It’s that time again, time for the Summer Reading List, and this year’s is the biggest yet. As always, I asked several of my friends and colleagues for their recommendations. Many thanks to all who participated, including newcomers Daniel Pinchbeck, Steve Aylett, Ian MacKaye, Mike Daily, Paul Saffo, Gareth Branwyn, Rodger Bridges, and Peter Lunenfeld, as well as return contributors Erik Davis, Richard Metzger, Dave Allen, Mark Pesce, Alex Burns, Paul Miller, Brian Tunney, Patrick Barber, Steven Shaviro, Ashley Crawford, Cynthia Connolly, and Gary Baddeley.
As it should, compiling this annual list always sends many memes a-flying. Maybe you’ll find, as I always do, the books I’ve read, the books I’ve wanted to read, and the books I’ve wondered about, of course, but other things arise as well. The participants are typically very enthusiastic about their lists and the books on them. Some suggest other candidates to contribute. Some send other lists. For instance, Dave Allen sent a link to Kevin Kelly’s bit on books, and Gary Baddeley sent one to Disinformation’s Summer list.
With a set of people this eclectic, it’s fun and interesting to see what books show up on multiple lists and to see what new books are completely ignored: The inclusions and exclusions are both telling.
Anyway, as always, the book links on this page (and there are a lot of them) will take you to the selected title in Powell’s Bookstore (except where noted otherwise). This list is long, and it isn’t in any kind of order, so scroll hard. Enjoy, and leave your own reading recommendations in the comments. Thanks.
Stuart Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred (Basic Books): Rethinking biology in the light of complexity theory. The irreducibility of life processes, and more generally of the creativity of the universe, to things that can be
deduced from the laws of physics.
Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development, Volume 4: “Concept Horror”: Latest issue of the offbeat and non-academic British philosophy journal. This issue includes discussions of horror and “weird fiction” in connection with phenomenology and other philosophical doctrines. Lovecraft meets Husserl.
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (Picador): How state-imposed torture and neoliberal economic “reforms” work hand-in-hand to create the New World Order.
Invincible Iron Man. In the new Iron Man series, written by Matt Fraction, and out monthly from Marvel comics, Tony Stark, with his heavy, lumbering corporate structure, must struggle to defeat the deftly inventive “transnational open-source terrorism” of bad guy Ezekiel Stane.
Doktor Sleepless. Ongoing comics series from Warren Ellis, published by Avatar Comics. Who stole the future? Why don’t I have a personal jet pack? “Bob Dylan and Superman are the two greatest American myths of the last century.” What myths can we make for the new century? Build it up, or burn it all down?
Clay Shirky Here Comes Everybody (Penguin): That boy is pissing me off, because this is nearly the book I’m writing now. A good snapshot of the enormous cultural transformations wrought by hyperconnectivity and social media.
Ian McDonald Brasyl (Pyr): More insane post-cyberpunk fiction from the new master of the form. It takes place on three simultaneous tracks: in the 1730s, the early 2010s, and the 2030s. Oh, and there’s quantum computing involved, so of course it’s rather multiverse-ish.
Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine (Picador): This is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. I can only get through a chapter at a time before I have to close it up and go shiver in my bed, pulled into a fetal ball.
Naomi Wolf The End of America (Chelsea Green): Like Klein, Wolf puts her finger into the disease of neo-conservative America, and makes a diagnosis.
George and Mike Kuchar Reflections from a Cinematic Cesspool (Zanja Press) (Introduction by John Waters): Dual autobiography of the idiosyncratic underground film making twins responsible for “Sins of the Fleshapoids,” “Hold Me While I’m Naked,” and “Screams of the Damned.” As tweaked as their films are. Recommended!
Sebastian Horsely Dandy in the Underworld (Harper Perennial): One of the most hilarious and brilliant autobiographies I have ever read. A nonstop cataloging of sex, drugs, and ultra perversions that would cause Pasolini to blush. My favorite moment sees Horsely, on a girlfriend-funded dirty weekend in Amsterdam, doing a beautiful quadriplegic in a sex club. Top that! You can’t (and if you can, I don’t wanna know about it or you, buddy). The blurb on the front cover from Bryan Ferry reads, “A masterpiece of filth,” and no one could improve upon that pithy description, for that is exactly what it is. It’s worth mentioning that U.S. Customs Googled Horsely upon his arrival at Newark Airport for his book tour and promptly put his perverted ass on a return flight home to Britain. Our loss, this man is a literary genius. Several simply gorgeous turns of phrase on each and every page.
Jim Goad Shit Magnet (Feral House): This book’s been around for a few years now, but I just can’t recommend the Sebastian Horsely book without mentioning Shit Magnet, too as together they’re almost a genre a deux. Whereas the British snob Horsely cares only for life’s fineries, Jim Goad is a much more “meat and potatoes” kind of American writer. Co-founder of the alarming “Answer Me!” fanzine, Shit Magnet is Goad’s real life story of what happened when he got involved with the wrong gal. The most wrongest gal possible, or so it would seem. His writing is so good and so true and so fuckin’ nasty, that the only comparison I can make is to say that Jim Goad, jailbird, proud redneck and — at least in his case, justified — misogynist, is nothing less than the American Jean Genet!
Christopher Booker The Neophilliacs (Gambit): One of the great forgotten books of the 1970s, you can still find used copies on the ABE Books website. Private Eye magazine co-founder Booker writes of what he describes as a “psychic epidemic” which struck British culture in the 1960s. His central point is a startling one: During the swinging 60s a cadre of influential London media darlings (e.g., The Beatles, Marianne Faithful, David Hemmings, David Bailey, etc.) exhibited — and were rewarded for — outlandish behaviors, exhibitionist clothing and general attitudes that would have seemed daft at best or insane at worst to the previous generation. The widespread veneration of these immature neurotics is the exact point when society and culture took a radical detour into frivolity and meaninglessness. One look at YouTube, of course, proves Booker’s point in spades! Reading this book almost forty years after it was written is an eye-opening experience indeed. It would be a real pity if the unique perspectives provided by this book are lost to history.
Roger Price The Great Roob Revolution (Random House): Boing Boing‘s Mark Frauenfelder gifted me with this volume from Mad Libs inventor Roger Price. In it, Price takes on the Yankee flipside of The Neophilliacs‘ thesis and examines the 60s rise of anti-intellectual “Roob” culture. Buoyed by rising post-War purchasing power, the Roobs –called “Ugly Americans” abroad and known affectionately as “idiots” at home — in Price’s view, caused U.S. and world culture to be dumbed down to their level, imposing their “curious customs and morality on us all.” And again, with forty years of hindsight, this amusing book seems all the more precious today.
Julian Cope Japrocksampler: How The Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock ‘n’ Rock (Bloomsbury): The Arch-Drude returns, opening the shamanic doorways between cultures with another volume of hipster archeology *par excellence*. This time performing the same task for Japanese psychedelic bands as he did for hardrocking 70s Germans in his previous Krautrocksampler, Cope does not disappoint. Japrocksampler is chock full of info on amazing bands you’ve never heard of, stories about violent refusenik rock groups who would hijack airplanes and Cope’s authentic fanboy enthusiasm for all things wild, woolly and wonderful. Sporting a jacket photo of naked Japanese hippies riding motorcycles, it gets my vote for design of the year.
Umberto Eco, editor On Ugliness (Rizzoli): From the dust jacket: “…On Ugliness is an exploration of the dark, the grotesque, the monstrous and repellent in visual culture and the arts.” Superbly designed and lavishly illustrated coffee table book that could only have been put together by someone as erudite as Umberto Eco. Impossible to describe, you just have to see this beautiful object to fully appreciate it. Fantastic. For a certain kind of person, it’s the perfect gift.
There are four books I’m planning to read between surfing twice a day for two weeks at the beach this summer. I’ve got a few others in the pile that I’d like to get to (or in the case of Lator and Weibel’s massive compilation Making Things Public, read more of). The first is Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture, about Stewart Brand and digital utopianism. I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out two years ago, and will finally get to it. The second has a decidedly more dystopian cast, Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the definitive history of the Central Intelligence Agency. I’ve started writing for The Believer, and they just named Tom McCarthy’s Remainder their book of the year for 2007. From the sound of it, a beach book for pale people. Finally, All for a Few Perfect Waves, David Rensin’s oral history of the enigmatic surf icon, Miki Dora, will offer meta-pleasure when read on actual sand.
The Fantastic Four:
Tim Weiner Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Doubleday, 2007)
Tom McCarthy Remainder (Vintage, 2007)
David Rensin All for a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora (HarperEntertainment, 2008)
Other selections from the Pile:
Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, eds., Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (MIT/ZKM, 2005)
Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide (Prentice Hall, 2008)
Don Winslow The Dawn Patrol (Knopf, 2008): Winslow’s a great SoCal noir writer and the best crime novelist ever to deal with surfing. See his earlier books The Death and Life of Bobby Z (Vintage), and The Winter of Frankie Machine (Knopf).
Virginia: A guide to the Old Dominion, WPA guide (Oxford University Press, 1940).
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California: History and First Annual Report, Los Angeles, 1939.
George Freeman Pollock Skyland: The Heart of Shenandoah National Park (Virginia Book Company, 1960).
PHilip F. Gura and George Bollman America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century (University of North CArolina Press, 1999).
I’m in Switzerland for the European Graduate School, and the launch of my book Sound Unbound (MIT Press 2008) at Art Basel, and a few of things have run their course through my mental conduits:
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (Tor 2008)
Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks (Yale University Press)
George E. Lewis’s A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press)
It’s a hectic day and I’ve got lots to do, so I guess this is brief, cellphone-style situation. Cory’s book is a lucid account of the kind of post-1984 world we’ve moved into — from the viewpoint of a seventeen-year-old hacker. Yochai Benkler’s book shows us why and how we’ve moved into that post-1984 world, George E. Lewis’s book looks at jazz through the prism of the accelerated world that Cory and Yochai’s books explore, and Anthony Lappe’s book makes it all look really cool — in Baghdad. In 2012.
Casey Maddox The Day Philosophy Dies (Flashpoint Press): Our narrator is put through the twelve steps of “recovery from civilization.” Maddox studied writing with Derrick Jensen and it’s nice to not know, for once, what’s going to happen on the next page. Even the cheap-ish tricks at the end work really well. A book that’s actually about something and the heart of it.
Clive Barker Abarat, Books 1 & 2 (HarperCollins): Barker returns to multiform monsters and full imagination, with amazing color illustrations too. Although it’s a children’s story it gets back into that Imajica atmosphere where there’s a new creature permutation around every corner. Fecund and rich. There’s a third book on the way.
Boris and Arkady Strugatsky Roadside Picnic (Gollancz): As a fan of the hypnotic Tarkovsky film Stalker, I was interested in the source material — Roadside Picnic. It’s very different from the movie, with various aspects of the Zone delineated and described, and a lot of administration tied to exploring it. A black market for Zone “artefacts” exists and the stalker retrieves and deals in these. He’s more cynical, less poetic than Alexander Kaidanovsky’s portrayal on the screen. But there’s a creepiness to these alien objects and the effects of the Zone. It’s thought that the novel refers in part to the 1957 Mayak nuclear plant accident which resulted in a thousand-mile dead zone around the reactor. After the movie Stalker, the Chernobyl accident created a similar wasteland, and the cooked plant’s caretakers now refer to themselves as “stalkers” and the dead land around them as “the zone.” To make it more glamorous, presumably.
Ngugi Wa’Thiong’o Wizard of the Crow (Anchor): A big satire of African politics, dictatorships and skyriding hypocrisy. There are many surreal and funny moments, but when one dictator is quietly replaced with another and no justice is in sight, it proves itself rooted in the real world.
Emine Sevgi Ozdamar The Bridge of the Golden Horn (Serpent’s Tail): A young Turkish girl arrives in 1960s Germany and starts learning the language from news headlines, eventually living through the political and cultural shifts of the ’60s along the parallel tracks of an ‘alien’. Her return to Istanbul is viewed through an altered lens. But everything is seen with honesty and the writing’s quirkiness works as part of the girl’s almost-naive involvement in everything. A big part of the book is the accretion of several different languages and the flowing of ideas and images back and forth from one to another, their meaning and weight being morphed in the process.
Alejandro Jodorowski The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Park Street Press): The mad master behind El Topo and The Holy Mountain has long been a writer as well as a filmmaker, and this book is one of his first translated into English. This autobiographical tale of mushroom curanderas, surrealism, and Zen is as wacky as you’d think, but also foolishly wise, and the tone is balanced perfectly between the young buck Jodorowski and the gentler and more ironic teller of the tale.
Jack Spicer My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan): Spicer is of one of California’s greatest poets, one of the “San Francisco Renaissance” that included Robert Duncan. A snarling gay romantic who died of drink in his early 40s, Spicer believed his poems came from outside his consciousness, perhaps from Martians. His books have been out of print since the 70s, and there are some poetry fans who are very psyched.
Louis Sahagun Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall (Process). Manly P Hall, who died seventeen years ago, was one of the most influential occultists in American and certainly California history. He amassed the largest library of mystical material west of the Mississippi, and was responsible for the magnificent omnibus The Secret Teachings of all Ages (Tarcher), a great book that deserves the gazillions of editions its been through. Sahagun is an LA Times reporter who finally wrote the bio, which also uncovers LA’s origins as a spiritual mecca at the turn of the twentieth century.
David Smay Swordfishtrombones (Continuum): Smay’s hilarious and obsessive plunge into Tom Waits’ weirdest record. I haven’t heard the record in years and never knew it half as well as Rain Dogs or Frank’s Wild Years, so I’m gonna read the book first and then listen to my vinyl copy. Full of juicy writing, glittering pop arcana, and stuff about crows and the Warren Oates Film Festival.
Lawrence Shainberg Crust (Two Dollar Radio): In this repulsive and, uh, habit-forming novel, Shainberg uses the pervasive and yet unmentionable practice of picking your nose as a satiric probe into the banal yuckiness of our times. Gross, yes, but just graze through YouTube, or MySpace, or late night TV. We are gross. At least Shainberg is witty, incisive, and as satisfying as….
Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt Multitude (Penguin): A brilliant analysis of political trends that explores how a revolutionary transformation of global society could take place in the next few years.
Dmitry Orlov Reinventing Collapse (New Society): Russian engineer and peak oil theorist argues that the US is about to experience a complete economic collapse like the USSR in the 1990s, with hyperinflation, etc. He recommends learning to grow food and stockpiling items like razors and condoms for the black market.
Clay Shirky Here Comes Everybody (Penguin): Shirky explores how Web 2.0 has removed the barriers from creating groups of all types, and sees this as a tremendously powerful social change.
Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine (Picador): Essential reading. How Neoconservative economics has created global apartheid between an increasingly tiny wealthy elite and the poor and increasingly disenfranchised middle class. Violence and domination are the tools used by the elite to keep the Empire going.
John Lash Not In His Image (Chelsea Green): Extraordinary book on Gnosticism. Lash argues that the Gnostics were keepers of archaic Mystery wisdom. They realized Christianity was a deviation prepared by devious off-planet entities they called “Archons” to pull humanity away from its proper path. They tried to sound the alarm and were killed as heretics.
Richard Hoagland and Mike Bera Dark Mission (Feral House): This weird yet well-researched book by a former science advisor to Walter Cronkite argues that NASA is an occult control system, created by Nazi SS officers and high-ranking U.S. Free Masons, that discovered alien technological artifacts on the moon. Hoagland believes the “secret government” has been reverse-engineering alien technology for decades.
Steven Greer Hidden Knowledge, Forbidden Truth (Crossing Point): Greer created the “Disclosure Project” and got hundreds of military people to reveal information on UFO and ET contacts. He believes the ET presence is completely benevolent, and the US government is behind the abduction phenomenon, with the “Greys” being controlled
Hannah Arendt On Revolution (Penguin): Arendt looks at the pattern of past revolutions, including the French and Russian Revoution, and argues that the mistake was in imposing ideology from above rather than allowing people’s natural political and democratic tendencies to self-organize into new institutional forms.
Nassim Haramein Crossing the Event Horizon DVD (The Resonance Project): Haramein believes he has discovered the fundamental principle of the universe, which is based on sacred geometry and a three-dimensional fractal that could allow us to draw infinite “free energy” from the vacuum. He argues that antediluvian civilizations possessed this technology and the Ark of the Covenant was a last remaining bequest from a star-faring race. Higher technologies require initiatory levels of consciousness to operate.
According to several sources, including that of the Mayan calendar, the 1997 book The Bible Code, and author Daniel Pinchbeck (above) [Ed note: as well as the late Terence McKenna], the world is in for something big in the year 2012. It might be conclusion of a thirteenth cycle in a calendar which leads to a major global shift, it might be an asteroid or comet collision, and it might just be a worldwide psychic awakening. Whatever the case, the year (and its various apocalyptic interpretations) is pretty rampant in pop culture. So much to the point that several cable networks have devoted a fair bit of air time to the seemingly new world of “apocalypse science,” including The History Channel, Discovery, and SciFi. The general gist of the programs involves the unsettling thought of what might happen were humans to vanish from the Earth in a very short period of time, and how nature would reclaim the world.
The premise also (sorta) made the jump into Hollywood with the release of I Am Legend earlier this year, pitting lone human Will Smith against sub-humanoid creatures in a now deserted Manhattan. And although I Am Legend arrived at the premise differently (they blame a global cancer vaccine gone wrong for eradicating humanity), much of the background idea is the same: wildlife returning to Times Square, grasslands replacing city streets, silence replacing daily chaos. To a point, I liked the movie, but not for the zombies; it was the silence of the city as imposed by nature’s reclamation that reeled me in. Probably because, only a few weeks prior to viewing the movie, I had read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Thomas Dunne Books).
But before I begin to explain how, according to Weisman’s book, intricately simply nature’s reclamation might be, I’ve been plagued by a bigger question. Why the sudden rush of apocalypse theorization in the past year? Does humanity, or better yet science, know something big is going to happen soon? Is this in reaction to the lightning fast environmental changes we’re currently experiencing throughout the world? Or is it simply because humanity has always been obsessed with our own destruction? I’m thinking it might be all of these reasons, plus ten to twenty more that I’m not thinking about because of the glass of wine I just drank. But I do know this: if you’re looking to make money, get into the budding world of apocalypse science. Like now, before the world ends.
Author Alan Weisman developed The World Without Us from a 2005 Discover Magazine article titled “Earth Without People.” In the article, largely a What If? experiment, Weisman theorized how a human-less Earth would essentially recover from humanity’s existence and eradication. The book delves much deeper into the idea, theorizing how long it would take for nature to reclaim cities and residential neighborhoods, how long man-made artifacts would last, and how remaining lifeforms would evolve. Weisman concludes that residential neighborhoods would become forests within 500 years, and that radioactive waste, bronze statues, plastics and Mount Rushmore would be among the longest lasting evidence of human presence on Earth.
Want some f’d up knowledge? Here goes: Humanity still doesn’t know what’s going to happen to plastics. It’s such a new technology that we’re not even sure of the legacy it might leave, subject more to photo-degrading than bio-degrading (meaning the sun might break it down faster than nature.) Here’s another. If we’re killed off, it’s not the dogs and cats that are going to follow behind in record numbers, it’s the roaches and the rats. So if I’m gone, then the bane of my one-bedroom city apartment and backyard/alley will also disappear. But my cat will survive, clawing his way through the window screens and scavenging for food after he’s done eating my own remains.
But Weisman reaches further into the subject, examining traces of Earth that have since gone untouched by humans, including the DMZ in Korea, Chernobyl, Ukraine and Varosha, Cyprus. All exhibit the same characteristics. Crumbling patches of civilization, juxtaposed against creatures returning to the area and creating new habitats from humanity’s remains. And then he conversely examines portions of the Earth in which humanity has dared to venture, and must continually battle against nature’s invasive forces. Namely, The Panama Canal. Technology and engineering haphazardly replaced nature’s role in the canal, and the result has been a constant, uphill battle to keep vegetation and silt out of the dam. The Panama Canal was finished almost one hundred years ago, but nature isn’t backing down from the fight. Think about your lawn in the summer, multiplied by forty-eight miles of disease-infected jungle and human-induced landslides. Clearly, there are some parts of the world where nature just doesn’t want humans to go. Even though we do it anyway.
Weisman ends the book by reevaluating the idea of China’s one-child policy, stating, “The bottom line is that any species that overstretches its resource base suffers a population crash. Limiting our reproduction would be damn hard, but limiting our consumptive instincts may be even harder.” But for all intents and purposes, it was my least favorite part of the book. Call me a cynic, but I think humanity is ultimately doomed, as evidenced by Weisman’s wonderfully written book (which is printed on recycled paper, and damn well better be by the way.) Maybe humanity will wise up and realize that we’re not up to the task of beating nature and were never supposed to. But I doubt it. We’ve lost touch with most of our base instincts, replacing this formerly essential innate knowledge with thoughts of false bravado and egoism. Simply put, we think we’re better than everything else. And more importantly, we continually underestimate the wrath of nature and its ensuing life cycle. That’s the lesson I took away from Weisman’s book. And it made me feel very small.
Alan Moore Watchmen (DC Comics): Need I explain? One of Time Magazine‘s Top 100 Novels of all time (yet another best books list!). We’re going to be releasing a fantastic documentary film about Alan at the end of September so I thought I’d better brush up on my Moore publications. Never disappointing!
Mark Booth The Secret History of the World (Overlook). Mark is the editor at Random House UK who works with Disinformation authors Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval. I’ve only just started the book but if it lives up to the promise of its introduction it’s going to be amazing.
Alan S. Cowell The Terminal Spy (Broadway): This one’s not yet published but it should be in stores in August. All about the Polonium poisoning murder in London.
The Disinfo books that are on my list include Robert Bauval’s incredible new book The Egypt Code, (in stores in September), Miles Jaffe’s Hamptons Dictionary (out now), and I’m working hard on a new anthology called You Are Still Being Lied To with Russ Kick.
I’ll be reading Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus Press) by Kevin Sampsell; Only in the Sun: The Selected Poems of William Wantling 1964-74 (Tangerine Press); Kssssssss (Fiction Collective 2) by Steve Katz; Snuff (Doubleday) by Chuck Palahniuk; EAT # 2 and #3 (Rockathon Records) by Robert Pollard.
If there were one book I would push upon you this summer it is Jack O’Connell’s The Resurrectionist (Algonquin Books). It is more than a little difficult to contextualize O’Connell’s writings. He’s become, deservedly, something of a cult favorite via his first four books, The Skin Palace (Oldcastle Books), Box Nine (Trafalgar Square), Wireless (Trafalgar Square), and Word Made Flesh (Perennial) –- all of which I can heartily recommend as well. These were all categorized as “crime” novels, which didn’t even start to encompass their bizarre depths. With The Resurrectionist he has made categorization even more impossible by blending psychology, comic book culture, crime, 50s noir and parental despair.
The New York Times Book Review stated that: “To call Jack O’Connell’s novels imaginative, or even original, doesn’t begin to say it… There’s something both exciting and unnerving about [his] kind of hallucinatory writing.” The Los Angeles Times claimed that: “O’Connell [is a] cackling genius. . . . Fans of his previous novels, the cult favorites The Skin Palace, Box Nine and Wireless, will be glad to hear that The Resurrectionist is just as demented and deeply enjoyable.” Meanwhile “The Minneapolis Star-Tribune” claims that: “It blends the out-there mysticism of H.P. Lovecraft, the dark corridors and femme fatales of Dashiell Hammett, and the pulpy, lurid qualities of ’50s comic books.”
I read this book two months ago and find every morning that I am sipping a coffee and staring at its spine with something close to awe. Its slippery position in terms of genre is part of the intrigue -– should it sit between William Gibson’s Spook Country (Putnam) and James Ellroy’s Cold Six Thousand (Vintage)? Or, in its clear nod to horror should it snuggle up against Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (Pantheon)? Or, in its’ decidedly sensitive investigation into notions of loss should it sit between Steve Erickson’s Our Ecstatic Days (Simon & Schuster) and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (Vintage)? Or, in its homage to comic culture should it be somewhere between Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude (faber & faber) and Charles Burns’ Black Hole (Pantheon)?
You see the problem I’m having here. O’Connell embraces so many genre attributes that he is impossible to pin down. The Resurrectionist is borderline surrealist fantasy, crime writing at its best, horror story and a moving tale of love and loss and sex and violence. My rambling list of comparisons are amongst my favourite books of recent years and it intrigues me that while Gibson may be raking in the cash, writers such as O’Connell and Steve Erickson remain trapped in the somnambulistic nether world of contemporary literature.
Get The Resurrectionist now. You will be surprised, bewildered, seduced and, at the very end, appeased. [Get a taste here.]
Scott Berkun Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (O’Reilly Press): A revised edition with exercises of Berkun’s Art of Project Management (O’Reilly Press) which was the best of the twenty-or-so project management books I read in 2006. Addresses the human, organizational, and political factors which are ninety percent of effective project management.
Donald Kingsbury Psychohistorical Crisis (Tor Science Fiction): Kingsbury filters Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy (1951-1953) through Babylonian and Chaldean astrology at a micro level, and the chaos/complexity sciences at a macro level. A daring rewrite that addresses in fictional form how Hari Seldon’s psychohistory methodology could be developed and deployed using contemporary scientific knowledge. For a civilizational and macrohistorical view see Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche (Viking Press).
Don Webb’s Aleister Crowley: The Fire and the Force (Runa-Raven Press): The first section “Fire” reinterprets Aleister Crowley and his aeonic word Thelema via the trans-aeonic lens of Setian psycho-cosmology. Crowley’s integrative system combined initiatory elitism, lifework and the synthesis of transcultural, comparative religious, magical, and philosophical traditions to manifest the individual True Will. The second section “The Force” features Webb’s grimoire notes on the traditions that Crowley tapped (e.g., Tarot, Enochian, Abra-Melin, Yoga), Crowley’s mesoteric influence on occulture (Boleskine House at Loch Ness, Will, Left Hand Path Pioneers, Sex Magic), Liber AL’s metaphysics and the Aeon of Horus. Crowley’s methodology — enactive cognition via real-life initiatory experiences — foresaw the contemporary neuroscience research of Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and James H. Austin.
Solomon Hughes War on Terror, Inc. (Verso): Hughes contends that the Bush Administration’s War on Terror has benefited a network of logistics support firms, weapons developers and private security contractors. Hughes updates for the post-September 11 era the forceful arguments made in Edward Herman & Gary O’Sullivan’s influential critique The Terrorism Industry (Pantheon). Should be read alongside Frank Furedi’s Invitation to Terror (Continuum) on how the War on Terror framing cultivates the Unknown, and Naomi Klein’s economic critique The Shock Doctrine (Picador).
David Gelernter Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber (The Free Press): Mark Pesce recommended Lutz Dammbeck’s documentary The Net (2005) which ends with Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter’s poignant interview about surviving a 1993 mailbomb attack by “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski. The best parts are Gelernter’s reflections on his experience as a powerful reminder on the personal impacts and victimology of terrorist attacks. Gelernter’s attack on American liberal elites and postmodern relativism resonated with conservative thinkers such as Dinesh D’Souza and Michael Ledeen. Alston Chase’s Harvard and the Unabomber (W.W. Norton & Co.) provides an institutional counter-view on the Unabomber’s genesis and anti-modernist worldview.
Amy B. Zegart Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 (Princeton University Press): UCLA’s Zegart uses organizational sociology, the policy sciences and risk management to examine the pre-September 11 intelligence failure as the intersection of many factors: poor leadership, flawed design of institutions, conflict between field agents and analysts during the intelligence process, and adaptation problems by national security agencies to the post-Cold War security environment. Zegart’s study does for this failure what Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents (Princeton University Press) and Diane Vaughan’s The Challenger Launch Decision (University of Chicago Press) did for the Three Mile Island (1979), Bhopal (1984), Chernobyl (1986) and Challenger space shuttle (1986) accidents.
Steve Coll The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (Penguin): Coll’s previous book Ghost Wars (Penguin) was a definitive history of the precursors to September 11, rivaled only perhaps by Lawrence Wright’s magisterial study The Looming Tower (Vintage). Coll offers a rich tapestry of the family conflict and geostrategic dynamics that led to Osama bin Laden’s worldview. Peter Bergen’s The Osama bin Laden I Know (The Free Press) provides a parallel oral history. Michael Scheuer’s Through Our Enemies’ Eyes (Potomac Books) reframes Qutb, bin Laden and Al Qaeda through analogical comparison with the revolutionary Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
Marc Sageman Leaderless Jihad: Terrorist Networks in the Twenty-First Century (University of Pennsylvania Press). Sageman’s previous book Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press) established his credentials in social network analysis and open source intelligence to understand the recruitment strategies of militant jihadists. Sageman’s “Bunch of Guys” theory predicted the radicalization process of terrorists who carried out the 7/7 bombings in London on 7th July 2005. Leaderless Jihad extends this theory to Internet propaganda, decentralised networks and policy prescriptions. For a narrative on the Hamburg Cell involved in the September 11 attacks see Terry McDermott’s Perfect Soldiers (HarperCollins).
Albert Bergesen The Sayyid Qutb Reader (Routledge): A one-volume introduction to the radical Muslim philosophe whose political philosophy on Takfir,Jahiliyyah and the Caliphate is widely credited as an influence on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s founding core. Includes excerpts from Qutb’s macrohistorical masterwork Milestones (1965) with biographical and contextual commentaries. For an introduction to Qutb see the first episode of The Power of Nightmares (2004) by Adam Curtis. Raymond Ibrahim’s anthology The Al Qaeda Reader (Broadway) offers many examples of how Al Qaeda’s philosophe Ayman al-Zawahiri has used Qutb’s political philosophy as Ellulian agitative propaganda in Internet and media broadcasts. Bruce Lawrence’s Messages to the World (Verso) offers a similar one-volume introduction to Osama bin Laden’s communiques.
Brynjar Lia Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri (Columbia University Press): A masterful study by a Norwegian research professor of jihadist philosophe Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and his tactics for recruitment, radicalisation, the activation of decentralised networks and the role of metapolitical philosophy in effective psychological warfare. Lia succeeds in using open source intelligence to reinscribe our understanding of Al Qaeda and to expand the scope beyond Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Worth comparing with recent studies by Marc Sageman, Lawrence Wright and Peter Bergen, and with the 36 Strategies of deception stratagems compiled during China’s Warring States Era (403-221 BC).
Simon Winchester The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom (Harper): Brilliantly researched and written by Winchester, the story of perhaps the greatest science historian of the 20th century. It is a great read that offers a window on the history of Chinese technology (incl the origins of many western “inventions”) and also a perspective on China’s trajectory over the last 50 years.
Leinad Zeraus Daemon (Vertugo): The best cyber-thriller in a very long time, describing a near-future when a “daemon” (an autonomous software AI) is unleashed. the authors deep expertise makes it as technically believable as it is gripping. Just as William Gibson’s Neuromancer kick-started the cyberpunk genre, Daemon is likely to be the start of something new.
Hermann Hesse The Glass Bead Game (Picador): This is the book that won Hesse his Nobel Prize (technically speaking, Nobels are awarded for bodies of work, not individual volumes, but I’ll bet I am right). Though written over half a century ago, it speaks eloquently to this moment of vast uncertainty in which we must innovate, improvise, synthesize, and intuit our way through the myriad challenges before us. It is inspiring, insightful — and a great read.
Amazon Kindle: At last, a immensely practical electronic book reader. Over 125,000 titles available on it, all just a click away. Battery life is tremendous and the “electronic-paper” screen is a delight. Especially if you are traveling, load all your summer reading into this one lightweight device and leave the stacks of books at home.
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas (Random House): This collection of nested-doll stories from 2004 is like exploring an abandoned building via descending staircase, stopping on each floor to read some left-behind letters, a travel journal, or a mystery novel. Like Mitchell’s previous novel, Ghostwritten (Vintage) [also recommended], each section of this one refers to the others. It’s like reading pieces of several quasi-related books that somehow add up to an engaging whole. I snagged this at Powell’s during my last few days in Portland based on its cover alone.
Sherry Turkle Falling for Science: Objects in Mind (MIT Press): One of the largely unsung voices of the digital revolution, Sherry Turkle has been hard at work for over two decades trying to keep tabs on technology’s influence on our lives. Inspired in the early eighties by Seymour Papert’s essay on an interest in the inner-workings of gears and how it lead him to study math (included in this volume), Turkle has assigned her students at MIT to write a similar piece. Falling for Science collects fifty-one of these essays — by her students and colleagues over the past twenty-five years — explaining how certain physical objects influenced them to pursue a life of science. Legos, bicycles, erector sets, computers, and other usual suspects get their due, but so do shirts, walls, bubbles, and keys (among many other things, both expected and surprising). It’s an interesting look at the subtleties of design, influences (often unintended), science, and inspiration.
Mary Roach Bonk (W. W. Norton): Mary Roach has a knack for finding intriguing book topics (and writing interesting books about them, of course). They’re all slightly askew, but one can easily see how anyone would be interested in them. In Stiff she followed the afterlives of cadavers, in Spook she followed the afterlife of afterlives (ghosts), and in Bonk she, ahem, gets science laid. It’s everything you always wanted to know about sex — if you’re a science geek.
Mikita Brottman The Solitary Vice: Against Reading (Counterpoint): If there were a Bibliophiles Anonymous, this would be its bible. Brottman isn’t actually averse to reading, quite the opposite, but in The Solitary Vice, she explores the reasons that attitudes toward reading have been so historically conflicted. Coincidentally, her book is a damn good read.
James D. Watson Avoid Boring People (Knopf): As marginally interested as I am in James Watson’s Nobel-winning scientific work, I’m finding his memoirs completely enthralling. Here’s one of the co-discoverers of the building blocks of life breaking down his academic career into first-person narratives and — true to its title — easily digestible lists of practical advice, unwritten protocols, and lessons learned. This book proves that Watson’s gift for scientific inquiry is well matched by his wily way with words.
I’m also currently reading and re-reading the following: Gilbert Ryle The Concept of Mind (University of Chicago Press), Jack O’Connell Word Made Flesh (Perennial) [Thanks, Ashley], Terry Eagleton The Gatekeeper (St. Martin’s), Christopher Vogler The Writer’s Journey (Michael Wiese Productions), Etienne Wenger Communities of Practice (Cambridge University Press), Rebecca Solnit Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin), and Andrew Ortony (editor) Metaphor and Thought (Cambridge University Press).
I’ve traveled less this year than is normal for me. No Gang of Four activity anymore, so no more mind numbing journeys by train, plane, and automobile alleviated only by the power of a good book. If I was a humanist I could say that at least my carbon footprint is lower, but the Earth has plans for us, and we can’t do a damn thing about it.
That thought has always been at the forefront of my mind as I have tracked the environmental/green movements, and then followed the chattering classes’ attempts to reduce the United States’ energy dependence as they dropped into the arms of the more-than-willing Toyota Corp, helping to push sales of the Prius through more than one million.
More than one million new vehicles added to the world’s roads. Well done. A bicycle and public transport would have actually made a difference.
That brings me to the book that affirmed my thoughts on our epic — but inevitably useless — human battle to change the course of the Earth. John Gray’s Straw Dogs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) published in 2002 is a book that I keep returning to. As the UK author, Will Self says, “Straw Dogs is that rarest of things, a contemporary work of philosophy devoid of jargon, wholly accessible, and profoundly relevant to the rapidly evolving world we live in.” Gray simply and concisely slices through the human conceit that we are radically different from other animals.
Otherwise I rediscovered Philip Roth especially his wonderfully depressing Exit Ghost (Houghton Mifflin). I also finally got around to reading Roth’s The Plot Against America (Vintage). Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) was a great read on long trans-continental flights and Robert Hughes’ memoir Things I Don’t Know (Vintage) was a fascinating read from the man who brought me two favorites, Barcelona (Vintage) and Culture of Complaint (Grand Central Publishing).
I’m finally into Alice Munro’s The View From Castle Rock (Vintage), which got lost behind more urgent library borrowings. Munro is a master of the short story form. This book is more openly autobiographical and, for her, almost casual-feeling. It’s somewhat disarming, but an interesting read for a Munro fan, which I’m.
Just finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf). Her third book. Her mastery of the short story is approaching Munro’s level. These stories are tough, and mostly sad. It was a hard book to finish — not because I didn’t want to keep reading, but because it was just not a very happy book overall.
Neither of those are much in the way of light summer reading. For that try Anthony Bourdain’s Bone in the Throat (Bloomsbury) a fast-moving mobbed-up murder mystery. I knew Bourdain was a chef who wrote, but I didn’t realize he wrote fiction until I saw this. Of course the main character is a sous chef and the whole thing takes place in a restaurant, which is why it is such a great read.
Other than that I’m mostly in a pile of non-fiction as befits the abundance of summer:
Samuel Thayer The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Plants (Forager’s Harvest Press).
Simone and Inés Ortega 1080 Recipes (Phaidon), a treasure trove of Spanish cooking that is apparently Spain’s version of The Joy of Cooking.
And our new subscription to the Small Farmer’s Journal keeps us engaged and on our toes.
Just in time for the 2008 edition of the Summer Reading Curriculum, the coincidental collision of heavy work deadlines and Summer leaves me woefully craving new reads while simultaneously exhausted enough that I barely have time to dig deeper than audio/picture books and fiction. That said, here are some great old lit haunts begging for shelflessness alongside new and equally intriguing hand-me-downs from friends:
Rudolph Wurlitzer Nog (Welcome Rain): Rudolph Wurlitzer’s psychedelic mirage that prompted Thomas Pynchon to proclaim, “The novel of bullshit is dead.” I read this back to back with Dhalgren (see below) in 2002, and it left me in a disoriented state for weeks. It should also be noted that a traveling art show I’m involved with (There is Xerox on the Insides of Your Eyelids) prompted this re-read with it’s latest installment in a London gallery sharing the novel’s namesake.
Samuel Delaney Dhalgren (Vintage): Samuel Delaney’s chaotic, dystopian tome sculpted with a similar post modern knife as Wurlitzer’s, Nog. Another instance where literature as a linguistic container is as much the map as the territory (and equally untethered to either). Shares a row with PKD in my shelves.
David Berman Actual Air (Grove Press): David Berman always struck me as being akin to a less clinically depressed/suicidal Richard Brautigan. Actual Air is an all-time fave.
Bryan Turcotte Punk Is Dead — Punk is Everything (Gingko Press) Bryan Turcotte’s follow-up to Fucked Up And Photocopied (Gingko Press), is an equally dense and toner-laden collection of inspiring, punk/post-punk flyers (Thanks, Trevor Graves!).
Max Brooks World War Z (Three Rivers Press) and The Zombie Survival Guide (Three Rivers Press): If these don’t reignite the desire to hole up in a shopping mall with a gun shop when there’s no more room in hell, nothing will. (Thanks, Mark “Dewbag” Lewman!)
Kristine McKenna Book of Changes (Fantagraphcs): An excellent collection of interviews of musicians, actors, artists, and thinkers. Check out the Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) conversation!
Daniel Berrigan The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (Fordham University Press): The “Catonsville Nine” were a group of Viet Nam-era peace activists sentenced to lengthy jail terms for burning draft-board files. One of the defendents, Daniel Berrigan, parses the trial transcript and presents it in the form of a poem. A true indictment of the absurdity of the justice system of this country, as well as the deeply unhealthy American war culture that is still pervasive today.
Molly McGrann 360 Flip (Picador): McGrann’s debut novel is centered on the lethargic suburban life of teenagers and the urge to rise above. Punk rock to the rescue.
James R. Chiles Inviting Disaster (Collins): A fascinating look into how things work and what happens when they seriously don’t. The back stories and explanations of some of the most famous disasters. What does congressional haggling have to do with the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion? Read and find out.
When I was 17, I stumbled upon Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy (Dell), basically mis-shelved in the sci-fi section of a Charlottesville bookstore. Dell didn’t know what to make of this bizarre occult, libertarian, postmodern, conspiracy novel, so they marketed it as science fiction. I thought I was getting sci-fi, but I got “Operation Mindfuck” (or “OM”) instead, what Wilson dubbed their textual trip down a rabbit hole, into a world of better living through hedonic engineering (what we might call “wetware hacking” today), perpetual novelty, and fun with high weirdness. Basically, Illuminatus! taught me Zen and the art of being open to anything but skeptical of everything. OM has been my mantra ever since.
It was also through Illuminatus! that I discovered the works of the notorious British occultist and sex/drug fiend, Aleister Crowley (rhymes with “holy,” BTW). I quickly became both attracted and repulsed by in his intense, controversial, eclectic, and pseudo-scientific approach to spirituality (again with the hedonic engineering). I recently began writing a novel that exploits occult themes and that sent me into my attic to dust off the ol’ Crowley.
One of the more beloved books of my misspent psychick youth was Liber 777 (Weiser Books), a book of magical correspondence tables (among other things) that Crowley expanded from an internal Golden Dawn manuscript. Also being a D&D freak as a teen, the idea of being able to look up planets, gems, metals, gods and goddesses, plants, and the like, in numbered lists, and to follow their correspondences as they threaded through the tables in the text, really appealed to me. I was even tempted to incorporate die-rolling into my magick, using the 777 tables. Soon after unearthing my brittle copy of 777, I heard that a new book, called The Complete Magician’s Tables, by Stephen Skinner (Golden Hoard Press), had been published that greatly expanded on Crowley’s tables and corrected many of the mistakes he’d made. 777 is incomplete in many places, a number of the correspondences were clearly forced, and true to Crowley’s ego, he added his own favorite items to lists without justification or comment. Stephen Skinner is a meticulous researcher, obviously more interested in accuracy and scholarship than in forcing a fit for the sake of an imposed structure. Sometimes things don’t line up “properly” or there are omissions, and that’s just the way it is. This book is an amazing index of Western and Eastern esoteric traditions, covering everything from medieval grimoires and angel and demon manifests to the Kabbalah, Egyptian religion, Enochian magic, and European pagan pantheons. The title is unfortunate in that this book is an invaluable reference for anyone interested in the fascinating, creative worlds of occult religion.
In my attic stash, I also found my Thoth Tarot pack, a dark and beautiful deck that Crowley and artist Lady Frida Harris labored five years over (a project they expected to complete in six months). Looking at it, I was shocked to realize it and the red velvet cloth I kept it in were over 30 years old. I’d always loved the deck, but had never begun to understand it. It parts from much of the traditional tarot and Golden Dawn symbolism and uses many of the concepts Crowley was trying to promote in his religion of Thelema (“Will” in Greek). I’d tried to slog through his companion Book of Thoth (United States Games Systems), but quickly lost interest. I recently bought a bunch of used books about the Thoth Tarot. Most of them were useless, but one by Crowley scholar Lon Milo DuQuette, called Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (Weiser Books), was a revelation. His writing is so clear, personable, and informative, without being overwhelming. I read it cover-to-cover and am now re-reading it. The Thoth Tarot is not only an amazing example of tarot art, as well as a flash-card introduction to Hermetic Qabalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Hebrew, Egyptian, and Western ceremonial magick, but it serves as an amazing and powerful summary of Crowley’s life work. Your mileage may vary, but for me, this Lon Milo book was, thirty years on, my VIP entrance to the proverbial City of the Pyramids. By the way: Even if you’re not interested in the occult, the Thoth Tarot is an impressive collection of late ’30s/early ’40s avant pop art, based on Harris’ interest in Projective Synthetic Geometry, and showing art deco, art nouveau, constructivist and other avant garde influences from the early twentiest century.
My novel research also led me to two curious little small press titles, The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg, by Jean Overton Fuller (Mandrake) and Thelema Revisited: In Search of Aleister Crowley, by R. T. Cole (Orange Box Books). Anyone who’s read bios of Crowley — or his own “autohagiography,” The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (Penguin)– knows the name Victor Neuburg. He was one of Crowley’s lovers, a student, and he acted as magical scribe for some of Crowley’s most notorious magical operations. He was also a promising poet. By the time the author of this plodding biography found Neuburg, he was playing father figure to a circle of up and coming poets, including Pamela Hansford Johnson and Dylan Thomas. And he was, as the author paints him (literally painting him for the Bob Ross-worthy cover portrait), a spectre of his former pre-Crowleyan self. The author was clearly infatuated with Neuburg and this ridiculously muddies her perceptions of him, Crowley, and their bizarre, intense, and clearly abusive (from all accounts) relationship. Despite itself, this is still a fascinating book about a man of seemingly great creative and intellectual potential who got tangled up in something he wasn’t equipped to handle and it handicapped him for the rest of his life.
When I first read about Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema, the occult commune he started in Cefalu, Sicily in 1920, it gave me nightmares. It was, in fact, reading about the Abbey’s “Nightmare Room” that did the trick. The Nightmare Room was a sort of initiatory machinery that Crowley built, a darkened room covered with his lurid murals and shock-statements, that newcomers to the Abbey would be fed into for the night after being loaded up with hallucinogenics. The idea was that, if you could endure this ordeal, you could handle anything. It was a Chapel Perilous Machine. Teenage nightmares did little to dampen my curiosity about the Abbey of Thelema. Over the years, I’ve periodically done searches on the Internet to find any new pictures or information about this notorious experiment (where at least one person died, after drinking tainted water). Results have always been sparse, until I recently found news of a self-published book, Thelema Revisited: In Search of Aleister Crowley. This book may be slim, at 104 pages, but it’s filled with over 160 color and B&W photos of every nook and cranny of the Abbey and the yard surrounding the small villa (now crumbling to dust). Of special interest are the photos of the Nightmare Room and murals and the author’s accounts of traveling to Sicily and spending the night, alone and stoned, in the Room. I would highly recommend getting the book and CD-ROM combo. The detailed guided tour on the CD, and the floor plans, are well worth the extra eight bucks. At forty five dollars, this is an expensive book for what you get, but there’s nothing else like it available, and anything associated with Crowley quickly becomes collectible, especially a limited-edition publication like this.
All of this Crowley/occult exploration eventually brought me back to Robert Anton Wilson, right as he was, sadly, on his deathbed (he died on January 11, 2007). I bought and read one of his recent books, Email to the Universe (Falcon), but it’s not recommended. It’s little more than file scrapings, articles he wrote and never published or published in places where they never found a wide readership. I found little new here. Where I did hit the OM jackpot was in the five-CD collection Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything (or Old Bob Exposes His Ignorance) (Sounds True). This amazing series of interviews covers his entire life, from his childhood in Gerritsen Beach, to his early work as an engineer, his time at Playboy, and his wide-ranging interests, from Crowley and the occult, to drugs and meditation for consciousness expansion, to quantum mechanics and cybernetics, and his lifelong devotion to James Joyce. I’ve listened to this series over and over, and get something new from it each time.
Also recently read, and highly recommended, are three steampunky titles (I’m in the process of guest editing a “Lost Knowledge/Steampunk” issue of MAKE magazine). The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a gorgeously-rendered portrait of five eighteenth-century thinkers and tinkerers who basically rope-started the industrial revolution: toy maker Matthew Boulton, James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, the potter Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, who discovered oxygen, and physician and evolutionary theorist Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather). The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press) is as much artifact as fiction, a beautiful piece of book art that is what it’s about. It’s about clocks, clockwork automata, the birth of cinema, and the nature of dreams. And, without giving too much away, the construction of the book itself works in ways similar to clockworks, silent films, and dream states. Heady stuff. It’s a kids book, and one of the most engaging and affective things I’ve read all year. The Steampunk Anthology by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon Publications) is a hefty survey of the fiction and fashion behind this alt.Victorian sci-fi subgenre, from Michael Moorcock to Michael Chabon. I’m savoring this one, saving most of it for my beach book this summer, the ultimate test for any summer reading selection.
[Photo above: Jessy loves books.]
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.