique of globalization? Tokyo starts to resemble the sadly familiar, hegemonic and self-destructive commercial system. Homma allows the viewer to be perplexed by these unanchored locations. But he is captivated by the youth culture that embraces these global companies. The images of condo developments stand stark, naked. The youth wear the clothes that every television program tells them they should. Everything that Homma captures looks more “American” than any place I have visited in these United States. Turning the camera on his home, himself and his daughter, Homma seems to offer hope in this dull dystopia. The intimacy of these final shots contrast sharply with his images of the exterior world. But there is a small joke here, it’s not his daughter or his home. So what is he hoping for? Is artificial the new real? I think he is showing that to have any sense of purpose or place in this franchised life, we have to embrace the artificial world, make it our own and define ourselves with the tools we have. –Collin Smith

Twilight of the Superheroes
Deborah Eisenberg
Street: 02.01.07
In terms of pure aesthetic, Deborah Eisenberg is probably one of the finest prose writers currently at work. Her best sentences feel like baskets of carefully hand-picked words, modestly wrapped around the most oddly captivating notions and left on your front porch, as if to say “Here. Ponder whether or not dogs have to fight sadness as tirelessly as humans. Enjoy!” On that level, Eisenberg’s collection of short stories, Twilight of the Superheroes, is an ultimate success. However, it must also be said that if a flaw exists in the work, it is character development. Apathetically navigating their way through very unassuming plots, Eisenberg’s protagonists seem more like props than people, blank canvases on which to paint pretty pictures. But both her acumen with words and the concepts those words explore more than redeem the flatness of her heroes, making Twilight ultimately enjoyable and worth reading at least twice. (Hard Boiled Book Club, Sam Weller’s Sept. 30) – JR Boyce