Digital Media Demo Day at Georgia Tech

I ventured to Atlanta again this year for Georgia Tech’s Digital Media department‘s Winter Demo Day, and it definitely re-greased the mental wheels. When you’re stuck while thinking about technology and media, an event like this is sure to shake things loose.

The Digital Media program at Georgia Tech spans the spectrum that runs from Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to film production. Students and faculty come from all points on the spectrum as well, thereby making the input and the output of the department is as diverse as its people. Their semiannual Demo Days allow them to strut their wares, from fully immersive digital environments and emergent games to interactive TV and experimental film, from completed works to projects-in progress. A loose theme this year could’ve been merging the virtual with the corporeal: There were lots of projects bridging bodies and avatars and several others exhibited new approaches to haptics. It’s very difficult to keep a summary about such an event brief, but here are a few highlights.

Kenny Chow’s Generative Visual Renku project uses Fox Harrell’s GRIOT System to create a digital environment for collaborative, linked-poetry using pictographs. Renku is similar to Haiku except that it is a form of linked poetry. Chow’s project allows groups of people connected via a network (e.g., the internet, an intranet, or a social space such as Facebook) to collaborate on pieces of artwork using icons. In the process, GRIOT and Chow’s Renku system create a visual grammar by which the artworks can be built and interpreted.

Over the past couple of years, Susan Robinson has been quietly remediating her Oscar-nominated film Building Bombs (which is now available on DVD) into an interactive piece, the engine behind which manages the relationships among the various personalities and issues in the film. By dragging pictures and icons around on the screen, the user can see how they react to each other and watch video clips from the film. It’s much more impressive and interesting than I can make it sound here.

Space Vectors by Ari Velazquez, Jimmy Truesdell, and Kurt Stilwell is a tabletop video game for up to four players. Each player has a base to protect and three types of space vessels — controlled by tangible objects placed on the tabletop — with which to protect it and attack the others. As it stands now, players set up initial conditions, press “start,” and watch the game unfold. Eventually, Ari says, the game will be very active over the course of play. The interesting thing about Space Vectors‘ current state is how complex the game play is given its relative simplicity. Set up a few pieces, let the game go, and watch to see if your strategy works.

Notably missing this year — or maybe I just notably missed them — were Brian Shrank and company and their Mashboard Games (one of my favorites from last year, which explores haptics by mining affordances from the standard QWERTY keyboard). Also M.I.A. were Ian Bogost and Eugene Thacker. Next time, guys…

The EGG's Mermaids: Click to enlargeOther highlights included Second Life/Augmented Reality (which involved combining physical actors with digital avatars), Mermaids (an MMOG that explores the emergent behavior of large groups), Flourishing Future (an interactive children’s tangible-object tabletop video game involving making a city more environmentally friendly), and Machinima Futurista (which uses the Second Life/Augmented Reality project to recreate the 1916 Italian Futurist film Vita Futurista), among many others.

If any of you get a chance to attend GA Tech’s Demo Day and see what they’re up to there, I strongly recommend doing so: good food, good people, and lots of great ideas. Many thanks to the presenters, and Susan Robinson, Jay Bolter, and Janet Murray for making us feel welcome and for making it another brain-sparking good time.

Summer Reading List, 2007

Jessy at Red House BooksWe’re late again with the summer list, but here it is. Thanks to all who participated, including newcomers Dave Allen, Howard Bloom, Alex Burns, and Calvin Johnson, as well as veteran contributors Mark Pesce, Patrick Barber, Steven Shaviro, and Gary Baddeley. As this list proves year after year, there’s a lot of good stuff out there to read. Enjoy.

Mark Pesce, Author, The Playful World

J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Arthur A. Levine Books): I must be the only one reading that.
Philip K. Dick The Zap Gun (Gollancz)
John Robb Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization (Wiley): Highly recommended!
David Weinberger Everything is Miscellaneous (Times Books)
Richard Vinen A History in Fragments (Da Capo)
John Henry Clippinger A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity (PublicAffairs)

Dave Allen, bass player, Gang of Four

You know I often ramble on about the collapse of music sales as people stop buying CDs, and of course the first to suffer there are the music retailers — farewell Tower Records for instance — but it’s amazing to me that bookstores still abound given the fact that I never set foot in them any longer — all my purchases are through Amazon. Anyway, I discovered this weekend as I worked on restoring my motorhome (another story, to be continued) that the mailman/woman/person has been dropping books off at an alarming rate. Here’s the list of my unread pile that accumulated during May, without review, of course:

Everything is MiscellaneousJon Savage Teenage: The Creation Of Youth Culture (Viking)
Don DeLillo Falling Man (Scribner)
David Weinberger Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (Times Books)
Martin Amis House of Meetings (Vintage)
Simon Schama Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Harper Perennial)
Richard Dawkins The God Delusion (Mariner Books)
Philip Roth The Plot Against America (Vintage)
John Gray Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern (New Press)

Gary Baddeley, Publisher, The Disinformation Company Ltd.

Roy, as usual my summer is largely taken up with our own books, especially the new edition of Graham Hancock’s Supernatural: Meetings With The Ancient Teachers of Mankind. Also in my pile are Mick Farren’s Who’s Watching You? and Thom Burnett’s Who Really Rules The World?

The best fiction I’ve read recently was Vikram Chandra’s long but always engaging Sacred Games (not one of ours — I get to read fiction just for pleasure!).

Next month we’re publishing Russ Kick’s new book Everything You Know About God Is Wrong, with contributors like Neil Gaiman, Richard Dawkins, Doug Rushkoff and Erik Davis, and I think it’s really going to cause a stir. I can’t wait!

Howard Bloom, Author of The Lucifer Principle and Global Brain

Lewis Thomas The Lives of A Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (Penguin): This book is 20 years old, but is still one of the most provocative reperceptions of science I’ve ever read.

Gregg Easterbrook The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse (Random House): A book that cuts down every preconception you’ve been fed about the economic progress of the West and replaces today’s dour notions of scarcity with a hearty report on how, in fact, humanity has enriched itself vastly during the last 150 years — and may well continue to do so.

Barack Obama Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (Three Rivers Press): One of the first books on the experience of a new breed of Westerners — the meta-racial cosmopolites — a generation of mixed-race and mixed-culture kids who are the gifts of the last 50 years of globalism.

Thomas L .Friedman The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Picador): The most encyclopedic vision of the new globalism I’ve seen.

Everything Bad is Good for YouSteven Johnson Everything Bad is Good For You (Riverhead): Another book that turns commonplaces on their heads. Johnson hypothesizes that pop culture is a “collective-perception and processing-power” expander. He goes on to posit that the “garbage” of pop culture is responsible for “The Flynn Effect” — a measured growth in individual IQs during the past 90 years, a rise of brain power whose origin has baffled the scientific community.

Stephen Wolfram A New Kind of Science (Wolfram Media): This book is tough-sledding, but presents an old idea from the 1980s in a brand new way. The idea? That the cosmos’ mysteries can be cracked not with Newtonian and Einsteinian math, but with a cellular automata model. In other words, the cosmos may have started with three or four simple rules, than have gone through so many iterations of those rules that the results defy belief. Wolfram presents unequivocal evidence that repetition of simple rules can even produce what looks like utter chaos.

Alex Burns, Editor, Disinformation

C. Otto Scharmer Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges (MIT Society for Organizatzional Learning): My fellow alumni in Swinburne University’s Strategic Foresight program have been raving for the past 2 years about Scharmer’s Theory U as the cornerstone for blind-spot analysis and self-reflective practices. In essence Scharmer has developed a framework that might explain initiatory knowledge – to directly re-experience being and essence – for a contemporary business audience. It’s a call to self-reflection that cannot specify the reader’s aims: Scharmer’s readers might create the next Castalia, Second Foundation, Players of the Godgame… or Aum Shinrikyo.

Victory in WarWilliam C. Martel Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy (Cambridge University Press): Martel’s academic level text explores a Theory U blind-spot that is missing from debates about the Iraq War and the War on Terror’s grand strategy: What does victory mean, exactly? His survey of strategists such as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Bernard Brodie, and Martin Van Creveld is a succinct journey through the jungles of military strategic thinking and forceful change writ large. Case studies include the major wars, humanitarian interventions, and stability operations of the past two decades. A good structural model for a PhD and an excellent primer to debate with military strategists and policymakers on their own turf, rather than as activists who can be marginalized in street protests [Excerpt here].

Tim Weiner Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Doubleday). The perfect book to read alongside the CIA’s “Family Jewels” and before seeing Robert De Niro’s film The Good Shepherd (2006). Weiner shows how intelligence’s analytical process — like the initiatory orders in the Western magical tradition — can potentially be corrupted by structural secrecy, information silos, organizational politics, and subgroup coalitions. The anecdotes range from operations failures to how old boys’ networks become an in-group elite that is shut off from change. Thus, whilst the intelligence community will debate the validity of Weiner’s research until 2012, this is also a good book for would-be change agents and project managers on what can go wrong without self-reflective practices such as Scharmer’s Presencing and Theory U.

Don Webb When They Came (Henry Wessells). When I first came across him in the mid-1990s, Webb was one of the guiding forces behind Austin’s FringeWare Review and shortly afterwards became High Priest in the Temple of Set. On the surface Webb’s collection is a variation on the mythos of Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, and others gathered from the press, zines, and eldtrich Internet sites. Webb’s deeper purpose is to offer teaching stories — like the path notes of martial artists or Idries Shah’s Nassrudin anthologies — about the psycho-cosmological insights of spiritual dissent. Webb’s essay “Fictive Arcanum” explains how he uses the form of Lovecraftian fiction to communicate initiatory knowledge.

Michael Rosenbaum Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge: In Traditional Martial Arts (YMAA Publication Center): Rosenbaum addresses how martial arts practitioners use patterns to capture ‘tacit’ insights and for ‘tacit’-to-‘explicit’ knowledge transfer. Martial arts “kata” provides the form and self-reflective methodology that then becomes the basis for a sustainable tradition — usually only revealed as fragments in path notes. This is one of the hermetic secrets of George Gurdjieff’s ‘legominism’ for inter-generational and transcultural transmission in his Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950) — although Gurdjieff cited and used practices from dance, carpet-weaving and mythological symbolism. It underpins why ‘agile’ evangelists including Kent Beck and Alistair Cockburn use martial arts frameworks for software engineers to develop self-mastery.

Rip It UpSimon Reynolds Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (Penguin) and Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing about Hip-Rock and Hip-Hop (Penguin): Reynolds fills an important gap between the Sex Pistols’ demise, the rise-and-fall of Public Image Ltd, and the explosion of hip-hop and new wave in the early 1980s. One of the “strange loop” lessons in Reynolds’ stylised prose is of how innovators pick up on the signals, patterns and sub-currents to create new subcultures — Lovecraftian fiction begets Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P. Orridge. Rip It Up sent me scurrying back to Gang of Four and Pere Ubu whilst Bring the Noise revives the precise style of NME album reviews. Reynolds succeeds in the benchmark of good music journalism: to inspire you to discover or revisit the artists he profiles, and appreciate the cultural impact of their music.

Garry Mulholland Fear of Music: The Greatest 261 Albums Since Punk and Disco (Orion): Mulholland sets out to challenge the classic rock canon with his reviews of Joy Division, New Order, Husker Du, Public Enemy, Portishead and others. Mulholland — like Reynolds — is heavily influenced by the post-punk and new wave genres. For Reynolds and Mulholland, it’s a form of Lorenz imprinting or Anton LaVey’s erotic crystallization inertia. There’s a micro-trend in music journalism here that would be even more interesting if other authors did a similar book on the ’00s and digital natives. Anyone wanna help me convince Disinformation’s Gary Baddeley on the publishing “business case” for this?

Calvin Johnson, K Records

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding The Blank Wall (Quality): Even the most conventional life can take on a frightening edge.

Joyce Cary The Horse’s Mouth (NYRB Classics): Every artists story.

Patrick David Barber
, Designer

We just moved across town so it’s been all I can do to keep up with the weekly New Yorker. I dug the recent fiction issue, particularly the Junot Diaz story. Also, a recent Mother Jones issue has a good, long article on species extinction.

Last month (before the move!) I read Michael Chabon’s new one, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (HarperCollins), and enjoyed it a lot. It’s a fertile blend of prefigurative dystopia, noiresque detective pulp, and homey Jewish culture study.

Next on the list is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (HarperCollins). I have a pretty good idea how that one turns out, but it’s important to keep up with my fellow locavores.

Omnivore’s DilemmaSpeaking of which, if you haven’t read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin), well, you’re late, but not too late. This was the book of the year last year and it might just be the book of the decade, all in the As Far As I’m Concerned department. Read it!

I’m also reading The Design of Everyday Objects by Donald Norman (Basic Books). You’ve probably read that one already, but it’s the first time for me. I am enjoying it not least because it was written in 1988 and most of his improvements to things like phones and personal organizers have come true. Yet his advice and analysis are still salient. We may now have phones with digital readouts and synchronized calendars, but a lot hasn’t changed: you can go anywhere and watch your average wired citizen struggle with an
ambiguously designed door handle.

Steven Shaviro, Author, Connected

Warren Ellis Crooked Little Vein (William Morrow). The first prose fiction by comics writer Ellis is a hoot. Sort of like noir detective fiction meets a Hunter-Thompsonesque journey into the heart of American weirdness and depravity. Everything from Godzilla bukkake to saline testicular injections to the creepy, sexually exploitative practices of the very rich. Yet the novel ends up being an inspirational fable about speaking truth to power and about the Net as a potential tool for freedom.

William Gibson Spook Country (Putnam): Science fiction about the recent past (2006). Varieties of stealth and disembodiment, from locative art to cryptography to drug hallucinations to GPS tracking, and the materiality (CIA black technologies, and shipping cargo containers) that underlies it all. Narrated in Gibson’s spare, minimal, yet telling prose: every metaphor is a precise observation.

M. John Harrison Nova Swing (Bantam): Science fiction about the nostalgia for the recent past. It’s the 24th century, and people are still fascinated by the stylings of the 1940s and 1950s. The novel is a spooky, and somewhat morbid, meditation about the mystery of otherness, the allure of self-destruction, the packaging of nostalgia as an illusor comfort, and the ways in which commodification has left us with just the empty shells of experiences we imagine other people to have had.

Roy Christopher, Editor and Follow for Now

I Am a Strange LoopDouglas Hofstadter I Am a Strange Loop (Basic Books): Explicitly returning to the themes he originally tackled in Gödel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic, 1979), Hofstadter seems happy to be back, like a child returning to a playground after a lengthy hiatus. Not that he hasn’t been flogging these concepts in the meantime in such books as Le Ton Beau de Marot (Basic, 1997), Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies (Basic, 1995), and Metamagical Themas (Basic, 1985), but he hasn’t approached them this directly since GEB. I Am a Strange Loop is not nearly as splayed or as sprawling as GEB. It’s more springing and spiraling, written with more levity and lilt, more depth than breadth.

James Inman The Greyhound Diary (Lulu): Thank all that is evil that James Inman got on the wrong bus. If he hadn’t, then we wouldn’t have this book. The Greyhound Diary is On the Road for the homeless, Oh, The Places You’ll Go for the chronically mentally ill, and The Grapes of Wrath for people who would never read that book in the first place. It’s a sweet, sloppy slice of America’s yawning underbelly.

David Weinberger Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (Times Books): David’s new book became part of my terministic screen when Ryan Lane and I interviewed Peter Morville a few months ago. Since then, it’s been popping up everywhere, so I copped a copy. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s near the top of the pile.

Cormac McCarthy The Road (Vintage): The Road had been on my list since Steven Shaviro wrote about it late last year. Then Brendon Walsh told me he was reading it, then it won the Pulitzer and Oprah endorsed it, so I finally snagged a copy. It’s a bleak and harrowing tale so far, written with a claustrophobic economy. I’m already tempted to say it deserves the attention.

Richard E. Nisbett The Geography of Thought (Free Press): I’ve often wondered what it is about Japanese culture that spawns musical acts like The Boredoms, Melt Banana, Space Streakings, Merzbow, and K.K. Null. I’m not sure if The Geography of Thought is going to solve the mystery, but so far it’s helping. I’m only halfway through it, but Nisbett’s book is an interesting analysis of the fundamental and historical differences between Eastern and Western thought.

A few others in the to-be-read pile:

Amy Cohen The Late Bloomer’s Revolution (Hyperion)
Adisa Banjoko Lyrical Swords: Hip-hop and Politics in the Mix, Vol 1 and 2 (YinSumi Press)
Paul Virilio Speed and Politics (Semiotext(e) / Foreign Agents) (with a new introduction by our friend Benjamin Bratton)
Tibor Fischer Voyage to the End of the Room (Random House)
David Markson Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey Archive)

[Above, Jessy browses the stock at Red House Books in Dothan, Alabama. Photo by Roy Christopher.]

Summer Reading List, 2006

Angela at Adams Avenue BooksAfter a year off, it’s back: The Summer Reading List. Here’s hoping you were able to get through last summer without us. Contributors this time around include veterans like Cynthia Connolly and Gary Baddeley, as well as newcomers like Tim Mitchell and Val Renegar. Many thanks to all who sent me their suggestions. Enjoy!

note: All of the book title links on this page (and there are a lot of them) will take you to the selected title in Powell’s Bookstore.

Hans Fjellestad
, Director, Moog:

Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson (Feral House):

A look inside the strange and densely bureaucratic realities of living and working in Antarctica. Some Joseph Heller flavor, but hard to explain. Definitely bleak and funny as hell. Maybe a nice choice for your next afternoon in the sun.

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer (Harper Collins):

From British-Israelism to Serbian anti-Muslim paramilitary units, there are some really unexpected connections here. It’s a fun read and more about cultural attitudes and globalization theory than the actual game. But after all, it’s WORLD CUP time!

Gary Baddeley, Publisher, The Disinformation Company:

Number FreakingRoy, as usual I don’t have much time to read any books other than
our own, but that’s fine because we have some cool new books. Just
about to drop is Number Freaking: How To Change The World With Delightfully Surreal Statistics by Gary Rimmer. We plastered every toilet at Bookexpo America with a caution flyer about one of the number freaks inside the book: one about how 45,000 Americans are injured by toilets every year, and it was the talk of the convention!

Val Renegar, Professor of Communication, San Diego State University:

Here is what is going in my suitcase for my six weeks of vacation time:

Theorectial Writings by Alain Badiou (Continuum).
Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson (Riverhead).
Veronica: A Novel
by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon).
On Beauty
by Zadie Smith (Penguin).
My Life In France
by Julia Child (Knopf).
Shibumi: A Novel
by Trevanian (Three Rivers Press).

Patrick David Barber, Designer:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Penguin):

This book has begun to inform a nationwide discussion about what we eat and where it comes from. I’ve read parts of this book already in article form in the New York Times magazine and elsewhere; and I’ve skimmed sections sneakily while my partner was reading it. In May we participated in the Eat Local Challenge, whereby we attempted to eat food that was grown within 150 miles of our house whenever possible, and the resonances with this book and the way it is infiltrating our culture were rich and plentiful. What am I saying? You gotta read this.

Last Child in the WoodsLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books):

Got this at the library and had to return it before I could get all the way through it. A well-researched book about what the author calls Nature Deficit Disorder, a malady suffered mostly by today’s young children (for example, one San Diego youth who prefers the indoors to the outdoors because “that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”). A sobering look at some disturbing trends, and one thing I found surprising was just how rich the author’s research and information was, since the premise pretty much fits in the length of a subtitle: Kids don’t go outside enough. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and it’s interesting stuff. I know, sounds like some light beach reading, right? But it’s worth a read, especially among the old-enough-to-have-kids, computer-user set, which is to say, most of you who are reading these words.

And now the books of note which I’ve actually read recently, which, speaking of deficit disorders, are all graphic novels or comics.

The Asterix series by R. Goscinny and A. Uderzo (Orion):

I’ve been checking these out from the library and mostly reading them in the cool confines of said library directly after picking them up. (I also have a formidable collection at home.) I never knew where my childhood dreams of peaceful pre-industrial life came from. Rereading these books makes me realize that they came from here. The world of Asterix is a pretty nice place to be, where no one is suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, or much else.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin):

This graphic bildungsroman has received rave reviews far and wide, and it lives up to the hype. The whole thing is executed masterfully, from the story’s graceful, flashback-inflected arc, to the beautiful two-color graphic renderings, to the author’s impressively font-i-fied handwriting, to the utterly stunning cover and dust jacket. One two-page sequence, of a conversation between the protagonist and her father, in a car, about their sexualities, is one of the most effective, jaw-droppingly intense pieces of storytelling I’ve ever read, graphical or otherwise. Bechdel’s magnum opus, and a hell of a work to follow up. What’s next? The Dykes To Watch Out For version of Factotum?

BlanketsBlankets by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf):

I suppose we can call these books “Autobiographic Novels of the Artists as Young People,” which has a nicer ring to it than “künstlerroman.” This is another detailed story of one comics artist’s life, from childhood to adulthood. I read this directly after Fun Home, so it’s hard not to compare them (indeed, I found out about this book because of a discussion between Thompson and Bechdel on The artistic styles, and the stories, are quite different, though. Thompson’s story is as dark and cold as his Wisconsin upbringing– even the panels that are set in a sunny afternoon have a dark shadowiness about them. While I can’t say that I enjoyed this book as much as Fun Home — it’s not as solid from a purely literary standpoint — that’s faint damnation if there ever was any. I gulped down the 800 pages in a few hours one night. Highly recommended.

Tom Georgoulias
, Contributing Editor,

The Rabbit Factory: A Novel by Larry Brown (Free Press).

JPod: A Novel by Douglas Coupland (Bloomsbury).

ReadyMade: How to Make [Almost] Everything: A Do-It-Yourself Primer by Shoshanna Berger and Grace Hawthorne (Clarkson Potter).

I’m jumping the gun on JPod since I’m about three-fourths of the way through it, but assuming he doesn’t throw it away in the last quarter of the book, it’s worth reading.

Tim Mitchell, B.A. in English, Writer and Humorist, Television Panelist, Dilettante and Libertine:

I don’t know if you only want current books, but here are the books/poetry/short stories that I think everyone should read sometime in their lives (Note that I’m excluding obvious and popular works, like Naked Lunch).

Midnight’s ChildrenMidnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Penguin):

Forget the controversy. This book is miles above The Satanic Verses.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):

The John Huston film does this novel justice, and like The Godfather, is about equal to the book.

Philip Larkin: Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):

In my opinion, the only poet to write more than three great poems. Apologies to Dylan, T.S. and W.B.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?: Selected Early Stories (Ontario Review Press):

Short story by Joyce Carol Oates. Hey, you can read short stories between naps, eh? This one should not be missed.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (Vintage):

Either you get it, or you don’t. The film completely ruined this book by letting too many people get it.

Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carrol (Orb):

Disappointed his fans. Good. Great book from an author who actually has something to say.

NeuromancerNeuromancer by William Gibson (Ace):

Defined the cyberpunk genre, and made the tag “computer geek” a symbol of pride. Without this book, there would have been no Matrix, etc. Trivia: Gibson had never owned a computer when he wrote the book.

Falconer by John Cheever (Vintage):

He also wrote a strong contender for best short story, “The Swimmer.”

The Bible No, seriously. The Bible is the jumping off point for an extraordinary amount of English literature. Just don’t feel obligated to read “Chronicles.” I don’t think the Pope has read that whole damn chapter. I also suggest you ingest your hallucinogen of choice when you read “Revelation.”

The Preacher series of graphic novels by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (Vertigo):

Yes, all of them. I won’t play nor give the game away, but an Englishman and an Irishman teamed up to write one of the best works of fiction about America that I’ve ever read.

roy christopher, Editor,

Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts by Mary Orr (Polity):
I’ve been reading this one off and on over the past several months and plan to finish it this summer. Orr explicates the work of four key thinkers in the area (i.e., Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Howard Bloom, and Gerard Genette), as well as the French critics who explored the concept (i.e., Jacques Derrida, Marc Angenot, Paul Ricoeur, and René Girard). Orr certainly set out to make this the definitive introductory text on intertextuality. I’m also referencing Graham Allan’s Intertextuality (Routledge) along the way (Intertextuality is one of my recent a pet research interests).

Lust for LifeI just got Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker (Verso) and it looks to be a great introduction to this unsung feminist firebrand. Acker has been, in turns, revered as notorious and notoriously overlooked. Many think she embodies the epitome of the literary punk rock ethos, and many others know little about her or her work. I’m one of the latter, but I’m using Lust for Life as the door into her world.

Derrida by Amy Ziering Kofman and Kirby Dick (Routledge):
Last year, Routledge put out this book of the script of the Derrida documentary. It includes essays by directors Amy Ziering Kofman and Kirby Dick, a lengthy interview with Derrida, a ton of from the filming, and an introductory essay by Nicholas Royle, as well as the full text of the film. This over-sized book provides a great companion piece to the movie and will make you look smart if you leave it on your coffee table.

Speaking of companion pieces, if you like the movie Donnie Darko, then The Donnie Darko Book (Faber & Faber) by Richard Kelly is a must-have. It has a long interview with Kelly, the full shooting script and stills from the movie, all of Roberta Sparrow’s book, The Philosophy of Time Travel that exists, and more. If you find the movie the least bit bewildering, The Donnie Darko Book helps clarify what’s going on.

Watership DownI’ve also been trying to catch up on some missed classics and modern fiction (e.g., Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer, etc.), and I just finished Watership Down by Richard Adams. Not enough can be said about how effortlessly Adams entrenches the reader in his world of rabbits. It’s a perfect summer adventure. Next, I have my eye on Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney, Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

The “to be read” stack also contains Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang (Picador), Stargazer: The Life And Times of the Telescope by Fred Watson (Da Capo), and Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin), among others.

Michelle Pond, Da Capo Publicity:

StargazerI am an intern at Da Capo Press and Lissa suggested I recommend a book for‘s 2006 Summer Reading List. Fred Watson’s Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope traces the history of the telescope, from its origins with Tycho Brahe (Denmark’s “lord of the stars”) to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope; offers a glimpse into the future, when telescopes could conceivably save us from asteroids; and captures the intensely competitive life of the modern astronomer. Stargazer acquaints us with the biggest and the best telescopes.

Cynthia Connolly, Photographer and Artist:

I have not been doing too much reading, except reading the historical signs on the sides of the roads in Virginia. I advise to read the magazine called Orion and to drive and look up to the trees and sky and contemplate what to do next.

[Above, Angela sits among the many books at Adams Avenue Bookstore in San Diego, California.]

How To Draw a Bunny Directed by John Walter

Ray Johnson has been called the “the most famous unknown artist in the world.” He was an unsung Pop Art innovator, collaging, mailing, and performing his way through the mid-twentieth century New York art scene. As artist Billy Name says in one of the interviews in the film: “Rauschenberg was a person making art, so was Andy (Warhol). Ray wasn’t a person. Ray was art… That’s why he’s an artist’s artist.”

How to Draw a BunnyHow To Draw a Bunny documents Ray’s life as best as it could be done. Many were acquainted with him and his work – and many over long periods of time – but no one seemed to know who Ray was. His entire life was a performance. And so too, it appears, was his death (the mystery surrounding his apparent suicide opens the film). He never went to openings, never had his own art show, despised galleries, was meticulous about his prices, and truly worked outside the art system his entire career.

Ray Johnson started or helped start many of the techniques and trends for which other artists are known: the use of copy machines and collaging; using images from advertising, brand logos, and pop culture icons; and mail art, or as he called it, “correspondence art.”

How To Draw a Bunny is a fun collage in itself: a collection of interviews of artists who knew Ray, including Chuck Close, Christo and Jean-Claude, James Rosenquist, the aforementioned Billy Name, and Ray Johnson himself; many great photographs; and, presented mostly in black and white, the film maintains the opening mood of mystery throughout. It’s a fun and intriguing look at an artist about whom one may not have heard, but will certainly be better off with his acquaintance.

Chris Ware by Daniel Raeburn

In the much-maligned medium of comic books, Chris Ware is one of the artists that justifies — even as he transcends — the medium. His work encompasses aspects of typography, graphic design, fine art, Joseph Cornell-style cabinet-making, story telling, and, of course, comics.

Chris Ware Daniel Raeburn’s book is the first to explore the expanse of Ware’s work. The book itself consists of a brief biography including in-depth interview sessions with Ware, and an extensive selection from all aspects and eras of Ware’s work. Included are pieces and layouts from Ware’s Acme Novelty Library series, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, and Quimby the Mouse, as well as drawings, sketches, paintings, toys, display cases, etc. In addition, Raeburn has assembled many of the work of artists who influenced Ware, and many catalog pages from which Ware lifted some of his layout ideas.

Chris Ware represents a brief but thorough overview of one of the most important visual artists working today.

Chris Ware comics

Summer Reading List, 2004

Sidney at Jackson Street BooksIn the midst of putting together a Summer Reading List for 2004, I took a lengthy Summer trip, delaying the release of this list until long after summer was officially over. Here, now, is the list of recommended I accumulated and sat on for far too long. Additions and corrections were made in the meantime. Many apologies for the delay, and many thanks to all those who participated.

note: All of the book title 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).

Gary Baddeley, Publisher, The Disinformation Company

The Yes MenThis is an easy one, Roy, I’m reading proofs of our new books: The Yes Men, which is about those ®TMark guys (remember) who created a fake website and ended up being invited all over the world to speak as representatives of the WTO. United Artists released the movie late in the Summer, and we have created the book, which is very funny, but with a serious anti-globalization message.

As for right now, I’m re-reading our book Da Vinci Code Decoded by Martin Lunn because it’s doing so well that we’ve decided to produce a DVD based on it. It’s really deep into stuff like the bloodline of Christ.

I could go on about our own books, but for light beach reading it’s The Rule of Four by Ian Cladwell and Dustin Thomason because I’m interested in the Renaissance text the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili that provides the central theme.

Cynthia Connolly, Photographer and Artist.

Hey, I only have a couple things:

Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escott (Little, Brown)

Where I was From by Joan Didion (Knopf)

How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office

Billy Wimsatt, Editor, How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office, Author, No More Prions and Bomb the Suburbs

You mean other than How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office?

Mark Dery, Author, Pyrotechnic Insanitarium, Escape Velocity, Flame Wars

This summer, I did the sociocultural spadework for a book-in-progress — an anti-memoir about my San Diego adolescence, equal parts social history of ’70s SoCal and drive-by cultural critique of border consciousness. I began my excavations of Southern California history, cultural and otherwise, with Southern California: An Island on the Land, by the dean of left-wing California historians, Carey McWilliams (the progenitor of Mike Davis’s archaeological analysis of power, race and real estate in L.A.). Garrulous, generous of spirit, and dryly funny, yet possessed of a backroom dealmaker’s knowledge of how power really works in the Land of the Golden Dream, Williams is the perfect Audio-Animatronic tour guide to Southern California’s Amok Disneyland. His account of the Free Speech Rights in San Diego, in the ’30s, is unforgettable: Emma Goldman came to rouse the rabble and was ushered, by the local constabulary, onto a train to L.A., with a one-way ticket and theUnder the Perfect Sun friendly admonition never to return. The socialist wobblies (IWW members) who came from all over the U.S. to join the protests suffered a less genteel fate: Cops and hired goons dragged them out to canyon country, forced them to kiss the flag, then beat them, some to death, with truncheons. This is rough justice, in the town where the social order and property values trump civil liberties every time. Mike Davis and his collaborators Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew take up Williams’s song in Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, a fastidiously researched collection of essays on San Diego’s powerbrokers and the dissident voices — underground journalists in the ’60s, migrant workers and illegal aliens more recently — raised against them.

Finally, before bed, on the beach, and at poolside, there’s The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction 1909-1959 (ed. Hiney, MacShane), much of which is gleaned from Chandler’s La Jolla years, when he would dictate his correspondence late into the night. Written with a pitch-perfect ear for the American vernacular and the grammatical fastidiousness of a man born, bred, and classically educated in England, Selected Letters is an omnium gatherum of blunt, bleakly funny bon mots. On California: “There is a touch of the desert about everything in California, and about the minds of the people who live here.” “We are so rootless here. I’ve lived half my life in California and made what use of it I could, but I could leave it forever without a pang.” On his fan mail: “…[A]nother letter I had once from a girl in Seattle who said that she was interested in music and sex, and gave me the impression that, if I was pressed for time, I need not even bother to bring my own pyjamas.” On himself: “All my best friends I have never seen. To know me in the flesh is to pass on to better things.” Written in the dead of night with a Dictaphone and a bottle of gin, Chandler’s letters are an inexhaustible fund of insights into the noir aesthetic, the sublime agonies of the writer’s life, the American Language (as Mencken called it), and, forever and always, the sunbelt existentialism that shadows the California Dream.

Tom Georgoulias, Contributing Editor,

Candy by Mian Mian (Back Bay)

Candy is a semi-autobiographical novel about a Chinese girl who ran away to Shenzhen, a city free of state economic control, to escape from the confines of the government job system. She bounces around the underground club/music culture, which is filled with a lot of other wandering Chinese 20/30 somethings who are into music, fashion, and finding their way out of the world their parents created.

Small Town Punk by John L. Sheppard (Writers Club Press)

Lost punk teenagers stuck in a nothing small town, drinking between shifts at dead end fast food jobs, and struggling through their teen years. If you grew up like this, you’ll recognize the authenticity almost immediately. The characters and dialogue are just that good.

All Hands OnAll Hands On: THE2NDHAND reader Edited by Todd Dills (TNI/Elephant Rock)

Best of collection from the free literary broadsheet THE2NDHAND.

Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano (St. Matrin’s)

Profiles of record collectors and their favorite haunts, hidden and famous. A fairly insightful and tender look at record colleting and obsessive hobbyists in general.

Working Stiffs Manifesto by Iain Levison (Random House)

The funniest book I’ve read in a long time. Read it all in one sitting. A documentary of Levison’s string of dead end jobs, one right after another, and all the hilarious and worthless crap he’s seen during and in between. Perfect.

Shepard Fairey, Artist, Obey Giant

I have not read a good book in a while. The last book I read was this big compilation of interviews from people who shaped the first 2 years of punk called Punk. My schedule has not been leaving time for more than magazine and newspaper articles.

Steven Shaviro, Author, Connected, Doom Patrols, The Cinematic Body, etc.

Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead (Free Press)

Whitehead, a hidden influence on such recent thinkers as Deleuze and Bruno Latour, is the most underrated philosopher of the first half of the twentieth century. Surprisingly timely.

The Fabric of the CosmosFabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene (Knopf)

The latest popularization of contemporary physics, going beyond the bounds of science into full-fledged metaphysical speculation.

The Filth by Grant Morrison and Chris Weston (DC Comics)

This mind-bending comic is now available as a single-volume trade paperback novel. Everything you wanted to know (and a lot you didn’t) about the ultimate nature of reality; together with a hero who is forced to battle everything from viral nanobots that take over human bodies, to pornographers who generate bioengineered predatory megasperm, to memetic cloning programs that turn human crowds into orgiastic Stepford Wives who provide the building blocks for an “emergent superorganism” — when all he really wants to do is stay home and care for his cat.

The Iron Council by China Mieville (Del Rey)

The third volume of Mieville’s Bas-Lag trilogy (after Perdido Street Station and The Scar). Mieville writes brilliant, dense meta-fantasy, utterly gripping yet at the same time deconstructing the tropes of the Tolkien tradition. Sort of Lovecraft-meets-Dickens-meets- Marxist theory. To be published in July.

Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri (Penguin Press)

The much-awaited sequel to Empire.

Marc Pesce, Author, The Playful World

The Emperor of ScentThe Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr (Random House)

The amazing account of the probable discovery of the unlikely mechanism of smell, by renegade scientist Luca Turin. In a classic case of an outsider solving a previously intractable problem, Turin sweeps away a hundred years of accepted-if-hodgepodge theories about the “shape” theory of scent, and discovers something far more interesting: there’s a spectrograph in your nose — or rather, thousands of them. An incredible must-read for anyone who has ever gotten a whiff of the stench of scientific politics, or the scent of victory.

Phil Agre, Associate Professor of Information Studies, UCLA

Here are four very different history books that I recommend.

Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe by Thomas Ertman (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

This is an excellent example of a particular kind of history that compares and contrasts different nations in a systematic way based on a simple theoretical model. The topic is state-building: why did some European countries construct efficient, professionally rationalized bureaucracies where others spent centuries stuck in absolutism or corruption? Ertman argues that the difference has to do with two factors. One was the “starting conditions” left over from the dark ages. In some areas, such as England, the legacy of Roman administration left behind a tradition of strong local governments whose workings were homogeneous. This made it easy to start a parliament and hard not to, and parliaments are a counterbalance to bureaucracies. In other areas, such as Germany, local government was heterogeneous. The other factor was timing. State-building was driven largely by military competition, and countries for which such competition arrived early were less bureaucratic. It’s a theory, and Ertman uses it to analyze aspects of the various countries’ histories that might otherwise have gone unanalyzed. Does the theory explain Afghanistan? Even if it doesn’t, at least it makes clear just how contingent European institutions really are.

The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto by Mary Elizabeth Berry (University of California Press, 1994)

The major difficulty with the humanities is interpretations of things that go beyond the evidence. Despite all the yammer about postmodernism, this really begins with I. A. Richards, whose arbitrary interpretations of literature have been oppressing students for generations. Mary Elizabeth Berry’s book about everyday life in Japan during the century-long civil war that began around 1450 is an impressive lesson in how to interpret history when the evidence is slight. Because Japan lacks a tradition of bureaucrat-monks, and because its cities keep getting burned to the ground in wars, Japanese history is not as well documented as European history. Berry reads the available documents patiently and with admirable sympathy for the people who wrote them — people who in many ways didn’t understand their society any better than we do. It was as if the whole society had melted, so that every detail of their lives could change tomorrow and often did.

The Age of HereticsThe Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change by Art Kleiner (Currency Doubleday, 1996)

This is a journalistic history of an important chapter of the 20th century that could easily have gone unwritten: a generation of attempts, more or less countercultural, to reform and reinvent the corporation. It’s all here: unpredictable experiments in social engineering, weird tales of engineers dropping acid, computer programs predicting the future of the whole world, and the truly odd omnipresence of an Armenian mystic named G. I. Gurdjieff. We’re nowhere near putting these innovations in context. Some of them led to genuine reforms and others did not. Some of them transcended the limitations of 20th century rationalism while others were just irrational. In any event, Kleiner promises a sequel in which he brings the story up to the present day, and I bet it’s going to be great.

Cosmopoiesis: The Renaissance Experiment by Giuseppe Mazzotta (University of Toronto Press, 2001)

Giuseppe Mazzotta is Italian through and through. He is also very smart. The result is a sort of alternative intellectual reality that takes some getting used to. For a short book it is hard to summarize, and not least because the traditions of allegorical writing that Mazzotta reads in such detail are lost to us. So, for example, one poet writes a vast epic to argue with Machiavelli’s psychology, and Lorenzo de Medici and his contemporaries argue about his despotism by, of all weird things, writing Neoplatonic poetry whose numerous layers of meanings Mazzotta revivifies in phrase after unexpected phrase. Maybe it’s just the foreignness of it, but I’m not sure I’ve read a book that was so densely intelligent.

roy christopher, Editor,

The History of Forgetting by Norman Klein (Verso)

After seeing Norman Klein speak at UC Irvine last March, my girlfriend and I began a frantic search for all of his books. This one is about L.A. and proves a nice companion to Mike Davis’s City of Quartz. Part memoir, part critique, and part fiction, The History of Forgetting is an amazing glimpse at the city — and its past eras — looming at the edge of civilization.

Wounds of Passion by bell hooks (Owl Books)

Subtitled “A Writing Life,” Wounds of Passion chronicles bell hooks’ path to the role of Black public intellectual. It’s a deeply personal account of her struggles at home in Kentucky, leaving there for school at Stanford, her most important relationship during college and after, and all of the other trials that lead to her writing her first book (Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism), and indeed her writing life. hooks has always reveled in poetry, lived through words, and escaped in books. Wounds of Passion is a painful, yet liberating glance into one writer’s journey with the word.

Wondrous StrangeWondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould by Kevin Bazzana (Oxford University Press)

I wish I’d gotten this book a long time ago. I have several books about Glenn Gould and this one is by far the most complete look at his life, his music, his eccentricities, hislove of solitude and of Canada, and his passion for composing. Admittedly, my knowledge of classical music is limited, but Kevin Bazzana writes in such a way that one needn’t know the minutia of counterpoint, colour, and timbre. If you’re curious about Glenn Gould, this is the place to start.

Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (University of Chicago Press)

This brilliant little book explores and explains metaphor not as a form of language, but as the central structure of language. Written in clear, easy-to-understand language and rife with excellent examples and extensively explained linguistic concepts, Metaphors We Live By is a book everyone should — and can — read.

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel De Landa (Zone Books)

Meaning to have read this long ago, I grabbed it off the shelf just before leaving on my summer trip, and I’m glad I finally sat down with it. Using applied chaos theory, De Landa rewrites history as a dynamical system. It’s an amazing perspective on what is normally left to the dreaded “grand narrative.”

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman (Scribner)

Leave it to Chuck Klosterman to write the best pop culture book of the year. His previous work, Fargo Rock City, was an excellent piece of commentary on 80s Hair Metal, but Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs proves that its subject matter obviously limited his abilities. This book finds him pontificating on everything from Saved By The Bell and Vanilla Sky to the 80s Celtics-Lakers rivalry as a political metaphor and why Soccer sucks. No one is safe from Klosterman’s keen sense of humor and uncanny knack for what’s going on behind the most seemingly mundane pop culture trends.

[Above, Sidney browses the books at Jackson Street Bookstore in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Roy Christopher]

R.I.P. Rest in Pieces: A Portrait of Joe Coleman Directed by Robert-Adrian Pejo

For the uninitiated, Joe Coleman paints meticulously constructed circus-dream visions that often depict serial killers and does performance pieces in which he bites the heads off rats and sets off explosions on his own body. One Chicago performance found him arrested and charged with “possession of an Infernal Machine” (a machine or apparatus maliciously designed to explode and destroy life or property) — a charge not levied against anyone since the 19th Century. Continue reading “R.I.P. Rest in Pieces: A Portrait of Joe Coleman Directed by Robert-Adrian Pejo”

The Architect’s Brother by Robert ParkeHarrison

The pieces in Robert ParkeHarrison‘s The Architect’s Brother depict a character named “Everyman” coping with a number of distraught scenarios in which the pace of technology has out-stepped the resources of the earth. As tired as this theme may sound, ParkeHarrison brings a new perspective to each of many glimpses of these possible futures. These images are riddled with melancholy, but the weight is ultimately lifted by an unflagging belief in human agency. Continue reading “The Architect’s Brother by Robert ParkeHarrison”

Centripedal Sound installation by Matt Heckert

All of my work ends up sounding like a train somehow. — Matt Heckert

I first became acquainted with Matt Heckert‘s work through issue #8 of Andy Jenkins’ Bend zine. There was a picture of Survival Research Laboratories‘ “Walk-Peck” machine and it was credited to one Matt Heckert. This was the Summer of 1986. Matt has long since departed from SRL with his work and his work’s aims. Continue reading “Centripedal Sound installation by Matt Heckert”

1 Giant Leap Directed by Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman

In order to thrive, ecologies need diversity. Functionalism has proven itself in the wild. What seems bad to us, if removed causes disturbance in the equilibrium of nature. As immune as we might feel, our cultural ecology is not excluded from the rule of diversity. Continue reading “1 Giant Leap Directed by Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman”