Thursday, February 05, 2009

invasion 68, prague

invasion 68, prague

this book is filled with big glossy photos taken over several days in prague in august of 1968 during the soviet occupation. the photos are large and beautiful and disturbing.

the book starts with an introduction that explains some of the events that led up to the occupation and a little bit about what happened during and after. the intro is only a few pages long but the pages are ginormous (because it's a big artsy photobook).

mixed throughout the pages of photos there are also pages of eyewitness accounts, official documents, and slogans that appeared on walls and posters during this time. the slogans are printed in czech and english.
"soviet exports: tanks, lead, death..."
"we do not want russian freedom"
"our dead don't need your wheat"

my favorite part of the text of this book was the part about the ghost town method of resistance to the occupation used by the residents of prague:
"Acting on an appeal from the free broadcast of 'Prague', the legal radio station in the occupied town at the end of Friday, hundreds of thousands of anonymous, unknown people tore down the signs with the names of streets and squares. Plaques with house numbers also disappeared. On some buildings there are no longer even the names of the tenants.... The Prague of names and numbers has become extinct. For the uninvited guests, Prague is a ghost town. Someone who wasn't born here, who hasn't lived here, will find an anonymous city of a million people, in which the occupiers may perhaps find only a wide variety of appeals written in Czech and the Cyrillic alphabet. On the roads we read 'Moscow-1,800 km'. Prague is defending itself. Against the tanks, guns and troops of the occupying forces. Without bloodshed. And against collaborators, who, by assisting in the arrest of honourable people, want to make the nation nervous. Let our watchword be: The
postman will find it, but the bastards won't."

the one problem i had while trying to read this book was a common problem i have with photobooks but it's not one that will make me any less likely to read them... the captions of the actual photos are extremely minimal and many don't have captions at all so the curiosity you feel about, for example, the kid sitting on the curb who has painted a target on her or his back is almost painful. who was that woman in the jackie o suit holding the little girl's hand outside of the bullet-ridden building and what exactly happened there and to them? did that old man actually throw the brick at the tank or was he just waving it in his hand... an angry gesture meant for the soviet soldiers in the tank to see? there are 250 pictures in the book and most of them left me with a hopeless kind of curiousity about the specific stories in them.

i highly recommend this book and i highly recommend getting it from your library since i think it costs about $60 to buy for yourself.

invasion 68, prague

invasion 68, prague

invasion 68, prague

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City

on the lower frequencies

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City by Erick Lyle

Erick Lyle is not boring. Among the long list of things he is, or has been, you will find: a punk, a drummer, a writer, an advocate for homeless rights, a homeless person, an activist, a squatter, and a commentator on National Public Radio’s This American Life. Whether you love, love to hate, or love and hate the counterculture in this country, this collection of Lyle’s writing is sure to do something for you. Simply put, this book is for punks and for squares.

A Secret History covers the San Francisco underground during the 1990’s and the beginning of the 21st century from Erick’s distinct and reflective point of view. This is a portrait of the lives led by everyday people in the Mission District during the rise and the fall of the dot-com era. His coverage is personal, political, hilarious, gut-wrenching, heartening, infuriating, evocative, and uniquely eloquent. His writing is not neutral, bland, or aiming for the fabled “objectivity” that mainstream journalists tend to strive for.

Many of the entries in this memoir revolve around a donut shop in Erick’s neighborhood that, as its giant sign boasts, is “Open 25 Hours” a day. This shop, “a flourescent-lit utopia for lowlifes,” once dubbed San Francisco’s “epicenter of crime” by a hyperbolic local television news story, is arguably one of the most important “characters” in this book. Erick describes the legendary 25th hour in the following excerpt…

“In the long night’s at Hunt’s over the years I would, however, come to see the 25th hour not as a time, but as a PLACE. It was a destination that could only be reached after too much fluorescent light and coffee and donuts.”

Lyle is able to perfectly capture the way that the dumpiest spot on the block can often take on an almost mythical importance to the people that live their lives around it. There are places that command a certain kind of respect. It’s based not on the market real estate value or how many well-to-do types can be counted amongst the regulars. It’s a respect based on sheer staying power, and on the history carried in its smoke stained walls and under its grimy tables.

Amos Oz said, in a November 1, 2007 L.A. Times article, “I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe that imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism.” He was trying to encourage Americans to read books from other countries in order to better understand other cultures. It could be easily argued that the counterculture is another country. This book is your ticket.

Erick Lyle will be doing a reading and signing at the Olympia Timberland Library on Saturday, June 28th at 3 p.m. in the library’s meeting room. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

From Timbuktu to Katrina: Readings in African-American History Volume I


This is an important and fascinating collection of primary and secondary documents chosen and introduced by University of Washington history professor, Dr. Quintard Taylor. Dr. Taylor is also the director of the website, the “Google” of African American history.

Volume one, which I will be reviewing here, covers documents ranging chronologically from the 14th Century through the early 20th Century. Volume II follows the same format and continues chronologically all the way up to 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina.

The layout and content of this book come together beautifully to create a very readable and informative history book. Due to the vast scope of this book, you may be picturing two twenty pound encyclopedic volumes. This book is made up of two easily portable paperback volumes, roughly 200 pages each.

Volume one contains 108 documents including personal letters, speeches, eyewitness accounts, and government documents to list a few. Each of the eight chapters has a brief introduction which provides context for the time frame covered. Individual entries include author and source information for the passage. They are sometimes as short as one paragraph and never exceed three pages in length.

The sources of the entries include widely known historical figures like Frederick Douglas, as well as lesser known figures such as Lucy Parsons, anarchist and leading figure in the radical labor movement. The experiences of everyday people like Mrs. Lucy Tibbs can also be found in this collection. The testimony she gave at a Congressional investigation of the Memphis Riot of 1866 (during which she recalls being raped and robbed by a group of ex-Confederates) is reprinted in a chapter devoted to the post Civil War Reconstruction era.

Tables throughout the volumes provide important historical overviews. One example is “The Slave Trade Over Four Centuries” which includes lists of major slaving countries, major sources of slaves, and major destinations from the 16th through the 19th century. A great deal of information is laid out clearly on a single page. This table provides important context for the rest of the chapter which features accounts from slaves, slave traders, and travelers to West Africa during the time of the slave trade.

This book manages to cover a vast period of time, through a diverse collection of sources, in an amazingly succinct manner. From Timbuktu to Katrina: Readings in African-American History does an excellent job of reflecting the complexity of American history while remaining brief and comprehensible to the non-scholar.

As Dr. Taylor states in the book’s preface, “Documents tell a powerful story.” This is required reading for anyone interested in American History, scholar and novice alike.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

you must be this happy to enter

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This book is strange and hilarious. It is as funny and weird as its cover which features an almost obscenely friendly, googly-eyed statuette posed in front of the kind of red curtain that features prominently in Agent Cooper dreams (of TV's "Twin Peaks" fame).

It's an appropriate cover considering that many of the stories in this book actually feel a bit like dreams. Like dreams, they vary widely in terms of mood, tone and subject matter, but there are certain veins that seem to run through them all. The pieces in this collection are absurd, mildly or massively amusing, subtly or not so subtly disquieting, and maybe most important, they are completely unpredictable. Adding still further to the dream-like nature is the fact that celebrities and various objects from popular culture play both major and minor roles throughout these vignettes.

The opening story, "My Life is Awesome! And Great" is a manically positive nine-page rant from a woman who is obsessed with appearing on a reality TV show. She uses an exclamation mark at the end of every single sentence. Warning: The narrator is so bizarre and animated that I nearly choked on my chips from laughter while reading this one on my lunch break.

The story that perhaps wins the best title award is "The Glistening Head of Ricky Ricardo Begs Further Experimentation." In this story, the narrator buys a new TV set and brings it home only to discover that the lid is loose. When she removes the top, she looks down and sees living 9-inch versions of characters from the shows moving around. She then discovers she can actually lift them out of the TV set, change their outfits, throw objects from her world into the TV, and just generally wreak havoc upon and make improvements to TV land. The ways she uses these powers are amusing and quite scandalous.

The closing story, "Promise," is a pledge to the narrator's child, a tender manifesto detailing what the author vows both to do and not to do as a parent. It's sweet - but not syrupy - and somehow manages to express an intense and sincere love in poignant and impressively un-cheesy ways.

Co-published by independent publishers Akashic Books (New York) and Punk Planet Books (Chicago), this a quick and refreshing read. It's laugh-out-loud funny, playfully scandalous and sometimes a bit sad. It's not just the interesting plotlines, but also the way Crane puts sentences together that make her stories such great reads. Crane teaches creative writing at Northwestern University's School of Continuing Studies, the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

goodness had nothing to do with it

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As witty and as foxy as you would expect the autobiography of Mae West to be.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System

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Investigative journalist, Silja J.A. Talvi, after years of intensive research, has written a disturbing portrait of the current state of incarcerated women in the United States. One of her main goals in writing this book, to give a voice to incarcerated women, is perhaps the very thing that sets this title apart from other works exploring the same theme. The fact that the expert testimonies you will read come not just from administrators, policy makers, and academics, but also from the incarcerated women themselves is an important one. As the author puts it, "... I did not want to produce yet another book that relies primarily on the writings and studies of inhabitants of the “free world,” as prisoners put it. Where appropriate, I do weave in expert findings and insights, but it is absolutely my contention that there are no individuals more insightful and informed about the realities of female incarceration than prisoners themselves." These are the voices that we’re unlikely to hear in crime reporting, or anywhere else for that matter.

This book is written in a style that is accessible to the layperson, free of academic and professional jargon, but it’s an incredibly difficult book to read: The stories told by inmates and their loved ones are heart-breaking, stomach-turning, enraging, but sometimes marked by hope.

Talvi is as thorough as one would hope an investigative journalist would be. She wrote this volume after conducting interviews with prisoners, their families, prisoner advocates, and correctional facility workers and administrators; touring correctional facilities in the U.S., Canada, Finland and the United Kingdom; and gathering available and relevant statistics. The picture that emerges is one of an increasing number of nonviolent, first-time offenders being incarcerated for lengths of time that will come to most as a shock. Many of these sentences are especially disquieting when laid out next to examples of relatively light sentences given to prison employees, for example, found guilty of sexually abusing female inmates under their "care.”

Even readers who believe that the main goal of incarceration is to punish and not to rehabilitate prisoners for successful reentry into society, will likely be horrified by the treatment that many women have faced behind bars in this country. Stories of women with untreated tumors, broken bones and debilitating illnesses and diseases, bleeding and crying in their cells for days before receiving what cursory medical treatment they are allowed seem almost too horrendous to be true.

Talvi does not stop, however, at providing a place where these habitually ignored women can be heard or at simply pulling back the curtain and giving the public a glimpse into the reality of this country’s prison system. She goes on to provide examples of some of the other practices that are available and to reveal the work of people who are working from both within and outside of the system to create more just and successful ways of dealing with issues of crime and punishment in the 21st century.

Monday, March 17, 2008

the slaves of solitude

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The Slaves of Solitude
by Patrick Hamilton
has been republished on its 60th anniversary.
1947, 2007

This is how it begins...

"London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhabled violently through the same channels."

Taking place mostly in the suburbs of London during WWII this is a lonely, and at times, hilarious novel. The heroine is ridiculous in many ways but so, so loveable. It's a dreary setting, it's a dreary time, it's a dreary life, but as I finished the novel I felt anything but.