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.