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Trees on Mars: Our Obsession with the Future

Hal Niedzviecki. Seven Stories, $18.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-60980-637-8

Niedzviecki (The Peep Diaries) takes a deep look at the prevailing 21st-century technological ideology, showing that it may be too late to hit the brakes on a “race to the future” in which individuals and institutions chase constant innovation. He converses with technofuturists, Mars colony hopefuls, life extenders, and SXSWi idea promoters who want to change the world through web apps. Niedzviecki brings educators, psychologists, Walmart shipping workers, survivalist preppers, and nervous new college graduates into the discussion. He follows the implications of a future vision that puts its faith in the individual and promises emancipation while simultaneously making that individual a piece of manipulable data. Similarly, he looks into the rise of IT-based productivity growth that comes without significant creation of new jobs. He deftly pulls together the cultural strands that have woven the future-first rhetoric of improvement though permanent, competitive, systematic disruption and its effects on both people who expect to be on the leading edge and those who expect to be left behind. Niedzviecki may leave his readers somewhat disillusioned, but they will not be despairing; he urges them to “maintain humanity” and make meaning in the present even as the hope of the future inevitably falls short. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Donald Judd Writings

Donald Judd, edited by Flavin Judd. Judd Foundation and David Zwirner, $39.95 trade paper (1056p) ISBN 978-1-94170-135-5

An editor’s note to this vital and powerful compendium of the late contemporary artist Judd’s written work states that any categorization would run “counter to his insistence on maintaining openness.” Thus the collection of essays, reviews, letters, statements, notes, and diary entries is ordered only chronologically, a structure that reveals Judd’s development as an artist. Judd quickly moves from reviewing exhibitions of other artists to complaining about the system of museums, dealers, and galleries that wields so much power. In a 1977 essay, Judd explains why he wants to establish a foundation so that his work will have a permanent home. Consideration of the buildings and installations he constructs in Marfa, Tex., occupies a large part of his writings after 1985. Throughout his writing, Judd champions other artists he admires, including Dan Flavin, Josef Albers, and Richard Paul Lohse. Judd also returns to political concerns again and again, searching for an equilibrium between the artist and society. The book itself is a beautiful tactile object and any Judd fan will surely want to pick it up. Color photos. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Jar of Wild Flowers: Essays in Celebrati n of John Berger

Edited by Yasmin Gunaratnam and Amarjit Chandan. Zed (Univ. of Chicago, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-78360-879-9

Celebrating the 90th birthday of John Berger, a Booker Prize–winning novelist, art critic, painter, and poet, editors Gunaratnam (Death and the Migrant) and Chandan (The Parrot, the Horse, and the Man) bring together work from 30 contributors—including actress Julie Christie, director Sally Potter, novelist Ali Smith and journalist Nick Thorpe—in a lively collection that spurs further conversation. Through the wide range of responses to Berger’s expansive oeuvre, readers see admiration of Berger’s genius and the life of the mind, and get a glimpse into how artistic and intellectual communities cross boundaries, challenge injustices, and inspire new ways of seeing and, consequently, being. “John Berger is our conscience keeper,” says Chandan, making the case that Berger’s work calls readers into greater awareness of the world beyond the self and into appreciation of our collective humanity. The book brings together a choir of artistic collaborators, fans, and friends, which is a fitting tribute to someone whose talents run the gamut of intellectual and artistic. Here is a bricolage to celebrate the consummate bricoleur, a collection that—even with its contributors’ significant differences—still coheres in celebration and gratitude. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Prison Food in America

Erika Camplin. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (140p) ISBN 978-1-4422-5347-6

Camplin, a food studies scholar, zeroes in on a key factor of life for the incarcerated: prison fare. In the federal, state, and local systems, the United States regularly houses approximately 2 million inmates, which results in the need to provide 13 billion meals annually, according to Camplin. She investigates what prisoners eat, who is providing and preparing the food, and the quality of the meals. She provides a short history of prison food dating back to medieval England, where prisoners provided their own food or starved; prison reform in the 18th century began to acknowledge the need to feed prisoners decently. She also covers the business of food service in prison, exploring links between cost and corrupt business practices of food distributors. Getting quality food for prisoners is a continuous uphill struggle as shown by scandals like the many grievances filed against Aramark, a private food contractor, who was said to be pocketing millions of dollars for serving substandard food. The search for good food has even resulted in prisoners converting to Judaism to be eligible for kosher meals. Five pages of menus are included, as are recipes for infamous food such as “Nutraloaf,” which is served to misbehaving inmates as a form of punishment. The food preferences of famous prisoners such as Bernie Madoff and Lil Wayne provide amusing moments. This succinct and academic overview of a quirky subject is very readable and comes with lengthy notes. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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We Told You So: Comics as Art

Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean. Fantagraphics, $49.99 (696p) ISBN 978-1-60699-933-2

This delectable 40th-anniversary tribute to Fantagraphics, one of the world’s foremost publishers of comics and graphic novels, brings together the voices of employees, comic artists, and other industry insiders to paint a vivid picture of the publisher’s legacy in pop culture. Contributors include legendary cartoonists and comics artists Art Spiegelman, the Hernandez brothers, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, and others. The book includes a full listing of Fantagraphics publications, reproductions of documents, photographs of the Fantagraphics crew at work and at play, cover art, and original comics created by Fantagraphics artists to honor the anniversary. The interviews provide an amusing window into the Fantagraphics lifestyle: the all-nighters, the “college fraternity” atmosphere, and exploits involving explosives and firearms (described as boyish fun). Editors Spurgeon and Dean, both former editors of the Comics Journal (a subsidiary of Fantagraphics), give space to every side of the story, including quotes from a disgruntled former employee who recalls cofounder Gary Groth as “vile, petty, [and] vindictive.” Fantagraphics’ history is also a history of the art form and industry, and the personal touches from candid interviews provide a fascinating insider’s perspective. Color illus. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives

Paul Nelson and Kevin Avery. Fantagraphics, $44.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-60699-888-5

This cornucopia of vintage book jackets, magazine excerpts, manuscript pages, foreign press variants, and rare photographs related to Ross Macdonald (1915–1983) is certain to please fans of Macdonald’s brooding, tragic detective novels. The marvelous graphics—32 images are devoted to just the Lew Archer novel The Ivory Grin, for example—adorn a massive, 47-hour interview between Macdonald and the late music critic Nelson. The interview, conducted in 1976, remained unpublished until rescued from oblivion by scholar Avery. Macdonald, who became a bestselling author only in the final eight years of his celebrated career, had just seen the publication of what would be his final Lew Archer novel, The Blue Hammer. He was already experiencing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, from which he would eventually die. This handsome, well-designed volume, with the Nelson interview revealing Macdonald’s most personal thoughts and philosophy about a life spent writing, is an unmitigated triumph. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for Your Instant Pot: 80 Easy and Delicious Plant-Based Recipes That You Can Make in Half the Time

Kathy Hester. Page Street, $22.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-62414-338-0

Vegan veteran Hester’s (The Easy Vegan Cookbook) ode to the Instant Pot, an appliance that functions as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, warmer, yogurt maker, and sauté vessel, is a solid work for new Instant Pot owners and time-pressed vegans. Dishes that sound complicated—such as cheesy potato pierogies, black chickpea curry, and a tres leches–inspired dessert tamale filled with dates and caramel—come together in a matter of minutes. Hester’s emphasis on flavor and ease will go a long way; she employs commonly sourced ingredients as often as possible, and the book is peppered with suggestions for substitutions. Helpful Instant Pot–specific tips on settings and timing for certain dishes also help to ensure success. Readers without an Instant Pot will still be able to prepare vegan ricotta, andouille seitan sausage, and quick red curry zucchini noodle soup using other equipment (a pressure cooker in most cases). Though vegans with an Instant Pot will clearly get the most out of the book, cooks of all tastes and skill levels will appreciate Hester’s inventive and approachable collection. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ten Restaurants That Changed America

Paul Freedman. Liveright, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-87140-680-4

Freedman (Food: The History of Taste), a history professor at Yale, highlights 10 restaurants that influenced a culture of eating. Some of the landmark eateries featured in this volume no longer exist but they still claim a cherished and notable spot in culinary history. The edifice of Delmonico’s in New York graces the cover; it’s given American palates a taste for fine dining since 1827. Freedman also prominently features Schrafft’s, the East Coast institution that catered to “ladies who lunch” and served dainty, middle-class fare without the grease-laden platters enjoyed by working men. Freedman believes the Howard Johnson restaurants carved out a niche for the on-the-road, market which grew exponentially in the auto-crazed period of the 1920s. Freedman discusses Sylvia’s, a Harlem restaurant that has welcomed a spectrum of eaters from locals to heads of state; he also supplies wonderful details of the Four Seasons, the Mandarin, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley; Antoine’s in New Orleans; and Mamma Leone’s and Le Pavillon in New York. Freedman’s extensive knowledge and trusted palate give readers a definitive and approachable take on restaurant history in America. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Settle for More

Megyn Kelly. HarperCollins, $29.99 (352p) ISBN SBN 978-0-0624-9460-3

Fox News reporter Kelly, anchor of The Kelly Files, puts herself at the center of the story in this uneven memoir. Kelly recounts her rise to the top ranks of corporate law and her improbable leap into TV journalism without benefit of experience or degree; she soon became one of America’s best-known cable-news personalities. She keeps the focus on the personal qualities of hard work, determination, and sheer moxie that got her to the job of her dreams, with shout-outs to friendly souls who helped her on her way. Unfortunately, once she enters the news business, it’s still all about her, with big names and stories appearing only as foils in the arc of her on-air accomplishments. (Meanwhile, much tedious space is devoted to celebrating her wonderful husband and adorable children.) The book climaxes with her nasty feud with presidential candidate Donald Trump, but this is the only aspect of the tumultuous 2016 campaign that she comments on in detail. Instead of serving up staples of journalists’ memoirs, such as capsules of dramatic news events or sketches of celebrities and politicians she’s interviewed, Kelly has written a mildly feminist saga of self-help and personal empowerment; her account of being sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, Fox’s then-CEO, is the most compelling episode. Photos. (Nov. 15)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Letters from the Pacific: 49 Days on a Cargo Ship

Sandra Shaw Homer. CreateSpace, $9.99 trade paper (132p) ISBN SBN 978-1-4944-7531-4

Homer (The Magnificent Dr. Wao) inspires readers with this chronicle of a 49-day “voyage of exploration” she took through the South Pacific—from the Panama Canal to Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, and New Zealand—as a passenger aboard a cargo ship. Homer embarks on her journey for a number of reasons: to experience again “the joy of being afloat in the vast, undefined watery spaces” that she first felt as a child on her father’s boat; to find some sort of “magic” that would wipe out troubles both physical (arthritis) and mental (doubts about her long-time marriage) ; and, while seeing other countries, to experience what a friend tells her: “Keep looking inward and see what the moment has to teach you.” What she discovers—and artfully describes—are the joys and hardships of life on a working ship (“A freighter is a noisy, dirty, smelly beast”), the beauty of the high seas (“With little warning, the red blob of sun oozed forth from the primordial soup, then slowly backlit the clouds above it, first in mauve, then rose, then gold”), and the strength she finds to go back to her daily life renewed, with a new appreciation for the “someone who has always been inside me but has been ignored for too long.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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