From Nirvana to Underworld

The title phrase in Het Bun Dai Bun: Laos—Sacred Rituals of Luang Prabang is a Lao expression meaning "art project," "meritorious deed" or "meditative exercise." It was also the name that the citizens of the Laotian city of Luang Prabang gave to Hans Georg Berger's photography project. Beginning in 1994 as a close collaboration between the German photographer and the city's monks, its purpose was to document the Buddhist city's rituals, including New Year's processions, offerings, alms, rites for the dead, meditations and perhaps most movingly, the ordination of a teenage novice monk. Many of the subjects of these photos are looking into a camera for the first time in their lives. (Westzone [Trafalgar Square, dist.], $45 256p ISBN 1-903391-02-4; June 15) In Bangkok's sexual underground, "worlds meet, the rich, the poor.... In some rare moments of animalistic freedom, drunkenness and ecstasy, differences disappear, man, woman, man-woman." In Patpong: Bangkok's Twilight Zone, German photojournalist Nick Nostitz chronicles that money-driven convergence. Nostitz, who worked on the book for seven years, toured Patpong's streets, discos, go-go bars and "blow-job bars," forming close relationships with his subjects—male and female prostitutes, transsexuals, junkies, tourists, misfits and expatriates. He presents his deliberately chaotic photos in scrapbook form with handwritten captions, and in accompanying essays he meditates on his Bangkok experiences, which include having sex with a hooker who said she had AIDS. Few readers will be convinced by Nostitz's celebrations of Third World exploitation by first world "misfits," but the pictures remain luridly compelling. 120 color and b&w photos. (Westzone [Trafalgar Square, dist.], $40 160p ISBN 0-9537438-2-9; June 1)

Ideas of Order

James Meyer, exploring the debate over artists like Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Anne Truitt, Robert Morris and Dan Flavin in Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties, attempts to make sense of minimalism as an artistic moment. Meyer (editor of Minimalism) points out that, at first, the term "minimalism" was derogatory, implying that the art was too reduced and abstract. In the late '60s, the label lost its stigma as the work was widely recognized by major museums, and minimalist art headed toward canonization. Meyer analyzes that process as well as the backlash against minimalism by leftists, especially in Europe, who associated it with American cultural imperialism. He also places minimalist art in a broader cultural context, noting the stripped-down, austere sensibility that prevailed in '60s fashion and design, making the book attractive to anyone who enjoys cultural history. 130 b&w, 30 color photos. (Yale Univ., $50 320p ISBN 0-300-08155-3; June 25) First widely, and fittingly, recognized in the 1970s—the heyday of conceptual art, which insisted on "an art of ideas over product, and on an art that could not be bought and sold"—performance art has thrived in recent decades, according to RoseLee Goldberg's Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. First published more than 20 years ago, the book has been extensively updated. Goldberg (Laurie Anderson), a former curator of the Kitchen Center for Music, Video and Performance in New York City, analyzes artists as varied as the dadaists, Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Cindy Sherman, Mariko Mori, Paul McCarthy, Matthew Barney, Karen Finley, Forced Entertainment and Desperate Optimists. It's mandatory reading for scholars and practitioners, and helpful to anyone who wants to learn more about this intriguing but often bewildering art form. 186 illus. (Thames & Hudson, $14.95 paper 226p ISBN 0-500-20339-3; June 25) Describing his work as "an organic combination of turn-of-the-century Viennese retro, interjected with American pop, some European absurdity added for flavor, served on a cartoon-style color palette... no social realism added," illustrator Istvan Banyai is well known to Americans, if not by name. His dreamlike drawings have appeared in Absolut ads, in his Zoom series of children's books, in magazines like the New Yorker and animated short films for Nickelodeon and MTV. Minus Equals Plus: Istvan Banyai collects 250 of his illustrations (150 in color) and includes an introduction by Kurt Andersen, veteran magazine editor (formerly of New York), currently columnist for the New Yorker and founder of "Istvan World always seems to be coming apart at the seams," Andersen writes, "but the entropy... may not be disintegration at all, but a metamorphosis into some kooky new state of harmony." Complicated and dark enough for adults, Banyai's work is also fun, serendipitous and mischievous enough for kids. (Abrams, $29.95 180p ISBN 0-8109-2990-2; June) When he was still a college student, Jonathan Safran Foer began writing to famous poets and writers, asking them to create original poetry and fiction based on the diorama-like Bird Boxes of collage artist Joseph Cornell. Twenty writers and poets responded—among them former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Joyce Carol Oates, Paul West, Rick Moody, Howard Norman, Robert Coover, Dale Peck, Diane Ackerman and Barry Lopez—and A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell is the fantastical result. It includes color reproductions of Cornell's Boxes (28 color illustrations in all), and has already been praised by Susan Sontag, Ann Beattie and Madison Smartt Bell. Cornell fans won't want to miss this odd and beautiful book, and many other readers will be pleased to find an anthology with so much original work by fine writers. (Distributed Art Publishers, $27.50 240p ISBN 1-891024-22-1; June) Found objects that were mounted on a base, placed on the desks of aristocratic philosophers and artists, and used as objects of meditation and concentration, Chinese scholars' rocks epitomized for their users the natural world in its concentrated force. Richard Rosenblum, who died of cancer last year, was a Boston sculptor and leading collector of this art naturel. His Art of the Natural World: Resonances of Wild Nature in Chinese Sculptural Art, edited by Valerie C. Doran, consists of the collector's own musings about the importance of these works, both intrinsically and to his own work as a sculptor. For example, he finds inspiration in the modern French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot's theory of fractals, which finds symmetry in the irregular forms of nature. 100 color illus. (Museum of Fine Arts Publications, $35 160p ISBN 0-87846-623-1; July)

Grim Glory

"Valor is of no service, chance rules all, and the bravest often fall by the hands of cowards," wrote Tacitus in A.D. 54. Chance, or fate, pervades war literature, Lamar Underwood (On Dangerous Ground) observes in an introduction to his anthology The Greatest War Stories Ever Told: Twenty-four Incredible War Tales from, among others, the American Revolution, the Spanish Civil War and Vietnam. This collection includes fiction and nonfiction by Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Bruce Catton, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, William Faulkner, Martin Russ, Michael Herr and S.L.A. Marshall, on battles ranging from Waterloo and Antietam to the Chosin River in Korea. Serious war literature enthusiasts will already be familiar with many of these selections, but as the title promises, this is a greatest-hits compilation, intended for newer fans. (Lyons, $24.95 336p ISBN 1-58574-239-2; July) Gumps! Wharf lice! Ditch hunters! Though it's reasonably clear that those terms are insults, few people have any idea what they mean. Like much of the language used during the Civil War, they have vanished from everyday speech. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage: An Illustrated Compendium of the Everyday Language of Soldiers and Civilians by Webb Garrison (A Treasury of Civil War Tales; Civil War Curiosities) with Cheryl Garrison is the product of more than 30 years of research and writing, and was finished just days before Webb Garrison's death. Compiled from military and naval reports, diaries, letters, memoirs, eyewitness accounts, autobiographies, legislation and government reports, the book covers slang and standard words and phrases used in both the Union and Confederate armies. It should delight linguists—amateur and professional—as well as Civil War buffs and military historians. (Cumberland, $27.95 274p ISBN 1-58182-186-7; May)

Women's Wit and Well-Being

"Our marriage license turned out to be a learner's permit," quips Joan Rivers. And as for Joy Behar: "Sure I want a man in my house, but not in my life." In Women's Wicked Wit from Jane Austen to Roseanne Barr, Michelle Lovric (Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion) quotes intellectuals, movie stars, pop singers, artists, comedians, novelists and women of every other stripe on topics ranging from "The Sex War" and "Marriage and Divorce" to "Work, Power & Money" and "The Arts." There is something for everyone in these pithy, funny, outrageous, enigmatic, feminist, antifeminist, arrogant, self-mocking quotations. (Chicago Review, $14.95 320p ISBN 1-55652-387-4; May) "The essence of recovering is the development of a sense of self, and here the word sense is as important as the word self.... How do we sense self?" writes Sheila M. Reindl in Sensing the Self: Women's Recovery from Bulimia, aimed at people with the disease as well as at professionals who treat it. Reindl, a psychologist at Harvard's Bureau of Study Counsel, emphasizes the necessity of getting help from other women for patients who are themselves "ambivalent about getting help and getting well." Developing a sense of separateness—from parents, from partners—is crucial. Dozens of examples and testimonies of women in varying ages and stages of recovery support Reindl's assertions and will reassure and help women with bulimia. (Harvard, $29.95 384p ISBN 0-674-00487-6; May 21)

American Profiles

"I've always disliked the dismissive term 'Civil War buff,' which seems unfairly to separate the historian from the enthusiast," writes Robert Cowley, What If? editor and founding editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. With My Face to the Enemy: Perspectives on the Civil War aims to keep the two firmly together, with its 34 substantive, jargon-free essays. Leading scholars like David Herbert Donald (on Lincoln's early presidency) and Gary W. Gallagher (on Robert E. Lee's early career) check in, as does Tom Wicker (on the Battle of Stones River). In all, 30-plus essays take readers from "First Shots" to "The Last Act." (Putnam, $30 544p ISBN 0-399-14737-3; June 4) Over the last 224 years, the Stars and Stripes has been through endless permutations and representations. Long May She Wave: A Graphic History of the American Flag presents 500 color illustrations of Old Glory, depicted on pencils, fans, Christmas ornaments, penknives, compacts, belt buckles and in modern art. Kit Hinrichs's 3,000-piece flag collection, photographed here by Terry Heffernan, forms the basis of the book (written with Delphine Hirasuna) and includes Hinrichs's great-great-great-aunt's 1865 banner. The introduction by Museum of American Folk Art director Gerard Wertkin provides historical context (Why do flags adorn public schools? When did the practice of a stripe for each state become unwieldy?) for the mesmerizing graphics. (Ten Speed, $60 224p ISBN 1-58008-240-8; limited slipcase edition, $150 -312-9; June) Son of a Methodist preacher, John Wesley Hardin killed a man at age 15, thus beginning a murderous, fugitive existence. He was eventually caught, and during his 16 years in jail studied law. After his release, he set up a law practice, but soon returned to gambling and drinking. By the time of his death—at the age of 42, he was killed in a barroom brawl—he was loathed as a murderer and loved as a vigilante hero, in equal measure. He also left behind the eerily captivating Gunfighter, the only literate, first-person account of an outlaw that has emerged from the late 19th-century West. This edition is the first since 1961; few cultural historians of the period will want to be without it. (Creation Books [], $13.95 paper 144p ISBN 1-84068-038-5; May)

June Publications

For a fresh take on an often simplified historical moment, look at Beat Down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation? in which Ann Charters has assembled some obscure and some familiar material by and about beatniks. In a letter to poet and critic Richard Eberhart, Allen Ginsberg says, "I was flattered... by the idea of recognition but really didn't agree with your evaluation of my own poetry," and explains, for 11 pages, his aesthetic and social intentions. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores how writer Anatole Broyard, whose essay "A Portrait of the Hipster" appeared in the Partisan Review in 1948, passed as white early in his career in New York. Diane di Prima's piece about her newsletter with LeRoi Jones, Floating Bear, evokes the excitement of the early '60s East Village poetry scene. (Penguin, $15 paper 714p ISBN 0-14-100151-8)

"The scientific specialist uses words artificially fabricated from Greek roots.... The sailor's technical terms have grown up with the language and seem to palpitate with its strong and ancient life," writes Aldous Huxley in "Words, Words, Words," a brief essay on linguistic pleasures. His prodigious output ranges so far that he appears to touch on most significant topics in his Complete Essays: Volume III, 1930—1935 (of six planned volumes). But while his writings on the arts—some relevant, some quaint—still charm, some of his sociopolitical commentary will dismay students today, e.g., "Miscegenation should be prevented, because there is evidence to show cross-breeding between individuals of widely different race is biologically unsound." Such ideas, if stomached, could aid explorations of prewar social attitudes. (Ivan R. Dee, $35 632p ISBN 1-56666-347-8; June 22)

May Publications

Clichés, maxims, idioms—what are the origins of the countless sayings we repeat? Somebody somewhere said "fly off the handle" for the first time. In Common Phrases and Where They Come From, Myron Korach and John Mordock research the often metaphorical, often image-driven and always taken-for-granted phrases that infuse our daily speech. "Gone haywire," for instance, comes from farmers baling hay—using, of course, hay wire, which often tangled, broke, got wrapped around cows or somehow misbehaved. "Feather in your cap" can be traced to various tribal rituals; in early Hungary, it was decreed that "none might wear a feather but he who has slain a Turk." The phrase "cock and bull story," coined by Luther's first followers in "the aftermath of the Reformation," refers to papal bulls, which were stamped with an image of St. Peter and a cock. Wordsmiths everywhere will be delighted. (Lyons, $19.95 212p ISBN 1-58574-218-X) Beyond engrossing stories and pretty language, good books offer "a sense of having participated in much of what is finest in human culture," assert David C. Major and John S. Major (coauthor of The New Lifetime Reading Plan) in 100 One-Night Reads: A Book Lover's Guide. Though some recommendations may take longer than one night (e.g., The Hobbit), they are all enjoyable, tasteful, educational. Greene's Our Man in Havana, Wharton's Madame de Treymes, Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Roth's Portnoy's Complaint and Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop exemplify the authors' canonical taste. Some newer titles, like Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate and Dava Sobel's Longitude, also appear. Most of the selections are fiction, but humor and memoir also weigh in; poetry is excluded. Book groups will appreciate the recommendations as well as the authors' brief essay on each one. (Ballantine, $12.95 paper 336p ISBN 0-345-43994-5; May 29)

As the lawyer for Argentine Airlines and the former president of the U.S.-Argentine Chamber of Commerce, Lawrence Levine witnessed firsthand the political machinations that spurred Argentina's civil war and the devastating economic consequences of that country's estranged political relations with the U.S. In a personal memoir, Levine offers journalists and students of Argentine history a glimpse Inside Argentina: From Perón to Menem. From his brief meetings with Nikita Khrushchev, Hubert Humphrey and Juan Perón ("the Richard Nixon of Argentina") to his direct dealings with the opening of Banco de la Nación in America, Levine's rather flat yet informative account (written with the help of Kathleen Quinn) provides the reader with a deeper understanding of a country struggling for autonomy and democracy. Illus. (Edwin House Publishing [], $25 260p ISBN 0-9649247-7-3; May 15)

Scholars and dabblers in philosophy will appreciate this brief posthumous collection of Gilles Deleuze's writings, Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Deleuze (Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza), a noted and controversial professor of philosophy at the University of Paris VIII, here variously writes on "a transcendental empiricism in contrast to everything that makes up the world of the subject and the object"; Dickens, Wagner and other artists; aesthetics, particularly cinema; and communication and information-machines. There are essays on Hume and Nietzsche, a discussion of the "plane of immanence," his final work before his death in 1995. Trans. by Anne Boyman; intro. by John Rajchman. (Zone, $24 104p ISBN 1-890951-24-2; May 15)

In Star Struck: One Thousand Years of the Art and Science of Astronomy, Ronald Brashear and Daniel Lewis, curators of rare and historical manuscripts, present a history of astronomy replete with galactic maps, illustrated theories of lunar motion, a drawing of Tycho Brahe's "Star Castle," Hubble telescope images, and photographs of the moon's mountain ranges as well as many human luminaries. The beautiful reproductions of artistic and scientific works and the intelligent historical overview will be a joy for professional and lay astronomers. (Univ. of Washington, $24.95 168p ISBN 0-295-98097-4)

What do one van, two parents, three children, seven weeks, 28 states and 10,000 miles add up to? The answer is Are We There Yet? A Modern American Family's Cross-Country Adventure, a new trade paperback (including a downloadable Web travel guide) by Bill Lohmann, an award-winning feature writer and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The author, who writes about family issues for the newspaper, suggested he cover a real family cross-country vacation for the Times-Dispatch—and his editors agreed to the idea. With boundless joviality, common sense (including what not to do), fun facts—particularly useful Web sites and family members' take on various sites—the articles became a practical, upbeat book, proof positive that Lohmann's harebrained idea was really a mastermind's scheme in disguise and that every family that's game should do the same. (Hope Springs Press [500 Hope Springs Lane, Manakin-Sabot, Va. 23103; 804-784-5025], $15.95 paper 128p ISBN 09639531-7-6; May 10)" 'I remember walking just ahead of that halted wagon.... I recall so vividly the feeling of wonderment and perplexity at the bigness of the world,'" says a woman of her frontier childhood. In Children of the West: Frontier Family Life, Cathy Luchetti's astute, readable text shares space with 19th- and early 20th-century photographs. Later chapters cover Native Americans, African-Americans, Asians and Mexicans. Luchetti (Women of the West) aptly details common and particular experiences of pioneer wives and children. " 'My soul rebelled against having more children.... But my husband... persisted in his right to his sensual indulgences,' " laments one woman. "O! When I look back at those bright loving days... with Father, Mother, brothers and sisters gathered in groups round about, how glad I am to have been one of them," says a woman raised in Ohio. (Norton, $39.95 256p ISBN 0-393-04913-2; May)